Sunday, March 18, 2018

Gaining Traction To Move On A Slippery Road

            Recently, we were confronted again with another mass murder in the United States.  It occurred at a high school in Parkland, Florida near Miami, and this time, the students have reacted by organizing protests and marches.  They are angry as well they should be.  Apart from their loss of friends and teachers, they have lost their capacity to assume that their scholastic lives can be conducted in physical safety.  They have experienced something that will leave a permanent mark on their lives.  And they are calling for much stiffer gun laws, so that it will become much more difficult to obtain them.  The Florida legislature has just passed a new bill that provides greater control over the purchase of guns, but it has refused to ban assault weapons like the AR-15.

            Would stiffer gun laws give young people the relief that they want and need?  Certainly, a better control by the government over opportunities to obtain an automatic weapon could limit the casualties in some rampages.  And better background checks and compulsory gun training could limit who would get a gun in the first place.  But there are already so many guns out there in America.  How is it going to be possible to regulate the use of all of these?

            America is a very violent society.  And I would submit that guns play a very important role in the lives of many American males, and this role would help to explain why and how these massacres occur.  The problem for these males relates to a particular aspect of their lives that is very ambiguous, almost nebulous, and yet it is still very palpably present.  I am referring to the transformation of their fields of experience as a result of the phenomenal growth of modern technological living environments.  Although modern technology does create a lot of negative static stimulation as a result of the overcrowding in modern cities - this abrasive stimuli from so many people, speeding cars, noise pollution, air pollution, and light pollution in the form of flashing lights - there are still many areas of experience where people are understimulated as a result of so much frictionlessness, mediation and speed stemming from modern technology.  These are aspects of experience that make things supposedly so much easier for people.  Mediation, as in doing things on a computer screen or watching a drama on television, means that one doesn’t have to get one’s hands dirty getting too involved in all the friction and imperfections that are involved in traditional everyday primary experience.  And then there is increasing frictionlessness, as a result of all the processes that are occurring in life that are being done automatically or practically automatically as a result of modern technology.  Modern public washrooms are a typical example.  Put your hands under a faucet and the sensors pick them up and the water goes on automatically.  Put your hands under the towel dispenser and towels are dispensed without touching anything.  Go relieve yourself and pull away and the toilet flushes by itself.  These may seem like small examples, but more and more processes of our daily lives are being done either automatically or with a minimal amount of effort.  Experientially, it leaves a person without much traction in life.  And spending so much time watching other people live their lives in movies or on television doesn’t help either.

            It may be hard to grasp the notion of experiential traction.  It means that people need to feel textured surfaces, even rough surfaces, in order to feel alive, to have rich vibrant experiences, to have meaningful life narratives, to make and preserve organic imprints, and to be able to prepare for death with a surrogate immortality.  Textured experiential surfaces act as a template that allow people to bond with one another and create relationships.  It is no wonder that so many honeymoons occur in tropical resorts surrounded by nature.  But with fewer and fewer of these textured experiential surfaces, we increasingly experience ourselves as living in an experiential vacuum.

            Of course, one of the things that increasingly makes it difficult for us to attach ourselves to such textured surfaces is the speed at which everything moves around us in a modern technological living environment.  Trains, cars and planes move so much faster than animals like horses, camels, and elephants as well as vehicles that are carried along by animals.  And we can perform so many work processes so much more quickly as a result of modern technological devices.  And we like this, because we like things done more efficiently.  But when we have things done more efficiently, we have less opportunity to attach ourselves to the experience of the process, in order to feel alive from the process, to be able to participate more fully ourselves in the process and thus to make and preserve more imprints.

            Without these textured surfaces, we literally slide off the surfaces of our worlds into an experiential vacuum.  And this particularly is a problem for males in America.  In spite of the loss of textured organic surfaces in the external world, women still have a very importance source of organic stimulation that gives them a sense of internal grounding: their menstrual cycle and their ability to have babies.  It might sound strange to talk about periods – a situation that women don’t like – as something that in some contexts has its advantages.  And childbirth can be a very difficult painful experience.  But both periods and childbirth provide rough textured internal organic experiences that give women a kind of traction that men don’t have, a grounding through processes that are part of organic cycles of nature.  Furthermore, in becoming pregnant and giving birth, women have a more immediate direct connection to a preserved organic imprint, in which both men and women initially participate together.  To this extent, women are going to be less affected by the experiential vacuum created in modern technological living environments.  Men are going to experience more of the numbness created as a result of all the frictionlessness, mediation and speed they encounter.  Many of these men will try to control this numbness through drugs or through experiences like yoga or shiatsu, all of which create strong internal stimulation to compensate for the lack of organic stimulation in the external world.  Now, of course, women do drugs, yoga and shiatsu too, but I would submit that they are particularly important for men.  Yoga infuses men with the type of female energy that women have naturally.  In addition, with meditation, people can focus on an internal experiential vacuum that they can control as opposed to the vacuum in the outside world.

            But some men choose to create abrasive tension-pocket friction to feel alive. Another human body represents one of the few easily accessible naturally occurring organic surfaces left in our modern technological living environments.  So to overcome their numbness, men use different forms of sexual abuse, both physical and psychological, as a form of abrasive friction in order to feel alive.  Many sexual connections with a variety of women with whom there is little or no emotional commitment.  And, of course, in many cases, these connections are simply predatory.

            But the behavior that is most problematic is the use of physical violence in what I called in the past, crimes of numbness.  And, in particular, the use of guns.  In the U.S., guns are so available and so valued.  The increase goes back to the notion of individuals having guns to protect themselves and their families, not only against foreign invaders but also against tyrannical governments.  Having guns acted as a counterbalance to governments like England before the War of Independence.

