(Medium) A Virtual School for the Nascent Imagination: Foundations

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(Medium) A Virtual School for the Nascent Imagination: Foundations

Post by AshvinP »


"A fact is the end or last issue of spirit. The visible creation is the terminus or the circumference of the invisible world. A new interest surprises us, whilst, under the view now suggested, we contemplate the fearful extent and multitude of objects; since “every object rightly seen, unlocks a new faculty of the soul.” That which was unconscious truth, becomes, when interpreted and defined in an object, a part of the domain of knowledge—a new weapon in the magazine of power."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836)

Virtual reality gaming has the potential to be a fantastic pedagogical tool for cognition which is dwelling near the threshold of the reasoning intellect and the higher Imagination. Tools of this sort can give the individual a concrete sense of how the former metamorphoses into the latter, like the courageous caterpillar who naturally emerges from its chrysalis as a beautiful butterfly. It's hard to overstate the importance of such tools in an epoch and a culture where both courage and beauty are so hard to come by; not due to any inherent lack of availability, but rather due to a lack of awareness that cultural phenomena can be employed as "a new weapon in the magazine of power". People are aware that virtual gaming is an existing technology, sure, but most do not intend to encounter that technology as a means of spiritual growth and maturation. We seek pleasure, entertainment, social interactions, and perhaps some physical exercise, but rarely do we seek Truth and Wisdom - spiritual exercise. In a culture which has abstracted so far out from the power of concrete thinking, the 'causal' efficacy of
high ideals has been entirely forgotten. Our focus on these ideals - known more commonly as 'prayer' - can truly orient us in a way that will mitigate risks and magnify effectiveness.

Before we continue, I need to state that this essay is not intended as an advertisement for virtual gaming. I do not encourage anyone to buy this system and engage it as a spiritual tool. It is only intended for those who already have engaged in it or are simply curious about it. The fact is that we cannot remain luddites in a world where these technologies have manifested and will continue to be pervasive cultural phenomena. They come with many risks and pitfalls, so most people should simply avoid using them altogether and, instead, find more traditional sources of spiritual knowledge. It requires great Wisdom and Self-knowledge to evaluate whether such a spiritual tool will be safe and useful. For people who are naturally and heavily inclined towards intellectual reasoning, as I myself am, more imaginative tools could be helpful to balance out these soul-forces. Again, it will require a personalized and thorough evaluation for each individual. What follows is for those who have done such an evaluation and decided to proceed, or for those who know others involved in this VR gaming phenomenon and are curious what spiritual lessons can be mined from them.

"The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am.
- Samuel Taylor Colerdige

Approaching every phenomena we encounter as a spiritual learning tool is one simple and effective way we can manifest the highest caliber of goodwill and devotion, for the mutual benefit of ourselves and for others. We are now participating in an evolutionary stage when our Thinking can and should become 'sense-free'. It can turn its attention to supersensible realms of concrete duration and meaning, without resting itself on familiar quantitative structures. The problem with all visual tools in such an endeavor is that they invite our Thinking to become even more sense-dependent; to rest our concepts on the dazzling visual imagery we encounter, without penetrating into deeper layers of meaning. Here, the Virtues of humility, patience, and perseverance play their essential roles. We approach the phenomenon with an attitude of reverence for the Wisdom it can bestow upon us - Wisdom we do not yet have - mediated through our thinking activity. In that approach, we also adopt the mindset that nothing of profound significance will come cheaply or quickly - rather, it must be earned, again through our own contemplation. And, as we become aware that this approach is bearing fruit, we remind ourselves not to search for 'shortcuts', but to persist with it in the same disciplined manner as before. 

Foundation One: Vertical Thinking

"If people say the world we perceive is a 'construct' of our [mind], they are saying in effect, that it results from an inveterate habit of thought. Why does it never occur to them that a habit is something you can overcome, if you set about it with enough energy?"
- Owen Barfield

An obstacle we will quickly encounter when mining the meaningful lessons of virtual reality interfaces is the habitual movement of our thinking. Our intellectual reasoning is habituated to moving only horizontally along a plane of perceptions, connecting isolated quantities together and formulating a dim 'idea' of what they might mean. This mode of horizontal thinking will never really deepen our understanding of aesthetic phenomena. There are
many reasons why, but we can also take a pragmatic approach here and ask ourselves, have we ever really deepened our understanding of aesthetic phenomena in this manner? Have we ever listened to a piece of music or read a work of poetry and mined its deeper layers of meaning by horizontally configuring and reconfiguring the notes or the words together in various ways? We will quickly realize that this approach is simply not fruitful for the Imagination. Our intellectual reason can discern meaning deeply and quite precisely, but only if we ourselves give it the impetus to do so; only if our spiritual core lends it the vertical thrust by which it can discover the depth structure of our flattened perceptions. Moving our thinking activity in a direction that we are not used to is the concrete image of a 'paradigm shift'.

