(this is my final paper for cybernetics class and for graduate school. it is a theoretical metalogue between myself and gregory bateson. many of his phrases and passages are pulled directly from the book Steps To An Ecology of Mind)
vm: i want to understand the ecology of mind, how it works. I want to understand how technology is accelerating intentional evolution, and what the Web is becoming… a collective intelligence? a global mind? a path to destruction? How do you propose i begin?
gb: You certainly are full of questions.
vm: Yeah, it’s a curse. I’m insatiable.
gb: Perhaps, but an exploration of mind and self is a worthy endeavor. To begin, we might say that in creative art man must experience himself – his total self – as a cybernetic model.
vm: Please explain.
gb: We are complex, self-corrective systems. As a simplified example, take a steam engine. It is simply a circular train of causal events, regulating itself to maintain some type of status quo. It is the same principle for processes of civilization, or human behavior, human organization, or any biological system. We check for irregularities, and correct against internal disturbance… keeping the system in balance.
vm: Yes, that makes sense. And this is why the obvious can be difficult for people to see. Our self-corrective mechanisms try to assimilate disturbances….. hide them, ignore them, shut out parts of our processes of perception to avoid acknowledging them. But if we remain ignorant of this occurring below the surface of our consciousness, then isn’t life partly a self-deception?
gb: Indeed. This is where wisdom comes into play. Wisdom I take to be the knowledge of the larger interactive system – that system which, if disturbed, is likely to generate exponential curves of change.
vm: Sounds like a holistic approach. Being able to see things at the meta level and extrapolate outcomes. When you say “exponential curves of change,” this could be for better or worse, right? For instance, meeting a person whose energy resonates with yours could catalyze change and psychological/spiritual growth. Alternately, the non-sustainable decisions that are made around the planet every day could lead to rapid environmental degradation and climate change.
gb: Well, the meaning of terms like “better” or “worse” are contingent upon whom you ask. Regardless, lack of systemic wisdom is always punished. Always. When trying to understand the self and the big picture, it is useful to think about three enormously complex systems operating in tandem.
vm: Which are?
gb: There is the human individual, with its physiology and neurology, chemistry and psychology, all these arrangements of conservative loops. These components exist in an uneasy balance of mutual dependency and competition, working to maintain an equilibrium and avoid the exponential curves that would be caused by a disturbance to the system.
vm: Right, like a giant program, maintaining homeostasis via its interrelated subroutines.
gb: Second, we have the society in which the individual lives. There are dependencies and competition among groups of people, just as there are in the individual body. Disrupt the societal balance, and the system will buck to preserve itself. If you think of important social change, you must assume there is in some degree a slipping of the system at some point along an exponential curve. The slippage may not go far, or it may go to disaster.
vm: Sounds dangerous.
gb: There is always danger in such slippage. It’s a matter of the system’s ability to be flexible and self-correct and adapt. Thirdly is the ecosystem, the natural biological surroundings of these human animals. We are, of course, destroying all the balanced natural systems in the world.
vm: Useful framework for understanding our place within the world. It sounds like we’re in trouble as a species though. What’s causing that?
gb: Conscious purpose.
vm: Wait…. what?
gb: Of crucial importance in man’s life is the “semipermeable” linkage between consciousness and the remainder of the total mind. We must understand that our conscious self is a construct. Call it the screen of consciousness, a systematic sampling of the greater whole of the mind. Filtered, and not random.
vm: Agreed. I know there is more to ‘me’ than what is in my immediate conscious awareness. I know that my conscious self, the one that interacts with the world, is merely an interface between the deeper more expansive me below the surface and the external world. That interface has a personality, a belief structure, a worldview, all of which were certainly developed through some combination of genetics and environment. I know that these constructs color my perception of reality, and that they are malleable. But how does the mind select which of my deeper unconscious patterns to project up to my conscious level of awareness?
gb: Well, it is clear that we are aware of only a fraction of the information coming in through our senses. It would be inefficient to notice everything, and would likely drive us mad. So what do I choose to notice? I, the conscious I, am guided in my perception by purposes.
vm: When you say purposes, I’m understanding that to mean intentions or desires. So conscious purpose is the aggregation of intentions that potentially lead to action. What’s wrong with that?
