Ecstatic Computation: Exploring Technoshamanism With Virtual Reality

A Digital Shaman

Here’s a really clever use for the Oculus Rift — Ecstatic Computation, a virtual reality spirit journey.

[Michael Allison] began his university career as an artist and musician… and somehow down the line, became a Technoshaman. His thesis, presented at ITP 2014, is on computational art, virtual reality, cognitive psychology and his research on various religious, spiritual and scientific methods that try to explain the relationship between our bodies, minds and the universe itself.

Using virtual reality, Ecstatic Computation is a ritual that explores the merging of consciousness and quantum energy in the physio-chemical registration of state within the computer’s memory. The moment when human and computer become one; the moment when thought becomes bit and electrons become ideas.

Sound crazy? Maybe — but check out the video demonstrations after the break. To create this experience he’s using an Oculus Rift, a Microsoft Kinect, a fan, a small keyboard and of course a computer to render it all. During the participant’s journey, [Michael] leads them in flight, passing through a quantum tunnel, merging with quantum energy inside of state registration within the computer’s memory and finally ending by falling into infinity.

All the graphics and effects are generated on the fly using GLSL generation using a robust graphics rendered called Smolder which he wrote himself, which is built on top of Cinder.

And an in-depth explanation of the project and his thesis by [Michael] himself:


62 thoughts on “Ecstatic Computation: Exploring Technoshamanism With Virtual Reality

  1. An editorial about vacuum tubes and how they “sound better”, crowdfunded vaporware and now “the merging of consciousness and quantum energy”?! Quantum fucking “energy”?! I believe it’s time to stop reading HaD.

    1. Yeah, i have noticed that t3h dud3s that are behind HaD are more like fanboys than actual makers. It’s quite easy to read other’s forums and do some googeling and then show it on your page as something new and spectacular.

      But, it’s usual in interwebs. And goodbye, HaD, You just lost one reader.

    2. I think the author (James Hobson) just picks dumb things to post on (click his name link, most posts are copy pasta work to showboat something opensource, or artsy junk). Most of the article is copy paste from the ‘hackers’ art website. If the article had a link to Mike’s work programming ‘Smolder’ instead of direct link to cinder and an art project that doesn’t know how to science, then it wouldn’t be horrible.

    3. HaD editors, as a general rule of thumb, if it’s hosted on Vimeo it’s most likely some pretentious douchenozzle using technology to fellate his own ego.

      “This machine burns down an abandoned shed when the observer smiles”
      “I’ve used the principles of heraldry to write a program that makes coats of arms for the perpetrators of historical massacres”
      “The fleeting nature of human accomplishment is symbolized by this array of chicken eggs suspended over blenders that activate when the NASDAQ drops more than five points”
      “This vacuum cleaner only turns on when a raspberry pi detects people trying to have a conversation in the room”

      Ask yourselves “Does this seem cool and edgy while actually being really, really idiotic?”

  2. Neat, but what happened to the good days of HaD? Now its Arduino this or 3D printer that, or here look at another CNC mill. Show me a Circuit that renders 3D in real time that outputs an NTSC signal and is built using only opAmps, transistors, and passive components.

      1. I just wish these people would stop taking our very well defined scientific terms and repurposing them for whatever completely different idea they have in mind this week.

        This is NOT related to most of the terms used to label it. It shows he both A) doesn’t care about existing science and physics enough to avoid forming statements that WILL be interpreted as “lies”, and B) is actually so uncreative as to be unable to invent his own names for his own concepts.

        He has both shown his ignorance of science and his own failures at being creative, all in one fell swoop.

        A word of advice to all creative minds out there: If you come up with some concept of mind you feel is worthy of exploration (and there are plenty!), please invent your own not-currently-used-and-defined names for those concepts.
        Compared to the creativity needed for the idea alone, how hard could a simple name possibly be?

  3. *sigh*

    Comments here are disappointing. People trashing this because it’s too different and asking for grandiose electronics projects that might not even be possible instead.

    This project is fucking awesome IMO. It’s not, as far as I can tell, to be taken 100% seriously, but as an art project it’s fantastic. I’d certainly like to try it.

    [Michael Allison], if you’re reading this, this is excellent work! I like that you’ve done a lot of stuff live, used a fan to enhance it, etc. I’d probably stick more color in the visuals but that’s personal preference. While it might be intentional, I’d try to reduce the face-clipping in the 3D too.

    1. Crap, I am trashing it because it contains the words “religious”, “spiritual”, “shaman”, and worst of all “relationship between our bodies, minds and the universe itself.”.

      Such words do not belong on a site like this unless it is the form of rebuttal, sarcasm, or admonishment.

      Most of us will realise this is just some buffoons attempt at non-artistic art – but there are, especially in the US it seems, many people who are susceptible to this bullshit and it does not belong on a site like this that *should* be dedicated to the fun, and practical, application of science and technology, and above all, truth and enlightenment.

      1. There’s nothing wrong with using words like “religious”, “spiritual”, and “shaman” to describe your work when the terms apply. I’m all for the exploration of elements of the intangible human experience, and anything that can help shine a light on the more obscure corners of the mind. However, in this case it seems to just be a bunch of pretentious word salad that fails to communicate anything meaningful, and just comes across as some half-assed pseudomysticism.

