Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Life Has Become A Perpetual Roller Coaster


            A few weeks ago, I went to a street fair in one of the suburbs north of Chicago.  The Chicago area has many wonderful street fairs during the summer, and they are something that is eagerly awaited by its inhabitants during the long cold snowy winters.  But as with many of the fairs, there was one aspect of the entertainment that I found annoying.  There was a rock band that was playing the music so loud, it was hurting my ears.  The musicians seemed to be quite comfortable with it.  It didn’t seem to matter that most of them would be deaf by the time they were in their thirties.   It is true that most of the audience seemed to tolerate the music volume.  Many of the members of the audience had wisely come prepared with ear plugs. For those who didn’t, they would be subject to the same damaging effects as the musicians.   In particular, it was the electric bass and the electric guitar that were coming out with extremely strong penetrating sounds.

            The electric guitar and electric bass have been two of the hallmarks of international popular music since rock and roll.  Some genres of this popular music like heavy metal seem to particularly exploit the highly penetrating vibrations of these instruments.  And it is as if the vibrations are auditory strings and the listeners are puppets who are almost impelled to make jerky muscular movements in response.  To me, this response has a different flavor from the natural response of people to rhythmic sounds in music based primarily on acoustic instruments.

            In many rock clubs there is also an explosive visual stimulation to complement the penetrating vibratory sounds of modern pop music.  The strobe lights are as sensorily disruptive as the electric instruments.  Strobe lights can provoke seizures in people who have photosensitive epilepsy.  But for most modern young people, they are simply an added element in increasing the total intensity of the experience.  The combination of the auditory disruption of the music and the visual disruption of the lights creates a machine-based ecstatic disequilibrium for them.

            Technology has been used to create a purposeful disequilibrium in human entertainment for many years now.  Perhaps the most salient examples are the roller coasters, ferris wheels and other rides found in amusement parks.  The disequilibrium of these rides was a special treat when they first appeared.  They offered something unusual for people who, for the most part, lived very conventional routine lives.  And this is the key.  People who went to amusement parks did not usually go that often.  My friends and I went a few times during the summer at most.

            On the other hand, people can listen to recordings of heavy metal music all the time.  And they can go to music clubs every week.  So sensorily disruptive technology is much more integrated into people’s entertainment today than in the early days of the amusement park.

            Other forms of entertaining sensorily disruptive technology today are in the area of transportation.  Certain forms of high speed transport create tremendous disequilibrium through a rapidly moving sense of dislocation.  Vehicles like race cars and motorcycles.  Apart from the dislocation of the rapid speeding movement, there is the additional component of the abrasive static noise.  Race cars are the domain of a more select group of people, but a lot of young people love to speed with their conventional cars, sometimes specially re-outfitted for more speed and more noise, and many people have motorcycles and motor scooters.  For many people, motorcycles and motor scooters are their fundamental form of transport.  Within the sensory distortion these vehicles create, people are also very vulnerable to serious accidents.

            What unites all these sensorily disruptive technological devices is that they are attempts by humans to create controlled sensory distortion to block out the pervasive sensory distortion in their external living environments, a pervasive sensory distortion over which they have no control.  The crowding, the bundles of highrises, the speeding noisy vehicles on the street, the air pollution, the dust, noise, and general disruption from construction sites.  This controlled sensory distortion is also a means to block out the deeper experiential vacuum that underlies all human experience in modern technological societies as a result of the loss of organic grounding.  In a living environment with very little organic grounding, people try to calibrate the amount of stimulation they receive by going back and forth between overstimulation and understimulation.  The entertaining sensorily disruptive technological devices that have been discussed in this article are simply a part of the overstimulation segment of the total configuration of stimuli that many people create for themselves today.

            But although people are vulnerable to cravings for sources of overstimulation today in their sensorily distorted living environments, these cravings are not simply generated by their own needs.  In previous articles, it has been discussed how modern businesspeople assess where the “pain” is in people’s lives, a “pain” that is a source of friction. Then they try to develop and market labor-saving devices and apps to eliminate this friction.  The source of friction is usually a source of organic friction, a natural part of human routine that helps to keep a person, alive, connected to himself and to the external world.  In order to convince a potential customer to buy this labor-saving device or app, a businessperson has to convince him that the friction he is experiencing is actually an abrasive negative tension-pocket source of stimulation that should be eliminated.  And, of course, the continual elimination of positive sources of organic stimuli pushes a person deeper and deeper into an experiential vacuum in his mind.

            This is where entertaining sensorily disruptive technological devices come into the picture.  While some businesspeople market the possibility of eliminating all supposedly painful friction, so that people can live a supposedly beautiful relaxed life of leisure, other businesspeople market sources of sensorily disruptive stimuli such as those we have been discussing in this article, in order to pull people out of their numbness, to help them feel fully alive, to give them “kicks”.

            The end result is a situation where consumers are titillated to purchase products and services that allow them to try to calibrate the amount and kind of stimuli that they absorb, within a field of experience with very little in the way of organic flowing blendable continual stimuli from grounded sources.  So consumers bounce back and forth between the overstimulation of large bundles of defined discrete stimuli and the understimulation of infinite continuous emptiness stimuli, between tension-pocket and vacuum.  This bouncing back and forth occurs both in a consumer’s direct contact with the products and services and also within the consumer’s mind through advertising suggestion.

            Habituations and addictions develop in people when certain fundamental emotional needs can’t be met through normal channels, through available sources of emotional stimuli.  So people develop emotional attachments to disparate phenomena (drugs, alcohol, food, gambling).  They develop receptors for receiving stimuli from these phenomena in the hope of deriving stimulation for and thus satisfaction of the original need.  Of course, the original need is not satisfied by the stimuli from these alternate phenomena, but the mental and physical pathways have been developed that create desires for these alternate phenomena.  So the person continues to go after these alternate phenomena while always failing to satisfy the original need.

