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Carel Struyken (M)
Avalon, US
Immortal since Jan 25, 2007
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    The Natural World - The Man-made World
    A human nervous system receives and processes roughly 1 million bits of information per second. Per second, we are aware of only 20 of those bits. Our conscious mind has no access to the other 999.980 bits. The conscious mind thinks it perceives everything. It thinks it is in complete control of our senses and actions, but it does not have a clue. Breathing, walking, even talking are largely unconscious actions. The conscious part of the brain may decide to walk in a certain direction, or express a certain thought, but it has no idea how this is accomplished.

    The man-made world is mostly a reflection of our consciousness. Stories, art and music are the rickety bridge to where the other 999.980 bits are dancing.

    Ever since our particular evolutionary branch of the ape tree has roamed the earth, we were mostly surrounded by the natural world. But this is changing. The natural world has been altered and trashed by h. sapiens - the "wise" man. We live in cities with hardly a tree in sight, and even contact with our fellow wise men increasingly takes place through some narrowed-down bandwidth of our making (telephone, video, *text-messaging*).

    Cities have existed for a long time and we are aware of the shortcomings. But this steady creep of the virtual is relatively new. Here is a quote from Hans Moravec, the robotics researcher, futurist and transhumanist:
    "....One would still view the cyber world in terms of location, color, smell, faces, and so on, but only those details we actually notice would be represented." (from "Pigs in Space") This is the assumption that needs to be addressed: "What we actually notice" is next to nothing. Great for bandwidth reduction, but horrible for us. I am staring at an LCD screen while writing this. With a few mouse clicks I have access to the most appealing imagery and sounds. It is so damn seductive. Who needs the real thing? It is the seductiveness of a drug. "Only the details we actually notice" are represented and it feels good. It feels better than the real thing. But something is terribly wrong. Something is dying. It is our nervous system starved of its bit stream.

    Aldous Huxley was the first thinker who assumed we would need a happy-pill to cope with this brave new world. It has come to pass. You are either high, depressed or on Prozac and even the fish in Puget Sound and the Mississippi delta are buzzed on SSRIs.

    Do we need better drugs or a better virtual environment?

    Arctic, Jungle, Desert - In every natural environment we are surrounded by thousands to millions of species, each using its own unique niche of the bandwidth spectrum. Every living being is immersed in this sea of noise. When we are subjected to sensory deprivation, we eventually go off the deep end. It is a form of torture. In varying degrees, all man-made environments cause some level of sensory deprivation.

    The brain is very good at "filling in the blanks" and "reading between the lines". When the circumstances are right, we can generate at least some of those 999.980 missing bits. But our senses need to be well nourished to pull this off. As long as we remain immersed in the full-bandwidth bit stream of the natural world, there is enough to resonate between the conscious and sub-conscious parts of our nervous system. How do we synthesize this bitstream in a meaningful way for the virtual world?

    The arts try hard to make us whole again. They make connections between those things of which we are aware and all that is hidden within and without. They make things resonate. But every creative expression is frozen in time and therefore it seduces and imprisons us as much as it sets us free. We will need something more to thrive in a man-made world.
    Every scheme that does not take the above into account, including going completely "artificial" (as in "Against Nature" by Huysmans) will be at most a sarcastic footnote on the gravestone of h. sapiens or its enigineered successor.

    Maybe it is possible to create an artificial environment of enough complexity and diversity and just the right amount of constant change to keep us fully functional, but it will involve a very different approach.


    Mon, Mar 31, 2008  Permanent link

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    Orizyn     Tue, Apr 1, 2008  Permanent link
    ".....all man-made environments cause some level of sensory deprivation."

    I have tried to put this into words my self. Well done.
    So, all this 'advancement' is, if fact, 'regression'. Can we go back to nature? Certainly. But it will not happen through our 'h-sapien' will. We are hooked. Gaia, if in fact she is real and I hope/believe she is, will see to it.
    In an ideal world we might imagine a turn, an awakening, a mass deep felt realization that we are nature too. I even imagine we have the 'tools' to expand the use of our 20 bits and go home, even taking a few of our best toys with us. But alas, we must also access at least a small percentage of our heart which is not very popular in our times.
    We can't expect to creat our own little 'fish bowl' and be happy in it but, oh, how we try.

    folkert     Wed, Apr 2, 2008  Permanent link
    Inspiring notions, thanks for the post. My take on some of your points: obviously life emerges only where the circumstances allow for it, and is sustained only when the circumstances continue to allow for it. (no rain, no moss) I think the same applies for h. sapiens' habitat — our particular type of life form exists for the precise reasons embedded in the environment and its conditions. While these conditions can be nudged here and there to a certain extent, there are very clear boundaries where it can and cannot go, in the same way that we cannot survive under water. What I'm trying to get at is that I'm suspecting that it might be a little presumptuous to assume that humans can create an entirely new and separate habitat and fully exist in it. I think that we are much more a symptom of our specific situation and set of particulars than we sometimes assume and that perhaps our imaginations cannot physically even stretch so far as to conceive of a realistically working situation that is so much different from the one that caused us to emerge. It would be like an apple on an apple tree considering the notion of "downloading itself into a gold ytterbium cube that it will super-cool and bury a thousand feet beneath Copernicus and there walk on the virtual beaches barefoot and alive"... In other words, I agree with you that it will take an entirely different approach, but that perhaps we are not part of the decision making process.