gb: Purpose is not wisdom. Consciousness is organized in terms of purpose as a short-cut device to enable you to get quickly at what you want: Dinner. Sex. Money. Power. It’s not set up to act with maximum wisdom in order to live, but to follow the shortest logical or causal path.
vm: Ah, I see. It is certainly not common practice to take the “long view,” that’s for sure. The world is filled with short-term thinking and greed and exploitation. And we’re seeing how that plays out.
gb: There are countless real situations going on right now where the systemic nature of the world has been ignored in favor of purpose or “common sense.” And the terrible thing about such situations is that inevitably they shorten the time span of all planning. Emergency is present or only just around the corner; and long-term wisdom must therefore be sacrificed to expediency, even though there is a dim awareness that expediency will never give a long-term solution.
vm: I’ve wondered if that kind of weak-mindedness will be further exacerbated by our activity on the Web. In our need for immediacy and “real-time” data, are we just becoming infinitely more distracted? We seem to want to know what’s going on NOW…. but without context, without stepping back and taking in the bigger picture, are we simply losing all sense of perspective? The other byproduct seems to be ultra-reactivity. No reflection, just reacting to stimulus. And these reactions tend to be based in fear, focused on near-term gain, and utterly negligent in playing out what these decisions mean within the larger system and over time.
gb: It’s a phenomenon which seems to be almost universal when man commits the error of purposive thinking and disregards the systemic nature of the world with which he must deal. The man, after all, has acted according to what he thought was common sense and now he finds himself in a mess. He does not quite know what caused the mess and he feels that what has happened is somehow unfair. He still does not see himself as part of the system in which the mess exists, and he either blames the rest of the system or he blames himself.
vm: That doesn’t sound very intelligent.
gb: No, it is not.
vm: A mix of hubris and ignorance, eh?
gb: Historically a fatal combination. The fundamental flaw is the belief that we are somehow separate from the systems in which we live, as if we controlled them. Even within the individual human being, control is limited. We can in some degree set ourselves to learn even such abstract characteristics as arrogance or humility, but we are not by any means the captains of our souls.
vm: So, what do we do to combat the arrogance of conscious purpose?
gb: Man must necessarily relax that arrogance in favor of a creative experience in which his conscious mind plays only a small part. Arts, poetry, music, humanities, contact between man and animals, man and the natural world – these all breed a kind of wisdom.
vm: I can relate to that. Finding outlets for creative expression has helped me grow tremendously. I’ve noticed that it helps me switch between multiple lenses of how I choose to perceive reality. When they say “think differently,” it’s really true. Instead of being trapped in a single rigid worldview, the ability to suspend disbelief and see the world from a different angle is almost magical. I get a flood of ideas, can link seemingly disparate information, and my creativity seems to soar. The trick is balance. Nonduality, even. Being able to link all these perspectives into something holistic. Also, being in tune with nature and the environment has been extremely helpful. It isn’t about being a hippie or treehugger, it’s a method for building intelligence and systemic awareness. The discussion about conscious purpose verse nature seems to be a crucial one. We are nested systems, after all…. organisms within larger organisms.
gb: That is what I refer to as “wisdom” – recognition of and guidance by a knowledge of the total systemic creature.
vm: Yes, integration of those different levels of self. Self as individual, self as an interconnected node within a society, and self as an interactive part of a greater ecosystem. And then sometimes I expand even further and simply feel like I am the universe. Do you know what I mean?
gb: Yes, I experimented with LSD briefly in the 60s.
vm: Ha ha. But seriously, that sense of being able to expand the sense of self opens the doors for some very creative thinking. It saddens me that many of the institutions in today’s society discourage fresh ideas in favor of maintaining status quo. Just as the institutions are soulless, so it seems the people who work within them are shaped to be.
gb: Yes, the social scene is nowadays characterized by the existence of a large number of self-maximizing entities which, in law, have something like the status of “persons” – trusts, companies, political parties, unions, commercial and financial agencies, nations, and the like. In biological fact, these entities are precisely not persons and are not even aggregates of whole persons. They are aggregates of parts of persons.
