Consciousness is a Continuum

Before I trundle off to do my Christmas Day visiting rounds, I thought I would post something that bears, significantly, on the last few posts respecting Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and the internet — particularly as it reflects on Bruce Sterling’s take on Assange being a kind of avatar of the internet itself.


In my present employment, I am responsible for organising and clearing away a good deal of chickpea production in Western Canada. Part of that overall activity includes getting product graded according to standards set by the Canadian Grain Commission. There are four grade classes: No. 1 cw, No. 2 cw, No. 3 cw, and feed or “sample” grade. (CW stands for Canada West).

As an experiment one day, I took one producer sample and distributed it around three different labs in three different plants in three different cities with a request to have the chickpea graded according to CGC standards. I did this because I new these three plants to have different processing capabilities and technology. The result was that I received back three different grades for the same sample.

Theoretically, this should not happen. Most grading standards rest on replicable quantifiable measures that should not vary much at all from lab to lab or technician to technician. There are, however, some “subjective” or qualitative factors that are non-quantifiable, such as colour or what might be considered “damage” in the grain. As I reviewed the results, though, and correlated these with what I knew of the technical capacities of each processing plant, I recognised a pattern. As mentioned, each plant had different processing equipment, and that environment subtely and quite unconsciously biased the perception of the grader and the grade issued for the sample.

My little experiment proved to my satisfaction an important truth about Marshall McLuhan’s conclusion that “the medium is the message” (although one can take this too far also. McLuhan also pretty much defines all technology as “media” or means). But there is something more to it, here. We don’t just perceive for and as ourselves alone. The entire environment perceives through us and as us. Consciousness is a continuum. The subject-object divide is delusory. The whole environment perceives and technology is but one important factor in that total environment.

Indra's Net

Moreover, it is very difficult to determine the boundaries of the perception. One could take the entirety of the processing plant as a single entity and suggest that it is this plant that perceives as the technician. But then the plant itself is situated within an environment, and here such things as the quality of the light in determining grading factors such as “Good Natural Colour” or “Poor Colour” or “Fair Colour” also affects the grade issued, and whether artificial light or natural light is used. There are, perhaps, an infinite number of factors that affect perception or enter into the act of perception. The situation resembles Carl Sagan’s recipe for baking apple pie, which begins: “first, create a universe”. It would be a lengthy recipe indeed.

In the act of perception, we are not actually perceiving for ourselves or as discrete subjects. Our perception is spread out, as it were, so that every part of the universe is involved in this act of perception, even if it is focussed in a lab or in the context of a factory. The whole is implicated in and involved in that act of perception. This probably is suggested in physicist David Bohm’s conception of Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Our perception is not private. In a sense, we are the universe in the act of perceiving itself, which action creates new possibilities for further perception.

In is also in this sense that self-realisation becomes also world manifestation and revelation.

It is in this sense that Sterling can authentically describe Julian Assange as being an avatar of the global internet, although there is far more involved here. It’s not quite correct to say that a thing like the global internet — even conceived in terms of neural mimicry as a “global brain” — is without precedent. It resembles, after all, Indra’s Net. Indra’s Net is, in turn, a metaphor for consciousness and the interdependency and interconnectivity of the whole. No part of the net can be affected without it being instantaneously communicated to the whole and throughout the whole. This is non-linearity in effect, and the internet does, in some sense, symbolise or manifest that character of consciousness in the form of Indra’s Net in a manifest and visible way.

Indra's Net

You can say that perception is distributed rather than localised, and that we do not perceive as ourselves or for ourselves alone. In this sense, too, awareness has no boundaries.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne


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