Sunday, December 30, 2012

Storm Clouds Over Technologyland

    Perhaps sometimes I talk about organic natural environments in excessively positive terms.  This is because I feel the increasing loss of such environments has led to the development of sensory distortion which has, in turn, had such a pernicious effect on human mental health and human behavior.  Human beings are built for the configuration of stimuli that occurs in these organic environments, and have not evolved as fast as the living environments they have been transforming.  The increasing evolution of human surroundings into our modern technological living environments has resulted in environments that are alternately understimulating and overstimulating for the human nervous system.  In addition, through the screens of digital technology, the sensory configurations are such that, in their lack of organic blendable continual stimuli, they stimulate a person to behave in a robotic way.

    In fairness, grounded environments have never been pure ground and have always had partially developed figure elements that violently try to establish their boundaries apart from the ground.  This includes climactic figures like thunderstorms and hurricanes, geological figures like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and wild animals.  Perishability does not just always mean gradual decay.  Sometimes it stings.  These aggressive modalities of perishability certainly acted as strong motivators to push people to build transcendent technological living environments to protect them against the dangers they perceived.

    People have been developing increasing levels of what they perceive as technological environment protection.  This has given them a sense of security, a feeling that they can withstand whatever aggressive expressions of nature that may present themselves as well as the fundamental decay that is a constant natural process.  However, something has begun to happen in nature that was not present previously in human history and that could significantly upset the power balance between human technology and nature.  I am talking about what has been variously called global warming and climate change.  There has been a significant increase in aggressive climactic events as well as accelerated evolutionary climactic changes.  More aggressive hurricanes.  More aggressive tornadoes.  The melting of the ice caps at the North and the South Poles.  The rising of sea level such that many islands and shorelines are threatened.  More heat waves and droughts.  In general, a warming of the planet such that ecosystems are being greatly disturbed.

    So how does this fit into the philosophical model that has been unfolding through all of my articles?  On a most fundamental level, it means that the partially developed climactic figures in organic environments, like the hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, etc., are breaking away more completely from their attachments to organic grounding, from their participation in more conventional weather patterns, and becoming more free-floating figures, figures that wreak unusually terrible damage on human living environments.  This results not only in the damaging of technological artifacts and technological living environments that have evolved and been superimposed over nature.  It also means wreaking terrible havoc on those patches of organic natural grounding that remain.  In other words, nature as well as those more organic traditional human communities that remain are significantly degraded as a result of the free-floating figures of very aggressive climactic phenomena.

    In addition, organic grounding itself is changed as a result of climate change.  In some ways, it begins to more aggressively move towards swallowing up the figures of humans and other organisms that live within its boundaries.  The rise of water levels from the warming of the ocean water and from the melting of the ice caps threatens to swallow up the homes of people who live on islands in the oceans. 

    Furthermore, some organic grounded environments are turned into experiential vacuums for humans.  Unusually severe droughts are impeding the growth of life on a lot of farmland.  And the melting of the ice cap in the Arctic Circle means the destruction of a complex ecosytem that affects the food supply of Eskimos among others.  So the new environment is a vacuum for Eskimos who are used to relating to a living environment that is covered with ice and that has animals that are intimately connected with such an environment and that provide food for humans.

    As climates shift all over the planet, the organic grounding is destroyed, particularly for humans in traditional cultures and for most animals and vegetation.  To the extent that traditional cultures have evolved for hundreds or even thousands of years in particular ecosystems, to the extent that climate change can drastically alter a particular ecosystem, the new ecosystem becomes an experiential vacuum for a traditional people.  Of course, it is also true for other animals and plants that can’t survive easily outside of a particular ecosystem.  So there is a loss of organic grounding for humans, other animals and plants, even if nature is simply significantly changed and not destroyed.

    Traditional humans develop beliefs and myths based on relationships they have developed with particular ecosystems.  When these ecosystems are drastically changed, the beliefs and myths are no longer based on natural referent points that actually occur in physical reality for these people.  In effect, when modern technology creates such significant changes in natural environments, it is like nature is expelling humans from a strong grounded intimate connection.  And then humans end up floating in a climactic experiential vacuum.  It is a climactic experiential vacuum filled with the tension pockets of the catastrophic climactic events like super strong hurricanes, tornadoes, and storms.

    Such dramatic climate change can act by itself as a significant factor in the destruction of traditional cultures that is occurring today, and although this climate change does not destroy modern cultures that are based to a great extent on modern technology, it does nevertheless have a significant effect on the people who inhabit modern technological living environments.

    If nothing else, it creates a significant setback for the belief that humans can create totally transcendent living environments through modern technology that are truly impervious to the process of perishability that is part of the organic environments over which the modern technological environments are superimposed.  The exploited and repressed organic environments are, in a sense, striking back and no longer acting so much like safe nurturing grounding. 

    One partial solution is to find a way of preserving those aspects and patches of organic living environments that remain and recreate more aspects and patches where possible.  In particular, we should start developing more ways like alternative fuels that cultivate our relationship with organic grounding rather than simply exploit it in a damaging way.  We can only hope that there is still time to undo some of the damage that has been done.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Machines That Surround A Robot

    In the process of studying the influence of modern technological devices on human behavior and thinking, particularly in the area of consumer technology, I have focused on the relationship of individual humans to individual technological devices.  What is the effect of sustained interaction of a person with a single television or computer or smartphone?  More precisely, what is the pattern of influence of a single television or computer or smartphone on humans?  I have tried to show how each  television, computer or smartphone screen is a world unto itself, that sucks a person in and influences a person through the mediated experience provided.  That mediated experience establishes a relationship between human and complex machine such that the complex machine is dealt with in some way similar to another human.  Two mental processes that occur among humans unfold in this man and complex machine relationship: mirroring and modeling.  Through these processes with complex machines, humans are subtly reconfigured to become more and more like the complex machines with which they are interacting.

    What I didn’t take into consideration is the effect of being surrounded by a whole field of experience filled with different consumer technological devices: televisions, computers, smartphones, iPads, video games, digital cameras…..the list goes on and on.  With so many different consumer technological devices being produced, people are buying more and more devices and spending more and more time in front of a screen.  With so many different consumer technological devices, one can spend practically the whole day shifting from one technological device to the next without engaging the external world through primary experience for any significant period of time.  It is my belief that there is a synergistic effect that occurs from experiencing all these different devices serially, and this effect is different from just the intense focus on engaging just one device for a long period of time.

    In previous articles, I have discussed how complex technological devices impact humans as a result of two processes: mirroring and modeling.  In mirroring, a person sees himself reflected through the conduct of a complex technological device.  The behavior of the device is actually controlled by the manipulation of the person through the discrete focused stimuli that he generates.  Nevertheless, to the extent that the person sees the machine accommodating itself under his direction, he then absorbs the perception of the machine as something that reflects who he is.

    In modeling, the person actively tries to imitate the clean angular efficient activity of the machine.  The computer and other complex technological devices are perceived as entities that get things done along an efficient linear path.  There are all kinds of corporate models today for doing work in an efficient linear manner and for urging units of people to operate like machines.

    In these particular situations, mirroring occurs during engagement with the machine, while modeling occurs after engagement with the machine.  Mirroring comes from a more immediate sensory connection while modeling comes from a more mediated cognitive connection.  Nevertheless, in both of these cases, the impact of the consumer technological device comes from the direct one-to-one encounter with the device in the external world.

    It is not that I am now dismissing the impact of mirroring and modeling in those situations where a person engages with just one of these devices.  Particularly, with computers, there is a lot of of focused one-to-one interaction, where mirroring and modeling can be a strong conduit for technological influence on a person.  And yet, nowadays, a person is surrounded by so many different devices- many smaller and more mobile - that he spends way more time engaged with a screen than with an environment in the external world.  And because of this, on one level, all these screens together have a cumulative effect that is different from the one-to-one effect of mirroring and modeling with a single screen.  This is something that I didn’t take sufficiently into consideration when I first started writing my articles.

     I have also discussed how computers and other modern digital devices neutralize, to some extent,  the effects of sensory distortion in the external world as a result of mixing together  the vacuum continuous stimuli and the discrete figure stimuli that are found in vacuum and tension pocket environments.  This is done in order to create island worlds of relatively stable configurations of stimuli on which to focus so as not to have to suffer from sensory deprivation and sensory overstimulation in the external world.  A person is drawn to one of these island worlds of experience and, in the process of engaging with one of these technological devices, he is drawn into a mirroring and modeling relationship with it.

