A shift in consciousness

by Stan Hirst

I’ve been pondering on three items these past weeks.

The first one was an observation I made some two months ago while travelling through Argentina.  Visiting the Iguazu Falls had been a firm item on my bucket list for more than 30 years, in fact ever since the movie The Mission hit the circuits.  Iguazu did not disappoint – an incredible natural spectacle and, I thought, one of the great natural wonders of the world. I took 160 photographs of the Falls and their environs – thank heavens for digital cameras!

As to be expected, the whole area surrounding the Falls and the many walkways were clogged with tourists of all shapes and sizes.  The overwhelming majority carried smartphones or tablets and all were shooting pictures from every angle. What intrigued me about my fellow Falls gawkers was that more than 9 out of every 10 shots I saw taken were selfies of themselves with the Falls in the background!  This spoke volumes about their underlying motivation for using photographic recording.

The second thing clicking through my rickety brain was related to the December 19 election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the U.S.A.  That event in itself was enough to give me serious cerebral machinations, but one specific thing jumped out at me. Believe it or not, Trump’s success has been attributed in large part to Facebook!  The social media giant has been credited (!) as being massively influential in the election outcome, not because it was tipping the scales with fake news (although it probably helped some there), but because it helped generate the bulk of the campaign’s $250 million in online fundraising.

The third item of reflection related to a recent meeting of the Education & Community Engagement group of the Suzuki Elders where, after some raucous round-table discussion, it became evident to me that my fellow Elders had little clue about blogs, websites, electronic bulletin boards, hyperlinks and electronic media in general.  I was left musing how this meshed with our view of ourselves as personifying the traditional repositories of societal wisdom.

Over the past few decades modern writers such as Ray Kurzweil, Roy Ascott and others have elegantly pointed out to us that people across the planet are changing radically in body and mind. It’s not just a matter of the prosthetics of implants, artificial body-parts or surgical face-fixing, however much such technologies may seem a godsend to us Elders. It’s also matter of consciousness.

People in the 21st century have acquired new faculties and a new understanding of human presence. We have developed the ability to inhabit both the real and virtual worlds at one and the same time.  We can now be both here and potentially everywhere else at the same time. This is giving [some of us] a new sense of self and new ways of thinking and perceiving that extend beyond what we have long believed to be our natural, genetic capabilities. In fact, authors like Ascott and Kurzweil go so far as to state that a debate about artificial and natural is no longer relevant in this context. We are increasingly interested in what can be made of ourselves, not what made us.

The sanctity of the individual may now be a defunct concept. Thanks to social media we are now each of us made up of a set of selves, so we are actually many individuals. Actually, the sense of the individual is giving way to the sense of the interface.  We are now all interface – computer-mediated and computer-enhanced.

These new ways of conceptualising and perceiving reality involve more than simply some sort of quantitative change in how we see, think, and act in the world. They constitute a qualitative change in our being, a whole new faculty. Ascott has coined a term for this post-biological faculty –  cyberception.

Ideas come from the interactions and negotiations of minds. We are looking at the augmentation of our capacity to think and conceptualise, and also to conceptualise more richly and to perceive more fully both inside and beyond our former limitations of seeing, thinking, and constructing.  We now have a new term for the sum of these artificial systems of probing, communicating, remembering and processing the data, satellite links, remote sensing and telerobotics  – the cybernet.

How is cyberception different from perception and conception? It’s a lot more than simply the extension of intelligence provided by silicon chips in our computers, smart-phones and robotics.

We are offered the opportunity of a new understanding of pattern, of seeing the whole instead of just the parts, of flowing with the rhythms of process and system. Until recently we have thought and seen things mainly in a linear manner, i.e. one thing after another, one thing hidden behind another, division of the world into categories and classes of things. Objects have had impermeable boundaries, surfaces have had impenetrable interiors.  Simple vision ignored infinite complexities.

Cyberception means getting a sense of a whole, acquiring a bird’s-eye view of events, an astronaut’s view of the earth, a web-surfer’s view of whole systems. It’s brought about by high-speed feedback, access to massive databases, interaction with a multiplicity of minds, seeing with a thousand eyes, hearing the earth’s most silent whispers, reaching into the enormity of space, even to the edge of time.

If my Elder colleagues have read this far they will doubtless be asking “What does this bafflegab have to do with anything?”  Well, everything!

