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TV and the Internet: Dullness and Restless

Attention is one of the foundations of awareness. Without it, we have no protection against information which is poured into us. Without attention we cannot transform information into wisdom. Then without choice we ingest whatever is put in front of us.

Without attention we risk becoming servomechanisms of technology, clicking compulsively with no clear direction. An open mind without goals is very different from the lack of direction of a mind frenzied with the longing to be filled. Lacking attention we have no control over our intentions nor critical perspective for interpreting information.

Attention is an ingredient of mindfulness – the awareness of our inner state which includes our body, feelings, and sensations. Meditation techniques begin with focused attention and concentration.

With attention, awareness, mindfulness, “presence” and a quiet mind, we are nourished by our interiority instead of force fed by external stimuli. As attention is connected to our identity, weak attention produces a weak identity.

B. Alan Wallace, on page 6 of The Attention Revolution (Wisdom Publications, Boston, 2006) writes that “One progresses through each stage by rooting out progressively more subtle forms of the two obstacles: mental agitation and dullness.”

The strenghtening of the inner attention and concentration is a requisite for the progress toward an expanded awareness, which, in turn, “being lucid harmony (sattva) in action, dissolves dullness and quietens the restlessness of the mind and gently, but steadily changes its very substance. This change need not be spectacular; it may be hardly noticeable; yet it is a deep and fundamental shift from darkness to light, from inadvertence to awareness” (Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That, Acorn Press, Durham, 1982, p. 271).

TV definitely tends toward dulling the mind, as documented by Jerry Mander and many others. TV keeps the viewer glued to the screen both by giving a linear narrative and by quick edits and visual stimulation that leverage our ancient instinct. We can’t help but attend to any changes in our visual space, which in ancient times gave better chances of survival against predators. This mechanism of mental stimulation is even more present on the Internet than on TV because of its multitasking possibilities.

Also, the Internet, being composed mostly of small pieces of information competing for our attention, has a less linear narrative. Furthermore, the Internet, smartphones, and videogames don’t have a temporal structure; thus, there is no clear “beginning” or “end,” as in traditional media such as TV, where programs start and stop on a schedule. Thus, there’s no inherent end to online interaction. Online, we expect answers immediately, and with that expectation reinforced, our endlessly curious mind is pulled further into the current.

The positive side of dullness is relaxation and the positive side of mental agitation is a curious, active mind. A relaxed though active mind is a marker of a receptive, creative, and balanced mind. TV and the Internet seduce us by simulating those states.

For some time, I thought that TV promoted mostly dullness while the Internet causes mental restlessness, but those states are complementary and support each other. The two media are coming closer to each other. TV is presenting more “multitasking” capabilities by running text on the screen and by using quick cuts and edits, while the Internet is becoming more passive due to the presence of videos and an endless “real-time” stream of information (news sites, blog entries, Twitter, Facebook, Google+) that we browse mostly in a passive way. A great majority of people are lurkers and don’t contribute to the user-generated content, and even the active ones spend more time in a passive state rather than commenting or writing their own entries.

Also, TV programs have now less temporal structure. Shows and news morph into each other in a continuous stream, where there’s no more “end.” Jerry Mander, considering an increase in hyperactivity among children due to TV, writes in In the Absence of the Sacred (Sierra Club, San Francisco, 1991) that “television viewing, if it can be compared to a drug experience, seems to have many of the characteristics of Valium and other tranquilizers. But that is only half of the story. Actually, if television is a drug, it is not really Valium; it is speed” (p. 66).

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The Digitally Divided Self: Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

The Digitally Divided SelfThe Digitally Divided Self: Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet is on Amazon.

ISBN 9788897233008
274 Pages – Format: 6″ x 9″ – $17.90 (discounted on Amazon)

It is nearly half a century since Marshall McLuhan pointed out that the medium is the message. In the interim, digital technologies have found an irresistible hook on our minds. With the soul’s quest for the infinite usurped by the ego’s desire for unlimited power, the Internet and social media have stepped in to fill our deepest needs for communication, knowledge and creativity – even intimacy and sexuality. Without being grounded in those human qualities which are established through experience and inner exploration, we are vulnerable to being seduced into outsourcing our minds and our fragile identities.

Intersecting media studies, psychology and spirituality, The Digitally Divided Self exposes the nature of the malleable mind and explores the religious and philosophical influences which leave it obsessed with the incessant flow of information.

I am deeply touched and extremely grateful to the people who took the time to read, support and endorse The Digitally Divided Self. Being my first English book, and basically self-published, I didn’t expect to receive many reviews, much less from such leading thinkers and writers – nor such positive responses.

It was also a surprise to find common interests around eastern spirituality with so many people into technology and media. This makes me hopeful for an evolution of the information society – from chasing external stimulation to inner explorations and silence.

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

Order on Amazon.

Praise for Digitally Divided Self

 “Quartiroli’s The Digitally Divided Self is a must read for anyone seeking to understand the ever-increasing hegemony of the digital world in the individual psyche. Drawing on diverse fields and traditions, the author analyzes numerous mechanisms by which IT separates us from ourselves. Readers stand to benefit from such an understanding that is a prerequisite for mounting a defense of one’s individuality.” —Len Bracken, author of several novels and the biography Guy Debord—Revolutionary

 ­“With great insight, Ivo Quartiroli captures the subtle as well as the gross impact that media use has on our individual and collective psyches. The challenge before all of us is how to adapt to the new technology in a healthy way that allows us to retain our essential humanity. He offers us a solution born of his experience and confirmed by neuroscience. This is a must read.” —Hilarie Cash, PhD, co-founder of reSTART: Internet Addiction Recovery Program

 “It is difficult to offer a spiritually based critique of today’s network culture without sounding like a nostalgic Luddite crank. Immersed in the tech, but also in various meditative traditions, Ivo Quartiroli is the perfect person to offer integral wisdom-tech with clarity and bite.” —Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis and Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica.