    But my whole model so far has been built on the construct of a person engaging with only one significant technological device.  In truth, most people who were engaging with a computer were also engaging with a television and a movie screen.  A significant portion of them, primarily young people, were also engaging with video games.  And then smartphones and iPads came along.  And of course, although I haven’t discussed them up until now, I should really consider the technological devices involved with audio fields of experience: radio, phonograph, cassette player, CD player, MP3 player.  So people have all of these different consumer technological devices to engage them and draw them out of primary experience in the external world.

    It is my belief that all of these mediated fields of experience fuse together in the mind and form one wraparound field of mediated experience filled with defined discrete stimuli and vacuum continuous stimuli, and this wraparound configuration of stimuli reprograms a person’s mental processes and subtly contributes to robotizing him.  The reason for the fusion is that it is simply difficult to keep all the different screens or audio fields of experience compartmentalized and separate from one another as distinct mental images for an indefinite period of time.  And even if the modern external world is filled with defined discrete stimuli and vacuum continuous stimuli as a result of modern technology, that which keeps a human mind coherent is blendable organic continual stimuli.  In this case, the blendable organic continual stimuli of the mind act as a kind of glue to fuse the images of the different consumer technological devices together.  These fused images then function as a very imperfect secondary internalized layer of grounding.  Granted that it is not as stable as real grounding in a more organic living environment in the external world, it nevertheless begins to provide a mental backdrop from which human behavior can proceed.  This represents a technological influence on human behavior that is different from the mirroring and modeling that comes from focused one-to-one interaction between say a human and a computer.  This wraparound influence is more subtle and comes from the fact that manufacturers are making a greater and greater variety of consumer technological devices and more and more consumers are buying more and more of these different devices.  The bundle of devices in a person’s life become a backdrop for the way life is processed.  It is as if in a person’s mind, the person can perceive many of these consumer technological devices with an internal peripheral vision, while focusing on one main subject device.   

    As a result of having an increasing number of consumer technological devices, a person becomes more and more likely to simply pass his life going from one screen and/or technologically-created audio field of experience to the next, while, at the same time, spending less and less time directly and fully engaging the external world through primary experience.  Although a person uses these devices one at a time, they are all everpresent in his mind, where the continual stimuli of the mind blur them together.  And this becomes a different kind of robotizing influence on the person apart from mirroring and modeling.

    One obvious way to get rid of this robotizing influence is very simply not to use so many consumer technological devices.  And to make sure that one spends significant periods of time during the day in primary experience in the external world.  We are all being seduced by marketing to buy constantly new devices and new models of devices that carry out more and more processes in more and more mobile formats.  So we never have to be away from the screen or technologically-created audio field of experience.  And this of course is where the problem lies.  It takes a lot of discipline and will power to break away from all of these different screens and technologically-created audio fields of experience sometimes.  But it is necessary if one wants to retain one’s humanity.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Contamination Of Traditional Cultures By Modern Technology

    Through the course of my articles, I have used different metaphors to describe the way that modern technological entities like computers, smartphones and robots impact on humans.  I have discussed how these technological creations seem to occupy the role of totems for people in modern society, being placed in the position of entities with complex behavior that people consciously or unconsciously strive to emulate.  People look to these devices for traits that will help them, the people, to survive in modern technological society.  It is not that humans formally make totemic emblems of computers, smartphones and robots, but that they look on computers, smartphones and robots with a kind of reverence, thinking of them as entities that extend the range of their skills, and thinking of the commercial brands particularly of computers and smartphones as quasi-tribal definers of humans.  People who own the newest Apple iPad are to a great extent a group apart not only from conventional computer users, but also even from people who own older iPad models.  Each new iPad model creates new features that create improved worlds of digital events that people with other computer devices can’t share.  People with similar technological devices can share stories about them and discuss attributes and problems.

    I have also discussed modern technology from a psychodynamic point of view, exploring the way in which the complexity of the behavior of these devices leads to their being models for conduct by users who spend so much time with them.  Not only do these devices become models to be imitated, but they also become mirrors in which people see themselves in the behavior that they perceive in these technological entities.  Again, as with totems, these psychodynamic terms represent ways in which people consciously or unconsciously are influenced in their behavior to imitate computers, smartphones and robots, whether or not this imitation is something that improves the person’s behavior or his sense of self.

    As has  been previously stated in other articles, there are humans who resist the influence of the technological entities that surround them.  These are usually people who come from traditional cultures with strong organic grounding, and they experience the rigid behavioral patterning that comes from interaction with modern machines as well as the loss of organic surfaces on which to make, receive and preserve imprints as something foreign to their way of life.  As these traditional people did not participate in the evolutionary flow of technological change, they did not have the opportunity to make the significant psychological changes necessary to adapt to this evolving technology.  These people use this technology in different ways today (cell phones, for example), but it is disconnected from the flow of the rest of their lives.  And, as has been pointed out previously, for many of them, the frictionlessness that this technology brings is psychologically castrating and provokes reactions of violence.

    These traditional people have not had time to psychologically protect themselves against the changes this modern technology brings to their lives.  Insofar as these people want to stay grounded in their traditions and don’t necessarily want to evolve into good members of modern technological society, this modern technology is a kind of foreign predator that threatens to contaminate their culture and their lives.  The technology entered their lives too rapidly; it was added to their lives through the strong influence of the dominant technological society that surrounded them.  And so these traditional people didn’t have the opportunity to evolve rules of avoidance, of taboo, with regard to these machines, particularly the devices of consumer technology.

    For a time, there were some people in traditional cultures in the Third World who did try to resist on some levels the ways of modern industrial society.  These were people who sensed the consequences that would result from adopting the technological customs of modern industrial society.  And yet their resistance proved to be a losing cause.  Technological incorporation began with Native Americans when they started using the guns of the white man.  And that, of course, was just the beginning.   

    But traditional cultures from the Third World that are very grounded in nature cannot adopt modern technology without significantly disrupting their ways of life.  It is not like the adaptations that have occurred in the Western world and in some Asian countries to ongoing technological change.  Again, Western adaptation and the adaptation of some Asian countries does not mean that the sensory distortion created by the technology that  these cultures make does not continue to be harmful to the primate natures of their members.  It just means that the people in these cultures have found a way to make psychological accommodations to their technology, so that the technology is not totally culturally disruptive.

    For many people within traditional societies, the experience of modern technology has been so culturally disruptive, because it is experienced as a form of contamination that eats away at their connections to the natural world.  Without these connections, traditional people experience disorientation, an experience of floating in a vacuum.  And as they go numb, many lash out with violence in order to feel alive.  I have spoken at length about violence directed outward towards people in the external world.  But, in truth, for many people, the destructive energies are directed inward towards themselves.  I am not just talking about people who commit suicide.  There are also people who engage in self-destructive behavior that ultimately proves to be lethal.

    Some people start drinking heavily and become alcoholics.  In some Third World countries that are producers of illegal drugs for export, many of the people in the local population have started abusing the drugs.  And, at a time when there are serious epidemics of sexual diseases and, in particular, H.I.V., many people in these cultures continue to engage in unprotected sex.  Each of these activities not only damages the abusers but also any offspring the abusers are likely to produce.

    Now obviously there are people within these traditional cultures who are able to survive and even thrive in the world of modern technology.  But this is because they are able to embrace the technological culture that is connected with modern technology.  The people who are contaminated and damaged by modern technology are the people who feel more closely bonded to the traditional culture.  So, in many cases, it is not only the more traditional people who are damaged and destroyed by modern technology but the traditional culture itself.

    This leads to the following question.  We can mourn the loss of natural environments as they become encroached upon by modern technological development.  We can mourn the loss of more organic traditional buildings, as older buildings are replaced by more technologically functional buildings and by skyscrapers.  But do people in modern society have any reason to mourn the destruction of traditional cultures of which they are not a part?

