Principles of Creating Virtual Presence

Dr. Leon James
Professor of Psychology
University of Hawaii
Original:  1994  Revised: 2000, 2003, 2009, 2012




Cyberpsychology:  Principles of Creating Virtual Presence... 1

The Hyper in Hypertext. 1

Cyberspace and Mind.. 2

Virtual Reality.. 3

Communal Mind.. 4

Forming Virtual Community.. 6

Hypertext Navigation.. 8

The Virtual Book.. 9

Spirituality and Cyberspace.. 11

Acquiring Cyberspace Citizenship.. 13

Avatar Psychology and Cybercultures.. 15

Articles and books by Leon James.. 18


The Hyper in Hypertext

The prefix "hyper" is defined as "above the normal" so hypertext denotes an online method of reading text that is in a fourth dimension relative to normal printed text. Accessing text in this fourth dimension means that we can jump from place to place by an electronic means such as clicking on a word with the mouse arrow. This new technological ability creates an entirely new approach to text presentation in its various venues -- in instruction, communication, and information retrieval. Hypertext is especially important because it applies to multi-media objects treated as "text" such as in line images and voice recordings.

Hypertext technology in the 1990s, like the World Wide Web on the Internet, is rapidly creating a massive, universally accessible, new medium of exchange known as cyberspace or virtual reality. As the Internet is globalizing, it will become more and more important to understand the structure and growth of hypertext space. Here are some issues to be researched, as viewed from the early vantage point of 1996:

(1) In what way does hypertext reflect the human mind? By committing ourselves deeper to cyberspace reality, are we going towards traditional and universal human ideals or against them? In what way is hypertext like the mind?
(2) What creates hypertext space? What are virtual roads and highways? What mechanism creates a navigation stop zone or parking space? Do hypertext edifices need maintenance?
(3) How do people find things in hypertext? Does it take training? How do people navigate or get around in hypertext? How do they use hypertext?
(4) What is the social or philosophical significance of hypertext? Does it have a spiritual connection?

Cyberspace and Mind

One reaction to the growing presence of cyberspace is to see it as a threat to the traditional human value of social, face to face exchange. Glued to the screen, chained to the keyboard, alone at the workstation, the addicted hacker is the very picture of a lone individual enslaved by the machine. Yet this is a false appearance. Note the feverish pace of the hands typing. Nothing to be alarmed about, for it is the eagerness to communicate and the desire to be heard by another human being that activate those fingers. The fact is that when we use computers we are having an exchange with other humans, through the machine, not with the machine.

The computer is not more mechanical than a letter we write to a loved one, a diary we dictate to a tape recorder, or the telephone through which we conduct a business transaction. There is a close social relationship between the software designers of a word processor and its users. The programmers had to anticipate our needs, wants, and desires when typing, and they have had to anticipate how we think in order to make the functions or capabilities visible to us. Online computer use through a network is even more obviously a social activity as it involves frequent e-mail exchanges or direct, synchronous chat groups. Since computers have become widespread, the level of communication between people has risen dramatically. Courses that use computers for online networking or other news and discussion groups generate a very large number and variety of exchanges on a scale never experienced before in human experience.

In fact computers are convenient and powerful extensions of the human mind. Cyberspace is the virtual reality created through computers. Because of this, the form and characteristics of cyberspace are necessarily similar to and congruent with the mind. Every characteristic of the mind can be expected to show up as a property of cyberspace. Here are some examples.

Virtual Reality

Cyberspace, like mind, is not in physical space, but in virtual space, without extension, distance, or mass. Weighty thoughts may be serious, but they don't tip the scale. Heavy moods may be exciting, and great thoughts inspiring, but they can't be seen under the microscope or be repelled by a magnet. As you think and generate many thoughts, do you ever run out of space? Does a thought about the moon take longer than the vision of my refrigerator? The point is that thoughts and feelings, which form the content and substance of mind, are not in physical space as they are not physical objects. Hence mind is not a physical object in time and space.

Similarly, virtual reality has no physical form or mass. The brain is needed within which mind can exist, or through which it can act in the physical world. The hard drive is needed within which cyberspace can exist, or through which cyberspace is reached and navigated. But the size of the brain is not related to the size or content of the mind. The size of the hard drive is not related to the size or content of cyberspace . Virtual reality is created by interactivity -- its number, direction, and type. On the Web, the simplest form of interactivity is a clickable title or word called a hyperlink (or just link), that has the power to whisk you off to another corner of cyberspace. Other methods of accessing text and multimedia on the Internet include search engines, organized directories or databases, archived discussion group files, newsgroups, online chat groups and conferences, and e-mail delivered listservs and subscription services. Later developments include dynamic pages that compose personal elements tailored made to the visitor on the basis of prior registration and identifiers such cookies and search queries. e-Commerce and digital signatures are current cyberspace activities that are expanding rapidly. The near future will bring online voting, online traffic schools, and a lot more more distance education and testing. Intelligent robots, software, agents, and electronic assistants are also coming soon, as are in-car communication systems (see our book on driving).   Additionally, new ways of bringing the "invisible Web" to people are being developed for the massive amount and variety of databases available online that are not part of the current Web search engine territory. Medical informatics is another important development allowing doctors across the globe to consult with each other at a distance and view and retrieve the same information (see Rex Jakobovits home site for more information).   And see our DrDriving site for or Driving informatics.

