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excerpt from Chapter 2 of “The Digitally Divided Self : Relinquishing our Awareness to the Internet

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“It’s Only a Tool”

If there were a law stating that “people should stay in front of a screen for most of their waking time, both indoors and out, avoiding real-life meetings as much as possible, shop without touching or seeing the product, find their soulmates through Internet announcements, consume an average of 34 gigabytes of information daily” (University of California, 2009), there would be a revolution. But if it’s seen as our “freedom,” then it’s fine. Technology can do this because it acts on a higher level than laws, rules or impositions. As Neil Postman (1993) wrote, “Technology imperiously commandeers our most important terminology. It redefines ‘freedom’ ‘truth,’ ‘intelligence,’ ‘fact,’ ‘wisdom,’ ‘memory,’ ‘history’ – all the words we live by” (p. 8). Facebook now has even transformed the meaning of “friend” and “like.”

For most of us, technology acts deeply in moving awareness away from the connection with our inner world – powerfully redefining both our inner and outer life. Sustained attention, awareness and introspection—the qualities needed to break out of the automated mind – become especially difficult when we are drowning in information, mostly brief and directed to the latest news.

Joseph Weizenbaum (1976), exploring the character of compulsive programmers as early as 1976, found them disinterested in their bodily needs and detached from the world around them. We are not surprised to meet such figures in countries where advanced technologies are part of everyday life.

Cubans I met traveling there in 2000 were usually lively people, with direct personal contact, sensual, relating to immediate reality. It was striking to see two computer technicians, on the contrary, detached, immersed in their own worlds, neglecting themselves, communicating with few words. I realized how daily contact with a tool – in this case computers and programming (tools which had been available there for only a few years) – can have a stronger impact on social attitude and personality than the collective conditioning of society.

There is probably a mutual feedback between personality and life choices, but without doubt technology also shapes psyches. Even early in history, Taoists observed that the use of instruments carries the risk of becoming mechanical ourself. Today – from Hong Kong to Brazil, from Lithuania to South Africa, from Egypt to New Zealand – wherever people use the Internet, they 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 mind.

Technology is not Questionable

Mark Slouka, in War of the Worlds (1995), conveyed how eerie it is to be permeated by the digital revolution, with no or little reflection about what it really means, “where the only concern heard in the land, by and large, is that some of us may be left behind” (p. 9).

In the history of media, there has never been much reflection about the impact on human psyches. The few who reflected negatively on it were considered against progress and innovation.

The technological person doesn’t believe he can be transformed by technology. In fact, he has been persuaded that he is the master of technology. He believes that his inner life (actually as unknown to him today as it was before Freud) cannot be modified by any tool. His mind is supposed to rise above all else; tools can at most extend the possibilities of his mind, but can never influence his choices. While this wasn’t even true for mechanical tools, it is even less true for information technologies.

The technological person is subject to the Cartesian separation between the world of matter and the world of ideas – and considers the latter superior. Much before Descartes, the Bible assigned us the role of masters of matter and God’s terrain. This unconscious belief that our mind is superior to everything else has contributed to the lack of debate about the transformation of our psyches by technology.

Knowing through the Body                            

Birds build their nests instinctively, and many animals “know” how to hunt or find food, but humans have been dispensed a limited set of instincts, such as sucking and grabbing. Everything else derives from learning – which is very much an embodied process. Despite emphasis on the 3Rs in kindergarten, the factors most likely to lead to later academic success are play and social skills. Research shows that young children learn through their bodies. For example, the child’s early understanding of geometric relationships and physics is almost physical.

A study published in Nature by researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz demonstrated that as animals learn motor tasks, connections between brain cells begin to form almost immediately and become permanently consolidated in the brain. We all know that when we learn something involving the body, like riding a bicycle, this knowledge stays with us.

Along the evolutionary trail, we first see muscles appearing, then motor function as consequence of interacting with a certain habitat, and later the associated neurophysiological functions. Motor activity acts on the brain, which in turn acts back on the body to perfect an action. Engels (1985) perceived that the opposability of the thumb and the erect position of human beings came millions of years before the further development of the brain. It was the activity that altered the brain, and not vice versa. This was later confirmed by the fossil record.