    Traditional cultures are models for people today with regard to how to ground in the organic environments that create opportunities for rich vibrant experiences that allow people to make and receive the imprints that allow them to feel fully alive and ultimately to prepare for death.  These cultures are models for people living more as primates rather than people living as robots.  They remind us of some of the aspects of life that we have given up or are in the process of giving up, as we become more and more immersed in our interactions with modern technological devices.  Traditional cultures model for us how to have relationships with other people built on the immediate intensity of primary experience rather than on the fragments of communication in mediated text messages.  And they model for us how to have more direct connections with the natural environment free of a lot of mediating technological equipment.  They teach us how to elaborate this connection with the natural environment throught the art, artifacts and architecture that we create.  And they teach us how to elaborate a grounded connection even to the vacuum environment of the cosmos through religion.  In short, traditional cultures emphasize those aspects of our human identity that we are losing as we become robots.  And this is why it is important to prevent traditional cultures from totally disappearing from the earth.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Robot Words We Use

    Words are mental entities that create boundaries for the concepts and phenomena they identify.  By creating these boundaries, words can turn different concepts and phenomena into the building blocks for thoughts.  And verbal thoughts are the basis for the way we order our world and communicate with other people.

    Now some concepts and phenomena lend themselves to more precise boundaries than others.  It is much easier to create mental boundaries around a house than around a wave in the ocean.  A wave is constantly shifting shape and size as it moves along the surface of the water.  It has an imprecise beginning and an imprecise ending.  I have called it a continual stimulus, because it continues over time and space with borders but without precise borders.

    I have also had to think of a name for stimuli like the endless darkness in a darkened room or like the hum that occurs in total silence.  In these cases, it is not a matter of imprecise beginnings and endings as with continual stimuli, but a complete lack of beginnings and endings.  To give a visual label to this idea, I came up with the name of continuous stimuli, which, of course, is very similar to continual stimuli.  But, for me, continuous carried the notion of forever ongoing, while continual only carried the notion of somewhat ongoing.

    Anyway, I think this linguistic problem I have here is symbolic of the difficulty in trying to accurately order and name all the concepts and phenomena of the world with language.  And to the extent that I come up with a name for one of my concepts, it occurs within the pre-existing structures - the words - of a given language.  In this case, it is English.  It is true that words can be created - particularly in philosophy - to describe concepts for which pre-existing words are inadequate.  But even then, no language has the words or the word components to adequately name all the phenomena in the universe.

    So the fact that I had particular difficulty giving a name to a continual stimulus - a name that adequately described its visual properties - is not surprising.  And, particularly, of all the three stimulus categories in my model - discrete, continual, and continuous - the continual stimulus has been the most difficult for me to adequately name.  Sometimes I have also used the term blendable, but blendable doesn’t describe what a continual stimulus is when it is by itself, or how it moves over time.

    Given my difficulties in naming this stimulus, it explains why I have been thinking of taking a different approach to my stimulus model.  At least sometimes I am thinking of using more philosophical terms to define stimuli instead of visual terms.  For discrete stimuli, I am thinking of the term determinate stimuli, because such stimuli can be adequately identified in terms of boundaries.  For continual stimuli, I am thinking of the term indeterminate stimuli, because such stimuli cannot be adequately identified in terms of boundaries, even though such boundaries do appear to exist.  And finally, for continuous stimuli, I would like to use infinite stimuli, because an infinite stimulus does not appear to have either spatial or temporal boundaries.

    By using these new terms, I know that I am losing something in the suggestive properties of the names I use as well as gaining something.  There is something very immediate, very experientially present about using terms that can be understood visually.  And yet there are no good words that adequately describe all the things that a continual stimulus is and does.  It may be more precise to describe what a continual stimulus isn’t, at least in comparison to a discrete stimulus.

    And this leads us to the realization that words are imprecise and incomplete instruments in conveying the reality of many aspects of human experience.  They are great for math and logic and for computer programs that are built on combinations of ones and zeroes.  And they are great for giving us streams of information on the Internet.  But they are not as good for defining natural settings, emotions, and non-logical ideas.  These are areas where words suggest and describe rather than precisely define.  Nevertheless, people can make a connection to these areas of experience through words, as long as they realize that words do not subsume all meaning in these areas.

    But increasingly today, people not only want to have easy control over their living environment through technology, but they want to have easy control over the mental phenomena they talk about.  The best way to do that is to turn the verbal field of experience into one filled with easily definable discrete concepts.  This is the world today of hard science and technology.  The verbal world people live in today is one that is reconfigured to be easily controlled and manipulated.  So, for example, we talk about a brain being hard-wired, as if it were like a computer.  By talking and thinking this way, we feel we are more able to not only fully understand the human brain, but also to control and manipulate it.  And increasingly the approach of control and manipulation is utilized in more intrusive forms of marketing on movies, television, computers and smartphones.  Very poetic indeterminate words, that are meant to be simply suggestive in poetry and literature, are used to get people to buy very focused determinate products.  Atmospheres are created to get people to buy discrete services and products.  This is the nature of advertising today.  Indeterminate words in the service of very determinate purposes.

    So not only do we begin to model our minds after computers and robots, but our language, in order to have a sense of control through precise focus, becomes modeled after the different complex signals that operate computers and robots.  In most situations, there is little room for words that only imperfectly name the concepts and phenomena that they talk about.  And poetic words are used for discrete strategic purposes in marketing and advertising.  Today, no meaningful gravity is ascribed in serious discussions to these poetic concepts and phenomena that are simply used to talk about that which is indeterminate.  Perhaps this helps to explain why poetry does not have a very large following in modern technological society.  The truth with which it deals does not lead to control or manipulation over something, but rather an intimate understanding and communion with different aspects of the flow of reality as it is.  Poetry’s language and content deal almost entirely with indeterminate stimuli.

    And this brings us back to the problem I had at the beginning of this article.  I was trying to find an accurate precise name for a phenomenon that by its nature was very imprecise.  And that is why I decided that more than one name was useful, because each name could emphasize different aspects of the phenomenon.  This notion of using different names to describe different aspects of the same phenomenon is not unique to me.  Again poets think of different descriptive names within their poetry for certain phenomena they’re discussing.  The same is true for theologians.  Look at all the different names there are for the Divinity in Judaism.  Including a name that is simply “The Name”.

    Normal everyday language is much more sophisticated than a code.  In everyday life, there is not always a simple one-to-one correspondence between words that are names and the concepts and phenomena they represent.  And if I have created a philosophical model where the names do not perfectly describe the concepts and phenomena for which they are designated, at least I know that I am not eliminating concepts and phenomena from my model and my world, just because I have difficulty finding the perfect names for them.  This is in distinction from modern technological language which is increasingly having influences in areas of life for which it was not created.  To the extent that this language or language style starts permeating non-technological areas, like most of the social sciences, it eliminates the areas of imprecision from our own self-perceptions, the indeterminate continual stimuli areas, which contribute to our perception of ourselves as organisms, as animals, as mammals, as primates and as humans.  What is left is terminology that subtly contributes to viewing ourselves within a technological framework in terms of machines, of computers, and of robots.  We are the terms we speak.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Depression As A Defense Against Modern Technology

    One of the most disabling conditions to afflict human beings, that we hear a lot about today, is depression.  Nevertheless, in spite of its negative effects, its prevalence today is an indication of a protective posture that actually has some usefulness in dealing with the sensory distortion that exists in modern technological environments.  In other words, for some people, depression is a lesser evil in comparison to sensory distortion.  In particular, I am talking here about depression as a manifestation of conative anesthesia - the numbing of the will.  People withdraw inside themselves and go numb - sort of like an emotional hibernation - in order to avoid feeling the panic and disorientation that comes from feeling a lack of organic bonds in the vacuum spaces of the world today.  People also withdraw inside themselves in order to avoid feeling the pain and irritation that come from the tension pocket segments in the environment.  However, for this article, I am going to focus more on the effects of vacuum spaces.

    Up until now in my articles, I have tended to focus more on certain parts of my philosophical model:  on the relationship between figure and ground and on the relationship between discrete stimuli and organic continual stimuli.  But the experiential vacuum patches and the vacuum continuous stimuli also have a profound effect on people today and depression is just one of the most visible of these effects.

    Particularly in the West, the vacuum is looked on as having a specific purpose.  To the extent that people think of life as affirmative engagement with figures in grounded environments, in order to have rich vibrant experiences and make, receive and preserve organic imprints, the vacuum is the place where people go to preserve organic imprints and create a surrogate immortality to prepare for death.  The vacuum is the place where people rise above the perishability that occurs in organic grounded environments and where they can live in the belief that “things”, whatever “things” may be in a particular person’s life, can go on forever.  Perhaps a perfect example of such a vacuum environment would be a penthouse apartment in a modern glass box skyscraper.  One is totally separated from the organic movement on the ground, living in a building made of cold steel and glass materials that are not subject to the perishability that wood and other organic materials are.  There are usually no wooden beams or moldings to give sensory variety in such steel and glass skyscrapers.

