In "Man and Superman," (1903) George Bernard Shaw named two tragedies in life: one is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it. Oscar Wilde modified this slightly saying the only tragedies are getting or not getting what you want. Humorous, maybe, both refer to the philosophical implications of achieving a cherished goal — or not — and were not meant as commentary on achievements such as victory over disease or successfully avoiding peril in a natural or man-made disaster.
Clearly, the heart's desire is to survive, thrive, and prosper. In the fundamental, reality-based physical domain, we think abstract things like art and imagination haven't much of a place, but that isn't true at all. Often survival itself depends on the clever use of imagination. To thrive certainly requires imagination, and it goes without saying that it is the imaginative among us who prosper.
Two things come to mind when considering reality vs. imagination: the natural world and cyberspace. One is real, the other isn't. Or is it? Cyberspace seems to be the polar opposite of the natural world. On a beautiful day we sit instead at our computers for hours on end thinking we are the masters of our fate, wandering nomadically if only mentally over vast undiscovered virtual landscapes in the electronic universe, meeting fellow travelers and gobbling up information like conquering territories.
What of cyber experience? Is it really real? Does it move us like art does, or change us, like an event in physical reality can? Do we bond with cyber associates and correspondents? And is it a good thing? What does it do to our reality, and how does it fit in with our real lives? Hard to say. Some skeptics deny the ability of cyber experience to affect us, change or mutate us, improve or evolve us, but I believe it can, it does, and it will. I think the digital medium has an awesome power to intensify the effect of images, words and video. It can and does make us feel more, understand more, and hence, changes us in a fundamental way. Because the medium is interactive, we connect as never before to what we see, and when we share it, we connect ourselves as never before to each other. There's nothing like the reality of rock and dirt, flesh and bone, it's true, but I would argue that there's also nothing like virtual reality in cyberspace. And it's glorious. Like dreams of one's own creation, cyber realities have a hotline to the unconscious, engage the imagination, and break us free from our earthbound reality. The digital medium of cyberspace, I would argue, like the elemental and ephemeral nature of music, is both primal and spiritual, and is redefining reality for those of us who use it.
Take a moment to look at these powerful photos of a glacier frozen in process, a natural wonder guaranteed to stimulate the imagination and expand awareness. These images are like nothing I've ever seen and may change your notions about water, motion, and physical reality. But remember, they are only images in light with no real form except for the pixels of information on your screen. Are they real? Yes and no. They are of a real place and are not manipulated, but here you only see representations of them. But it is a bit like going there just to see them. Click the photo to enter the gallery.
Here's another trip you can take in the world of cyberspace that is magnificent. I feel changed by seeing these images as I do with other powerful visual experiences. They inspire awe, wonder, and make my heart leap over the beauty captured in each one. And they teach me about the world. "Vistas de Europa" came to my attention over e-mail in a PowerPoint presentation subtitled "Desde el Cielo" – literally, "From the Sky." More photographs by Yann Arthus Bertrand can be seen on the site linked to his name. Please visit it -- I promise you will not be able to stop thinking about his images of the earth from above and other portraits of men and beasts. Click the following photo taken in Iceland to enter the gallery of a few of his photos.
For adventurers in cyberspace, the imagination is unleashed to fly anywhere unrestrained. It provides a venue for anyone and everyone to have a powerful private world that is unique to each individual, yet at the same time one can participate in a community of ideas and connectedness that is greatly expanded beyond everyday existence. This kind of unlimited flight of ideas and creative intellectual exploration can be seductive and addicting, and it is tempting to question the validity of mental and spiritual experience set free from physical reality. Yet, the Eastern philosophical and religious traditions offer the Sanskrit concept of Maya, instructing that the veils of illusion are lifted one by one to reveal a greater reality of our existence, a non-duality between mind and body, man and the Universe. To achieve self-realization and enlightenment, what is required is to break free of our physical, earthly shackles to see intuitively that there is no separation between our essential selves and the Universe. This is exactly what cyberspace allows.
I was looking on YouTube for a video about the relationship between consciousness and computers, and I found several interesting items. Two captured my attention. One was the following Oscar-winning animation from 1968 called "Why Man Creates," by Saul Bass.
Here is another interesting short animation narrated by author Daniel Pinchbeck called "Postmodern Times 2012" that suggests the expansion of consciousness is coming at a faster rate than ever, and that we have powerful tools to help us get there.
The bottom line is that in the wonderland that is cyberspace, the situations described by George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde as the two tragedies in life are in fact what it's all about: getting everything you want (mentally and spiritually) and getting nothing (physically) that you want. But I don't think it is tragic. Perhaps an adjustment of consciousness removes the tragic aspect of those two reality-based concepts, and moves us ahead to a Oneness and knowledge that we are all in this together, no matter where we are. That, to me, is not tragic – it is a joy.