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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

Why the Web?

If Alice were alive today, she might very well muse, “What good is a book at all if we can have access to the Internet, with links, as well as pictures and conversations?” I was thinking the same thing with respect to my dissertation: why write a print-based dissertation, when I could write a hypertext dissertation that would enable me to play along the way, with images and links. Then the reader could play too, and have a more synchronistic postmodern experience; it seemed like a more soulful way to go. Kittleson (1998) relates that the best way to understand the reality of the psyche and its images is to use an imaginative and associative approach. “Rationality is after all a foreigner in the unconscious. Meaning occurs by means of metaphor, juxtaposition, multiple layers of thought or feeling, synchronicity matters” (p. 5). An artistic web-based dissertation of hypertext essays and images offers exactly such an approach.

The creation and presentation of my dissertation as a web site allows a more participatory experience and is itself a part of the process. Using McLuhan’s aphorism “the medium is the message” and the related notion that the “method is the message” (Grosswiler, 1998) the essays on the web site allow us to take detours and to go off on tangents, as in a conversation, and to play along the way. The web site will allow depth psychology and popular culture to playfully interact as they shed light on each other. Thus I envision this web-based dissertation to be a bridge between popular culture and depth psychology allowing an interplay between the two that enables both to become more enriched. Play and popular culture have often been marginalized by society as a whole; both are not taken to be “serious” and are thus sometimes dismissed as being unimportant. Depth psychology helps us hear the voices at the margin, thus viewing play from a depth perspective on the Internet, and using popular culture, may be very transformative. Indeed, transformation, beginning with man’s abilitiy to access information and to solve problems more efficiently, is at the heart of the inspiration that resulted in much of the technology that has become the Internet.

In 1950, Doug Engelbart wanted to help humanity, and thought that a good way to do so would be to use technology to help people solve problems more efficiently. He had a vision of a computer that would be able to “augment human intelligence” (Engelbart, 2004b, online). Engelbart is the inventor of the computer mouse and was the first to use the cathode-ray tube (the monitor as we know it today) for the display of text, graphics and the mouse pointer. Engelbart is credited with “pioneering online computing and email, and other inventions and innovations” (Bootstrap, 2003, online, Engelbart, 2004a, online). Engelbart had been a radar technician in World War II and had seen how information could be displayed on a screen. Engelbart was also influenced by an article, written by Vannevar Bush in 1945 entitled “As We May Think,” about an imaginary machine called the memex, which Engelbart came across while he was stationed in the Philippines. In that article, Bush described a “science fiction-like general purpose tool to help us keep track of what we know” (Rheingold, 1985, p. 197). The machine would help extend human memory and also allow people to access large collections of information. Essentially Bush described something like the personal computer, which was still about thirty years in the future.

I met Doug Engelbart in January 2003 and he spoke more about his ideas. He envisioned the ability to have direct links to sources within electronic documents which would take you to the exact place the author of the document you were reading was citing. Engelbart noted that the way we read is based on the limitations of print technology and that, for example, we could have a mode of reading in a document where all of the verbs could appear in a certain color, facilitating grasping the immediate ideas more easily (Engelbart, personal communication, January 30, 2003). Engelbart also had the idea of bootstrapping, creating intermediate technology that would be helpful in creating the desired future technology. Although Engelbart’s initial vision occurred in 1950, he did not obtain funding until 1964. In 1968, Engelbart orchestrated a historic live demonstration of the computer mouse, hypermedia, and on-screen teleconferencing. This amazing demonstration, affectionately nicknamed “The Mother of all Demos,” was videotaped and is archived on the Internet on Stanford University’s Mouse Site as a series of streaming video clips (Engelbart, 1968, online).

Ulansey (2003, lecture) envisions cyberspace as an enormous alchemical vessel in which we are performing one last alchemical experiment. Cyberspace, Ulansey notes, makes a perfect alchemical vessel; it is hermetically sealed, and made of glass: glass fiber optic cables, glass satellites surrounding the planet, and we are busy pouring everything into it, hoping for a metamorphosis of the gods. Jung in The Undiscovered Self wrote that there was a

mood of universal destruction and renewal that has set its mark upon our age. This mood makes itself felt everywhere, politically, socially and philosophically. We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos—the right moment—for a “metamorphosis of the gods,” of the fundamental principles and symbols [Jung 1957/1978, p. 304, para 585]. (Edinger, 1984, p. 29)

