Imaging Place as Imaging Thought:
Deleuze, Electracy, and Virtual Reality

Richard Smyth

“A new image of thought—a new conception of what thinking means is the task of philosophy today.”    Gilles Deleuze [1]
“We come to know what it means to think when we ourselves try to think.  If the attempt is to be successful, we must be ready to learn thinking.”    Martin Heidegger [2]
"Cyberspace stands to thought as flight stands to crawling"   Marcos Novak [3]

I. Orientation

As a Ph.D. student of Greg Ulmer in the early 1990s, years just prior to the web’s widespread adoption, I employed his grammatological approach [4] to the study of the humanities in order to develop a rhetoric of hypertext composition which saw in hypertext a precursor of the three-dimensional writing spaces that are now coming available in virtual worlds like Second Life and Sansar.  My research included study of Greek and Renaissance rhetorical practices, especially use of the memory palace as a mnemonic strategy, as well as the return of allegory and the rise of the “superficial” in contemporary literary theory and philosophy. [5]  The memory palace tradition, with its practice of storing startling images in imaginary places familiar to the orator [6], can be a powerful rhetorical tool in the age of virtual reality as well as extremely relevant to the (on-going, perpetual) Invent-L conference focused as it is on “imaging place.” The Imaging Place work of John Craig Freeman and the Florida Research Ensemble, for example, can be viewed as a kind of collective memory palace on a global level. Given the one-time popularity of Second Life as well as the soon-to-launch Sansar and Facebook VR [7], based as they are on a video-game interface with which many “digital natives” (Prensky 1) already feel comfortable, not to mention the rise and spread of Augmented Reality [8], the grammatological milieu of the “virtual memory palace” has much to offer us today as we work to theorize relevant uses of these new technologies.  

My original abstract for the Imaging Place conference asked the question of how the electronic medium (specifically a 3-D virtual reality like Second Life) would change the way that we think spatially, given the context, from cognitive linguistics, of the conceptual metaphor of the mind as a body moving through space as conceived by Lakoff and Johnson. [9] The question of how thought will change, or rather how new media will augment human brain capacity differently, is central to Ulmer’s development of “electracy” as a neologism referring to the skill and facility necessary to exploit the full communicative potential of new electronic media such as multimedia, hypermedia, social software, and virtual worlds. [10]  In the following passage, Ulmer concisely states how electracy will be different:

What literacy is to the analytical mind, electracy is to the affective body: a prosthesis that enhances and augments a natural or organic human potential. Alphabetic writing is an artficial memory that supports long complex chains of reasoning impossible to sustain within the organic mind. Digital imaging similarly supports extensive complexes of mood atmospheres beyond organic capacity. Electrate logic proposes to design these atmospheres into affective group intelligence. Literacy and electracy in collaboration produce a civilizational left-brain right-brain integration. (Ulmer, “Electracy and Pedagogy”)

During his keynote speech at the Imaging Place conference, Ulmer further developed this idea of augmentation when he spoke of electracy as supporting the daemon (a.k.a. ‘Duende’), i.e. the voice of the body that is augmented by electronic technologies. [11] Ulmer also spoke of Spinoza’s concept of conatus in this context, which he defined as “the capacity for being affected” and said that it is “experienced as joy or sadness.” Electracy supplements literacy by calling forth in electronic composition “an aesthetic practice supporting the experience of conatus.”

In other words, it is not the way we think that will change but the way we think about the way we think—the way we think about thought. This change is already underway, not only in the work of Ulmer.  Thought is no longer viewed as merely a rational and logical activity but also something that includes the emotions, considered for so long merely secondary to the rational mind. This changing perception can be seen in the handful of recent books that acknowledge the centrality of emotions in thought:  Antonio D’Amasio’s Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Joseph LeDoux’s The Emotional Brain, and, Marvin Minsky’s The Emotion Machine. Western neuroscientists are conferencing with the Dalai Lama to discuss the physiological origins of “destructive emotions” and how techniques of meditation can steer brain activity away from the amygdala—the center of fear in the brain—to the prefrontal lobes, the center of rationality and creativity, while the presence of “Emotional Intelligence” (“E.Q.”) and “Social Intelligence” is recognized and studied as well. [12]

This change in thinking about thought is also underway in philosophy, especially the work of Gilles Deleuze.  This is widely recognized in recent commentary on his thought.  Reidar Due, for instance, writes that “Deleuze’s philosophy . . . aims to produce a revolution in how we think” (1).  Revolution, with its implications of radical overthrow, might call to mind Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the war machine, which might explain the language that Claire Colbrook uses to characterize Deleuze’s work as a project for “provoking and mobilizing thinking” (12). Thought is imaged here as something staid and static, something that needs to be provoked to awaken, to marshal and deploy. Implicit here is the idea, as Colbrook further suggests, that “Deleuze’s created concept of philosophy refers to a capacity to think differently” (25). The capacity to think differently—capacity being the virtual potential immanent to any energetic material flow—is nascent but requires a catalyst to mobilize the agents of change. For Ulmer, the catalyst is the disruptive new technologies of communication that put pressure on existing institutions as an emergent new form of identity formation makes itself known. This emergent identity is hinted at when Eric Alliez concludes his essay on “Deleuze’s Virtual Philosophy”:

Thus Deleuze’s question will always have been that of a material and virtual-actual image of Thought-Being, of the rhizome and of immanence, with the superior ethology it calls for in order to follow the unknown furrows traced in the world-brain by every free creation of concepts: new connections, new passages, new synapses for new compositions which make the singular into a concept . . . (103).