It is clear that these varieties of networked activities vastly increase the number of interpersonal interactions giving no credence to the idea that spending time on the computer is not spending time with humans. Online communication is marked by its high frequency of exchange. To give one example, an active professor and researcher may receive a dozen pieces of "snail" mail a day, including letters, subscriptions, announcements, advertisement, and books. On e-mail, this same individual may receive hundreds of messages a day from various sources, and on the same day on the Internet, may see dozens of different advertisements, announcements, full text articles, and magazines. The pace of communication has substantially increased, and the variety of sources, and the speed. Equally or more important is the fact that the time delay between exchanges has been cut drastically so that a project or joint activity can proceed much further and much deeper within the former time period. One week by snail mail is hardly enough for two exchanges to take place on some issue between two people. Online, one week can easily translate into dozens of exchanges on that project or issue, and not just between two people, but with hundreds and and thousands of people. Thus, cyberspace is a bottomless cultural resource. The more exchnages takes place the more the resource grows and becomes valuable. With off line print medium and snail mail, it is difficult to have several rounds on the same subject. For example, even with popular topics, there is a quick limit in how many views can be published in the Letters to the Editor section of newspapers and magazines, and even less so in professional journals. But online it is easy. One topic discussed for several days may generate hundreds of messages (possibly thousands), so that there is ample opportunity to examine topics in depth. This is very beneficial. More angles are explored, more voices are heard, more minds express themselves. Technology, within democracy and freedom, thus becomes a community-building force.

Face to face relationships are built on attraction or mutual interest. At work, we interact with the people with whom we need to have transactions. Off work, we strive to see people whom we find attractive or interesting more than others. Cyberspace is a virtual reality that facilitates communication and encourages the formation of real communities. We participate in activities with others who want to share a specific interest, need, or pleasure. We visit Web sites that we find exciting, absorbing, or delightful in some way. We enter a discussion when we are affected by some emotion or intention, or we lurk in the background, vicariously enjoying others' interventions or performances.

Cyberspace is like mind in two important respects -- interactivity and organization. Minds interact through organized content. That is, our mind communicates with other minds and the content of the exchange is organized by topic and by attitudes towards the topic. Cyberspace is made up of topics and access doors to these topics. Topics create zones of networked interactions. Popular sites on the Web or Portals become whirlpools of information exchange with hundreds of  thousands of people examining the same set up simultaneously. Cyberspace is in effect the communal mind.

Communal Mind

Cyberspace has a form, though a virtual one, not physical or three-dimensional. The shape of this form is determined by the density of interaction in any topical zone and the type of ongoing activity. For example, the name of a USENET newsgroup such as "alt.driving" or "unix.faq" describes the topical zone or subject of discussion, while "usenet newsgroup" describes the type of activity, namely a special-topic asynchronous electronic communication network (i.e., a discussion group on some specified topic). Activities such as registering your vote on a Form, leaving an e-mail message on a Page, or copying and downloading an image or music file, create a common focus marked by shared interests and intentions. Topics and activities in cyberspace create their own virtual zones that become accessible to others across time and space. Using and participating are the mechanisms by which virtual reality grows and evolves.

On the Web one accesses documents, drawings or audiovisual tapes that are indeed physical objects located on some computer hardware in some geographical location and traversing some physical wires or satellites at the speed of light. The target object is physical and needs to be created by someone and located on a network accessible computer system called a server that can respond to telephone calls by other computers called clients. But while the hard drives, transmission lines, and operating systems are physical, the Web navigation through these physical objects is virtual, not physical. A hypertext link on the screen and the act of clicking on it with the mouse are physical, but the meaning is mental, having to do with intentions and interests. Constructing a Home Page on the World Wide Web is a physical method for creating a virtual gathering place in cyberspace. Thousands of people at a time, scattered throughout the globe, may be looking at the same audiovisual display and text message on a Web Page. They may be each looking at a common segment of it as well as each being a target of some unique "pushing" of information components (like dynamic adds on search engines that display information relevant to the search query terms).

Or they may each engage in the same activity, for example, clicking on a link that allows them to download the same software application or file   they each want on their own computer at this time. This is not a sinister 'group mind' Big Brother control system. Every one of these downloading decisions is independently achieved by each person involved, in freedom and out of self-interest or desire. This is the communal mind, achieved in cyberspace out of mutual interest and reciprocal benefit.

