Grant Maxwell’s book Integration and Difference: Constructing a Mythical Dialectic looks at the problem of the opposites through the lens of 13 philosophers who mostly fit within a constructivist stream of pragmatist, speculative, or process thought. This Voices of VR podcast episode is a 2.5-hour, philosophical deep dive providing an overview of each of these thinkers and how their ideas fit into the broader context of experiential design, perception, embodied experience, consciousness, and the metaphysical assumptions about the nature of reality itself. The 13 philosophers included within Maxwell’s book and this discussion include:
- Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
- Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
- Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716)
- G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831)
- F.W.J. Schelling (1775-1834)
- Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
- William James (1842-1910)
- Henri Bergson (1859-1941)
- Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)
- C.G. Jung (1875-1961)
- Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995)
- James Hillman (1926-2011)
- Isabelle Stengers (1949-)
I’ve previously had Whitehead scholar Matt Segall provide a primer for Process Philosophy on this podcast, which helped open a portal of understanding for myself that lead to a talk I gave to philosophers elaborating on “Process Philosophy & VR: The Foundations of Experiential Design.” Also check out my Storycon Keynote on “A Primer on Presence, Immersive Storytelling, & Experiential Design” for some more context for how some of these philosophical ideas in this episode tie back to the evolution of my thinking.
In my framework for experiential design and immersive storytelling, I talk about four aspects of the qualities of presence, context, character, and story, and I will often cite this Robert McKee quote:
“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”McKee, R. (1997). Story: Substance, structure, style, and principles of screenwriting. (pp. 101) ReganBooks.
This passage was first pointed out to me by Baobab Studio’s Eric Darnell, and I think encompasses all four aspects of my framework. When you watch a film, you’re watching an actor be put under pressure (context) that unfolds over time (story) and they are making choices and taking action (qualities of presence of mental presence & active presence), and their actions are revealing essential parts of their character (character).
In film, you’re typically watching other characters be put under pressure as they make choices and take action. But in VR and interactive gaming, you become the protagonist who is being put into contexts under pressure where you have to make choices and take action. If done properly, then it has the potential to have aspects of your essential character be revealed. Either those character aspects are unique to that gaming context, or if the pressure is intense enough and you feel enough presence and immersion, then it is possible have a part of your essential character be revealed.
It’s in this revealing of essential character where some of the depth psychological ideas explored in this podcast episode start to connect back to virtual reality and immersive storytelling. Maxwell dives into the philosophical foundations of character from a depth psychological perspective connecting Jung’s ideas of the archetypes with Schelling’s early philosophical work on connecting myth to the polytheistic potencies, and Nietzsche’s exploration of the Apollonian versus Dionysian dialectic, the alchemical inspirations of Jung for his ideas of the reconciling third process of psychological integration, and then looking at Hillman’s more pluralistic archetypal psychology approaches that goes beyond the more monocentric orientation of Jung.
There are many other key philosophical ideas and concepts that go beyond the scope of this brief context-setting write-up, but other topics that we cover include the problem of the opposites, escaping the binary nature of the Hegelian dialectic through the mythical dialectic and Deleuze’s concept of differentiation, how the mathematical metaphor of the infinitesimal describes the metaphysics of Leibnitz and Deleuze, Spinoza’s univocity, James’s pragmatism, radical empiricism, and fact of feeling, the process-relational approaches to what’s possible versus what’s actual, the beauty of Whitehead’s process-relational metaphysical system, how affective complexes resonate with the polytheistic potencies in this mythical dialectic, how each of these philosophers are affirming some combination of formal causation and final causation, and moving beyond Derrida’s deconstruction and into a new novel epoch, and dealing with stubbornly incommensurable polar opposites via Whitehead’s positive contrasts which remain Nietzsche’s something higher than any reconciliation.
This is no doubt on of the more philosophically dense and theoretical episodes of the Voices of VR podcast, but hopefully it helps to provide a deeper context for some of these thinkers within a constructivist stream of pragmatist, speculative, process thought and helps to build a theoretical scaffolding for how to expand from existing literary theory into new modes of conceptual frameworks to help make sense of immersive storytelling within the context of virtual and augmented reality.
There’s a passage from Robert McKee’s book “Story: Substance, structure, style, and principles of screenwriting” that I often quote in thinking about James’s “radical empiricism,” which it emphasizes the primacy of direct, embodied experiences and the fact of feelings