The hand especially, with its sophisticated movements, shaped our nervous systems. The “technologies” of body movement and of manual labor shaped and developed our human brain from earliest times. In mutual feedback, our brain shaped our tools with growing complexity – until we arrived at contemporary tools. These interact almost exclusively with our minds and shape our nervous system.

In a famous experiment by University College London in 2008, researchers used magnetic scanners to read the brain activity of twenty taxi drivers while they navigated their way through a virtual simulation of London’s streets. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, they obtained detailed brain images as taxi drivers delivered customers to their destinations.

Different brain regions were activated as they were planning their routes, spotting familiar landmarks, or thinking about their customers. Brain areas were activated and grew by building information needed to find the right way around complicated London streets. Earlier studies found that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus – an area of the brain important in navigational abilities – than most of us.

Detailed table of contents, introduction and chapter 1.

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.

The Digitally Divided Self

Order on Amazon.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: From Awareness of technology to technologies of Awareness .. 1
The Limits of Technology.. 3
What’s Not Computable Isn’t Real .. 4
The Promises of the Early Internet .. 5
From Information Processing to Consciousness Processing.. 6
All in the Digital Mincer .. 7
Technology Can’t be Challenged.. 8
Technology Uses Us .. 10
Feeding the Soul with Bytes .. 11
The Immortal Mind .. 12
Inner Prostheses and Amputations through Technology .. 13
Beyond the Mind.. 14
The Fragility of Beliefs and Information Technology.. 15

Chapter 2:“It’s only a tool” .. 17
Technology is not Questionable .. 18
Knowing through the Body .. 18
Technology “Does” Us .. 19
Technology is a Matter of Life and Death.. 21
Binary and Inner Duality.. 21
Knowing through the Heart.. 22
Our Identity With Tools – from Chimps to Chips .. 25
Reconnecting with the Inner Flow.. 26
From Spectator to Witness .. 28
Inner Holes and Techno-Fills .. 28
Pure Thinking Without the Body.. 30
Tools for Inner Growth.. 31
The Mind Itself is a Medium.. 34
IT Weakens Our Presence .. 36
Constrained to Produce .. 39 Continue Reading »

“All that once was directly lived has become representation. . . . The real consumer has become a consumer of illusions” (Guy Debord, 1967).

The Situationists, an international revolutionary group of the ’50s critical of capitalist culture, spoke of “The Society of the Spectacle” – which alienated people through a mediated and commoditized social envinroment.

Media and products, in the Situationists’ view, dull the audience and control desire. Half a century later,  we have newly created media with greatly expanded scope –which reinforce the Situationists’ principles. In the new digital millennium it seems that desires are not controlled, yet are accepted as long as there is a market product associated with it, channeled through and stimulated by the media.

Situationists perceived that in capitalism, emotions become transmuted into market products – and we have to pay up to redeem our emotions. The market, as they saw it, first takes away our real needs for connection and authenticity, then offers a pale reflection of the real – making us always thirsty for a real which will never come.

The need for connection today is expressed through social networks which appear free and democratic. Yes, many Internet services are free of charge, but if we calculate hardware, software, the Internet connection – plus our time and attention – the cost must be reconsidered.

Moreover, the Situationists observed that people in our society are programmed to live a life that is merely a representation of a real life. Through technology needs have been created in order to sell solutions. And the hi-tech market doesn’t even require much in the way of commodities any more, since it is represented digitally – making Debord’s words about becoming consumers of illusions blatant.

“Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left” (McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964).

The chess master Garry Kasparov wrote a review for the New York Review of Books (note 1) saying that everybody can now have a chess program that will crush most grandmasters. But those programs work on the brute force of calculation, rather than style, patterns, theory or creativity.

“Although we still require a strong measure of intuition and logic to play well, humans today are starting to play more like computers.” He points out that new and innovative ideas in chess software are not needed, since brute-force programs are efficient enough for the goal of winning.