    The problem is that in an apartment or a condo in such a structure, one is separated from the field of experience on the ground, where one is likely to encounter the organic phenomena - the people, the movement, the encounters, the situations, the adventures, the street life, the patches of nature - that can predispose a person to make and receive imprints and to live vibrantly.  The environments that are best for preserving imprints are not the environments that are best for making and receiving imprints.

    And depression is not only caused by the fundamental experience of sensory distortion in vacuum environments.  It is also the result of the consequence of such sensory distortion - the lack of opportunity to make and receive new organic imprints and to live a more rich vibrant life.  Without such opportunities, one is in a kind of living death.

    Now, in fairness, there have been many philosophies and religions throughout human history that have somewhat different values about life than those I have put forth in my articles.  In these philosophies and religions, life on earth is simply a step on the journey to the return to the eternal cosmic oneness.  A person is trapped in the perishability of the world of matter, but eventually, he can return to that which lasts forever, an eternal spiritual world that is the only meaningful world.  With such a conviction, there is much less to impel a person to worry about the imprints that he makes and preserves in the sensory world of this life.  The whole notion of the individual with individual imprints or even a group of people with a collective imprint like a building or a bridge is much less important if one is focused on attaining bliss in the experiential vacuum of the next world.  Rather than being depressed as a result of having to live in a vacuum, people with these vacuum-affirming philosophies and religions embrace those experiences that can give them a sense of the cosmic vacuum while still in this world.  This is where meditation, mysticism and certain drug experiences come in.

    On a certain level, this orientation relates to a variation of the mind-body dichotomy that has been present throughout human history, and that I discussed in a previous article.  It deals with the existence of non-material and material worlds.  My principal concern is that to the extent that one focuses on dwelling in a non-material world that is separated from the material world, in order to embrace eternity and infinity in this life, one is minimizing the importance of the human drama.  In the fundamental human drama, one grapples to make, receive and preserve imprints, have rich vibrant experiences in the sensory world and create a meaningful surrogate immortality on the surfaces of the field of experience in the sensory world.  If one is to come into the material world only to then develop a posture to do as much as possible to stand apart from it, why bother.  If, with our highly developed cerebral cortex and our highly developed reflexive awareness, we are so afraid of death that, on a certain level, we embrace an almost death-like state, as we embrace the cosmic oneness, the cosmic vacuum, then we are avoiding the whole narrative that makes us special as humans.  We as humans are destined to tangle with the forces of organic perishability to make our small durable imprints on the face of the universe.  But we make these imprints as finite entities that are distinct from the forces of infinity and eternity that are embodied in the experiential vacuum of outer space and of the vacuum spaces in the modern technological living environments that we have created.

    We wish to have some of these imprints protected by eternity and yet, because they are imprints, they still are finite and they still have some of the vibrancy of transitory organic phenomena.  It is a human mission to try and take that which is vibrant and finite and transform it into something that partakes of eternity.  This is how humans can transcend their reflexive awareness of their mortality within the context of a meaningful human narrative.  To sink into a life of meditation, mysticism and/or drugs is to embrace the infinity and eternity from which they, the humans, came and to which they will return without embarking on their uniquely human mission.

    And yet the sensory distortion of modern technological society pushes large numbers of people to give up the grappling for more eternal meaning within the finite external sensory world.  By withdrawing into vacuum mental states, they are giving up on a fundamental opportunity in life.

    Unlike meditation, mysticism and drugs, depression, is an involuntary numbing of the will.  Rather than an affirmative embracing of infinity and eternity, it is an involuntary withdrawal into the experience of the vacuum.  And in the state of depression, one still maintains a strong awareness of the world from which one is withdrawing and one experiences feeling bad about not being properly able to make, receive and preserve organic imprints.  Yet more and more people are using this mental posture as a vehicle for dealing with the sensory distortion of modern technological living environments.  It is a posture that leads to dwelling in a living death.  And although depression is a tactic that helps people to survive today, its prevalence is not a good sign for human society.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Life On The Screens Of Computers And Smartphones

    The process of writing my articles on an ongoing basis has started to stimulate the evolution of my thinking on the effects of modern technology on living environments and human behavior.  This is leading to a fine-tuning of some of my major ideas alongside of simply exploring their ramifications in different areas of human experience.  The present article represents an important fine-tuning.

    In past articles, I have often referred to how people not only have the capacity to model themselves after parental figures, but also after any entity with complex behavior including animals, complex astronomical, climatological and geological phenomena (like the sun, moon, thunder and mountains), and finally computers and robots.  And apart from computers and robots simply playing a larger and larger role in our daily lives, there is a particular reason why humans feel impelled to model themselves more and more on them.  It relates to creating fields of experience with seemingly manageable sensory distortion.

    As I have discussed, modern technological living environments create fields of experience that alternately overstimulate and undertimulate our primate nervous systems.  People bounce back and forth from sensory overstimulation to sensory deprivation in the external world.  They try to maintain a sense of equilibrium by creating their own fields of stimulation through speeding up their will with conative acceleration, which leads to a speeded-up flow of activity, and through numbing the will, conative anesthesia, which leads to a kind of slowing down and withdrawal from the external sensory world.  Neither one of these responses is a perfect answer.  Conative acceleration leads to a kind of personal exhaustion and jadedness from so much overstimulation.  Conative anesthesia can lead to a person being in a kind of a living death, withdrawing from any kind of a meaningful life narrative in the external world.

    In other words, neither strategy when used regularly allows a person to have a long-term trajectory for an engaging life in the external world.  Nevertheless, the advances in technology have allowed for the development of a different kind of solution to the problem of sensory distortion.  Sensory distortion basically results from experiencing too much discrete stimulation in the form of static or tension pockets in the external world and too much infinite continuous stimulation in the form of large vacuum spaces in the external world.  Another factor is that in a modern technological living environment, there aren’t enough organic blendable continual stimuli from nature to allow a person to feel grounded and to feel fully alive.  But modern technology has developed a way of mixing together discrete static stimuli, the potential source of sensory overstimulation and continuous vacuum stimuli, the potential source of sensory deprivation. 

    With robots, there is an alternation between discrete focused movements on the one hand and vacuum pauses on the other as the robot shifts to another direction or another action. This mode of functioning provides a subtle model for humans.  Robots represent a stabilized behavioral entity that functions effectively in the fields of sensory distortion of modern technological living environments. 

    Computers and smart phones are stabilized sensory living environments on screens.  With such living environments, extreme conative reactions are prevented, even though organic grounded environments aren’t present.  Mixed together in intricate digital patterns where the use of 1 and 0 parallels the use of discrete stimuli and continuous stimuli, the stimuli experience from a computer or smartphone becomes easily absorbable without provoking an imbalanced reaction.  And the computer screen becomes a kind of oasis in a modern technological living environment full of disequilibrating sensory distortion.  It becomes a place where a person can regroup and put himself together again sensorily.  The sources of sensory imbalance are neutralized by being intricately blended together.

    So are computers the source of mental health for people in modern technological society?  Not necessarily.  Although digital patterning can create a kind of equilibrium in the configurations of stimuli that pass forth on the computer screen, something is missing that is important for human stimulation.  I am talking about the organic blendable continual stimuli that are crucial in the presentation of stimuli to humans at a given moment and in the flow of stimuli to humans over time.  It is these stimuli that provide grounded coherence to a scene in the external world, and that, in general, provide grounded coherence to the flow of stimuli over time.  It is these stimuli that make a given phenomenon more organic rather than technological.

    Now defined discrete stimuli and vacuum continuous stimuli are important for giving definition to a particular phenomenon, but blendable continual stimuli are necessary to give a phenomenon coherence.  Without these blendable continual stimuli, it is as if the phenomenon is made up of a series of discrete points.  Discrete points don’t have the continuity to provide grounding.

    Phenomena like computers and robots are flawed models for humans and they provide flawed mirroring.  Without blendable continual stimuli, computers and robots lack a coherent core, and they provide images for humans that neither model nor mirror in a way as to provide a strong coherent sense of self..  Human selves that are modeled after objects of modern technology are much more fragile without that sustained stimulation of coherence from the model.

