McLuhan deploys packages of related terms throughout his work. Understanding his thought requires that these packages be teased apart to uncover how they work, that is, to see how similarities and differences operate within them.1

One such package includes ‘simulation’ and ‘mimesis‘-‘mime’-‘mimic’ — and would have included ‘meme’ had the term become current before the last years of McLuhan’s life.2 

Here in chronological order are passages in which McLuhan uses the words ‘simulate’ and ‘simulation’. With the exception of an isolated example from 1947, all fall within the 1963-1971 time period:

the academic mind (…) would simulate a passionate perception which it cannot feel. (The Southern Quality, 1947)3 

The next extension of man will be the simulation of the process of consciousness itself.4 (MM to Harry Skornia October 4, 1963)5

Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man — the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media. (Understanding Media, 1964, 3-4) 6

the electric extension of the process of collective consciousness, in making consciousness-without-walls, might render language walls obsolescent. Languages are stuttering extensions of our five senses, in varying ratios and wavelengths. An immediate simulation of consciousness would by-pass speech in a kind of massive extrasensory perception, just as global thermostats could bypass those extensions of skin and body that we call houses. Such an extension of the process of consciousness by electric simulation may easily occur in the 1960s. (Understanding Media, 1964, 130)7

Computers (…) can be made to simulate the process of consciousness, just as our electric global networks now begin to simulate the condition of our central nervous system. But a conscious computer would still be one that was an extension of our consciousness, as a telescope is an extension of our eyes, or as a ventriloquist’s dummy is an extension of the ventriloquist.  (Understanding Media, 1964, 351)8

Another way of looking at our situation today in the age of cybernation and information machines is to say that from the time of the origin of script and wheel, men have been engaged in extending their bodies technologically. They have created instruments that simulated and exaggerated and fragmented our various physical powers for the exertion of force, for the recording of data, and for the speeding of action and association. With the advent of electromagnetism, a totally new organic principle came into play. Electricity made possible the extension of the human nervous system as a new social environment. (Cybernetics and Human Culture 1964)

It is one of the mysteries of cybernation that it is forever challenged by the need to simulate consciousness. In fact, it will be limited to simulating specialist activities of the mind for some time to come. In the same way, our technologies have for thousands of years simulated not the body, but fragments thereof. It was in the city alone that the image of the human body as a unity became manifest. (Cybernetics and Human Culture 1964)9 

In the case the astronauts they have to take the planet with them in order to survive. We have now had to build space capsule environments that include the planet. We have to be so much involved in our own planetary forces and gravitations and so that we can simulate it. The old idea of participation in natural forces was by simulation — the tribal dancing and so on was done by mimicry of the natural forces in order to control them. Well, that’s what modern science does. Modern science mimics nature in all its levels. (McLuhan to Studs Terkel, 1966) 

electric technology enables us to mime or simulate the old planetary environment in our [space] capsules. (The Emperor’s Old Clothes 1966)

In his Poetics (Chapter IV, 1448b), Aristotle reminded us that mimesis is the process by which all men learn. He alluded to the process of making by which our perceptions simulate within us the environment that we encounter outside ourselves.  It is this learning and making process that, by electric circuitry, is being extended beyond our central nervous system. The next phase of this extension will naturally concern the action of making consciousness technologically. What we have called education in recent centuries has consisted in visiting or in simulating as many earlier environments and cultures as possible. Language is unrivaled in providing the actual sensuous modalities of other environments, with their unique ground rules. Electric circuitry can become a means to bypass language and plug directly into other modes of consciousness.  (The Emperor’s Old Clothes 1966)10

The all-at-onceness of the electronic environment dispenses with connections. To this degree does it not simulate our unconscious? Having long supposed that the next extension of man would be that of his consciousness, it strikes me as only too fitting that all the while it was the unconscious that had been externalized.11 That is, it is a fitting mark of my own inability to see the present.12 (McLuhan to Warren Brodey, February, 8, 1967)

Consciousness (…) is a specialist and fragmentary operation which works by exclusion rather than inclusion. The subconscious by contrast is inclusive rather than exclusive  It accepts all things and all times and all places, and accepts them all-at-once. That is why electronic information services can simulate the character of the unconscious so readily.  These same services involve us in depth in all the past and present experiences of the race, creating a profoundly mythic milieu for living, if not for thinking. (The Future of Morality: inner vs outer quest 1967)