While chess software has become less creative with the strong computing power now available, chess players has adopted this same attitude of merely looking for “what works.” There is undoubtedly a mutual feedback between the digital representations of reality and the way we approach those aspects of reality. Musician friends have told me that since the advent of software for composing music, their creative attitude has changed along with the mechanisms of musical software production.

Graphics, video production, architecture, music and countless creative activities are now being aided by software. And algorithms and the programming attitude extend from computers to real life. Losing weight, talking to an audience, finding the right partner, keeping her/him, having great sex, improving our self-esteem has became a “how-to” problem. With the right instructions and following the right procedures we believe we can master anything in life.

Yet computers still can’t do many things which are easy for humans – so we must adapt human work to the machine’s needs. Amazon Mechanical Turk service thus describes precisely how it supports creation of the human servomechanism:

Developers can leverage this service to build human intelligence directly into their applications. While computing technology continues to improve, there are still many things that human beings can do much more effectively than computers, such as identifying objects in a photo or video, performing data de-duplication, transcribing audio recordings or researching data details (http://aws.amazon.com/mturk/).

Human history is full of connections between humans and technological instruments. And the use of tools to extend our possibilities has been a big step in human development. But what we are facing now is something different. With Mechanical Turk, all human activities are first converted into digital ones, even those requiring imagination and intuition which lie beyond the ability of computers. Then human brain resources are used to decode actions that the machine is incapable of performing well. It is a kind of modern assembly line where, in place of physical and manual repetition, we find the repetition of a banal mental activity ‑ such as recognizing an image and classifying it, or transcribing a spoken text.

As more and more human activities are being translated into digital form, we need to supply the computer with the broader mind power of the human. We participate in order for the tool itself to expand its possibilities, no longer just to expand human capacities. It can be said that in the end it’s humans who take advantage of the human-computer interaction, and it is still humans who decide what to process and elaborate. This is true in a way, but in the movement to digitize even non-computable aspects that require massive human intervention, humans are becoming servomechanisms of technology as they feed the machine.

Among the many and enormous advantages of efficient automatic machinery is this: it is completely fool-proof. But every gain has to be paid for. The automatic machine is fool-proof; but just because it is fool-proof it is also grace-proof. The man who tends such a machine is impervious to every form of esthetic inspiration, whether of human or of genuinely spiritual origin (Huxley, Aldous, The Perennial Philosophy, New York: Harper & Row, 1945. p. 171).

(1) Kasparov, Garry, “The Chess Master and the Computer,” New York Review of Books, Feb 2010. <http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/feb/11/the-chess-master-and-the-computer/>

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 digitalization 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 digitalization of territory (like Google Earth and augmented realities software) to our biology.

Judæo-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, is entertaining, dumbing people in their own separate homes where they will be unable to question the system. 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 Internet might already be the new soma for a society experiencing economic and environmental degradation. But with the huge economic and psychological interests connected to it, criticizing its effect is akin to cursing God.

At the Techonomy conference in August 2010, Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said that through artificial intelligence Google can predict human behavior and that if we show Google 14 pictures of ourselves, it can even identify who we are—a boastful statement, but not far from the truth.

The ordinary human mind works mostly as a mechanism based on past conditionings. And it becomes even more mechanical through interacting continuously with machines. So there’s little surprise that some well-written software can infer with good accuracy who we are, what we want, which website we will visit, where we will go next while on the street. Google knows of every Web page we visit, every advertisement we click on and probably—with their mathematical and analytical tools that can interpret location, web navigation, connections with people, and email messages—much more than we can imagine.

In case our behaviour can’t be predicted, Google can always tell us what we should do, because, in Schmidt’s words, people “want Google to tell them what they should be doing next”, as reported by Nicholas Carr1. As much as his words are unnerving, there’s, again, more than a hint of truth in them. Our will and inner direction are activated by the connection with our “belly center”—that place which any martial arts practitioner moves from.

This center is weakened by overusing the mind without a felt, alive and aware connection with the body, which is the ground for our search for truth. Lacking this connection, we seek guidance from technology even for the most basic decisions, just as we ask Google for anything which could be retrieved with a little effort by our memories.