In a sense that I am unable to explicate further, the proponents of competing paradigms practice their trades in different worlds. One contains constrained bodies that fall slowly, the other pendulums that repeat their motions again and again. In one, solutions are compounds, in the other mixtures. One is embedded in a flat, the other in a curved matrix of space...

Practicing in different worlds, the two groups of scientists see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction. Again, that is not to say that they can see anything they please. Both are looking at the world...

But in some areas they see different things, and they see them in different relations one to the other. That is why a law that cannot even be demonstrated to one group of scientists may occasionally seem intuitively obvious to another. Equally, it is why, before they can hope to communicate fully, one group or the other must experience the conversion that we have been calling a paradigm shift. Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and neutral experience. Like the gestalt switch, it must occur all at once (though not necessarily in an instant) or not at all.

-Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962)

What Kuhn describes above is the deeper meaning of, "
seek first the Kingdom of God in righteousness". By seeking in that manner, we will find the impulse which bridges our current thinking-paradigm and the future Thinking-paradigm which is unfolding through our own activity. We will begin harmonizing the differentiated perspectives of philosophers, scientists, and artists in this or that field of inquiry. As Kuhn observes, it cannot be a forced shift in our thinking-paradigm, but rather each individual must undertake it through the freely-exercised power of their own Thinking. That is how individuals take the perceptions and ideas of the past and internalize them - make them their own - thrusting the life of their souls into its own future orbit. So, where and how can we start to freely shift our own paradigm through our higher Thinking? Here, I will share a brief illustration provided by a kindred spirit:

In orbital mechanics there's a maneuver for changing the orbital plane:


The most effective way to make that change is at the points of intersection (ascending or descending nodes) with the desired plane. At these points, we fire the thrusters in a perpendicular direction (ΔV) and our velocity vector changes from Vi to Vf. Trying to change the plane from any other point will require impossible amounts of fuel."

At a broad resolution, the virtual reality tool is pointing to the fact that our concrete and vertical Thinking activity can perceive, in an equally concrete way, what is greater than itself. This living and dynamic activity can act as a thruster which fires our thinking into spheres of imaginative meaning we previously felt were impossible to reach. In this manner, our activity perceives 'the future' of its own evolution. Within these lofty spheres, we come to perceive the flows of meaning we were previously merged with in a new and more radiant light. These words - "lofty", "light", "radiance", and all similar ones - are all visual symbols for 'deeper understanding'. It is the understanding which makes sense of the meaning we were previously moving through like a person who was blindfolded, grasping for objects in the dark. It is the great predicament of humanity that we have to come to feel like, if we continue making the same thinking-movements in a mechanical manner, we may achieve different results; that we may actually grasp more of the objects in the dark. With this metaphor, we see that, in reality, if we do grasp more objects, it would only be due to sheer luck. What other option is there if we have convinced ourselves that grasping for meaning in the dark is the only way of thinking?

Foundation Two: Time-Consciousness

"The unity of the divine has an origin similar to that of the threefoldness of the divine. It is connected with the living experience of Time... Just as the three-divisioned, threefold Space was experienced as the image of the threefoldness of God, so was Time experienced as the image of the oneness of God." - Rudolf Steiner

Our second foundation will help us immensely when approaching the specific imaginative import of virtual 'rhythm gaming'. It is really indispensable to such an endeavor, because our Imagination is the concrete bridge which allows us to cross from the abstract spatial dimensions and linear time (verbal intellect), on the one hand, to holistic Time-consciousness (poetic thinking) on the other. That is the threshold between the physical (intellectual reason) and the spiritual (imaginative, inspirative, and intuitive). Virtual gaming can aid our reason in discerning the nature of this Imaginative bridge, but first we must resurrect this intellectual reason into a new life, and exploring these foundations are a method of doing so. We will now focus specifically on a virtual 'rhythm game' known as "Beat Saber". In this game, one can concretely sense how the higher Imagination will harmonize our threefold thoughts (including intentions), feelings, and desires through rich layers of musical meaning. At the same time, we can also become more explicitly conscious of how this harmonization is occurring through visual symbols and a shared virtual environment with others.

