Invitation to Proprioceptive Dialogue

Thirty-five years ago, I wrote a philosophical novel (The Moebius Seed) that climaxed with a worldwide computer forum set up as an open-ended and spontaneous cultural exchange. Individuals and groups from far and wide freely contributed information, images, music, and ideas to the forum on a broad range of holistic, spiritual, and process-oriented themes: ecology, new physics and cosmology, non-linear evolution, non-local connectedness, chaos theory, creative transformation, global healing, and the like.

The global electronic forum portrayed in the novel was intended as a model of collective creativity and planetary interrelatedness that could address the widespread fragmentation presently gripping us at every level of human and world affairs: disintegration of families and other social institutions; ethnic conflicts raging around the world; growth in international banditry and terrorism; world markets reaching new levels of erratic fluctuation; nuclear weapons and waste proliferating out of control; ecosystems strained to the breaking point, unleashing natural catastrophes with devastating consequences (floods, famines, epidemics, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc.). Beset by multiple crises, people are feeling more and more challenged to shoulder an overwhelming array of burdens and responsibilities, more and more fearful of others they perceive to threaten their interests, or even their lives—with fear breeding hatred, hostility, and violence. In short, humanity seems in the process of coming unglued, and taking the rest of the planet with it. Could a global computer forum along the lines described in my novel help mitigate this dire situation? Or was I being overly optimistic about what happens when computers are linked en masse?

Since I wrote that book, we have witnessed the linking of individual computers into networks that are themselves connected through an internet reaching almost every corner of the globe. The internet now plays an integral role in most of our lives—everyday and in many ways. But it is far from clear that this role is entirely constructive, since consumerist exploitation figures prominently in it, and the internet is given to a disembodied electronic remoteness that lends itself to alienated, anonymous communication. We may well be inclined to say that this global electronic “community” is a poor substitute for genuine community. On the other hand, perhaps it is possible that the internet could come to function as it did in my novel, providing the connective linkages in a planetary network that serves as the scaffolding for a new way of relating, a whole new social order.

It took me twenty-five years to come to the internet as a home for my work. Following the novel, I wrote several non-fiction books dealing with philosophy and science, consciousness and culture—all geared to addressing the issue of world fragmentation raised in my speculative fiction. But after publishing The Self-Evolving Cosmos in 2008, I felt disenchanted with conventional books distributed in the conventional way. However innovative works like this may be in terms of their content and style of presentation, they remain marketed commodities owned by authors and publishers and distributed in a linear fashion to an anonymous audience. Not only is such communication commodified, unidirectional, and indirect, but its mode of expression is constrained by a print medium essentially limited to squiggles of ink arrayed in lines of text and two-dimensional charts, diagrams, and illustrations.

Communication in cyberspace is different. Images and ideas can be freely offered by anyone choosing to participate, with contact being immediate and information capable of flowing out to, and back from, multiple sources at once. Moreover, exchanges can be enhanced and enlivened by including animated images, movies, sound, and—in the future, perhaps—even touch, taste, and smell. There is also the possibility of employing virtual reality techniques to create a sense of deeper immersion in communication environments otherwise attenuated by distance, and of developing dimensionally-augmented, holographic images that produce remarkably lifelike experiences. So the potential is great for simulating virtually the flesh-and-blood experience of everyday interaction.

Yet, at least at present, we are speaking of a simulation, an electronic imitation of living reality, not reality itself. And a simulated global community surely does not take the place of the authentic community so badly needed now in this time of planetary fragmentation. But might it be possible to make the transition from simulation to reality? What would have to be done to bring that about?

The simulation lacks substance, density, fullness of body. It is a virtual reproduction of reality absent the flesh and bone of the actually real. The quality of being virtual is in fact an underlying characteristic of the cybernetic world in general. At bottom, it is a ghostlike world of ephemeral traces.[1] The work of postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida[2] sheds considerable light on this.