  “Aware of the profound and rapid psychological and social metamorphosis we are going through as we ‘go digital’ without paying attention, Ivo Quartiroli is telling us very precisely what we are gaining and what we are losing of the qualities and privileges that, glued as we are to one screen or another, we take for granted in our emotional, cognitive and spiritual life. This book is a wake-up call. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates should read it.” —Derrick de Kerckhove, Professor, Facoltà di sociologia, Università Federico II, Naples, former Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology.

 “The Digitally Divided Self alerts us about the insidious dangers of our growing dependence on Information Technology. Ivo Quartiroli warns us that Internet can easily develop into an addiction that undercuts our connections with nature, with other people, and with our deeper inner reality. The spiritual nourishment coming from genuine relationships is then replaced by the empty calories of fake relationships, with the resulting deterioration of our personal and social lives. Using an incisive style, Ivo Quartiroli can be provocative, iconoclastic, at times exaggerated, but never boring. Behind each observation there are pearls of wisdom that are guaranteed to make you think.” Federico Faggin, designer of the microprocessor.

 “Global culture is not only the latest step in the human evolutionary journey. It is also, as Ivo Quartiroli shows in The Digitally Divided Self, a critical opportunity to apply non-Western techniques of awareness to ensure healthy survival in the 21st century.” —Michael Heim, author of The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality, Virtual Realism, and Electric Language.

 “Question the merits of technology in the past and you’d be called a Luddite. But now technologists are leading the way toward a new, more balanced view of our gadget-driven lives. Drawing from his fascinating expertise in computer science and spirituality, Ivo Quartiroli presents a compelling critique of the corrosive impact of the Net on our humanity. It’s a warning we must heed.” —Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.

“A profoundly premonitory vision of the future of the 21st century, The Digitally Divided Self unlocks the great codes of technological society, namely that the very same digital forces that effectively control the shape and direction of the human destiny are also the founding powers of a new revolution of the human spirit.” —Arthur Kroker, author of The Will to Technology and Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory.

 “People today, especially young people, live more on the Internet than in the real world. This has subtle and not-so-subtle effects on their thinking and personality. It is high time to review these effects, to see whether they are a smooth highway to a bright interconnected future, or possibly a deviation that could endanger health and wellbeing for the individual as well as for society. Ivo Quartiroli undertakes to produce this review and does so with deep understanding and dedicated humanism. His book should be read by everyone, whether he or she is addicted to the Internet or has second thoughts about it.” —Ervin Laszlo, President, the Club of Budapest, and Chancellor, the Giordano Bruno Globalshift University.

 “The Mind-Body Split is a pervasive condition/affliction in the developed world, wholly un-recognized; yet fundamental to the great worldwide problems of health, environment, and economic inequity. Ivo Quartiroli’s Digitally Divided Self masterfully examines the effects of the insulated digital experience on the mind and the body self: exacerbating illusions and the Mind-Body Split; and contrasts it to the processes of self-discovery, growth, and healing: true inter-connectedness with nature, each other, and our selves. If the digital age is to solve our real problems, rather than create them, it will be with the knowledge contained in The Digitally Divided Self. Well done!” —Frederic Lowen, son of Alexander Lowen, Executive Director, The Alexander Lowen Foundation

 “Ivo Quartiroli here addresses one of the most pressing questions forced upon us by our latest technologies. In disturbing the deepest relations between the user’s faculties and the surrounding world, our electric media, all of them without exception, create profound disorientation and subsequent discord, personal and cultural. Few subjects today demand greater scrutiny.” — Dr. Eric McLuhan, Author and Lecturer

 “The internet is an extension of our central nervous system. When you operate a computer, you are extending yourself, through its interface, potentially all over the world, instantaneously. Extending yourself in such a disembodied, discarnate fashion only further entrenches your separateness, your ego self. In contrast, the introspective freeing from the physical through meditation also has the effect of creating a discarnate, disembodied state. That state is one that is progressively less identified with the ego self. This is the dichotomy that Ivo Quartiroli explores in The Digitally Divided Self. This book is well worth investigating.” —Michael McLuhan

 “We should all be asking the questions Ivo Quartiroli asks in this bold and provocative book. Whatever you think right now about technology, The Digitally Divided Self will challenge you to think again.” —William Powers, author of the New York Times bestseller Hamlet’s BlackBerry

 “It isn’t easy to find an informed and critical look at the impact of digital media practices on human lives and minds. Ivo Quartiroli offers an informed critique based in both an understanding of technology and of human consciousness.” —Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs.

 “Ivo Quartiroli is mining the rich liminal territory between humans and their networks. With the integrity of a scientist and the passion of artist, he forces us to reconsider where we end and technology begins. Or when.” —Douglas Rushkoff, Media Theorist and author of Cyberia, Media Virus, Life, Inc. and Program or Be Programmed.

 “You might find what he writes to be challenging, irritating, even blasphemous and sacrilegious. If so, he has proven his point. The Internet, Ivo suggests, might just be the new opium of the masses. Agree with him or not, no other book to date brings together the multitude of issues related to how the seductions of technology impinge upon and affect the development of the self and soul.” —Michael Wesch, Associate Professor of Digital Ethnography, Kansas State University

 The Digitally Divided Self is a refreshing look at technology that goes beyond the standard, well-worn critiques. Ivo Quartiroli charts new territory with a series of profound reflections on the intersections of computer science, psychology and spirituality.” —Micah White, Senior Editor at Adbusters magazine.

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

Order on Amazon.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: From Awareness of technology to technologies of Awareness .. 1
Chapter 2:“It’s only a tool” .. 17
Chapter 3: The Roots of It .. 39
Chapter 4: The Digitization of Reality .. 53
Chapter 5: Intimacy and Sexuality.. 73
Chapter 6: Commoditizing and Monetizing.. 89
Chapter 7: Politics, Participation and Control .. 97
Chapter 8: Come together: the Rise of Social networks.. 115
Chapter 9: Digital Kids ..125
Chapter 10: Literacy and the Analytical Mind.. 133
Chapter 11: Lost in the Current .. 143
Chapter 12: The Digitally Divided Self.. 165
Chapter 13: The Process of Knowledge .. 189
Chapter 14: Upgrading to Heaven .. 205
Chapter 15: Biting the Snake.. 223
Appendix: The People of Contemporary It and what Drives them.. 233

Introduction

Like many people nowadays, much of my personal and professional life is related to technology: I use the Internet for keeping the connection with my work projects and friends wherever I am in the world. I published the first book in Italy about the Internet. I run a blog and a Web magazine, do my investments online, shop on the Net, do interviews by email and Skype, and have even indulged in cybersex. Right now I’m in Asia developing this book – which is full of references to Web articles, blogs and material found only on the Internet – with online support: an editor and writing coach in California, copy editor in India, book designer in Italy, and a printing and distribution service with multiple locations in USA. My life is immersed in the digital loop.