Dense zones in cyberspace are those that grow faster than the hardware which is needed to contain its virtual extension. If enough people click the same link at the same time, the server which delivers the ftp requests is sunk, goes down, refuses requests, resists all attempts to access it. This means that the virtual zone becomes non-existent for those who are not yet in it.

The famous second law of thermodynamics would lead us to the expectation that virtual reality tends to collapse on itself when successful. To keep this from happening, the physical body of a well traveled cyberspace zone needs constant maintenance. A large Web site identified by a single URL address, can contain thousands of sub-directories and millions of files and links. Numerous files and links need to be updated on a daily basis. Hundreds of thousands of people create traffic hurricanes in the form of massive numbers of simultaneous electronic ftp exchanges across billions of possible pathways in a global network. Within the site, the navigation process operates in a similar way, even if on a smaller scale. Provisions and corrections need to be made in response to the human demand that creates uneven traffic flow. In this case the evolving physical hardware requirements is driven by the traffic density of virtual zones in the communal mind.

The communal mind exists and grows in cyberspace. It does not belong to any person or group. Ownership is located in the hardware, the copyrighted software, or the intellectual property rights to textual and audiovisual creations. But these are not the communal mind. Consider virtual traffic patterns created by high interest in an activity, as indicated by hits or number of visitors on a Page, and by link popularity, which is indicated by the number of links to a particular Page that one can find on the Web as a whole. Pages that are "cited" by many other Pages through live links can be reached from a variety of locations. These cross-connections create identifiable patterns of interconnectivity. This interlinking is what creates the communal mind. It is not any one's legal property, and cannot be. No one owns virtual reality. It is free, like mind. The communal mind fosters virtual communities.

Forming Virtual Community

People gathered in one place become an audience when they achieve a joint focus such as watching some dramatic action going on, either real or simulated. Ethnic celebrations, story telling, opera, staged theater plays and the published novel, have been familiar tools for creating virtual reality zones prior to the computer age. Cards, board games, and all sorts of team play also create joint focus, hence virtual reality zones. Multi-User Dungeons (or MUDs) are popular online games that allow people to adopt a fantasy character through which one interacts with other virtual characters, people whose real identity one may never know.

In my experience, students using the PLATO computer system for course-integrated socializing, were given the choice to logon under their real name or some "persona name" of their choosing which the instructor promised never to reveal to the other students. Semester after semester none of the students elected to logon under their real name. Socializing under a virtual identity appears to be a very attractive situation for young people, perhaps because it affords them greater latitude in their responses to each other.

Newspapers, magazines, radio talk shows and television programming have created mass audiences that are not co-present physically, yet react to the same social stimulus at the same time, as well as across time in the form of re-broadcasts. Virtual reality zones are created by mutual interest and communal concerns, such as national disasters or popular personalities. The global electronic network greatly strengthens people's ability to create and mine virtual reality zones.

Joint focus appears to be the crucial mind process that creates virtual reality. Tools for producing joint focus include a recognized topic (or subject of discussion), a mutual intention, or a common interest in carrying out a particular activity. Virtual reality is thus what gets created when two or more minds are in communication through a topic, intention, or interest. These virtual objects (topic, intention, interest) are communal, which means that they are produced in joint activity. Cyberspace is virtual reality produced by navigating the global electronic information network. Cybernauts navigate by expressing their intentions and interests through links they decide to use for teletransportation. Interests and intentions exist in the mind and are the mind. Cyberspace zones are created when these mind states or energies are expressed by many individuals in the form of choosing particular hypertext links that create mass traffic patterns.

Some Student Reports under Dr. James' Supervision

Cyberspace and Mind
Identifying Some Characteristics of Virtual Reality:

Netizen And Citizen Relationships

Sheri Turkle and Technology

Life on the Screen

"TinySex and Gender Trouble": A Chapter Summary from Life on the Screen by Sherry Turkle

One Life, Two Minds--An Out of Body Experience

The Computer-Mind Connection

The Quality of Emergence

Social Psychology of Web Architecture Cyberspace: The Final Frontier

Getting Hold of Cyberpsychology Cyberspace: In the Eyes of the Beholder

Virtual Online Communities

Hypertext Navigation

Traffic on the net is regulated through universal resource locators called URL locations. The address of a document or other retrievable object on a network is determined by the physical structure of sub-directories on computer drives. For instance, my Home Page URL address (, contains the server's domain name "" which identifies it as a computer system within an educational institution in the State of Hawaii. Note the dots separating the items. The continuation of the address uses slashes and is an exact map of the sub-directory path created on our college server's computer drive. The last sub-directory (leonpsy) contains the home page file readable by an Internet client that uses HTML code.

