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.