    It is simply not enough to have a balanced field of experience in a complex entity that is to be a model.  For it to be a strong model, the complex entity also requires organic continual stimuli, something that is not readily present in modern technological devices.  Organic continual stimuli are the foundation of emotional bonding among humans, of nurturance for humans that are young and dependent, of flexible guidance as humans gradually grow up and become more independent.  Continual stimuli become the core of a strong independent sense of self.  Without the coherence provided by continual stimuli, there cannot be a strong sense of independence in a person in modern technological society.

    Granted that the discrete stimuli that come from learning and following rules, receiving training and maintaining discipline are also important for developing a strong independent sense of self.  But people have plenty of contact with rules and discipline in dealing with the rigid behavior of modern complex technological entities.  What is missing is the time needed in nurturing and bonding relations with other humans.   To be constantly inundated with a flow of discrete static and continuous vacuum stimuli means that people become defined like machines with little organic coherence.  So people develop senses of self that can easily crumble apart in different ways with mental illness.  There is no doubt but that the rising awareness of mental illness starting in the nineteenth century, burgeoning in the twentieth century and almost taken for granted in the twenty-first century is, to a great extent, the result of the growing lack of continual stimuli in modern technological living environments, which has led to both a loss of sustained bonding and nurturance between humans as well as a loss of sustained bonding within individual humans.  Humans are not like machines, where the parts can be assembled together with relatively tenuous contingent connections.  Without strong internal bonding, people fall into neurosis, bipolar disorder, borderline personality, multiple personality and many other disorders.      Without strong internal bonding, people fall into process-caused violence.  Violence is a way of stimulating a numb person to life as in the process-caused violence of the lone mass murderers in the United States.  But one result of being able to shock oneself to life by violence is that a person is temporarily held together.  Of course, it doesn’t last long, because blendable continual stimuli are not involved.  To be jolted together is not the same as being bonded together.

    In truth, the equilibrated digital fields of experience on a computer screen are not a substitute for the rich vibrant fields of experience in a more organic environment in the external world.  Without the component of blendable continual stimuli, computers and smartphones create a more subtle form of sensory distortion than that which is found in the macroenvironment of modern technological living environments.  Nevertheless, that subtle sensory distortion can have equally harmful effects on human beings.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Effects of Our Loss of Control to Machines

    In recent articles, I have been discussing the reactions of two groups of members of more traditional societies - corrupt people and terrorists -  to the transformation of their more organic living environments by modern technology.  I basically focused on two kinds of effects that these two groups experienced.  First, for people who are used to freer continual movement, there is the effect of strictures and constraints on behavior.  Machines require precise mechanical movements to operate them.  Computers, with their digital language, require complicated patterns of discrete movements and responses from people.  For people who have primarily lived their lives in flowing continual movement, such patterns of discrete movement are the equivalent of being boxed in.  The accommodations to such patterns by these people are never very comfortable.

    The other effect I have examined is the loss of organic surfaces on which to make, preserve and receive imprints.  People who tend to be more traditional can experience this loss particularly hard.  For these people, who have been bonded with and grounded in their organic living environments, the loss of these environments as a result of technological transformation has led to a heavy loss of rich vibrant life experiences in which strong organic imprints could be made and received.  The loss of the organic living environments also results in a loss of opportunities for strong surrogate immortalities to prepare for death.  The loss of such living environments means the loss of the opportunity to leave the kind of meaningful imprints that create longlasting sources of memories for the people who survive after a person’s decease.

    There is another layer of effects that should be explored more thoroughly in order to fully understand the connection between technological transformation and the violence of these traditional outsiders.  Apart from the strictures and patterning of human behavior that the patterning of machine operations generates, there is the internal experience of a loss of control over the basic processes of life.  And for people who are used to a strong sense of organic grounding in their environment, and a strong feeling of organic friction as they use their implements to carve out the world, the mediation of their connections to the world by modern technology is particularly difficult for them.  The sensory distortion resulting from the smooth frictionless operation of computer technology on the one hand, and the noise and smoke from industrial machines and from the tension pockets of cars and people crowding against each other in urban settings on the other hand, is particularly disorienting.  The traditional organic environment of more traditional people acts as a template for the strong bonds the people form with their family, friends, artifacts and art.  With these bonds, traditional people are able to leave deep meaningful imprints on their fields of experience, and this allows them to feel vibrantly alive and to prepare for death.  The traditional organic environment even acts as a strong template to allow people to leave strong disruptive destructive imprints on enemies during war.  There is a complicated bonded connection even to enemies in traditional organic environments.

    The loss of control for more traditional people leads to a loss of a sense of empowerment.  Unlike the basic tools like a hammer, a pick, a shovel, a hoe, or a knife, that have been a part of their fundamental way of being, industrial machines and consumer technology lead to a loss of feeling in charge of what is impacting their lives.  It is like the world is spinning on without their own immediate and direct intervention.  For some traditional men, in particular, rather than feeling empowered through the extended capacities provided by machines, they are made to feel psychologically impotent and numb.  This psychological impotence and numbness can result in a lashing out in the form of sensorily explosive acts in order to feel alive.  Sensorily explosive acts in the form of violence.

    In truth, although the effects seem very pronounced among more traditional people, they also occur in more developed societies.  Poor people, particularly minorities, form violent criminal gangs to give themselves a sense of empowerment in communities where they feel a disconnect from the mainstream technological economic processes.  And then there are the violent crazies - the people who are into process-oriented violence just to feel alive rather than goal-oriented violence to feel empowered.

    The one thing we can say is that, whether in developing countries or developed countries, the more machines make things more frictionless in daily life, the more people there will be who will want to create the abrasive friction of violence in order to leave imprints and feel alive.  Too much smooth frictionlessness in life can be psychologically castrating.  Just as people need a certain amount of healthy bacteria in their bodies in order for their bodies to function properly, so they also need a certain amount of healthy friction in life in order to function properly, leave imprints, and feel alive.

    The people in developing countries are just reacting more intensely and more publicly to situations that are also affecting developed countries.  More people in developed countries have adjusted somewhat to the experiential transformation created by modern technology.  It is not that, as mammals, their nervous systems feel comfortable with sensory distortion.  People in developed countries still experience sensory disruption from the overstimulation of tension pockets on the one hand, and sensory deprivation from the understimulation of vacuum areas of modern technological environments on the other.  They still respond with conative acceleration - the speeding up of the will -  and conative anesthesia - the numbing of the will - as strategies to try to tolerate the sensory distortion.  And going rapidly back and forth between conative acceleration and conative anesthesia creates the kind of discrete jerky movements we associate with robots.  In other words, people develop systems of conative distortion behavior in order to deal with the sensory distortion they experience.  People in these developed countries today are allowing themselves to become more robotized in order to survive.  And they are doing this because, even though they are still mammals, they are trying to find ways unconsciously of fitting in with their living environment, so that they don’t have to suffer so much from sensory distortion.

    We are focusing here on two major postures for dealing with encroaching technological transformation of the living environment: that of the people who adjust and gradually become more robotized and that of the people who at least partly resist through some form of violent expression.  This does not mean that all those people who resist technology do it through violence.  But it does mean that there a lot of people who do.

    For many people, it will seem counterintuitive to think that making more and more life processes frictionless can actually influence some people to become more violent.  One of the major purposes of modern technology was to make life easier for people.  But people need stimulation in the form of friction to feel alive.  And there comes a point in technological development where there is simply too little friction in daily life.  And some people react more strongly to this lack of friction than others do.  But we should really pay attention to these strong reactors rather than simply lock them up when we are able to do so.  They are an early warning system for a danger that affects all of us.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Living In Nature And Still A Robot

    Some of my readers may wonder why I don’t focus more on direct solutions to the problem of sensory distortion from modern technological environments.  By direct solutions, I mean moving back to those natural environments that remain, back to the land, back to rural communities.  Even if it means having to settle for a job that doesn’t pay well, at least one can benefit psychologically from communing with more organic environments.