Derrida saw cybernetics as involving a kind of inscription or writing that is wholly lacking in substance, one consisting of traces that possess the odd property of having no palpable precursors. The cyber-trace is like the smile of the Cheshire cat, like a footprint without the earlier presence of a foot, like the ghost of a being that was never alive. There is nothing below the cyber-trace to provide it with a solid foundation; no sub-stantial presence serving to ground it; no substratum to actualize its virtuality.

To better understand what this means, let’s compare the way things worked in the old mechanical age with how they now function in our age of information. Whereas classical machines entail palpable operations upon matter and energy, computers involve a more subtle form of activity. To illustrate, consider the difference between word processing and the production of words on a mechanical typewriter.

The old typewriter is fitted with a fixed set of type bars, each with its own alphabetic or numeric character. The typefaces are actuated by stroking keys on a keyboard composed of corresponding characters. If, for example, I press the key marked “n,” mechanical energy is imparted to the associated type bar causing it to rise out of its housing and strike an inked ribbon secured over a blank sheet of paper that is held in place on a cylindrical platen. In this way, the metallic typeface, “n,” is made to leave its trace on the page. What process produces the letters now appearing before me on this computer display?

The close resemblance of my computer keyboard to that of the mechanical typewriter is deceptive. When I tap the “n” key on my word processor, I do not initiate a mechanical operation wherein an already present typeface is re-presented, transferred to a blank surface. Instead, I send an electronic impulse to a microprocessor that, in itself, possesses no such preexisting actualization of the letter “n.” What we find in the hardware of the computer, in the silicon chip in which the computer’s operations are carried out, are not so much material actualities as informational potentials. Physicist David Bohm explains: “In a computer, the information in a particular chip has a wide range of virtual or potential activities to which it may give rise. Only some of these are actualized in the activity of the computer as a whole, in a way determined by the overall context of the entire structure of the computer and by all the information that has been put into it.”[3] According to Bohm, information is defined as “a form that literally ‘informs’ (i.e., forms from within) an ‘unformed’ energy to give rise to a corresponding determinate activity.” And with respect to computer information, “the form in the state of the silicon chips enters into the energy in the computer to ‘give shape’ to a corresponding activity.”[4] The chip is composed of a large array of tiny transistor switches each of which constitutes a basic unit (or “bit”) of information in that it can answer the simple question of whether the switch is on or off, one or zero (more exactly, whether or not voltage is applied to the silicon diode in such a way that the flow of electrons is permitted). When I give the chip input by pressing the buttons on my keyboard, it responds to me by “flipping switches,” choosing zeroes and ones, in accordance with the way it has been programmed. In the specific example, when I type the letter “n,” the microchip creates a particular binary pattern of zeroes and ones as per the instructions it receives from the word processing program that I am using. It then transforms this pattern into a recognizable output that appears on the monitor as a visual display: “n.” In this way, informational potential is actualized, activity is shaped that leads to the creation of meaning. So, whereas mechanical typewriting entails the transfer of an already actualized pattern of matter-energy (the typefaces) from one location in space to another (from the bank of type bars to the sheet of paper), electronic word processing involves an actualization in-the-making whereby a pattern of matter-energy is produced from an initially potential state, one in which the pattern does not yet exist. Since bits of information are not committed in advance to any particular combinatorial pattern, and since zeroes and ones can be combined in an indefinite variety of ways, meaning can be shaped in a highly flexible manner. For example, we are not limited to a fixed set of characters in word processing but can create any number of character sets and switch from one to another at the press of a button. The flexibility of word processing is greatly enhanced by the fact that the electronic meaning patterns appearing on the computer display are virtual. The patterns are not fully actualized until a final printout of hard copy is staged, and this permits the text to be sculpted in a far more fluid manner than is possible in typewriting or handwriting.