This transforms all of us into helpless babies needing suggestions or confirmation from Mother Google for all our activities. Or at best into rebellious teenagers ignoring her hints, but showing up at dinner time.

Possessive mothers want their children to be dependent on them, not wanting them to grow up, seducing them with their tastiest dishes (free and entertaining software tools) and providing for all of their needs—while resisting their children’s every effort to go out from home unsupervised. Anywhere we go we leave a trace for Google. The children, then, will never face the real world—nor their real selves.

1. Brave New Google.

See also:  Mail Goggles
Mother Google
The Tao of Google Ranking
Google, Privacy and the Need to be Seen

“I would like to be able to download the ability to juggle. There’s nothing more boring than learning to juggle.”1 That’s artificial intelligence scientist Marvin Minsky, talking about a new AI project at MIT. He points to the fact that his iPhone can download thousands of applications, instantly allowing it to perform with new capacities. Why not do the same with the brain?

Minsky believes that we can separate the ability to juggle from the internal transformations that take place while learning to juggle. Knowledge, in the Cartesian style, is seen as something “pure,” removed from subjective participation and the involvement of our body/mind.

Scientists who claim to be at the forefront of human progress are still entangled in paradigms hundreds of years old.  Given Minsky’s vision, even inner knowledge can be represented digitally and downloaded to our neurophysiology, just as we do with a computer application. Kurzweil and others forecast such a future.

Here is Aldous Huxley’s view:

Some artists have practised the kind of self-naughting which is the indispensable pre-condition of the unitive knowledge of the divine Ground. Fra Angelico, for example, prepared himself for his work by means of prayer and meditation; and from the foreground extract from Chuang Tzu we see how essentially religious (and not merely professional) was the Taoist craftman’s approach to his art. Here we may remark in passing that mechanization is incompatible with inspiration. The artisan could do and often did do a thoroughly bad job. But if, like Ch’ing, the chief carpenter, he cared for his art and were ready to do what was necessary to make himself docile to inspiration, he could and sometimes did do a job so good that is seemed “as though as supernatural execution.” Among the many and enormous advantages of efficient automatic machinery is this: it is completely fool-proof. But every gain has to be paid for. The automatic machine is fool-proof; but just because it is fool-proof it is also grace-proof. The man who tends such a machine is impervious to every form of aesthetic inspiration, whether of human or of genuinely spiritual origin. “Industry without art is brutality.” But actually Ruskin maligns the brutes. The industrious bird or insect is inspired, when it works, by the infallible animal grace of instinct – by Tao as it manifests itself on the level immediately above the physiological.” 2

When we don’t feel “presence” in our actions or value our activities as media for our growth, we move toward automating everything that can be automated, including activities which expand our soul’s capacities. In Zen monasteries, even the most repetitive tasks—like cleaning the rice—are used as a path for awareness. But the contemporary ego wants goals – and wants to reach them fast.

1Chandler, D.L. “Rethinking artificial intelligence”.  MITnews.  http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/ai-overview-1207.html

2Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy, New York: Harper & Row, 1945, p. 171.

Ada King, countess of Lovelace (1815–52), was a brilliant English mathematician. She is often called the first programmer in history. She wrote programs for Charles Babbage’s analytical engine, even foreseeing the scope of algorithms to process data beyond numerical calculations, which no one had yet begun to conceive. A programming language named Ada has been developed in her honor.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of the romantic poet Lord Byron. He and his social entourage were disappointed with her gender and he soon separated from both her mother and England. Byron died when Ada was nine.

Ada’s mother arranged the girl’s life to avoid any contact with either her father or his attitude toward life. She considered Lord Byron insane and, worrying her daughter might share it, educated Ada in mathematics from a very early age, even through prolonged health problems constrained the girl to bedrest. Ada Lovelace died at 36 from uterine cancer and requested to burial next to Lord Byron, finally joining the father she never knew.