These new synapses furrowed in the “world-brain” become actualized when the brains of individual networked-selves fire/wire together via the internet. The ontology of thought, or “Thought-Being,” does not derive from the abstract, Platonic transcendent realm as millennia of Western philosophy would have us think; it is an emergent phenomenon resulting from energy flowing through grey matter. [13]  The goal then, in the words of John Rajchman, is to have an “encounter with something that doesn’t fit in habitual ways of seeing and thinking, that ‘shakes up’ thinking and puts up something new to be thought” (44).

The work of Deleuze does just that. Deleuze himself often writes explicitly about thought, enough, obviously, to prompt the above conclusions. For example, in “On Nietzsche and the Image of Thought,” he writes that “philosophy, too, must create worlds of thought, a whole new conception of thought, of ‘what it means to think,’ and it must be adequate to what is happening around us” (Desert Islands 138). This adequacy to the present can be seen in all that he has done, which might be summarized as plumbing the plateaus of contemporary thought (population genetics, chaos theory, the mathematics of topology and fractals, metallurgy and materials science, geology and botany) for models of what Manuel Delanda comes to call “parametrized concepts” (11), where static “kinds” become phases (i.e. solids, liquids, gases) in an ontology derived from mixture. [14]

Later in the same essay, Deleuze speaks of the need for “formal renewal” in philosophy, disparaging its failure to undergo experiments comparable to those in the sciences and the arts. Like the revolutions in these areas, “the search for modes of expression (both a new image of thought and new techniques) must be essential for philosophy. . . We get the feeling that we can't go on writing philosophy books in the old style much longer; they no longer interest the students, they don't even interest the authors. So, I think everyone is on the look-out for something new” (141). He speaks of Godard as one who “transforms cinema by introducing thought into it. He didn’t have thoughts on cinema, he doesn’t put more or less valid thought into cinema; he starts cinema thinking. . .” (141). Such is the goal of this essay:  to start virtual worlds thinking, to start thinking with the space of virtual worlds as analogs to our very consciousness. [15]

In many ways, then, Ulmer's conception of electracy can be viewed as the new image of thought that Deleuze continually calls for throughout his career. Ulmer himself is Deleuzian insofar as he is a creator of concepts—“applied grammatology,” “teletheory,” the puncept, heuretics, and electracy, to name the most significant.  Thought, the new thinking that we can do in the age of electracy, has been Ulmer's focus throughout his career.  We see it in his latest effort, Avatar Emergency, where he pauses to consider the moment Nietzsche has the revelation of his task, to explicate the eternal return and the will to power:

A thought happens to Nietzsche. He has an idea. This is the event in question. He experiences a moment of insight, literally an “inspiration.” This is the point, the conjunction of experience and knowledge, which is also a possibility for you, and concerns the functionality of avatar. Right there, if we can zoom in and linger. Everything that we will have said concerns just this event, this quality of thought. I want to understand “what happened,” because to the extent that it is an event, it is not over yet, and never will be over. Nor can it be left to the few geniuses of history. You need to have an idea. Tradition, and you are a diadoch, a successor, meaning that it depends on you, for thinking is not just for experts today. (6-7)

Ulmer continues with mention of the various landscapes that Nietzsche walked, all of them contributing to the development of his idea: It is his embodied walking that inspires Nietzsche. Ulmer concludes the passage, “Precisely, body, for it is the body that is augmented and thinks within an electrate apparatus” (7).

Ulmer modeled the new form of thinking in a response to a post of mine on the Invent-L discussion list. One thing I hoped for from the conference but wasn't very good at producing (perhaps my fault, perhaps the fault of the conference format) was a conversation about how a 3-D electronic space like Second Life will change the way we think spatially. I wanted to ask the following questions based on Lakoff and Johnson's cluster of conceptual metaphors that emerge from the Mind as Body metaphor (Thinking is Moving, Thinking is Perceiving, Thinking is Object Manipulation) and consider these in light of using virtual reality as a prosthesis for thinking (Ideas are Locations, A Line of Thought is a Path, Understanding is Following, etc):

  • What happens to thought when our understanding of space changes?
  • What happens to thought when we consider the space of non-Euclidean geometries?
  • What happens to thought when we begin to navigate virtual spaces like Second Life?

Upon returning from the conference and thinking these things over, I began to wonder about thought itself, to think about thinking, about what is happening when one thinks, and I posted this question to Invent-L:  “What is thought?” (Smyth, “whacky question #1”). [16] Ulmer’s response was to post the following:

What is thinking. Part One: an allegory.

The ice-cream store of Reason.
The most popular flavors are vanilla and chocolate but some ask for bubblegum-clam with sprinkles. Thinking is the child exiting with a double-dip thought already melting down his hand (a self-portrait, 1950 perhaps) nestled insecurely in a waffle-grid sentence.

A proof (reconstructed scene with parable feature turned on):

  1. ......mmm.......m......n...nn.......------zzz---,,,,
  2. (Sees trail of ants crossing a deep crack in sidewalk). ?????
  3. (Leans over 90 degrees at the waist. Double-dip top-heavy cone discharges plops reverse order onto sidewalk altering ant train movement with several casualties). !?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
  4. (says Waaaaaahhhhhhh!) Oops oops oops.
  5. It still looks ok mostly (reaches for upper portion).
    Mother: Don't touch that!
    Father: A lesson: vertical and horizontal. Nicely done.
  6. (Looking at sister's cone). It would be funny if hers plopped. (Ulmer “allegory”)

My follow-up post asked the following questions:

  1. Why is it the ice-cream store of "Reason"? Is thinking only about reason, or is there more to it than that?
  2. Since this allegory invokes a landscape metaphor (what else is there?), I wonder what other stores and places there are to go and how they represent other aspects of thinking.
  3. Why is thought represented as something solid that melts (e.g. ice cream)?
  4. What is the mother of thought? What is the father of thought? Why is thinking represented as a child?
  5. Why does the mother tell the child not to pick up the fallen ice cream?  Why does the father say "nicely done" after clarifying the lesson learned? What does this suggest about the nature of thought and thinking?
  6. Am I thinking too much about all of this?

Some implications for thought and thinking:

  1. Thought is slippery. Thought doesn't last long:  it's transient, it melts away.
  2. Thinking is something to be enjoyed, while it lasts.  The joy is ephemeral, though.
  3. Thought is something we try to contain.  The "waffle-grid sentence/cone" suggests the striated space of Deleuze and Guattari.  Thought inevitably escapes, however; it cannot be contained.
  4. There is plain thought (vanilla and chocolate) and there is specialty thought (bubblegum-clam flavor with sprinkles).
  5. Curiosity about something else (here, about the ants) leads to losing your thoughts. You must stay focused in order to engage in sustained thought.
  6. The visual nature of allegory/analogy provides the way to think within the electrate apparatus. A "proof" will be a scene unfolding in the space of allegory/parable. (Smyth “Re: allegory”).

In other words, responding with an allegory is perfectly in line with Ulmer's whole project, which has to do with changing the way we think. It is ultimately about having us think with images, through images rather than (or rather as a supplement to) thinking only with words.

And with that in mind—as a thought perhaps, or perhaps as an image—I must begin to think in these new ways, or be thought in these ways, to be affected by these thoughts of imaging thought, of imaging place.  

According to Deleuze, affects are the basic components of mental activity . . . To understand an affect is to see it as a force, a particular type of energy and this energy does not presuppose self-consciousness . . . In this philosophical perspective, the mind is a site of thoughts rather than a center of consciousness. These thoughts are not defined by the fact that someone can say: they are my thoughts. Thoughts, in other words, are not defined as belonging to a subject. (Due 10)

II. Disorientation

Radical changes in technologies of communication create profound disorientation. Ulmer's “applied grammatology” examines the intersection of such technologies with institutional practices and identity formation, providing methods for inventing new practices. The following is an attempt to bootstrap new thinking practices by means of the very alphabet itself, using a pangram that offers two characters who can enact the mise-en-scene of electracy:


The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.  Or the lazy dog's back.  That's the way I learned it—he (he?) jumps over its back.  But the back is not necessary.  When I was learning how to type, way back in 1978, on huge—huge!—monstrous Royal typewriters with long metal typebars and big round black-pearl keytops, my father told me that the sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog's back” contained every letter of the alphabet and was therefore good for practicing one's typing. But if you actually account for all of the letters in the alphabet, there’s no need for the back.

One way or the other, the quick brown fox and the lazy dog are convenient insofar as they invoke alphabetic literacy, one of the most powerful inventions of Western civilization and one that images thought as an individual, autonomous act of an authority. They may not rise to the level of the “conceptual personae” that Deleuze and Guattari say are necessary for the creation of new concepts, however:


“Conceptual personae are the philosopher’s ‘heteronyms,’ and the philosopher's name is the simple pseudonym of his personae. I am no longer myself but thought's aptitude for finding itself and spreading across a plane that passes through me at several places . . . The conceptual persona is needed to create concepts on the plane. . . .” (What is Philosophy? 64, 75-76). 

They will at least serve as allegorical figures who will enable me to experiment with the form and content of this, this, what?  Let me call it a condensation. We should at least imagine them eating ice cream:  the dog having plain vanilla, whereas the fox is indulging in bubble-gum clam with sprinkles, though Ulmer would probably prefer the fox to be eating gelato. [17]

So, despite the invocation of alphabetic literacy, we have in this scene, this image, an allegory of electracy:  it suggests a going forward, a becoming-electrate:  the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.  The dog is slow.  The fox achieves speed, races forward, is going on. The dog wants to slow things down, the way scientists and mathematicians minimize dimensional complexity in order to comprehend, to grasp, the nature of reality. [18]  The fox turns the point into a line, and the line into a square, by dashing forth: what you see is a blur, the fourth dimension manifest.

colon = points                 ANALOGIC

colon = points


equation = lines                     LOGIC

equation = lines


     pixation = squares               JUXTOLOGIC

    pixation = squares



Once upon a time there was a Quick Brown Fox and a Lazy Dog. This is a story of how they came together, what they said, and what they did. It's the kind of story you've heard before but never listened to—a small story, a light story.

The Quick Brown Fox was a wanderer. He never stayed anywhere longer than a short time, and he never stayed in the same place twice. He liked to cross over but never get to the other side. He liked to go fast and feel the breeze in his wavy brown hair.

For these reasons, he traveled light. He carried a laptop computer, a cellphone, and a telescope, all in a little black bag he wore over his shoulder. He wore black clothes and black shoes. You'd think he was just at a funeral. He had black sunglasses; you could not see his eyes. Black leather jacket.

