Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Impediments to Leaving Imprints Today

In my last essay, I discussed the importance for human beings of leaving preserved imprints on their living environment as a form of surrogate immortality in preparing for death.  It is imprints that are our vehicle for validating our humanity.  They are our means for feeling alive and for preserving an aspect of this state of aliveness we are in, after we are no longer actually alive.  To a certain extent, we experience our total living environment in terms of surfaces with the potential to receive imprints as well as surfaces that are resistant to new imprints.  The first group of surfaces represent phenomena that are more easily imprintable, because they do not have rigid surfaces and rigid boundaries.  They are receptive to change of shape by means of impressions.  Such phenomena as earth, clay, bodies of water and fields of grass are obvious  physical natural phenomena that belong to this first group.  However, some easily imprintable surfaces are mixed in with phenomena that are more rigid and more resistant to new imprints.  Organisms have boundaries; they are discrete figures.  And yet, they leave imprints on one another’s experiential surfaces in many different ways.  Humans leave imprints on one another through sex, love, fighting, teaching and learning, negotiations, deals, good and bad deeds, and exchange of information and emotional statements through daily communication.  Humans are figures with imprintable physical and mental surfaces - surfaces that are impressionable like the earth on the ground.

Fast forward to the modern industrial environments of today.  In modern cities, we are surrounded by brick, cement, steel, glass and asphalt.  Buildings and streets and cars.  Phenomena that are resistant to being imprinted.  And then there are computers and robots.  Computers and robots are imprinted by the people who design them, who create them.  And programs are created to be operated in them in certain ways.  But most individual people do not create programs and do not leave significant uniquely synthesized imprints on computers and robots when they - the users - operate them.

It is true that people can write on a computer, using it as a word processor.  But I would still submit that writing by hand with a pen, because a person leaves more unique imprints with his personalized handwriting, leads to the person receiving feedback from this more unique creative physical imprint, and this stimulates more creative thinking.  Furthermore, one more effectively experiences oneself leaving an imprint with one’s thought.  There is simply a repetitive formulaic motor process involved in pressing on keys on a computer keyboard.  There is no feeling of leaving unique organic imprints in pressing on computer keys.

Most robot operations and most computer programs are fairly formulaic.  They are mostly pre-conceived processes.  As are the operations of most industrial machines.  The purposes for which they are used may be uniquely human, but the processes are mediated and formulaic.  It is almost as if the complex entities of modern machines, computers and robots are somehow leaving their own imprints on the rigid laminated surfaces that are resistant to the organic imprints of human beings.

Particiularly, to the extent that computers and robots and complex modern machinery mediate between us and our natural environment - our primary experience living environment, all this technology and the structures it creates become our new living environment.  And computers are micro-living environments that have well-marked boundaries.  They are highly defined as figures, and they supplant the grounded surfaces upon which we press down both literally and metaphorically to leave unique organic imprints.

Modern living environments consist primarily of highly figured technology and structures as well as the spaces in between.  In more organic traditional living environments, many phenomena are  fairly pure ground in the experiential sense of a phenomenon that can blend with other phenomena.  Examples are  soil and water.  Or else they are imperfectly defined figures like organisms with large experiential grounded surfaces that are highly open to communion and blending and imprinting with other grounded surfaces.  As in forests, packs of animals and villages.  Different organisms, traditional architecture -  that blends in more effectively with its natural environment, traditional art and handicrafts.  All are examples of imperfect figures with highly grounded surfaces for communing and blending and imprinting.  And the art, handicrafts, and architecture have imprinted surfaces that we leave among the imprintable surfaces of natural phenomena.