            In today’s world, businesspeople market vacuum-creating labor saving devices and apps and tension-pocket creating entertainment filled with kicks as a substitute for the fundamental needs for organic grounding that people have in modern technological society.  People crave these modern products and services, because solid organic grounding is not easily available.  They crave these products and services in a way that has similarities to the cravings for the products and services involved in traditional habituations and addictions.  The world today is filled with these modern products and services and the money paid for these modern products and services, but the stimuli of organic grounding that can give people cohesion and a feeling of being centered is in short supply.
(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow


Going To A School For Robots

            A friend of mine was recently telling me about the spread of the use of online degree programs to high school.  This was news to me.  I had heard about the growth of programs through institutions like the University of Phoenix that led to online college degrees.  I knew that you can learn to do a lot of specific practical tasks through YouTube and other online sources. And I knew that high schools used computer programs for specific focused educational purposes. But I had never heard about the kind of far-reaching educational programs for high school that my friend was talking about.

            During precisely those years when a human being is trying to develop the social competencies that help him transition from being a child to being an adult, it is important that an adolescent has ongoing interpersonal communication practice.  And I mean social practice with three-dimensional human beings in the external world of primary experience.  Lacking opportunities for such experience, and simply immersing oneself in educational cyberspace will lead to certain unforeseen consequences.

            To understand the situation of high school online education a little better, we must review the world of experience that is available on a computer screen.  The computer screen itself is an empty vacuum of continuous imageless stimuli that would stretch into infinity if the screen wasn’t contained by a frame.  There is no grounding in this screen.  What the screen does have floating on it are three levels of discrete stimuli.  There are the discrete stimuli of digital points of light and color.  Together these digital points form configurations that make visual images and that make words and numbers.  The words and numbers are a means of generating discrete digital data.

            On a basic visual level, there are the visual equivalent of digital ones and zeroes on the screen.  Points and non-points.  The points can cluster together, but they can’t deep-bond or merge together with one another.  They can appear to merge together in a movie or a television program on the screen, but the images are all clusters of digital points.  There are no flowing, blendable continual stimuli to bind things together.  This is the basic visual experiential pattern that online high school students have to deal with during the course of their school day. 

            In terms of subject matter, there is another pattern that corresponds to the basic visual pattern.  Online education lends itself to excerpts of books, short discrete defined pieces of narrative or expository writing that don’t go into anything in a deep grounded way.  They are chunks of cognitive data floating free of any meaningful grounded larger contexts.  Students absorb facts, ideas and literary images without spending time relating them to contexts that connect deeply to their lives either in psychological or practical ways.

            Yes, students do interact with programs that get them to actively participate in their education.  Students have to respond to questions and to prompts.  But these are defined discrete responses to defined discrete problems and situations.  This is not the way life always is.  Life is filled with ambiguity and contingencies.  Many times solutions to problems are not simple and are tenuous at best.  Human teachers can bring this dimension to class studies through class discussions and through one-on-one conferences.  Primary experience life situations are filled with flowing blendable continual stimuli that have ambiguous blurry definition.  This can’t be reproduced in the world of the computer screen.  The computer screen deals with defined discrete digital certainties. 

            Now from what I understand, teachers do supervise these programs for their students.  Teachers are present in the classroom.  But the bulk of the daily work that the students do is on the computer screen.

            To the extent that the computer screen does not contain stimuli – either visual or cognitive – that reflect the ambiguities of life, students will not be properly prepared for adult living.  They will become intolerant of the uncertainty and complexity of adult living in the primary experience world, and feel safer with the certainty and greater clarity of the cyber world.  Their minds will become molded to mirror the workings of the computer.  And as this happens, they will become less and less capable of functioning as organic human beings.  Less and less capable of the bonded connections that lead to good solid love relationships, good solid work relationships, good solid friendships and good solid community participation.

            Even those modern students who are not in online classes, but who use consumer technology a lot, are having difficulties forming solid human connections in the external world.   Such students end up in an intolerable growing isolation in an experiential vacuum.  Although some of their isolation is due simply to withdrawal from the overstimulation of abrasive static stimuli as in the crowding from overpopulation, noise pollution, air pollution, and, in general, the accelerated pace of modern life, much of it is due to feeling overwhelmed by simple bonded connections to other people.  And as the students withdraw further into numbness to escape what are for them the increasingly overstimulating human situations in the external world, they try to fight that numbness at the same time by doing self-destructive things like drugs, binge drinking, cutting their wrists or carrying out attempted suicides.  In the case of the suicides, many of the young people hope that by warning other people directly or indirectly, someone will save them before it’s too late.  But the sad truth is that an attempted suicide – one that fails - actually temporarily brings many students to life, pulls them out of the living death of their numbness.

            Other students just become more successfully robotic from their immersion in consumer technology.  Somehow they find a way to survive the technological isolation in which they have immersed by taking on the traits of their technology.

            Students need the massage of human contact.  And human teachers are going to be more successful in putting facts and ideas in larger contexts, so that knowledge can be taught as a more coherent flow.  This parallels the flow of organic life based in primary experience.  This is the way life should be lived by mammalian human beings.  Having ongoing interactions with teachers and with other students teaches students to engage the external world, to become active members of other social groupings like families, clubs, and communities.  Ongoing interactions in the primary experiences of the classroom help students to develop coherent identities within human structures outside of themselves.

            On still another level, our minds become indications of what we have become as people.  If what our students absorb is digital points; defined discrete images, facts and ideas; excerpts of books; random chunks of entities and events floating in an experiential vacuum, then all this will act as a mirror and an implicit model for how our students will develop, how their minds will configure.  Lack of coherence in their daily fields of experience, in their worlds of experience in cyberspace, will lead to lack of coherence in their unfolding senses of self.  And a fragmented sense of self is not conducive to long-term viability of an organic individual human.  In the long term, fragmented senses of self pose a real danger to the human race.  This is what we have to consider when something as seemingly innocent as online high school degree programs are introduced into the lives of many of the people we love dearly, people who look to us for guidance and protection.