The Fox was peripatetic, presocratic, sophistic and sophisticated. He was, in a word, cool. [16]  So cool as to be cold. So cold he burned to the touch.

When the time came he left the place he was and came to the place he is now, which is on the road walking toward the Lazy Dog.

At another moment, the Lazy Dog is lying on the ground, taking a nap. The Dog isn't really lazy; he just thinks slow thoughts, and likes to take his time. He is a scientist, and he lives in the doghouse at the border of three states, at the point of their intersection, inside the boundary.

The Lazy Dog is wearing a white laboratory coat, in the fashion of scientists, and in its pocket he has a pocket protector, three pens (blue, black, and red), a small notebook, and a magnifying glass. His house is full of books, which is why he sleeps outside all the time. He also has a particle accelerator out back.

At long last the Quick Brown Fox arrives, and jumps over the Lazy Dog's back. This is the moment we've all been waiting for.

Then what happens?  A dialogue, of course.  Or, rather, a diapath.


What Is Thought? A Neo-Presocratic Diapath

The Lazy Dog:  I must get organized.  My thoughts keep swirling around one central question: “What is Thought?”  It's like a funnel, sucking my mental energy into a vortex. I have no control. Yet I never make any progress. I am stuck at that one location, that one point, as if a young child waiting to go forth into the world (first day of school, perhaps) and is afraid to do so. How can I think these thoughts about thought? I am not qualified. I have no credentials. I haven't read the entire oeuvre of Western philosophy and all commentary on each major thinker. Who will listen to what I have to say? I will waste my time. I am wasting my time, for I can't think of anything else.

The Quick Brown Fox:  You spin and spin but you haven't gone through. Dive in. You are swept up in the swept, the spinning. You are not traveling with it. Come with me through the vortex, to a new dimension of thought, to whatever is beyond the here of now.

The Lazy Dog:  No, no. I must get organized. There is no time for wandering in multidimensional phase spaces. (Not to mention there’s a deadline.) This requires a particular kind of thinking, to think about thought in a systematic way. It requires analysis, a breaking down into this and that, and then a spreading out, an anatomizing of thought, an atomizing of thought. Ah yes, that will be my most erudite title: “An Atomy of Thought.” A resurrection of an ancient genre, a return to a classical age. Fox, I have no time for your non-sense. I have real work to do. My intention is to develop this genre within a contemporary context, accounting for all current thought in psychology, cognitive science, conceptual integration theory, the electrate apparatus.

[the Quick Brown Fox branches off of the Lazy Dog’s dialogue:  he has multiple responses as it unfolds . . . below is a link from “non-sense.”]

The Quick Brown Fox:  Oh but Dog, there is a logic to nonsense. A higher logic some would say: the logic of chaos, a theory of complexity, a recognition that all is in flux, nothing is stable, there are only flows, flows of matter (which are flows of energy, for the Einstein showed that each is a manifestation of the other, wed by speeds and slownesses), bloodflows to the parts of the mindbrain bridged by a concept, the flow of our conversation from me to you, from smooth to striated, from rhizome to tree: fractal half-dimensional web of unfolding potential: spider dropping from the leaf and falling free, web trailing from behind:banyan branch dropping down, seeking for an earth:

The Quick Brown Fox:  [the following branches off from deadline]. How can there be a deadline? There are only lifelines. There is only life.  Even the rocks are alive: have you ever seen a lava flow? have you ever seen a mud slide? Dog, you're too lazy to even open your eyes and pay attention to what is happening around you! You only attend to that which you can control, that which will fit your little simplistic equations. You're scared of nonlinear equations, or, rather, you have no way of conceiving of them: this is the limitation of your view of the concept, residue of literate thought. You must go beyond the concept to capture these new modes of thinking. Here's a (partial?) list:

  • the recept
  • the decept
  • the incept
  • the except

So, the questions you should be trying to answer are these: How to be, not conceptual, but receptual? How to be deceptual? Inceptual? Exceptual? How to create recepts, decepts, incepts, excepts? If you want to think with Deleuze, you have to think beyond Deleuze. He spoke of philosophy as the creation of concepts. You must speak of philosophy as the creation of recepts/decepts/incepts/excepts.

The Lazy Dog: Your talk is all jumbled. How is anybody supposed to follow you? It's all really a bit much. You're interrupting me once again. Now, to get down to it. Let's see. Okay. First of all an explication of terms: I will use “mindbrain” to indicate the origin or source of thoughts in order to acknowledge the current recognition of the problems that a Cartesian split (of mind from brain) poses for a current philosophy of mind. This term will be a way of acknowledging the embodied nature of thought, how it emerges from our “wetware,” from a brain and its experience of being in a body immersed in a three-space (three spatial dimensions). This recognition is in line with all of the current thinking about neuroscience: David Dennett, Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux. These thinkers point to the central role that emotion plays in reason, and therefore to misconceptions regarding the . . .

The Quick Brown Fox:  Umm, Dog?

The Lazy Dog:  Yes, Fox? Yes?

The Quick Brown Fox:  Preeeee-cisely.


The Quick Brown Fox:  I must get dis-organized, I must loosen up, become-mud, become-lava, become-bubble, become-dust: mixtures, thought-as-mixture (earth + water = mud; earth + fire = lava; water + air = bubble [20]; earth + air = dust), I will be expressed as one with the mixture, this will be how I become a new image for thought, no more I but eye: perceiving the image of thought : eye must get dis-organized.