"Works of imagination should be written in very plain language; the more purely imaginative they are, the more necessary it is to be plain." - Coleridge

The virtual environment can help our thinking make what is obscured by opaque and prosaic abstractions, of the sort found in academic papers, more plain and transparent to our eyes, ears, and touch. I want to be clear from the outset that this virtual environment is not initially 'taking' us somewhere completely new. We are always existing in a shared environment of ideations - whether prosaic or poetic; intellectual or imaginative - with all other ideational beings. The value of these new thinking-tools comes in the fact that they make explicit (conscious) what was only implicit (subconscious) before. What is explicit can be remembered and leveraged into further insights, while what is implicit will always remain as dormant potential 'energy',  never concretized into kinetic 'energy'. The experience of a shared idea with others only has value for us if we are aware of our concrete participation within it. Unfortunately, it is likely that very few people would have the impetus to reflect on the virtual experience in this way, especially 'pre-adults' who have not developed reflective reasoning to any significant degree. It is a real predicament in a culture where periods of 'childhood' and 'adolescence' appear to be growing longer and longer.

Let's now move on to consider a brief description and visual of the 'multiplayer' mode in "Beat Saber". We are first placed into pre-game space where the player avatars are standing on triangular platforms and we can dimly sense there is an entire arena of possibility below us. We can choose the song we prefer for the simulation and indicate when we are ready to 'descend' into the gameplay arena. Here we have an intuitive image of a state prior to physical incarnation from the spiritual realms. The latter are so opaque to intellectual thinking, however, that it is nearly useless to try and relate these pre-game details to the durational spiritual reality, which is
non-spatial. Once we incarnate within the arena, we are immersed in a void with 'subtle-bodied' orbs floating around us. We could liken this state to a 'field' of higher potentiality, i.e. a state with more 'cohered' meaning than what will follow. Now we also perceive the red and blue 'lightsabers' we are holding in the left and right hands, respectively (sometimes the colors are different, like yellow and magenta). We begin our 'descent' into a world of archetypal 'two-dimensional' geometric forms - mostly triangles (3) and squares (4). The opening bars of the song unfold and the player is then confronted with musical beats which have 'decohered' into colored beat-cubes.

(I cannot insert the short clip I intended, so the full video is below - I recommend only watching the first 30-40 seconds until the chorus begins)

Now that we have introduced a 'dazzling' video, we need to stop and appreciate what is occurring here. Returning to our consideration of Time-consciousness, we should observe and contemplate the role of the tempo in this virtual simulation. We are confronted with the familiar linear temporal situation of objects moving from the future to the present and into the past as they stream towards our "I", who is moving 'forward' in time. The musical tempo, however, adds another tool for us to imagine a more holistic Time-consciousness, because it invites our thinking "I" to actively engage with the approaching objects in a patterned way; in a rhythmic (willing), melodic (feeling), and harmonic (thinking) manner. Now, if we are seeking to advance in the game, our
thinking - our intention to meaningfully engage the visual perceptions and mine their meaning - must align with our willing - our desire to mine the ideal meaning through the visual perceptions. Our thinking and willing activities are two poles which constitute each other by providing resistance to each other - that resistance is also concretized in the game with the shape, weight, and vibration of controllers. The poles align most effectively when they are balanced, and that balance is mediated through our feeling - our aesthetic appreciation of the musical idea.

The musical idea, then, actively engages all of our core spiritual activities of willing, feeling, and thinking. A multiplayer setting with 'scores' also provides us with a natural motivation to harmonize our activities at ever-higher levels of meaning through our Imagination. It is really the epitome of 'healthy competition'. If everyone were to engage the virtual environment in this thoughtful manner, then the competition would lead to extraordinary spiritual results for all involved. Through the active engagement of our Imaginative thinking, we can also begin to sense how the abstract spatial dimensions relate to our threefold spiritual activity. When we are willing, our "I" desires to stabilize itself within the perceptually manifesting potential (width; left-right). When we are thinking vertically, our "I" intends to engage the perceptions in precise ways which reflect the overarching musical meaning back to itself (height; up-down). And, when we are feeling, our "I" appreciates the ever-unfolding and deepening layers of meaning which are unveiled to it within its Time-consciousness (front-back).