    But there are problems here, even apart from the fact that there is less and less livable organic space for all the people in our overpopulated world today.  First of all, most of us don’t have the physical capacity to do the arduous work of jobs like farming, logging, or raising cattle.  Second, most small town jobs today involve using computers - just like everywhere else.  And sustained involvement with computers reconfigures our minds, so that we are primarily stimulated to life by discrete technological stimuli.  And it is not just computers that transform our minds.  Movies, television, video games and smartphones all work to make us feel primarily alive from technological discrete stimuli.  And, as a result, we no longer have the psychological capacity to be as receptive to the blendable continual stimuli of nature anymore.  We become bored with nature after a short period of contact.

    Many people who try to make the shift and return to nature find that they can’t tolerate it and have to return to a more urban setting.  They may cognitively feel that it is good for them to live in a natural setting, but on a level of sensation, they are unable to properly connect.

    And, in truth, this explains one of the reasons why people all over the world are making the migration from rural to urban settings - a migration opposite to what we have been talking about.  It is not just because there are better higher-paying jobs in urban settings.  Another reason is that many rural people have been reconfigured to be principally stimulated to life by movies, television, video games, computers and smartphones.  And they are no longer as capable of feeling so fully stimulated to life by their more natural surroundings.  Nature seems too slow, too low-key, too boring.  Many small towns in rural America have become centers of  synthetic drug production.  Many people in these towns need alterations in their mental states in order to come to life.  With their technological addictions, people have become psychologically ungrounded, even though they are surrounded by rich organic grounding.  And, as a result, they have difficulty absorbing the rich organic stimulation that surrounds them.

    What this means is that modern technology has the capacity to create an urban mentality even outside of an urban environment.  The screens of the movie theater, the television, the video game, the computer and the smartphone have become worlds unto themselves in which people dwell.  And these worlds have displaced and replaced the natural world of primary experience as the primary sources of stimulation for most people in modern technological society.  This is particularly true for people in rural communities who don’t have extensive technological living environments to also act as a major source of technological discrete stimuli.

    Perhaps a better approach to the goal of starting to commune more with nature might come from finding ways of first becoming more mentally receptive again to nature.  And this means reconfiguring our minds to become more receptive to continual stimuli again through smaller more contained less overwhelming patches of continual stimuli.  This means getting more involved with smaller primary experiences: face-to-face encounters with people, day visits to parks and forest preserves, and, of course, the arts and the humanities, and involvement with one‘s culture.  It means spending gradually less time with the electronic screens and the kinds of experiences that they offer.

    What I am talking about is diminishing the effects of an addiction to technology.  Unlike a drug or alcohol, which people usually can truly get away from entirely, modern technology, for better or worse, has become an essential element in the proper functioning of human society.  So people today cannot totally break the habit of technology.  Nevertheless, they can find a way of changing the proportions of time that they spend in more organic primary experience and in more technological mediated experience.  Primary experience has to become a focus in life for mental health, much as physical exercise and a proper diet have become goals for achieving good physical health.

    On another level, people can start thinking of ways of reconfiguring their minds to be more receptive to nature.  One thing is to break away from an addiction to the mechanical order that modern technology tends to create.  Try to spend as much time as possible free of scheduled slotted tasks in scheduled slotted time.  People used to love to have adventures where they would leave themselves open to the randomness of unmeasurable blendable continual stimuli in unmeasurable blendable continual experiences.  Adventures don’t occur when everything is scheduled and slotted.

    One reason that people love adventures is that adventures create the opportunity to make, preserve and receive strong organic imprints while having rich vibrant life experiences.
People can feel fully alive and leave the kind of imprints on their fields of experience and, in particular, on other people’s minds that create memories.  Strong memories mean a strong surrogate immortality in preparation for death.  So adventures are important experiential contributions to a meaningful life cycle.

    Even in today’s world of technological addictions, people still have cravings for adventures.  And they satisfy these cravings vicariously with television shows and movies.  As the opportunity for having adventures in real life diminishes, the craving for more and more intense adventures in fantasy increases.  More and more adventures in movies and television are technologically enhanced in a variety of ways.  Sometimes it can be as simple as cutting between shortened scenes very quickly, in order to heighten the suspense in detective and mystery shows.  Sometimes it has to do with the fantasy weapons and other contraptions that are used by the hero and/or villain.  A perfect example here is James Bond and his adversaries.  Also, there is Batman and his Batmobile.   Sometimes the hero or villain is himself technologically enhanced in order to become a superhero.  Spiderman has been the subject of several movie adventures.   For a while, there was the Terminator series.  Sometimes the whole story is technologically enhanced in the form of a futuristic adventure or a science fiction story.  In such a story, technological contraptions - computers, robots, space ships, outer space colonies -  are all an intrinsic part of the plot and the setting.  Two perfect examples of such stories are the Star Trek series - both television and movie - and the Star War series.  At any rate, all of these stories have in common that they create adventures that are far more elaborate and grandiose than any ordinary mortal is ever going to be capable of living.  Because of that, people get addicted to living vicariously.  They feel they never are going to be able to have adventures like those in movies and television, and that, therefore, their own lives are pretty insignificant.  So they never test themselves and do the fundamental things that give life validation and meaning.

    When we read books, we have to mentally do the work of translating verbal sentences into images, thoughts and stories.  When we read, we create part of the imprint that a book leaves on us.  In addition, when we read, we know that our mental elaboration of a story is not the same as the primary experience of living a story, an adventure.  But a television show or a movie doesn’t require any complex mental work to bring it to life.  One can just sit in front of a television set hour after hour watching stories that mimic the process of life.

    And maybe there is a connection between adventures and nature.  It doesn’t mean that one can’t have adventures in more urbanized environments.  It just means that one leaves rich organic imprints in more organic environments and an adventure is a story that lends itself to leaving rich organic imprints.  So an organic environment more easily provides the experiential surfaces for leaving imprints in the narrative of an adventure.

    Being programmed to feel alive primarily with technological discrete stimuli does not leave one predisposed to the narrative of adventures.  So just returning to nature is not enough to have adventures.  One has to find a way of reconfiguring one’s mind to be receptive to continual stimuli and grounded phenomena.  If one can do this, then one can not only take advantage of a meaningful life in a more organic environment, but one can have a richer life even in a more technological environment, taking advantage of those more organic aspects and elements that are still available there.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

With Organic Culture We Are Not Robots

    In today’s world, there are many people who preach that an important way of minimizing the possibilities of war is by minimizing the importance of a mental construct that has helped us to shape human society since the dawn of humanity. The construct I am talking about is culture.  The word culture has different meanings, but I am particularly interested in culture as a coherent system of attitudes, expectations, social rules, moral values, aesthetic styles, world views, and general beliefs.  Culture, in this sense, has traditionally been the basis by which a given society is molded.  It contributes significantly to the identity of each individual member of a social group.  And it helps to tie the members of a group into a larger unified entity that is greater than the sum total of the individuals.

    Culture also has the meaning, particularly when used in the phrase “high culture”, to mean refined aesthetic expressions such as classical music, fine literature, theater and salon art.  In this sense, the term culture overlaps with another synthesized organic mental entity we have discussed previously - namely, the humanities.  And great high culture is intrinsically connected with the meaning of culture we started to discuss at the beginning of this article.  Refined high cultural expression springs from people who are creating from within the cultural system of which they are a part.  One synthesized organic mental entity is dependent upon and interlocks with another.

    I have already discussed how, in a living environment where there are fewer and fewer actual patches of nature that are easily accessible in the daily lives of most of us, that creating synthesized organic mental entities for our interior world serves as a defense against being robotized from all the technological stimuli that surround us.  And just as there are social forces that diminish the importance of the humanities in societies that prize technological innovation to gain global economic and political power, so there are also social forces that want to diminish the importance of culture as a coherent human system.  One reason ostensively that people want to diminish the importance of culture in this latter sense is that it acts to divide people from each other and can form a foundation for war between people.  This has certainly been true in Europe with all its different cultures packed so closely against each other.  And it has been true in many other areas of the world, both in the past as well as today - areas like the Middle East.  But to throw out the good with the bad, the baby with the bath water, is not a solution to anything.  And on a deeper level, a strong cultural identity, with its foundation in grounded phenomena and rich continual stimuli, definitely can create a barrier to the robotization of people.

    Culture provides established patterns of communication between people based on common beliefs, common values and common expectations.  It provides a social template for well-grounded, deep-bonded relationships.  Just as nature can provide a coherent physical grounding, so culture can provide a coherent social grounding.  A culture reinforces both community and family relationships and, in today’s world, can help to fight the isolation that comes from sensory distortion.  The key is to maintain an organic cultural presence independent of a strong organic living environment. 