Large networks can thus be mapped through their URL addresses. The navigational map of a Web site exactly represents the physical location of sub-directories and the file names they contain. Though it would be a complicated display, it is theoretically possible to map the entire Internet, which is a physical and geographic entity. However it is not possible to map out the information highway that people use to navigate the Internet. This is a virtual reality, cyberspace itself. It is not physical. The brain in which the mind operates is physical and limited, but the mind within it is functional, virtual, unlimited in size. Similarly, the physical network system that embodies the Internet is limited in size and shape, but the virtual reality within it is not limited in size or shape.

Consider a Web site that expands and grows as users join in with various activities, including adding numerous sub-directories as they create their own home page sites. My home page site is an example of this virtual growth phenomenon in the building of a virtual learning community, or cybercommunity. Every semester a new generation of students puts up their own home pages, each filled with reports and activities. In face to face relationships we create access links to one another so that we can initiate a conversation or joint activity. For instance, meeting someone often means being able to call that person on the phone, or having lunch together. In a cybercommunity, the equivalent of meeting someone is to place a hypertext link in one's own document. The hypertext link creates a virtual highway between the two locations. A mutual link in Web documents brings a new traffic pattern into existence.

Hypertext links are navigation vehicles and roadways in cyberspace. Links are naturally occurring community activities having social properties and functions that need to be studied and uncovered by research. Some links function as transit stations placed there for travelers, visitors and searchers. If you type in a subject or name in a Web search engine window, and hit return, almost instantly you obtain a list of links relating to your desired object. These links have a transit function. Their sole purpose is to allow you to get somewhere else. It is common to find groups of links on a Page under the heading "Cool Links," "Hot Links," "New Links," "Favorite Links," and so on. They function as transit stations and gateways, greatly affecting traffic patterns. (For additional observations on types of links, you can consult another article on home page architecture.  See also:

Some links function as structural pointers to documents. In the print medium, we use footnotes, table of contents, citations, and indexes as structural pointers when one piece of a text is connected to another piece. A quotation, for instance, connects two pieces of text from different authors. Hypertext technology greatly facilitates the ease with which one can interconnect pieces of text. It goes beyond convenience and efficiency and allows the creation of new objects not possible with prior technologies. One example is the virtual book.

The Virtual Book

Consider creating a Page which is rendered as a Table of Contents of a book and its title. You can click on each chapter and section and read the book in sequence, and you can learn from it and enjoy it. Yet the book does not exist in the ordinary sense of a book that was written by someone. It is not catalogued anywhere. No one has published it. No one claims it. No one even knows of it. The Table of Contents of this book is made of hypertext links to pieces of text appearing in all sorts of documents around the world. The reader may not be aware that the book does not exist.

How many such books are there? The Internet in 1996 already contains billions of words, sentences, paragraphs. There is no calculable limit to the number of virtual books one can create out of this textual mass, now growing at an unimaginable rate. Hypertext is a virtual electronic library without walls, without limits, uncatalogable, forever growing as a representation of the communal mind. Virtual books are in effect navigation vehicles in hypertext.

Consider a virtual Home Page site. Physically its embodiment is minute, no more than 100K on a computer drive. But virtually it may be a huge site put together through links that bring in text and audiovisual presentations from other places. This virtual Web site does not actually exist anywhere, only its modest shell, which in actuality is a list of links. No one owns this site, though the physical elements and components located on the other sites have legal owners by copyright and intellectual property. How many such virtual Web sites are there? They are numberless, growing within the interstices of cyberspace. Navigating cyberspace is an endless journey. The communal mind is vast in comparison to the individual's mind.

The virtual library, the virtual book, the virtual site, and the virtual community -- these are the products of hypertext. They give rise to virtual families and friends, virtual universities and conferences. Consider a Home Page that sells Kona coffee in an electronic shopping mall on the Web. Where is the store? It is not on the farm on the Big Island in Hawaii where the coffee beans are grown, harvested, packaged, and stored. The hypertext file and the e-mail Form for ordering, are located on a commercial server in Seattle, WA. They relay the orders to the coffee farm in Hawaii by fax. The customers are from all around the United States and elsewhere. The coffee store exists only in virtual reality.

All of us are novices in designing objects in virtual reality. Constructing cyberspace objects requires attention to three basic properties: appearance, content, and access. The object's visibility, its very existence, is determined by its access routes. Various methods, tools, and services exist for creating access routes to a cyberspace platform that hosts a Home Page, an electronic shopping mall, a virtual college campus, or a Web database or chat room. Creating Web interconnectivity is like marketing a product or facility. Interconnectivity is access, access is visibility, which establishes virtual reality. Web search engines and automated news filter services generate a continuous stream of access links in response to a query anywhere on the net. For additional views on this issue, see my article on the social psychology of Home Page architecture.