vm: Exactly! We are living in a world where we have created fictional entities to rule us. What’s worse, they have been designed so that no human is responsible for “its” actions, and accountability and responsibility are deferred. But to whom? If the organization itself has no ethical framework, what can we expect from the people who work there?
gb: Consider it this way: when Mr. Smith enters the board room of his company, he is expected to limit his thinking narrowly to the specific purposes of the company or to those of that part of the company which he “represents.” Mercifully it is not entirely possible for him to do this and some company decisions are influenced by considerations which spring from wider and wiser parts of the mind. But ideally, Mr. Smith is expected to act as a pure, uncorrected consciousness – a dehumanized creature.
vm: It seems absurd. Like an artifact from a much more primitive time. So what can be done now to pull us forward through this time of transition into a more advanced stage? Are we even capable? It seems the pressure is increasing and we are reaching systemic limits. We require flexibility now to take us to the next level as a global society. What is the role of consciousness in the ongoing process of human adaptation?
gb: I would say that an intelligent society is one which is designed to increase wisdom, and to give physical, aesthetic, and creative satisfaction to people.
vm: Ahh, a lovely vision. This is where I see the evolution of the Web coming in to play.
gb: How so?
vm: Well, everything we’ve just talked about, it’s all being simulated on the Web. Sure, you can go online and treat it as a destination for information gathering. But it’s also the outpouring of all the thoughts and emotions of humans everywhere. The Web is humanity’s mirror, in all its beauty and ugliness. The strength of our thinking is being reflected back to us. I see it as an opportunity to grow. Challenge us to exhibit more clarity in our thoughts and language, question our assumptions about “the way things work,” engage in generative dialogue on a massive scale, transmit and propogate memes virally. And definitely to cultivate long-term thinking and wisdom.
gb: And do you see this happening?
vm: Of course! All around me. It’s what makes me so passionate. It’s wonderful to have this multimedia communication platform, but it will become even more powerful when it’s infused with some futures thinking. It’s already happening. There are new initiatives and models all the time for increasing collaboration, resource sharing, and openness. The ideas are founded in principles like sustainability and long-term gain for all. It’s integrative. Not us vs them, but what can we accomplish together as a higher level society that understands what cooperation means.
gb: These ideas are still very fringe, you know. Borderline heretical to some.
vm: That is fine. Innovation happens at the edge. The most interesting thing for me is coming together in this online space, naked of age, race, location, or embodiment. It’s an infocology where minds connect. For those that are willing to open themselves to it and be flexible, there are an infinite number of possibilities. And by flexibility, I mean an uncommitted potentiality for change. If we can adapt this mentality within our own minds, I think it will carry itself out in all the other structures within society. It will allow us to adapt and evolve.
gb: Ambitious, indeed. And necessary for species survival at this point, I would say. All the current threats to man’s survival can be traced to three root causes: technological progress, population increase, and conventional thinking and weak-mindedness. A dangerous combination. I wonder if a critical mass will be reached in time to course-correct Spaceship Earth towards sustainability.
vm: Well, that is up to us to decide, isn’t it……
Jacqui Taylor said:
This was wonderful to read. You have captured the conversation beautifully.
The hope for the future in the final paragraph “coming together in this online space, naked of age, race, location, or embodiment. It’s an infocology where minds connect. For those that are willing to open themselves to it and be flexible, there are an infinite number of possibilities.” was truly inspiring and particularly resonated with me.
thanks for sharing
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks jacqui, i appreciate your feedback
Alex Bowyer said:
This was a fascinating read, thank you.
I completely agree with the notion that we have created fictional entities and given away some self-control – not just companies but online too. In some ways humans are now the senses and mouthpieces of a giant collective consciousness, linked together online.
The idea of our subconscious purposes rang true to me too, especially as I am currently reading The Science of Acting by Sam Kogan – an excellent read even for non-actors as it digs deep into how experience shapes human behaviour. I’d recommend it if you want to explore this idea more.
Keep the blog posts coming, they are always fascinating.
