Why We Will Never Get to “God”

“(Narcissus) is from the Greek word narcosis, or numbness.”__McLuhan, “Understanding Media”

Technology, points out McLuhan, is an extension of our physical bodies, and also acts as a form of “autoamputation”(see my last essay). Once we extend that part of our bides by technology, however, it demands a new equilibrium among our other senses.

McLuhan writes:

“The concept of ‘idol’ for the Hebrew Psalmist is much like that of Narcissus for the Greek mythmaker. And the Psalmist insists that the beholding of idols, or the use of technology, conforms men to them. ‘They that make them shall be like unto them’ “.

Technology, the creation of “models’ in reality, create extensions of ourselves into that reality.

In the emergent electric technologies, the principle of numbness also comes into play. McLuhan writes:

“We have to numb our central nervous system when it is extended and exposed, or we will die. Thus the age of anxiety and of electric media is also the age of the unconscious and of apathy. But it is strikingly the age consciousness of the unconscious…With our central nervous systems strategically numbed, the tasks of conscious awareness and order are transferred to the physical life of man, so that for the first time he has become aware of technology as as extension of his physical body….In the electric age we wear all mankind as our skin”.

Electricity, with its speed-of-light ubiquitousness, its all-at-once-ness, suddenly becomes an extension of our central nervous system worldwide, so that any disturbance on the other side of the world brings instant awareness and reaction to our senses. The more popular recent term is ‘Matrix”. Terms like ‘spirit” or ‘Holy Spirit” are quite convenient as terms for a process of “outering” our nervous system to embrace all humanity as electric sensation.

This, however, leads to a greater need to control our environment, since the global effects of any action rides through the “matrix” of existence like waves from a disturbance on a pool, only at near light speed. As a consequence, we seek ways to intervene and control actions at a distance, by foresight and anticipation of evil actions. The present argument concerning war with Iran is one example.

Slater points out that this need for control leads to unanticipated consequences:

“The attempt to control and master the environment thus automatically pollutes it, for it decreases that aspect of the environment that renews, refreshes, surprises, and delights us. The purpose of control is to generate predictability, but predictability is boring as well as secure, fatiguing as well as comforting. Each act of mastery replaces a bit of the environment with a mirror(narcissism), and a house of mirrors is satisfying only to very sick people.”

The need for control and anticipation creates less tolerance for those who disagree. We fear those who are different and act independently, so the new focus of warfare is “terrorism”. The very nature of electronic speed, the everywhere at once event, causes us to avoid differences in opinion, individual differences, and seek only a bowing to general agreement without distinction, i.e., “political correctness”.

This is little more than the “numbing” of consciousness itself. “All you need is love”.

However, if each technology represents a numbing of certain bodyparts, then we will seek to re-capture equilibrium with all other senses, and what better prescription to establish a ratio of the senses than by “uploading” ourselves into a computer, thereby making every part of our existence nothing more than the controlled mathematical ratio of our control?

Idolatry full circle. As Slater writes(EarthWalk):

“The circularity of all our thinking about technology suggests that we are in some way re-creating the problem in our efforts to solve it. To exercise control over the environment limits its freedom to influence us. We act on it in such a way as to make its influence a product, in part, of our own efforts–that is, we help create the stimulus to which we respond”.

Narcissus, the numbing of all extensions of self, and then extending that in a linear fashion to the rest of the world. Or as McLuhan wrote:

“…we have extended all parts of our bodies and senses by technology. We are haunted by the need for an outer consensus of technology and experience that would raise our communal lives to the level of a worldwide consensus”.

The “outering” of our physical bodies by mechanical, step-by-step, linear technology, and the further outering of our nervous system by electric technology leads to the need for understanding of consciousness itself as the next technological step forward.

But what is “consciousness”? McLuhan offers his definition:

“…rationality or consciousness is itself a ratio, or proportion among the sensuous components of experience, and is not something added to such sense experience.”

This leads us to a very interesting insight: if consciousness is a ratio of all sense experience, and there is nothing added to sense experience by consciousness, then we have an interesting parallel between consciousness and the second law of thermodynamics regarding energy. Since energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but is simply a “ratio” of physical forms, taking energy from one area and using to organize, will result in “chaos” in those areas in which energy is borrowed.

For example, the burning of a log. The energy released by the burning of the log remains constant, but the dispersion of that energy makes it impossible ever to create that particular log ever again. The act of burning the log for heat results in “chaos” for the log itself, which will never be restored. Consciousness, as a ratio of sense experiences corresponding to the “closed system” of heat loss, is a process by which the greater organization in one are results in “chaos” in related areas.