Second by second, 24 hours a day, every day, these electronic demons and robots, crawlers and gophers, tunnel their way to sub-directories of sub-directories on millions of computer systems and generate billions of hypertext access links. This feverish activity builds and expands cyberspace at a dizzying tempo. The sheer number of roadways and platforms in cyberspace is so vast that it is easy for a Web site to get buried in an obscure corner of virtual reality. There are online services that allow you to register your site with search engines and navigation databases and indexes. I get regular unsolicited e-mail from site owners or promoters offering to reciprocate links ("I'll put a link to you and you can do the same for me").

There may be millions of cybernaut travelers every hour, yet traffic in one's cyberspace neighborhood may be only potential rather than actual. For instance, in one online social psychology course I teach, students are assigned a generational Web database to manage for a semester. Their mission is to create visibility for the database so that visitors landing on the site might leave behind an e-mailed contribution relating to the topic of the database (e.g., "Things I'm proud of" , "Spiritual experiences", "I can't stop speeding", etc.). I introduce the students to Web site registration services, special topic newsgroups, and e-mail solicitation strategies. The results are sobering, showing the difficulty of establishing a reliable virtual presence in cyberspace. The most typical result after 16 weeks of activity as a novice Web database manager, consists of about a dozen contributions by classmates and friends! You may see their trials and tribulations here.

It takes a while to understand the principles of creating viable virtual presence in cyberspace. It takes an interest in cyberpsychology, or the study of navigation in virtual reality zones.

At first the novice Web managers act like or believe that site appearance is the chief method for achieving virtual presence. Most of their efforts are directed at constructing beautiful, classy looking Pages with dramatic audiovisual support and entertaining language. Like children on a quiet farm road selling lemonade, the student managers wait hopefully on their invisible cyberspace platform, every day inspecting their site counter for new 'hits', and checking their e-mail to see if some traveler left a story behind. At the end of the semester, they leave behind a beautiful store front in cyberspace that no one looked at. In virtual reality, what doesn't get used, does not exist. I predict that this will change as cyberpsychology gives us the knowledge and wisdom to create viable, vital virtual presence.

Spirituality and Cyberspace

Having drawn a connection between cyberspace and mind, one is led to investigate the spiritual implications of virtual reality since mind and spirit are closely related, as shown by the root word "psych-" or "psyche" which refers to both mind and spirit. Virtual presence is created through access and usage that are determined by interests and intentions, both of which are spiritual acts. When we choose to click on a hypertext link we are performing a spiritual act.

Our virtual traveling creates a trail with visible consequences affecting others.

The act of clicking creates virtual reality, shapes it, makes it denser, more visible, more accessible to self and others. A popular Web site is a spiritual beacon for netizens, visible around the globe, attracting children and adults, men and women, individuals and groups, communicating with them, bringing them together through the communal mind of shared information and activities, thus transcending demographic and ethnic identities.

Clicking in hyperspace is equivalent to one's spiritual practice in daily life. This is because clicking is at once a moral, ethical, economic, and psychological act. A rapidly growing market of the Internet software industry owes its success to the fact that clicking is a spiritual act. These programs allow information managers such as servers, teachers, and parents, to influence the clicking acts of users. Some specialize in filtering out unsuitable sites so as to bar access to certain cyberspace zones and virtual activities and services. Other filtering programs are intended as guides and pathfinders to various specialized topics. The idea of controlling access to communal mind is quite familiar in education, law, and spiritual discipline. Teachers forbid swearing, county by-laws forbid obscenity, polite company forbids taboo topics. These social controlling mechanisms are motivated and justified by moral and spiritual considerations. Clicking or not clicking has become the big moral issue for everyone on the Internet.

Not clicking is a moral act

Refusing to click is a judgment. Virtual communities are created and maintained by the continued willingness to click. Preventing someone from clicking is an ethical issue. Promoting clicking by making a link available and attractive is not only an economic and legal act, but moral as well. A link is made attractive through its appeal to particular human interests and intentions, of which there are many varieties, some that merit our support, others that we would want to avoid or even condemn in spirit.

Some people allow their bookmarks file to be public, possibly not realizing that the bookmarks document is a fossilized or permanent record of their moral choices in clicking.

New site management software applications allow detailed monitoring and record keeping of cyber-visitors -- the IP address of the computer you are using, how long you stay on a Page, which links you click on, in which order and how often. A permanent “cookie” file can be kept on your logon identity, giving the cumulative record of your visits and revisits to particular site. Unknown to you, a user profile is set up on you which is then sold to interested advertisers, companies, and paying customers.

An individual's cumulative lifetime bookmarks or history file constitutes a spiritual biography of that person.

As technology improves, global clicking patterns can be recorded and analyzed. Through the growth of cyberspace new research is now possible on the mind of individuals and the planet's communal mind, its content, development, and direction of evolution. Can we shape our future with more precision and greater wisdom? Can people's lives be changed by the forces of virtual reality? These are important questions which cyberpsychology will be expected to answer.