© 2014 Laurence Mesirow

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Loss of Control with Remote Control

            As has been pointed out previously, one of the most salient reasons that people want to create an increasingly technologized living environment is to develop a greater and greater sense of control over nature leading to a heightened sense of immortality.  People are no longer content with the preserved imprints they create in the form of children, books, works of art, trees, businesses and fond memories among people they left behind.  They want to really be immortal or at least experience some of the qualities they associate directly with immortality.

            One of these qualities is the sense of mastery they can obtain over the inanimate objects and machines they use in their daily lives.  An increasingly strong mastery can be said to give people a sense of playing God.  So imagine how happy they should be to discover that the near future is going to be filled with dramatically increased technological mastery within one’s daily life.  According to the article “Home Depot expands stock of smart phone gadgets”, written by Wendy Koch for the July 7, 2014 edition of USA Today, Home Depot is going to be marketing sixty different gadgets that can be controlled and manipulated through an app that is downloaded onto mobile devices.  Among these gadgets are light bulbs, lawn sprinklers and water heaters.  Open access software has been created by a company called Wink.  The software is downloaded as an app for free onto both Android and iOS.  Then there is Wink Hub, an automation platform which costs about eighty dollars, although there are big discounts if one also purchases one or more gadgets at Home Depot.  According to Home Depot, Wink-controlled appliances shouldn’t cost any more than other appliances, and, in addition, it is thought they should lead to savings on energy use.

            Not only do these products lead to an experience of real immortality by giving a person seemingly infinite control over his living environment.  They also give a person an experience of real immortality by giving him a sense of infinite frictionlessness.  Everything a person has to do becomes so effortless.  It is like one is floating in a cloud above all the friction from organic perishability that exists within the more traditional organic living environments.  One is living in an infinite high floating in this cloud.

            The only problem is that there are some significant side effects living in this cloud.  The cloud is basically an experiential vacuum which creates emotional numbness in a person.  This is the effect of entropy, where a person begins to crumble apart experientially.

            Typically, a businessperson or an inventor asks “Where is the pain?” in coming up with new technological products for market.  The businessperson or inventor is trying to solve a real problem that people experience in the course of their daily lives.  But increasingly the so-called “pain” or problem ends up being a normal life activity in which there is a certain amount of normal healthy organic friction.  It is a normal life activity in which a person can have rich vibrant life experiences; make, receive and preserve organic imprints; and prepare for death as a result of the accumulation of preserved organic imprints to create a surrogate immortality.  However, as we fall into increasing numbness as a result of our increasingly frictionless living environments, that normal life activity increasingly becomes experienced as overstimulating painful static.  This is another angle to explain why the public will fall for remote controlled devices created by businesspeople and inventors to supposedly ease their pain in an area of their lives.

            However, on a deeper level, more and more remote controlled devices contribute to the loss of the human narrative.  People sink into a deeper and deeper experiential vacuum as the remote controlled devices prevent the kind of ongoing interaction with the external world that creates a coherent story.  Without the story, there is no incremental unfolding of a continual imprint over time that allows a person’s whole life to leave a preserved imprint on the minds of the people that surround him.  Doing everything by remote control curtails a person’s sense of life.  Without any friction to accomplish his tasks, a person may have the experience of total control, but it is a control without making and preserving imprints.  It is a total control that makes a person feel more and more numb inside.  Such a great sense of control in the external world leads to a growing numbness inside oneself and ultimately a loss of a sense of control from within.

            The easy life ultimately ends up being not so easy.  The easier life gets, the more numb people get.  The more numb people get, the more they experience the normal primary experience life tasks that remain as uncomfortably abrasively stimulating.  As more and more life tasks are technologized, people sink deeper and deeper into an experiential vacuum, thus causing them to find ways to withdraw from more and more interactions in the external world to avoid what they experience as the increasingly overstimulating qualities of everyday life activities.

            And the life of perfect control over one’s environment ultimately leads to a life where one experiences little or no control.  With remote control, one is not making any organic imprints.  It is with organic imprints that one truly has a sense of shaping or sculpting his environment through direct tactile contact.  This is a kind of control that stimulates more control as one works to incrementally make and preserve imprints, and feel a direct sense of dominion over his living environment.  It is not a magical control through technology, where the experience of the magic wears off as a result of growing numbness.  True control is one where a person experiences the whole continual flow of the control process.  This may not lead to a sense of real immortality in this life.  But then again, the sense of real immortality diminishes as one gets more and more numb from the lack of real connection while using remote control.  The most secure sense of immortality in this life is the surrogate immortality that comes from one’s preserved organic imprints.  Playing God through the remote manipulation of objects in one’s living environment does not lead to a lasting sense of omnipotence.  Quite the contrary.  It leads to a growing sense of numbness and impotence.  The loss of friction leads to a loss of control.  What you try to achieve in life is not always what you get.


Letting Your Car Drive Itself

            One of the basic themes of this column is the attempt by modern inventors to make life as frictionless and as risk-free as possible.  All kinds of devices are being created to make our daily lives as smooth and as safe as possible.  A really good example of this is the self-driving car.  On May 28 of this year, there was an article in the Adopt Network online publication (“Thoughts on Google’s Self-Driving Car Prototype”).  According to this article, not only does this car take all the work out of the hands of a driver, but it appears to make the process of driving safer.  There are no blind spots as a result of special sensors, and these sensors can also pick up objects that are over two football fields off in the distance.  The sensors enable the car to react properly to any potentially dangerous vehicle.  And because the driving is out of the hands of the driver, the latter can now dedicate his time to other projects.  For those who don’t totally trust the abilities of these cars, they can be built with manual override controls.