Alan Turing (1912–54), English mathematician and cryptoanalyst, had enormous influence on computer science. His Turing machine incorporated important advances in the formalization of algorithms and computability. Turing conceived the Turing Test which defined a “thinking machine” as one that fooled a person into believing s/he was having a conversation through a keyboard with a human being in a remote location. During the Second World War his cryptoanalysis was fundamental in breaking the German ciphers, contributing to the defeat of Nazism.

In his era, homosexuality in England was subject to criminal prosecution. In 1952, after admitting to having sex with a young man, Turing was given the choice between incarceration or a treatment with female hormones (“to reduce the libido”). How absurd that after helping save his country from Nazism, it treated him as a criminal. In 1954, Turing died of poisoning. In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized on behalf of the British government for the way he was treated.

Jaron Lanier, in “One Half a Manifesto,” commented on the tragic death of Turing in these terms:

Turing died in an apparent suicide brought on by his having developed breasts as a result of enduring a hormonal regimen intended to reverse his homosexuality. It was during this tragic final period of his life that he argued passionately for machine sentience, and I have wondered whether he was engaging in a highly original new form of psychological escape and denial; running away from sexuality and mortality by becoming a computer.

I think the denial is deeper than the sexuality issue: It has to do with the denial of anything but the “pure” Cartesian mind, including the body and sensuousness. With both pillars of contemporary IT we see how a denial of sexual identity, the sensuous and non-rational world shaped their lives. Lovelace’s gender was rejected by her father, while her mother pushed her toward a purely rational life. The law repressed Alan Turing’s homosexuality, as he likely did himself.

The mind is regarded as the most important human feature and the identification with it is so deep that we want to reproduce it on machines, becoming creators in our turn. We even have developed a test to ascertain the “intelligence” of a machine.

Joseph Weizenbaum in 1964 created Eliza, an interactive program that simulated a Rogerian psychotherapist. Weizenbaum himself was surprised and concerned to see that users were taking its words seriously. While the mind can surely be simulated, this tell us nothing about what’s going on inside. However it does underscore how much the mind can be fooled and how we can actually behave mechanistically.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is much in the news recently but only as a commercial or technical phenomenon. His psychological roots (as with anyone) determine his actions in the world. A prime example of the Enneagram’s Type Five personality, Jobs offers an opportunity to understand this structure as it is seen through patterns in his life and behavior.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple with Steve Wozniak, was born in 1955 while his mother was a single college graduate. Unable to support her baby, she put him up for adoption. It mattered to her that his adopting parents were college graduates. However, when the couple she had arranged with learned the baby was a boy, they reneged.

The next couple willing to adopt him did not have degrees. So she continued to nurture him for a few months until the adopting parents committed to seeing him graduate–though, ultimately, he dropped out anyway. As with Ada Lovelace, regarded as the first programmer, someone rejected at birth, grew into an icon in IT.

In line with the counterculture of the 70s, he explored LSD and went to India for a spiritual retreat. (He now identifies himself as a Buddhist.) In 1978, repeating his own history, he fathered a girl who was raised on welfare while he denied paternity on the grounds of being sterile.

Continuing to move with the times, he became one of the most innovative and often controversial entrepreneurs in IT. Apple gave new meaning to personal computing, introducing visual cues and user-friendly interfaces.

In 1998, the Dalai Lama gave permission for Apple to use his image with the words, “Think different.” China at the time was not an attractive market for Apple products. But business is business even for Buddhist ex-hippies. Under Jobs, Apple blocked a number of applications related to the Dalai Lama from the Chinese iPhones. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller responded, “We continue to comply with local laws…not all apps are available in every country.” And recently Apple admitted that child labor was used in factories in China that produce their hardware.

However, his life with Apple was not a straight road. In 1985, he was fired by the board of directors. He then founded NeXT computers, later bought by The Graphics Group which turned it into Pixar, the most prolific computer graphics company producing Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Ratatouille. In 1996, Apple bought NeXT, bringing Jobs back to his original company as CEO.

In 2004, he was diagnosed with a rare, operable form of pancreatic cancer. Five years later a liver transplant allowed him to continue his creative mission.