Spiritual psychology is deeply involved in assuring our success in the global information society by creating the motive and method for assessing and managing the growth of the communal mind. Virtual reality has the potential of creating good and evil forces for netizens and cybercommunities. It is a spiritual fact that both good and evil forces or environments exist in the human mind. Information and activity in cyberspace can generate forces of addiction and persuasion that can influence our decisions, judgments, and actions online and off.

External methods of controlling access and activity are being tried such as using filtering mechanisms to intercept or block clicking. Firewalls, filtered access, sub-nets, monitoring, and other methods are being used to manage people's clicking activity in cyberspace. I believe that we also need to develop more internal methods that encourage self-control in freedom. Spiritual psychology looks for methods of internalizing control through self-witnessing and self-modification motivated in freedom by principled choice and educated preference. What is chosen in freedom is chosen from love, and this is internal, remaining with the person forever. Interests and intentions define and reveal mind or spirit.

With spiritual psychology, in collaboration with cyberpsychology, society gains the ability to direct its future into chosen directions. Freedom is essential to assure the internalization of self-control through guided self-modification techniques.

Cybercommunities need to follow practices that encourage the activity of leaders and heroes who set the pace, the norm, the standard of excellence and honesty for others to admire, support, and emulate. Leaders can be given recognition, awards, and privileges, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of all in the community whose ideals are legitimized when admired netizens are rewarded for their virtual activities which benefit the cybercommunity.

In my view, cyberpsychology and spiritual psychology are allied fields. They can share a methodology and facilitate each other's theories. Their connection is through mind.

You can check out some student pages on Spiritual Experiences here. Generation 5a students wrote two interesting reports on cyberpsychology and its relation to mind and spirituality -- check it out here. See also a Home Page on Cyber-Psychology maintained by Dr. John Suler, Professor of Psychology at Rider University, and the online articles by James Sempsey.

Cyberpsychology studies mind through virtual reality as it evolves on the net. Spiritual psychology studies mind through self-witnessing of one's thoughts and feelings on the daily round of activities. They overlap in their focus on interests and intentions. Clicking acts, under the influence of interests and intentions, create communal mind in virtual reality. This is cyberpsychology. Similarly, in spiritual psychology, self-witnessing of one's interests and intentions, creates the opportunity for moral self-assessment, for repentance and a change of heart, for a new direction in living and becoming.


Acquiring Cyberspace Citizenship

Online networking is fast becoming like talking, writing, and driving -- a very complex skill that every citizen is expected to know how to do. Attention to communicative competence and computer literacy now spans the entire educational enterprise, from pre-school to continuing education. In the teaching professions the idea used to be that we can instruct people to acquire literacy skills, then once these skills are acquired, the literate graduate walks out of school and into productive work life. This model no longer fits the reality we know.

Today it is apparent that the information age and the computer environment require a learning to learn literacy, not a fixed knowledge base with pre-defined target skills and content. As the online environment globalizes and incorporates more and more of mind, that is, of our daily thoughts and feelings, interests and intentions, it forces upon us a new potentially hazardous affective state, namely that of being a perpetual novice.

Lifelong novicehood increase the potential for stressful lives and needs special attention from cyberspace educators, information managers, site designers, and software engineers. In my college teaching set up at the University of Hawaii, I teach new groups of 20 students every 16 weeks. They go through the process of acquiring skills to navigate cyberspace and to construct virtual reality platforms for traveling netizens. I have thus discovered a number of spiritual symptoms brought on by cyberstress. Among them are technophobia and resistance to information seeking. Information literacy, computer literacy, and prolonged online experience are not effective in eliminating technophobic attacks or the momentary loss of ability to read instructions or figure out how to do something. See this article for further discussion.

Maintaining a distaste for reading help instructions or guides, endlessly postponing or avoiding certain online tasks, refusing to ask for help, or rigidly sticking to some ineffective procedure -- these are the symptoms of technophobia, a dissatisfying and intimidating state of mind bringing us down to low-self esteem and learned helplessness. I found that I need to use collaborative learning techniques to overcome technophobia and resistance to information seeking. I created the generational curriculum and the community classroom.

Every semester's class is designated as a cybercommunity generation, starting with G1, G2, G3, and so on in a series. Each generation stands on the shoulders of the prior generations. they use the cyberspace zones created by each generation and they tunnel through all the sub-directories creating new hypertext roads between their generation and all the previous ones. They thus get a picture of themselves being involved in building a generational cybercommunity that evolves with each subsequent crop of Web designers and managers. The product is a virtual super-document, growing in both size and interconnectivity, forming an ever growing virtual platform intended for use by netizens for their education, science, and entertainment.