I have been involved in IT since I was a student. As I learned meditation and explored spiritual paths, I developed an inner observer and discovered states beyond the mind. Thus, I found myself going back and forth between processing consciousness and information. Slowly my focus has shifted from what we can do with technology to what technology does to us. As a first-hand explorer, I’ve observed the subtle changes of our massive use of the Net.

Just as a spiritual researcher can go beyond the mind only after having observed and mastered it, it is necessary to enter the digital world to step beyond it. We can’t become aware of its effects without being engaged in it. Since digital technology is unavoidable now, we need to master it without becoming lost in it, using its tools with our full awareness.

In this time, the intensification of mental inputs is a phenomenon that must be kept in balance. Our contemporary culture does not acknowledge anything beyond the mind, but in other traditions the mental world is just one of the aspects of our wholeness. In the West a sort of Cartesian “pure thinking” has been given priority. Although the mind is the best-known organ of thought, it is not the only cognitive modality. Nervous systems have been discovered both in the heart and in the belly, and the global awareness that can be accessed by spiritual practitioners is pervasive and non-localized. Yet these modalities cannot be represented digitally, so they are relegated to the sidelines.

Our technological society militates against uninterrupted conscious attention. Several authors have documented the effects of IT on attention, literacy and intellectual skills. It also intrudes on the silent time needed to be aware of inner transformations. We don’t realize we have become servomechanisms of IT – precisely because IT has weakened the inner skills of self-understanding. Shrinking of the rich range of human qualities to privilege only those which can be represented and operated digitally arises from the nature of the ego-mind and our particular Western history which has engendered – then valued – mental representations of reality. My focus here is to understand why the mind can be lured by the magic of the tools, while forgetting the person who is using them.

We believe we are empowered individually and politically as we post articles on our blogs and participate in social networks. In actuality, we feed the machine with our “user-generated content” which becomes candy for advertisers who then design ads based on what we say on Twitter, Facebook, and even our emails.

Jumping from information to self-understanding is necessary if we are to regain real freedom, a freedom from conditioning of our mind and the manipulation by information – whether self-created or from external sources. We mistake the transmission of gigabytes of data for freedom.

In our advanced technological society there is a reticence to acknowledge the inner, spiritual or metaphysical dimensions of life. What cannot be calculated – which is, thereby, “not objective” – is considered unworthy of investigation. Even more strongly denied is the relationship between technology and the impact on our psyche. Technophiles declare that it’s only a tool, as if our psyche could remain untouched by continuous interaction with digital media, and as if we could control its impact on us. We can indeed be in control of digital media – but only after we become fluent in those cognitive modalities which can’t be reached by such media.

To be unaffected by digital media, we need a Buddha-like awareness with sustained attention, mindfulness and introspection. Yet these very qualities which are needed to break out of the automated mind are especially difficult to access when we are drowning in information – information that is predominantly ephemeral and transient, and which lacks a broader narrative. Awareness is what gives meaning and depth to information, but for awareness to expand we need to empty our mind. A story will illustrate this. A university professor approached a master to learn about Zen. Tea was served, but when the cup was full, the master did not stop pouring. The cup, like the professor’s mind with its concepts and positions, was full. It must first be emptied to understand Zen. So, too, for the digital world.

The world over, people using the Internet click on the same icons, use the same shortcuts in email and chats, connect with people through the same Facebook modalities. This is the globalization of minds. In the process of the digitization of reality, regardless of content, we use predominantly the same limited mental channels and interact with the same tools. We bring the same attitudes, gestures and procedures to working, dating, shopping, communicating with friends, sexual arousal, and scientific research. And most of these activities are impoverished by this phenomenon. Everything is seen as an information system, from the digitization of territory (like Google Earth and augmented realities software) to our biology.

Judeo-Christian culture places nature and the world of matter at man’s disposal. Acting on them is a way to garner good deeds and regain the lost perfection of Eden. In this culture that has considered miracles as proof of the existence of God, we have developed technologies that resemble the miraculous and the divine. We are compelled to welcome the advent of new technological tools with the rhetoric of peace, progress, prosperity and mutual understanding.

The telegraph, telephone, radio, TV and other media have been regarded as tools for democracy, world peace, understanding and freedom of expression. The Internet is just the latest in a succession of promising messiahs. Yet we don’t have more democracy in the world. In fact, big media and big powers are even stronger, while freedom of expression has ceded to control by corporations and governmental agencies. The Internet, like TV, will be entertaining, dumbing people in their own separate homes where they will be unable to question the system. The Internet might already be the new soma for a society experiencing economic and environmental degradation. But with the huge economic interests connected to it, criticizing its effect is akin to cursing God.

Many technological developments appeal to people because they answer psychological and even spiritual needs – like the quests for understanding and connection with others. Already digital technology has taken charge of truth and love – the drives which are distinctly human. Those primordial needs have been addressed, on the mental level, with information. Reflected only at that level, our soul is left empty with craving for the real qualities, and our mind is left restless, craving more information and chasing after satisfaction in vain.

The need to extend our possibilities through technology derives from the need to recover parts of ourself that were lost during the development of our soul – the states of sharp perception, fulfillment, and peace. Information technology (IT) also satisfies our ancient drives for power and control, even giving us several options with a simple click or touch of a finger.