The computer enables you to simulate any type of situation, a learning situation, a war situation, way in advance of its coming into reality. (CBC Interview of McLuhan by Bob Quintell, , 1967)

Art is ceasing to be a special kind of object to be inserted in a special kind of space. The sense of participation in the art process has reached an extreme in the so-called “Happenings,” which are plausible simulations of environmental control. (Through the Vanishing Point, 1968)

the story line in the minotaur myth is that of human cognition, leading to the confrontation with human identity, which is the monster. This is what [the] labyrinth was. It simulated the act of cognition.13 (Exploration of museum communication, 1969)

The [trips induced by] hallucinogenic drugs, as chemical simulations of our electric environment,14 thus revive senses long atrophied by the overwhelmingly visual orientation of the mechanical culture.15 (Playboy Interview, 1969)

The motorcar has been obsolete for some time but it may be some quite irrelevant aspect of the car that will finally finish it off. The car, as a means of concentrating workers, or polluting environments with both hardware and smog, seems to continue quite merrily. Its persistence in spite of numerous inconveniences may be due to some hidden factor such as its simulation of the space capsule, providing a carapace for the human organism in an ever more intimidating environment. In other words, transportation may not be the reason for the continuance of the car at all. (Innovation is Obsolete, 1971)

No greater fulfillment of the visual man’s preference has occurred than the faking of the real world in the “software” world of “celluloid” and the silver screen. In this “reel world” a vast simulation of the outer realities was provided as a fantasia of the semiconscious movie patrons. (Take Today, 95-96)




  1. See note 3 for example.
  2. Richard. Dawkins published The Selfish Gene in 1976. Chapter 11 is ‘Memes: the new replicators’.
  3. ‘Simulate’ is used here to mean ‘put on’, ‘pretend’, ‘dissemble’, etc. It is deceptive and decidedly negative. Later it becomes something more like ‘account for’, ‘formulate an algorithm for’, ‘provide a demonstrable discipline of’, ‘set out an investigative field for’, etc.  It is revealing and decidedly positive. Yet another meaning emerges when he maintains in Through the Vanishing Point (1968) that “happenings (…) are plausible simulations of environmental control”, where the sense is ‘provide an example of’, ‘show the ultimate implications of’, etc.
  4. See McLuhan to Warren BrodeyFebruary 8, 1967, cited in the post above, where McLuhan corrects this notion from the extension of consciousness to the extension of the unconscious.
  5. The letter to Skornia continues: I think it will occur in the 1960’s. It does not mean the end of private awareness, rather a huge heightening of same via involvement in corporate energies. Corporate awareness, of course, is iconic, inclusive, Not an aspect, not a moment out of a total life, but all moments of that life simultaneously.” “Corporate awareness” here is “all moments (…) simultaneously” in the same way as chemistry is “all moments” of material nature “simultaneously”. McLuhan’s notion is that human experience must become just as conscious of its own laws and properties as it has come to know, mostly in the last two centuries, those of physical entities.
  6. Regarding “the technological simulation of consciousness”, see McLuhan to Warren Brodey, February 8, 1967, per note 4 above.
  7. Regarding “the electric extension of the process of collective consciousness” see note 4 above.
  8. Regarding “simulate the process of consciousness” and “extension of our consciousness”, see note 4 above.
  9. Regarding “the need to simulate consciousness”, see note 4 above.
  10. Regarding “the action of making consciousness technologically”, see note 4 above.
  11. See MM to Harry Skornia October 4, 1963 above — and the following passages which also speak of the extension of consciousness, not of the unconscious.
  12. Fine example of McLuhan’s self-depreciation which is nearly always missed in assessments of his work which commonly take it to be absurdlyly self-aggrandizing.
  13. Beginning around 1950, McLuhan investigated the notion of “the identity of the processes of cognition and creation” — “artistic creation is the playback of ordinary experience” (Playboy Interview).
  14. Compare Laws of Media 83: “the caricature of inner or right-hemisphere awareness experienced by the drug culture of hallucinogenics (…) provides an artificial mimesis of the electric information environment.”
  15. McLuhan continues: “LSD and related hallucinogenic drugs, furthermore, breed a highly tribal and communally oriented subculture, so it’s understandable why the retribalized young take to drugs like a duck to water.”