            So what’s wrong with using them?  To understand this, we have to analyze how such a car will affect a person’s engagement with the world.  We have discussed how making our lives too frictionless and risk-free puts us in an experiential vacuum, where we are metaphorically floating in space, and where we feel totally ungrounded and disoriented.  Our capacity to make, receive and preserve organic imprints is disrupted, and thus our capacity to feel fully alive is diminished.  Finally, our capacity to create a surrogate immortality through meaningful preserved imprints is impeded.  In an experiential vacuum, there is a lack of a template to allow humans to properly connect with and bond with one another and to properly connect with and manipulate material forms and substances for our purposes.  In other words, an experiential vacuum drains the life out of life.  There are no meaningful imprints without organic friction.  There are no meaningful imprints without some personal risk of failure.  A life without some friction and some risk is a living death.  A person living such a life goes through life numb and somehow not fully conscious.  Sort of like being a zombie.  Or a robot going mechanically through the motions like the machines around him.

            The inventors of the self-driving car feel that they can applaud the fact that it diminishes dramatically both the friction and the risk involved in riding in a car.  In terms of friction, a self-driving car relieves a person of the supposedly onerous task of manipulating a steering wheel, a turn signal, a gas pedal, a brake, and a gear shift.  But people who enjoy driving, enjoy actively manipulating all these parts of a car.  Manipulating these parts represents the aspect of driving that brings some positive friction.  This is in contrast to riding a horse, a camel, an elephant or a dog sled, all of which involve much more focus, more physical activity and more jostling in the ride – a lot more positive organic friction.  But take away the driving from the driver of a car, and the driver, in effect, loses the friction as well as the control over a major form of locomotion in his living environment.  Granted many people take public transportation and taxis and never drive, but at least these people have the comfort that another person and not a machine is making the decisions for driving.  Plus the passenger has the direct immediate control of telling another human where they want to get off.  Once a self-driving car is programmed, all human participation in the trip is removed, unless a person uses the manual override controls.  But something tells me that once a person gets seduced into the passive mental posture created by the normal procedures in a self-driving car, he will increasingly view the manual override controls as an invasive imposition, a source of negative tension-pocket friction that overstimulates him, makes him feel uncomfortable. The person will become so numb, that he may not be able to use the manual controls effectively in an emergency, if the autodrive should fail in some way.

            And this is what happens when we increasingly try to make our living environment frictionless.  The more we get rid of friction, the less we can tolerate friction, and the more we feel the need to get rid of still more friction.  And the paradox is that even though we start to tolerate friction less and less in such a situation, we still really need the friction, if we want to feel fully alive.  Which means, of course, that our increasing intolerance of friction pushes us further and further into a numbing experiential vacuum, a living death.

            As for risk, if we believe that a human is a being who is constantly prone to making dangerous errors, we can also believe that he should be separated from the activity of driving.  A self-driving car becomes another means by which people can protect themselves from themselves.  This, of course, assumes that machines can be counted on to perform locomotion activities safer by themselves, than they can perform those activities with minimal if any human participation.  Recent studies of drones, which are being considered for many civilian purposes apart from the already established military uses, are not so promising.  There have been over four hundred crashes of American drones since September 2001.  Of these, half occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, and another quarter occurred in the U.S.A.  Causes for the accidents include mistakes by pilots, mechanical problems and poor communication connections.  If we can’t prevent drones from crashing, how are we going to prevent self-driving cars (another group of independent locomotion vehicles) from crashing.  Drones require a minimum of human participation in locomotion activities, just like self-driving cars.  It makes one wonder if he should believe all the advanced hype for a highly independent locomotion product, while it is still in the prototype stage.

            But let us assume for the moment that self-driving cars prove safer than cars driven by humans.  Do we always want to be protected from ourselves in any activity that involves risk.  Without risk of some kind, there is little or no opportunity to make, preserve or receive organic imprints.  Thus, there is little or no opportunity to have rich vibrant life experiences and to prepare for death.  I once read a science fiction story about some people who lived in a society where machines had been programmed to serve people and to protect them from harm.  The result was that people weren’t allowed to perform any meaningful activity.  The people had put themselves into a living death.

            In today’s modern technological society, we are moving in the direction of this fictional society I had read about.  As it is, many of our manually-operated electrical machines don’t allow the same kind of rich organic imprint that pre-electrical machines and tools have.  When we ride inside a car, the ride is so frictionless, that we feel we are floating.  Granted that our maneuvering on the ride keeps us from totally floating and allows us to experience ourselves making some kind of imprint.  But the intensity of the sensory experience is not the same as riding a horse.  In this latter form of transport, we really have to work in order to travel effectively and safely, and, in the process, we make and receive organic imprints.  And there are all kinds of accidents that can happen to horses, or to camels, elephants, and dogs, if a person is not very actively careful.  Accidents which can, in turn, cause a person to be hurt.  But these are the risks that a person takes while enjoying the rich vibrant sensory experience of riding a horse, a camel, or an elephant, or traveling in a dogsled.

            What happens if one wants to stop the car suddenly to talk to a neighbor on the street, or take a detour on a road trip to an enchanting small town with beautiful homes and quaint shops?  I guess one uses the manual override controls.  And what if one loses the ability to effectively use the manual override controls from lack of practice?  Or finds it an overwhelming source of negative tension-pocket friction to have to actually participate in one’s travel navigation?

            There are just so many possible negative consequences from using a self-driving car.  But the inventors of this car want to make an already frictionless ride more frictionless and to protect a person from harm.  Pretty soon, the world will function as one enormous self-propelling gyroscope, and people will be able to sit on their lawn chairs drinking martinis, margaritas and mint juleps watching life go by.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Becoming Immortal Like Michael Jackson

Billboard is a major magazine of the music industry in the United States.  This last May, Billboard had its Music Awards event on a Sunday night as it does every year.  But something was profoundly different this year.  At one point, Michael Jackson appeared and started dancing to the “Slave to the Rhythm” song from his new album “XSCAPE”.  First he led a group of dancers, and then he danced alone.  What is unusual about this is that Michael Jackson is dead.