And the spaces in between the phenomena in this traditional environment reflect the traditional structures and complement them.  The emptiness - the vacuum - becomes infused with a kind of somethingness that we experience in our minds.  We populate the vacuum with our psychological imprints.  The vacuum becomes the home to the spiritual world and spiritual phenomena that enhance and reflect the activity found in the grounded natural environment.  The vacuum becomes infused with psychological grounding from the spirit world and with the grounded surfaces of supernatural entities that interact with us.  And to the extent that we humans interact with these supernatural entities, we experience ourselves as leaving another level of imprints on the spaces in between the different figure and ground phenomena in traditional environments.  We do this with prayers and rituals and ceremonies and with the modification of the figure and ground phenomena in our field of experience in order to comply with the requirements of the supernatural world we experience in the vacuum.

In modern living environments filled with highly figured scientific ideas, the vacuum, the spaces in between, is pretty empty of grounding.  The vacuum does not reflect back in any way the figure and ground phenomena found in the natural living environment.  And this is because increasingly, the phenomena in the modern world are highly figured pieces of technology: complex machines, computers, and robots.

That which does fill the spaces in between, nowadays, is the free-floating facts and images of cyberspace.  These are lifeless bounded discrete stimuli, little figures with no organic surfaces for blending and interacting the way supernatural entities do.

Of course, we have also had the vacuum images of TV and movies for a while, but these are images sent from a projector to a screen or from a TV station to a TV.  With computers, we have facts and images that exist in cyberspace.  This is what fills the spaces in between for humans today.  These facts and images are mediated bounded phenomena that do not accept our direct imprints in our minds in the same way supernatural entities do.

The spaces in between are not alive today in the way they were in more traditional times.  The mediated phenomena in cyberspace are not imprintable.  The in-between spaces are impervious to our need to make new imprints.  So in our modern technological environments, the barrier against our imprints in the clusters of technological figures as well as in the space in between is fairly complete.  And this leads to distortions in our field of experience and distortions in our behavior.  The world is changing so fast, and that is why we need to get a handle on overall patterns of change, so that we can protect ourselves against their harmful side effects.

c 2011 Laurence Mesirow

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Leaving Imprints In Modern Technological Environments

The blog I am creating here will focus on how modern technology transforms living environments, and, in turn, how those transformed living environments affect human behavior.  Modern technology is changing living environments at an accelerating rate, and, with this change, comes a change in the configurations of phenomena and stimuli with which we live in our field of experience.  Our mammalian human nervous systems are not evolving fast enough to keep up with technological change, and so we experience sensory distortion.  We develop patterns of behavior which help us to deal with the discomfort from the sensory distortion, but these patterns of behavior have harmful consequences.

First, we should examine a slightly different perspective as to why technological development became such an important factor in the history of many human cultures.  Basically, technology helps us to survive by gaining control over the material world and protecting us against the perishability that exists within it. However, survival takes on a special meaning for human beings, because with their cerebral cortex and their heightened consciousness, they are very aware of their own mortality.  Most traditional cultures dealt with the fear that this awareness of mortality creates by developing elaborate afterlives within religious systems.  These afterlives gave people a way to stand apart from the decay, the disease and the destructive climactic and geological events that they experience around them.  At least, they could achieve a spiritual immortality.

But, for some cultures, these spiritual immortalities were not enough of a guarantee.  There was no way of sensorily guaranteeing spiritual immortality in this world.  These cultures felt a need to create a psychological experience of immortality in the sensory world of the here and now.  It wasn’t so much that people, on some level, didn’t know they would inevitably die in the sensory world.  But with the development of technology, technology gradually moved beyond the implement stage to the parallel environment stage.  Technology was no longer simply a way to cope with certain survival tasks in the natural world, like obtaining food, clothing, shelter and transportation.  Technology became a means by which human imprints could be more effectively preserved on the field of experience in which people lived.

Human imprints in a technological world are not subject to the same kind of perishability that they are in a natural environment.  Most things are made of almost indestructible materials or laminated with almost indestructible materials or enclosed in almost indestructible materials or sheltered in a climate-controlled room, or endlessly backed-up on computer files or on discs.  These highly preserved imprints give people a feeling of a surrogate immortality in the sensory world.  That is, there is this sense that if one’s imprints can be effectively preserved after one has died, then one has left a legacy of a part of oneself as a surrogate immortality.  And although people always tried to leave a legacy - a surrogate immortality - of a part of themselves in preindustrial times, their imperfect success contributed to their focusing on spiritual immortalities.