            But now guns are used by some men as a means to create big explosive destructive experiences, and, in so doing, to simply feel alive.  It is a means for these men to pull themselves out of the numbness they feel as a result of the lack of traction from textured organic surfaces within their field of experience, both external and internal.  Now, on some levels, an explanation like this is not satisfying, because it pins as a cause of gun violence something that is environmental and enveloping rather than easily defined, delineated and focused.  Eliminating such a cause will  have to involve a change of attitude in society towards modern technology and towards one of the foundational beliefs of modern society – that the best life is one that is frictionless, safely mediated, and efficiently fast.  It would also involve a shift away from many of the entertainments that modern young Americans now use: video games, violent movies and television programs and violent websites.  These are but stepping stones for certain young men towards tension-pocket violence in the external world in order to break out of the grip of the experiential vacuum. It would take time to create such a shift in attitude, assuming it could be done.  Unfortunately, until such a shift is carried out, tragedies like Parkland will continue in the United States.

(c) 2018 Laurence Mesirow

Losing Our Life Narratives To A Microchip

            In my last article, I discussed how computers were being taught to cooperate and compromise with humans using morality algorithms.  Of course, as I explained, computers with artificial intelligence can’t really cooperate and compromise, because they don’t have an organic sense of self from which cooperation and compromise can radiate.

            The present article discusses an advance in computer technology that focuses on what computers do best: computing.  Now we have the creation of super microchips that are faster and more efficient in their processes than the human brain.  All the power of a human brain can be put into a small neuromorphic chip (so called because it supposedly imitates a neuron) that can, in turn, be put into a hand-held device.  In effect, all cognitive tasks, both large and small, can be put into a small microchip that can be controlled by an average person.

            These chips go beyond binary digital systems. They use binary analog processes.  In analog technology, the focus is on using a signal that is a wave and using it in a direct manner to produce a stimulus, whereas in digital technology, the wave is sampled thousands of times and then these samples are converted into numbers that are stored and then treated as data.  These data are reconverted back into another kind of wave which produces the stimulus.  So digital processes are based on defined discrete stimuli, which are the triggers and signals of most modern machine processes. Analog processes, on the other hand are primarily based on flowing blendable continual stimuli which more closely approximate the foundations of the organic processes of humans.  The super microchips that use analog processes can be said to come close in some ways to imitating human mental processes in certain areas of thought without being generated by an organic sense of self.  Notice I say come close, because, when all is said and done, these flowing blendable continual stimuli, are being used in the service of the defined discrete structures of machines that lack direction stemming from an organic sense of self.  It is humans that are directing the usage of these machines.  But just imagine if an average individual human being can have all this power on a small hand-held device using a super microchip, the ramifications are enormous. 

First of all, people won’t have to solve most problems themselves anymore.  They can refer all their concerns to the super neuromorphic microchip in their hand-held devices.  On one level, this will make life a whole lot easier.  But on the other hand, it will take away whole areas of opportunities for people to make and preserve organic imprints.  People will no longer feel friction grappling with all the different kinds of problems with which they grapple in everyday life.  As a result they will lose the narrative to their lives.  Many of the rich vibrant experiences that come from grappling directly with life’s problems will be eliminated.  And of course, without having the challenge of making and preserving organic imprints, people will be unable to prepare for death with a surrogate immortality.

Life will become easier.  But it will also become blander and ultimately more meaningless.  Maybe for many, it will become a frictionless cognitive paradise.  But on some levels, a paradise is not always a paradise.  A paradise is a beautiful picture.  It is a beautiful frozen moment in time.  But with such a frozen moment, there is no allowance for the evolution, for the development of the human individual.  Some friction, some stress is necessary to properly propel a person through a life cycle.  Without that stress, a person never develops a defined coherent organic sense of self.  And without self-definition, a person is subject to undifferentiation, to being reduced psychologically to a more impulsive instinctive animal.

A person living in a tropical paradise can develop organic coherence from all the bonding that occurs in a warm embracing natural environment.  But without the challenges that occur in a more climactically taxing environment or a more urban environment, a person is not as likely to be confronted by the problems he needs to come up with the solutions that become imprints that he makes and preserves and that lead to self-definition.

In a modern frictionless technological paradise like we are creating in different places with things like super microchips, people can develop a brittle self-definition from all the defined discrete frictionless interactions they have with the devices.  But they won’t develop self-coherence because there will be a lack of real organic grounding and a lack of organic phenomena in their living environment with which to bond.  In this case, a person is subject to being reduced to becoming a brittle non-bonding entity: a robot.  Or as technology continues to evolve, and frictionlessness leads to living in an experiential vacuum with fewer and fewer floating figures of substance, a person is threatened with vacuumization, and becoming an avatar of himself.

            In all these cases, the proper balance that leads to a rich vibrant meaningful human life is lost.  In today’s world, very few of us have the opportunity to put ourselves in a situation, where we will be subject to the dangers present spending long periods of our lives in a tropical paradise living environment.  To the extent that a person immerses himself in the mediated experience world of a super microchip, to that extent he becomes vacuumized and increasingly like an avatar, a technologically created complex behavioral entity that lacks the substance or the opportunity to make and preserve organic imprints on the field of experience in which he is spending so much time.

            The super microchip will create a lot of process and activity for the world of technological complex behavioral entities.  But it will contribute to the continued loss of human narrative.  All these so called improvements - the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, super chips - they are all pushing us into a living death, where there is little left to do except watch the action that is occurring among other entities.

© 2018 Laurence Mesirow

Devising Moral Behavior For Machines

            Every time this column comes along to try and draw the boundaries between the  respective essences of humans and machines, computer engineers create new situations where computers seemingly adopt another trait of humans that further blurs the distinctions between these two kinds of entities.  In a recent article, there was a discussion about how artificial intelligence (AI) has developed to the point where computers can beat humans in games like chess, Go, and video games.  The common denominator that these games have in terms of appropriate behavior is that they all require adversarial competitive behavior.  In an article by Rich Hardy in the online publication New Atlas on Jan. 21: “Morality algorithm lets machines cooperate and compromise better than humans”, there is a discussion about some computers of some computer engineers who have created a morality algorithm which allows computers to cooperate and compromise with humans in the performance of certain tasks.  So now humans can kumbaya with computers.  At least that is the ostensive interpretation of the title of the New Atlas article.  But the question is does cooperation and compromise mean the same thing to a computer with artificial intelligence (AI) that it does to a human?  What does it even mean to talk about cooperation and compromise within the context of a computer with AI?

