The Global Brain and the Collective Representations

While we are on the topic of “the collective representations” (that is, images) and how this plays out in relation to Howard Bloom’s “Global Brain” theme, I’ld like to revisit an earlier posting (pre-Trump) on that and build upon it further. That posting was called “The Image and the Spirit of Place” and addressed some of the missing information that always attends the image as a “genuine imitation” reality. Images are abstractions from the real, and often only have a tenuous relation to the reality which they supposedly mirror or represent. The Anthropocene. as the “built-environment”,  is, amongst other things, a vast ecosystem (or technosystem) of images and image complexes, or “collective representations”. So, in a sense, we live inside this collective hallucination of the “Global Brain” within a system of mental abstractions called “the images” or the “representations”, which is a kind of schizophrenia.

Back in 1956 — which is a decade that many conservatives think of with nostalgia as a “golden age”, but for many others was an decade of alarming developments — Kenneth Boulding published his short book The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society. If you haven’t read it, I recommend you do. Boulding was perhaps the first to call for a “science” of the image, although coincidentally, the following year 1957, Owen Barfield addressed just this same issue of the image in his notable book Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. An idolatrous people are, in effect, those whose consciousness is enslaved to the collective representations or images, which are only the shadows of the real, and in those terms idolatry and narcissism are equivalent ways of speaking about the same thing — what Blake calls “the mind-forg’d manacles”.

One of the reasons we are having such a hard time today with issues of truth and falsity, of a crisis of identity and the post-modern “loss of self”, of the crisis of “objective fact” and the discernment of the factual from the fictional (and so in a “post-rational” society), is because we are now inside the projected or objectified neurological structure of the human brain, and it’s a damned strange and surreal place to be actually. We are inside the objectified or extended human nervous system now materialised as “the network” in which we serve, pretty much, as “nodes” — neurons or brain cells — in this collective brain along with its collective imagination (as well as all the inner conflicts and contradictions of that). It’s in this sense that the distinction between what is “subjective” and what is “objective” is breaking down, where people like Kenneth Boulding, or Owen Barfield, or Neil Postman are asking, along with Paul Watzlawick (1976), How Real is Real? (subtitled Confusion, Disinformation, Communication).

All else aside, for the moment, “the Anthropocene” and the process of globalisation, is the construction of a sensory and information network — of media channels, trade routes, global internet — that is basically a neural net, a giant “global brain” which is our new “within”. It is this we call “the system”, a kind of semi-autonomous “egregore”, which Lewis Mumford calls “the Megamachine”, and is exactly what the father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, called “a golem” in his book God and Golem, Inc. In effect, the theme of the movie The Matrix is closer to the real situation than we like to think, perhaps. Marty Glass, in his book Yuga, calls that “The Prison of Unreality”, which all becomes completely understandable and intelligible once we appreciate this “new within” (or “New Normal”) is a “genuine imitation” human brain and nervous system, as the “built-environment”. And as you know from observing even your own mental pictures or stream of consciousness, a lot of bizarre and surreal stuff often flows along our own neural pathways — images, dream, irrational moods, and nightmares.

Bloom also calls our “reality” a “mass hallucination”, but regrettably does not go into this much, but an aberrant vision of the “final form of society” like Rolf Jensen’s post-rational, post-truth “Dream Society (which is basically “The Matrix”) is conceivable only because of this new “within” of a global neural network.

In our strange, strange world, we live surrounded by the mental-abstractions called “collective representations” or mental-pictures, or images that we confuse with the reality itself — pretty much like Plato’s Parable of the Cave where the cave is a giant objectification or materialisation of the skull and human brain. It’s this that has alarmed so many social critics, even when they don’t connect things like branding, propaganda, or mass delusion with the self-alienation of the human subject in the form of the global brain, and it’s one of the reasons why the distinction between the “private” and the “public” is also collapsing, for the global brain includes the objectification of the identity and the subjectivity, where the self-image also often becomes identified with “brand identities”, “branded behaviours”, or “brand personalities” or “brand lifestyles” and so on. Self-alienation is essentially “projection” — equivalent to what Nietzsche called a “flowing out into a God”, but is now a flowing out into, and as, the collective representations or images or “brands” (or what also is sometimes called “commodity fetishism”, but that’s only part of the story).

And here’s the rub in all this — there is always missing information in the image or mental-picture, because it is an abstraction, inasmuch as the images today are largely digitalised and pixelated models, and therefore approximations, of the real which they attempt to represent or propagate (and this is also where Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem finds its relevance equally, and where David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous proposes a corrective to too much mental abstraction). What’s missing from the abstraction or image is the quality of Life. Although you may hear the image speak or see the image move, the sound and the movement and the form is a digitalised reconstruction of the voice and the form, and of pretty low fidelity. It’s an abstraction that censors out other aspects of the real person that makes for “presence” — you can’t “reach out and touch” that abstraction, nor can you sense the warmth or the smell or the taste of the real or immediate. The abstraction — the “collective representation” — has no life. It only has a simulation of life in terms of sound and movement. The image is, in effect, a caricature.