The endless multiplication of information can keep the ego-mind busy – and thus at the center of the show. IT is the most powerful mental “pusher” ever created, feeding the duality of the ego-mind (which is symbolically mirrored by binary technology). More than TV whose attractions are framed between the beginning and ending time of a show, the Internet, video games, and smartphones have no structural pauses or endings. Hooked on a “real-time” stream of information, they take us farther away from both the real and the appropriate time frames.

The computer charms us by reflecting our mind on the Net. Like Narcissus, we mistake the reflected image and enter a closed loop, charmed by our reflection. The Internet, since the beginning, has been considered a technology which could crumble central governments and organizations. Perhaps that forecast was an external projection of what can happen inside us: disturbance of the integration of our psyches.

Meditation helps us recognize that we construct reality and that the mind leads us astray. Meditation is a path back to reality, to truth, to knowing and mastering our minds – instead of mastering the computer as a way to outsource our mind’s skills. It is a way to expand our awareness and join the other global “Net” – of awareness that permeates everything.

Though I am Italian, I am publishing this book for the English market because it is a post-digital book which can be better appreciated in countries where digital culture has spread throughout society. In Italy, one politically powerful tycoon owns most of the media, and uses it to demonize the Net. In that setting, being critical of the Net invokes the accusation of aligning with power to castrate freedom of expression, which is the polar opposite of my intention.

I welcome every medium which expands our chances of expressing ourselves, but I am aware that true self-expression can happen only when there’s a true self, which can hardly be shaped by screen media.

I am grateful to my spiritual teachers who opened new dimensions for my soul in my journey toward awareness, especially the intensity of Osho and the brilliant clarity of A. H. Almaas. I thank my copy editor Dhiren Bahl (www.WordsWay-Copyediting.com) for his painstaking corrections of my English text and my editor David Carr (www.MovingWords.us) for his clarifications and stylistic improvements. I’m grateful to my friends, too many to list here, for the numerous talks bringing together heart and mind in sharing our passion for truth.

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

Order on Amazon.

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Not Knowing

Edge asked The Edge Annual Question 2010 to 170 scientists, philosophers, artists and authors. This year question was “How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think“? Interesting question with several intesting answers as well as some which looked like “Oh no, my literary agent wants me to answer another question, let’s just write something down”.

Among the ones who grabbed my attention was Anthony Aguirre’s (Associate Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Cruz) answer “The Enemy of Insight?” which reverberates with my reflections on knowledge and the inner mechanisms which insights are based on.

A passages from Anthony Aguirre’s answer:

I, like most of my colleagues, spend a lot of time connected to the Internet. It is a central tool in my research life. Yet when I think of what I do that is most valuable — to me at least — it is the occasional generation of genuine creative insights into the world. And looking at some of those insights, I realized that essentially none of them have happened in connection with the Internet…
I’ve come think that it is important to cultivate a ‘don’t know’ mind: one that perceives a real and interesting enigma, and is willing to dwell in that perplexity and confusion. A sense of playful delight in that confusion, and a willingness to make mistakes — many mistakes — while floundering about, is a key part of what makes insight possible for me. And the Internet? The Internet does not like this sort of mind. The Internet wants us to know, and it wants us to know RIGHT NOW: its essential structure is to produce knowing on demand. I don’t just worry that the Internet goads us to trade understanding for information (it surely does), but that it makes us too accustomed to to instant informational gratification. Its bright light deprives us of spending any time in the fertile mystery of the dark.

The attitude of not-knowing is been shared by good science and by spiritual researchers as well, two worlds who usually tend te be considered far apart. Descartes itself is his Discourse on the Method started his philosophical investigation with a not-knowing attitude which made him find his first principle of the philosophy “I think, therefore I am”.

Let’s see what the spiritual teachers say about not-knowing. Sri Aurobindo said, regarding the enlightened mind: “One is in an unutterable state of truth without understanding anything about it – simply, it is.” (Satprem. Sri Aurobindo, or the Adventure of Consciousness. Harper & Row. New York. 1974.)

Nisargadatta Maharaj:

When consciousness mixes with itself, that is samadhi. When one doesn’t know anything – and doesn’t even know that he doesn’t know anything – that is samadhi. (Nisargadatta Maharaj. Prior to Consciousness. Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Acorn Press. Durham. 1985. p. 6)

Then Osho:

This is the the ultimate paradox of mysticism: with not-knowing you can reach knowing and through knowing yiu lose it. Not-knowing is superior to any knowledge. Universities make you learned but when you enter the Buddhafield of a spiritual Master you enter in an anti-university. In the university you harvest more and more knowledge, information and you accumulate. In the anti-university of a Master you unlearn more and more… until the moment you don’t know anything anymore. (Osho. Theologia Mystica. Rebel Publishing House. 1983)

And Almaas:

Why am I here? Where am I going? We need to see how honest we can be with ourselves when trying to answer these questions. These two questions are related; that is, most people think they are here because there is a goal, they want to go somewhere. Where do you want to go? You probably think you know; do you? Do you think I know where you should go? If you think I know, can I tell you? And if I tell you, will you follow? Can you follow? These are questions that you cannot answer with your mind. These are questions that should remain questions. Do not try to simply answer them mentally. These questions are like a flame. If you answer them with your mind, you will put out the flame, because the mind doesn’t, the mind can’t know the answers to these questions. When you answer them with your mind and you think you know, the question is gone. When you believe you have answered such questions, the flame is gone and there is no more enquiry. (A.H. Almaas. Being and the Meaning of Life (Diamond Heart Book Three). Diamond Books. Berkeley. 1990. p. 1)

Even neurophysiologically a stage of not-knowing is needed for getting the “Eureka effect”. Being in the unknown is uncomfortable for the mind, our ego identifies mostly with what we know. Knowing reassures us too.

So whenever we have an itch to know anything we can search for it on google and quench our thirsts. However, this way, as Almaas say, “the flame is gone” and good meals sometimes require a slow long cooking, better if on flames rather than electricity.

But Google works hard for avoiding any darkness and delays in his answers, wanting to “help” computers understand language.