            First of all, a computer is a machine, and it is defined by all the defined discrete inputs that it receives and all the defined discrete processes that it carries out.  Algorithms set up an instrumental basis for operation of some very advanced machines.  It can be a very complicated basis for operation and it can demonstrate some very complex activity that people who want to anthropomorphize particularly some computers would call complex behavior.  But algorithms are process-oriented, and they don’t provide a basis for operations based on some unique essence.  The unique essence underlying behavior in humans is an organic sense of self.  The organic sense of self is based on components that deep-bond with one another to form a larger indivisible organic whole.  These components are held together functionally by the flowing blendable continual stimuli that have been discussed in many different contexts throughout this column.

            In other words, all the algorithms in the world, however complex they may be, are not going to be enough to create an organic sense of self in the sense that humans have.  Without this organic sense of self, there is no real sense in which computers are really cooperating or compromising with humans.  To use the terms cooperating or compromising with computers represents a form of anthropomorphizing that distorts the interactions that are actually taking place.  There can’t be any real cooperating or compromising taking place between two entities, unless both parties to the cooperating and compromising are coherent wholes, activated not only by the defined discrete stimuli measured in laboratory experiments, but also by the flowing blendable continual stimuli found in life.  From this point of view, a morality algorithm is a meaningless concept.

            But what are the implications of thinking in terms of a morality algorithm?  Rather than elevate the behavior of the artificial intelligence (AI) on the computer, it may diminish the importance and dignity of morality behavior among humans.  The behavior of humans and AI in computers blur together in human minds.  Our moral actions are increasingly seen as simply proper discrete instrumental processes generated to create a sense of stasis or balance in the interactions we have with the complex behavioral entities that we call computers.  There is less emphasis in our thinking on the core centers in our minds from which our moral actions are generated.  And yet without these core centers in our minds – our organic senses of self – there is no meaningful entity to which the label moral can refer.

            The only conclusion that we can draw from the continued false parallel between humans and computers among our modern computer engineers is that a meaningful core center in an interacting complex behavioral entity is no longer important to them.  What is important to these computer engineers in defining life or pseudo-life is simply instrumental process and not an essential organic core center.

            And, of course, these attitudes are spreading to other sectors of modern technological society.  More and more companies avoid paying benefits and pensions to their workers.  Workers are increasingly no longer thought of as coherent wholes with organic senses of self, with organic essences, entities that derive their value not just from what they contribute in the processes of their work, but from their intrinsic worth as human beings.  Instead, they are looked at in terms of their relatively short-term instrumental worth, performing certain labor until their immediate projects are completed, until they are no longer needed for a specific kind of work in a company, until they are no longer physically or mentally able to do the work or until they reach an age cutoff within the company after which people retire.  But in many companies, people are no longer considered to be human beings that are to be treated with dignity when they retire.  Rather they are looked at as machines that are falling apart, that are considered to be towards the end of their usefulness, towards the end of their general worth.  The obsolescence of these humans in more and more cases leads to their being disconnected from the company when they retire, like machines that can no longer perform their tasks and are to be discarded.  Actually, because AI can be kept alive seemingly forever, humans are increasingly going to be compared to more primitive machines.  More primitive complex behavioral entities.  And now that AI is being improved with the morality algorithms, an important superficial behavior application is being added which allows computers with AI to be considered almost collegial.  So in the blurring of identities, humans are being reduced to a more primitive less lasting machine status, and certain machines are being elevated to a status that is increasingly in certain ways perceived to be superior to human status.

            What has to be always remembered is that it is the organic core that matters, the organic sense of self.  All the complicated morality algorithms in the world may be able to fine-tune computer interaction with people, but it is all related to instrumental matters and never matters of essence.  What all is said and done, the computer is being instructed that when situation a occurs, do b.  A series of programmable possibilities.  This by itself does not create a human.

(c) 2018 Laurence Mesirow

Immersing Oneself In A Chair

            In a recent article in this column there was a discussion of the creation of virtual and augmented reality experiences for people who were bored as passengers in driverless cars.  The particular experience discussed was making the rider feel like his vehicle was the Batmobile and he was Batman and he was riding around in Gotham with the potential to save innocent citizens from the acts of criminals.  It is an excellent example of using an experience that qualifies as kicks as a means of pulling a person out of an extreme experiential vacuum created by the enclosed frictionless environment of the interior of an autonomous vehicle, AV.  But the sense of hyperstimulation, this tension-pocket mini-environment is a special kind of kicks. It is not like drugs, alcohol, gambling or compulsive sex where the source of stimulation is one defined source of substance or one defined source of activity.  Same with riding motorcycles or racing cars. A disco is a little like the Gotham environment, but it’s not totally closed or contained.  Rather, it is a social place where a person interacts with other people who are not directly a part of the virtual reality environment.  The other people pull the person into the external world.  What is distinct about the Batmobile is that the hyperstimulation comes from a whole artificial entertainment environment in which a person immerses himself in order to lift himself out of his numbness and feel more fully alive.
            And the Batmobile is not going to be an isolated instance.  All sorts of artificial immersive entertainments environments are being created in order to pull modern humans out of their numbness. One other example is the musical lounge chair being created by the French company Aurasens.  What the chair does is link music to massage.  Music is created that is specially attuned to the rhythms of massage.  The massage that comes out of the chair helps a person to feel the music within a trans-sensory experience.  What makes this an immersive experience are the headphones that block out noise and the eye mask.  In other words, a person is supposed to immerse himself in sound and touch and nothing else.