In the Anthropocene, though, this is the reality we interact with daily, and for newer generations it may be the only “reality” they know at all.

At the same time, though, this exteriorisation or objectification of the brain and mind as “global brain” and “planetary mind” is a wonderful opportunity to study the meaning of “mind” itself, and “the ecology of mind” (as Bateson put it). This is what Bloom attempts to do also in his book The Global Brain, even though I think it is often uneven and he overlooks quite a lot about this matter, particularly in light of Iain McGilchrist’s later book The Master and His Emissary about neurodynamics (and a debate between Bloom and McGilchrist about the implications of this “global brain” would be most engaging, I think. Bloom pays very little attention to the mode of attention of the right-hemisphere compared to McGilchrist. For the most part, Bloom’s “Global Brain” is McGilchrist’s “Emissary” — the mostly rationalistic and systematising functions of the left-hemisphere which is precisely the sphere of the “collective representations”, and we may assume equally that what will stream through the global neural net will also be the influence of the “unconscious” and even something resembling Jung’s “archetypes” of the “collective unconscious” already being configured as “brand personalities“). There is much that is pathological — neurotic and hysterical — that will also flow through the globalised neural net.

Expect a “mindstorm” in those terms, which is, I think, what we are already seeing, and which will, I also think, very much resemble the apocalyptic clash of Blake’s “four Zoas”. That is where Gebser’s cultural philosophy of the consciousness structures, Blake’s “fourfold vision”, Rosenstock-Huessy’s quadrilateral logic and “cross of reality”, as well as the Sacred Hoop, or perhaps Holling’s “Adaptive Cycle” also, can help us understand the mayhem and help us navigate the turmoil of the present mindstorm.

Because there is more to the brain and nervous system than just the “rational”, analytical and logical functions of the left-hemisphere, and these also will be objectified and externalised in the “global brain” and “planetary mind”.

 

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35 responses to “The Global Brain and the Collective Representations”

  1. donsalmon says :

    ” For the most part, Bloom’s “Global Brain” is McGilchrist’s “Emissary” — the mostly rationalistic and systematising functions of the left-hemisphere which is precisely the sphere of the “collective representations”, and we may assume equally that what will stream through the global neural net will also be the influence of the “unconscious” and even something resembling Jung’s “archetypes” of the “collective unconscious” already being configured as “brand personalities“).

    Excellent point! i’ve tried to dip into Bloom’s writing from time to time, and always give up after a chapter or so – VERY heavy, rationalistic thinking.

    Great post.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Here’s the question I would like to put to Mr. Bloom — and it’s one we might all ponder — what happens when the “global brain” meets “the return of the repressed”? That’s the issue of this particular post, and the conclusion I gave is a maelstrom — “mindstorm”. So, we have the formula

      “Global Brain” + “Return of the Repressed” = “Mindstorm”.

      A global mindstorm, even if we call this “havoc” or “chaotic transition” or “pandaemonium” or “delirium”.

      In Blake’s terms, the “repressed” are the other three zoas of the pyschic household who have been kept down by Urizen –Tharmas, Luvah, Urthona. They are also aspects of the divided brain. Their apocalyptic insurrection results in a nightmare scenario depicted in Blake’s “Vision of the Last Judgment”. It’s in those terms that I also see Blake’s Four Zoas as corresponding with Gebser’s “structures of consciousness” also. I can’t see how they could be different. And Blake’s insurrection of the Zoas against Urizen as “return of the repressed” corresponds to Gebser’s “irruption”. It’s literally the case in Blake’s scenario that “all Hell breaks loose”, even if its transitional to the New Age.

      None of this unsettles Bloom’s rather rosier picture of the Global Brain (although he does spend a few pages on the plague of conservatism and fundamentalism

  2. Steve Lavendusky says :

    .
    Simone’s Spirit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

    Excerpts from a letter Simone Weil wrote on May 15, 1942 in Marseilles, France to her close friend Father Perrin:

    At fourteen I fell into one of those fits of bottomless despair that come with adolescence, and I seriously thought of dying because of the mediocrity of my natural faculties. The exceptional gifts of my brother, who had a childhood and youth comparable to those of Pascal, brought my own inferiority home to me. I did not mind having no visible successes, but what did grieve me was the idea of being excluded from that transcendent kingdom to which only the truly great have access and wherein truth abides. I preferred to die rather than live without that truth. After months of inward darkness, I suddenly had the everlasting conviction that any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius, if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment. He thus becomes a genius too, even though for lack of talent his genius cannot be visible from outside. Later on, when the strain of headaches caused the feeble faculties I possess to be invaded by a paralysis, which I was quick to imagine as probably incurable, the same conviction led me to persevere for ten years in an effort of concentrated attention that was practically unsupported by any hope of results.
    Under the name of truth I also included beauty, virtue, and every kind of goodness, so that for me it was a question of a conception of the relationship between grace and desire. The conviction that had come to me was that when one hungers for bread one does not receive stones. But at that time I had not read the Gospel.
    Just as I was certain that desire has in itself an efficacy in the realm of spiritual goodness whatever its form, I thought it was also possible that it might not be effective in any other realm.
    As for the spirit of poverty, I do not remember any moment when it was not in me, although only to that unhappily small extent compatible with my imperfection. I fell in love with Saint Francis of Assisi as soon as I came to know about him. I always believed and hoped that one day Fate would force upon me the condition of a vagabond and a beggar which he embraced freely. Actually I felt the same way about prison.

    • Scott Preston says :

      What Weil is describing there in her letter is the potency of intent or intentionality. Gurdjieff once said that “wish is powerful”, but what he meant by that is intentionality. Weil gives a pretty good description of its effects here in her letter.

  3. Scott Preston says :

    This is rather over the top (speaking of prisons)

    Khizr Khan, the famous “Gold Star” father who challenged Trump to read the US Constitution, has apparently been denied the ability to travel abroad, even to Canada to speak

    http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/gold-star-father-s-toronto-speech-cancelled-as-travel-rights-are-reviewed-organizer-1.3312966

    Not only is Trump keeping Muslims out, he’s apparently keeping them in. I have no idea why Khan’s travel rights as a US citizen would be “under review”. That makes no sense to me at all. It’s very Kafka-esque, and more like something one would expect from some place like North Korea.

    • donsalmon says :

      you might check that – it certainly seems believable but some (reputable appearing) people are saying it’s a fake story about Khan….

      • Scott Preston says :

        It certainly seems beyond the pale. But Khan, so far, isn’t commenting, and I’m not sure who it is the media is quoting by “travel privileges were being reviewed”. It doesn’t make much sense.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    Is it really after hearings all the cries of these voices we are still in need to understand the mayhem of our situation. Is it really we are still do not know how to navigate out of this mess. is it really the path to him as the only solution is unclear. Is it true that humans are left on this earth without inner guiding voice and without external guiding voice. Is it true that humans can not navigate until they have full knowledge. Is it really humans are left without sensors to tell them when they have committed wrong. Is it really they are without sensors for correction. Is it really history is a bad teacher. Is it really that humanity has been left without a code of value. I sometime feel that the rational mania has never left us in our path to the true,as I said in a previous comment that the mental without the support of the intuitive and the imaginative faculties can not reach the glow of truth. It is my painful sadness is my motivator to the true that I like to share. I hope my comment be understood in that spirit, after all our soul which is part of the spirit that operates our brain, our heart, and all other organs physical and non-physical. It is true that knowledge without wisdom can do nothing. it is always salvation a personal matter that aspires to be communalized. It seems that humans who refuse to correct themselves speedily let their corrective sensors fall in rusticity that leads to spiritual deterioration before the natural death.

  5. InfiniteWarrior says :

    I don’t understand how this is different from print. (Books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) There hasn’t been (and never will be) a surrogate for personal experience worthy of replacing personal experience itself, imho, which is something I’ve tried (and failed) to get across in the past. I am for some reason reminded of a scene from Shadowlands in which the ‘caricatures’ of Joy and C.S. Lewis conversed about this very thing.

    We didn’t just trip over “collective representations” recently with technologies e.g. the Internet. They’ve been part and parcel of the “human experience” since long before the inventions of the printing press and camera. In other times, of course, the records were kept by hand, but were, in effect, just as “global.”

    The notion of “intensification of consciousness” once again has made an appearance in a recent comment and I wonder if these more recent developments may be (seemingly) inextricably connected to the fact that the natural pace of life is a very different experience than the pace “the Machine” forces upon us. Our natural pace, it seems to me (but perhaps just it’s me) is a hell of lot slower than the Machine’s. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never been able to adapt to the Machine’s pace…mostly (probably) because I have no desire to do so.

    I’m sure there are better examples, but here goes…. We all remember when we were kids. The seemingly never-ending days of never-ending summers, when our minds and hearts and bodies and imaginations were perfectly attuned to the natural world. What’s really changed since then other than the time we came of age to be fed into the machine? <.< Is the Machine setting the pace of this "intensification of consciousness?"

    • donsalmon says :

      Hi IF: That’s a great evocation of those “never-ending days” and “never -ending summers.”

      I think that’s why I love retreats so much. Jan and I go several times a year to Roy Davis’ 11 acre retreat center in Lakemont, GA. We usually go when nobody else is there (it’s by donation; wonderful place – intensely powerful meditation hall).

      There’s an almost predictable pattern to our experience.

      The first day we’re utterly exhausted and end up sleeping most of the day. The 2nd day seems to go on forever – i remember times we get to noon and it seems like we’ve been there for weeks already.

      By the 3rd day, the rhythms of life completely change. Every moment is elongated; time almost ceases to exist. There is such an appreciation of color and sound and the feel of the wind and heat and everything else.

      We had a glimpse of that recently when our local Buddhist group had a 1 day retreat. It’s possible in the midst of the “Machine” but much harder – but worth aspiring for, I think.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Telematics is different from print. Print is speech made visible, while telematics (telephony, telegraphy, telescopy, television, etc) is an attempt to extend the reach of the senses and perception approaching instantaneity. Telematics very definitely is an extension of the senses (through sensors) and nervous system far more so than print, books, epistles, and such matters. As McLuhan put it, the “Gutenberg Galaxy” is a very different place from what is called the technotronic.

  6. abdulmonem says :

    On mentioning C S Lewis and your slow tempo which I share I was listening to a lecture on aspects of contrast and comparability between Lewis and his friend Tolkien where Tolkien think god is slow which I understood to mean that there is difference between human time and the divine where we read in some scriptures that one divine day is equal to one thousand human day, also god is not hasty in his punishable manifestation, given the humans ample time to mend. It is a complex cosmos one has to be careful where to step. It seems we are living in a state where the agitators are not in short numbers and the agitated are in billions and those who misread their creation are abound. It is enjoyable to see our diverse thoughts are roaming freely in different directions, providing we do not forget the oneness we are all different parts of its manifestations that to it we will return with our thoughts and deeds. I can not imagine the play of our cosmos without god the light energy that mobilizes all.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    It occurs to me that what’s missing in the missing information around the collective representations or abstract images — all those things, and more, I mentioned in the post — might altogether be described as the “ambience”. Other people might call this “presence”.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    I was just fuding about on the internet, looking for something interesting about telematics, and came across this article at Edge.org. It has some of the same themes as today’s posting, but (again) doesn’t probe far enough into the meaning of this “collective consciousness” (a.k.a global brain, planetary mind, etc), particularly in relation to the “return of the repressed”

    https://www.edge.org/response-detail/11958

    Otherwise, the article might help clarify some of the more obscure things mentioned in the post.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      It’s about thinking. “We’re talking.”

      More like gossiping in most quarters. Gotcha.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Well, Hall should know better. He was a fine anthropologist. He probably did know that all speech was originally magic, and that even the word “grammar” is related to words for magic. It was certainly not for gossip.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          Oh, the blasphemy!

          Bear with me. I’m reminded once again of Skyrim and ‘The Way of the Voice.’ (I’m really weird that way, but think this related.)

          There is too much lore accompanying the development of ‘The Way of the Voice’ in the Elder Scrolls universe to provide anyone with a true sense of what it’s about, though I’m sure it has its parallels in other myths and legends with which others might be familiar and can, therefore, draw connections.

          I can’t set this up without huge spoilers and just a little background, but I don’t get the impression there are many, if any, gamers in these parts. If there are and not familiar with Skyrim, they might want to skip it.

          In Skyrim, the “Dragonborn” — the only person who presumably can stop Alduin, the World-Eater, an ancient dragon, from destroying the world — is summoned to High Hrothgar by the Graybeards (essentially the disciples of the great dragon Paarthurnax, their teacher in ‘The Way of Voice,’ a pacifist creed preached by the Way’s founder, Jurgen Windcaller), who seek to guide the Dragonborn in his or her quest to rid Skyrim of the dragons who have recently returned to life (literally). When asked about Windcaller, Arngeir, speaker for the Graybeards, responds:

          He was a great war leader of the ancient Nords, a master of the Voice, or Tongue. After the disaster of Red Mountain, where the Nord army was annihilated, he spent many years pondering the meaning of that terrible defeat. He finally came to realize that the gods had punished the Nords for their arrogant and blasphemous misuse of the Voice. He was the first to understand that the Voice should be used solely for the glory and worship of the gods, not the glory of men (i.e. martiality). Jurgen Windcaller’s mastery of the Voice eventually overcame all opposition, and the Way of the Voice was born.

          Regardless the player’s decisions in the main questline, once Alduin is defeated, the Dragonborn is greeted by all the dragons Alduin had resurrected to accomplish his world-destroying mission. Paarthurnax then proclaims:

          I feel younger than I have in many an age. Many of the dovah (dragons) are now scattered across Keizaal. Without Alduin’s lordship, they may yet bow to the vahzen… rightness of my Thu’um.

          ^ Pause.

          Then, Odahviing (the Dragonborn’s somewhat reluctant dragon ally) lands and says:

          I wish the Old One luck in his… quest. But I doubt many will wish to exchange Alduin’s lordship for the tyranny of Paarthurnax’s ‘Way of the Voice.'”

          ^ Long pause.

          As profound a moment in the story as it is, both Paarthurnax’s and Odahving’s comments are rarely mentioned. Just as rarely mentioned is an earlier conversation with Arngeir. When asked if there is another way to defeat Alduin (other than using the Dragonrend Shout), he will explain his uncertainty about the quest.

          Perhaps not. But this Shout was used once before, was it not? And here we are again. Have you considered that Alduin was not meant to be defeated? Those who overthrew him in ancient times only postponed the day of reckoning, they did not stop it. If the world is meant to end, so be it. Let it end and be reborn.

          Perhaps something to ponder in relation to “the return of repressed.”

          Incidentally, wondering if ‘gossip’ was the right word to use there:

          Old English god-sibb ‘godfather, godmother, baptismal sponsor,’ literally ‘a person related to one in God,’ from god ‘God’ + sibb ‘a relative’ (see sib). In Middle English the sense was ‘a close friend, a person with whom one gos-sips,’ hence ‘a person who gos-sips,’ later (early 19th century) ‘idle talk’ (from the verb, which dates from the early 17th century).

          • InfiniteWarrior says :

            Regardless the player’s decisions in the main questline….

            Minor correction. This happens if the player refuses to kill Paarthurnax at the behest of The Blades. Either way, Odahving has his say.

          • Scott Preston says :

            Archetypal, mythical, and magical elements make their way into video games.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              More.

              In the case of RPGs, the most important “elements” that make their way into video games are the players themselves. Being an interactive medium, it’s the player who breathes life into the otherwise lifeless “worlds”(and ‘illusion of choice’ in many cases) the developers create. Bethesda is, I think, noteworthy for being alone in creating “worlds,” e.g. Tamriel and Fallout, in which the unbridled imaginations of the players themselves play the most important and decisive role. Bethesda is severely criticized these days for their “sketchy” storylines, but they’re “sketchy” for that very reason, imo. Their philosophy is to give the player a “sketch” and let his or her own artistic vision “flesh out” both the world and its story. Such “worlds,” in a sense, are ultimately what the players make of them and this accounts for the replaybility factor of the best RPGs. I imagine one could play Fallout or Skyrim a million times (though I wouldn’t recommend it) and never get bored because every main character and character storyline is created by the player him or herself. The predetermined “quests” quickly become secondary on subsequent playthroughs.

              Something I’ve noticed (in relation to your post) is that many younger players prefer RPGs that are little, if anything, more than interactive movies. They want the characterizations as well as the entire story spelled out in minute detail from beginning to end. No player imagination required. Just going through the motions like turning a page in a novel. This gives me great pause. (Bethesda actually took quite a bit of flak recently for creating a “backstory” for the main character of Fallout 4 in response, I think, to younger players’ demands. Old-timers, of course, didn’t want one as they enjoy creating characters from the ground-up. Interestingly, “alternative start” modifications are among the most popular mods surrounding Bethesda games these days.)

              Paarthurnax’s and Odahving’s comments brings to my mind, at least, Thay’s observations upon arriving in America.

            • mikemackd says :

              Do they ever. It’s said George Lucas got his Star Wars plot from Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” archetype, and the Terrible Father archetype rarely got more terrible than Darth Vader (although, from this Jerusalem book, there have been more than a few contenders).

              IW, I would be interested in your views concerning your finding these games literally captivating, in terms of my post below and Scott’s highly relevant referral to Peter Berger’s Social Construction of Reality in that context.

              While it’s now free online, I don’t mean I want you to read Berger’s book first. I mean, how similar are your mental processes of being engaged in what you clearly know is a fantasy at one level (but that level lets another level of yourself play in it), and the processes of social reality/identity construction in the real world?

              That is, are they the same processes, and then the permitting part of you says, “OK, I used to be fully engrossed with that one, but I know it was a fantasy, but that other one over there is real”? Or when you are engrossed in them is there a part of you remaining aware that it’s just a game?

              I ask because we may not all have the same answer to that question.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              I wouldn’t say they’re literally captivating, but definitely compelling, thought-provoking and, as noted, highly imagination-stoking. (That applies, at least, to those I personally consider the best of them, mind you.)

              how similar are your mental processes of being engaged in what you clearly know is a fantasy at one level (but that level lets another level of yourself play in it), and the processes of social reality/identity construction in the real world

              It actually depends on the game. In those games that essentially play the same as reading a good novel, the intellectual processes are essentially the same as reading a good novel. You are more or less just tagging along with the main character(s) in a virtual world, “seeing” and experiencing it through their eyes. Sure, there are various activities for you to perform (and unless they’re “fetch quests,” they can be even be quite surprisingly spontaneous and thought-provoking at times), but that’s about the only difference.

              In those very rare games where the character you’re playing is one you’ve created yourself and not just “customized,” the processes are far more involved, quite different…and hard to describe. Many players of such games essentially just play themselves, creating characters that look like themselves and responding to whatever stimuli is there as they would in real life, which kind of defeats the purpose, imho. If one is new to the genre, that’s a natural tendency. I’ve done that myself; gauged the difference; and found I much prefer to play characters so unlike myself that our genders, when not even our species, are different and more or less “make them up” as I go along…all the while noting how differently NPCs respond to the character based on the character’s ethnicity, gender or species. It’s just a much more expansive experience, akin to writing a story (with a few all-too-familiar, “real-world” elements in it) rather than merely being subject to one.

              Otherwise, I’m not sure there’s much to compare. For example, I’m not sure it’s possible to construct a virtual “social reality” in a video game because every “social interaction” and “conversation” with NPCs (non-playable characters) is, of course, preprogrammed. Not much room for happenstance and spontaneity there. NPCs can be only as interesting as they’ve been programmed to be and (sorry Bethesda, but) Bethesda’s NPCs, for example, are perhaps the least interesting they can possibly be. In fact, a pretty popular mod (which I don’t personally use) for Skyrim is actually titled “Interesting NPCs.” : )

              As interesting, if not more so, than the games themselves to my mind is what the real-world gaming community does with those that are modifiable, such as Bethesda’s. Many of the best mods are specifically aimed at making the game world more “immersive” and/or seem more “realistic” — graphics mods; mods that make things such as “water” and the “weather” more realistic; mods that remove the HUD until and unless it’s necessary to see it so as to have no visual interference with the graphical representation of the “world” itself; mods such as “Realistic Needs and Diseases” that enable the player to have his or her character act more as they would be required to act in the real world, i.e. needing food, water, sleep and medical treatment to survive. I’ve mentioned in the past an incredibly involved mod created by a member of the gaming community for Skyrim called “Frostfall.” Skyrim is supposedly a very cold and snowy environment, but there’s no sense of that when playing the base game. Even in a blizzard, you’re sitting there playing the game and thinking, “Oh look. It’s snowing. Isn’t that pretty?” Frostfall is designed to make the weather in the game actually affect your character’s performance, stamina and strength as well as providing visual and sound effects to cue you in when your character’s exposure to “the elements” is too high. With Frostfall installed, I actually found myself at times literally shivering along with my character whenever his vision turned bluish and began to deteriorate because he was too cold and, on at least one occasion, freezing to death! (Luckily, also thanks to Frostfall, he was able to set up camp and build a fire to warm himself back up.).

              In series like Mass Effect or The Witcher, social relationships are, of course, also all preprogrammed but, because the characters are more than just a little interesting, one might find him or herself growing attached to them, in a sense, over the course of the series…which Bioware (the ME series’ developer) then plays to the hilt in a brazen attempt to manipulate one’s real-world emotions in ME3. (Don’t get me started. That was a no-go for me.) This is also little different than television and motion picture series. “Witchers,” due to the “mutations” they undergo, are unemotional as well as socially and politically neutral, so if you’re actually playing the character, a huge degree of detachment is in-built.

              I would wager everyone’s experience would be as unique as their own “real-world” experiences. I doubt there’s any way to leave that behind entirely when playing a video game.

              when you are engrossed in them is there a part of you remaining aware that it’s just a game?

              Definitely…especially given the occasional technical glitch that knocks you right out of a virtual “world” in an instant. (NPCs getting stuck on virtual trees and fences, behind virtual furniture and what-have-you still “walking” as nonchalantly as if they were strolling down the street, etc.) Probably of most interest in regard to your question, however, is that I find there are varying degrees of the awareness of this part or level of one’s self that more or less depends on how “immersed” one allows one’s self to become. It can be at the same level as being engrossed in a good novel (writing it or otherwise) all the way to a level where it’s possible to completely lose track of time. I don’t think these games particularly dangerous (as some do) in that sense, but it’s something I personally bear in mind when I play them.

              I’m not sure if that addresses your question regarding parallels. “Social construction” is nonexistent in video games. The “societies” or cultures, as the case may be, are fictitious and predetermined…much like our own.

            • mikemackd says :

              What a great answer! Many thanks, IW.

            • Scott Preston says :

              Video gaming has all the elements of lucid dreaming (and sometimes not so lucid, like Gamergate) or guided instances of Jung’s procedure of “active imagination”. And since dreams are very often individual and collective rehearsals for the social construction of reality, gaming raises some interesting questions about the future shape of society. Video games are another instance of how the neural net and subjectivity is externalised as dreamscape or mindscape.

              But your post got me wondering whether Blake’s mythology of the Four Zoas could be translated into a video game. I think Blake would relish the idea. He certainly attempted to translate his vision into his engravings, and he may have longed to animate them.

              Virtual realities such as video games are certainly cultural artifacts, and I’m sure Gebser would also find them fascinating matters for his own hermeneutics of consciousness structures — the principle activity of homo ludens. For they also have a “grammar”, and often what is encoded in that grammar is ancient and archetypal.

              Having said that, though, there is also the difference that in dreaming, all your “senses” are operative — the tactile, the olfactory also, which are not much engaged in video gaming.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              The tactile also makes an appearance in that you are controlling the character’s movements throughout the game world, avoiding those trees and fences and pieces of furniture; interacting with the game’s environment; dodging, parrying, jumping, climbing. It’s not unusual to feel your own muscles twitch and flex as though you were actually performing those actions yourself. Evolving combat systems, especially, actually require quite a bit of tactile skill.

              On PC, of course, you’re really just using all your fingers (much like typing) to accomplish these other-worldly tasks, but the real-world movements become something of which you’re not even vaguely aware.

              whether Blake’s mythology of the Four Zoas could be translated into a video game

              Probably not in a way that could do it justice. The author of the Witcher books hated the first video game based on it, although it was an excellent game for the time. (I wonder what he would make of the third, though, which was masterfully crafted.)

              Much is definitely lost in translation as in the case of a movie rarely being considered as good as the book it’s based on. The movie is just not at all how you imagined it yourself. Perhaps no other canvas can suffice.

            • InfiniteWarrior says :

              since dreams are very often individual and collective rehearsals for the social construction of reality, gaming raises some interesting questions about the future shape of society.

              Trends aren’t looking so good in the microcosm of the gaming community itself at the moment. (Warning: the topic of this video is not pleasant by any stretch, but is accurate and, I think, unfortunately reflective of negative trends in the macrocosm.)

              “Gaming” has become an “industry” just as healthcare along with everything else have become industries, and is acutely suffering the detrimental effects of having become one. Independent studios are becoming a thing of the past as the industry is being privatized and monopolized by a very few corporate distributors.

              Frustrations in the gaming community cover the gamut of what the macrocosm itself is experiencing. This is just my personal opinion, mind you, but rather than evolving as an art form, video games are, in large part, devolving in terms of quality in the sense that things one would expect to improve over time, e.g. graphic and animation quality; characterization, gameplay and story quality — all-things-quality, essentially — are suffering the deleterious effects of scheduling and marketing pressures imposed by major distributors on developer studios. For example, everyone expected Fallout 4 would be built on Skyrim’s game engine, which was a vast improvement over the engine Fallout 3 was built on, but of course, that didn’t happen. Fallout 4 was developed on a modified version of the Fallout 3 engine so that previously developed code could be reused…and reused and reused. As a result, Fallout 4 animations and, especially, facial quality/lip sync, etc. are actually worse than Skyrim’s (which were pretty darn good). In other words, the game was “dated” straight out of the gate because it was developed on a very old (though slightly modified) game engine whereas other titles are working with newer and much improved game engines.

              Studios that have the luxury of saying, “the game will be released when it’s ready,” are becoming fewer and farther between. Those that can have carved that niche themselves with their own insistence upon creating quality games with universal appeal despite any “marketing pressures” they might be feeling. If not for the modding communities making up for the shortcomings in quality of some supposedly “triple A” titles, many of them probably wouldn’t be worth revisiting, imo.

              As for the not so lucid, real-world parallels…. I think them yet more examples of the “top-down effect” and trust these more negative trends will be reversed when gamers stop taking their cues from those who supposedly “lead” them.

  9. mikemackd says :

    Three terms may be useful in this inquiry, Scott. The first is that of a “social imaginary”:

    “By social imaginary, I mean something much broader and deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking, rather, of the ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations” (Taylor 2004, Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, p. 23).

    The second is that of the Thomas Theorem:

    If one defines situations as real, they are real in their consequences (Thomas, W.I. and Thomas, D. 1928. The Child in America: Behavior Problems and Programs, New York, Alfred Knopf).

    I find that combination manifested in my own identity construction, not merely abstractly but well down into the visceral level.

    For example, I grew up following two sports teams, each in a different sport. The one I was more passionate about was not played in a country I went to for about a decade, but the other was.

    In the former, I therefore got no continued social reinforcement chatting with friends or foes of “my” team, while with the latter I did.

    I have now ceased to care about the former, but still care about the latter. Inside, I find myself rejoicing in their victories, and lament their losses, even though I know them to be mere social artefacts, social imaginaries made real by the Thomas Theorem.

    I also find myself to be subject to the third term, but this is one I want to re-table. The first time I did was following your post “In the Dark Places of the World, (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds). The term is “myside bias”. I have it still with one team, quite robustly, and with the other, quite atrophied.

    In a thesis I wrote that the Enlightenment’s god of Reason, what William Blake called Urizen, the mythical progenitor of “single vision and Newton’s sleep”, is effectively the servant of myside bias.

    Nations, religions, etc. are similar social imaginaries … They can control our visceral reactions more than we do.

    What’s that about?

    • Scott Preston says :

      I haven’t read Peter Berger’s Social Construction of Reality, but I imagine it follows the same line of thought as “social imaginary”, along with the all-important role “divine Imagination” plays in Blake’s vision. I assume there are pathological and irresponsible forms of imagination as well as healthy and responsible forms of imagination. Like a musical instrument, it can be played well or played very badly. Desire and Imagination are the propellants for art, and life should be art.

  10. abdulmonem says :

    I wonder if the serious, responsible game of the human life in the presence of a conscious mover who has a plan for the gamer can find in these games what serve such plan,specially in light of the religious story that demands that the human player make his own personal video in accordance with a specific divine mission ( the mission we have never stopped talking about), taking in consideration the addiction these fictitious human games that make the players forget the real world, as our present situation shows, where the factive and the fictive are mixed to such degree that allows, some to speak of alternative facts. If we can spend million of hours without boredom, how many more hours do we have for other tasks,are all are aware as IW and can restrain themselves from complete immersion as the story of our young demonstrates. When serious talk is no longer can be separated from idle talk, the challenge is great and the end will not be encouraging as the american discourse is showing, not only the american scene but the media discourses across our self-threatened world which are all pointing to that unhealthy mix. The mover says that we have not oppressed them but they themselves imposed oppression upon themselves. Self-aggression is the worst aggression that is rapidly unfolding on our oblivious world. We talk big but how small is our doing. As they say violence is presented in a pleasurable context that makes it palatable to the human taste. What an ugly future that demands the divine support that all prophets have enjoyed in their corrective missions. I think we need that more than the prophets if anything of value can be accomplished.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      violence is presented in a pleasurable context that makes it palatable to the human taste.

      The ‘violence in video games’ debate is as old as the art form itself, but with video games (as all else) I think the attitude one brings to it the deciding factor. If we’re to imagine the Witcher series without swordplay and epic battles then we’ll also have to imagine Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings without swordplay and epic battles. Somehow, it’s lost its entire meaning right there.

      What we humans must come to understand at some point is the true meaning of “jihad.”

    • mikemackd says :

      Well, here’s a coincidence. A few minutes ago I was note-taking from another Mumford article that I just found on the net, called “Technics and the Nature of Man” in Technology and Culture, Vol. 7 No. 3. (Summer 1966) pp. 303-317, when I came across this :

      p. 315
      The … conception of “absolute power” and infallible intelligence, exercised by a military-scientific elite,* corresponds to the Bronze Age conception of Divine Kingship; and both belong to the same infantile magico-religious scheme as ritual human sacrifice. Living organisms can only use limited amounts of energy, as living personalities can utilize only limited quantities of knowledge and experience. “Too much” or “too little” is equally fatal to organic existence. Even too much abstract knowledge, insulated from feeling, from moral evaluation, from historic experience, from responsible purposeful action can produce a serious unbalance in both the personality and the community.

      316
      Organisms, societies, human persons are nothing less than delicate devices for regulating energy and putting it at the service of life. To the extent that megatechnics ignores these fundamental insights into the nature of organisms and human personalities, it is prescientific in its attitude toward the human personality, even when not actively irrational. When the implications of this weakness are taken in, a deliberate large-scale dismantling of the Megamachine, in all its institutional forms, must surely take place, with a redistribution of power and authority to smaller units, under direct human control …

      We know now that play and sport and ritual and dream fantasy, no less than organized work, have exercised a formative influence upon human culture, and even upon technics. But make-believe cannot for long be a sufficient substitute for productive work; only when play and work form part of a larger cultural whole … can the many-sided requirements for full human growth be satisfied.

      Instead of liberation from work being the chief contribution of mechanization and automation, I suggest that liberation for work – for educative mind-forming work, self-rewarding even on the lowest physiological level – may become the most salutary contribution of a life-centered technology.

      * It is interesting to view the “Shock and Awe” and “Full Spectrum Dominance” phrases from this framing of Mumford’s.

  11. mikemackd says :

    Scott, I can’t respond to abdulmonem’s comment in “Fourfold Vision and the Rivers of Eden”.

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