The Global Brain and the Anthropocene
Harold Bloom is the author of a book, published in 2000, called The Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century. It’s been some years since I first read it (and even then I notice that I bookmarked it only half-way through), so I will have to take it up again in light of Iain McGilchrist’s insights into neurodynamics in his book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Bloom doesn’t use the term “Anthropocene” in connection with the Global Brain, but for all intents and purposes, that’s what the Anthropocene really is — the built-environment, the “genuine imitation”.
It’s here in terms the “Anthropocene” and “Global Brain” that a number of critical threads converge, which we will explore in today’s post.
When we hear the word “Anthropocene”, we usually think of this in relation to the eternal trash that human activity has left indelibly, in the body of the Earth — oceans suffocating in plastic, synthetics in the sediments and the atmosphere, and so on. But more broadly speaking, the Anthropocene is the built-environment, and that built-environment has a logical structure — a “system” — corresponding to the process we call “globalisation”. In those terms, globalisation is process of systematisting and rationalising relationships of space and time according to the logic of the mental-rational consciousness structure.
In keeping with Marshall McLuhan’s insights into technologies (or “media”) as the “extensions of man” — bio-mimicry in a sense — Bloom’s “Global Brain” is the extension, via media or technics, of the structure of the human nervous system to envelope the globe. Hence, “Anthropocene” and “Global Brain” may be considered equivalent realisations. If we take what we call “globalisation” as the projection or externalisation or objectification (or “self-alienation”) of the structure of the “divided brain” and nervous system, which results in “The Anthropocene” as this “Global Brain”, certain consequences follow, for just as an incredible amount of trash flows through the human nervous system, so it does in the Anthropocene.
Once you understand the Anthropocene as a gigantic projection or objectification of the structure of the brain (and its logic) — a kind of egregore in those terms — than you will understand the origins and meaning of “the Society of the Spectacle”, and of the apparent triumph of image and abstraction over reality, as well as all those apparent manifestations of the arational or “irrational”, such as the mythical or magical, that so disturb and perplex people today (such as Peter Stirk’s Technology as Magic: The Triumph of the Irrational, Lee Worth Bailey’s The Enchantments of Technology, Robert Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom and Dream, or Jacque Ellul’s numerous writings on problems of the technological society and system). And the fact that we are living inside a gigantic model of the human brain as “built-environment” accounts for such exploitative and aberrant projects such as “spiritual marketing” or Rolf Jensen’s “Dream Society“.
It’s because globalised technical processes mimic neurological processes and their logic (for how can they do otherwise?) that we can say that the Anthropocene and the Global Brain are equivalent. There is no border or absolute boundary between inner and outer, befitting the Hermetic principle “as above, so below”, or in this case as within, so without. The Anthropocene is an image and operation of the alienated structure, logic, and functioning of the human brain and nervous system, and everything that follows from that as a consequence — exactly what we are seeing today as a kind of delirium of delusion and pandaemonium of illusions that is unable to distinguish now between true and false, or image and reality. The Anthropocene and Global Brain corresponds to Blake’s warning that “man has closed himself up until he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern”. And what Lewis Mumford calls “the Megamachine” is the projected image and function of the functioning of the left-hemisphere of the brain that corresponds to McGilchrist’s “Emissary”.
But, it is also this self-alienation of the human form — especially today the brain — into technology or artifacts that allows cultural philosophers such as Jean Gebser (or McLuhan and others) to “read” and interpret technologies as symbolic forms, as representations of a certain consciousness structure — especially in terms of the magical, the mythical, and the mental-rational consciousness structures, which are also neurodynamic processes, and which are “irrupting” into the present along with the Anthropocene and the projection of these processes in the making of the “Global Brain” .
It is not just the logical, systematising, and rationalising functions of the “Emissary” — the left-hemisphere functions of the divided brain — that are being alienated or objectified, but other and more unconscious aspects and functions of the brain and nervous system as well — imagination, the Shadow (or Mr. Hyde) as well as the so-called “Lizard Brain”. The Anthropocene is the objectification and formation of these as well, which is already acknowledged in the meaning of “the return of the repressed”, which was even the principle theme and dynamic of the twentieth century. And it’s also worth bearing in mind that Blake’s “four Zoas”, who “reside in the Human Brain”, are also in play in the Anthropocene, and are in play in terms of what I refer to as our own “four riders of the apocalypse” as Double-Talk, Double-Think, Double-Standard, and Double-Bind in their “fallen forms”, but are otherwise, in their “eternal forms” or benevolent forms, also called “The Guardians of the Four Directions”.
All the functions of the brain and nervous system are being modeled or encoded in the Anthropocene as “Global Brain”, not just the rationalising, systematising, analytical, and logical functions. That includes the “Master”, in McGilchrist’s terms, but also the “neo-” and “paleo-” portions of the brain. The Anthropocene — the Global Brain — has to wake up to these other aspects and functions of itself because, at present, the Global Brain or Anthropocene is a robopath, an automaton, a Juggernaut (appropriately named after the rolling “carriage” of the “Lord of the Universe”, Jagganatha).
The Anthropocene or Global Brain represents, in those terms, both promise and peril. The Global Brain makes possible the “integral consciousness” described by Gebser (or “the Universal Humanity” described by Aurobindo or Blake), but also the Megamachine and the Shadow (or Blake’s “dark Satanic Mill”). But it’s because, in McGilchrist’s terms, both aspects of the divided brain are presently being projected into the Anthropocene that the German poet Holderlin’s words have meaning, “where the peril is greatest, there lies the saving power also”. Presently, we see only the Faustian or Mephistophelian aspect of the divided brain in the Anthropocene/Global Brain — the “Emissary”. But that’s only half the story.
When it comes to the Anthropocene or Global Brain, assume the Yogic principle: Tat Tvam Asi — “Thou art That”.