            This musical lounge chair is definitely a private immersive experience.  The virtual reality experience of the Batmobile may be less so.  After all, there can be more than one passenger in the autonomous vehicle (AV) having the same VR experience.  Nevertheless, the Batmobile is still somewhat a private experience, in that social interaction between passengers will not contribute significantly to the immersive experience in the same way a couple dancing surrounded by other people dancing contributes to the kicks experience of loud electronic instruments and strobe lights at a disco.

            As people have more and more kicks experiences, they need stronger and stronger kicks
to pull themselves out of their basic numbness that is the result of the sensory distortion of being in a modern technological living environment.  Normal more organic natural experiences are not only scarce these days, but they are no longer enough to stimulate a person to life.  People become addicted to kicks when they are too numb to fully experience other life stimulations.

            Up until recently, the primary way to make kicks more powerful was to make them more intense.  An example would be as people began to take stronger and stronger drugs for the kick effect.  But now it seems that maybe more intense may no longer be enough.  The kicks will have to envelop a person.  And this is where artificial immersive entertainment experiences come in.  They may not be as explosively strong as a drug.  And that’s actually good.  So they won’t hurt a person’s physical health.  But these experiences temporarily transform a person’s entire field of experience.  The massage is done by focusing on 30 haptic or touch points on a person, creating sensations of massage, shake and tingle.  Again as is common with modern technology, the emphasis is on defined discrete stimuli rather than more organic flowing blendable continual stimuli.  What traditionally has been a flowing blendable continual experience has been turned into an experience that is at bottom built on digital points.  So even as a person is having an experience that is supposed to sense organic needs, it is actually an experience that over time slowly reconfigures a person’s nervous system to become more receptive to machine-based robotic stimuli.  The stimuli that come from this mechanized massage process are not as explosive as previous explosive mechanized experiences we have discussed in the past: motorcycles, racing cars, loud electronic music, strobe lights, roller coasters, etc.  Here we have found a way of creating kicks that don’t lead to total jadedness and burn-out.  On some level it partly imitates an organic process. Perhaps this makes it more insidious.  Jadedness and burn-out lead a person to feel incapable of being receptive to a particular kick stimulus.  And this can be protective.  With the Aurasens invention, there supposedly would be no burn-out.

            Perhaps a close equivalent experience already existing would be a vibrator.  But a vibrator does not demand such complete separation from external world reality and partners sometime use it with each other.  Nevertheless, a vibrator does subtly reconfigure a person’s nervous system to become more receptive to mechanical defined discrete stimuli in order to achieve sexual satisfaction.

            Using a vibrator does not require a person to purposely close off all the other senses besides the one being used the way that the Aurasens massage chair does.  In this case, the vibrator is not totally a private experience, is not a totally immersive experience the way that the Aurasens massage chair is.  As people become more and more numb from their modern technological living environment, private isolating immersive experiences will become an increasingly important pathway to obtaining an ongoing non-explosive form of kicks to help them feel alive.  And again what is so insidious about this is precisely because these immersive experiences are more tolerable for longer period of time, they have the capacity to subtly transform humans, reconfigure them so that they are more receptive to machine-based stimuli rather than organic stimuli, and, in the long run, gradually contribute to the robotization of these humans.

            These immersive experiences seem on the surface to be so innocent.  They offer a false sense of grounding, while gradually transferring people away from their basic human nature.  They comprise just one of the many technological pathways today that are undermining our humanity.

(c) 2018 Laurence Mesirow

The Competition That Humans Are Creating For Themselves

            There have been a lot of articles in the media lately about the achievements of Artificial Intelligence (AI).  In particular, about all the human champions of different kinds of games that AI is beating.  Chess, the game of Go, video games.  The people who are developing this technology are extremely excited.  And there are even predictions that, in the not so distant future, AI will be able to write novels.  Imagine novels written by machines.

            But why is it that so many people want the development of AI to proceed and to succeed?  Why do they want AI to do better than humans, to beat humans at their own games?  Why do these people seem to want a non-human complex behavioral entity to increasingly replace humans at their tasks to the point that there will no longer be a meaningful place for humans in the external world?  To understand this, we have to understand why people may feel there is something intrinsically superior about AI.

            The answer to this goes back to something that has been periodically discussed in this column since the very first articles.  Humans among all animals have a unique level of consciousness, a unique reflexive awareness that allows them to realize how mortal they are, how vulnerable to organic perishability they are.  And particularly when they tended to live closer to nature, they were vulnerable not only to organic decay, but also to natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, drought and famine, extreme cold, extreme heat, wild animals, poisonous plants and diseases.  On the other hand, nature provided humans with an organic grounding where the stimuli provided matched what their nervous systems were capable of being receptive to.  There were also significant figure phenomena – targets for food and materials for clothing, shelter and medicines.  But these figures were intrinsically interconnected with the organically grounded living environment in which humans also felt interconnected.

            Nevertheless, the organic perishability aspect of nature inspired humans to gain some control over it and to rise above it through the use first of simple tools and then more and more complex devices and machines and ultimately modern technology. Not only did technology help them to survive the immediate dangers of life in or close to a more organic natural environment, but it also helped them to separate themselves and rise above nature and the organic perishability to be found in it.  And modern technology was good not only for protecting humans but for preserving the organic imprints that people left on the fields of experience in which they dwelled.  And this was important from another perspective in terms of helping humans survive.  Preserving imprints helped people to create strong surrogate immortalities for themselves – immortalities that were not so much focused on keeping humans alive as on keeping what humans had made and done alive.

            But now with AI, we have the opportunity for a unique situation in terms of immortality. We are creating machines that approximate and in some ways improve on human behavior.  At the same time, they are complex behavioral entities that are created by certain humans and that represent organic imprints that are made and preserved by those humans.  However, unlike humans, they are not susceptible to organic perishability.  And because they are seemingly immortal, humans want and will want to both be mirrored by and to model themselves after the AI machines.  And to the extent that AI becomes more powerful and performs more tasks well, this represents greater control over and greater protection against whatever dangers may present themselves.  In other words greater intelligence means a greater potential foundation for immortality.