Remember, these are not fixed 'categories' or 'correspondences' for the intellect to move around horizontally into various configurations until it reaches a better understanding. Such an attempt at understanding will produce little if any fruit. Rather, the associations made above should be appreciated as fluid, interwoven, and interdependent spheres of meaningful spiritual activity that we are always engaged in. We can certainly mine precise associations between these spheres of activity and the overarching musical idea we are engaged in, but only if our horizontal 'left brain' intellect is put in service to our vertical 'right brain' Reason and Imagination. In that orientation, the verbal intellect will adapt itself to the more harmonized meaning of our Reasoned and Imaginative thinking, rather than thrusting the latter down into its own disharmonized state. The image of harmonious horizontal and vertical activity has been, and continues to be, most effectively represented in the Cross - "For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation...  that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity."


Foundation Three: The Role of Fatigue

"The rules by which all words for invisibles and impalpable really mean only abstractions and relations without substance, are man-made rules... I believe that it is time we began to reverse the process. And I am inclined to think that the impulse and ability to do so are closely connected with a grasp of, or better say a feeling for, this principle of other-saying [imagination], of which I have been speaking. For to be aware of other-saying is to be aware of our own inwardness, of our own meaning (our own, because it has been so freely entrusted to us) and that, for us today, is the only road by which we can also become aware of the meaning of nature." - Owen Barfield

This virtual musical environment gives us a great opportunity to also understand more deeply how our spiritual activity relates to our physical organism. What does it mean when we get worn out after some intense gameplay? The standard secular explanation for fatigue says that our physical processes consume 'energy' while we exercise and, eventually, they no longer have enough 'energy' to continue, so they begin 'shutting down'. Once the processes begin shutting down, our thinking becomes slower, our feeling grows weaker, and our willing is dampened. That is when we get really tired and perhaps we also lose consciousness, i.e. we go to sleep. Our living contemplation of the virtual environment can reveal that the situation is actually quite the opposite. It is when we first intend to slow down and we desire to cease the activity so we can rest or go to sleep, that these states of our thinking and willing activity are reflected in the perceptible processes of our physical organism. Broadly speaking, meaningful activity (spiritual) is always prior to perception (physical) in this manner. The former precedes the latter, which is only its reflection; a tool for us to learn more about the former if, and only if, we treat the perceptual tool as a symbol pointing to meaningful activity beyond itself.

One may object - if I can resist fatigue with my intention and desire to remain vital and awake, then why do I ever get fatigued? For one, the rational intellect has very little awareness of what its core Self is actually intending or desiring at any given time (see
this essay for more discussion of the flaws in 'rationalist' philosophy). Secondly, our conscious intentions and desires are still constrained by our own stage of development at any given time. The reality is that most humans are at a very rudimentary stage of spiritual evolution compared to other ideational beings in our shared reality. As an analogy to the virtual environment, we must admit that certain players who engage will be much more adept at it than we are, assuming we are relatively new to the game; the strength of their spiritual activity within the musical idea will be much greater than ours, so they will attain higher 'scores'. We once again arrive at the opposite of the flattened secular view that humans are top-level knowers, at the very apex of evolution. The natural means to equality of spiritual activity is neither passive acceptance of our current state nor naive rebellion against more developed beings, but an orientation towards high ideals and our own disciplined development.

Returning to the relation of meaningful activity and perception, what is occurring when the musical beat-cubes (perceptions) precipitate as
negative images of the shared meaning? To make that more conscious in our current state of development, we will reason through the phenomena with the aid of a visual analogy. We can liken the precipitation of these beat-cubes to how liquid water can precipitate as ice when it descends into the lower atmosphere of Earth. What was once fluid and superimposed meaning - the musical idea and all beats nested within it - now becomes a concrete precipitation of beat-cubes flowing towards our "I" in space and time. These are negative images because they are only translated back into their coherence when our thinking activity penetrates them and begins filling the perceptual voids with meaningful concepts. In fact, we can concretely sense how the meaning of the musical idea lives in the liminal spaces where we pause and prepare to strike the next beat-cubes. Our own living Reason and Imaginative thinking activity is always mediating between the invisible meaning and the visible perceptions in this manner. That is the higher spiritual expression of our feeling activity which mediates between our thinking (meaning) and willing (perception) organisms, i.e. it is an expression of the Thinking heart.