In many parts of the world, adopted children are considered as “nobody’s children.” Perhaps a scanty identity drove him to India in search of his soul, but then he chose to construct a more acceptable one. Through prestige and money he built a well-defined “I”—iPod, iMac, iPhone, iPad. Through many anecdotes about his management style, we know Jobs as one of biggest egos in the IT world.

A pattern that emerges from the overview of his life is a repeated dropping out and redefining himself. Rejected by mother, potential parents, the very company he started; rejecting his education and his daughter; to nearly being rejected by life through major health problems.

Even making a home has been hard. Legal and bureaucratic problems surrounded a historical mansion he purchased in 1984 in Woodside, California. After living in its almost unfurnished state for years, he planned to demolish it to build a new house, but a local preservation group stopped him. He spent years renovating an apartment on the top floors of a New York City building, but never moved in. He seems in perpetual search for both inner and outer home, bouncing back from every difficulty with new tools and renewed energy to lay before the world.

Withdrawing into the Mind

Steve Job’s story is typical of the Type Five personality in the Enneagram (even thought elements of Type Seven are present too), a pattern shared by many people in the IT world. This psychospiritual system discriminates nine styles of personality. Probably of Sufi origin, it was brought to the West by George Gurdjieff around 1900, then spread in the 1970s as Oscar Ichazo and psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo elaborated the core qualities of the nine types. It was later popularized by Don Riso and Russ Hudson, as well as by Helen Palmer. A.H. Almaas elaborated the spiritual dimension in the 1990s.

Early ontological insecurity about survival can shape a schizoid personality, to which Enneatype Five is the closest. Rationality and orderliness are valuable defense mechanisms against the threat of being separated from life, assembling everything in its own place.

Type Fives escape into their mental world for safe haven. They want to be accepted for their capabilities, often disappearing from the scene to stay with their own minds and develop skills. These give them confidence to re-enter as talented (thus, accepted) persons with innovative ideas to display.

They are most successful by creating a niche which no one else occupies, giving them an acknowledged place in the world. Apple’s technology is proprietary, guaranteeing Jobs his unique place and highlighting the greedy aspect of Five personalities to horde—whether it is keeping their emotions and possessions to themselves or proprietary information.

The schizoid Type Five personality seems more widespread than others in the modern, technology-dependent world. The possible reasons for this are worth contemplating.

The New York Times: Pink Floyd Wins Court Battle With EMI Over Downloads

The British rock band Pink Floyd won its court battle with EMI on Thursday, with a ruling that prevents the record company from selling single downloads on the Internet from the group’s concept albums… The judge said the purpose of a clause in the contract, drawn up more than a decade ago, was to “preserve the artistic integrity of the albums.”

Parts of tracks were even sold as ringtones for mobile phones. This court’s sentence is a small but significant achievement toward appreciating longer narratives instead of the “now, new and brief”.

See also: Maybe I would Not Appreciate Pink Floyd’s Music if it was Digital

Birds build their nests instinctively and many animals “know” how to hunt or find food, but human beings have a very simple set of instincts, such as those for suction and for grabbing. Everything else comes from a process of learning, which is very much an embodied process. As Alliance for Childhood writes in Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood:

In kindergarten, therefore, an emphasis on play and social skills – not premature pressure to master reading and arithmetic – seems most likely to prepare children for later academic success. Researchers have documented how much young children learn intuitively through their bodies, and how this lays a critical foundation for later conscious comprehension of the world. The child’s first experience of geometric relationships and physics, for example, is literally a visceral one.

A study published in Nature by the University of California at Santa Cruz’s researchers demonstrated that while animals learn a new task involving motor learning, new connections begin to form between brain cells almost immediately and they become consolidated in a permanent way in the brain. We all know that when we learn something involving the body, as in driving a bicycle, this knowledge stays with us.

On the evolutionary route, we first see the muscles appearing, and then motor functions, as consequences of living in a certain habitat, and later the associated neuro-physiological functions. The motor activity acts on the brain which in turn acts back on the body allowing a more perfected action. The opposability of the thumb and the erect position of human beings came millions of years before the further development of the brain. It was the work that altered the brain, and not vice versa, as Engels perceived what has been later confirmed by fossils (see Genesi dell’uomo-industria for a longer explanation in Italian).

