Experimentum Crucis

Experimentum crucis means the “crucial experiment”, the decisive experiment — the crux of the matter — that ultimately decides between two or more different hypotheses to account for some phenomenon or other, and usually sets the course for any further research and development in that area. So a crucial experiment is also a crossroads experiment, and “crossroads” is pretty much what the word “crux” means — the hinge point, the pivotal juncture.

This is also quite meaningful when everyone today speaks of “humanity at the crossroads” (or in Mr. Fukuyama’s case America at the Crossroads). There is a widespread sense that we are at a global crossroads. This is what Rosenstock-Huessy also wants to be understood by his “cross of reality” and grammatical method as the “crucial method”. Everyday of our lives, we are at a crossroads, having to decide between continuity or change, past or future, individually and socially. In that sense, every day of our lives, and the life of society too, is an experimentum crucis.

I wanted to follow up the last post on “Adtrackers and Mind Parasites” with a look at the “Global Brain“, as Howard Bloom and others describe the global internet and world wide web, as being also an experimentum crucis. It is, in some ways, one great big global experiment in the projection of the human nervous system into space, but without the slightest clue what the outcome of that will be. That’s for a very simple reason. We don’t know enough about neurology or neurodynamics to really know what the outcome will be. That’s why opinions on the global internet, or the benefits or otherwise of the global brain, are so hotly contested today. Anybody who says that they know the future of the global brain is blowing it out their ass, to put it bluntly. For the time that the crucial experiment is underway, everyone is in suspense about the outcome.

We’ve already seen, to some extent, the technotopian and libertarian dreams for the global internet shatter on the reefs of delusion. They were never realistic in the sense of understanding that anything and everything that can traverse the human neural network will inevitably also pass through the global brain, too. And that means, not only ideals, dreams, and utopian fantasies, but everything dark, morbid, paranoid, neurotic, and pathological too. Nature may no longer hold up a mirror to men’s souls — but the global brain certainly does. If man is the creature “between the monster and the saint“, in Richard Holloway’s assessment, that is going to be reflected in the global brain as well, and as “the Anthropocene”. To be between the monster and the saint is just a British clergyman’s way of reframing Freud’s thanatos and eros, or death and life poles, of the psyche, and the darker aspects of this are already being manifested in things like “the dark web” and the so-called “Endarkenment”.

Endarkenment is connected with a problem, also, that McLuhan anticipated — the exposure and vulnerability of the extended human nervous system to manipulators or “mind parasites”. This is already happening on a very large scale, and is also connected with what Algis Mikunas described as “technocratic shamanism”. Whether the extended and exposed human nervous system can develop shields and defences against this parasitism is still an unanswered part of the experiment, and I mean by that more than firewalls and virus checkers.  The Global Brain may very well take on the form, rather, of a Frankenstein’s Monster.

For the Global Brain is already under attack — cyberwarfare, cons, viruses, trolls and trojans, photoshopped sensory inputs, “fake news”, false memory, spam of all kinds. These are all the equivalent of neuropathologies, and like them, they sap our attention and our energies. They are the global brain’s equivalent of neuropathology or neurodegenerative diseases. Our “saintly” side is having a devil of a time.

And so it would appear that the “crossroads” that is the heart of the experimentum crucis is this: the Anthropocene/Global Brain either results in the aim of Blake’s “the Universal Humanity” or it results as Frankenstein’s Monster. And though it’s beginning to look more like the latter, we are still in suspense. If we were not, and we actually knew, we wouldn’t be at a “crossroads” and a crucial juncture.

“Humanity at the crossroads” means, no one can say presently with any degree of confidence what the outcome of this experiment will be. But the way matters are shaping up, it will either be enlightenment or endarkenment.

 

17 responses to “Experimentum Crucis

  1. Dwig says :

    “… it will either be enlightenment or endarkenment”, or both, as the dual movement continues. When you go to wrestle with saints or monsters, take care to make sure which is which!