What it comes down to in Derrida’s terms is that mechanical writing is governed by the “metaphysics of presence” whereas cyber-writing is not. The typed or handwritten character is a squiggle of ink or graphite that functions as a substantive reality. Matter concretized in this fashion is certainly not immutable; it can be altered in a variety of ways via exchanges of energy. Nevertheless, the metaphysics of presence is enforced here by the first law of thermodynamics, which tells us that, however matter-energy might be continuously transformed, it cannot simply vanish from the space-time continuum; it can neither be destroyed nor created, we are told. Accordingly, the printed mark—as a material presence fixed upon the writing surface by the chemicals in its ink or graphite—cannot be eradicated without at least leaving some trace. This trace—say, in the form of a faint darkening of the page where a letter was erased, or a slight unevenness of the surface where correction fluid was applied, or perhaps in a form so subtle that a microscope would be required to detect it—attests to the fact that, although the sign has indeed been transformed in the attempt to erase it, it never completely disappears from the page.

But would the printed mark really need to be annihilated from space-time in order for it to be removed from the writing surface without a trace? In mechanical writing, the initial inscription of the sign is obviously no creation ex nihilo; it is a transfer of energy from a preexistent source (typeface, pen, pencil, etc.). Therefore, even if the first law of thermodynamics cannot be violated by destroying the printed mark altogether, could the mark not at least be transformed in such a way that it would revert to the form of energy in which it existed prior to the act of inscription? Would not such a reversal effectively remove all traces of the inscription that had appeared on the writing surface? This is where the second law of thermodynamics kicks in. According to the principle of entropy, the transformation of matter-energy from one state to another in fact cannot entirely be reversed. For instance, in burning a lump of coal, potential energy is converted into kinetic energy in such a way that an irreducible residue is left; the ashen byproduct of the transaction bears witness to the fact that the potential originally contained in the coal cannot be restored. In a similar way, once a sign is hard-printed onto a page, there is no going back to the state of affairs that existed prior to the inscription. This inability to totally reverse the engravement process affirms the “gravity” of such writing. Because mechanical writing bears the weight of substantive presence, the traces it leaves cannot fully be effaced.

It is evidently not like that with cyber-writing. Here inscriptions seem readily reversible; traces can be destroyed and created with equanimity in the virtual spaces of cyberworld, for, as Derrida has intimated, the traces we work with are of presences that “never were” (“footprints” not preceded by “feet”). This is what permits the astonishing flexibility of word processing. It is why the letters and words I type on this keyboard can be sculpted so fluidly; why I can add or subtract a word with such little effort; why I can move whole paragraphs or sections from one location to another, or merge these bodies of text—all in an essentially seamless manner, leaving no indications that any changes have ever been made.

Yet there is an undeniable downside to all this typographic agility and convenience. Because computer images originate in absence, in the equipotentiality of the virginal chip, the cyber-writer can find him- or herself on perilous ground. Indeed, in immersing herself in the “weightless” field of evanescent traces, there really is no solid ground on which the writer can stand. Given that the virtual traces with which s/he plays are the phantoms of beings that never really existed, an “unbearable lightness” haunts the playing of this game. And the ephemerality of cyberspace can prove to be downright frightening, as I have personally discovered.

My first full taste of the cybernetic void came in 1987 while working on my old Apple IIe. I had invested myself in a conceptual project that held great significance for me. Each day I sat at my computer for hours on end wrestling with elusive subtleties, laboring to tease out daunting nuances of theoretical abstraction, and, in the process, taking great pains to shape just the right language to give coherence to my ideas. Then, one morning, with the errant press of a button, I overwrote the file that had contained my work and weeks of toil were simply obliterated. Not a catastrophic fire or an explosion, but the innocent stroke of a key had annihilated what I had previously put so much of myself into for so many days. This led me to radically doubt the weight of that work. The glaring discrepancy between my long sessions of effortful striving and the ease of their instantaneous effacement conveyed to me a sense of the uncanny. The feeling went beyond the ache of losing something valuable, and beyond the tangible fear that it could well happen again. My Herculean labors had been negated with such little difficulty that it led me to wonder how much real substance they could have had to begin with.