No, he did not return from the grave as a zombie or a vampire.  Rather, he returned as a hologram.  Enough visual data had been gathered from him by a computer to create a moving life-like copy of him.

This kind of hologram based on recreating a human in virtual reality is called a digital clone.  And movie makers have great hopes of regularly using digital clones to make virtual doubles of actors for stunt scenes as well as for entire movie productions where costs have to be kept down.  In addition, clones can be made of actors at different ages, so that an actor can easily appear at different ages when a script requires it.

Other uses are projected for digital clones.  Make a hologram of grandpa and grandma so that the grandkids will always have them close by.  Make a hologram of a historical figure like a holocaust survivor while he is still alive, so that future generations will see what he is like and what he stands for.

Seems great, doesn’t it.  But wait.  Let us digress a little in order to see these digital clones from another perspective.  In previous articles, I have discussed how a human’s strong reflexive awareness makes him afraid of death, and how he tries, as a result, to make and preserve as many organic imprints as he can in order to create a kind of surrogate immortality and thus prepare for death.  In this way, he cushions his slide into death.  Examples of the more discrete focused kinds of preserved organic imprints are having a baby, planting a tree, building a business, setting a record in a sport, writing a book, composing a song and painting a painting.  However, there are also the more continual intangible organic imprints like the memories that one leaves with family, friends, lovers, and colleagues at work.  All these imprints are obviously distinct from the presence of the person himself.  They are not interchangeable with the person, they cannot truly replace the person.  But after death, they suggest the previous presence of the person when he was alive.  They help recreate the person through internalized images in the minds of the people that survive him.  This is why they are a surrogate immortality and not a real immortality.  There is never any confusion that a book or a tree is the deceased person.  Sometimes, we look at a child and find resemblances between the child and the parent.  But even then, we still know the child is not the parent.

Then along come digital clones built on hologram images, and we can be fooled.  Actually, watching the Michael Jackson hologram at the Billboard Music Awards created two levels of being fooled with two levels of visual mediation.  First, there was the mediation created by the television program.  Today, many people have large screens, and it is very easy for a viewer to be sucked into a program and, on one level, to feel like he is in the actual location of the television program.  So a person could feel like he was in the location of the Billboard Music Awards.  Second, there was the mediation created by the hologram itself.  Because there is no screen for the hologram experience such as that of the television, which separates television reality from primary experience reality, the hologram is even more likely to fool the viewer through its mediated vacuumized presence that it actually is a primary experience material figure entity.

So here we have a double layer of experiential confusion, disorientation, and deception.  And what I’d suggest is there are unforeseen consequences of this technological experiential manipulation.  Yes it would appear, particularly with the hologram, that we have come incredibly far in creating a surrogate immortality that is as close to getting a real immortality as we possibly can, without also including a person’s consciousness and self-awareness.  We see these digital clones as a way of somehow extracting much of a person’s primary experience presence and preserving it forever in a mediated technologically-based imprint.  But the flow of our experiential focus not only goes toward the preserved imprint.  The vacuumized aspect of the imprint within the viewer’s confused, disoriented, deceived mind begins flowing back toward the viewer’s own flow of primary experience in the real world.  In other words, the hologram’s vacuumized qualities begin to infuse the viewer’s immediate primary experience, to impart a remote unreal quality to it.

Perhaps there will come a time when digital clones will become so common that we will be able to speak of them as mirrors and models for people, much the way complex machines like computers and robots have become mirrors and models for them now.  In previous articles, I have discussed how complex mechanical entities with complex behaviors can become mirrors and models for people, much the way parents and parental figures are for children.  And holograms just represent a different pattern of complex entities with unforeseen consequences in the interactions of humans with modern technology.

What I am focusing on here is simply an experiential interchange.  Just as the digital clones attempt to carry over some of the elements of primary experience into a virtual world, so there is a reverse flow of elements of virtual experience from the digital clones into the world of primary experience.  To the extent that the primary experience world becomes vacuumized by the presence of digital clones, it becomes harder for people to bond with and connect to the real material figures in it.  It becomes harder to form enduring relationships.  To the extent that we intuitively know that the figures we are viewing in the movies and television programs are holograms, it becomes harder to trust our senses.  And that loss of trust infuses into our everyday life of primary experience.

The combination of television and holograms creates a double layer of vacuumization.  More precisely, it is first a layer of vacuum backgrounds from the television or movie screen along with the vacuumized human figures that appear against them.  Then there are digital clones that are already vacuumized figures as holograms, before they are further vacuumized from  appearing on television.

 Vacuumized figures have no grounding, no organic blendable continual stimuli to give them coherence and substance.  Without these organic blendable continual stimuli, we, as real live humans, sink into numbness.  To the extent that we are infused by this reverse flow of vacuumized experience, we go through the motions of life, truly experiencing it less and less.  That which surrounds us becomes blurred together with the screen and hologram experiences and the blurring diminishes our sense of substantive grounded reality.  There were already problems with experiential confusion and disorientation from movies and television by themselves.  Holograms – digital clones – will only make this problem worse.  What is real?  Where can one make and receive real organic imprints in order to feel alive?  Instead of just capturing some presence of a person in a digital clone, we are, at the same time, diminishing the experience of a substantive material essence in the real people among whom we move and with whom we interact.  We start to experience these real people as vacuumized entities.  And, in the long run, it is not only our experience of the people around us that becomes vacuumized.  It is also our experience of ourselves.  We become like ghosts to ourselves.


© 2014 Laurence Mesirow   


The Nose Doesn’t Seem To Know Anymore

            One of the most important foundations of human experience is our apprehension of the world through the five senses.  In a previous article, “Living In A Garden Of Plastic”, I discussed our experience of the five senses through the theories I have developed about stimuli.  In that discussion, I said that sight and sound involved a human being at a certain physical separation from the source of the stimuli, while touch and taste involve a person being right up next to the source of the stimuli.  In the case of taste, the source of the stimuli merges with the person.

