The Global Brain is the Monkey Mind
The “Global Brain” refers to what is called the “distributed intelligence” (caveat there) constituted by the global internet. The term “Monkey Mind”, which you probably have heard, comes from Buddhism and refers to the inner chatterbox that is our ordinary, everyday mind, leaping from one fragmented thought, feeling, image, dream, fantasy, memory to another and basically recites our routine, fragmented belief system to us over and over again — the mental merry-go-round. Jung refers to that as “associative thinking”, which physicist David Bohm referred to as memory-based thinking as distinct from “intelligence” per se — which is the mode of insight. Iain McGilchrist, in his description of the functioning of the brain’s left-hemisphere, also uses the phrase “house of mirrors” to describe what Buddhists would call “Monkey Mind”. This is one of the great benefits of studying McGilchrist’s work on neurodynamics — the insight it provides into the workings of the Monkey Mind.
The Global Brain is the manifest mode of the Monkey Mind. It would be surprising if it were otherwise. The fragmented infosphere of the Global Brain (along with what Buddhism refers to as the “vexations”) is fully represented in the Global Brain so that there is, in effect and in consequence, a convergence of the subjective and objective which become blurred. Or, we can say that the subjective state called “Monkey Mind” becomes objectified in the Global Brain via this extended and distributed nervous system called the “internet”.
In fact, the scientific form of thinking would benefit greatly from a study of Buddhism, with its emphasis on the clarification of consciousness and perception. Einstein, in a statement attributed to him, extolled Buddhism as a fitting adjunct to science:
“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.”
For those not yet familiar with Iain McGilchrist and his neurodynamic theories presented in The Master and His Emissary or the recent The Matter With Things, McGilchrist, noting that the brain is divided between left and right hemispheres, argued, based on pretty convincing research and evidence, that each hemisphere specialised in a different “mode of attention”. The left-hemisphere mode of attention is focussed on parts and details and “things” as such, while the right hemisphere mode of attention is more holistic, and attends to primary matters relationships, processes, and the “big picture view”. The problem that has arisen with Late Modern society and culture, in which consciousness has become dysfunctional, is the “hypertrophy” or “hyperactivity” of the mode of attention associated with the left-hemisphere where it has suppressed or “usurped” the contributions of the mode of attention associated with the right-hemisphere to a fuller insight into, and understanding, of ourselves and reality.
McGilchrist finds, then, that Late Modern society shares some symptoms with schizophrenia, which is likewise largely the result of an impairment of the right-hemisphere functions, largely corroborating our intuitions about the schizoid character of contemporary society — cognitive dissonance, double-think, “symbolic belief”, and the usual consequences of these in unintended consequence, perverse outcome, revenge effect, ironic reversal and such. Popular language recognises this loss of integrality in such phrases as “the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing” or “he doesn’t walk his talk”. Lip-service is paid to high ideals even as those ideals are debased in practice and trampled underfoot, which gives everything the appearance of being inauthentic and insincere.
McGilchrist also notes the tendency of the left-hemisphere mode to “leap to conclusions”, such “leaping” being, of course, a characteristic of Monkey Mind.
So, it seems there is no resolving the problem of “taming the internet” without resolving also the problem of Monkey Mind, and which we recognise when we refer to the fragmentation of the entire media landscape, including the university. For McGilchrist, the resolution of the contemporary crisis of modernity and the self is for the left-hemisphere mode of attention (that is to say, the ego-consciousness) to return to its function as servant or “emissary” of the superior mode of attention of the right-hemisphere, which is the more holistic. That is largely Einstein’s meaning, too, in saying that “imagination is more important than knowledge” or ““I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking”
It has been said, fairly, that current civilisational malaise and pandaemonium is really, at root, a “crisis of consciousness”, and that is so. The value of McGilchrist’s works is that we come to insight into the roots of that crisis of consciousness.
As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I find the Lorenz Attractor a quite suggestive and fitting image of this organ called “brain” functioning optimally. It occurred to me as I was reading some of Einstein’s remarks on the sources of his own creativity and genius. Even contemplating it as such may help somewhat dislodge consciousness from its stuckness in the left-hemisphere mode of attention and the Monkey Mind, which for William Blake was also “Single Vision” and “the dark Satanic Mill”.