My first full taste of the cybernetic void came in 1987 while working on my old Apple IIe. I had invested myself in a conceptual project that held great significance for me. Each day I sat at my computer for hours on end wrestling with elusive subtleties, laboring to tease out daunting nuances of theoretical abstraction, and, in the process, taking great pains to shape just the right language to give coherence to my ideas. Then, one morning, with the errant press of a button, I overwrote the file that had contained my work and weeks of toil were simply obliterated. Not a catastrophic fire or an explosion, but the innocent stroke of a key had annihilated what I had previously put so much of myself into for so many days. This led me to radically doubt the weight of that work. The glaring discrepancy between my long sessions of effortful striving and the ease of their instantaneous effacement conveyed to me a sense of the uncanny. The feeling went beyond the ache of losing something valuable, and beyond the tangible fear that it could well happen again. My Herculean labors had been negated with such little difficulty that it led me to wonder how much real substance they could have had to begin with.

Given the colossal investment of myself in this work, its demolition symbolically simulated my own death. One does not survive such a “death.” What has weight, substantive presence, cannot die. The laws of classical thermodynamics tell us that solid matter leaves its mark, and that this trace can neither wholly be expunged (the first law) nor returned to a state of potentiality existing prior to its actualization (the second law). But if the cyber-trace is utterly weightless, if it is a ghost of what never was alive in the first place, there can be no “survival of death” here because there never was any palpable life. Ghosts of ghosts in infinite regress seem to be the only “inhabitants” of the cybernetic wasteland. In dwelling therein, I too become such a ghost.

The viruses, worms, instabilities, hackings, and crash cycles that accompany cybernetic activity add to the spectral feeling I have when I’m on my computer. The whole time I operate it, there is a background quality of skating on thin ice. This sense of insecurity has even invaded my sleep. On more than one occasion I have dreamed of working in front of the display screen when it suddenly goes black. This triggers an ominous sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach signaling that the “plug has been pulled,” that the rug has been pulled out from under me, leaving me without support. What remains is a phantom-limb feeling of active emptiness, gnawing absence. This is the downside of the cyberspace experience, its grave undercurrent. On the upside is a sense of levity, a heady feeling of exhilaration when at play beyond gravity’s pull. The postmodern modus vivendi epitomized by cybernetic writing is appropriately captured by Wiley Coyote, a cartoon character familiar in popular culture. This comical creature dashes frenetically from place to place in hot pursuit of his avian nemesis The Roadrunner, until Wiley’s precipitous, helter-skelter movements take him over a steep cliff. Defying the law of gravity, he continues his hyperactive doings in mid-air—until he notices that nothing supports him, whereupon he crashes to the ground with a thud. What an apt metaphor for the “game of the world”[5] played in cyberspace.

My cybernetic play has all the signs of an addiction. Research suggests that dependencies of this kind basically involve the sudden reduction of complexity to simplicity, or ambiguity to clarity. In addictions as diverse as cocaine abuse and gambling, the evidence indicates the presence of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with heightened attention to complex or ambiguous stimuli that hold the promise of rapid and clear-cut resolution. When an intricate or initially unclear pattern is quickly brought into sharp focus, we react with a rush of euphoria (“aaah,” or, “aha”) as the pleasure center of the sub-cortical brain is activated. But the reward is short-lived and must continually be renewed to be sustained. The inherent ambiguity of cyberspace makes it an ideal breeding ground for such dependency.

In my own case, the underlying ambiguity of this digital medium is compounded by the fact that the content of what I’m writing has its own daunting uncertainties. So it is not enough for me to reduce ambiguity merely by forming the words, sentences, and meanings of this text from the open potentialities of the “virginal chip.” For, with the challenges I’m facing in drafting this essay, the conceptual ambiguity lingers on after the syntactical ambiguity is resolved. Therefore, at times when I’m groping for meaning and it isn’t forthcoming, I feel compelled to look for more clear-cut, “higher-definition” resolutions of ambiguity—as when I repeatedly interrupt my writing to search the internet for the latest polls in some high-stakes political contest. (When the election is over, I’ll be searching for other “quick cyber-fixes.”)