In early 2003, I experienced two holotropic breathwork sessions that contained the seeds of my dissertation. [link to GTT] The first one occurred two days before meeting Engelbart, in late January. In that first session, images of the movie Rabbit Proof Fence (Noyce, 2002, motion picture) haunted me. In Rabbit Proof Fence, aboriginal girls had been ripped from their mother and taken to the other side of Australia. They found their way back home across the Australian continent by following the rabbit proof fence, using technology for their own ends. To me, this is a paradigmatic example of what needs to happen now. The repressed can use technology and current structures to serve the creation of consciousness. But wait, there’s more . . .

The second breathwork experience occurred in March 2003, and linked the notion of game, the Internet, Grof’s cartography and the movies. The part pertinent to our discussion now is:

I experienced myself as the element of fire and then as a woman about to commit suttee, and after diving into the fire of the funeral pyre, everything turned black and I heard the words “GAME OVER.” Next I found myself as a monk leaving the body reluctantly wanting to take something with me that would help me find my way back. It was Grof’s cartography. The scene switched and an image of the map room in Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981) flashed into my consciousness (the scene where Harrison Ford is holding up the staff with the headpiece and the light hits it and the whole room begins to glow). At that time, I had the experience of being very grateful to Doug Engelbart who I had recently met. While thinking of him, I realized that the Internet and Windows were indeed visionary windows that could illuminate consciousness. [It later consciously occurred to me that the map room might also refer to Grof’s cartography or map of the psyche.]

All of these things, movies, the Internet, and nonordinary states are tools that can be used to further expand our consciousness. These two breathwork sessions also helped me to see how movies have affected my own consciousness and led me to wonder whether movies might be a way to change consciousness, After all, Ulansey (2003) explains that in the Ancient Mysteries, initiates sat in the dark and had transformative experiences, metaphorically “seeing the light” as a brilliant light was thought to have been revealed during part of their experience. In movies, we also sit in the dark, watching light flicker on the screen. So here again we have an instance of art influencing depth psychology, in that the idea for the web site has its seeds in those two nonordinary state experiences that accessed art.

In his book Signs Of The Times, Ray Grasse (2002), explores the Age of Aquarius and speaks at length about the Internet. One of the symbolic images used to describe the astrological sign of Aquarius is “Indra’s Net,” (Sassportas, 1985, p. 92). Joseph Campbell (1988), in discussing Schopenhauer’s essay “On the Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual,” writes that Schopenhauer

points out that when you reach an advanced age and look back over your lifetime, it can seem to have had a consistent order and play, as though composed by some novelist . . . . The whole thing gears together like one big symphony, with everything unconsciously structuring everything else. And Schopenhauer concludes that it is as though our lives were one big dream of a single dreamer in which all the dream characters dream, too; so that everything links to everything else, moved by the one will to live which is the universal will in nature. It’s a magnificent idea—an idea that appears in the mythic image of the Net of Indra, which is a net of gems, where at every crossing of one thread over another there is a gem reflecting all the other reflective gems. Everything arises in mutual relation to everything else, so you can’t blame anybody. It is even as though there were a single intention behind it all, which always makes some kind of sense, though none of us knows what the sense might be, or has lived the life that he quite intended. (p. 229)

Grasse (2002) points out that the Net of Indra is also an apt symbol for the Internet, and, of course, there is the alliteration between Indra’s net and Internet (p. 199). It is also interesting to note that Engelbart is an Aquarius, born on January 30, 1925.

The Internet connects us, but it also has transformative potential to augment human consciousness, which is not surprising, since this was Engelbart’s initial inspiration when he envisioned a way to augment human intelligence. Today, we find the Internet everywhere: we can even access the Internet on our cell phones. In light of the ubiquity of computer technology and the Internet, I find it useful to keep in mind that when Engelbart first envisioned all of this, computers were the size of a room and there was really no interaction between people and computers. A programmer would write a code of ones and zeros and feed it into the computer on punchcards or tape, which would then give out numerical information. There was no pointing and clicking, or writing in any other language than binary code. Pretty amazing, when you stop to think about it. Engelbart saw a better way and went on to design an interface, and knew that we could interact differently with the computer. For instance, we could have a monitor, and be able to type things in with a keyboard, and then, later, be able to use a mouse. The rest, as they say is history.

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