        1. Those words apply purely and simply to the supernatural – in all the thousands of years of mankind’s existence has there been one tiny iota, not a jot, of evidence that such a thing exists why bring it up now?

          1. That’s a logical fallacy, if any supernatural being were to perform a miracle, even if it were differ from known laws, the fact it happened and most likely were to continue would make it natural, therefore appear unsupernatural, merely because you observed it, plus all laws describe that which exists, therefore any laws under your calculation for no proof of the supernatural is a double negative.

  4. Despite the ridiculous-sounding nature of this project, there are some really interesting things about it. First, this guy wrote a graphics engine. For the Rift. The post doesn’t focus on that but I’m sure it’s worth reading about. Second, [Michael] is using a Kinect, Oculus Rift, and fan for a purpose much different than their intended purposes. Isn’t that what a hack is? The Kinect and Rift were designed for videogames, but this project uses them to visualize something completely unreal (looking at you quantum energy) but in a way that might deeply affect the people Michael built this for. The project description is a bit weird, but I wouldn’t go so far as to thoughtlessly label it “not a hack.”

  5. Ohhh, good old predictable HaD comments. Of COURSE this guy is a pretentious hooha who has given his art project a pretentious hooha description. It’s equally obvious that the author isn’t in any way endorsing the hooha ‘concepts’ from his hooha description. He’s just saying ‘hey, check out this weird project this pretentious hooha is hacking together’. Seriously, are you guys vacantly pugilistic because you think it’s funny and you have nothing better to do with your life or is it simply because you’re just mean spirited and/or lack a capacity for reading comprehension and picking up on context? I don’t get it.

  6. Yes, its a hack. Kinect, Oculus rift, and FAN! The execution however leaves lot to be desired. Bit of a wank really (dude, was the voice supposed to be distorted and scary?) But its the right idea.

    What he is working with is the ultimate hack, giving us access to the inner registers and the possibility of rewriting our own software. Access to the subconscious and possibly quiescent parts or functions.

    Simple meditation, psychedelic substances, sensory deprivation, lucid dreaming etc. These are all current and established methods of connecting with the inner workings of your mind.

    This hack is a clever exploration of new ways to access those areas of our mind that are normally out of reach.

    Isnt hacking your own mind to access and and improve it, the *ultimate* hack?

    1. “What he is working with is the ultimate hack, giving us access to the inner registers and the possibility of rewriting our own software. Access to the subconscious and possibly quiescent parts or functions.”

      You’re looking for ibogaine.

  7. You see were creating a reality from our own thoughts building a juxtaposition between the conscious and the intangible technology of of our subconscious mind. Through the use of modern technology we can explore the age old question of our own essence.

    haha just kidding

  8. The 1990s called, looking for some silverfish-eaten back issues of Mondo2000.

    Good on this guy for doing whatever he’s doing. It does seem like a hack of some type.

  9. Had to make sure it wasn’t April 1st somehow. Seems interesting until the polysyllabic, self-important academic explanation ruined it. I would have rather seen a clay ashtray made by a five year old. Has more soul than this snake oil ;) Hope the fella learns something about life instead of trying to merely exploit the rich/stupid.
    Besides, Ghazala did this same sort of thing two decades before and TG four decades before whilst suspended between buildings in Manchester iirc. There. Up there is the new bar.
    Here is another visual freebie: if you loosely point a video camera at the tv you can travel in Dr. Who’s time tunnel and explore rolling planets of static electricity ;) Ugh. did that in sync to some Ministry at a high school show in dirt stix, GA in 92. I did get a gal’s phone number out of it though lol so it wasn’t an entire bust. Maybe that is his end too lol. Game on, sir!

  10. Methinks he needs 10,000 hours of Shaman experience, 30,000 would be better.
    First experience reality with all of your senses, then amplify your mind to experience more. This system is restricting senses and shocking and abusing your ears, eyes and the inner self that creates the coherence of this reality without offering a higher coherence.
    Technically? Great! Keep going!
    We have to find ways to connect better with software, this is possibly a step in the right direction. I assume that we have to go with Augmented Reality, not VR. Add information to the senses, add extra arms to the body, maybe even tentacles. Give me more communication channels with my friends, maybe let me hear their heartbeat, feel their sugar level, taste their fear.

  11. I think this is more relevant than you guys are giving it credit for, this is essentially a computer aided psychedelic experience. It’s all just colors and stimuli, put into context (supposedly) by the trip-guide/technoshaman. I expect to see more of this in the future.

  12. Time to put the psilocybin shrooms down.Please by all means create strange art. But for the love of Zener do NOT use scientific terms that don’t apply to the subject! I’m sure to a quantum physicist he say something analogous to “your body becomes one with floppy banana fish sticks”.

    1. On the contrary, pick them up!

      They’re free for the picking in a lot of places (be sure to double-check the ID of every specimen individually), there are no issues with distractions or maintaining your temporary suspension of disbelief, they are hi-def and offer 100 million colors, show you what sound looks and feels like, and they’re even good for you, too (check the studies at Johns Hopkins and UCLA).