The Lazy Dog:  Fox, your feeble attempt at some kind of avant-garde surreal rant regarding a post-Deleuzian act of thought comes across as pseudo-intellectual gibberish. If you think you are going to get far with that kind of babble, I will be exiting this conversation. My endeavor is a serious inquiry into the nature of thought, and a consideration of how it will change in light of a new electrate apparatus. If we want grammatology to be considered a serious endeavor, a utilitarian panacea for sociological intervention into the woes of 21st century social problems, we must remain within institutional boundaries, expectations and norms of intellectual exchange and exploration.  

The Quick Brown Fox:  The eyes/ayes/I's have it: aye, bucco:  affirmative, captain. Affirmative. Carry on then, goDDog-it.

The Lazy Dog:  All right then. I was saying that emotion is now recognized as not inferior but central to the thinking process. We see this in Minsky's The Emotion Machine, which regards emotions as alternative ways of solving problems (explaining their presence in our evolved mindbrain). Ulmer of course works to create a 21st century rhetoric that in-volves the excited eureka-shriek of discovery as a way of turning the humanities into something practical and useful. As his former student Barry Mauer put it, “in the age of literacy logos was the gold standard, but in the age of electracy pathos and ethos will be the gold standard . . .” [21]

The Quick Brown Fox:  Dog. You need to cut to the chase. And I ought to know about that:  If you want to use a virtual reality like Second Life as a prosthesis for thinking, you need to log on and just do it. 

Abaris Brautigan and the Quest to Find the Edge of the World

I, Abaris Brautigan, am a Second Life avatar of Richard Smyth, who likes to think about how three-dimensional spaces like Second Life will change the way meatars (pronounced me-ah’-tars) think with their “wetware.” As an electronic projection of his self, I share his concerns and interests.  I have no choice, really: I go where he goes, I say what he says (or, rather, types, though the new voice chat interface has possibilities), I appear the way he chooses for me to appear. Most of the time. I say that because, on the day we went on our quest to find the edge of the world, there was some glitch, and he/I had the form and shape of a woman: I had been “ruthified.”


[21:38] Abaris Brautigan: I think it's interesting being a woman, but I worked so hard to cultivate that strange signature appearance of mine....
[21:38] Lyr Lobo: hehehe
[21:38] Lyr Lobo: we all get "ruthed"
[21:39] Lyr Lobo: it is a data error
[21:39] Lyr Lobo: even women...with the brown hair under our prim hair
[21:40] Abaris Brautigan: Yes--I've got the brown hair at the moment. And earrings even!!
[21:41] Lyr Lobo: hehe


Given the conceptual metaphors of the Mind as Body metaphor (Thinking is Moving, Thinking is Perceiving, Thinking is Object Manipulation) that recent scholarship in cognitive linguistics identifies, the possibilities of imaging thought by means of imaging place become clear. [22]  According to Lakoff and Johnson, thought is grounded (or “imaged”) in an allegory of the mind moving through a physical space. [23] If we extrapolate from this, then a meatar embodied as an avatar in a virtual information space is engaged in an act of thought when it moves through this space: the virtual reality becomes a prosthesis for thinking insofar as Ideas are Locations, A Line of Thought is a Path, Understanding is Following, etc. [24] In his presentation at the Invent-L conference, Smyth asked the following questions:

  • What happens to thought when our understanding of space changes? 
  • What happens to thought when we consider the space of non-Euclidean geometries? 
  • What happens to thought when we begin to navigate virtual spaces like Second Life?

He spent some time during his presentation trying to present a condensed introduction to the topology of Möbius strips and Klein bottles as well as the dimensional mathematics of superstring theory. [25]


As a result of this presentation, I became curious about the topology of Second Life. Was it a torus? Or a Klein bottle? That is, were the edges attached in a particular way such that, like in the old Asteroids video game, when one flies off the eastern edge of the screen, one reappears on the western edge of the screen?

By lining up and joining the triangles, you will create the topological form indicated.  In some cases, you must twist the edge first before joining (or “identifying”) the edges, as with the Möbius strip and the Klein bottle.

By lining up and joining the triangles, you will create the topological form indicated.  In some cases, you must twist the edge first before joining (or “identifying”) the edges, as with the Möbius strip and the Klein bottle.

So I went on a quest to the edge of the world, to see if the edges joined up.