Cyber-ghosts like me are perpetually hungry creatures. Because the nourishment they obtain is only virtual, it cannot effectively satisfy a hunger that is actual. A virtual reward is a flimsy thing: transitory, superficial, simplistic. One moment you’re flying high and everything is as clear as it can be. You’re experiencing a surge of unadulterated pleasure, a burst of sheer delight. But then, all of a sudden, the situation flips and you’re down in the dumps feeling the nagging necessity for another game, another sweet, another hit, another shot. Shooting up and crashing (—as in both drug dependency and playing the stock market—) is what addiction is all about. You feel a needy, gnawing, murky hole in your midst and you try again and again to fill it in with pure clarity, pure sweetness, pure light, pure spirit, pure ecstasy. The problem is that the hole itself is nothing “pure.” It is not just an absence waiting to be filled by some presence. It is a hybrid blending of absence and presence, a paradoxical entanglement of positive and negative whose profound ambiguity cannot be resolved by anything merely positive.

If it seems from my questioning of cyberspace’s lack of substance that I am implicitly recommending a return to pre-cybernetic actuality, that is not the case. For I now want to suggest that, at bottom, it is the paradoxical merging of opposites that is actual. The inextricable entwinement of contraries is what forms our foundation, makes up the substantial center of our being. At this dialectical core, we have neither a hole nor some idealized “whole” but a (w)holeness. The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty called it the flesh of the world. Thousands of years before, the Chinese spoke of interpenetrating opposites that ground reality as yin and yang, and alchemical and esoteric traditions have carried this forward by advancing the principle of the coincidentia oppositorum (coincidence of opposites). For many centuries, however, in science and in everyday life, we’ve taken as actual what in fact is only virtual. Ruled by dualistic either/or thinking, we’ve driven the opposites apart and have come to believe that reality is made up of simplified presences, positive entities and identities that are only what they are, this as opposed to that, devoid of any contrary shades or nuances. Conventional wisdom might tell us that the cybernetic revolution has replaced the actual with the virtual. But—on the contrary, I believe the digital age simply makes obvious the virtual nature of what we have long taken as reality, so that now, its lack of genuine substance is no longer deniable. And this is what drives us into addiction. For, no virtual substance, no one-sidedly artificial affirmation or negation, can fill in for the paradoxical actuality of our fleshly being. Note that, on this reckoning, though the mechanical typewriting I spoke of above certainly seems more substantial than cyber-writing, it is basically no more actual than cyber-writing after all!

The contemporary world cannot resist the pull of cyberspace. The cultural momentum is carrying us decisively in that direction, as we are swept up in the planetary wave of email, texting, google, Facebook, YouTube, and the like. Granting that our participation in the “global electronic village” is largely inescapable, are we destined to continue roaming the cyberscape in the manner of “hungry ghosts”? How can this fleshless virtual reality be transformed into a living actuality? I suggest we can do it by surpassing the abstract dualisms, objectifications, and idealizations that dominate our present lives and embracing the reality of embodied paradox. To clarify this term, I’ll distinguish it from the sort of paradox that remains an abstraction.

Consider a commonly cited example of a paradoxical statement: “Everything I say is false.”  Evidently, this assertion is true if it is false, and false if it is true! In this kind of paradox, opposing terms (“truth and falsity”) are particular objects of thought, entities already projected before the thinking subject. While the well-known “liar’s paradox” certainly subverts the boundary between the objects, it comes “too late” to directly affect the division that is established before any reflection upon objects can occur: the division between object and subject. It is by prereflectively splitting object and subject in this way that the subject remains detached from the objects cast before it and abstraction is maintained. What I mean by an embodied paradox is one that not only surpasses the boundaries separating objects of reflection, but also, the prereflective boundary dividing object and subject. For, the paradoxical object cannot be embodied, made fully actual, without the concrete presence and full-fledged participation of the living subject.

