[FISEA’93] Panel Paper: Roy Ascott – From Appearance to Apparition: Communications and Consciousness in the Cybersphere


Schrödinger’s Cat has to be the most celebrated creature in the bestiary of science,and the paradox it proposes is perhaps the most complex in our understanding of consciousness and reality. It describes the problem of measurement at the quantum level of reality, the level of subatomic particles, atoms and molecules.This gruesome thought experiment involves a black box containing a cat and radioactive material positioned so as to trigger the cat’s death if the particle decays. The process is quantum mechanical and so the decay can only be predicted in a probabilistic sense.The whole boxed system is described by a wavefunction which involves a combination of the two possible states that the cat can be in: according to quantum thewy the cat is both dead and alive, untill we observed and measured it, at which point, the wavefunction collapses and the cat will be seen to be in either one state or the other. And just as the electron is neither a wave nor a particle until a measurement is made on it, so the cat is neither dead nor alive until we get to take a look at it. We are dealing here with observer-created reality. To look is to have the system jump from a both/and situation to an either/or outcome, the quantum jump producing what is known as the eigenstate. But there is no agreement amongst physicists about precisely where, in the chain of events in this wavefunction collapse, the measurement result is ultimately registered. Greg Egan places the point of collapse, the point at which reality is created. right in the brain. By proposing a technology which could be inserted in the brain to modify this eigenstate effect, to block it and thereby prevent the collapse of the wave function, his scenario gives a post-biological context to the idea that reality is constructed. Egan speaks the language of the coming decade. His 1990’s science fiction addresses issues of the neuro-cognitive sciences with the prescience that William Gibson showed towards computer communication developments in the 1980s. And just as Gibson’s Neuromancer correctly identified cyberspace as an important cultural construct of the late 20th century, so Egan’s Quarantine identifies the issues likely to preoccupy us at the turn of the millennium. The question of consciousness, the technology of consciousness. the transcendence of consciousness will be the themes of 21st century life. Fundamental to this evolution is the development of a telematic art in the cybersphere, and fundamental to that art are the experiments, concepts, dreams and audacity of artists working today with telecommunications systems and services.

  • Roy Ascott, UK,  has initiated many global telecommunications projects since 1980
    when, with an NEA award, he created Terminal Art, one of the first artists’
    international computer conferencing projects. He created La Plissure de Texte, a
    planetary fairy-tale, involving “distributed authorship” through electronic networks
    for Electra 1983 in Paris. He was international Commissioner (Art, Technology,
    Informatics) for the Venice Biennale in 1986, for which he organised Planetary
    Network and Laboratory Ubiqua. His multi-media installation Aspects of Gaia was
    presented at the 1989 Ars Electronica Festival in Linz. He is founding member of the
    interactive Art jury of the Prix Ars Electronica and consultant to the new Ars
    Electronica Center . In 1991, as a protest against the invasion of Iraq, he proposed
    Texts, Bombs and Videotape. The networking project, Telenoia was at V2 in
    s’Hertogenbosch, Holland in 1992. He lectures and publishes widely in Europe and
    North America. He directs the Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts
    (CAIIA), at Newport School of Art and Design, Gwent College.Wales.

Full text p. 1-8