    • Scott Preston says :

      I came across this very interesting passage today in Baillie’s Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads which seems very pertinent to this

      Baillie speaks of the cultural crisis of our time as a “showdown between the forces of cultural concealment and the forces of gospel revelation” as representing humanity at the crossroads in the form of “the two forces struggling today for the soul of the human race” (p. 73) That is to say, endarkenment (concealment) and enlightenment (revelation) or, in other terms, opacity and transparency (Gebser).

      That’s a very interesting way of putting it. Earlier in the book Baillie had been recounting the fascinating encounter between Captain Cook and a Tahitian chieftain regarding an episode of human sacrifice, which is even more revealing than Gebser’s account of the collapse of Aztec magical consciousness in its encounter with the individuated, more rationalistic European consciousness. It’s a very fine example of that, too. But Baillie concludes the following from that encounter,

      “The myths and rituals of an intact culture do not answer questions; they extinguish the will to ask them. Once a mythological system fails to eliminate such questions, it can never make up for that failure by being logically persuasive. In fact…. those who use persuasion to try to rehabilitate myths actually undercut the myths all the more. Persuasion involves a detectable mental and moral effort, and mythological conviction demands a mental tranquility that even rudimentary acts of reason disrupt. A culture attempting to rationally defend its sacrificial myth is a culture in an irreversible crisis. When a myth fails to extinguish the will to question, the more brilliant the reasoning offered by its defenders, the more the sophisticated reasoning destroys mythological consciousness…. In such a culturally precarious situation, a critical question asked aloud can go off like a grenade.” (p. 71)

      So, it becomes an issue of asking the right question at the right time, and which exposes the act of concealment. Is that not also what got Socrates condemned in the eyes of Greek mythological consciousness? What Socrates’ accusers were concealing was their own loss of confidence and convictions about their myths as still the effective social “glue” as it were.

      • Scott Preston says :

        Should add to that, this is very pertinent in regards to Mumford’s “Myth of the Machine”. The pertinent question is akin to the child’s in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes. “But he’s not wearing any clothes, Mommy, is he?”

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      When you go to wrestle with saints or monsters, take care to make sure which is which!

      Charles Eisenstein’s take on the trap of Righteousness is refreshing and pertinent to recent conversations, especially in regard to “indentarianism.”

  2. Abdulmunem Othman says :

    Cross road is a perennial sign that has been placed in the way of humanity to tell them that life is a serious game, that should not be expended in futility. The crossroad has many branches that need to be carefully evaluated before charging forward in any of them. Out of mercy and to save the humans from hardship the plan has set the moral value code as the only guide to be pursued in that choice. It is the monster or the saint with all their different shades and grades. Endless diversity in roles with only one code of valuation to show humanity how to save themselves by abiding by the call of unity,from the pervasiveness of the the rule of diversity. It is always the same story of the one and the many and how to navigate in their mixed seas that only a very transparent veil separate between them. All these are for the human testing as for god creating the one or the billions is the same so also their death. Again it is a call to remember the bond of the shining force and to abstain from busying ourselves in the particles. The danger of fragmentation and the saving home of the integral consciousness. It is awareness in an attentive action.

  3. dadaharm says :

    Hi,

    The global brain has its own institute and also a web page: Global Brain Institute.

    They are about cybernetics and complexity. They have some connections to the Principia Cybernetica Project. The big idea of that project is something something called: Metasystem Transition. A metasystem transition is basically an evolutionary jump, where the evolutionary selection principle jumps to a higher level.

    The most interesting example of such a metasystem transition being the evolutionary jump from single cells to multicellar organisms. First evolutionary selection works on the level of single cells. Every cell competes with every other cell. Then slowly groups of single cells start to cooperate and then compete with other groups of single cells. Natural selection then starts to take place on the level of groups of cells, i.e. multicellular organisms.

