Sunday, May 17, 2015

Going From Magic To Machines


            In previous articles, there has been considerable discussion of the notion of surrogate immortality.  This is a means by which people deal with their mortality by leaving preserved imprints that will go on existing long after they are dead.  Examples that have been given of such imprints are having a baby, planting a tree, making a work of art, writing a book, creating a business, achieving a record in sports as well as the smaller but not less important intangible imprints of the memories that have been left among the people that have come into contact with the deceased.  All these imprints deal with the sensory and/or cognitive aspects of our fields of experience.  A baby, a tree, and a work of art are all sensory phenomena.  Actually, a baby starts out as a sensory phenomenon, but quickly, as its mind develops, becomes a cognitive phenomenon as it interacts with the people around him.  A sports record is a cognitive phenomenon as a statistic, although it relates to a sensory event.  A book is a sensory object filled with cognitive content, although illustrations and prints provide sensory content in those books where they exist.  A business is based on a cognitive business plan and cognitive strategies, but it frequently involves sensory products or services as well as sensory interactions with people.  Memories of relationships are cognitive thoughts based on sensory experiences.

            There has also been discussion of how the creation of the modern technological world has been a larger means of creating an environment in which preserved human imprints can remain better protected against the perishability that occurs in nature.  From this point of view, the best way to fully preserve both directly and indirectly organic imprints is to put them into technologically-created experiential vacuums where they can exist outside of nature.

            People who have lived in preliterate societies are fully aware of the problems of perishability that they encounter living in more natural environments.  So they have developed other experiential systems for dealing with problems of perishability.  In his book The African Genius, Basil Davidson talks about how people in Africa develop a greater sense of empowerment in their perishable living environments by means of magic and frequently magic as exercised in sorcery and witchcraft.  Sorcery is a force that is external to the person using it, a force that he has to learn how to use.  Witchcraft is a force that resides within a person, a force that the witch can use automatically, even unconsciously.  This is why witches don’t always know who they are and have to be pressured to confess that they are witches.  But there is magic that can be used to defend oneself against the evil powers of sorcery and witchcraft.

            With beliefs like this, nothing that occurs in human existence is explained by chance.  Any occurrence of misfortune is explained by applied magic, and attempts are made to find the person who used magic to create the misfortune.  Translated, this represents the flows of mysterious flowing blendable continual stimuli to transform experiences and events in human life.  They are nonmeasurable mental stimuli, but to the preliterate tribespeople who believe in them, they give these tribespeople what appear to be as strong a sense of psychological control and mastery over the phenomena in their fields of experience as the people in modern technological society obtain with their machines.  It is the means by which people who live in perishable traditional organic environments, who are still immersed in the flowing blendable continual sensory stimuli of these environments, obtain a psychological sense of power and control over their living environments.  It does not matter that these tribespeople are not able to manoeuver much, shift much, change much in objective physical terms when destructive experiences and events occur in their fields of experience.  What matters is that they have developed mental systems that interpose them, the tribespeople, as active agents generating explanations and solutions for situation, where the intersubjective causal agency that they ascribe for what is happening is not obviously apparent in the sensory world.

            The preliterate tribesperson with his magic, experiences himself or other human beings as being in control over the happenings in his external environment much like the modern technological person does in his environment.  And the preliterate tribesperson experiences this without having destroyed so much of his natural living environment.

            Nevertheless, there are some differences between the organic imprints left by preliterate tribespeople and the organic imprints left by people in modern technological society, and perhaps these differences can help to explain why some groups of people evolved over time from more traditional preliterate societies to modern technological societies.

            The imprints of magic occur primarily in the form of mental experiences that do not lend themselves to verification in the external world.  When a sorcerer puts a curse on a person, and the person dies, does the person die because he has directly experienced the effects of the curse or because he and the sorcerer participate in a collective belief system wherein curses from sorcerers are supposed to have strong magical powers that can cause people to die.  There is a blurriness here, a lot of flowing blendable continual mental stimuli that make it hard to separate internalized mental experiences from externalized physical events.  As a result, there is a blurriness to the imprints that appear to be preserved.  There is a coherence to the flow of the magical action, but there is not so much crisp definition.  The magical action can be seen as an intersubjective event that participants agree has occurred, but not as an objective event that has actually occurred in the external world, where the definitions of the action can be easily ascertained.

            Furthermore, without verifications of an intersubjective event in making an imprint, and without strong definition of the imprint, it becomes much more difficult to preserve the imprint with certainty.  When the imprint is primarily in minds, it becomes much easier to wipe out or modify the imprint with the countervailing imprint of another person’s magic that can wipe out or modify the original magic spell.  The flowing blendable continual stimuli of the defensive magic wipes out or modifies the flowing blendable continual stimuli of the original spell.

            There is a blurriness to these magical imprints which leads some people to find other fields of experience in which to be able to leave more crisp and, therefore, more defined organic imprints.  Technology is a way of bringing the focus of imprint making from the more blurry continual world of intersubjective mental experiences to the more crisp discrete world of objective events. Technology deals with hard sensory phenomena that can be touched and therefore verified in terms of their existence.  Furthermore, technological imprints can be conceptually built upon one another.  Whereas magic is conservative and does not tend to lead to the development of new more effective modalities of magic, technology is progressive in that one invention leads to the possibility for another inventor to come up with the idea of either a significant modification or else a completely new invention altogether.  The flow of technological thinking allows for the possibility for many more people to leave crisp new imprints through technological development.

            Furthermore, the opportunity to leave crisp discrete imprints through technological development acts to stimulate a greater defined consciousness.  In other words, experiencing crisp discrete imprints acts to stimulate our capacity to absorb other discrete phenomena, wakes us up out of the more blurry continual consciousness associated with the more blurry phenomena connected with nature as well as with magic, sorcery and witchcraft.  What we create, what we surround ourselves with, both physically and mentally, subtly helps to create who we become and who we are.  And so those preliterate tribespeople who, at some point in our faraway past, started the slow trek through various stages of civilization until arriving at our modern technological society, not only created increasingly crisp discrete imprints as the technology evolved, but also an increasingly crisp discrete consciousness of the world.

            However, this is still just one side of the story.  Gradually as technology has, as it were, covered over nature and natural surfaces, there are fewer and fewer organic surfaces on which to make new imprints.  The technology has enabled us to effectively preserve imprints from the past, but it is now gradually impeding our capacity to leave significant new non-technological imprints.  And as there are fewer and fewer organic surfaces left and fewer and fewer organic phenomena and fewer and fewer blurry flowing blendable continual stimuli left in living environments, our new imprints may continue to be defined, but they suffer from so much definition and so little coherence, they begin to fragment.  And our consciousness, of course, fragments as well from the lack of blurry flowing blendable continual stimuli that are needed to stimulate more coherence in it.  So our journey in technological development has now taken us to the opposite experiential problem from that experienced by those preliterate tribespeople who started the long slow trek to technological development.  But the one thing we can say is that we are at a point where further technological development will not lead to improvements in organic human imprints and improvements in human consciousness.  Quite the contrary!


© 2015 Laurence Mesirow

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