This process of organization in one area leading to chaos in related areas is known as entropy.

Consciousness itself, as a “closed’ ratio of all sensual experiences, correlates with the process of entropy. Consciousness must be continually “outered” in exploration of all possible combinations of energy/thought. Consciousness becomes a “rational model” of all experience, and as such, must conform to the same limitations imposed on rationality itself as mathematics. Therefore, the incompleteness of Godel’s theorem will apply to consciousness as well. The model of math that Godel used was a model of self reference. Since consciousness is of necessity a ratio of the senses, and since nothing is added by this ratio, the mathematical conclusions of entropy will apply as much to consciousness as to physical reality. Consciousness, of necessity, is limited to the ratio of mathematics, and can only explore itself as an extension of mathematics. If consciousness has a “language” therefore, it can be “contained” in a computer as language, but the “map” of language is NOT the “territory” of reality.

As a functional “map” of reality, consciousness itself is limited to the same incompleteness as mathematics.

What led us to this point? Next essay.

“Touching God”, Numbers and “Common Sense”

“…I live in an old Arab city where there are not many phones. I need a phone to contact the people I am to interview and who happen to be the bourgeois modernized elite who will be choked if I drop in on them as we traditionally do. I went to the public phone which is not an automatic one. I gave my list of numbers to the operator who happens to have known me since ages. He wanted to know why I want to call all these people. I explained briefly that I was doing a sort of sociological survey. He wanted more details. I told him that it will take us about an hour, and that by then the Post office will have to close. he took it as an insult and told me to wait until he called me. I did. He called me to say that the numbers were either busy or not answering, and that in any case I should not try to monopolize a public phone by calling so many people. I told him I was sorry. I was so worried about the time, and that I was ready to tell him what I was doing. I did. He wanted to know how 10 or 20 people, very special and particular, be representative of hundreds and thousands who only have some things in common with them. So I proceeded to explain ‘la theorie de probabilite’ . He then disagreed and rejected the theory as being junk….”(From Slater’s EarthWalk)

The student went on to explain that it was the operator’s right to accept it or reject it, as that was the course of all theories. The operator became angry and felt insulted, and the phone was not available to the student for several days.

As you will see from the student’s reaction to the operator, the response was to “deaden” the operator’s opinion by simply saying the theory was based on a collection of opinions, and one person could accept it or reject it, which made little difference in the statistical value of the opinion.
The student went on to write:

“The famous ‘anesthesie’ which bothered me so much in Cambridge is in fact what allows you to be efficient there, and its absence leaves you completely immersed in an environment you can’t control because you are so emotionally involved and at such a passionate level”.

Marshall McLuhan, in “Understanding Media”, points out that all technologies are extensions of the body, and have the effect of anesthesia. That is, they tend to locally “deaden” the area they extend. In order for the student above to carry out his experiment in sociology, he had to forget his own communal place, and focus on the statistical, collective framework of opinions in regard to his questions. The act of numbering, if you notice, begins with the word “numb”.

As McLuhan points out:

“Just as writing is an extension and separation of our most neutral and objective sense, the sense of sight, number is an extension and separation of our most intimate and interrelating activity, our sense of touch”.

If you look at the student’s example above, you see that it was the very interrelatedness sense of communal “touch” that was interrupted by the student’s request of the operator. Unlike today, the operator served as communal “insulator” as well as “connector” of those in the community, and served as a reference point for all related connections in an emotional sense as well as a purely geographical sense. The sense of “touch” was expanded or focused by the operator, who contacted all necessary persons. The operator was the “search engine” but able to add the “personal touch”.

McLuhan writes:

“Today, when we have extended all parts of our bodies and senses by technology, we are haunted by the need for an outer consensus of technology and experience that would raise our communal lives to the level of a worldwide consensus…What we have today, instead of a social consciousness electrically ordered, however, is a private subconsciousness or individual ‘point of view’ rigorously imposed by older mechanical technology. This is a perfectly natural result of culture lag, or conflict, in a world suspended between two technologies”.

If the effect of technology is to “deaden” or “anesthetize” our bodies, it is only logical, in the next step, to seek an overarching “meaning” in the same form as the structure we have imposed by extension of our technologies. That is, we have the tendency to seek the meaning for our existence outside of ourselves, or what Hoffer refers to in TheTrue Believer as “renunciation of self”.