            Smell falls somewhere in the middle.  Chemical elements separate from the source of stimuli and then merge with the person through sensory experience.  In merging with the person, smell sensations are experienced primarily as flowing, blendable, continual stimuli.  However, the source of the smell stimuli usually remains separated from the human experiencing it, and, therefore, there are more defined discrete stimuli involved, as a result of a human being able to see the smell entity as apart from him while he smells it.  This is distinct from an entity that he senses primarily through touch or taste.  But the major end experience of smell is still primarily an immediate rather than a mediated experience, an experience of flowing blendable continual stimuli from the chemical elements going into the nose.

            Modern technology has worked to change this equation with smell.  According to Dave Le Clair, writing for gizmag.com the article “Peres e-nose sniffs out spoiled food”, a new device is being developed that indicates how fresh food is.  It is called the Peres, and it is a device that is held over food and that monitors certain qualities in the air around the food: “temperature, humidity, ammonia and volatile organic compounds.”  So there are four sensors that are included for monitoring, and the information that is gathered is directed to the person’s smartphone or tablet through a Bluetooth.

            What this means is that a person no longer has to rely on the direct experience of his own nose to determine whether or not a particular food item is safe to eat.  A wrong decision based on the imperfection of one’s own sense of smell could lead to eating spoiled food and maybe getting an upset stomach or even deathly ill.  Le Clair does not indicate if the Peres can detect poison, in case someone is trying to poison you.  Supposedly, American mafia leaders used to have tasters – subordinates who would try any food first that was to be served at meals – to protect themselves against rivals trying to poison them.  A whole expanded market could be developed if the Peres detects arsenic or strychnine.

            I myself have never had any problem differentiating safe food from spoiled food.  If a food item in my house does not smell fresh, I know how to deal with it.  Having to experience the olfactory friction of bad-smelling food doesn’t bother me.  I smell it for a second, wrap it up, and throw it out.  The smell of bad food is part of the flow of organic flowing blendable continual stimuli that is a part of life.  Some foods like certain French cheeses and like papaya have terrible rotten smells even though they are perfectly safe to eat.  Does the Peres differentiate these smells from the smells of truly spoiled food?

 And then there is restaurant food. I make an effort to go to restaurants where they have a lot of customer turnover and, therefore, serve fresh food.  I think that most of the restaurateurs that I have known have the cultivated instincts to distinguish fresh food from spoiled food.  But I myself have the capacity to discern the occasional dish of spoiled food I am served in a restaurant without the help of an electronic nose.

The implied message of the Peres is that people can’t trust their noses, can’t trust their judgment.  A machine can do a better job, even with a relatively intimate immediate experience, than a human can do by himself.  It says, in effect, “Don’t trust your nose!  Your senses are deceptive.  Your senses could lead you to become very sick.”

            Could this be a forerunner of other machines that could protect against potentially uncomfortable or harmful immediate experiences?  What about a portable machine that analyzes how soft and smooth is the fabric from which sheets and pillowcases are made, in order to determine how comfortable it is for sleeping?  Or a machine that measures how much give there is to the fibers of a carpet to determine how comfortable it would be to walk on it.

We could use sensor devices to determine comfort or safety levels in almost any experience involving smell, taste or touch.  We would never have to trust our own sensations again.  We would have the certainty that comes from the precise measurement of defined discrete stimuli.  All of our own blurry organic flowing blendable continual experiences would be translated into precise numerical data.

The only problem is that we would gradually lose our capacity to trust our intimate sensations.  As we stopped focusing on them, they would diminish in their importance to our lives.  Our connections to the immediate world of sensory experience would be mediated by mechanical sensors.

Intimate sensations from smell, taste and touch, sensations that involve a lot of organic blurry flowing blendable continual stimuli, are essential for keeping us connected as humans to our field of experience.  Without our direct experience of these stimuli, which can’t be measured by mechanical sensors without losing their essence, we are mechanical figures floating in an experiential vacuum.  Without these stimuli, we experience no sensory grounding.  We merge with the mechanical sensors in devices like the Peres, as we trigger new robotic reactions, actions and processes in ourselves.  We become gradually disconnected from the organic as we become more connected to the mechanical.

Our mechanical aids are transforming us in unforeseen ways.  They become wedges that separate us experientially from the organic world from which we came and to which we will eventually return.  How can we truly experience the pleasure of fresh food, if we don’t experience it in contrast to our direct experience of smelling and even tasting spoiled food sometimes.  We need odors alongside of the aromas.  We need the total world of smell.  And we need to think and act based more on our own organic senses, if we are to continue to remain fully human.

© 2014 Laurence Mesirow


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Take a Pill! Become a Robot!

            Discussions in this column have focused on two distinct influences in the transformation of humans into robots.  First, there is the mirroring and modeling that occurs when people interact with all the complex machines and computers and robots that surround them.  In particular, machines, computers and robots mirror back to people how they are defective in functioning like technology and then people start modeling themselves after the technology in order to overcome the ostensive defects.

            Second, as more and more people start living long enough to have different parts of their body wear out, they start replacing those parts with prosthetic pieces. Prosthetic body parts are also used to replace human body parts that have been damaged or destroyed by accidents or war.   Although, on one level, this represents a promising development in medical treatment, on another level, this represents the beginning of the gradual transformation of humans into cyborgs.  Granted that prostheses perform important services in helping people who have lost certain functioning to be able to develop at least part of that functioning again.  Nevertheless, there is a spillover effect from these prostheses, a blurring of boundaries, that spreads the machine influence from a prosthesis to the rest of the person’s body.  It is not just that the prosthesis becomes integrated into a person’s organic body.  It is also that the whole organic body adapts itself and integrates into the prosthesis.

            One influence I haven’t discussed is the mechanical exoskeleton frame being developed to help paralyzed people to walk.  Again, it performs a very important service, and again, it creates an even greater blurring of boundaries that makes the whole body feel like a machine.

