In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Towards an Immersive Intelligence
  • Joseph Nechvatal (bio)

This essay is an investigation into the immersive cultural consciousness that emerges from an immersive "optic" central to virtual reality. There seems to be a correlation between immersive ideals and desires for extrasensory, distributed disembodiment, meaning a loss of cognitive body-image involving the expansion of boundaries. Immersive art fulfills the prosthetic task of artificially facilitating such an unrestricted state. The desire to exist in an anti-mechanistic state of expansion is temporarily and symbolically realized in engaging immersive art. In virtual immersion, conventional optic models may be surpassed.

The work of art, for those who use it, is an activity of unframing, of rupturing sense, of baroque proliferation or extreme impoverishment which leads to a recreation and a reinvention of the subject itself.

Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm

Like philosophy, art exceeds lived experience by creating an approach to chaotic virtuality.

Tamsin Lorraine, Irigarary and Deleuze : Experiments in Visceral Philosophy

This essay addresses what I am identifying as an emerging "optic"-an aesthetic optical perception-related to the immersive aspect of virtual reality, and the way this optic may help us to "unframe" some regulating functions of consciousness. As part of Roy Ascott's Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts (CAiiA) at the University of Wales College, Wales, U.K., I conducted research into the immersive ideals behind immersive virtual reality art-art that has a continuous, coherent quality and strives to ambiently include everything of perceptual worth within its domain in an overall, enveloping totality that is concerted and without evident frame or border. The goal of the research was to develop a dialogical cross-examination of art by applying the incipient concept of immersion in order to define both a historical sense of aesthetic immersive visuality and to place a previously unexamined form of vision into a wider cognitive and social context. The primary subject of this research is immersion: an experience that is the indispensable characteristic of virtual reality. The fundamental change in aesthetic perception engendered by immersion-a perception connected to the ideal of total immersion in virtual space-identifies certain shifts in ontology. My research was based on a broad inquiry into the histories of virtual reality, philosophy, and the visual arts and led to the formulation of an aesthetic theory of immersive consciousness that is indicative of an immersive culture.

Considering the results of my research into the ideational background and paradigmatic implications of aesthetic immersion, I can say that the balance of evidence points to a definite correlation between immersive ideals and desires for extrasensory (broadly empiricist), distributed disembodiment, meaning a loss of cognitive body-image involving the expansion of boundaries and a yearning to merge characteristics of spirituality (ignudo spirto). [End Page 417] Therefore the role of immersive art remains the prosthetic task of artificially facilitating such an unrestricted state; as such, it remains associated with the most fleeting elaborations of artistic consciousness. This erudite desire to exist in an anti-mechanistic state of expansion is temporarily realized (albeit symbolically) in engaging immersive art. Immersive art thus posits itself as a meta-symbol of and for expanded human potential.

This idea is important in pursuing an advanced inquiry into the interactive arts, in that interactivity to me is not merely the ability to manipulate and modify a virtual world, but the substantial ability of the immersant to self-modify (self-re-program) his or her sense of self. In this respect, aesthetic immersion adheres to and fosters Kendall Walton's theory of make-believe, which he outlined in Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Art. Walton sees art as a generator of "fictional truths" that, through art's inventiveness, invite ontological self-modification via the immersant's participation in the creative process [1]. In terms of formulating a theory of immersive art, however, the key value of immersive fictional truths lies in their underscoring the fiction behind the assumed "real" mechanistic perspective-a perspective that is seen as empirically true and universally valid instead of as a conventional and contingent idiosyncratic compliance.

The salient aspects of my research have shown that various perceived possibilities...