How many times when we were kids did we see characters in cartoons and cartoon series and think about how much fun it would be to interact with some of these characters in the external world? Of course, there was always the interaction that was possible with humans dressed up as these characters in places like Disneyland and Disney World. But past a certain age, most kids realized that these weren’t real animated characters any more than the person who dressed up as Santa Claus was really Santa Claus. So Disney researchers have developed a “Magic Bench” where you sit down and that triggers an augmented reality experience where 3D animated characters “sit” on the bench next to you. I am not going to go into an explanation of how this works, because it is very complex and not very relevant to my discussion of the ramifications of such experiences for the people who sit on the “Magic Bench”. I have discussed augmented reality and virtual reality experiences previously. Actually this sounds more like a virtual reality experience to me, but Disney Research, the company that makes these benches, describes the experience as augmented reality, so for that reason, I will stick to calling it augmented reality. Anyway, there is something particularly seductive and particularly dangerous about a device that can somehow mentally fool people into thinking that they are experiencing fantasy figures as phenomena in the external world.
What is the danger? It relates to what fantasy figures are configured to be for humans in their traditional settings. Basically, before modern technology came along, fantasy figures were ethereal vacuumized images that existed in our minds and in static works of art. We never had any doubt that a fantasy figure or a work of art was anything more than an object or an image on an object. To the extent that it came alive, it came alive in the dreamy vacuumized processes of our minds. And these processes always existed in a distant realm, separate and apart from our direct sensory experience of the physical external world.
Again all of this exists distinct from the fantastic representation of gods and goddesses and other spirit figures in the external world. These spirit figures, for those of us who have not been believers, are just more fantasy figures. For those of us who are believers, they represent figures that are part of a vacuumized spiritual world that exists apart from our minds, figures that would go on existing even if the human mind didn’t exist.
Returning to the Magic Bench, the augmented reality as represented by the experience of these 3D animated fantasy figures becomes a vehicle by which the boundaries between the realm of fantasy and the realm of the real external world become totally blurred. If such a Magic Bench becomes commonplace in different locales, it could lead to fundamental disorientation in the fields of experience of people and, particularly, of children. What do I mean by this? The vacuumized phenomena of these animated figures will blur into the physical phenomena of the real world and will start to vacuumize the physical phenomena of external world reality. Particularly, in our perceptions, it will vacuumize other real people. It will affect our capacity to bond with these other people. Actually, it will affect our capacity to even bond with ourselves, as we become more and more numb to ourselves. In other words, our perceptions of ourselves will become somewhat vacuumized, as if we were augmented reality ourselves.
At the same time, our experience of these fantasy figures on the Magic Bench will lead to endowing fantasy in general with a certain external world physicality, as if living fantasy figures existed somehow in the external world in forms other than human costumed figures. It will lead, in other words, to seeing things in fantasy images almost as if we were experiencing psychotic delusions. This will affect our abilities to properly function in the external world, as one cannot properly function in the external world, if one is not properly grounded in it.
I must say that I have no problems whatsoever with enjoying fantasy figures and worlds of fantasy in general. I believe that such experiences stretch our imagination and our capacity for creativity, both of which are very important components of the human personality. I just don’t like it when they can potentially interfere with our abilities to connect with other people and to navigate the external world.
Speaking of imagination and creativity, when fantasy figures appear as if they actually exist in the real external world, how does that affect our capacity to use our own imagination and creativity in different situations? Particularly if fantasy figures appear real and start to act as sources of both mirroring and modeling in our daily lives, that could diminish the space in our minds to use our own creativity in a meaningful way and to develop our own fantasies. It could diminish our capacity to make and even preserve imprints using our creativity and not just in terms of making our own fantasy figures, which most of us won’t do. Rather, in terms of coming up with creative solutions to our life needs. Now, as previously stated, fantasy and reality blur in situations like the Magic Bench, and although our own use of creativity gets muted in this situation, it doesn’t mean that external world fantasy as represented by Disney fantasy figures, can’t rush in and penetrate our perception of reality. And as reality becomes vacuumized by fantasy, our perception of reality becomes distorted and more prone to delusion. But delusion is not a vehicle by which humans constructively use their creativity to make and preserve imprints. We can say that first illusion and then delusion replaces constructive creativity, when fantasy and reality blur together in situations like the Magic Bench. It is not a very healthy situation.
© 2019 Laurence Mesirow