[20:41] Abaris Brautigan: Hi Puglet! Are you busy?
[20:46] Puglet Dancer: yes
[20:46] Puglet Dancer: in a million IMs
[20:47] Abaris Brautigan: Good for you. You are well-webbed. I've decided to go on a quest to seek the edge of the world. Let me know if you care to join me....
[20:47] Puglet Dancer: interesting proposition
[20:49] Abaris Brautigan: I wish to explore the boundaries of thought, and I'm curious about the topology of Second Life. Is there a real edge? And what happens if we try to cross it?
[20:49] Puglet Dancer: hmmmm
[20:49] Abaris Brautigan: At the moment, my avatar (for reasons unknown to me) is in the form of a woman. If you join me, we can be like Thelma and Louise....
[20:51] Puglet Dancer: lol
[20:51] Puglet Dancer: you are Ruth
[20:52] Puglet Dancer: the first av
[20:52] Puglet Dancer: happens when you don't fully rez
[20:52] Abaris Brautigan: A quest of this nature is not the kind of thing one should do alone....
[20:53] Puglet Dancer: true
[20:53] Abaris Brautigan: Ruth? The first av? Please explain. I believe I'm fully rezzed--curves and all....
[20:53] Puglet Dancer: but i'm in the middle of my b-day party
[20:53] Puglet Dancer: i'm a year old today in sl
[20:53] Puglet Dancer: the first av was female
[20:53] Puglet Dancer: and all avs are based on her
[20:53] Puglet Dancer: so everybody starts out the same
[20:53] Abaris Brautigan: Happy birthday!! One should never quest during a birthday party. It's really not a good idea.
[20:54] Puglet Dancer: and then "rezzes" into what their av is supposed to be
[20:59] Abaris Brautigan: I'll let you get back to your party. If I come back from the edge of the world, I'll give you a full report....
[21:00] Abaris Brautigan: If I don't make it, have a nice secondlife....
[21:01] Puglet Dancer: please let me know how it goes
[21:02] Abaris Brautigan: I'll send you a postcard from the edge....if they have any for sale that is.
[21:02] Puglet Dancer: mm hmmm
[21:02] Abaris Brautigan: I'm assuming there'll be a tourist trap out there of course.
[21:02] Puglet Dancer: lol
[21:02] Puglet Dancer: i'm sure there will be
[21:02] Puglet Dancer: lol


Abaris Brautigan demonstrates the location of the “Think Differently Lounge” on the SL World Map.  The yellow circle indicates his present location.  The menubar of the window behind the map shows the slurl location:  “Forkbeard (17, 141, 37):  !*THINK DIFFERENTLY LOUNGE*!”


In order to find the edge of the world, I looked at the map and randomly selected a pink star (indicating an “event”) on the furthest eastern island and simply double-clicked to teleport to the location.  Now you’ll have to trust me on this:  I randomly chose this place, which turned out to be the “Think Differently Lounge.”  Coincidence? Fate? Luck?  Or the whims of an allegorical/imagistic interface to thought?  You decide.


[21:06] Abaris Brautigan: hello Nar! I'm wondering if you're busy at the moment....
[21:06] Nar Duell: no, just hanging around. where are you?
[21:10] Abaris Brautigan: I am seeking the edge of the world. I am on a quest to seek the edge....
[21:10] Abaris Brautigan: I'm wondering if you want to join me....
[21:15] Nar Duell: sure where are you? I guess you said the edge of the world but unsure where that is. . .
[21:18] Abaris Brautigan: I'll offer you a TP....
[21:19] Nar Duell: please send tp.
[21:22] You: Thank you for joining me out here on the edge of the SLuniverse....
[21:22] You: Look at your map to see what I mean....
[21:23] You: Notice that this is the "think different lounge." I believe that is highly significant, seeing as it's out here on the edge of the sluniverse....

Despite having joined me in the Think Differently Lounge, my fellow quester, Nar Duell [pronounced “Ne’er Do Well”?!!] was sore tempted and began to dance on the dance floor by activating an animation ball. Then she couldn't stop!  She became trapped in the animation. This is a glitch that sometimes occurs in Second Life.  Temptations are common in epic quests, and in this case Ne’er Do Well fell victim to the pervasive animation balls.  Given her name, I was not surprised.


[21:46] Abaris Brautigan: I'm about to set forth on my journey to find the edge of SL....
[21:47] Nar Duell: Fare thee well -- bon voyage!
[21:47] Abaris Brautigan: Thank you.... I'll send a postcard from the edge. If I survive.
[21:48] Abaris Brautigan: Being in the form of a woman, I have more courage and strength to carry on....

And so I sallied (or “ruthed”) forth. But I immediately found a problem: there was no way to exit the Think Differently Lounge.


Abaris Brautigan, trying to escape the Think Differently Lounge, encounters a highly striated boundary above the dance floor.


I found myself surrounded by a highly striated, grid-like structure. I tried everything: I flew about, I walked the perimeter of the inside, but there was no way to simply walk or fly out. In the end, I had to teleport out, using the same means of getting in . . .

I had yet to consider the allegorical implications concerning electrate thinking strategies, simply because I was still seeking the edge of the sluniverse.

Finally, I reached my destination, only to find an impenetrable barrier.  I was unable to go any further.


Hovering there at the edge, I stared out at a purely Deleuzian virtuality, where the ocean merged into a brownish haze. Perhaps, if the SL gods add new server farms to their array, this will be the site of new “sims” (A simulator, or ‘sim’, is a 256m x 256m (65,536 sqm) area in Second Life in which all things for that area exist (land, avatars, objects, etc.).


My quest to the edge of the world was over. I got my answer: Second Life is neither a torus nor a Klein bottle. The edges are not joined at all. I won't say that I wasn't disappointed, but, somehow, I was not surprised.

Weary from my quest, I wandered aimlessly out on the eastern edges of the sluniverse, at one point entering an empty but beautiful house with a startling white interior, where I gave myself to an animation of playing a soundless, white piano. If I were to add a soundtrack, it would be from Solo Piano by Philip Glass:  “Metamorphosis (Parts 1-5)”, ending on “Mad Rush.”

And it is here that I end my story/mystory.


End Notes

[1] From “Humans: A Dubious Existence,” Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974, p. 93.

[2] From What is Called Thinking?, p. 3.