We’ve seen how hand-held devices such as smart phones can influence political decisions at the highest levels even while the owners think they’re doing nothing more than polishing their own vanity by taking a selfie or clicking an innocent-looking link which sends $5 to somewhere or other.  We’ve all become cybernauts of one kind or another.

Our choice now is to join the cybercommunity and participate at a meaningful level or let others do it for us.  Which choice would best represent the elder perspective for us?

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8 comments

  • Don’t get me wrong. I love the internet and I see value in social media, but I had difficulty absorbing utopian views that argue that cyberception through access to the internet is bringing about positive physical and emotional changes in humans. Yes we have immediate access to so much more information, and we can interact with others around the globe in an instant. But I see the internet as mostly a tool of data transfer, not a tool of idea creation. More data doesn’t necessarily lead to more insight, especially if the data is wrong. Do individuals actually understand and critically evaluate information on the web, or just blindly accept what others accept? Has considered opinion been replaced by “number of hits” or some other popularity measurement? Do original ideas that do not “go viral” simply languish in the ether? I worry about our ability to identify fake or manipulated data and the loss of the hunger for truth because it takes too long to check facts and, thanks to cyberception, we all want immediate answers. The only radical change in human evolution is that human brains are ten percent smaller than they were 10,000 years ago. Maybe cyberception will help us expand our brains, but I doubt it.

  • Excellent observations and stimulus for examining our own connections to the cyber-world. It also reinforces why we do energy healing, which involves not just the mind (where most cell-phone info occurs), but also the body and spirit. By getting together with other human beings at least once a week and engaging in silent communication or touch therapy, we may be counteracting some of this electronic stuff. I have also experienced distance healing, and believe that human consciousness is powerful and can influence people unrestricted by time or space (!).

    Thanks again,
    Alex Jamieson
    PS, I recently started using a cell phone, albeit an older model Samsung Galaxy. I find it a challenge, but sometimes a challenge is good. I agree that we do need to enter the 21st Century and thus communicate with the younger generation if that’s what it takes.

  • Hi Stan, My FIRST intent is to sign on to receive notices when blogs are posted, and to read them 🙂 I thought I’d already signed on, but the notices have not been coming into my inbox. I have clicked both boxes below now. SECONDLY, thanks for the perceptive and provocative post. Whether kicking or screaming, or excitedly and gladly, we are all being sucked into cyberspace. I’ve welcomed it, sort of (e.g. I am trying to optimize my own website for search engines, since “we’re all in this together” and at least part of the point of writing, if not the only one, is to share). Yet I certainly am having “THIRD thoughts” (get it? :-)) about the degree to which cyber communication and influence is affecting us all, and how to work toward making it a force for good. No easy or simple answer, but worth pondering.

  • Well, yes. Who can disagree with this?
    “The effect of cyberception on art practice is to throw off the hermeneutic
    harness, the overarching concern with representation and self expression, and
    to celebrate a creativity of distributed consciousness (mind-at-large), global
    connectivity and radical constructivism.”
    Just kidding.
    Ì think the only significant effect of the Internet is that it provides an unmerited channel for mass communication. When people got information through mediated channels, like books or newspapers or magazines, or even television (before Fox News), there was at least some editing process. It was more difficult to just lie.
    Now a Trump can tweet that he would have won the popular vote except for millions of illegal votes, and the millions in Trump nation, who receive little other information, believe him. This couldn’t have happened till now.

    • The “only significant effect” you say? You are misguided sir. The internet (and cyberpace) have completely changed the game and the picture. Read it again. We can now see what is going on in Outer Turkmenistan, we can communicate instantaneously with like-minded people in Upper Groating, we can be there when someone is pulled from earthquake rubble. Ascott’s point is that computer mediation and enhancement has become part of who we are.

  • Good question. I’ve noticed that images, now cheaper than ever, are overtaking written words as tools of communication. And as Marshall McLuhan once stated, “The medium is the message”, i.e. the influence of message content, both rational and emotional, often depends on which motor and sensory neurological pathways are engaged in sending and receiving information. For example, negative advertising in political campaigns can go straight to the gut, bypassing the head and heart. On the other hand, I am mesmerized by Trump’s gestures, and his emphatic speaking style, even though I dislike the rational, and often irrational, content of his speech. Some successful bullies are charming, and modern media seem to amplify that aspect, which communicates subliminally.

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