Stated a little differently, an embodied paradox is one that is concretely self-referential. Ordinarily, I refer to myself in an abstract way. I look in the mirror, for example, and see myself as an object staring back at me. Viewing myself in this objectifying fashion, the division between object and subject is in fact preserved by tacitly splitting myself so as to create a new subject—the “me” now doing the viewing. Could I regard myself without objectifying myself?

Suppose—instead of just directing my attention forward, to an external image of myself projected out in front of me—I bring my awareness in the other direction, move it backward into the subjective source of that projection. The term I’ve used for this act of reversing the gears of ordinary perception is proprioception. Etymologically, to perceive is to “take hold of” or “take through” (from the Latin, per, through, and capere, to take), and to conceive is to “gather or take in.” These activities are carried out in the “forward gear” of consciousness, where attention operates through the objectification of reality carried out by a detached, essentially anonymous subject. The term proprioceive is from the Latin, proprius, meaning “one’s own.” Literally, then, proprioception means “taking one’s own,” which can be read as a taking of self or “self-taking.” It is true that the term’s conventional meaning derives from physiology, where it signifies an organism’s sensitivity to activity in its own muscles, joints, and tendons. But Bohm spoke of the need for “proprioceptive thought,” which he viewed as a meditative act wherein “consciousness…[becomes] aware of its own implicate activity, in which its content originates.”[6] Another form of proprioceptive practice has been suggested by psychologist/philosopher Eugene Gendlin, who described a method of focusing on psychological issues by drawing attention inward to obtain a felt sense of the overall bodily background of the problem.[7] Years earlier, the social psychiatrist Trigant Burrow spoke similarly of the need for human beings to gain a proprioceptive awareness of the organismic basis of their divisive symbolic activity.[8] In none of these examples of proprioceptive self-reference is the self merely turned into an object. But neither does the backward movement of attention encapsulate the self in a narcissistic bubble, for this is a kind of reference to self that does not exclude the other or object.

To give a more concrete illustration, right now I am moving my attention backward into my body to obtain a felt sense of the process of writing this essay. As I attempt to stay in contact with my process and work with the paradoxes that are involved, I notice a certain activity within me (seemingly taking place in my head) that has the quality of “thrashing about”: my thoughts jump around in a desultory manner, leaving “rough edges” and dangling “loose ends.” I experience an irritating indefiniteness, a murky openness that leaves me feeling exposed, vulnerable, and dissatisfied. My resistance to this attempt at witnessing my own process seems to take the form of sleepiness and a tendency to drift away. Often I sense myself wanting to break away more completely from the proprioceptive ambiguity, to escape into something more certain: checking my email, surfing the net for interesting news stories, playing a computer game, etc. The urge to disengage from the task of staying with my process is frequently quite compelling, especially when that process requires holding onto paradox as it jumps to and fro between opposing poles, like a bucking bronco refusing to be tamed. “Hungry cyber-ghost” that I am, I need much greater clarity; I need to be able to pin down a definite meaning and get closure on it. That’s what satisfies me and gives me pleasure. Dwelling in the open-ended ambiguity, holding the paradox without resolving it in favor of one pole or the other, leaves me feeling unrewarded, frustrated, and distressed.

This is my experience as I write this essay. In drawing back in upon myself to consciously recover my process and put it into words, I neither negate the pattern of feeling-discomfort-and-seeking-escape, nor do I transcend it. The experience is still there, but now, by gaining awareness of it, I create some distance from it so I am not just blindly ruled by it. At the same time, because my awareness of the experience is rooted in my body, I am not simply detached from it, but am sensing it from within. That is to say, in proprioceiving my writing experience, I am both outside of it and inside of it at once. The experiencing “subject” and the “object” experienced thus enter an intimate circulation, revolving around each other in interpenetrating proximity like opposing sides of a Moebius strip that continuously twist together while yet remaining apart.