Being part of something real, something virtually permanent, sets a social environment that is motivating and empowering. Students are now officially authors, publishers, scientists, designers, managers, Internet coaches, netizens. Each of these new roles all at once exert a motivating impact that arouses deep interest, sustained effort, and intellectual intentionality. For a teacher, it is a delight to see and witness this transformation, for which students are grateful and supportive.

However, the generational curriculum by itself was insufficient and needed the community classroom atmosphere. In my case, a face to face discussion group once a week was possible because all the students were on campus. For distance education courses with scattered participants, some online conferencing may serve as an equivalent social experience. The important interpersonal elements to provide include regular opportunities for sharing and caring.

Sharing frustrations and fears allows spiritual renewal in the form of relief and taking heart. Students can overcome their learned depression when they can say "I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way." This seems to make the experience endurable and worthwhile. It is transformed into a redeeming sense of "the challenges of the good old days, remember when..."

Caring for how others fare in the learning phase turns the experience into group adventure, a virtual learning game. Who can discover what how soon. One's reputation in the group is at stake and there is incentive created for being an innovator or serving as an agent for information diffusion. Giving away what you've learned and discovered on your own, becomes a social motive involving students in each other's progress.

The online generational curriculum within the community classroom atmosphere has served me well as an instructor of many cohorts of students over the years. I believe it can serve as a model for training netizens and maintaining the orderly development of cyberspace in the next century.

Avatar Psychology and Cybercultures

Cyberculture, cyberspace, and the communal mind are becoming more visible as more and more millions of people are acknowledging their avatar body. Acquiring an avatar brings on a new consciousness that has been called the "Imago Effect." The digital image on the screen becomes part of oneself through immersion and interaction. The social-biological technology creates a virtual intersubjectivity. People become networked through their avatar. They become immersed in a virtual world shared by thousands of others in real time. Distributed computing has brought together individuals from around the world operating their keyboards in real time, online, inworld. People in a chatroom are typing away at each other in real time, which is midday for some and midnight for others. All real life (RL) time is local time and all local times are given up for the sake of inworld time. People from all time zones congregate together in relation to the virtual world time. In the virtual world of Second Life inworld time coincides with Pacific standard time zone (PST).

Virtual intersubjectivity is created out of the interactions between avatars in a socio-technical information environment. In Second Life the user generated immersive environment replicates many of the primary features of RL environment. Avatars go to places by walking, flying, or teleporting. Avatars who put themselves in any location are visible to other avatars in that location. Bumping into an another avatar causes it to be displaced like a real life bump to your physical body by an aggressive pedestrian in a mall. The avatar in a virtual room with locked doors cannot exit. Any place on the virtual world map that an avatar can visit is private property, as in a real life city or shopping mall. Wherever your avatar is located, other avatars may show up and engage you in chat. If you are attending a class or workshop with your avatar you are witness to what is going on, what is being said through multiple avatars present, and who is sitting quietly or else acting up by changing into an odd appearance or flying about. There is a joint awareness of social events going on in the shared environment. Norms and expectations can be met or violated. The virtual world is an avenue of constructing and evolving the virtual intersubjectivity, and thus, the communal mind.

Evolution and biology play critical roles in the deployment of the virtual world within the social-biological technology. Human organisms--that is, human feelings, thoughts, and sensations, are symbiotically hooked up to electronic machinery. The avatar body is an information concept that moves around in an information world that is as solid to it as the office wall is to our physical body. The word "avatar" has a Hindu origin meaning "incarnation" or "embodiment." Our avatar is an embodiment of our consciousness. By being electronically hooked up to our digital avatar we enter a new world of experience. Our new consciousness is now constructed out of new sensations that are initiated by events in the virtual world. We see and hear only what is within the visual and camera range of our avatar. Our noticings consist of information events in the virtual world such as what other avatars are doing, what the street or shopping mall look like when walking around, or who is dancing with whom in a virtual jazz club. We share conscious awareness of the environment and events with others who are present with their avatars. By interacting with others and establishing a social presence 'inworld' we are becoming part of a growing mega-verse of virtual intersubjectivity.

Avatar psychology is the scientific study of avatar mediated human behavior. It is therefore a specialized branch of general psychology, which is the study of human behavior. A primary focus of avatar psychology is how the virtual world experience is connected to and forms part of human behavior. Consciousness through our avatar body is connected to our consciousness through the physical body. Both contribute to our overall self, along with our other mental bodies--the dream body, the imagination body, the rational body, and the celestial body. Each offers a solid reality for our senses in its particular world. The dream body gives us the ability to roam around the dream environment as a solidified fantasy where everything appears real to the dream body, thus giving us the consciousness of the dream's reality. Our imagination body takes us into a solid environment constructed by our loves through the inventiveness of our thoughts. Our rational body gives us conscious access to truth in its endless variety, giving us the ability to reason logically and representatively through symbolism and correspondences. Our celestial body takes us to the consciousness of the mental heaven that every human being is anatomically connected to, and when diseased, takes us to the consciousness of the hells that to which every human being is anatomically connected. Every individual is born with these seven avatar bodies.