    I have previously discussed how science is trying to reduce the world of the mind to physical activities occurring in the brain, and that the world of the mind for scientists today has no real existence apart from the material world.  At the same time, I have also pointed out how Bishop Berkeley, a famous British philosopher, demonstrated that we have no way of affirming the existence of something unless we experience it through the mind.  That if a tree falls in the forest, and no one sees it, how can we be sure it happened.  Furthermore, it is difficult to reduce all the rich variety of phenomena one is experiencing on a daily basis - phenomena with large numbers of continual blendable stimuli as well as discrete defined stimuli - to a series of events controlled in a laboratory that are focused almost exclusively on discrete defined stimuli.

    I feel that we have to affirm the existence of a world of mind independent of a world of matter, if we are to survive the growing trend toward robotization.  A robot can be given a kind of a brain, but it can’t be given a kind of a mind.  A robot can’t create profound works of thought or sensation in the humanities and it can’t create a complex coherent culture.  The humanities and culture are organic mental entities that humans synthesize.  They are mental worlds composed of complex non-reducible phenomena.

    The humanities as a mental entity are based on the mental entity of culture.  It is no wonder that culture, apart from referring to a complex coherent human mental system, also refers to the philosophy, the creative arts and the artifacts produced from within the mental system.  High culture refers to the more refined creative arts and the humanities refers to the more refined creative arts, the study of creative arts, history and philosophy.  So all these terms, all these grounded mental phenomena, overlap.

    But if high culture and the humanities are derived from the fundamental system of culture, then humans need culture in this second sense as a foundation for creating organic mental phenomena to act as a defense, as a barrier against both technological sensory distortion and increasing robotization.  The universal man, so highly prized by modern humanistic traditions, is a human denuded of a fundamental component of human experience.  The belief is that only a universal human can truly live in peace and harmony with all other humans in the world.  According to this belief, the particularism of culture as a system is what sets groups of people against one another.  But when we are denuded of culture and all its grounded phenomena and all of its varied blendable continual stimuli, we are reduced eventually to being entities operated by discrete stimuli alone.  The universal human is the technological human, is the android or robot.  Particularity in culture may have been and may continue to be a cause for war.  Belief in the superiority of one’s own culture and the inferiority of the culture of others is an unfortunate perversion of immersion in one’s own culture.  But this doesn’t mean that the solution is to do away with the notion of culture altogether.

    Perhaps one solution to the problem of arrogance from within one’s own culture is teaching cultural anthropology as a social studies course in high school.  In offering this solution, I am speaking from personal experience.  I studied anthropology in my senior year in high school and it transformed my life.  Not only did I learn about how people in many preliterate cultures had very different assumptions about what was important in life, but I was able to use anthropology to examine basic American cultural assumptions about which I had never thought.  Although I continued to appreciate my identity as an American and, in particular, as an American Jew, I was able to do it without being excessively ethnocentric.  And all this helped me enormously when I spent ten years living in Mexico City, in a culture that had very different attitudes, expectations and beliefs from the United States.  I was able to truly appreciate the cultural differences between Mexico and the United States and even embrace them.  It is good that there are different cultures in the world to offer different solutions to the problems of life.

    One final note.  There have been more robotic societies based on single cultures starting in the twentieth century.  I am talking about fascist societies and communist societies.  It would appear that in these cases culture did not offer protection against becoming a robot.  But, in truth, these societies used technology as a vehicle to aspire to universalist goals through robotizing and thus thinning out their cultures.  The Nazis wanted to use their robotized Aryan culture as a means to taking over the world.  The Communists wanted to use their robotized Soviet culture as a means to taking over the world.  Being robotic was the means by which these modern technological societies could become universalistic.  But to the extent that these societies fell into totalitarian systems, they lost their organic cultures and their capacity to produce great high culture.  To the extent that a society like Cuba held onto its organic culture, it failed as a totalitarian society with a self-sustaining economy.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Terrorism as a Reaction to Modern Technology

    In my last article, I wrote about a form of behavior that has become a significant vehicle for resistance to the technological transformation of living environments.  Corruption, which was used since the beginning of human history as a vehicle for making intense though disruptive imprints on human fields of experience, is particularly useful for people in more traditional cultures who find that the necessary interaction with modern machines and technological environments in today’s world enforces strictures and rigid patterning on their behavior that they find impossible to tolerate.  Rigidity in behavioral rules imposed by technology compels these people to use moral rules as an area where they can create greater freedom for their behavioral expression.  By bending and breaking moral rules, these particular people who live in more traditional cultures can feel vibrantly alive in the imprints that they make and receive in the situations that they create.  These people have a particularly difficult time dealing with a scarcity of organic surfaces on which to make, preserve, and receive imprints.  Again, I want to emphasize that being technology-resistant in terms of not letting technology model or mirror behavior for them does not mean that technology is not used in the service of corruption.  Certainly it is used a great deal in weapons, as well as on the Internet.  However, it is my thought that the presence of a lot of modern technology in the environment pushes some more traditional people to want to stand apart from being robotized by participating even more in the intense disruptive imprints of corruption.  And as I have pointed out, these traditional people do tend to cluster in certain cultures where corruption today is particularly rampant.

    However, there is a paradox here.  Although corrupt behavior can have very destructive effects on the society in which it exists, it cannot totally destroy the society, or there would be no core moral base against which to measure its deviation from the norm.  Also, corrupt behavior is parasitical on its host society, and no parasite has any desire to kill off its host entirely.  Corrupt people in traditional societies would kill themselves off, if they killed off the society in which they lived.  Such people require victims for their misbehavior.

    This is very different from another group of non-conforming traditional people.  In some traditional societies, there are people who want to totally destroy the modern societies that create the technology that is, in the eyes of these people, overly constricting and patterning of their behavior and that diminishes the number of available organic surfaces for making, receiving, and preserving imprints. Rather than feeling alive by feeding off of and juxtaposing themselves next to an orderly social base of people in a modern technological society, this second kind  of traditional outsider feels alive by attempting to totally destroy the people in the orderly social base.  This second group of traditionalists consists of people that the citizens of modern technological society designate as terrorists.  These terrorists are, in turn, divided into two groups.  There are those terrorists who see themselves as soldiers who carry out ongoing attacks on modern technological societies and thus feel alive through a series of intense highly destructive imprints.  These terrorists are able to temporarily tolerate receiving the imprints from modern technological society as they attempt to destroy it.

    Then there are those terrorists who literally cannot tolerate what they experience as horrible sensory distortion from modern technological society.  These terrorists are uncomfortable with the rigidity and over-patterning of behavior created by the necessity of involvement with modern technological processes, with the lack of of organic surfaces on which to make, preserve and receive imprints, and with the moral freedom demonstrated by many citizens of modern technological society in areas like sex, alcohol and drugs.  As has been discussed before, this morally free behavior of mainstream citizens in technological society with regard to these recreational activities is, in turn, the reaction of these people to sensory distortion. Meanwhile, the influence, both direct and indirect, of this behavior on the second group of terrorists makes living for them even in the same world as this modern social environment intolerable.  Suicide bombers are people who make and preserve one significant imprint on their field of experience in the process of taking their own lives.  They prepare meticulously for death with a powerful surrogate immortality - the suicidal destruction of many other people- and then they die.

    Many people focus on the well-developed afterlife that acts as a significant motivation for Islamic suicide bombers.  But I would like to suggest that the notion of leaving a significant imprint on this world is also important.  This is a period of history when the suicide bombers perceive that modern technology, through its major agent Western society, has contaminated everything and made it impossible for them, the bombers, to leave any other kind of imprint.  Even though Islamic terrorists use modern technology as a means for carrying out their terrorist acts, their dream reverts back to a restoration of medieval Islamic rule.  The dream is a reconfiguration of a pre-modern-technology past.  A past that gives them greater behavioral freedom away from the rigid behavioral obligations of modern machine operation and greater behavioral control in the area of everyday social interaction.  Also, a greater opportunity to leave the kind of intense organic imprints that they are accustomed to leave.

    Granted that suicide bombing is also used as a vehicle of war in the conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that is going on in the Middle East today.  It is primarily used by the Sunnis against the Shiites.  I would, nevertheless, say that this is a conflict that is intended to decide who is going to be the dominant theological group in creating the medieval Islamic theocracy that will end up ruling over the “decadent” modern technological West.  The war over theological dominance is still influenced by the question of who will be best suited to conquer the West..