Concrete self-reference then, involves an act of proprioception in which I move my awareness backward into myself without just objectifying myself or reducing myself to purely self-identical subjectivity. What happens instead is the paradoxical merging of subject and object. At one and the same time, I am object and subject, other to myself and myself. Thinking dialectically can help us grasp this paradox. According to Merleau-Ponty, “Dialectical thought is that which admits that each term is itself only by proceeding toward the opposed term, becomes what it is through the movement, that it is one and the same thing for each to pass into the other or to become itself, to leave itself or to retire into itself….Each term is its own mediation.”[9] This is the strange logic that governs the self-referential process I am enacting as I write. And I am proposing that such proprioceptive self/other-reference is what is needed in our cyberspace transactions if we are going to shift away from the vacuous addictive patterns currently prevailing here, where the other always appears as an object (of desire or revulsion) projected before a detached self (even when that other is an objectified version of said self). It is through embodied proprioception that we can make the transition to the more fulfilling interactions of a cybernetic reality that is not merely virtual but actual.

To be sure, the shift in question will bring no simple salvation. It will not take us from the underlying emptiness of present-day cybernetic experience to a total fullness, from the hole we are now in to an ideal wholeness, from anxiety and frustration to unmitigated sweetness and light. Indeed, swinging from the depths to the heights—and back again—is what we are currently doing. So the proprioceptive shift I am trying to describe will not constitute an addictive high, from which we would inevitably be destined to crash. Instead of surging upward from the bitter depths of the cybernetic hole to the sweetly ecstatic, crystal-clear heights of “perfect wholeness,” we would experience a bittersweet (w)holeness, the paradoxical interpenetration of whole and hole. While it is true that—as a “hungry ghost” roaming the vacant stretches of cyberspace, I crave sweet closure and am averse to uncontained ambiguity, there are those moments of proprioceptive insight that can bring the bittersweet flavor and “contained uncontainment” of the soul.

On occasions like these, I may be able to see behind my desperate flights of fancy without lacerating myself too severely for them. No doubt I am a mortal being who is strongly inclined to grasp at immortality. In times past, one could effectively deny one’s mortality and project an image of rock-solid permanence. But in this postmodern cybernetic age, the ephemerality of the ego is far harder to ignore. That doesn’t stop me from trying, however. The commitment to sustaining an impregnable ego-identity is so strong that—in my cyberspace exploits and elsewhere—I am still attempting to do it, however fruitless these efforts may be. Thus my addictive quest for “absolute clarity,” which is at bottom a quest for a clarification of my being that can never really be achieved. Here the “ghost” looks to disclaim his phantasmal existence and solidify his core by banishing the shadows of ambiguity that are cast over it. And he wants to do this in perpetuity, for, if the blazing flashes of clarity he thinks he can sometimes glimmer were tempered by even a hint of impermanence, his “highs” would be less than “perfect.”

It is this denial of death that I need to recognize and accept. I must do it now, in real time, as the tangible urge impels me to abandon this frustrating work and jump to my e-mail or the internet in search of something less painfully ambiguous, something that will unknot the labyrinthine tangle of frenetic ideas and feelings and provide a rush of self-affirming lucidity. In concretely accepting my mortality by retracting the projections that accompany its denial, I move proprioceptively. Moving backward against the grain of my outthrust to immortality, I grope my way into its bodily roots and sense the hole, the absence actively aching with the loss of everything that has affirmed me. In being present to that, can I grieve through the bitterness to something bittersweet?