Avatar psychology is therefore centrally related to mental anatomy within the perspective of substantive dualism and theistic science. We are born with seven avatar bodies allowing us abilities and consciousness in seven discrete worlds that are unrelated to each other yet each is operating from the same laws of correspondence. An event in one world is connected by the laws of correspondence to an event in the next world, down the sequence of initiating causes. The first cause or source is the Mental Sun of Eternity, which is the nexus or exit point of God from the Divine infinity into finite creation. The effect at a lower level is the ordering and activation of events in our celestial body. This creates the mental heaven of eternity in the human race, thus anatomically in every individual of that race. Since individual freedom is essential for humanity, the consciousness of heavenly experiences and loves can be inverted and converted into their opposite by the exercise of our freedom that God maintains and guarantees to every human being. By having both heaven and hell in our mind we can be maintained by God in a moral and rational balance. This is necessary for human mental development.

By having an anatomical heaven and hell in our mind we are able to learn, develop and evolve as moral beings. God manages the thoughts of every individual to insure freedom of thought and to maintain the person in a moral balance. If God were to cease that management for a few moments we would lose our freedom to think in accordance with our rational abilities. We would be pulled away from rationality by our biases and undisciplined desires. We would justify murder, theft, cruelty, and deception in order to satisfy and fulfill our hellish loves, which are selfishness, egotism, arrogance, and aversion for truth and good, hence intelligence and wisdom. Insane thinking is the opposite of freedom of thinking since it binds our ideas to unreality, delusion, illusion, falsities of all kinds. rational thinking gives us freedom to choose heavenly order in our desires, emotions, thinking, speaking, and doing.

The seven avatar bodies are described in this online book located at or   The book also contains sections on research methodology in avatar psychology.


Partial List of Online Books by Leon James

1.     The Conjoined Pair in Love and Marriage: How to Become Soulmates and Best Friends in this Life and in the Afterlife (2012) by Dr. Leon James. Available on the Web at:

2.     Leon James. Avatar Psychology and Mental Anatomy: The Body as Mind or the Mind as Body. Online Book, 2012 [This book is available free on the Web at:

3.     Conjugial Love and Eternal Marriage: The Biological Theory of Mind and Immortality (2012) with Diane Nahl

4.     Avatar Psychology and Mental Anatomy (2009

5.     Organic Mind: Discovering the Mental World of Eternity (2008

6.     The Spiritual Significance of Neologisms by Leon James (2008

7.       Lecture Notes on Mental Anatomy (volume 1) (2007)

8.     Lecture Notes on Mental Biology (volume 2
Lecture Notes on Correspondences (volume 3

9.     Principles of Theistic Psychology (18 volumes) (2004-2007)

10.   Unity Model of Marriage (2001-2007

11.   Moses, Paul, and Swedenborg (1999

12.   Swedenborg Encyclopedia of Theistic Psychology (1996-2007

13.    Best Friends in Love: Natural and Spiritual Dimension of Marriage (2000)

14.   Songs About Driving Cars on Roads and Highways Spiritually Understood (2007

15.   Half a Century of Science in Psychology: Scientific Neologisms Coined by Leon James between 1958 and 2008 



Articles on Cyber-Psychology,

Internet Literacy and the

Online Generational Curriculum

Social Psychology of Home Page Architecture

Notes I have written for psychology majors learning to become netizens in cyberspace.

Introduction to the Generational Curriculum within Community-Classroom.

With Dr. Diane Nahl, this is our long standing educational experiment in collaborative learning since 1975.

Social Psychology of the Generational Community Classroom

With Dr. Diane Nahl, this is our summary of principles and techniques written in 1979.

Creating An Online Learning Environment That Fosters Information Literacy, Autonomous Learning and Leadership

Contains a full description of the Hawaii Online Generational Community-Classroom, with tables, results, case histories, and taxonomy of online skills (1997).

Generational Community Classroom: A Brief Overview

Talk given to a faculty group in 1997.

Managing the Online Generational Learning Community

Guest lecture presentation in 1997.

Course-integrated use of PLATO

An article describing an earlier experiment in teaching.

Course integrated cyberspace learning community.

Course-integrated Use of the World Wide Web

Two articles describing a current experimental course on the World Wide Web.

Analyzing Linkage Structure in a Course-Integrated Virtual Learning Community on the World Wide Web

INET '95 Conference Paper -- An article and Kevin Bogan presented at the World Internet Conference in Honolulu, June 1995.

Affective and Cognitive Processes While Learning the Internet

This is a pre-publication copy of an article with Diane Nahl summarizing the reported experiences of students. Three levels of Internet adaptation were discovered.



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