[3] From “Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace,” in Cyberspace: First Steps, p. 229.

[4] For Ulmer, grammatology is the study of the “theory and history of writing” and includes consideration of prior moments of transition in communicative technologies as analogical heuristics to guide the invention of new institutional practices in the coming era of “electracy.”

[5] The rise of the “superficial” (i.e. the “surface”) overturns an ideology of depth privileged in the era of alphabetic literacy (the profound vs. the shallow). This rise can be seen in the emergence of the “puncept” as employed by Derrida and Lacan, as well as in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome, which spreads out and covers a surface rather than penetrating deeply as arborescence or “tree logic.” The “puncept” is Ulmer’s term. The dissertation is available online at

[6] Joshua Foer tells of World Memory Championship contest winners who use this method, and he himself won the USA Memory Championship by applying the memory palace method while researching his book Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything.

[7] A few years after the conference, an article was published asking “Whatever happened to Second Life?” (Collins). Yet almost 10 years afterward, another article was published titled “Why is ‘Second Life’ Still a Thing?” (Maiberg). Maiberg mentions Sansar as a new VR project being developed by Second Life creator Linden Labs. “We see this platform running in parallel with Second Life, rather than replacing it," [Linden Lab CEO Ebbe] Altberg said. "Project Sansar allows for a new level of quality, accessibility and scalability for users and their virtual creations, and is designed to reach a larger, broader audience.” And very recently, Facebook launched its Facebook Spaces VR platform:

[8] In addition to announcing the launch of Facebook’s VR interface, Zuckerberg also announced the launch of Facebook’s augmented reality:

[9] See their Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, pp. 236-40.

[10] For a more detailed definition, see the fuller definition of “electracy” that I inaugurated as a Wikipedia entry at

[11] The speech can be seen in its entirety at Cf. “Cyber Duende” in Internet Invention: “The point for now is the experience of emotion in the body described in terms of possession by a god or spirit” (227-29).

[12] Daniel Goleman is one of those at the center of these efforts with books that he has written (Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than I.Q. and the more recent Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships) as well as one that he has “narrated” (Destructive Emotions: How Can We Overcome Them? A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama).

[13] See Aunger’s Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think: “But ideas are not immaterial. Information doesn’t exist independently of the material through which it is made manifest. Even our thoughts and ideas are in the structure of gray matter and the form of electrical fluctuations in our brains. Changing ideas can require the expenditure of energy needed to rearrange the bits of matter” (139). He later defines memes as “physical things. They are, in fact, electrical things—propensities to fire—tied to the special kinds of cells called neurons (but are not the neurons themselves)” (196-97). He calls these “neuromemes,” defining them as “A configuration in one node of a neuronal network that is able to induce the replication of its state in other nodes” (197).

[14] “Unlike mutually exclusive binary categories, phases can be transformed into one another, and even coexist as mixtures, like a gel that is a mixture of the solid and liquid phases of different materials” (Delanda 11).

[15] “We have said that consciousness is an operation rather than a thing, a repository, or a function. It operates by way of analogy, by way of constructing an analog space with an analog 'I' that can observe that space, and move metaphorically in it. It operates on any reactivity, excerpts relevant aspects, narratizes and conciliates them together in a metaphorical space where such meanings can be manipulated like things in space. Conscious mind is a spatial analog of the world and mental acts are analogs of bodily acts” (Jaynes 65-66). For a treatment in a similar vein, see Knauff’s Space to Reason: A Spatial Theory of Human Thought, which offers a way “to think about human reasoning that relies on supramodal spatial representations as being at the heart of human thought, even thought about nonspatial relations in the world” (xi).

[16] Messages in the Invent-L archive are available here: The conversation occurred in 2007. A link to the original post is here:

[17] See Avatar Emergency pp. 175-179 for “Gelato @ Firenze” or “Florida Measure (Chora)”, an earlier iteration.

[18] “Chaos is an infinite speed of birth and disappearance. Now philosophy wants to know how to retain infinite speeds while gaining consistency, by giving the virtual a consistency specific to it. The philosophical sieve, as plane of immanence that cuts through the chaos, selects infinite movements of thought and is filled with concepts formed like consistent particles going as fast as thought. Science approaches chaos in a completely different, almost opposite way: it relinquishes the infinite, infinite speed, in order to gain a reference able to actualize the virtual. . . . Philosophy proceeds with a plane of immanence or consistency; science with a plane of reference. In the case of science it is like a freeze-frame. It is a fantastic slowing down. . .” (What is Philosophy? 118).

[19] “The Rhetoric of Cool is an invitation to Composition Studies to take up this paradigmatic project: the invention of electracy” (Ulmer, xi).

[20] The first volume of Peter Sloterdijk’s Spheres Trilogy is titled Bubbles.

[21] Conversation with Barry Mauer, 25 February 2007.

[22] A digitized version of Smyth, featured in John Craig Freeman’s “Imaging Place: Haverhill,” discusses Lakoff and Johnson in the context of the “broken bridge” of metaphor. A version of this work was once available in Second Life before Emerson College decommissioned its SL campus. Archival images are available at Freeman’s site:

[23] For a critique of Lakoff and Johnson’s theory, see Rosenberg’s comparison of their “top-down” paradigm to that of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s “bottom-up” paradigm: "Lakoff believes that he has created an emergent-properties account for metaphor-making" (173) but what they have done is to impose a top-down paradigm by positing “space as a structuring principle for the representation of concepts” (177). Rosenberg questions the extent to which the systems of meaning that they identify actually emerge from bodily experience. In other words, Lakoff and Johnson aren't radically embodied enough. However, Rosenberg himself ends up using a key conceptual metaphor of spatiality as he sets up his critique: “However, it is the grounds that we are most interested in, and we can approach those grounds from another direction by examining their claims for an ‘experientialism’ that explodes the distinction between objectivism and subjectivism as fundamental epistemological stances” (177, my emphasis).