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The monkey and the Buddha

image courtesy of http://www.toothlessmonkey.com [en]

Apart from human beings, only a few animals have the physical characteristics and mental capacities for using a tool. Monkeys are among them. But in what way do the primates learn to use a tool?

Research by Giacomo Rizzolatti of the University of Parma tells us that the brain uses the trick of considering the tool as a part of the body. Some previous researchers demonstrated that the hand movements are controlled by the area of the brain called F5.

He registered the cerebral activity of two macaques after they had learned to grasp food with pliers. He documented the activity in the F5 area and in the area called F1, which in turn was employed in the manipulation of objects. He discovered that there was the same cerebral activity both when the monkeys grasped the food with only the help of their own hand and with the pliers: the neuronal activity is transferred from the hands to the tool, as if the tool were the hand and its extremity were the fingers.

Furthermore, Rizzolatti puts in evidence the fact that the F5 area is rich with mirror neurons, a type of neurons that he had previously discovered, which are excited both when an act is being performed and when another individual is observed while performing the same act. The discoveries, according to Dietrich Stout, an archeologist specializing in the use of tools, tell us that “obviously, the use of instruments by the monkeys implies an incorporation of the instruments in the body scheme, literally it is an extension of a body”.

The monkey cannot distinguish between his own hands and the tool that he uses, considering the latter a real extension of his body. It reminds me of what Marshall McLuhan said regarding the media and tools as extensions of ourselves.

In this experiment, however, they make a decision without consulting the person in-charge. The factor of consciousness is missing, which is still elusive to neuroscience. The presence or otherwise of consciousness and what it is about cannot be identified by experiments. This experiment made me reflect on the relationship between consciousness, tools, and the spiritual paths toward awareness.

Therefore, tools are really like body extensions on a neural level, but the consciousness of a human being allows the understanding that the tool is external. The monkey does not know the duality which is produced by the self-consciousness, thus it seems like getting closer to a spiritual condition of a “union with everything.” However, the union takes place on a pre-conscious level.

The consciousness of ourselves is at the same time joy and distress since they entrap us in the mind, separating us from the rest of existence, and it splits as well on the inner level down to our inside, but it also allows us to reach spiritual peaks unknown to our hungry macaque. Self-consciousness and consequently the development of an ego which separates us from everything are the intermediate phases between the monkey and the spiritually enlightened state.

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A parte l’uomo, solo pochissimi animali hanno le caratteristiche fisiche e le capacità mentali per utilizzare uno strumento. Tra questi, le scimmie. Ma come fanno i primati ad apprendere l’uso di uno strumento?

Uno studio di Giacomo Rizzolatti dell’università di Parma ci dice che il cervello usa il trucco di considerare lo strumento come fosse parte del proprio corpo. Alcune ricerche precedenti avevano mostrato che le azioni della mano vengono controllare da un’area del cervello chiamata F5.

Egli ed il suo team hanno registrato l’attività cerebrale di due macachi dopo che avevano appreso ad afferrare il cibo con delle pinze. Hanno documentato l’attività nell’area F5 e in un’area chiamata F1 che a sua volta è implicata nella manipolazione di oggetti. Hanno scoperto che vi era la stessa attività cerebrale sia quando le scimmie afferravano il cibo con l’ausilio delle sole mani che quando usavano le pinze: l’attività neuronale viene trasferita dalle mani allo strumento, come se lo strumento fosse la mano e la sua estremità fossero le dita.

Inoltre Rizzolatti mette in evidenza il fatto che l’area F5 è ricca di neuroni specchio, un tipo di neurone da lui scoperto in precedenza, che si eccitano sia quando si svolge un’azione sia quando si osserva un altro individuo che attua la stessa cosa. Le scoperte, secondo Dietrich Stout, un archeologo specializzato nell’uso di strumenti ci dicono che “chiaramente, l’uso degli strumenti da parte delle scimmie implica l’incorporazione degli strumenti nello schema corporeo, letteralmente una estensione del corpo”.

La scimmia non sa distinguere tra le proprie mani e lo strumento che utilizza, considerando quest’ultimo come una vera e propria estensione del corpo. Questo mi ricorda ciò che disse Marshall McLuhan a riguardo dei media e degli strumenti come estensioni di noi stessi.

In questo esperimento tuttavia si fanno i conti senza l’oste. Manca il fattore coscienza, che tutt’ora sfugge alle neuroscienze. La presenza o meno della coscienza e di cosa si tratta non può essere rilevata dagli esperimenti. Questo esperimento mi ha fatto riflettere sul rapporto tra coscienza, strumenti e percorsi di ricerca spirituali verso la consapevolezza.

A un livello neurale primitivo quindi gli strumenti sono veramente estensioni del corpo, ma la consapevolezza di un essere umano permette di comprendere che lo strumento è esterno a noi. La scimmia non conosce la dualità che viene prodotta dalla coscienza di sé, quindi sembrerebbe avvicinarsi ad una condizione spirituale di “unione con il tutto” . L’unione però avviene ad un livello pre-cosciente.

La coscienza di se stessi è allo stesso tempo gioia e dolore poiché ci intrappola nella mente, separandoci dal resto dell’esistenza, e ci scinde anche al nostro interno, ma, anche, ci consente di raggiungere vette spirituali ignote al nostro famelico macaco. La coscienza di sé e di conseguenza lo sviluppo di un ego che ci separa dal tutto sono fasi intermedie tra la scimmia e lo stato di illuminazione spirituale.

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Internet and the weakening of central (inner) organizations

the eye[en]

In the Hindu and tantric Buddhist esoteric traditions, human beings are seen as composed of centers of energy called chakras. Of those, the sixth chakra, called Ajna chakra, is located between the eyes and is often associated with the pineal gland and the “third eye.”

The sixth chakra resonates with an intuitive kind of intelligence, with clear thinking and clear vision. The sixth chakra way of knowing allows one to see the forming of clear patterns in a huge amount of information. This chakra synthesizes many different aspects of intelligence and gives the skill to pick out information about anything by non-logical means.

The sixth chakra world points to a fascinating place where pure knowledge is omnipresent. Descartes would probably have loved to imagine such a place. Anybody heavily involved with information technology as well would enjoy the sixth chakra capacity to see patterns in the information overload and to live in a clear, brilliant place where intuition rules.