    In fact, they seem to believe that humanity is now at the threshold of exactly such a metasystem transition. One where the human race will become something akin to a single organism. They are very optimistic about science and technology.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Every cell of that multicellular global brain can be replaced by an AI, and probably will be. Dr. Frankenstein proceeded in exactly the same way, after all — cell by cell, piece by piece. For such a “global brain” to function efficiently, in fact, living human factors will have to be eliminated. There is already a built-in element of prejudice amongst AI researchers against the human element as “inferior”, which will inevitably frame the construction of such a “global brain”, which more and more is coming to resemble the “Borg Universe” of Star Trek lore.

    • Scott Preston says :

      We see people, machines and software systems as agents….

      Well, right off the bat my suspicions are aroused. “Agents” are servants. Agents of what? They don’t say, specifically, but one assumes agents of this “global brain”. A global brain which could well be the mechanical, incarnate form of Blake’s mad Zoa “Urizen”.

      There were, historically, already conceptions of such a “global brain” called “Gaia” or “Anima Mundi”. This particular Global Brain would seem to be a competitor to that.

      Nietzsche also certainly saw human beings as “agents” as well. “Be true to the Earth!” was his conception of the human as servant of the Anima Mundi or Gaia, which we otherwise call “Life”.

      Is the Global Brain then the servitor of that? Is it “true to the Earth”?

    • Scott Preston says :

      There seems to me to be but three possible outcomes of this experimentum crucis (possibly a fourth)

      1) that this global brain will be the manifest, concrete form of the Anima Mundi or Gaia.
      2) that this global brain will be, in a sense, the husband or consort of the Anima Mundi, or Gaia, like Adam in the Genesis myth.
      3) that this global brain is a competitor with the Anima Mundi/Gaia, and seeks to displace it — a real Frankenstein’s monster.

      The fourth outcome is, that the whole thing will prove a failure and will be abandoned, or self-destruct.

      • dadaharm says :

        Hi,

        Scientists are very optimistic about science and technology. The basic belief seems to be that technology eventually will replace nature. In fact, that is also more or less the belief of our civilisation.

        I think humanity and its technology should be considered as a part of nature. That also means that in the end nature (and only nature) will decide whether the human experiment is worthwile or not.

        • Scott Preston says :

          I think this is quite counter-factual. Our understanding of “nature” is quite evidently deficient and flawed. If it were not so, we would not be facing the manifold crises of climate change, mass extinction event, environmental degradation, and many other problems associated with that deficient understanding.

          This is just the point I’ve been making. Our conception of nature as a machine is manifestly false, and that deficiency is coming back to clobber us. Now, how is persisting in this metaphysics of the machine going to correct that deficiency, ie, the idea of the “techno-fix” when the error, the delusion, is more fundamental than that?

          (And by the way, not all scientists or engineers are all that optimistic any more about science and technology, at least in their present direction. There are quite a few who are pessimistic and may well be more right than the optimists and the true believers of the true faith. Obviously what we need as the kind of integration like in the Renaissance, when artist, scientist, engineer, and philosopher were all one and the same creative personality!)

          • dadaharm says :

            Hi,

            Our understanding of nature is clearly flawed and will never be perfect. Moreover, technology will never replace nature.

            Let me clarify my statement “I think humanity and its technology should be considered as a part of nature.” somewhat:

            Humanity thinks that it develops technology to liberate itself from or to conquer nature. Moreover, nature is only a passive victim in this view. This probably is a hubristic delusion.

            It might be the other way around:
            That would mean that the development of technology is an evolutionary experiment performed by nature (or Gaia) through humanity. In this view, nature is somehow actively involved in the development of technology. We would not notice this active participation of nature, since nature acts through the collective unconscious. All we could possibly notice of such activity would consist of strange coincidences or synchronicities.

            In this view the development of technology by humanity would be something that is analogous to the development of skeletons by the first multicellular organisms.

            (Personally, I think that nature has already made up her mind about the experiment. And she will tell us sometime in the future.)

  4. Scott Preston says :

    The Global Brain and Virtual Reality, of course, going to converge eventually. And this raises some concerns, as expressed today in this article in The Guardian by Ben Tarnoff on “empathy machines”

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/25/empathy-virtual-reality-facebook-mark-zuckerberg-puerto-rico

    So, in those terms, Rolf Jensen’s The Dream Society would be a society that lives almost full-time in its VR fantasies. No reason to believe it would be different than the concerns raised about contemporary cell-phone distraction and addiction.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    Right now, I’ld say, just from the incipient aspects of this evolving “global brain”, that it’s shaping up to be a global insane brain. After all, why should we assume it will manifest “collective intelligence” and not — schizophrenia or multiple personality or narcissistic personality disorder? Is it not already doing so? Faith in the integrative power of the global brain is just that — a faith. And it’s a faith that is contradicted by the real world results, so far. What we call “identitarianism” today is strongly associated with the spread of the internet. Identitarianism is an attack on universality, and that’s pretty much the meaning of “endarkenment” versus “enlightenment”.

    As the global brain isn’t really new (having been earlier the meaning of Anima Mundi, Gaia, or the Soul of the World) neither is virtual reality. It was associated with magic, and so we come also to the significance of “technocratic shamanism”. In the medieval legend of Parsifal, the magician Klingsor casts a spell on Parsifal to make him believe he’s in Paradise. He does that to make him forget his quest for the Grail. So, the idea of “virtual reality” isn’t new. It comes from magic.

    Klingsor is the archeype of the “technocratic shaman” or Magus, who is also “Mario” of Thomas Mann’s story “Mario the Magician”. You can learn a lot about the type by consulting these stories. But this is the problem of “confinement of Truth to Mathematical Demonstration”, by which myth is demoted to mean the same as “lie”, when in fact, it’s very revealing. Klingsor, Mario, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice — all have important truths to tell us about “technocratic shamanism”.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      What we call “identitarianism” today is strongly associated with the spread of the internet.

      “Indentarianism” existed long before the Internet came along. What we see of it on the Internet is merely the projection and amplification of it.

      At the same time, we’ve certainly seen quite the “Acopalypse” (alongside quite the “Armageddon”) since its inception. (Not sure why people think Revelation a missive relevant only to a particular time, place and religion, rather than a “crossroads” kind of tome. Highly cryptic, of course. It was, after all, written in code for a reason. Still, it’s a great book! And there’s no better single-word descriptor for “unveiling” or “lifting the veil” in the West than Acopalypse, imo. It is to Truth what Namaste is to Empathy or Compassion. Short, sweet and to the point.)

      There’s something of Gebser’s “double-movement” afoot here, methinks. We can fear it; we can hand it over to someone else (e.g the “scions” of Silicon Valley) to steer for us; or we can do what we do best. And, of course, when we’ve had enough of the pathologies, there is an “off” switch at our command…for the moment.

  6. Charles Leiden says :

    Buckminister Fuller once wrote, “it is either utopia or oblivion.” years ago. A crossroads is apt. A bifurcation point, transition. Change is imminent most of us agree. One could say that “all modern roads lead to disaster.”

    A crisis is obvious. Georg Feuerstein writes that “every crisis, by definition, is indeterminate. It contains elements that foreshadow both negative and positive outcomes. Crisis moments have a highly unstable structure that is peculiarly susceptible to input from the outside.”

    There is a “double-movement” going on. The present is certainly an interlude between theories of knowledge. A look back at cultural history( in the west) seems to show that humans put their faith in God and then science. Both of those metaphysics led to a depreciation of the human image. One image of the human started with sin and the other was insignificant as E.A. Burtt puts it, “an
    unimportant spectator and semi-real effect of the great mathematical drama outside.”

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