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 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