The sixth chakra is even more than intelligence as we know it. It is pure knowing, where even thinking is not needed any more. It is also a place where single individualities melt, where there’s nobody who knows and just knowing remains, a place where there’s no separation between inner and outer, between me and you… no more duality. There is a transpersonal flavour about the sixth body.

The sixth chakra is supposed to take charge of the person when the ego, through a spiritual path, doesn’t have the primary role any more. The sixth chakra starts to coordinate the body and the mind from a higher awareness than the ego and one of its names is “the command chakra.” The ego keeps the personality together through a thick net of thoughts, feelings and conditionings that are mostly acquired, while the Ajna chakra gives direct vision, knowledge and action, non-mediated by any past conditionings.

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Nelle tradizioni esoteriche Indù e nel Buddismo tantrico, gli essere umani sono composti da centri energetici chiamati chakra. Di questi, il sesto chakra, chiamato  Ajna chakra, è localizzato in mezzo agli occhi ed è spesso associato con la ghiandola pineale e il “terzo occhio”.

Il sesto chakra risuona con un tipo di intelligenza intutitivo, con un pensiero e una visione nitida. La modalità di conoscere del sesto chakra consente ad una persona di vedere con chiarezza delle strutture, dei pattern, all’interno di un’enorme quantità di informazioni. Questo chakra sintetizza molti diversi aspetti dell’intelligenza e conferisce la capacità di estrapolare informazioni su qualsiasi tema tramite procedimenti non-logici.

Il mondo del sesto chakra mostra un luogo affascinante dove la conoscenza pura è onnipresente. Probabilmente Cartesio avrebbe amato immaginare un tale luogo. Anche chiunque è fortemente coinvolto nell’elaborazione dell’informazione si feliciterebbe della capacità del sesto chakra di vedere delle hiare strutture nel sovraccarico informativo e di risiedere in un luogo trasparente e brillante dove l’intuizione la fa da padrona.

Il sesto chakra va oltre alla definizione di intelligenza per come la conosciamo. E’ conoscenza allo stato puro, dove anche il pensiero stesso non è più necessario. E’ anche un luogo dove le singole individualità si fondono, dove non vi è più nessuno che conosce e dove rimane solo la conoscenza, un luogo ove non vi è separazione tra interiore ed esteriore, tra me e te, nessuna dualità. Il sesto corpo ha un sapore transpersonale.

Si ritiene che il sesto chakra si prenda cura della persona quando l’ego, tramite un percorso spirituale, non ha più un ruolo primario. Il sesto chakra inizia a coordinare il corpo e la mente da una conspevolezza più elevata dell’ego, tanto che uno dei suoi nomi è “il chakra del comando”. L’ego mantiene la personalità unita attraverso una fitta rete di pensieri, emozioni e condizionamenti, perlopiù acquisiti, mente l’Ajna chakra produce una visione, una conoscenza e un’azione diretta, non mediata da alcun condizionamento del passato.

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Bioenergetic bytes

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Ronald David Laing was a controversial psychiatrist, often associated with the anti-psychiatrist movement. He combined existential philosophy with psychiatry, giving new perspectives on the nature of mental illness.

In his most-known book, The Divided Self, he describes the schizoid person in these terms.

The schizoid individual exists under the black sun, the evil eye, of his own scrutiny…The “self-conscious” person is caught in a dilemma. He may need to be seen and recognized, in order to maintain his sense of realness and identity. Yet, at the same time, the other represents a threat to his identity and reality…He is, therefore, driven compulsively to seek company, but never allows himself to “be himself” in the presence of anyone else…The self is related primarily to objects of his own fantasies. Being much a self-in-fantasy, it becomes eventually volatilized. In its dread of facing the commitment to the objective element, it sought to preserve its identity; but, no longer anchored to fact, to the conditioned and definitive, it comes to be in danger of losing what it was seeking above all to safeguard. Losing the conditioned, it loses its identity; losing reality, it loses its possibility of exercising freedom of choice in the world (Ronald David Laing, The Divided Self, London: Tavistock Publications, 1959).

Laing thought as well that our inner lives and feelings come mainly from our sense of connection with others and from the knowledge that others have about us. Without this, we suffer from an existential insecurity.

In Laing’s words, I can recognize the attitude of another kind of schizoid: the heavy Internet user, who needs to be connected and seen, through social networks and messaging systems, but up to a certain point, at a safe distance. His profile itself and the people he is connected to are mostly objects of his projections. He will introduce himself in order to be seen by others in a likable and acceptable way.

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Ronald David Laing era uno psichiatra controverso. Spesso è stato associata al movimento dell’antipsichiatria e combinava la filosofia esistenziale con la psichiatria, dando nuove prospettive alla natura della malattia mentale.

Nel suo libro più conosciuto, L’io diviso, descrive la persona schizoide in questi termini:

Lo schizoide vive continuamente sotto un sole nero: l’occhio malevole e scrutatore di se stesso. [...] La persona “cosciente” di sé si trova in un dilemma. Ha bisogno di essere vista e riconosciuta, per poter conservare il senso della sua identità e della sua realtà; e al tempo stesso gli altri rappresentano un pericolo, proprio per tale realtà e identità. [...] Perciò è costretto a cercare compagnia, ma non si lascia mai andare ad essere se stesso in presenza di altri. [...] Le relazioni primarie di un io come questo riguardano gli oggetti delle sue stesse fantasie: questa è la ragione per cui alla fine esso si volatizza. Nel suo timore di affrontare con impegno l’elemento oggettivo esso lotta disperatamente per conservare la sua identità, ma non essendo più ancorato ai fatti, alla realtà contingente e definita, corre il rischio di perdere proprio ciò che soprattutto cercava di salvaguardare. Perdendo la dimensione contingente della realtà perde l’identità, e perdendo la realtà perde la possibilità di esercitare un’effettiva libertà di scelta nel mondo. (Ronald David Laing. L’io diviso. Einaudi. Torino. 1969.)