My body seems to be the key. To the extent that I actually move my attention into the bodily roots of the disembodied ego’s projections, remain there long enough to consciously process the hole at the core of that ego-identity, and grieve the loss of all the affirmations it has offered, the bitter taste can perhaps start to fade. In the body, the awareness of absence, of the hole in one’s individual being, can metamorphose into a cognizance of the paradoxical (w)holeness of a larger being, the flesh of the world. The crux of the matter is holding the paradox. As long as I proceed from the ego, I will continue my flight from paradox. So “I” must proceed from the ego’s empty core, from the hole in the “I” that can bring (w)holeness.

And the hole in the “I” is my only true portal to you. It is not surprising that cyberspace is currently populated by lonely and hungry ghosts. The nourishing contact with others that we so desperately crave can never be realized by selves that relate to others solely in the narcissistic terms of how those others can satisfy what our egos project upon them as potential sources of affirmation. Relating to each other out of the fullness of our egos, we look to one another for nurturing support but cannot receive each other. There are no hollow places in ourselves that make room for the other’s presence, that welcome the other in. All that confronts the other is an ego that allows space for nothing but its own self-obsessed cravings.

Surpassing the virtual communication now prevailing in cyberspace and fleshing out the actuality of the “global electronic village” requires relating to one another in terms of our holes. Only in the hollow part of me is there room to receive you as you actually are, rather than as you are projected by my ego. So, in listening to what you say or reading what you write, my own internal voices and texts must recede to make room for what you are communicating. If my initial reactions are colored by the expectations, wishes, and desires that rush out of me to meet you, I must pull them back and invite you in.

With all this as background, let me now try to spell out the aims of Proprioceptive Dialogue. This website hopes to facilitate a new kind of electronic communication, one that is proprioceptively embodied, permitting us to interact with each other not just surface to surface, but core to core, through a dimension of process that brings into play the hollow recesses lying within us. I propose that, by engaging with each other in this way, we may transform the virtual community of “hungry ghosts”— the legions of anonymous phantoms detached from reality and plagued by insatiable cravings for substances, commodities, and products of all kinds — into an actual community based on concrete presence and deep process.

More specifically, the website seeks to advance the goal of embodied electronic community through proprioceptive dialogue among its participants, and through dialogue with other websites. Regarding the latter, hyperlinks play a crucial role. What I envision is the ultimate linking of consonant websites that spontaneously play off each other in an intimate exchange that reverberates planet-wide. Here there would actually be no need for deliberate planning and coordination among the websites. The resonances could occur solely through the hyperlinks, with participants picking up on inter-website harmonies simply by using their browsers to navigate. For my part, I intend listing links to a variety of websites that share the aim of promoting proprioceptive community in cyberspace. Links may also include websites focusing on such related topics as paradox, self-reference, phenomenology, alchemy, Jungian psychology, embodiment, and creative transformation. But I won’t try to set forth all the relevant hyperlinks in advance. Instead I’ll offer a few seed links, and we can watch the process evolve as new links are discovered and feedback comes in.

As for proprioceptive dialogue (PD) on the present website, let’s change scenes to the webpage devoted to that: Practicing Proprioceptive Dialogue. Here PD is considered from a slightly different perspective, and its implementation is described.


[1] See my 2004 book, Dimensions of Apeiron, for an in-depth exploration of cyberworld virtuality.

[2] See Derrida, Jacques. (1976) Of Grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[3] Bohm, David. (1986) “A New Theory of the Relationship of Mind and Matter,” American Journal of Psychical Research, 80, p. 125.

[4] Ibid., p. 126

[5] This term was used by Derrida in Of Grammatology (op. cit.), p. 50.

[6] Bohm, David. (1994) “The Bohm/Rosen Correspondence,” in Science, Paradox, and the Moebius Principle. Albany: State University of New York, pp. 223-58.

[7] Gendlin, Eugene T. (1978) Focusing. New York: Bantam.

[8] See Galt, Alfreda (1995) “Trigant Burrow and the Laboratory of the ‘I,’” The Humanistic Psychologist, 23, pp. 19-39.

[9] Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (1968) The Visible and the Invisible. Evanston, IL: Northwestern U. Press, p. 89.