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks for the book recommendation. sounds like a fascinating read actually. i did some very limited acting in high school drama club, but nothing beyond that. but now, after having constructed this online persona, i am feeling more and more that life is simply performative art. (well, if you are conscious of it and want it to be.) we can choose our behaviors and expressions, shape who and what we aspire to be. i was just asking myself the other day….. what is the difference between a uniform and a costume? hmmmm…
The uniform matches the role of society. The costume exhibits the role of culture.
the body confined to either is set apart from her totality. The disembodied self adorns it’s web with others, who match neither this, nor exhibit that, but who exude a kind of resonnance of knowing. But what is known is kept beneath the surface because it prefers to be selfless and emerge from the space in between identification and imagination. There is a big diference between what I imagine myself to be and what I identify as being me. I identify the uniform role of identity in an instrumental order defined by obligations to abstractions. I imagine the costumed actor, somehow possesed by a constructive emergence of patterns that play out in relations that noone owns, but which enhance the user experience of being extended beyond the socially constructed self. Nature is the caretaker of imagination and yet we identify ourselves as others. Even our costumes have been made uniform. Nature is reviving imagination and constructing metaidentites that can maintain her life enhancing ways. So maybe “the web” is the place where we strip ourselves naked of all identifications that are unbefitting of our imaginations. As we reclaim all of our data, we can better identify where our imaginations fell short. Then we can play our parts in the best may conceivable. One tactic may include survivance.
Now you’re going to go make me pull my book off the shelf again and find them all, aren’t you? Thanks for that.
Nova Spivack said:
How do we actually enable the Web to “think” better?
How do we enable the parts to better understand the whole?
I look to the brain as a roadmap.
The Web does not yet have the equivalent of a cerebral cortex.
Where is the higher level synthesis, the pattern recognition?
I want the Web to learn, to self-organize, FASTER, around what it is doing.
I want the mirror to be smart. Not merely reflective. I want it to be self-reflective.
Take a look at Principia Cybernetica: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/
they have have done a lot of good thinking on this level. Especially around Hebbian learning across the Web. I think the next level is to create a new layer of intelligence above the collective intelligence on the Web. Meta-intelligence. I speak about this a bit in my Singularity Talk on the history of the Global Mind meme: http://singinst.org/media/singularitysummit2008/novaspivack
I believe we need to create systems that live on the Web and intelligently create mirrors for us, but also learn from us, and facilitate us, as groups. Group-level intelligence is the next big leap in human evolution I think. We need to accurately reflect and learn from groups. This is a step towards enabling the parts to better understand and adjust to the whole, even if not the whole whole. It’s a start.
Venessa Miemis said:
interesting comment, because one of the things i wanted to add to the dialogue but didn’t fit in was this comment by bateson:
“Of course, the whole of the mind could not be reported in a part of the mind. This follows logically from the relationship between part and whole. The television screen does not give you total coverage or report of the events which occur in the whole television process; and this not merely because the viewers would not be interested in such a report, but because to report on any extra part of the total process would require extra circuitry. But to report on the events in this extra circuitry would require a still further addition of more circuitry, and so on. Each additional step toward increased consciousness will take the system farther from total consciousness. To add a report on events in a given part of the machine will actually decrease the percentage of total events reported.”
so basically, the more meta you go, the more meta you have to go to understand the part that is meta. it’s like two mirrors facing each other, it just goes on for infinity.
what would full systems awareness look like? self-reflectivity?
this is where i see a convergence of science and spirituality. if “god” is pure total consciousness, complete self awareness and universal intelligence……. and science and technology are trying to help us quantify our human experience and environment in real-time…… it seems that we are talking about the same thing. full systems quantification as the ultimate simulation of reality.
the map is not the territory.
so we could have a robust simulation, but it is still not the thing.
and is the thing even the thing? (now getting into nick bostrom territory with life as a computer simulation – http://is.gd/hlKFE)
ok, the rabbit hole goes deep.
maybe we can arrange a metalogue to discuss this…….
The distinction between map and territory is fundamentally erroneous, in a very real sense there is only ‘map’, many maps, mapped upon each other, recursively,iteratively,fractally, indefinitely, immanently, multidimentionally.