            And now greater intelligence means a greater capacity for the AI machine to re-create itself and protect itself even against human intervention.  Which means that we are setting AI up with the capacity to displace and replace humans.  And to many people, this is fine, because as they identify with AI, the lines that separate these AI machines and humans blur.  AI then becomes a vehicle by which humans can feel themselves immortal, independent of the surrogate immortalities that they create.

            But as AI increasingly moves towards approximating and improving on the complexity and extensiveness of human intelligence, it still continues to miss out on the one thing that makes human mental activity unique: a coherent organic sense of self that is not simply interested in an instrumental resolution of problems, but also in intrinsic self-reflection.  This is where we get into ideas about a soul and about humans being a smaller version of a larger cosmic reflexive awareness or consciousness.  This goes way beyond the more mundane covering of instrumental problem resolution.  This goes way beyond the aptitudes of the hard sciences.  This goes into the subject matter of philosophy and religion.

            This moves away from the defined discrete stimuli, the data of science and into the inchoate mixture of flowing, blendable, continual stimuli of the organic natural environment mixed with the infinite continuous stimuli of the cosmological vacuum.  It becomes the spirit that resides in the flesh.

            With cyborgs, we have a mixture of the mechanical and the organic, but in exchange for supposed robotic immortality, we end up with the constraints that come with the rigid robotic instrumentality

            In general, an attempt to use machines or machine components to gain a real immortality means a loss of components that are essential for the human condition.  To try and reach for a real immortality by identifying with AI or becoming a cyborg leads to a whole new set of problems. One can identify with AI, but AI can eventually become so strong and independent that it will displace humans.  Even if people try to directly imitate AI by somehow downloading their mind. Furthermore, a downloaded mind would miss out on all the rich vibrant life experiences that stem from a fully bonded mind-body cultivation.

            With regard to cyborgs, the addition of machine components into humans in order to become indestructible and immortal is going to create new robotic directives for the mind which is going to limit the full scope of organic human consciousness and limit the capacity for rich vibrant life experiences.

            To summarize, real immortality has its costs in terms of quality of consciousness and quality of life.  And returning to the focus of this article, identifying with AI is no solution to finding real immortality and if it ends up displacing and replacing humans, it could just end up putting them in a living death.

(c)2018 Laurence Mesirow

Driving Around While Floating In A Vacuum

            As most of you probably know, we are moving toward the time when autonomous vehicles will start filling our roads and highways.  But what has not been discussed a lot is that Intel and Warner Brothers are working on new kinds of “immersive” entertainment experiences to fill the time of passengers who no longer have to worry about driving.  In an online article on Dec. 2 by Jade Teran for Bleeding Cool:  “Warner Bros. and Intel Want to Turn Your Car into VR Batmobile While You’re Driving”, there is a discussion of using virtual reality and augmented reality to replace looking out the windows into external world reality using new fabricated experiences such as driving through Gotham as if your car was a Batmobile.  Of course there will also be options to watch movies and television programs as well as advertisements – how could we live without advertisements with all the free time being given to us by autonomous vehicles?

            But what really concerns me is the need to create artificial immersive entertainment experiences.  This totally disconnects the former driver/passenger from any observation let alone participation in the space-time trajectory of the trips that he takes.  Driving a car has never been a very effective way of making organic imprints on a field of experience.  It’s too frictionless and too mediated.  Unlike riding a horse, a camel or an elephant.

            But now we are going to have additional frictionlessness and mediation, as a result of surrendering control of the very process of driving: of guiding and conducting the car.  With immersive entertainment, a person will have even less experiential traction from driving, less of an opportunity to make organic imprints from guiding and accelerating and braking his car.

            But people will be given the illusion of making imprints as they ride around through the illusory scenery of Gotham in a car that gives the illusion of being a Batmobile.  We can pretend to be Batman, a superhero who makes and preserves super-organic imprints in the process of saving the lives of the good people of Gotham.  And yet in reality Batman is an imaginary super-hero, who is making and preserving imaginary super imprints on the field of experience in which he lives.  And to the extent that passengers in an AV (autonomous vehicle) merge with him, they are merging with a vacuumous entity that in reality does not support their own need to make and preserve organic imprints.  Batman puts these passengers into a dream state, an illusory state where they, on one level, think they are making and preserving super imprints, but, in reality, they are wasting time that could be spent making and preserving imprints in external world reality.

            The sensory distortion involved in riding in an AV gets magnified with the addition of these artificial immersive entertainment experiences.  On the one hand, the frictionlessness is increased, the sense of being in an experiential vacuum increases as a result of being sensorily separated from the external world.  On the other hand, the tension pocket abrasive friction increases as a result of visualization of being Batman and riding around having super friction-filled adventures fighting villains and saving innocent people.  It would be hard to simultaneously experience both understimulation and overstimulation without completely shutting down.  So what’s likely to happen in an AV with an artificial immersive entertainment experience like Batman, is that a rider is going to alternate his focus quickly, going back and forth between vacuum and tension-pocket.  This quick sensory alternation is going to end up leading to sensory disorientation – a total inability for a person to connect in any way with his physical environment, a withdrawal into himself that is based both on extreme numbness and extreme burn out.  Going back and forth between understimulation and overstimulation will make each one seem more extreme to the rider.

            In traditional driving, a person is taking control of a situation, is responsible for a situation.  The advocates for AV say that it will provide a much safer form of transportation, because humans, after all, make mistakes and cause accidents.  The truth is that we don’t have enough evidence from actual use of AV.s to say definitively that AV’s are going to be safer.  But this brings us to a larger question.  Are we going to try and eliminate risk in every area of our lives?  The result of eliminating all risk would be to create fields of experience that are totally free of opportunities to make, receive and preserve imprints, totally free of opportunities to have rich vibrant life experiences and meaningful life narrative, totally free of opportunities to create a surrogate immortality in order to prepare for death.