            A really insidious influence of technology over people is the use of pills that indirectly turn people into machines.  Again, the ostensive purposes of these pills are not to robotize humans but to perform important functions for them.  But the way people experience the effects of these pills is inevitably going to change their self-image such that they start to experience themselves more like robots.

            One of these pills is the Proteus pill, so called because a U.S. company, Proteus, is developing it.  The pill contains a microchip.  It is swallowed at the same time that a person takes medication.  The purpose of the pill is to send data from a person’s stomach to a smartphone or a tablet to indicate that he has indeed taken the medicine he is required to take.  Also, the time and date are sent as well.  The way the pill works is that when it hits the stomach, stomach acid activates a sensor which sends information to a patch on the person’s skin, which in turn sends information via a blue tooth to a smartphone or tablet. The target markets for the Proteus pill initially are children and older people, people who may tend to forget if or when they took their medicine.  But other uses are also being considered for this pill including the regulation of different bodily functions like blood pressure.

            So what is wrong with what I’m describing?  After all, the principal purpose of the pill is to help certain groups of people stay healthy and even alive.  Doesn’t this represent a positive development in health care?  Well, yes and no.  To the extent that it transforms a person in his interior into an ongoing source of defined discrete data, the person is turned into a machine.  His flowing continual internal bodily processes are transformed into discrete measurable events that in turn are transformed into discrete data that connect the person with machine systems outside of himself.  The person is subtly transformed into a machine that is being constantly regulated by the caretakers that are monitoring him.

            Eventually, more and more aspects of human physiology may become susceptible to such monitoring and potential regulation.  The people who take this pill will constantly be measured to make sure they are functioning smoothly and correctly.  And they will begin to lose their sense of organic cohesion, as they become broken down experientially into a series of different quantified processes.  Without a sense of organic cohesion, there is a loss of a coherent sense of self in a person and a weakening of the will.  The more that people are being constantly monitored by external caretakers for both voluntary processes like taking pills and involuntary processes like blood pressure, the more they lose their integrity as organisms and their sense of any direct control over their destiny.  People normally maintain a coherent sense of self and a coherent independent will as a result of ongoing continual organic stimuli.  They are not meant to simply comprise a series of fragmented functions and to be an entity that is constantly being monitored so that he can be potentially constantly acted upon.  When children are very young and old people are very senile, there is less concern about a coherent sense of self or a strong independent will.  So caretakers can monitor the taking of pills and the bodily functions in less physically intrusive ways, because they are with the patients all the time.  And for older children and for more cognitively aware older people, such constant monitoring through the Proteus pill will diminish the predisposition to function more independently.  It will diminish personal responsibility and personal growth in older children.  They will be under a constant cloud of a lack of independence.  And for more cognitively aware older people, loss of responsibility could actually trigger a gradual loss in their independent functioning in daily life.

            Aware children and aware older people need a narrative in their lives.  What can keep them alive is not only their medications, but also taking some responsibility and absorbing the risks involved with making sure they take their medications on schedule.  Also, the awareness that internalized microchips are allowing external caretakers to constantly monitor bodily function so that the patient can be constantly tinkered with like an old jalopy is going to weaken the patient’s self-image and his independent will, as he becomes as much an entity that is acted upon as an entity that is an assertive actor.  As a patient’s sense of self and independent will become weaker, his overall life force will weaken and his overall capacity to stay healthy and to stay alive will weaken.

            Another pill with a microchip is a password pill being developed by Motorola.  This pill is potentially for everyone.  A person swallows this pill and the stomach acid activates a chip to turn on a computer and other digital devices.  In other words, the stomach acid acting on the microchip replaces the use of the password.  It is thought that people can too easily forget their passwords and hackers can too easily discover them.  Evidently, no one can too easily replace the chemical composition of an individual’s stomach acid.  It is said that, in effect, the person becomes his own password.  I think that a person becomes more like a physical mechanism that, once activated by the equivalent of a password in the stomach acid, in turn activates the digital device.  So the microchip, in effect, transforms a human into a machine.

            Here we get back to the answer I gave as to whether the Proteus pill represented a positive development.  I said yes and no.  I would have to give the same response for the Password pill.  Given the fact that digital devices play such an important role in modern society, it is nice to think that we could develop an effective solution with regard to forgetfulness, on the one hand, and hackers in connection to passwords on the other.  The solution is the discrete focused activity of stomach acid acting on a microchip in a person’ stomach.  The side effect is the blendable continual experience a person has of becoming machine-like.  A person’s grounding as an organism, rooted in the blendable flowing continual processes of nature is disrupted.  This will lead to a subtle disruption and breakdown in his coherent sense of self and his independent will.  His conscious mind and his directed willful activity won’t be in control of the solution to his problem of protected passwords.  The microchip he swallows will be in control.  The person blurs with the digital devices he is using.  He becomes part of the digital technological system he is engaging.

            In general, there is a pattern to modern technological solutions.  A human action precipitates a technological event or a series of technological events and this creates an atmosphere in which a person experiences a disruption of his grounding in the world.  This disruption, in turn requires a reconfiguration of the person to become numb and hardened – like a machine – in order that he can survive the sensory distortion in which he is placed.  Then the person starts to identify with the device or devices with which he is interacting.  He blurs together with the device or devices.

            This pattern will become particularly apparent when a person swallows a pill and becomes the equivalent of a mechanical switch.  There is a price to be paid for the conveniences which these pills offer.  And the price can affect the very essence of who we are as humans.
(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow


Monday, July 28, 2014

Trying To Replace Animals With Robots

            What happens when an animal species, that is crucial to the proper functioning of the ecosystems in which we live, starts to die off?  It creates a major threat to the food chain in which we participate for our survival.  The die-off under consideration here is of bees.  The gradual loss of bees endangers the pollination of crops.

