Saturday, May 3, 2008

Reality, Virtual and Actual and their Intersections

I had to endure an MRI today. It is not possible to take an MP3 player (Zune or IPod) into the machine and I cannot stand the radio for the most part, so I went through it without any cushion where noise/sound is concerned. I had other MRIs in the past, but was in considerably severe pain this morning before the procedure, so it was a challenge to remain as still as a corpse for half an hour in a closed white capsule with the sound of a jackhammer beating down upon me every few seconds.

I thought I would try to use the MRI as an experimental meditation environment by transforming the sounds of the machine into hypnotic 'music' akin to drumming. It was difficult at some points, but I did learn to accept the 'heartbeat' of the machine, which is a little faster than a normal human heartbeat and 'breathier' somehow.

Time is warped in a situation like this. A minute can appear to be endless but if one relaxes, one can transform it into dreamtime to some extent. The fact that one is not allowed to wear a watch makes it impossible to guess how much actual time has elapsed. The trick is to suspend interest in time and space somehow and to simply float with the tide, accepting the annoying noises and transforming them into a kind of soundtrack to an internal adventure.

I always have been fascinated with small closed spaces, actually, and when I was a child, one of my favourite resting places was an enormous wooden rolltop desk we had inherited from a great-aunt. It was large enough that an adult could stretch out comfortably in it and shut the top without being cramped. The dim lighting, faint odour of old wood and its coziness all appealed to me. I spent many hours in that desk. Bizarre? Eccentric? Fortunately, I never cared about the opinions of others where matters like that were concerned. Furthermore, beds in enclosed spaces have been fashionable during different eras in different cultures. They still are used in parts of Brittany I think... Not to mention the Vampire or Vampyre, who sleeps in his/her coffin on a regular basis.

In the MRI, I tried to believe I was resting in a catacomb in Malta, on a slab of stone rather than the floor of a capsule made of plastic. I tried to imagine the coolness of the stone, the smell of slightly damp earth and rock, and far above, in another world almost, bright Mediterranean sunlight and fields filled with red poppies and other wildflowers. I never have had the opportunity to visit the catacombs in Malta, but in the photographs I have seen, they represent a sort of communal post-mortem paradise. The resting places for the dead were 'window beds' of sorts, shelves carved into solid rock, with another little niche for funeral meals.

Far from the reality of the MRI with its grinding noise, I retreated to a place I never had seen in actuality but longed to visit... and almost made it real.

I am by no means 'half in love with easeful death' nowadays like Keats but I do think that our culture is wrong to view death as a terrifying enemy or as something to be escaped. It always seemed hypocritical to me that individuals who proclaimed themselves to have faith in God were terrified of meeting Him and wished to prolong THIS inferior life as long as possible. After all, if Heaven does exist, who on earth would not wish to pack his/her bags and take the journey to that blissful place?

If, as Swinburne liked to dream, the tomb is nothing more than a place where eternal sleep can be enjoyed, that is not such a terrible fate either. I would like to think that one could face the prospect of death without terror or dread... At any rate, I do enjoy total darkness, sensory deprivation and unequivocal peace and quiet... as long as it doesn't last TOO long. An MRI may not be my resting place of choice, but its size and shape do not cause me any disquiet. It is the awful noise and the lack of any aesthetic beauty that is far less pleasant. Why can't they cover the inside of the lid with a wonderful mosaic pattern, for example? Even a pattern of stars against a velvet black sky would be appealing to the patient.

Meanwhile, I received an email from a player who is playing a game that is based on 'real time'. The game is 'Animal Crossing Wild World'. The player asked a number of questions, the last of which was: 'The last thing is that today it rained in real time but in my game it wasn't raining, why didn't it rain in the game? I thought it performed on real time, I tried restarting my game and it still wasn't raining, its been pouring rain here where I live (Canada)...'

At first I thought it was a joke. I could not imagine any game accepting not only the local time but being connected to local weather conditions as well! In fact, one must SET the DS clock to a specific time zone. The game then accepts that time initially and keeps using it as a guide. It does not communicate with local news and weather...

But what a thought! Why not, one might ask? There are virtual realities such as 'Second Life' that operate on 'real time', although it always is a time that is universal to Second Life rather than accepting individual time zones. It is not impossible to visualise a future where games could communicate with local weather stations and incorporate those weather conditions. Whether or not it makes any sense to do so is another matter.

Animal Crossing allows a player to map constellations in his/her own sky and the stars will move according to the seasons in the same way that our stars move across the sky in the course of the year. I suppose it is not that absurd for the player to think that it ought to be raining in his village in Animal Crossing at the same time that it rained in Canada.

No comments: