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Rene Daalder
Los Angeles, US
Immortal since Jan 18, 2007
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    Polytopia
    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

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    Background: Voyager’s Interstellar record is a disk with encoded information that was attached to two space probes currently making their...

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    The course will be loosely inspired by the movie (and the book) The Man who Fell to Earth in which David Bowie plays an extraterrestrial visitor...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.
    From rene's personal cargo

    New Concepts of Self
    Project: Polytopia
    In our upcoming film The Terrestrials, made by a cast and crew of SpaceCollective members and dealing with, among many other things, the evolution of intelligence, the controversial ‘60s promoter of mind expansion, Dr. Timothy Leary, does a stand-up comedy routine which he calls a commercial for the brain:

    Now this moment I must stop for a commercial from my sponsor…and your sponsor: the human brain. You’re carrying around a perfect instrument. This instrument is designed to create any reality that you can wire it up to create. The brain is perfect. It’s that program that screws it up. The programs that they lay on us. I’ll tell you what the brain wants, the brains wants to be excited. To be surprised. Electrified. Your brain wants you to take your brain everywhere. Your brain doesn’t want to be stuck in cities all its life. Your brain wants to do it all and see it all. Your brain wants you to go all the way - wouldn’t you if you were a brain? And to continually show your brain that same old dumb soap opera…here’s what your brain is gonna do. It’s gonna turn you off. The brain wants to…evolve! That’s the end of the commercial. How about a round of applause for the brain! (Applause)


    You’ll notice that Leary’s routine centers around the dynamic between our brain and ourselves as separate entities, illustrating that we are a body, a mind and a person working together to maintain the illusion that the head contains a person: a Self.

    Technically, however, in the space behind our face is nothing but material substance; flesh, blood, bone and the “grey matter” that is the brain, which through interaction with the physical and social world manages to create a “mind.”

    In his post “Mind – The need for a new model,” Spaceweaver calls for an updated theory of mind:

    Theories of mind held by individuals arise at a very early age as a consequence of interactions with the environment. They can be fairly simple or incredibly complex depending on factors such as the individual’s mental and emotional capacity, upbringing, education, life experience and cultural background.




    He goes on to suggest that in the face of modern civilization’s “massive transformative pressures, a revision of the prevailing theory of mind, the very manner by which we perceive reality and ourselves, seems to become imperative.”

    From its inception we have endeavored various initiatives to create new paradigms on Space Collective, including inquiries into a New Society, a New Language, PR campaigns for the Future, the collective Polytopian Mind Space coined by Wildcat, all of which have since been perused by millions of visitors to the site. It is hard to gauge how influential all of this has been, but the work that is being done here has received numerous stellar reviews in the online community and has far exceeded our initial expectations.

    Yet futurists are by nature impatient and anxiously looking for evidence that the potentials they perceive will eventually come to some kind of fruition. Laymen like us derive great hope from the scientific progress that is tracked on blogs like K21st (and republished here via Wildcards), but between the discovery of DNA in the early ’50s to the completion of the first human genome in 2003 still lies a lag time of half a century.

    Therefor it is both disheartening and encouraging that so many of the thinkers and the concepts that are regularly referred to by this community go back to the sixties. They are the likes of Gregory Bateson mentioned in Spaceweaver’s forementioned post, the above quoted Timothy Leary (who is a recurring presence in The Singularity is Near and is reinvented for today’s audiences in The Terrestrials), Nano-technology, Kurzweil’s coveted Moore’s Law, Transhumanism, etc. All of these serve as milestones to measure our progress (and admittedly in every single case advances have been made), but sometimes one can understand why such great thinkers of the ‘60s as Brian Eno and Stewart Brand (the one time employer of maverick futurist Kevin Kelly) have established their Long Now Foundation for long-term thinking.

    In light of the above, it is reassuring that ‘60s media philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s premonition of a then non-existent internet has since changed the world beyond his wildest expectations. His concept of a global village is all pervasive in today’s online world and his other oft-quoted insight – the medium is the message – may provide a useful model for the yet to be realized Polytopia project.

    McLuhan famously proposes that media itself, not the content it carries, should be the focus of study. According to a Wikipedia entry on the subject, “a medium affects the society in which it plays a role not only by the content delivered over the medium, but also by the characteristics of the medium itself. This concentration on the medium and how it conveys information — rather than on the specific content of the information — is the focal point of his theory. McLuhan goes as far as to postulate that “specific content might have little effect on society. For example, it does not matter if television broadcasts children's shows or violent programming — the effect of television on society would be identical, and profound.”


    A mass of neuronal electrical sensors (dendrites).

    In keeping with McLuhan’s logic, one could say that the brain is the medium and the mind is the message. In that respect it’s interesting that the internet not only provides us with universal access to information (and each other), but its non-linearity and capacity to generate massive connectivity is responsible for a rapid rewiring of our brains, which at the very minimum suggests a significant evolutionary shift.

    Research has shown that today’s internet generation is growing up with brains that are wired differently from those of the previous generation. The book Grown Up Digital substantiates that there is evidence of younger generations processing information and behaving differently because they have indeed developed brains that are functionally different from those of their parents. Their minds seem to be incredibly flexible, adaptable and multimedia savvy. According to the Learning Center at the University of Washington’s Human Interface Technology Laboratory “they have developed hypertext minds. They leap around. It’s as though their cognitive structures were parallel, not sequential.” In his book Digital Game-Based Learning, Marc Prensky argues that digital immersion has literally rewired brains under 40, and the participatory culture enabling us to interact with both people and computers has expanded our mental abilities by allowing us to tap into a collective form of intelligence for “distributed cognition.”

    Evolutionary shifts in people’s consciousness have happened before of course.
    Just two weeks ago, scientists at the University College of London published a provocative study that puts a new twist on the long-standing belief that the hustle and bustle of cities is the most conducive environment for invention and innovation, whereby population density was the catalyst for the emergence of modern human behavior. This density, they argue, has led to a greater exchange of ideas and helped people develop, maintain and extend skills that led to technological and cultural innovation – not to mention a mental leap forward we now take for granted.


    Constant, Group Sector 1962

    The internet of course far exceeds the urban architecture in terms of its amazing density of connections, and by virtue of that fact alone its impact may serve as a key factor in bringing about some sort of Singularity. Even right now we’re experiencing a phenomenal upheaval forcing corporations, politicians and for that matter almost every established institution on the planet to adapt to the networked public sphere, which, incidentally, for the first time ever, makes it much more difficult for oppressive political regimes to squash such fundamental human accomplishments as free speech.

    All this we owe to software applications (i.e. Twitter or Facebook), which provide us with platforms that – to a much larger extent than their content – turned out to be revolutionary forces despite themselves, proving more than ever that the medium is the message.

    Ironically, my circle of friends has been consistently made up of on the one hand writers, artists and designers and on the other urbanist thinkers (architects) as well as software designers. In particular the latter have made me appreciate how the narratives of our time are most effectively shaped by those who are conversant with computer code. They, rather than my content creating friends, are the facilitators of the revolutionary paradigms artists and writers can only dream of. Their software development will ultimately set the stage for collective mental exercises like Polytopia, which once again serves as testament to McLuhan’s prophetic insight.

    Yet, regarding us content creators, our predicament is accurately expressed by
    Milan Kundera who writes that, “without the faith that expresses our Self, without that basic illusion, that arch-illusion, we cannot live or at least we cannot take life seriously.”

    Thus we will soldier on as we reflect on the tools that are rewiring our brains and take it upon ourselves to imbue recently acquired evolutionary conditions and fresh neural pathways with new theories of mind and enhanced concepts of Self.

    Mon, Jul 6, 2009  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    HelloAlexCL     Mon, Oct 19, 2009  Permanent link
    I think the conception of artists and writers as solely content creators could be rethought in McLuhan's terms. This seems to me an illusion created by the very "self," as artist, that Kundera begins with.

    The artist and writer and the software designer are very similar. The self-selfless difference associated with the mediums arises from the tendencies of the mediums to conceal or reveal their creators. Software design lends itself naturally to imperceptibility of both the software and the designer. Successful software is ideally self-concealing. In order to bypass preoccupation with the most immediate medium, the software for example, the medium must make itself invisible. The user is then able to engage with the content or other mediums that the software makes available. Imagine playing Xbox with full awareness of the hand's engagement with the controller...it would be nearly impossible. It is this (necessarily) dulled sense of the medium itself that McLuhan brings to the forefront, though the Xbox example is a rather trivial one.

    Art (and writing subsumed under it) in the capitalist world, on the other hand, props up its authors and devalues their work as pure content. The artist's name becomes a commodity more valuable than any of his or her pieces. (The photography of Louise Lawler examines artwork and its dependence on context.) The reification of the artist's persona, although useful for marketing, ultimately acts to the detriment of the potential of their work. "To reward and to make celebrities of artists can, also, be a way of ignoring their prophetic work, and preventing its timely use for survival" (Understanding Media). Art introduces novel frameworks (mediums) for thought, similar to software design, but this merit is often overlooked.

    "The medium is the message" does not mean that the medium is the terminal message, a truth of sorts, but that the message is composed of more mediums, and within those more mediums. Gregory Bateson states felicitously, "what is on the paper map is a representation of what was in the retinal representation of the man who made the map; and as you push the question back, what you find is an infinite regress, an infinite series of maps. The territory never gets in at all. […] Always, the process of representation will filter it out so that the mental world is only maps of maps, ad infinitum" (Gregory Bateson via wikipedia). This medium in a medium in a medium model is one of self-similarity across scales, where the "content," which is shifting in my mind to mean something like "truth," is always deferred. McLuhan grants a special privilege to art, though, that imputes to it an awareness of media itself: "I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how to rearrange one’s psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties" (Understanding Media).
     
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