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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 Tao of Google ranking

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When I was a child I believed that somewhere, somebody had the answers to all my questions about the world and about existence. It was because of knowing that sooner or later even I would have access to that knowledge that quietened my cognitive anxiety.

The very fact that knowledge was present somewhere, though hidden, I felt it was certainly obtainable, as if it was present in the air and just needed the proper antennas for being picked up. The Web didn’t exist then, nor did Google that provides almost the entire repository of human knowledge, and of course neither did I know Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic fields theory, much less the mystical ideas on universal consciousness.

But what happens to the process that produces knowledge, when we get it instantly through a Google search? Any media, mentioning McLuhan, is at the same time an extension and a castration. Google is an extension and a castration concerning our research and answer-finding capabilities.

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Da piccolo mi confortava pensare che “qualcuno” da “qualche parte” avesse le risposte alle mie domande sul mondo e sull’esistenza. Immaginavo che in questo modo prima o poi anch’io avrei potuto accedere a tale sapere. Questo pensiero mi placava l’ansia conoscitiva.

Il fatto che la conoscenza fosse da qualche parte, per quanto nascosta o poco accessibile, la sentivo comunque come disponibile, come se questa fosse presente nell’aria e necessitasse solo delle antenne giuste per essere captata. A quei tempi non esisteva il web nè Google che ci mette a disposizione quasi l’intero scibile umano, naturalmente non conoscevo le teorie dei campi morfici di Sheldrake e tantomeno le parole dei mistici sulla coscienza universale.

Ma cosa succede al processo interiore della conoscenza quando possiamo accedervi in pochi instanti tramite una ricerca con Google? Ogni media, ricordando McLuhan, è allo stesso tempo un’estensione e una castrazione. Google lo è rispetto alla nostra capacità di ricercare e di trovare risposte.

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Virtual worlds and Maya 2.0

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The creation of virtual worlds has an immediate fascination over human beings. Second Life. World of Warcraft and other environments are amongst Internet developing tendencies.

The great appeal of these worlds is augmented by the fact that the mind itself is a powerful creator of artificial worlds and it complies with an intrinsic need within the mind.

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La creazione di mondi virtuali ha un fascino immediato sugli esseri umani. Second Life, World of Warcraft e altri ambienti sono tra le tendenze in sviluppo di Internet.

Il grande fascino di questi ambienti è aiutato dal fatto che la mente stessa è una creatrice di mondi artificiali, quindi non fa che assecondare un bisogno instrinseco nella mente.

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Wireless communication and reality mining as a reflection of pervasive consciousness

<h1><a xhref="http://www.indranet.org/?attachment_id=88">Composition VIII</a></h1>[en]

Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and other wireless modalities of transmitting data through computers and modems, printers and other peripherals are expanding. Wireless connection won't be the only information post on the territory. Reality mining is the term coined by MIT Media Lab that sums up the various objects that can be transformed in data spots through tiny radio-connected sensor chips.

The appeal of wireless is not just avoiding messy cables or the convenience of being able to connect to the Net anywhere. Wireless spots have an impact on our psyche as well. They give the impression of conscious, almost alive presences spreading across the world. A net of infinite eyes and pervasive awareness where all is one and interconnected.
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Bluetooth, Wi-Fi e altre modalità wireless di trasmissione dei dati attraverso computer, modem, stampanti e altre periferiche si stanno diffondendo rapidamente. La comunicazione senza fili non sarà il solo tipo di punto-informazione sul territorio. Reality mining [estrarre la realtà] è il termine coniato dal Mit Media Lab per indicare i vari oggetti che possono essere trasformati in punti informazione tramite piccoli chip sensoriali radiocollegati.

L’attrattiva del wireless non sta solo nella possibilità di evitare grovigli di fili o di connettersi alla Rete da qualsiasi luogo. I luoghi wireless hanno un impatto anche sulla nostra psiche. Essi creano la sensazione di presenze consce, quasi vive, onnipresenti.

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Mechanisms, mysticism and Amazon Mechanical Turk

<h1><a xhref="http://www.indranet.org/?attachment_id=66">Bureaucrat and Sewing Machine</a></h1>

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Human beings have always felt the need to give themselves to something bigger than their individualities: to art, to love, to a cause, to truth, to a guru, to God. When we devote ourselves to something bigger, we transcend ourselves, we go beyond our little narcissistic ego who would always like to be the center of attention. Dedication annihilates a part of ourselves and at the same time it lifts us up to another state of being.

We give ourselves, we trust and we nullify ourselves into technology. We are religiously devoted to the objects of technology, which absorb most of the time of an increasing number of people. As McLuhan wrote, “By continuously embracing technologies, we relate ourselves to them as servomechanisms.”

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Gli essere umani hanno sempre sentito il bisogno di darsi a qualcosa di più grande della propria individualità: all'arte, a un amore, ad una causa, alla verità, a un guru, a Dio. Quando ci dedichiamo a qualcosa di più grande trascendiamo noi stessi, oltrepassiamo il nostro piccolo ego narcisista che vorrebbe sempre stare al centro delle attenzioni. La dedizione ci annienta da una parte e allo stesso tempo ci eleva da un'altra.

Ci diamo, ci affidiamo e ci annulliamo nella tecnologia. Siamo religiosamente devoti agli oggetti della tecnologia, che assorbe la maggior parte del tempo di un numero crescente di persone. Come scrisse McLuhan, “Ricevendo continuamente tecnologie ci poniamo nei loro confronti come altrettanti servomeccanismi.”

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