What this may mean is that eventually the very distinctions from which the thoughts of mind web and consciousness emanate, will dissipate into the mists of uncounted flows of events of interests. (in which the ‘thing’ as you call it, is never the ‘thing’ but an ever approximating tangent)
a very interesting post indeed and one to which I will comment more extensively later, but for now allow me just to state that though I am among the admirers of GB, I also think that to a very large extent his thinking was fundamentally hierarchical and though a precursor to our own thoughts on complexity and hyperconnectivity, the fluidity of infocologies do not lend themselves to logical types in systemic descriptions (and thus are not covered by lexical indexing).
group-level intelligence is of course already here, yogis have talked about it forever. the tech guys, and their close cousins, neuroscientists, need to begin distinguishing between brain and consciousness, between mind and awareness, in order to conceptualize at the meta-level you foresee. they would greatly benefit from becoming mystics, in fact, but that is too much to expect. 🙂
Chris Arkenberg said:
“Also, being in tune with nature and the environment has been extremely helpful. It isn’t about being a hippie or treehugger, it’s a method for building intelligence and systemic awareness.”
This struck me, in particular. The corollary to an increasingly virtualized self, as you imply elsewhere in your piece, is the disconnection from flesh and nature, sacrificing the direct experience of life for an intellectualized & textualized relationship. Your statement above reinforces the necessity of observing & connecting with the natural world, not only as a spiritual salve for the wayward human animal, but as an instructive tool for understanding the vast complexity of our world.
What follows is a biological map for human systems. To Nova’s point, the emerging intelligence of the web will be born on the integration of the biological metaphor with the computational metaphor. Biomimicry, in my opinion, is THE roadmap for the future survivability & thrivability of the human species and the natural world of which we are the de facto caretakers. Thus, the intelligence of the net is the union of human & machine intelligence with the design patterns of natural living systems.
But under all that I’m still just a treehugger. 🙂
Kudos for this Chris:”Biomimicry, in my opinion, is THE roadmap for the future survivability & thrivability of the human species and the natural world of which we are the de facto caretakers. Thus, the intelligence of the net is the union of human & machine intelligence with the design patterns of natural living systems.”
I concur that is the ‘principle of the roadmap”, we still do not have an actual, plausible and effective roadmap though.
Enjoyed reading this – thanks Venessa!
On the form, it reminds me of the Gregory Benford’s book Foundation’s Fear (one of the follow-ups to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series), with though provoking dialogues between virtual Joan of Arc and Voltaire characters. Recommended, stimulating reading.
On the content, I resonate with “We are living in a world where we have created fictional entities to rule us”. It suggests that it’s only up to us to change it, and that it is possible to do so,
Thank you, Venessa, and co-creators (no pun intended). I Like your take on ultra-reactivity. No reflection, just reacting to stimulus. That happens so easily if we live a life of push: quicker this, faster that, accept tight deadlines, and find we slide down the rabbit hole of haste. Waste at large until life happens and drops us back down on the carpet. Boink.
Grounded, we find people and nature to embrace and be embraced, and we are so welcome back.
I am an engineer. Gregory Bateson’s steam engine analogy feels a little tortured to me. It is made to be self-regulating, yes, so as to not overspeed. A purposeful design. Narrow purpose makes it work. No extraneous circuitry to support more circuitry.
In a recent skype convo with Gavin, I was aiming to express how two minds go about synchronizing their focus, I/we came up with this:
Participation is the laser energizer/cutter through the crap that enables pattern forming and recognition.
Feeling, being, part of what is happening here. Slow down for patterns. What are we actually doing in conversation?
Simply put: We filter, re-focus, amplify.
Select and curate, guide attention and add own viewpoint, offer and spread what we feel a worthy contribution.
If this is what we are doing rapidly I posit we are (thanks, for inspiration, Nova) co-creating an informational cortex. It works by inviting attention, offering topics, memes, and hopes in diversity. We may choose to respond, we may follow in reflex, or we ignore. With informational freedom and abundance like this, we bubble things of importance up. This sharpens the group mind. Active participants learn to think and be as I/we. Spectators need not apply.
I submit we have been doing this for the past 13 millenia or so, in tribes and in polite (#Junto) or not so polite society – only it was slow so that few saw the emerging pattern.
Now that connections like the one you read and experience right now happen hundreds of times faster than in centuries past, we see more readily what the connections have in common. Social mind leaving a slow-motion movie. Synapsing our extending selves.
