Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Defenses Against Sensory Distortion

One important way that sensory distortion from modern technological environments affects our behavior is in the velocity of our activity.  By changing the velocity of our activity, we can create a self-generated field of stimuli that supplants the uncomfortable configuration of stimuli we are experiencing around us.  There are two principal ways we can generate this.  Both involve transformations of our will.  In other words, a transformation of an internal aspect of the mind leads to the transformation of the presentation of human activity.

The first way is one that I will call conative acceleration: the speeding up of the will.  One posture for a person in sensory distortion is to speed up the will and the activity it creates to such an extent that the stimuli from the activity prevents the experience of the sensory distortion in the external surroundings.  Why is it that people seem to be moving so quickly in crowded urban environments like Manhattan.  They are creating an intense level of stimuli by moving quickly, but it is a level of stimulation over which they have control.  It is an intense organic level of stimulation.  In truth, it is like an intense self-generated field of experience.  And the intensity from the accelerated stimuli blocks the sensory distortion from reaching the brain.
Now conative acceleration can be effective against two very different types of technological environments.  It can combat the sensory overstimulation of tension-pocket environments like crowded noisy urban neighborhoods.  In many modern corporations, employees are expected to be more productive than ever and work longer hours.  This attitude is the foundation of a psychological defense.  People have to fill their time all the time, slot every moment, in order not to experience the overstimulation on the streets below.

Another posture that people can take to deal with sensory distortion is numbing themselves and psychological withdrawing from their external surroundings.  This is done with meditation or using drugs like marijuana, sometimes with the support of mystical groups, and the people become very passive and calm themselves to float in reverie. This I will call conative anesthesia: the numbing of the will.  Rather than try to grapple with and suppress the sensory distortion as in conative acceleration, in conative anesthesia, the person withdraws from the sensory distortion in the external environment and into a world of alternate stimuli inside his  head.

Conative acceleration can also act as a defense against some of the dangerous effects of vacuum environments.  Although people like to think of vacuum environments as environments where figure and ground phenomena can be preserved indefinitely, there actually is a destructive danger present.  This danger is entropy.  Entropy is the tendency for matter to distribute randomly and uniformly in a physical vacuum.  So if you leave something in a vacuum for a long enough period of time, it starts to fall apart.  But this is a much more subtle long-term disintegration than perishability in grounded natural environments.  For humans, the psychological effect of entropy is the gradual crumbling of consciousness.  All sorts of weird things happen to people when they are placed in sensory deprivation chambers.  They start imagining things and hallucinating.  This is much like the mirages thirsty men have when they are lost in a North African desert - a natural environment that is very influenced by vacuum aspects.  Miles and miles of sand particles that don’t bond with one another and that create a scene with little grounded sensory variety and with no significant figure landmarks to the untrained eye except an occasional oasis.

As a defense against the overstimulation in tension-pocket environments, conative anesthesia and withdrawal is a way of removing oneself into a calming vacuum environment.  In the internal vacuum environment, the person can temporarily preserve his psychological integrity by partly shutting out all the abrasive static stimuli that impinge on his boundaries.  These stimuli continue to impinge to a certain extent on the person and, in a way, continue to connect him to the external environment.  Nevertheless, they are not able to disrupt the psychological integrity of the person, because the person is floating in his own internal psychological vacuum space.

Now we have previously talked about how vacuum external environments do involve the subtle dangers of entropy.  But entropy makes its presence strongly felt when one is in a vacuum environment for a long period of time.  Entropy is not as much of an issue during short periods of meditation.

Finally, some people assume a meditative vacuum posture as a defense against a primarily vacuum external environment.  The advantage of the meditative vacuum posture is that a person maintains his psychological integrity, because he or she is at least in control of his own vacuum.  The person has reduced the size of the vacuum in which he dwells to manageable proportions.

So are there any significant problems for people in assuming these postures.  Each of these postures has important side effects and consequences.  Conative acceleration is exhausting and wears us down.  Conative anesthesia is numbing in such a way that we somehow don’t feel fully alive and connected to the external world.  In both cases, people survive.  But without organic grounding in the external world and organic grounding in the internal world of the mind, there are no templates to allow a person to develop deep sustained intimacy with another person.

These postures allow individuals to survive as isolated units.  They are not very helpful for the sustenance of social connection.  When one is moving very fast, they are moving too fast to bond.  When they stop moving or move too slow, there is not enough energy to reach out and engage in bonding.  There is a reason for the high percentage of marriages that end in divorce today.  There is a rhythm to organic connectivity that is very difficult to maintain in modern technological environments.

Speeding up or numbing the will is conducive to survival today, but it is not conducive to making, receiving or preserving organic imprints.  This is true both because there are fewer organic surfaces on which to make imprints in our field of experience today, and because the velocity of our mental activity is such that we are too detached from our external field of experience, even if we wanted to make, receive and preserve imprints.  This is simply one more aspect of the way in which modern technological environments interfere with fundamental human needs.

c 2011 Laurence Mesirow

1 comment:

  1. Dear Larry,
    I think that this post is a little hard to follow but I can, because I know you.

    A someone who has devoted herself to things tactile, beautiful and comfortable; I know what you mean by the numbing of our senses with the over stimulation that technology brings. This constant stimulus is changing how we think and changing the way our brains are hard-wired in a fundamental way.

    Our children won't notice this too much (they will embrace it becase ppl don't miss what they never have experienced) but as someone in the over 50+ crowd I miss, "the good old days" at least with regard to entertainment and being able to just sit in a chair and relax alone,silently listening to the windmills of my mind.

    My thoughts: