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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
David Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
Global Positioning Intelligence
Telepathy in a Digital Future
The psychic canopy of the future is not built on yogic visionaries, but on the nuts and bolts of hard core physics.
I had an epiphany the other day (which I am sure I borrowed, consciously, from some other literary source) about how to interface a GPS device with what I will call Global Positioning Intelligence. What a GPS does remarkably well (I couldn't imagine not having one out at sea) is track one's changing position and momentum relative to one's changing geographical environment, whether in the ocean on the way to Catalina or in one's car on the way to San Juan Capistrano. More pointedly, a GPS is an information tool which is constantly being updated by electromagnetic waves bouncing off a satellite in space.
Now imagine this: Place a nano-sized GPS device, augmented with a nano- sized web browser constantly connected to the net but personalized with updates about the person wearing the GPS, so that not only is the person being tracked but the person is also housing tremendous amounts of personal information or data about who they are. Now imagine that you too have the same device implanted on you and with the sunglasses you are wearing (or the skin chip you have embedded) you have the ability to get an immediate reading (or display) of incoming blips on your data radar screen. So you walk down Main Street in Seal Beach to get a slice of Z Pizza and run into a stranger who accidentally bumps into you. Immediately (or even seconds or minutes or hours before?) you get a reading of personal data concerning that "ship" passing in the night replete with a personal profile. In sum, that person is a stranger no longer. You have his name, his occupation, his "my space" website--all available to you and within the privacy of your own head (or, more precisely, your own sunglasses or whatever augmented device one chooses).
That which used to be "hidden" is now externalized in bytes of information and wirelessly accessible without having to do anything except pay attention to whatever read-out is being generated at the time via your GPI. We are already there, actually. This isn't science fiction since Google Earth is already giving us a glimpse of what is here and all we have to do is bundle varying components together and we turn the private world public. I had intimations of this years ago when I tried to figure out how the world was going to get more psychic since it did indeed seem like that was the next stage our cultural evolution (even if we didn't want it).
MySpace, Facebook, blogging, and the rest are merely crude glimpses into what will be a truly psychic sphere, based not on some spooky mystical intuitions, but real nuts and bolts hardware grounded in quantum bits of data using nothing more than O's and l's (represented perhaps by aligned/non-aligned atomic shards or even entangled photons) to discern our innermost secrets. Of course, this new GPI will usher in something unbelievably invasive and thus at first will only be self-selected by conscious narcissists or nerdy experimenters bent on pushing our digital envelope into the next "cool" app.
The iPhone is an example, albeit very rudimentary, of what is happening and what will happen. I remember just six or seven years ago writing in these pages about how upset a colleague of mine was because I had the audacity to post my diary online for all to see. Blogging hadn't caught on much then and I don't think he had any idea that the planet would become a blogsphere within a couple of years and that documenting one's moment to moment experiences would become an alternative lifestyle.
But scratch all that, the interesting chapter is when we all become walking or driving GPI's and such personal information pushes itself on us (versus the pulling we are doing now in the slow, type, mouse click, touch, or, scroll way, etc.). What does this portend? Well, to put it in literary terms it means that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is going to mate with George Orwell's 1984 and, well, the GPI will be its most legitimate offspring. We are going to let the world in because we want to be known; we want to extend Warhol's 15 minutes of fame to 24/7 online availability. As Huxley rightly pointed out we are going to let us ourselves be controlled because we are going to entertain ourselves to death. And Big Brother didn't have to do it by getting us under house arrest. We will do it to ourselves, just like we are doing now, because the psychological need to be connected (even if it is a fictional connection) is greater than the need to remain privatized. We are a social animal par excellence and we are a psychic animal par excellence. Before we didn't have the technology to do what magicians faked in the past. Now we don't have to fake it, except in creating fictional Avataric lives (forget usernames, that was merely the first warning shot across the net divide), and we will truly become the actors and actresses ??that our virtual simulators (known as self-awareness) has already prepared us for. To analogize a bit here: the neuron is only as good as its synapses, axons, and dendrites. In other words, the neuron works because it is connected and given enough of those viable connections we have a brain that developed consciousness or self-awareness, which if it is anything is another name for a self-navigating system with the ability to virtually simulate that which is not there presently.
So where does this lead us to via the GPI? Get ready to go on stage, the world's stage, even if you don't want to. Google Earth has already put your private backyard online for close-ups for the world to see. Now it is only a question of time when we are going to put our mind on display for all to see. A Google Psyche is already birthing and we are its attendant midwives. While I realize that some of this sounds a bit far-fetched, but surprisingly I think it is understated.
Ironically, I realized long ago that the best way to keep your privacy is to act as if everything you do is in public. Only those who know you and love you and are intimate with you will realize how different you really are from that GPI profile you gave out so freely. Or, as Mikhail Naimy said long before we went digital: speech is at best an honest lie. To which I would add, the image of yourself that you project in a public space is the pathway to retaining your privacy. The Zen Koan of our freedoms: More disclosure, more privacy.
I wrote the previous article several years ago and the future has arrived much faster than I even imagined. As William Gibson famously pointed out, “The future has already arrived. It's just not evenly distributed.” Just today, for instance, the Los Angeles Times (April 18, 2011) carried a front page story describing How Smartphone apps use GPS to help singles connect in a Crowd: “About a dozen smartphone apps enable people to connect at sports events, shopping malls and other public places, using the same location- based technology that tells you about a traffic jam ahead or whether there's a sale on jeans at a store you are walking past. Proponents say it's simply a modern answer to that age-old question: Where can I meet someone? "The whole point is to facilitate real-life meetings," said Christian Wiklund, founder and chief executive of Skout Inc., the San Francisco company that makes the dating app used by Bergmann and Riely. "It takes a lot of courage to just walk up to someone. These are good ice-breakers." Skout, which is the largest of the location-based dating apps, claims 5 million subscribers and says the average age of users is about 26. Grindr, aimed at the gay market, said it has 1.8 million subscribers. Most of these dating apps are free and work about the same way. People download an application and set up a profile that includes their photo, their interests and the type of person they are looking to meet. The apps are advertising- supported and offer added services for a fee. Subscribers to Are You Interested? can pay $1.99 a month to find out who has browsed their profiles. They can also send pictures of puppies or cupid's arrows (each cost 99 cents) to flirt with possible suitors. For digital wallflowers, Skout offers "wink bombs" that send all selected nearby subscribers a pick-up line. Sample: "Are you a parking ticket, because you have fine written all over you."
But these dating apps are merely the pilot waves of a future tsunami of GPIís. While meeting strangers for a hook-up is always an iffy proposition, meeting those with whom one is already aligned is a no-brainer (and, of course, the pun here was intentional). So it isnít a stretch to imagine that this year or next we will see dozens of apps using our GPSí in consciously intelligent and socially aligned ways so that we can (if we so desire, with the on/off option always looming large) gather in random places and in random moments with those who share our interests: from very specific religious affiliations to very specific culinary desires to very specific intellectual quests. The GPI we desire literally kills the Facebook of today. We want to create our own socially mediated universes and not merely live within and extend the dream of a Mark Zuckerberg. As Zadie Smith so brilliantly opined in The New York Review of Books, “I canít imagine life without files but I can just about imagine a time when Facebook will seem as comically obsolete as LiveJournal. In this sense, The Social Network is not a cruel portrait of any particular real-world person called “Mark Zuckerberg.” Itís a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore.” In order for us not get caught in the “locked-in” perversions of a Qwerty bounded shortcut for intelligent conversations on the Net, we will have to heed the words of Jaron Lanierís that “we are not a gadget.” To have freedom of associations we have to be free from any singular association that imprisons us within its prefabrications of what is and isnít acceptable in our shared discourses. When we all become digitally telepathic and the universe at large becomes largely transparent then a new form of art will emerge where the personal narrative lives not in words or images but in self-generated worlds the likes of which we cannot envisage.
Google Glasses are the most talked about new gadget in the first part of 2013 and for good reason. They represent how intelligent devices are rapidly evolving to become embedded objects in our day to day lives. Already almost anybody with a smart phone (android or apple or otherwise) won't leave home without one and if they do somehow forget their intelligent devices they will invariably turn their cars around to go secure it.
This should give us a preview of what the future has in store for us, even if Luddites be damned. Everything and everyone is turning psychic and the hardware/software divide will quickly become lost in a mind meld that even Spock couldn't prefigure. Google glasses is merely an awkward transition from a partial smart augmentation (the iPhone or Android device is in our pocket, or our hands, or close up to our face) to a fully implanted one (from contacts to nanotechnological seed implants).
What this portends is an unprecedented transparency of human cognition and connectivity. Ken Wilber has long argued that human evolution will move from the merely rational to the psychic, even though his prophetic trajectories were mistakenly of a wholly mystical kind. The psychic canopy of the future is not built on yogic visionaries, but on the nuts and bolts of hard core physics. The psychic template, even though it may seem to be imputing a spiritual realm, is algorithmically layered (level by level) upon electronic data streams prefigured in the laws of quantum mechanics.
And, yet, the larger question remains: are homo sapiens ready for full and uncensored frontal lobe exposure?
Perhaps Neil Postman's famous book Amusing Ourselves to Death should be retitled to "Exposing Ourselves to Death