            Humans are looking to establish what is causing this die-off.  The most popular theory lately states that a group of deadly pesticides called neonics are killing off the bees.  Another theory has proposed that the cause is the destruction of biodiversity in many living environments leading to a poor diet for the bees.  Both of these causes are based on environmental degradation created by humans. Other additional causes have been suggested such as infections from two different kinds of mites, viruses and fungus. Whatever the reason, there is still a high probability that humans are directly or indirectly involved as a result of changes they have created in the living environment.

            Humans have caused the destruction of other animal species like the dodo bird, but none of these species was crucial to human survival the way that bees are.  Obviously, the loss of organic grounding in many different ways appears to be affecting bees more than many other species.   Not only are bees dying off in large quantities, but colonies of bees are experiencing Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where the worker bees from the bee colony just suddenly vanish.  It’s scary.   Humans, who are not yet experiencing an unexplained mass die-off, have to find some solution to the ecological gap created by the loss of bees. 

            And a solution is being created: robot bees.  We are now at the point in robotics where we can approximate the functions of a primitive animal and create a flying robot that can act independently enough to pollinate plants.  If we succeed in this, we will have solved the main operational problem of the loss of bees.  And if we succeed in this, we will have a model for dealing with the potential loss of other animal species that disappear as a direct or indirect result of human activities.

            But this is the point where we have to ask whether something irreplaceable is being lost, as we substitute robot bees for animal bees.  Are animal bees necessary for other things besides their defined discrete function of pollination?  If we reduce animal bees to one instrumental function, we are reducing them to being robots.  As important as pollination is, we also need our organic relationship to bees.  And with robot bees, there is no capacity to make, preserve or receive organic imprints.  This is because robot bees deal with defined discrete machine stimuli, not organic blendable flowing continual stimuli.  Their stimuli are built on digital combinations of 1 and 0.  Robot bees will not have the capacity with their presence to create flowing continual experience for other animals.  They just have the capacity to create remote isolated discrete events like the pollination of plants.

            With the loss of each new species to environmental degradation, to the loss of organic grounding, we lose one more unique source of organic imprints.  Each loss of species lessens the total vibrancy of our life experience.

            As we lose sources of organic stimuli from disappearing animals like bees, we gradually slide more into a numbing experiential vacuum.  And as we lose sources of organic imprints, we lose the stimulation we need to turn us on to make our own organic imprints.  We lose our capacity to make and preserve our own organic imprints and, thus, to prepare for death.

            Yes, lots of species have been lost to nonhuman causes in the past.  Natural catastrophes, cosmological events like meteorites hitting the earth, and periods of vast climate change (before humans) have all wiped out many species of dinosaurs.  But these are animals of the past.  Humans never had an ecological connection or an experiential connection with dinosaurs apart from their bones.  Early humans did hunt animals like the mammoth and the mastodon, and probably contributed to their extinction along with climate change.  But when these latter animals became extinct, evolution provided other sources of prey for food, other sources of organic experience for humans.  Evolution is not going to be able to work effectively enough to replace bees or other animal species that may be destroyed in today’s technology-controlled world in such a way that we can find new quick organic sources for both their ecological and their experiential functions.

            On the one hand, I certainly support attempts to find new ways to pollinate crops, if bees are dying off.  It is natural for humans to think of methods that imitate what bees do in order to carry out this process.  However, I am concerned that creating robot bees to do the work of animal bees sets a dangerous precedent.  It can lull people into not worrying quite as much as they should every time a species starts dying off.  After all, people will think they can always turn to technology to create a backup, should a particular species be important to the dynamics of an ecosystem.  This will make people less careful about the introduction of new chemicals or new technological processes to the living environment.

            It will also lead to even more blurring in people’s minds between their senses of self as humans, on the one hand, and the body of processes that make up machine activity, on the other.  Rather than missing the organic experience benefits of being around animal bees, humans will slide more and more into an identification with the wired mechanical complexity of robot bees.  The efficiency of robot bees will mirror efficiency behavior in humans and will be one more component in the network of complex modern machinery to further stimulate efficient robotic behavior in human activity.

            Yes, I know that animal bees sting and robot bees don’t.  Lions and tigers are dangerous, and we don’t want to get rid of them.  They are beautiful animals.  And there are many positive sensory aspects to animal bees as well.  The buzzing of animal bees is part of the music of warm weather in many parts of the world.  And animal bees make honey and robot bees don’t.  They are the only animal that I know of that is capable of bringing sweetness to human life that way.  Finally, animal bees are visually attractive insects that bring color to our flower gardens.  So they add to the positive organic sensory experience of the world by people in multiple ways.

            The dying-off of animal bees is only a partly replaceable loss.  If modern technological society does start using robot bees to replace them, we cannot let that in any way reduce the enormity of the experiential loss in our lives.  Animals are not only sources of function.  They are sources of sensory experience.  And our experience of animals in turn stimulates a sense of organic humanity in each of us.

            By the way, the engineers who are creating robot bees are giving them other functions besides that of pollinating crops.  The robot bees are going to be used for search and rescue missions and for military surveillance among other tasks.  With these additional uses, it is not as if the robot bees are going to be used only as a basic organic replacement for a gap in our ecosystems.  With their disconnected diverse activities, the robot bees are going to act like and be machines whose intrinsic worth is based on a bundle of non-related specific functions.  This is very distinct from animal bees whose worth is based on a cohesive organic identity within an ecosystem.  Getting back to the mind/body dichotomy that I discussed in a previous article, there is something in all organisms, some sentient activity, if not a true consciousness, that allows that organism to leave an organic imprint that is different from a mechanical physical mark.  This sentient activity is built on organic blendable continual stimuli which robot bees won’t have.  Robot bees are built exclusively on the defined discrete stimuli of digital processes.

            If we can’t save the animal bees, and robot bees are the only option for pollinating crops, so be it.  But let us not get smug that we are truly replacing animal bees.  There is a German company called Festo that makes robotic models of many different animals.  If all the sub-human animals on the earth were wiped out and replace with robots, humans would truly be very lonely organisms in a vast vacuum living environment.

The topic for this article was suggested by Chuck Freilich
(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow