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”.



11 responses to “The Global Brain and the Anthropocene”

    • Scott Preston says :

      That is a book I should re-read some day.

      There is an interesting anecdote that I think helps illustrate Barfield’s notions of the “collective representations” and what Gebser means by both “perspective consciousness” and “the projections”.

      The ancient Greeks did not think that images or sense impressions entered the eye. Rather the reverse. They thought that the eye illuminated the object of its perception. The flow of light was in the opposite direction of what we assume it to be.

      In contemporary terms, this viewpoint is called “radical constructionism” and what the Greeks were actually describing is taken up again by Phenomenology as the intentionality of perception. So is Barfield. What Barfield is describing by “collective representations” is that old Greek idea that objects or events are intentional constructs. That is connected with Heraclitus’s notion that “character is fate”.

      Blake said much the same thing: we do not perceive things as they are but as we are. That’s the same notion, and the “collective representations” are autobiographical. Gebser also relies upon that to interpret artifacts as indicators of a structure of consciousness — as “projections” or externalisations of that structure. Altogether, the collective representations make for what Blake calls “Ulro” — the Shadow world, which is the realm of the Shadow.

      In effect, Gebser’s “transparency of the world” or diaphaneity is insight into the collective representations — the transparency of the collective representations as intentional objects or “constructions”, which is what Blake means, of course, by his seeing “through the eye” rather than “with the eye” by cleansing “the doors of perception”.

      The collective representations are the work of “monkey mind” — that inner voice that continually tells us who we are and what our world is like. But that “voice” is what I call “the foreign installation” (after Castaneda), which more or less corresponds to Freud’s “superego”. In effect, “memes” are the “collective representations”.

      For Blake, the “Fall into Time” (Marty Glass’s term) is the fall into the Ulro — the world of the collective representations, or images or, perhaps better, opacity. Basically, the fall into Time and into the Ulro is a fall into Mind — the parable of the Prodigal Son. As mind goes, so goes the Ulro (or samsara by another name). Mind and Ulro are the same.

      • abdulmonem says :

        The problem is that the collective representation despite its deceptive nature has done away with the un-represented, the non-comparable god,the unseen, thus threw our world in the mess we are trying to retrieve ourselves out of it. Hope we succeed.

  1. abdulmonem says :

    I never stop admiring the insistence of Scott in keeping narrating the same story over and over again with some new scenes from here and there in the hope as he says that something new may come out of it in line with the dictum that milk will never gives its butter without continual repetitive shaking. What bother me is these wide outlandish human claims that they cover the march of humanity from the big bang to the 21 century. The emissary as Scott said and rightly is half of the human story, my nagging question is why keeping addressing this half of the story while the main issue is to address the other half that may give hope to people and encourage them to pursue the master road without keep moaning in the chamber of the emissary. Last night I was reading Russel book the abundant hope in which he is quoting a lot from the illiad what fascinated me is his writing about the process of inspiration. the process god utilized to send his message to the human which were intermittent and confined to specific person over the past ages while it is now available to humanity, open to people themselves to mobilize it since humans have become mature enough and realize the role of the divine energy in everything and have become able to utilize such energy but alas in the wrong direction. This is exactly my vision which I have put in several of my comments. Here comes the story of the master that can through the activation of that process to participate actively in the long awaited process of corrections. We have to acknowlege that that process has already being utilized by people like Gebser and Aurobanda and others who are providing us with all these new visions that are activating the emanations of all our mental and spiritual involvements in the way up. It is the divine call ever since the beginning but alas our fall and resurrection is programmed and had started with the fall of our father only to receive what helped him to rise up, Let us rise up and never forget the descent of the divine knowledge and leave the prison of the material and aspire for the only real that is the divine one and enjoy his abundance in both its material realm and spiritual realm. The movement from the local anthropocene to global anthropocene has comes in line with the intensification of the human consciousness to tell humanity it is no longer viable to address the human problems in a local or specific religion domain but to address it in its global true context and not use the global curtain to conceal the local egoistic interest and to realize the oneness of humanity the oneness of god, the oneness of earth ,the oneness of the sun we all share its radiation the oneness of the moon that has fascinated all poets, the oneness of the water we drink the oneness of the air we breath, I better stop and hope all feel what I feel.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      Beautifully put. Thank you.

      True. There is no inspiration to be found in the expirational aspects of ‘The Great Unraveling'(which is an occurrence to which we are both witness and subject as opposed to a fictional story), though it is serving its purpose as a global clarion. What’s confounding is that our condition is apparently going to have to get far worse still for many of us to take note of just how egregious it is. I still maintain that everyone knows, on some level, though we may not all be able to a finger on the root cause. I know I couldn’t until I found TDAB though I had that universal inkling that something was dreadfully wrong.

      But this utter lack of inspiration is why I’ve chosen to focus ever more enthusiastically on those aspects of ‘The Great Turning’ that are inspirational, even if and when they may themselves be somewhat “subconscious.” With all the focus on Trump, et al, not many have noticed that he hasn’t actually accomplished much of his destructive agenda and, in fact, the foundation of it was actually laid by his predecessors, Democratic and Republican alike.

      Aspects of ‘The Great Unraveling’ are glaringly obvious. Far more difficult to discern are the inspirational aspects of ‘The Great Turning,’ e.g. Macy’s ‘bioneers’; the re-emergence (and growing appeal) of the ‘mystery schools’ of the world’s major religions; the scientific “revolutions” underway; the continuance of communities, regions and, even, nations to pursue such endeavors as “integral permaculture,” renewable energy, etc; and, of course, those “presencing” projects, et al, despite everything else that’s going on. We hear so little about these with the prevailing din filling our ears all the time.

      We don’t hear about the retreats organized by Plum Village for Israeli and Palestinian youths. We don’t hear about events, such as the Femme Q Summit, et al. Perhaps even more importantly, we rarely hear much, when anything at all, about the tiny of pockets of humanity quietly striving to establish cooperative, compassionate, ways of life in the midst of all the chaos and destruction. Nonetheless, they’re out there…in droves. Looking for them is akin to fishing for stars in the darkest of nights.

  2. mikemackd says :

    Back in the days – before Wilber got stuck into “spiritual marketing” after the death of his wife and his acquiring REDD – an auto-immune disease – he communicated many insights for which I, for one, I repeat, will be forever grateful. While deeply disagreeing with them, I will not, cannot, condemn his actions since. I do not have sufficient information at my disposal, and even if I did, I would not. But our paths are now very, very different.

    Amongst these insights was the Zen proverb, “before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water”.

    Another was:

    “At any sufficiently developed point in an individual’s development, a radical leap (Eckhart’s “breakthrough”) into the Formless can occur. The higher the development, the easier and more likely the jump will occur. Yet the Formless itself is not the result of that jump, nor does it then come to be. It is there, from the start, as one’s own Original Face.

    “Evolution seeks only this Formless summum bonum—it wants only this ultimate Omega—it rushes forward only and solely in search of this—and it will never find it, because evolution unfolds in the world of form. The Kosmos is driven forward endlessly, searching in the world of time for that which is altogether timeless. And since it will never find it, it will never cease the search. Samsara circles endlessly, and that is always the brutal nightmare hidden in its heart” (Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, 2000, pp. 324-325).

    How does this fit with Jesus’s “seek and ye shall find”? In attempting an answer to the question, one must ask, “who seeks, and how?”

    I see Scott and abdulmonem as working from different frames. Quietism is not enough: we are to breathe out as well as in. Monological gaze is not enough: we must grok the whole picture enough before being competent to apply skilful means to the particular.

    So however assertive the demands the barking hounds of the grotesqueries of powermongers impose, we should recall Paul Tillich’s definition of sin: estrangement from the whole. Part of that is ignoring one pole in a monological gaze upon the other. Then, we can be, and now are, led by the nose far more readily.

    When we are not thus estranged, we are less likely to be led astray but, as abdulmonem said, it can still happen, so we need courage as well as discernment.

    So, I further ask, “what is the opposite pole to that of these grotesqueries?”

    Currently, I am engrossed in a book by Simon Sebag Montefiore, called “Jerusalem, the Biography”; and what an appalling story it is (Jerusalem’s that is, as narrated by Montefiore: the book itself is brilliant). On p. 159, Montefiore recounts the comment of Rabbi ben Zakkai upon visiting the ruins after another of the still-continuing litany of brutal nightmares inflicted upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and a student of his crying, “woe unto us!”

    Could Rabbi ben Zakkai’s reply to his student answer both my questions “who seeks, and how?” and “what is the opposite pole”? Ben Zakkai’s answer was, “Be not grieved. We have another atonement. It is acts of loving kindness”.

    Even when unintended, the ego’s seeking unleashes brutal nightmares, while at-one-ment happens when the seeker is the soul enacting loving kindness: not to achieve any empowerment or other external drivers at all, but because such acts are “autotelic” – of worth in themselves. That is the paradox of seeking: the soul’s seeking is quiet.

    • Scott Preston says :

      “Evolution seeks only this Formless summum bonum—it wants only this ultimate Omega—it rushes forward only and solely in search of this—and it will never find it, because evolution unfolds in the world of form. The Kosmos is driven forward endlessly, searching in the world of time for that which is altogether timeless. And since it will never find it, it will never cease the search. Samsara circles endlessly, and that is always the brutal nightmare hidden in its heart”

      That’s one way to put it, I suppose. It sounds like a restatement of Rumi’s “emptiness is what your soul wants”.

      I’m not sure what he means by “Evolution seeks” or the “Kosmos searches in the world of time”. I don’t see this as the case at all, and Wilber simply hasn’t read enough Blake, perhaps. He’s really talking about himself.

      • mikemackd says :

        I interpret “evolution” there as meaning McGilchrist’s left hemisphere.

        • mikemackd says :

          Also, I read it as that the Tao that can be known is not the eternal Tao, the name that can be defined is not the unchanging name. That is, it is not for us to enbox God. Or, for that matter, to judge others.

          I must bear that in mind myself.

  3. abdulmonem says :

    Nice comment Mike, without losing ourselves in words we have to know that, He is both the starting alpha point and the ultimate omega point and before going to the last we have to start with the first. God keeps remind humanity through the prophets about the bond he concluded with the humans prior to their descent in their physical form ( that is why there is this innate nagging desire for attachment and support, for idols) and the necessity of starting their earth journey with the full awareness of such bond,the bond that humans have a lord and that the lord has words that need to be respected and abide with. One sufi with high awareness said ,I have recalled the voice of god as if it is now vibrating in my soul. Transparency and purity of heart can do wonders. Why do we have memory and the faculty of remembering. The code of value that no humans can live without even if it is in a deformed form, as it is the situation of our time. God is the consciousness that runs everything, even the consciousness of the humans, the aware humans who are running rapidly, in our time, toward the realization of the divine consciousness as the source of their consciousness and every other consciousness in this wide cosmos. Consciousness is not confined to the mental emanation only but covers all other types of consciousness basic among them imagination and intuition which our civilization has deprived itself from the spaciousness of such realms and imprisoned itself in the rational and the seen. May be we are riding different memes bul we are all heading to the same destination. Sometime I wonder, are we riding the memes or are the memes riding us or both. It is no longer the religious identity or the cultural,racial sexual identity is the key to him but the truthful honest heart. Faith is not a mental process that leads to him in that case our civilization with all its production of technology and mental theories be nearer to to him but that is not the case but it the reverse is the case. This prove that forgetting the influencing power of the divine that moves us and has decisive role in our direction, despite the apparent freedom we have, is a great great problem. In conclusion I like to translate verse 111 chap 6 of the koran( reading) called the cattle which shades light on this chronic dilemma, If we were to send down on them the angels and makes the dead talk to them and faces them with all other signs they will not have faith unless god wills but alas most of them are ignorant of the ways of god.

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