The hand especially, with its subtle movements, shaped our nervous systems more than any other motor activity of the body. The “technologies” of body movements and of manual labor shaped and developed our brains since primitive times. In mutual feedback, our brains shaped our tools in growing complexity until we arrived at contemporary tools which interact almost exclusively with our minds.

In an experiment, researchers used magnetic scanners to read the brain activity of taxi drivers while they navigated their way through a virtual simulation of London’s streets. Through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning, they obtained detailed brain images of 20 taxi drivers as they delivered customers to their destinations. Different brain regions were activated as they were planning their routes, spotting familiar landmarks, or thinking about their customers. The BBC article says that:

Their brains even “grow on the job” as they build up detailed information needed to find their way around London’s labyrinth of streets…earlier studies had shown that taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus – a region of the brain that plays an important role in navigation.

Technologies which interact primarily with our minds have an immediate effect on our neurophysiology. Gary Small writes in Ibrain:

Functional MRI studies of young adults ages eighteen to twenty-six years who average fourteen hours a week playing video games have found that computer games depicting violent scenes activate the amygdala. It is perhaps no accident that many autistic individuals, with their small amygdalas and poor eye contact, are almost compulsively drawn to and mesmerized by television, videos, and computer games (p. 73).

The amygdala is an almond-shaped part of the brain located in the temporal region, considered part of the limbic system, where our emotional reactions take place. It modulates our reactions to threats as well. It could be considered a part of the ancient reptile brain, connected to survival, fear, and aggression.

Other experiments demonstrated that only five days of searching with Google by computer-naive subjects were enough to change their neural circuits, in particular, activating the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain has an important role in our short-term memory and in the integration of sensory and mnemonic information.

Whether we use IT which interact primarily with our minds or mechanical technologies mainly through our bodies, they affect our body/mind even in permanent ways.

In astrological symbolism, the planet Uranus is associated with the hand, with technology, and with the nervous system in its capacity to transmit information. The symbolical–analogical knowledge of Uranus seems to connect all pieces together in a whole. The human nervous system developed from the subtle movements allowed by the human hand, which in turn developed tools and technology.

Technology, even in our hi-tech era, is still something which keeps a connection, though faint, to our hand. The only body movements we do when we use hi-tech tools are by our hands and fingers, through the mouse, the keyboard or a touch screen. Research published in 2009 by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) demonstrated that hand gestures activate the same brain region of language (the inferior frontal and posterior temporal areas), something which any gesticulating Italian can easily agree with.

Ritual gestures (i.e. of the hands) have always been connected with the activation of inner states of the mind. Hinduism’s mudras are a whole discipline of spiritual gestures formed by the hands and fingers. Ancient disciplines such as the tea ceremony or tai-chi which involve many gestures are visible arts as much as an inner development.

The wider neural connections are between the hand and the brain. Handwriting itself, with its subtle and highly personalized movements, can even give a glimpse of our personality through graphology.

What happens when we use technologies which interact almost exclusively with our minds with no or mininal involvement of the body, apart from the obvious cardio-vascular and obesity risks in sitting for a long time in front of a screen?

We’ve seen that even pure IT in terms of searching with Google’s mold our brains, but is the activation of certain areas of the brain the whole story about the potential of human evolution? Can  it be that our cognitive capacities are as much in our brains and nervous systems as much as in every organ and cell of our bodies, and perhaps even beyond our bodies? Consciousness itself cannot be inferred by neuroimaging, much less locate wisdom or ethics.

As a culture, we didn’t investigate what happens when we substitute all manual with mental labor, which tends to have direct contact between our minds and the instrument. For instance, if London’s taxi drivers develop a part of the brain according to their navigational efforts through London’s streets, what happens when we rely on GPS for our navigation? As a personal anecdote, one of my acquaintances drove his car from the south to the north of Italy. When I asked him which route he took and whether he passed one town I named or another, he answered that he didn’t notice because he just followed GPS indications. Is there a possibility the same brain areas atrophy which become developed in taxi drivers?

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