[24] See Lakoff and Johnson, chapter 12 for numerous examples of other conceptual metaphors associated with the Mind as Body system of conceptual metaphor.

[25] The PowerPoint show, broken into two parts, is available at (1) and (2)

Works Cited

Alliez, Eric.  The Signature of the World, or, What is Deleuze and Guattari’s Philosophy? Translated by Eliot Ross Albert and Alberto Toscano.  Continuum, 2004.

Aunger, Robert.  The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think. The Free Press, 2002.

Colebrook, Claire.  Gilles Deleuze.  New York:  Routledge, 2002.

Collins, Barry. “Whatever Happened to Second Life?” 4 January 2010. <>. Accessed 13 April 2017.

Conley, Tom.  “Folds and folding.” In Gilles Deleuze: Key Concepts.  Edited by Charles J. Stivale, McGill-Queen’s UP, 2005, pp. 170-181.

Delanda, Manuel.  Deleuze: History and Science. Atropos Press, 2010.

Deleuze, Gilles.  Desert Islands and Other Texts: 1953-1974.  Translated by Michael Taormina, edited by David Lapoujade,  Semiotext(e), 2004.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari.  What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, Columbia UP, 1994.

Della Cava, Marco.  “Your friends (and you) become cartoon avatars in Facebook virtual reality.”  USA Today, 18 April, 2017.  Available at <>. Accessed 27 April 2017.

Due, Reidar.  Deleuze.  Polity Press, 2007.

Foer, Joshua.  Moonwalking With Einstein:  The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Penguin Books, 2011.

Freeman, John Craig. “Imagining place: Haverhill Bridge.” 23 August 2011. <>. Accessed 27 April 2017

Guynn, Jessica.  “Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for your Facebook augmented reality.” USA Today, 18 April 2017.  Available at <>. Accessed 27 April 2017.

Hallward, Peter.  Out of this World:  Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation.  Verso, 2006.

Heidegger, Martin.  What is Called Thinking? Translated by J. Glenn Gray, HarperCollins Publishers, 2004.

Jaynes, Julian.  The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  Houghton-Mifflin, 1977.

Knauff, Markus.  Space to Reason: A Spatial Theory of Human Thought. The MIT Press, 2013.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson.  Philosophy in the Flesh:  The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought.  Basic Books, 1999.

Maiberg, Emanuel.  “Why Is ‘Second Life’ Still a Thing?” Motherboard. 29 April 2016.  <>. Accessed 13 April 2017.

Mauer, Barry.  Interview. By Richard Smyth. 25 February 2007.

Novak, Marcos.  “Liquid Architectures in Cyberspace.” Cyberspace:  First Steps. Ed. Michael Benedikt.  The MIT Press, 1991, pp. 225-254.

Prensky, Mark.  “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.”  On the Horizon, vol 9, no. 5, October 2001, pp.1-8. Available at <,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf>.

Rajchman, John.  The Deleuze Connections.  The MIT Press, 2000.

Rosenberg, Martin E.  “Constructing Autopoeisis:  The Architectural Body in Light of Contemporary Cognitive Science.” Interfaces, vol. 21/22, 2003: pp. 163-185.  Available at <>.

Sloterdijk, Peter. Spheres Volume I:  Bubbles.  Translated by Wieland Hoban.  The MIT Press, 2011.

Smyth, Richard.  “Re:  allegory (was whacky question).”  Email to Invent-L List.  9 June 2007.  <>. Accessed 13 April 2017.

- - -.  “Second Life:  Imaging Virtual Place.” Lecture.  Invent-L Conference 2007:  Imaging Place.  University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.  24 February 2007.  Available at <>.

- - -. “whacky question #1/abstract revision.”  Email to Invent-L List.  28 May 2007.  <>. Accessed 13 April 2017.

Ulmer, Gregory L.  “allegory (was whacky question).”  Email to Invent-L List.  31 May 2007. <>. Accessed 13 April 2017.

- - -. Avatar Emergency.  Parlor Press, 2013.

- - -.  “Electracy and Pedagogy.”  The Online Supplement to Internet Invention, University of Florida. <>. Accessed 12 April 2017. 

- - -.  “Florida Measure (Chora).”  Journal of Florida Studies vol 1,. no. 1, Fall, 2011. Available at <>. Accessed 13 April 2017.

---. “Foreword.” The Rhetoric of Cool, by Jeff Rice, Southern Illinois UP, 2007, p xi.

---.  Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy.  Longman, 2003.

---.  “Keynote Speech.”  Invent-L Conference 2007: Imaging Place.  University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.  23 February 2007. <>. Accessed 13 April 2017.


Richard Smyth received his Ph.D. in English in 1994 from the University of Florida, where Greg Ulmer was his dissertation director.  He has edited and published the environmental poetry journal Albatross for the past 30 years.  He currently works as a technology teacher in the Stoneham Public School system in Massachusetts.