Final Foundation: Shared Ideations of the "I"

But even though we all do therefore perceive the same idea, still we always do this from different places. Therefore, only the end result to which we come can be the same; our paths, however, can be different. It absolutely does not matter at all whether the individual judgments and concepts of which our knowing consists correspond to each other or not; the only thing that matters is that they ultimately lead us to the point that we are swimming in the main channel of the idea." - Rudolf Steiner

At the broadest level, this entire simulation within the multiplayer arena is a musical idea. We are explicitly sharing the same musical idea as it decoheres from the 'frequency domain' of meaningful potential into the space-time domain, unfolding as visual symbols before us. The simulation has made explicit how our Imaginative thinking activity penetrates to the deeper layers of shared meaning in perceptual phenomena. We have all consciously chosen to participate in this shared musical idea and we can even concretely perceive the avatars of other conscious beings simultaneously engaging in this thinking activity with us. The imaginative activity, however, is still mostly subconscious. That is, until our "I" engages its logical reasoning capacity, exactly as we did above, and permeates the phenomena with constellations of meaning. My "I" and the "I" of all other ideational beings participating in the musical idea with me, dimly reflected in our respective avatars, all reach the same layers of archetypal meaning through our ideation. The "I", then, like the Idea, is irreducible and essentially One.

This musical idea unfolds towards our thinking "I" from its first-person perspective. The game actually reflects an image of our avatar into the space above us, allowing us to objectify our imaginative activity in that reflected image. That image symbolizes what is actually occurring in our physical existence with horizontal intellectual cognition. In this mechanical mode of cognition, we are always perceiving our own thinking activity and corresponding thought-forms as something external to us. We are then beholding the meaning as it manifests in a "view from nowhere", i.e. a perspective on our thinking activity which, in reality, does not exist. Interestingly enough, if we try to direct any of our imaginative thinking on this reflection of our activity, the former  'collapses' very quickly. We will quickly lose the harmonious rhythm of our activity and start missing beats. Instead, if we are concretely reasoning through the virtual phenomena as we have been above, even while we are playing the game, ou
r activity will remain intimately connected to our "I" who is thinking, feeling, and willing. It will be more harmonized, we will hit more targets we aim for on time, and in the proper direction.

The same holds true if we try to focus on the activity of other avatars, who are also projected in space for us, or any visual details of the beat-cubes and structures approaching our "I". For example, we may start thinking, "there is a red cube approaching on the left, it has an up-arrow and is low to the ground, so I need to move a little to the left and crouch down, then I will thrust upwards with my saber and move back to center so I can hit the blue cube from the right...".  This sort of horizontal intellectual analysis will also decohere our harmonized thinking activity. Anyone can, and should, test these observations out for themselves. To be clear, it is not that we should shun any precise or systematic thinking, but rather we should put the normal verbal chatter of our inner voice into service of a higher imaginative cause. Finally, the irreducibility of the Idea and differentiated first-person perspectives also point to why there is still novelty of experience within the ever-evolving Idea; the ever-present "I". Each perspective, by virtue of approaching the Idea from a different 'vantage point', perceives differentiated shades of the same meaning within the Idea.

This fact remains true even as perspectives are integrated through our higher Thinking. Every shade of meaning is also irreducible. We cannot exhaustively explain it in terms of other ideas or shades of meaning. So we do not need to worry about the reality of shared ideation at ever-higher layers of integration, through the eternal "I" (Spirit), marching us towards an undifferentiated 'homogenized' state of Being. These concerns simply transpose abstract intellectual concepts of current humanity onto future states which transcend its rigid meanings; they anthropomorphize the spiritual reality of manifold beings at different stages of their spiritual evolution, cooperating with each other to unfold a symphony of ideation through the human soul and spirit. In the next installment, we will engage the details of the musical idea as they unfold in the virtual arena, relating them more precisely to our spiritual activity. We will use some more video illustrations in this endeavor as well. Hopefully, the foundations we laid down above will help us build up our own vertical Thinking activity as we employ it within the virtual school for the nascent Imagination.
"Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast,
And struggle there for undivided reign.
One, to the earth with passionate desire,
And closely clinging organs still adheres;
Above the mists the other doth aspire
With sacred ardor unto purer spheres.”
-Goethe, Faust