    The interpretation I have made in the last two articles on these more extreme discontents of modern technological society has some significant consequences.  There are very large groups of people in this world who are not accommodating themselves very well to technological sensory distortion and the loss of organic surfaces for making, preserving and receiving new organic imprints.  Not only are they not accommodating themselves, but the sensory distortion makes these groups more predisposed to performing acts that are highly destructive to societies in which they live.  It is true that people who fall into the corrupt category are not directly out to destroy their host societies.  But they do enfeeble these societies and even to some extent paralyze them.  Ordinary citizens are afraid to go out at night as a result of crime.  Although they do not directly destroy a society, corrupt people damage the spirit of their society.

    If one major reason for the growth in corruption and/or terrorism in certain societies today relates to rapid technological change, then conventional attempts to get rid of these problems with police and military methods may not work completely.  Rather than simply a criminal conflict or a religious war, what we are dealing with today is an experiential war, a war about who has the right to determine the way we experience and engage the world around us.

    Both the corrupt people and the terrorists represent values on the surface that civilized people cannot permit to take over in their fields of experience.  And yet underneath these values, on one level, there exist unusually strong sensitivities to harmful situations that are affecting the living environments in which all of us dwell.  Both of these groups come from more traditional societies that, to a greater or lesser extent, are outside of the mainstream of technological innovation that is taking over the world.  However, in the case of corrupt drug traffickers, they are intimately intertwined with those people in modern technological societies that are consumers of drugs.  I have previously discussed how the use of drugs is a vehicle for dealing with sensory distortion.

    And perhaps we have become strangely intertwined with the terrorists as well.  In our ongoing war with the terrorists, which is not fought like a conventional war and doesn’t seem to have the possibility to end like a conventional war, we have found a form of deadly corrosive overstimulation to pull us out of the numbness of our vacuum experiential base.  Articles in the newspapers and searches in public buildings and at airports keep us extremely alert and abrasively alive.

    In my opinion, if we want to rid ourselves of both of these groups, we have to develop a new way of assessing what they truly represent.  If I am right, some of their underlying sensitivities and concerns are simply more extreme versions of things that more mainstream people are experiencing as well.  Maybe only by dealing with the deeper problems do we have any chance of dealing effectively with corruption and terrorism.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Effects of Modern Technology on Corruption in Developing Countries

Cause and effect relationships can sometimes be difficult to establish with certainty. This is particularly true when a particular effect has several causes that converge to produce it. On the other hand, in this series of articles, I have been focused on the different effects produced by one pair of connected causes: modern technology and modern technological environments. And I have focused on these causes as if they were the only major causes producing all the different effects being discussed. In fact, each different effect I discuss would have a different bundle of causes - some short-term, some long-term, some immediate and some remote. To try and enumerate all the causes for each effect would lead to diluting the focus I am trying to create on how modern technology and modern technological environments can have a major influence on so many disparate situations within the human field of experience.

I bring all this up now, because I am about to suggest some connections between modern technology and other displays of human behavior that, on the suface, may not appear obvious at all. In the cases under discussion, I do not presume that modern technology is the initial cause of the behavior, but rather that it exacerbates a pre-existing pattern of behavior that is somehow accepted by the culture in which it appears, even if not formally approved.

Corruption is a problem that has been surging over the last few decades in many developing countries. The people involved deal with a whole range of different activities. Among these are shady business deals involving bribes and kickbacks; the production, transport and marketing of drugs; kidnapping; and human trafficking. With regard to human trafficking, people who believe that slavery has been pretty much eliminated in our modern enlightened world should think again.

I want to explore corruption within the context of my theories on imprints. Over the years, one interesting idea that has been suggested is a correlation between creativity and corruption. Although one might think that these are two very different phenomena, both deal with reconfiguring established realities. Creativity focuses on reconfiguring and recombining the components of the sensory and cognitive realities, while corruption focuses on reconfiguring and recombining the components of the moral reality - the established moral rules of a society.

A creative approach to the world deals, to a great extent, with continual stimuli and with merging and blending grounded phenomena . This is very different from the more mechanistic approach of modern technology, which focuses principally on discrete stimuli and on well-delineated figures. Modern technology is more in sync with traditional moral rules which were means by which people gave themselves self-definition in the more undifferentiating traditional organic living environments in which they used to dwell. I have previously discussed how strict applications of traditional moralities in modern technological environments tend to make people more robotic. What I haven’t explored is the possibility that some cultures mold people in such a way that they are more resistant and antagonistic to robotizing influences.

There are cultures where most people like to recreate their world every day of their lives. These people love primary experiences, love the opportunity to make and receive new imprints to feel alive, and see excessive routine and order as an obstacle to these purposes. These people may include innovators in the humanities, but they do not tend to be innovators in the creation of technological devices that take away their opportunities to be innovative in their daily flow of life activity. Although they utilize the technology provided them as members of the 21st century, these people continue with their strong community and family relationships and their strong direct engagement with the external world in general. So there is an implicit conflict between the increasing mediation of human experience provided by advances in technology on the one hand, and the desire of these people for a more traditional organic involvement with their fields of experience on the other hand. In other words, people from these more traditional cultures tend to be more disconnected from the modern technological environments that have been given them.

One reaction particular to them is to reinforce their creative approach to life in as many different ways as possible. And here I am not talking about creating art or literature or music necessarily. A lot of people aren’t artistic in this sense. However, technological processes implicitly enforce certain more rigid patterns on human behavior, as people become more and more involved with modern machines. Many people from more traditional societies rebel against these increasing behavioral restraints from technology by finding other opportunities for more open behavior that are not so rigidly controlled by established rules. In public society, this can involve breaking and bending legal rules through corrupt interactions between people both in the government and in the private sector. Corrupt practices like bribes, kickbacks and illegal businesses not only allow people to make easy money, but they also allow them to reinforce their human essence by operating outside of established rigid legal rules that seem to mimic the rigid patterns for conduct of machines, computers and robots. In a certain way, corruption becomes a vehicle for liberation from what some of these more traditional people perceive as an overly rigid constraining mechanical order.

Corruption also creates the opportunity for making and receiving meaningful imprints on the organic surfaces of other people. At a time when modern technological environments provide few available organic experiential surfaces on which to make, preserve and receive meaningful organic imprints, corrupt practices allow for doing this through disruptive damaging imprints. Corruption is an imprint that can be left in spite of technological sensory distortion.

Certainly corruption has been around in human culture since way before the industrial revolution, let alone the computer revolution. Corruption has been a means for people to make and receive very intense although disruptive and damaging imprints long before the development of modern technology. For these people, the ability to bend and break established social and legal rules with impunity gave them an intense charge from the risk involved as well as a high from the sense of entitlement involved.

But now there is the added dimension that modern technology creates a social and physical environment where the opportunities for freer more creative behavior, for a rich vibrant life, and for meaningful imprints are greatly diminished in comparison with pre-industrial society. For people in more traditional societies, corruption takes on a greater importance as one of the few outlets available to live a more organic life.

Some of my readers may interpret this analysis as a form of support for corrupt behavior, a form of approval for immoral behavior. I would like to assure people that I do not approve of corrupt behavior, and that I would rather that people involve themselves in more moral forms of vibrant creative behavior like constructive interactions with other people in dates, encounters, celebrations and parties and like participation in the humanities. Or simply try to infuse creativity and vibrance in everyday life by constantly finding ways to do routine activities in different ways. That being said, I do accept the fact that corruption has played an integral role since the beginning of human society for the reasons I have stated and that it has a special role for more traditional societies living in modern technological environments.

Obviously, the effects of the corruption of these traditional cultures spill over into cultures that have fully embraced modern technology and propelled them forward. The freedom obtained by drug production and marketing in more traditional societies is a freedom that helps people in modern technological societies defend themselves against technological sensory distortion through the destructive consumption of drugs (although drug consumption has spread through drug producing cultures as well, providing another means to help these cultures deal with their own technological sensory distortion). But to the extent that a concerted effort is made to diminish drug consumption both in developed and developing countries, there will also have to be a focus on some of these more subtle causes behind the rise of the illegal drug business. And there will have to be a greater understanding of the role corruption, in general, plays today in more traditional societies.

© 2012 Laurence Mesirow