  13. Jesus Christ, guys. It’s just an art project. “Don’t use scientific words”? Why not? Who gives a shit?

    Do yourself a favor and don’t google “Design Fiction” or you might give yourself a heart attack.

    Never seen so many people get their panties in a bunch over some performance art this side of ‘piss christ’.

    I *like* seeing technology used and repurposed for fun, weird, and creative ways. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, please keep these posts coming.

    1. “yay, lets tarnish the meaning of words used in serious contexts by abusing them for artsy fartsy”
      At least be original, this REEKS more of shitty marketing full of misused buzzwords than a trippy concept.

    2. Using technology in creative ways is wonderful, but why the pretentious technobabble? In an academic thesis, no less. Sokal would be proud.
      If I were malicious I’d say iwe should’t blame artists fault not understanding complex scientific concepts, but rather people who accept their nonsense because “it’s just an art project”.

        1. I’m afraid you didn’t “proofread” your proofread comment – It’s “I could *have* sworn” or “I could’ve sworn” – the latter form being the main reason people think it’s “I could of”.

    3. You see, the problem is that this isn’t a farse. It isn’t passed off as fiction. The author of these art works thinks truly believe they are making some profound statement.

      Imagine it like this: You are in a room with a group of people talking about a subject that you know very much about and it is obvious to you that these people have no clue what they are talking about. It is actually quite irritating.It looks intellectually lazy, because it IS intellectually lazy. They could actually go and research what they are talking about, but instead they just B.S. with others that know nothing about the subject either. It just becomes a competition of BSing.

      And I did look up design fiction. Not really that offensive. The difference being that the people (or at least the examples) are inventing what-if designs but based off things they clearly know something about (even if it isn’t possible yet.) It’s pretty much the same thing as good science fiction. They are even using the terms and concepts correctly *gasp!*

      Yeah, I like my science fiction, but it doesn’t try to pretend to be actually true.

      Actually I am surprised so many took issue with this because based on the comments around here lately, there are plenty here that try to talk like they know what they are talking about when they clearly don’t.

      Eh, Maybe Hobson was trying to poke a little fun at them. ;)

      1. “You see, the problem is that this isn’t a farse. It isn’t passed off as fiction.”

        It is a made up ritual using words, imagry, phrases and iconography of “the digital”. Not sure whether or not that qualifies as “farse” or not.

        It isn’t passed off as “truth” either.

        “The author of these art works thinks truly believe they are making some profound statement.”

        No, they’re just talking like art school kids and that irritates you. For example, from his page:

        “a ritual that explores the merging of consciousness and quantum energy in the physio-chemical registration of state within the computer’s memory. The moment when human and computer become one; the moment when thought becomes bit and electrons become ideas.”

        You are rolling your eyes. I get it. Now read it again. Roll your eyes again? That’s fine. Just read it one more time. It is a description of losing yourself in a virtual simulation. “quantum energy” = electron, facilitating a “merging of consciousness” with “the computer’s memory”. Aka= “It feels like you’re really there!”

        “The moment when human and computer become one; the moment when thought becomes bit and electrons become ideas.”

        This is the interaction feedback loop between input and output with the user and the program. “The moment” when what you do effects the ‘game world’ (for lack of a better term), and when the game world gives back, and is held in your memory.

        He is just re-depicting (might be putting words in his mouth, here) our digital culture as religion. He is analyzing our relationship with a “digital space”.

        “Yeah, I like my science fiction, but it doesn’t try to pretend to be actually true.”

        He’s “pretending” as much as a stage performer is “pretending” what they are saying is real.

        Do you think he really thinks that the audience thinks they are going to “fall into infinity”?

        1. Then perhaps he should just stick to using words he understand the meanings of to explain the experience, instead of mish-mashing a bunch of words together that sound cool to him.

          Not that your explanation was really much better, but if you have to explain it, then it’s mumbo-jumbo.

          Sorry, still rolling my eyes. I pretty much do when anyone is trying to BS.

          I knew this guy once that lived in a trailer park. He was considered the computer genius of the park. He didn’t know shit about computers, but his “audience” knew even less. THAT’s what we are witnessing here.

          It’s pretentious, period. And honestly, it distracts from the art. His “audience” is a bunch of people that don’t know crap either and just nod their head and pretend to completely understand it.

  14. Maybe “James Hobson” is the beta version of the “Eugene Goostman” program. Some freaky turing AI, scraping the net, looking for foo foo art stuff that has techno buzz words.

  15. I for one like it. Yes ‘quantum physics’ seems to be abused by every crack pot / pseudo scientist out there. I confess I only watched the videos but it seems to me this guy can’t be serious at all about the premise – I am become bit! It’s just a modern version of a shamanistic trip – replacing cactus / hypnosis with virtual reality and hypnosis. This kind of ‘experiment’ could have all kinds of interesting results along the lines of a new form of hypnotherapy and other cognitive therapies. That said I don’t know why he needed to add all the weird quantum b.s.

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