            What is so insidious about artificial immersive entertainment experiences is that by identifying with the artificial narrative being created, let’s say by pretending to be Batman in the Batmobile riding through Gotham, a person is given the illusion of taking risks and by extension of making, receiving and preserving organic imprints, having rich vibrant life experiences and meaningful life narratives and preparing for death with a powerful personal surrogate immortality.  But when one is separated from external world reality through the double layer of mediation of riding in an AV while immersed in an artificial immersive entertainment experience, the question is whether or not the person is really fulfilling the requirements for what constitutes really living.

            Once we effectively separate ourselves from external world reality, and we live in ongoing sensory distortion, we are constantly trying to balance out our levels of stimulation.  So first, in the name of safety, we make driving a totally frictionless vacuum experience such that now we won’t have to participate in driving the car.  But then we see ourselves becoming numb from such understimulation, so we add another level of stimulation that involves the abrasive kicks of living the life of batman in a Batmobile driving around taking enormous risks saving other people’s lives.  And so we bounce back and forth between understimulation and overstimulation, trying to operate within levels of stimulation that we can manage, levels of stimuli that we would be able to maintain more naturally in a more organic natural living environment.

©2018 Laurence Mesirow

Dealing With Traumas and Other Destructive Life Experiences

            One of the most frequently used terms today in connection with the long-term effects of war on people is post-traumatic stress disorder.  The essence of this concept is that long after a person experiences an explosive disruptive event that does immediate physical and psychological damage, there are lingering psychological effects, some of which don’t become apparent until years after the explosive disruptive event.  The event is so disruptive and so overwhelming, that the person who experiences it is unable to process it effectively, and unable to somehow absorb it and integrate it in his mind.  In modern times, we have created extremely destructive weapons and, at the same time, increasingly amazing methods of keeping people alive from the destruction that they experience.  People survive being maimed and crippled and shocked from these weapons, and their memories of what caused these horrendous destructive experiences survive as well.  The obvious cause of the PTSD is the overstimulating tension-pocket armaments that created these destructive effects.  But I would like to submit there is another more subtle level of causation working here.  And this is the experiential vacuum within which modern warfare frequently occurs.

            It is not like the days when a person could see who was attacking him much of the time.  There are no sword fights or gun duels or opposing armies on a battlefield.  Instead we are talking much more about warfare from mediation and surprise.  Snipers, bombings from airplanes and missiles, land mines, suicide bombings.  There is little opportunity to steel oneself against such attacks.  A person today frequently does not see his enemy up close, and the enemy frequently does not see him up close.  And the suicide bomber does not see many of the people he kills.  Modern weapons are very anonymous and very alienating.  They knock us around experientially our modern vacuum battlefield.  They create experiential tension-pockets that can shock us, overstimulate us, even when there are no actual immediate physical injuries. And this psychological shock is made so much worse as a result of the cold, impersonal, mediated backdrop of modern technological warfare in which they occur.  And it is so easy to pull triggers and press buttons to set projectiles in motion, so totally frictionless.

            These elements of emptiness and surprise make it much more difficult for a war victim to process, absorb and integrate what has happened to him.  The person relives what has happened to him over and over again.  He may be able to suppress it for a while.  But even then, it may begin to affect him in negative ways of which he is not fully conscious.

            Trauma is not a condition exclusively connected to war.  Freud wrote about the emotionally traumatic events that affected people when they were children.  These traumatic events were emotionally repressed and as a result, created many psychological symptoms.  People were not able to process, absorb and integrate these events into their psyches because they were so sharply painful, but the events continued to stimulate them in the form of these symptoms. And the symptoms impaired the people’s quality of life, prevented the people from living fully happy and productive lives.  It was the purpose of psychoanalysis to help a person to explore his unconscious mind through free association and dream analysis in order to bring those traumas to the surface of consciousness.  There they could be properly processed, absorbed and integrated by the person in such a way that they no longer would control his life so much.

            The notion of trauma is certainly an important component in understanding mental illness.  But so is the notion of a vacuum. Many emotional problems result from a person’s lack of connection to emotionally remote parents rather than from tension-pocket abuse.  And furthermore both tension-pocket traumas and a vacuum lack of emotional connection can be reinforced, amplified as a result of the sensory distortion from a modern technological, vacuum and tension-pocket, living environment.  The lack of organic grounding in such an environment means there is not an external world configuration of stimuli that can create a template to help people to heal their antagonisms and their causes of feeling emotionally apart.  In our vacuum living environment, everything gets exaggerated.

            But it is important to realize that psychotherapies developed to heal emotional problems, whether PTSD or traditional neuroses or personality disorders, very likely won’t be totally successful without taking into consideration the effects of highly vacuumized living environments.  A grounded living environment can be so helpful in allowing a person to absorb a disruptive overwhelming event.  Many years ago, I read an anthropological study on the Tahitians, a Polynesian group from the South Pacific.  What impressed me most was an observation by the anthropologist of a boy who had climbed a tree, probably to pick coconuts, and fallen off it and broken his arm.  The boy’s reaction was to calmly pick up his broken arm with his good arm and go back to his village to have the arm taken care of.  No crying, no fuss, no shock for something that might have been a traumatic event for a boy in Western society.  It was indicated that a Tahitian boy would have been far more troubled by a situation where he experience a loss of social approval, a loss of emotional organic grounding.  But at least the Tahitian boy had the organic grounding of a natural environment and a more coherent social community to worry about losing.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems of organic perishability in a tropical paradise.  What about typhoons?  And strong social grounding in traditional societies can bring threats of being enveloped by sorcery and witchcraft.  But natural grounding and social grounding can also help to create the kind of internal emotional grounding that help to prevent disruptive and explosive events from resonating in a person’s mind.

