Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Algorithm Way Of Life

            Much of history has been involved in learning how to focus enough with our eyes and our mind to see things as highly defined discreet entities that can be managed and manipulated through a series of defined discrete steps to achieve certain ends.  As we have become better at focusing, we have become better at managing and manipulating.  The vehicle through which we have been increasingly translating strong focus into more strongly defined ends is algorithms.  An algorithm is a procedure that is mentally constructed to follow a series of well outlined steps in order to achieve a certain goal.  Although the concept was first developed by an Arab mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi in the ninth century AD, it is in the modern world that it has found an application in so many areas of daily life.  Algorithms are used for computer applications, applications for industrial machines, and business strategies including even hiring new employees.  These are just some of the formal applications of algorithms where people are conscious of setting up defined formats for daily operations in which numbers and data play a significant role.

            But the visual and mental states that are adopted in order to perceive the phenomena in one’s field of experience as highly focused entities are visual and mental states that cannot be turned on and off so easily.  These hyper-focused mental states start bleeding into many different areas of daily life, many of which areas one would not have previously associated with algorithmic thinking.  Linguistically, these mental states tend to experience words only in terms of their literal denotative meanings and not in terms of their more figurative connotative meanings.  This is why many people today feel that they can rely on computers to translate from one language to another.  It is because they look at language as simply a code that is free from the cultural and psychological symbols that allow words and the meanings they connote to bond deeply together and form larger cultural meanings for the people who speak and listen to the words.  The truth is that a language is much more than a code.  In a code, words have a one to one correspondence to their meanings.  In a language, these denotative meanings are like the tip of an iceberg filled with connotative meanings.  Without the presence of connotative meanings,  words become isolated figures that are strung together into sentences and that float in an experiential vacuum.  Advanced robots speak using linguistic algorithms.  And so do hyperfocused humans.  Linguistic algorithms not only prevent words from deeply bonding with one another through symbolic connotations, they prevent people from properly using language as a vehicle to bond deeply with one another.  Linguistic algorithms and hyperfocused mental states impede the proper development of intimate connection.  Using linguistic algorithms, people bond in a more shallow way, in a way that is exclusively for temporary contingent purposes.

            But it is not only language that is ruled by algorithms today.  Many people’s whole lives are ruled by algorithms.  Middle-class parents develop a plan with defined discrete steps for their children in which children get sent to the proper pre-school in order to get accepted by the proper grammar school and do well academically there, and this allows them to get accepted by the proper high school and do well academically there which allows them to go the proper university which leads to the appropriate graduate school which ultimately leads to a successful career.  While growing up, these algorithm-ruled young people are given special outside enrichment classes in additional academic subjects as well as art, music, and sports.  Almost every moment is precisely slotted.  Every encounter with the world is geared to be one more mini-step up the ladder to success.  Unlike with previous generations, there is very little time for free play either with others or by oneself.  There is very little time to just do nothing and engage in day-dreaming.  Free play and daydreaming are considered a waste of time and not productive.

            So the child grows up with a mind that has always been focusing on something and that has developed a lot of defined discrete compartmentalized skills.  But the child has never had the opportunity to develop an organic coherent sense of self with the capacity for deep-bonded intimacy with other human beings.  The algorithm of his childhood plan of development has basically turned him into a robot.

            Thinking constantly in algorithmic terms has effects in several different areas of life as the child grows up.  Because the child lacks an organic coherent sense of self, he also is incapable of recognizing other people in terms of their organic coherent senses of self.  Instead, he sees other people in terms of the same kind of overly-focused compartmentalized defined discrete functions that he perceives in himself.  He becomes incapable of deep-bonding with another person, communing with another person’s whole sense of self.  Instead, he shallow-bonds with the person, connecting with the person in order to utilize specific functions that the person has to offer.  This approach to relationships makes real intimacy difficult if not impossible.

            And this has profound effects on the development of stable families and stable communities.  No wonder divorce has become so common and so many families are fragmenting.  And lack of emotional grounding in stable family relationships contributes to major problems of emotional health.  

            Another problem area is that of creativity.  People who grow up with a fragmented sense of self, who lack a sense of their own internal connectedness, lack a capacity for seeing and creating symbolic connections between different parts of human experience in the world.  And yet symbolic connections are the foundation of much of what we call great works in the arts.  It is these meaningful symbolic connections that leave deep organic imprints on people’s minds.

            Instead, many artists today project their internal fragmentation out on the world by creating works with fragmented thoughts (post-modern poetry) fragmented images (much of contemporary art) and fragmented melodies (modern atonal classical music).  In these cases, it is as if the algorithms that modern humans use to hold their lives together completely fail.  Algorithms are just no substitute for organic grounding and organic bonds.

            Of course, some people today do make an effort to create super-coherent images in the external world.  But they are images that float in a vacuum without symbolic connections and symbolic meanings related to other phenomena.  These are the hyperrealist photo-like paintings and hyperrealist novels with a morbid focus on the dark sides of life: poverty, criminality and disease.  These creative works don’t develop some larger symbolic message or comments, but instead hyperfocus the writer on reality, hyperfocus the audience on reality, shock people into temporarily pulling together and pulling their view of the world together.

            The excessive use of algorithms and algorithmic thinking turns people into robots.  Algorithmic states of mind prevent people from developing more coherent flowing blendable continual methods of thinking like instinct and intuition, where a situation being thought about is grasped as an organic whole.  Algorithmic states of mind prevent people from absorbing the flowing blendable continual stimuli that are an essential part of rich vibrant life experiences and that are the foundation of being able to make, receive and preserve organic imprints.  Algorithmic states of mind prevent the development of the organic coherent senses of self that give people the reflexive awareness necessary to think in terms of using their preserved organic imprints as a foundation for creating a surrogate immortality and preparing for death.  Algorithms certainly are useful in some situations, but they have real limitations as an encompassing framework for the human way of life.

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