In the 1950s, when the CIA helped loose Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann’s “problem child” LSD into American history, psychologists believed that it might be a way to simulate and understand psychosis – the class of substances including acid, mescaline, and magic mushrooms were considered “psychotomimetics,” only later reconsidered and rebranded “psychedelics” (“mind manifestors”) when people learned that tripping amplifies the context and expectations of the tripper. Treating them as though they triggered temporary madness made it so. A generation passed before the hippie revolution during which the value of these chemicals seemed either to induce suggestibility in captured spies or to allow a doctor to imagine, understand, and sympathize with schizophrenic patients.
Fast-forward forty years. Tim Leary in his final years declared the World Wide Web this generation’s LSD, the next great psychedelic. And in many ways, the visionary acid-head was right: the Web breaks boundaries, dissolves our human egos into something more transparent and trans-national, creative and unstable. Among the many brilliant youth in Leary’s entourage was Jaron Lanier, computer whiz (and genius ethnomusicologist) who dreamed up “virtual reality” and now designs immersive game environments for Microsoft. The Labyrinth Psychonautica is, then, direct descendent of those early trials – a virtual reality encounter with psychosis, a measured portal into deep hallucination.
Cyberspace, like other psychedelic substances, reflects the dreams and minds of those who use it. Both ministers and criminals find applications – it brings us all together and it opens up new battlefields. And now it does a better job of what the post-war shrinks of picket fence America intended for Lysergic Acid: letting us inside each other’s heads, allowing us to take a little tour through other minds. You want to know what crazy is? Just take a ride in Jennifer Kanary’s world-bending virtual reality. Bad trips are easy to escape – unless, of course, you have a problem with the internet.