“I wonder if a critical mass will be reached in time to course-correct Spaceship Earth towards sustainability.” that’s the plan!
Thanks for all the great thinking everyone, nodes in the meta-mind one and all.
mustafa el sahli said:
As a matter of fact our consciousness is made due to the environment in which we do live the values ..conceptions ..costumes&traditions all that is called ideologies no doubt that those ideologies played an important role in making our consciousness and unless a mutual reactions takes place between this consciousness &un-consciousness our consciousness then can be described as a forged or un-acceptable cuz what was a truth yesterday is not today
As I read it, a tacit premise in your dialog – and in other inspiring conversations – is that far-seeing, unselfish people should guide what unfolds in self-organizing systems.
I’d like to challenge this premise. It strikes me as a potential accelerant of power struggles among people sure of their way to safeguard interests of the whole.
There is another way to see such interests are safeguarded. In the future, I hope you’ll also have time to coverse with insights found in:
– Howard X. Bloom’s “Genius of the Beast” (http://j.mp/aih4KE and http://j.mp/bFpzwp ) and
– Ronald Coase on how market prices can internalize social costs (http://j.mp/dzfQvP)
In my view, their approaches offer a way to avert Earth’s bleeding from power struggles among future philosopher kings.
Here’s the clearest point in the post from which power struggles may ensue —
>>[gb] “wisdom” – recognition of and guidance by a knowledge of the total systemic creature
Who decides “wise”?
What tests are used to see whether a person or group has “better knowledge of the total systemic creature?”
And what sanctions do the wise feel entitled – as guardians of the interests of the whole – to visit on those they deem less wise?
Monica Anderson said:
Another little masterpiece, thank you. It’s been a while since I read GB but I remember now that I’ve absorbed many of his ideas over the years.
I don’t think either you or GB use the term “homeostasis” as more than metaphor but I’d like to warn your readers that there is more to these than meets the eye. First, if you have multiple systems kept stable because of homeostasis but you allow them to interact in any way then the resulting system will be chaotic. A single pendulum is a device in dynamic homeostasis. Take two of these to form a double pendulum and you have a chaotic system. Physiology, mind, and civilization together form a kind of triple pendulum – with billions of agents, each with their own goals and methods – so we know all three of these are chaotic and, well, Bizarre Systems, by Kirstie L. Bellmans and my own definition.
But it gets worse. Each of these three is already chaotic in its own right. Yes, it may look like homeostasis from a distance but all three operate at the edge of chaos and would do so even if left to their own devices. Homeostasis is at best used to keep each one on their respective operating edges as the entire complex is jerking around. Each one is full of little tipping points, building up to avalanches, resonating with this and that, delaying signals, and remembering states. Chaotic.
I’m not sure that the possibilities are infinite. Infinite is a big word. It would make more sense to say that the possibilities are “indefinite”. It hasn’t been decided yet. But what IS decided, is that there are limitations & constraints. The possibilities are rather narrow, in my book.
There are impossible things. Things which cannot happen. Infinite: “having no limits or boundaries in time or space or extent or magnitude”. Wouldn’t infinite possibilities mean that even impossible things could happen?
I think there are boundaries, and in the talk about systems, systems have limits too, in fact, it’s one of their defining features.
I would say that the possibilities are rather limited, and that someone who remains open and flexible, as you say, has a better chance of going beyond the huge limitations inherent in our existence in this physical world. But even the possibilities of those individuals lucky enough to be open and flexible, are limited in scope.
Am I the only person who believes in Impossibility?
Thank you for an intriguing post Venessa! It seems to me, that you have a rigorous habit of bringing up the big questions. 🙂 And thanks for all the insightful comments by others, I’ve learned a lot today by reading your reflections. In general, this post contains multiple threads leading to the fundamental questions and developments. Couple of brief reflections…
I just thought and tweeted the other day (multilinearity in action):
Do we have enough time to make sense or digest the information that flows around us? #challenge #change #reflection #future
Are we trying to find your our voice or do we just sing along? #change #reflection #future
Those two questions are in the very heart of my own research and design work related to the personal futures http://bit.ly/ccOFhk. How can we use our personal and collective digital representations and reflections to truly increase our self-awareness and enhance the awareness about the consequences of our existence and interactions as a part of a larger whole or system.