Today, technology makes preserving imprints from organic perishability a more successful enterprise.  Some parts of surrogate immortalities are based on collective imprints like putting up a building, voting on a law or being on a team that wins a championship.  Today, more buildings are bigger and are made of stronger materials than most traditional buildings with the exception of pyramids, castles and religious buildings.  Laws and sports records are immortalized by being preserved on computer files.  Some parts of surrogate immortalities are based on the imprints by individuals like writing a book or building a small business.  Books today are protected against organic perishability by being turned into e-books.  Parts of small businesses are preserved through incorporation which is recorded on computers today in government offices.  Some imprints have to do with our direct impact on other people.  This impact can be tangible like having a baby with someone or giving advice that was followed by someone.  Or it can be intangible: the emotional presence we create in someone.  These imprints have aspects that are individual and aspects that are collective.  We leave an individual imprint on someone else in creating a baby, but the baby is a collective imprint.  We give advice or leave an emotional presence in someone as a result of our reaction to the imprint this person leaves on us..

But something strange happens as living environments become more technologized.  Organic imprints require organic surfaces in order to make a mark on the world.  An imprint has to be made first in order to be preserved or fixed in the photographic sense.  But the modern technological surfaces are surfaces that defend against new imprints in order to preserve the old ones.  We bounce off the surfaces of the objects in our living environments today, rather than imprint them.  Perishability, at least in the traditional sense, is something that is slowed down considerably with steel, asphalt, plastic and cyberspace.  And yet we each need a field of experience in our life, a total enveloping configuration of phenomena and stimuli, that is at least somewhat susceptible to the impact of our imprints.  We need to be able to leave imprints on the surface of the field of experience that surrounds our physical presence as well as on the physical world within this field of experience.

However the people who create the programs for modern industrial machines, computers, and video games are filling the world with experiential surfaces that don’t allow for making significant original imprints by the people who use them.  When machine operators churn out their products, they leave nothing of themselves in what they create.  Time spent surfing the internet could be spent in directly making imprints and receiving imprints in the primary experience of direct human interaction.  Time spent in the formulaic actions and responses of video games could be spent in so many different creative activities or doing sports with other kids.  These modern machines, with the technological surfaces they create, mediate human processes, create formulaic mediated experiences and replace the primary experiences that allow for direct placement of organic imprints on our fields of experience. As we fight to beat death, we lose something essential for feeling alive.

With a diminished capacity to make imprints, comes a diminished capacity to receive imprints from others.  As we become numb from our diminished capacity to make imprints, we are less receptive to the imprints that others want to make on us.  We ourselves become technological surfaces.  What is missing is the organic environments that are templates for people to make imprints on one another.  By organic environments, I mean not only nature but human living environments where the architecture, the design, the art and the community organization are based on a strong organic bonding with both the people who live there and the physical world.  In modern technological environments, relationships are more tenuous, divorces are common,  families crumble, and many people don’t know their neighbors.

It is my premise that human beings are not formed, do not develop independent of their living environment.  People are not simply the result of their biological predispositions and their family upbringing, but also their total living environment.  We do observations of animals and how they interact with their ecosystems.  We are concerned about preserving the habitats of animals, because that is where they survive best.  However, we think that, because of our cerebral cortex, we humans are capable of adapting effectively to any environment which we may create  And yet, there are many environments where we can survive, although we don’t necessarily thrive.  These modern environments interfere with our capacity to make imprints and leave us vulnerable to sensory distortion, which in turn generates pathological behavior.  The effects of our modern transformed living environments on human behavior are going to be the focus of my contributions to this blog.

c 2011 Laurence Mesirow