            At exactly that moment in history when technology development is resulting in weapons and other machines with the predisposition to create explosive tension-pocket impacts on the human body and mind, it has also created vacuum living environments that lack the organic grounding to help a person to psychologically process, absorb, and integrate the potentially traumatic effects that result from the processes of these weapons and other machines.  And so the traumatic events bounce back and forth within a person’s mind like floating figures in a physical vacuum.  The contribution of a vacuum physical backdrop that ultimately leads to a vacuum psychological backdrop in the mind has to be taken into consideration as an amplifier of all the diverse emotional problems that are occurring today.  In other words, sensory distortion can have an enormous influence on mental illness.

© 2017 Laurence Mesirow

Trying To Understand What Makes A Mass Murderer

            Although there has been discussion in this column about the state of mind of a would-be mass murderer, it would perhaps be appropriate to delve further into the process by which a person is activated into committing a random massacre.  We start with the proposition that modern technological environments and consumer technology in particular have made all of us somewhat numb and many so profoundly numb that they have to fight off tendencies to become like will-less zombies.  I have talked about a person numbing his own will through conative anesthesia as a defense sometimes used against the sensory distortion that is so prevalent in modern technological society.  Yoga, meditation and certain drugs are used to accomplish this.  But much of the time the numbness a person experiences today is involuntary and is the result of living in an experiential vacuum filled with frictionless and mediated experience, a place where a person can gain little or no traction to engage the world fully and have rich vibrant experiences, make, receive and preserve organic imprints, participate in a meaningful life narrative and prepare for death with a surrogate immortality.  A person who is experiencing this involuntary numbness is in a living death where he is conscious of being alive, but is incapable of properly carrying out the functions and having the experiences that validate his being alive.  It is an immobile, paralyzed, impotent life that is in some ways still appears like ordinary life, but in some ways, is like death.  To the person who experiences it, it is intolerable, and such a person longs for some experience or event that will pull him out of this life situation and help him to really feel again.

            Once in such a profound state of numbness, a person loses his ability to properly absorb a lot of the experiences in life that people have traditionally taken for granted.  Because the person  can’t absorb them properly, they threaten to overwhelm his consciousness, his sense of self.  Along comes such an experience and it impacts him strongly and causes him to feel in a way as if he is dying.  To deal with it, he overreacts in order to mentally attempt to take control of it and push it away from him.  The slightest little experience, the slightest little stimulus can throw him off balance.  One way to gain control of it is to become angry and violent.  Anger and violence allow for the expulsion of a lot of uncontrollable feelings created by the unsuccessful absorption of an external experience or stimulus.  And it is a way for the person to deny the threat to himself and to project the threat to himself onto others.  It is a way for the person to say “It is not me who is dying, but rather it is everyone else who is dying.”  Again we are talking about ordinary life experience that can unpredictably trigger a reaction or set off a tripwire in the person’s mind.  As was discussed in a previous article, the profoundly numb mind is a little like dry tinder that once lit can set off a conflagration.

            After the person has committed a mass murder, he frequently ends up killing himself.  This is separate from the suicide bomber who kills himself while committing his mass murder.  In the first instance, the person has killed many people in order to gain the explosive friction to pull himself out of his numbness and at least temporarily feel fully alive.  But then he discovers that in spite of his intense labors, the effect that he is searching for is only temporary, and he sinks back into his numbness.

            Does this mean that when he is killing himself, he is simply giving up any hope of permanently pulling out of his numbness?  That is a possibility.  But another possibility is that nothing can help a person feel temporarily fully alive in the same way that he is about to voluntarily kill himself can.  It may be the ultimate kick.  The person is literally going out with a bang.

            The Islamic suicide bomber, among other motivations, honestly feels he is leaving the vacuum of a technological world that makes him feel numb and impotent and is going to a paradise where among other things, he will have seventy-two virgins to satisfy him. To him, that would represent an environment of great physical and emotional grounding.

            The common denominators for all these murderers is numbness and how to use extraordinary strategies to try and pull out of it.  In today’s world, we all suffer the effects of numbness as a result of our modern technological living environments.  But these murderers are profoundly numb people who, as a result of their chronic numbness, have very fragile senses of self.  The problem is that it is not so easy to identify all these people by their surface behavior.  After they perform their heinous actions, other people who study the murderers analyze their lives and frequently say that there were obvious signs that something wasn’t quite right with them.  Of course, there are lots of people who come off as being imbalanced and never get involved in any kind of homicidal or even physically aggressive activities.  At least at present, there doesn’t seem to be much hope going down the path of trying to separate out all those people who are potential murderers.  In many situations, they appear to be not too different from you and me.

            Perhaps there is another approach that can be taken to begin to eliminate the predisposition of many people to commit mass murder.  Unfortunately, because we are surrounded by our modern technological living environments, it is difficult to totally escape their influence.  But there are things we can do to minimize their effects in our private daily lives.  We don’t have to fill our homes with all the gadgetry that is part of the Internet of things.  This is the gadgetry based on sensors that interconnect everything and make our whole house seem like one frictionless machine, a machine that requires our intervention with buttons and levers and dials at only a few points in the processes it creates to run our homes.

            But this is a phenomenon that is just beginning to happen in our lives.  What is really much more insidious is the consumer technology that we have that involves our constantly entering the alternate realities of screen reality and increasingly virtual reality.  These harmful consumer technologies, with which we voluntarily choose to engage, create subtle problems for all of us.  But for a small minority, the influence is of such a nature that these people are turned into mass murdering monsters.  It would be good for all of us to ween ourselves from the excessive use of these technologies.  But for these profoundly numb people it would be crucial.  Finding ways for all of us to start living more of our lives in primary experience in external world reality, would be a healthy shift in our daily patterns of being, diminishing the numbness that we feel.  And if it helps pulling some profoundly numb people away from the need for anger and violence to feel alive, then maybe we can start to control this epidemic of mass killings that is engulfing us.