The above-mentioned questions are also crucial when thinking how digital networked environments will develop and affect the evolution of human thought (and vice versa) in general. Today their destinies seem to be inseparably intertwined (yet this might not be that self-evident at all). At the same time, we should ask what are the genuine motives, intentions, and goals that guide the current and future development (e.g. what kind of power structures and cultural values do the existing popular digital services and tools support etc.).
When it comes to personal and collective futures… I see that the key to make the “positive” change to happen (macro-, micro-, and nano-future, personal/collective) is to create a concrete call to action. This happens by increasing awareness about the existing and non-existing alternatives and their consequences in as accessible and intelligible form as possible. A true challenge and a puzzle that (I believe) we are solving at this very moment.
“We must understand that our conscious self is a construct.” and “Self as individual, self as an interconnected node within a society, and self as an interactive part of a greater ecosystem. And then sometimes I expand even further and simply feel like I am the universe.”
Have you heard of or commented on Rifkin’s book, The Empathic Civilization? I’m new to your blog and got here by way of your Collaborative Consumption post. I haven’t looked around in the back pages yet.
He talks a bit about the ‘expansion of the self’ but he seems to find innovations in energy use and communication technology as the two heaviest factors. Anyway, I just bring this up to question your use of the word ‘levels’ when it comes to how we construct our ‘self’. I don’t see the self as a digital or gradient thing. But maybe is that how we end up having to talk about it?
Fascinating blog, btw. I have a lot to go through and process now.
Colin Hawkett said:
Hi Vanessa – great read. The observation that the web is a vehicle to achieve a higher state of cultural evolution – cultural wisdom – is spot on. For mine, I don’t think we really have the capability yet to perceive its form – we’re in a highly chaotic state prior to equilibrium, that from an external perspective might appear as white noise. I do think these states are kind of digital, although obviously there is an analogue progression from one state to the other – somewhat like rolling a marble between indentations in a fractal wooden board (so indentations contain wooden boards with further indentations), and moving through macro indentations delivering the greater revelation.
Perhaps one way to look at it would be the creation of a universe from a singularity – the web began as one server and one browser on one computer, and has exploded from there. We’re still at the stage where the physics of that universe are being defined – a new macro iteration of the fractal is appearing, with new indentations for the marble of humanity to rest in. Perhaps we worry about LHC creating a big bang, when in fact the new universe is already forming.
As with our universe, as with any ‘zygote’, there’s an inevitability to what form will appear, but trying to understand that end by analysing the homogenous mass is nigh on impossible. Us humans are the DNA, and it will be truly interesting to see what form is derived from our encoding. Something is gestating 🙂 Ta,
Big yes, Venessa!
It’s in the unfolding. The web/social media is allowing it to come out of the shadows as more people who resonate with multidimensional views find each other, and engage the larger emergent call on and offline.
I also feel that “Arts, poetry, music, humanities, contact between man and animals, man and the natural world” and other experiential practices/happenings are the gateway.
There is no substitute for direct experience…and opening up the vast reservoir of wisdom and creativity in the other parts of out brains and bodies and in living systems. Learning can come form reading and thinking. But real wisdom – and emergent creativity – comes from engaging, cultivating and embodying. There is no shortcut to cultivating what is calling to emerge from within…and it seems to always be alive, and connected to what is holistically generative – life-giving for self, others and the whole.
Thanks for posting.
Venessa Miemis said:
beautiful comment. thank YOU!
Roisin Markham said:
Vanessa, best of luck with your final paper.
Fantastic post so much of it spoke deeply to what I have been think about and the comments have been great to read.
…question our assumptions about “the way things work,” engage in generative dialogue on a massive scale…
Yes I feel the web is unlocking the potential for like minds to really connect, question and solve on a global scale. The technology is making it easier to find, communicate, research, link to ideas and in theory live in a more sustainable society.
Should we not be living in thee most progressive generation of human consciousness?
Let us not get lost in the technology. What we have are contemporary tools for how disconnected our lives have become… the work must be done in reality, out among people and the trees, rice paddies, dessert sand or city dust.