Inoltre Laing riteneva che la nostra vita interiore e le nostre emozioni derivano in grande misura dal senso di connessione che abbiamo con gli altri e dalla conoscenza che gli altri hanno di noi stessi. Senza di queste soffriamo di un’insicurezza esistenziale.

Nelle parole di Laing posso riconoscere l’attitudine di un altro tipo di schizoide: il forte utilizzatore di Internet, che necessita di essere connesso e visto, tramite i social networks ed i sistemi di messaggistica, ma connesso fino ad un certo punto, ad una distanza di sicurezza. I profili che tale utente compila nei siti e le persone con cui si connette sono più che altro produzione delle sue proiezioni. Egli si presenterà in modo tale da essere visto agli occhi altrui nel modo in cui ritiene di essere accettato e allettante.

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I click, therefore I am: Toward outsourcing our identity

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We are scattered over the Net, a piece in a social networking site, another piece in a different site, in a dating site, we write in our blog and we comment on others’ blogs, meet on chats and join forums on the most diverse subjects. Furthermore, we keep several contacts by email.

Our identities are becoming ever more fluid, we feel affiliated with various situations with only a part of ourselves. The real communities of family and friends too are now more like windows which maybe we would prefer to also manage in our computers. Lifelogging projects want to extend the scope of our life activities which are processed and managed online.

Sherry Turkle described in her books The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (1984) and Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet the exploration of the psychological parts in role-playing games and later on the Net. She thought that having the chance to live our object relationships could be important to individualize our identities.

One aspect of our online identities, explored by several experts, is the attenuation of inhibitions in online life. The superego, our psyche’s structure devoted to criticizing ourselves, to inhibit our actions and desires, is weakened by our online activity. Without superego pressure we can explore parts which are usually kept in the shadow.

Using false identities, as happened more frequently in the first years on the Internet, hides our real identities (partly for our own selves as well) and the superego is hidden along with it.

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Siamo sparpagliati nella rete, un pezzo su un sito di social networking, un pezzo su un altro, un altro pezzo su un sito di incontri, poi scriviamo sul nostro blog e commentiamo sui blog degli altri, ci troviamo sulle chat, e poi partecipiamo ai forum sui temi più disparati; inoltre manteniamo diversi contatti via email.

La nostra identità è sempre più fluida, ci sentiamo di appartenere alle diverse situazioni solo con una parte di noi stessi. Le comunità reali della famiglia e degli amici sono altre finestre che magari vorremmo poterle gestire a loro volta con computer. I progetti di lifelogging vogliono estendere le attività della nostra vita che vengono elaborate e gestite online.

Sherry Turkle aveva già descritto nel suo libro Il Secondo Io del 1984, e poi con La vita sullo schermo l’esplorazione delle parti psicologiche nei giochi di ruolo e poi nella Rete. La Turkle riteneva che il poter vivere i propri oggetti di relazione potesse essere importante per individuare la propria identità.

Un aspetto della nostra identità online, anche questo esplorato da diversi studiosi, è l’attenuazione delle inibizioni nella nostra vita online. Il superego, la struttura della nostra psiche dedicata a criticare noi stessi, ad inibire le nostre azioni e desideri, viene indebolito dalla nostra attività online. Senza la pressione del superego possiamo esplorare parti di noi stessi che normalmente sono in ombra.

Usare una falsa identità, come succedeva più frequentemente nei primi tempi della Rete, ci nasconde la nostra vera identità (in parte anche a noi stessi) e con questa anche il superego inibente.
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Nobody’s copyright

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]The debate about copyright is one of the most heated on the Internet. Record labels, movie distributors, publishers, news agencies, bloggers and users are involved in a discussion which at times gets aggressive.

It seems that virtually everything on the Net is eventually copied, aggregated, cut, pasted and homogenized. There are various sites which aggregate articles by collecting everything being produced by blogs. The aggregators often allow readers to comment on the articles. This way, both the contents and the comments are being taken away from the authors’ sites.

Every intellectual production is being absorbed by the collective sphere and somehow becomes depersonalized from the original author.

The hyperproduction of information and knowledge by hundreds of millions of people at the same time creates a whirl where individual identities and sources of information become out of focus and, like the rotation pinwheel of colors, creates a single white color from which it is difficult to trace the original color.

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Il dibattito sul copyright è uno dei più accesi su Internet. Case discografiche, cinematografiche, editori, agenzie di informazioni, blogger e utenti sono coinvolti in una discussione che talvolta assume dei toni aggressivi.

Sembra che tutto ciò che è mostrato in Rete alla fine è citato, copiato, aggregato, tagliato, incollato e omogeneizzato. Vi sono diversi siti che aggregano gli articoli raccogliendo tutto quanto viene prodotto dai vari blog. Gli stessi aggregatori spesso consentono anche di commentare gli articoli da parte dei lettori. In questo modo, sia i contenuti che le discussioni vengono portate fuori dal sito degli autori.

Ogni produzione intellettuale viene assorbita dalla sfera collettiva e in qualche modo si spersonalizza nei confronti all’autore originale.

L’iperproduzione di informazioni e conoscenze da parte di centinaia di milioni di persone contemporaneamente crea una girandola dove  le identità e le sorgenti individuali delle informazioni si sfuoca e, come la rotazione di tutti i colori, genera un unico colore bianco da dove è difficile risalire al colore originale.

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No identity

donna-senza-viso[en]

Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield questions what technology is doing to human identity in Perspectives: Reinventing human identity (New Scientist of May 21, 2008.)

According to one estimate, Western children spend some six hours a day at a computer screen. Given the plasticity of the human brain, shouldn’t we ask how living effectively in two dimensions might leave its mark on neuronal connectivity?

Then she muses about whether it is a fact that interacting continuously with a fast-paced multimedia environment would predispose our brain to attention deficit disorder and, that

the visual world of the screen might affect our ability to develop the imagination and form the kind of abstract concepts that have until now come from first hearing stories, then reading on ones own. Will future generations prefer the here-and-now, opting for a strong sensory experience over a more personalized cognitive narrative? … Could we even end up living in a world where there is no personal narrative at all, no meaning, no context, just the experience of the thrill of the moment? Humans have always been hedonistic. Much of what we enjoy, from sex and drugs to fine food and wine, involves an abrogation of a sense of self. We “blow” our minds, “let ourselves go”: we are back in the booming, buzzing confusion of the moment, our identity suspended.

She calls this state the “Nobody” scenario, predisposed by twenty-first–century technology, different from the “Someone” identity of Western societies or the “Anyone” persona of collectivity cultures like communism. She also envisions a fourth “Eureka” scenario where creativity gives fulfillment and builds an individual identity.

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La neuroscienziata Susan Greenfield, su New Scientist del 21 Maggio 2008 si chiede qual è l’impatto della tecnologia sull’identità umana:

In accordo ad una stima, i bambini occidentali passano qualcosa come 6 ore al giorno di fronte ad uno schermo del computer. Data la plasticità del cervello umano, non dovremmo chiederci come il vivere di fatto in due dimensioni possa lasciare il segni sulle connessioni neuronali?

Quindi riflette sul fatto che una interazione continua con un ambiente multimediale veloce potrebbe predisporre il cervello al deficit di attenzione e che

il mondo visuale dello schermo potrebbe influire sulla nostra capacità di sviluppare l’immaginazione e formare il tipo di concetti astratti che fin’ora sono arrivati dall’ascolto delle storie e dalla lettura. Le future generazioni preferiranno il “qui e ora”, scegliendo un’esperienza sensoriale forte al posto di una narrativa cognitiva più personalizzata? [...] Potrebbe anche essere che finiamo a vivere in un mondo dove non vi è alcuna narrativa personale, nessun significato, nessun contesto, solo l’esperienza del brivido del momento? Gli esseri umani sono sempre stati edonisti. La maggior parte di ciò di cui gioiamo, dal sesso alle droghe al buon cibo e al vino, comporta un’abrogazione del senso di sé. Ci troviamo nella rimbombante ebbrezza del momento, con la nostra identità sospesa.

Susan Greenfield chiama questo stato lo scenario “Nessuno”, indotto dalla tecnologia del ventunesimo secolo, diverso dall’identità “Qualcuno” delle società occidentali o della persona “Chiunque” delle culture collettivistiche quali il comunismo. Anche, lei concepisce un quarto scenario “Eureka” dove la creatività dà appagamento e crea un’identità individuale.

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Downloading our mind

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In 1964 Marshall McLuhan said: “Having extended or translated our central nervous system into the electromagnetic technology, it is but a further stage to transfer our consciousness to the computer world as well” (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1994).

Hans Moravec took him in earnest, stating that the mind’s contents could be copied on a mechanical support – and who knows, perhaps even transplanted as any other organ. The technological dream of transcending the body is a revival of separation of the “impure” body and the “divine” mind, shared both by Christianity and the Cartesian science.

But our identification with the mind could be challenged in the very moment when the mind could be copied, reproduced and shared between people.

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Marshall McLuhan nel 1964 affermava: “Avendo esteso o tradotto il nostro sistema nervoso centrale nella tecnologia elettromagnetica basta un solo passo per trasferire anche la nostra coscienza nel mondo del cervello elettronico”. (Marshall McLuhan. Gli strumenti del comunicare. Mondadori. Milano. 1990)

Qualcuno come Hans Moravec lo ha preso sul serio, affermando che i contenuti della mente potranno essere copiati su un supporto meccanico, e chissà magari anche trapiantati come qualsiasi altro organo. Il sogno di trascendenza del corpo in veste tecnologica è un rigurgito della visione religiosa/illuministica di separazione del corpo “impuro” dalla mente “divina”.

Ma la nostra identificazione con la mente potrebbe venire messa a rischio proprio nel momento in cui la mente potrà essere copiata, riprodotta e scambiata tra le persone.

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Loving the truth for its own sake, interview with Almaas

<h1><a mce_thref=[en]The Diamond Approach, the path created by Hameed Ali, better known by the pen name A.H.Almaas, emphasizes loving the truth for its own sake. Searching the truth takes place through a process of inquiry that includes the subjectivity of the researcher and his personal history as a way to reach objective knowledge of the soul and of the divine.

In this interview, originally appeared on Innernet, he speaks about the inner inquiry process, the researchers and the nature of the soul.

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Il Diamond Approach, il percorso creato da Hameed Ali, meglio conosciuto con il nome di penna di Almaas, valorizza l’amore della verità fine a se stessa. La ricerca avviene tramite un processo di “inquiry”, di interrogazione interiore, che include la soggettività del ricercatore come passaggio per arrivare ad una condizione di oggettività della conoscenza dell’anima e del divino.

In questa intervista, originalmente apparsa su Innernet, Hameed Ali parla della ricerca interiore, dei ricercatori e della natura dell’anima.

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Spiritual powers through technology

Ascent into the Sky[en]

As Marshall McLuhan sensed, technology creates extensions for our capabiilities but at the same time amputates or alienats parts of ourselves. The classic example is of cars. On one side cars extend the legs’ capabilities letting us go further and faster, but on the other side the leg muscles are getting atrophied and towns being transformed into what they are now.

In addition to extending our physical bodies, we projected even our inner qualities on technology. So we project our need of strength, intimacy, will, peace and other qualities on technological tools which promise to extend our possibilities.

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Come ha intuito Marshall McLuhan, la tecnologia cerca delle estensioni per le nostre capacità ma allo stesso momento crea delle amputazioni o alienazioni da parti di sé. Un classico esempio è l’automobile, che da una parte estende le capacità delle gambe potendo portarci più lontano e più velocemente ma dall’altra atrofizza i muscoli delle gambe e rende le città quello che sono.

Oltre alle estensioni del corpo fisico, abbiamo proiettato sulla tecnologia anche le qualità interiori. Quindi proiettiamo il nostro bisogno di forza, intimità, socialità, volontà, pace interiore, ecc sugli strumenti tecnologici che ci promettono di estendere le nostre possibilità.

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