(c) 2017 Laurence Mesirow

Becoming A Part Of What You Watch

            In the world of movie entertainment, producers have found a new vehicle for drawing customers into theaters to see their films.  Virtual reality is being increasingly used to provide a novel kind of movie experience.  Spectators no longer experience the invisible barrier of a screen to separate them from the story or the documentary that they are watching.  And although 3-D movies did allow people to experience some actual depth in what they were observing, the people were still apart from everything that was happening.  With virtual reality films, viewers are immersed in the middle of what is happening almost as if they are actually in the story or the flow of the documentary.  Some movie directors feel that seeing a story or a documentary separated by the experience of a screen flattens out the total movie experience for a viewer and prevents the viewer from living the movie experience the way that the director would want.

            In effect, virtual reality films are a kind of hybrid between screen reality and virtual reality.  Although in some situations there is some interaction, for the most part, the person experiencing these films is still primarily a viewer as would be the case in the world of pure screen reality.  At the same time, there is no firm barrier separating the viewer from what he is experiencing, as is typical of screen reality.  Screen reality and virtual reality somehow blur together in virtual reality films.

            But blurring between different kinds of realities doesn’t stop here.  We as human beings primarily function in a world with mass, matter and substance.  A world of external world reality.  It is a world where we can have rich vibrant experiences and meaningful life narratives that include making, receiving, and preserving organic imprints.  It is a world where we can use our preserved organic imprints as a foundation for a surrogate immortality.

            We have taken for granted the importance of this world.  It is the world that gives us grounding and orientation.  It is the world that gives us direct sensory bonding to our surroundings.  It is the world where we feel direct sensory impact with the figures that surround us.  And we lose all this when we enter the highly vacuumized world of virtual reality where all the figures in it are like animate and inanimate ghosts.

            And the unfortunate thing is that as we become more involved with, more immersed in the film worlds created in virtual reality, they will become models for the way we experience life after we walk out of the movie theater.  It will lead to an even greater blurring together with external world reality than that which occurred with the screen reality of traditional movies, television programs, video games and computer activities.  Screen reality has always been in front of us existing side by side with the external world reality that surrounds the screen.  The external world reality that surrounds the screen acts as an anchor in the external world that prevents us from totally immersing ourselves in screen reality.  That same anchor of a frame does not exist as strongly in a virtual reality film where we are surrounded by what we see.  Granted that because it is a film, it has more of an external world frame than other virtual reality activities like virtual reality visits to places.  On the other hand, films are likely to reach groups of people that other virtual reality activities won’t reach.  People who like films are likely to go to virtual reality films whether or not they are involved with virtual reality in any other way.  So the influence of virtual reality film is likely to reach a lot of people who would not normally get involved with virtual reality.

            In previous articles, there has been a discussion of how complex machine and robot figures can gradually supplant human figures as sources of mirroring and modeling for young people growing up.  And so machines on the one hand and humans on the other begin to blur together in young people’s minds as composite figures to be imitated and emulated. Now environments themselves can mirror and model for young people.  However, because the vacuumized environments of virtual reality lack mass, matter and substance, they are incapable of providing real grounding.  They do provide some orientation of place, but without real grounding, it is a little like a dream.  Without real grounding, there is a sense of floating in space.  This, by the way, is a little different from screen reality.  At least with screen reality, there is a kind of frame of external world reality around it.  One is partly grounded in external world reality, while looking into a vacuumized space.

            So what is going to happen as people increasingly hop back and forth between environments of external world reality and environments of virtual reality?  It will be particularly easy and accessible to enter virtual reality as more and more virtual reality films are made so that directors can be particularly sure that viewers “deeply experience” what is being displayed.  In fact, virtual reality provides the opportunity to experience intense happenings without meaningful consequences, without a strong impact on mass, matter or substance – in other words, with no real threat of damage or danger to life.  And virtual reality films provide a portal to having virtual reality experience for many people who are interested in films and would not necessarily search out a virtual reality experience for its own sake.  Which means that films are going to greatly expand the audience of virtual reality experiences.  So as more and more people hop back and forth between external world reality and virtual reality films, virtual reality is going to increasingly become a model for how people want to live in external world reality.  It is going to mirror external world reality, and find it wanting because the latter has so much friction and is so much less safe as a result of a lack of mediation.  It is going to create a greater and greater impetus to make external world reality more frictionless and mediated like virtual reality, in order to avoid discomfort and pain.  In people’s minds, external world reality and virtual reality will start to blur together.

            However, as people start to experience life increasingly as more frictionless and mediated, because it is being made more vacuumized, people will sink into more profound levels of numbness than ever before.  And as they sink into these deeper levels of numbness, their will to conduct their own lives freely will be weakened.  In past articles, I have talked about this numbing of the will, and I have called it conative anesthesia – conation being a fancy word for processes related to the will.  No wonder so many Americans put their lives in the hands of an authoritarian leader like Donald Trump.  He makes executive decisions with a level of certainty that many Americans are having difficulty developing in themselves.

            The proliferation of virtual reality films will make an exceedingly numbing experience highly accessible to many ordinary people and push them to fight back in some way against the living death that comes with numbness, the psychological state of becoming robots that are susceptible to being operated by other people.  Or, looked at from another perspective, they will feel a need to fight back against becoming like zombies.  And a few of these people, in order to fight back against becoming zombies, will commit mass acts of terror in order to generate the abrasive friction inside themselves that allow them to temporarily feel fully alive and fully connected with the external world.  Many, of course, will become zombified.  Witness all the people who submit their weak wills to the will of Trump.  Imagine how zombified they will become as they sink into increasingly deeper levels of numbness from the increasingly deeper levels of numbing experience as represented by virtual reality films.

            So virtual reality films may not be the totally positive experiences its promoters proclaim it to be.  As numbing as screen reality technology has proven to be, virtual reality technology has the potential to be even more numbing.  And, in the long run, even more dangerous to our existence as organic human beings with defined coherent senses of self.

© 2017 Laurence Mesirow