@creativedynamix on twitter
Brilliant conversation, so glad i stumbled across it!
I feel too dumb to comment here but a question:
If you face two mirrors toward each other with nothing observable in between what would they reflect?
Engineer’s answer, dumb of me becasue this is Venessa’s blog and I respect her voice so I should let her reply first. But then, I let my ego win this time, sigh… Faster, yeah!
I recommend you try it for yourself: get two small mirrors and play. You likely see the images of the two mirrors getting smaller and dimmer, all the way to almost infinity when the light gets so dim that it submerges within the ambient “noise”. That could be the stray light from the environment not reflected by the mirrors but scattered.
Philippe Verstichel said:
Very good conversation though I feel that you were too widely meandering towards the end of it. Lest purpose is not right, at least some focus is required even if you hold multiple lenses in front of you. The right mix of convex and concave ones … some artists have played with that. Ask Roy Lichtenstein for example. Many tried to copy him, thinking it was easy to replicate, none succeeded because they were not equipped with the right combination of concave and convex lenses.
My inner self projected some thoughts, which I shall list below “hapharzadly”. By the way, I always felt that the english language was failing the human with the word ‘random’. J.B. Priestley wrote some great plays talking about haphazard (weird word) that may be a better symbol to express your thoughts.
Basically I disagree with the view that we should consider the world in a systemic approach. Sampling by our conscious self can and should be ‘haphazardeous’ sometimes for mankind to journey in its collective inner. That’s personnal and I won’t delve too much into that.
The section about causality is the one I would recommend you to expand on when relating your work with the current digital world (Web). I always felt that the Internet could be triggering a new era where causality would not be ruling our thinking. Causality is one of the seed of our current interpretation of time, be it short-term or long-term. Replacing causality by something linked to serendipity for example might have us thinking differently about time, hence dropping this uggly concept of ‘purpose’.
Of course we may have the Web distracting us, even worse, becoming an instrument of ‘digital dictatorship’. Nowadays, facts are uncertain, stakes are high, decisions are urgent and values in dispute due to the deep complexity of the world (the mess as you call it). Experts (Homo Numericus) argue the case that Internet offers the support to develop the only solution to alleviate these issues. Right or wrong ?
The expression ‘arrogance of conscious purpose’ is great but do not fall in the other trap offered most of the time by artists, that is ‘arrogance of beingness freedom’. Also, I think ‘systemic awareness’ is not much in line with what Bateson was suggesting. I would challenge that part of the conversation.
And what about organisms within organisms … well well, reminded me of R. Ackoff: “Organisms and organizations are both purposeful systems in the sense that each can change its goals. The difference is that organisms are comprised of organs that only serve the purpose of the systems, whereas organizations are comprised of purposeful subsystems with their own goals.”
At the end of the conversation, there is a hint about organization and personality. There may be a confusion between organisms, organization and corporation (legal entities created by very early economists who were considered as doing philosophy!). Might be interesting for you to read the work of Paul Kurtz who coined the word ‘organizality’ in a paper of 1968.
LSD, LSD, etc. from the start of the conversation I was waiting for it. About the ‘perceptory’ issue, there is in my humble opinion, nothing more profound then the book of Aldous Huxley: “The Doors of Perception”. Bateson ideas were sometimes quite close to the utopian views of Huxley but Aldous was the best at describing the human mind discovering his inner self.
Eventually, the last section was as I expected about coming back to … the ancien greek. A bit like Robert Pirsig in his “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I do sincerely hope that one day you’ll be riding yourself on some sort of ecological engine to break the doors of perception for you to discover the authentic happyness of being self.
Venessa Miemis said:
thanks for the thorough critique, phil. i don’t have too much of a response back… i felt like bateson can be a bit boring and rambling in his thoughts, but did my best to create some kind of decent conversation between ‘us.’ thanks for your book recommendations and suggestions for expanding on different aspects of the convo. this is definitely a topic that i could write about for a long time. 🙂
And the metalogue continues… a bit longer than fits a comment. A riff on Venessa’s take on ultra-reactivity. No reflection, just reacting to stimulus. New blog post.
Pingback: Metalogue – The Evolution of Mind, Consciousness, and the Web [19Nov10] #metaman #realneat | The Book