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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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Mystifying science, and scientific mysticism

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Edgar Cayce used to say that it is possible to connect with any source of knowledge when our consciousness is expanded to the extent that it can render the Akashic records transparent. In the Eastern mystic tradition as well the access to universal knowledge is a stage which can manifest in the awareness of a person during the evolution of his spiritual path.

In the West, the subject who knows has been separated from the object of knowledge, especially since the introduction of Descartes’ method where the scientist had to separate his subjectivity from the object of research. Modern science, being based on the reproducibility and objectivity principles which are fundamental to Newton’s world of physics, led to an enormous technical and scientific development but doesn’t have the tools to understand awareness, the soul, the psyche itself, or existence. The problem of consciousness which is nagging the neurosciences seems to be elusive to the research method which negates any role for the inner life.

Subjectivity in science has such a marginal role that it became a taboo, so much so that Alan Wallace even wrote The Taboo of Subjectivity (Oxford University Press, 2000). He affirms that through scientific materialism people became convinced that scientists have knowledge about the mind when actually they are ignorant about it, and that non-scientists do not know what they actually know perfectly. Since for science subjective opinions are fallible by definition, it seems that everything that is intuition or perspicacity does not have value if not backed by data and objective procedures.

Comte, the father of positivism, affirming that what could not be observed and measured was to be considered unreal, put the basis for the digitalization of the human being, where intelligence became a number of IQ and human qualities became DNA sequences. Science expanded itself to the point of including areas pertaining to wisdom.

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Edgar Cayce diceva che è possibile connettersi con qualsiasi fonte di conoscenza quando la nostra consapevolezza si fosse espansa in modo tale da rendere trasparente gli archivi Akasici. Anche nella tradizione mistica orientale l’accesso alla conoscenza universale viene considerata una fase che può manifestarsi nella coscienza di una persona durante il suo percorso di evoluzione spirituale.

In Occidente si è separato il soggetto che conosce dall’oggetto di conoscenza, in particolare dal metodo Cartesiano dove lo scienziato separa la sua soggettività dall’oggetto di ricerca. La scienza moderna, basandosi sui principi della riproducibilità e dell’oggettività, funzionali per il mondo della fisica di Newton, ha portato a uno sviluppo tecnico e scientifico enorme ma non ha gli strumenti per comprendere  la consapevolezza, l’anima, la psiche stessa, l’esistenza. Il problema della coscienza, che assilla le neuroscienze, sembra essere elusivo al metodo di ricerca che nega all’interiorità alcun ruolo.

La soggettività nella scienza ha un ruolo talmente marginale che è diventato un tabù, tanto che Alan Wallace ha scritto The Taboo of Subjectivity (Oxford University Press. 2000). Egli afferma che tramite il materialismo scientifico le persone si sono convinte che gli scienziati abbiano delle conoscenza sulla mente su cui di fatto sono ignoranti e che i non-scienziati non conoscono ciò che in realtà sanno perfettamente. Poiché i giudizi soggettivi sono per la scienza per definizione fallibili, sembra che tutto ciò che è intuizione o perspicacia non abbia valore se non è suffragato da dati e procedure oggettive.

Comte, il padre del positivismo, affermando che ciò che non poteva essere osservato e misurato andava considerato irreale, poneva le basi per la digitalizzazione dell’essere umano, dove l’intelligenza è diventata un numero di QI e le qualità umane sono diventate sequenze di DNA. La scienza si è espansa fino a includere aree che erano pertinenti alla saggezza.

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Subjectivity and objectivity

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All sciences ground themselves in a particular approach to knowledge. Scientists believe that knowledge only has value if comes from an objective place. The myth of objectivity is so pervasive that it controls even such a subjective science as psychology, dealing as it does with the interior of the human mind.

For centuries the possibility of including our subjective experience in inquiring into the world has been inhibited; furthermore, subjectivity and objectivity have been divided into two separate worlds with separate values. Perhaps is time to let both modalities coalesce in an effective way.

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Tutte le scienze si fondano su un particolare approccio alla conoscenza. Gli scienziati credono che quest’ultima abbia valore solo se viene da un luogo oggettivo. Il mito dell’oggettività è così diffuso da dominare anche una scienza soggettiva come la psicologia, che studia l’interiorità della mente umana.

Per secoli, la possibilità di includere la nostra esperienza soggettiva nell’indagine del mondo è stata inibita; inoltre, soggettività e oggettività sono state divise in due mondi separati, con valori distinti. Forse è tempo di far sì che entrambe le modalità si fondano in modo efficace.

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