Because the alphabet has extended a capacity for extended organization of sight, and number has “numbed” us to the sense of communal “touch”, we will tend to organize societies structurally around those very technologies which by-pass our normal physical senses. “God” becomes a generalized construct of those technologies, representing ideas and concepts.

McLuhan further points out:

“The most primitive tribes of Australia and Africa, like the Eskimos of today(1964), have not yet reached finger-counting, nor do they have numbers in series. Instead, they have a binary system of independent numbers for one and two, with compound numbers up to six. After six, they perceive only ‘heap’…”

What is most important is that this “numbing” or “number” effect on touch creates a response to the visual use of sight. We organize visual space around the “homogenizing” effect of “numbing” number,and as McLuhan writes:

“…the invention of Euclidean space is itself a direct result of the action of the phonetic alphabet on the human senses. The ‘infinity of functional processes’…is also the extension of our central nervous system in electric technologies”.

McLuhan further points out:

“…rationality or consciousness is itself a ratio or proportion of the sensuous components of experience, and is not something added to such sense experience.”

All experience in Western culture, therefore, is “rationally” placed in compartments of relative significance. What we in the West recognize as “consciousness” is the “numbing” numerical ordering of all experience into classification that often ignores the necessity of individual communication and feedback.

Eric Hoffer spotted this “universal” context in which the West order civilization, but couldn’t identify it. From The True Believer:

“There is a certain uniformity in all types of dedication, of faith, of pursuit of power, of unity and of self-sacrifice. There are vast differences in the contents of holy causes and doctrines, but a certain uniformity in the factors which make them effective. he who, like Pascal, finds precise reasons for the effectiveness of Christian doctrine has also found the reasons for the effectiveness of Communist, Nazi, and nationalist doctrine. However different the holy causes people die for, they perhaps die basically for the same thing.”

This takes us back to Slater’s statement on consistency in my earlier essay. The disease of Western Narcissism is spread via the mechanism of consistency, or seeking the same patterns in all forms of experience and combining those into “meaningful” patterns that are consistent with other patterns. Number and alphabetic symbol become the substitute for direct experience.

But as Godel has demonstrated, the most formalized system of number and symbol combination will lead to an infinity of undecidable propositions, We can’t actually escape our “selves” in the search for meaning.

Math, Machines, and God

“The demand for consistency treats the disease by seeking to extend it to the entire organism.”__Philip Slater

So what is the “disease”? In a human body, we would say whatever makes it sick. “Dis-ease” not “not at ease” with its environment.

But in society, if everyone adapts to a bad environment, how do we know the society is sick, especially if it cannot recognize what is “bad” about its environment? If we are adapting to a bad environment, ad we seek to consistently adapt, then we have eliminated all processes of feedback that may warn us of danger.

Ultimately, there must be a way to “take stock” of our environment, be able to respond to it as an individual, and have the freedom to break with the standards of others.

Seeking consistency, especially in math,  has proven to be a futile search, unless there are constant processes of feedback allowing us to check our premises. Godel’s theorem, deals with this problem to some degree:
In any consistent axiomatic formalization of number theory, there exists undecidable propositions.

But that’s just the first part. The second part says:
No such system ca n prove its own consistency from within itself.

We cannot conclude for certain that the human brain is subject to such limitations, but if we take these principles and extend them “outside” each human brain, we are forced to reduce society to the same limitations described by Godel’s theorem.

Whatever the functions by which the human brain operates, we cannot completely capture all those functions by erecting abstract rules for society to control each human brain.

There is a far greater complexity to the interaction of each human brain making decisions than can be demonstrated by a series of algorithms. In fact, there is much randomness that may occur, which cannot be programmed by the most complex set of algorithms. In fact, the more complex the system,  the greater likelihood of undecidable propositions. If we take this mathematical conclusion and apply it to human decision-making, we see some interesting things. First, “freedom” from all restraints is not desired by human societies. Too much freedom creates an inability to anticipate future situations and react. Therefore, human societies will seek to reduce their decision-making load collectively to ensure certainty.

Alvin Toffler points this out in the book  Future Shock.  Technology, by giving us ever more options, writes Toffler, gives us more uncertainty because of the increase of choices. The tendency, therefore, is to develop cults and sub-cults to reduce the decision load and give us more certainty in every day relationships.

As Eric Hoffer writes in The True Believer, “Freedom aggravates as much as it alleviates frustration. Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual. And as freedom encourages a multiplicity of attempts. it unavoidably multiplies failures and frustrations”.

As technology multiplies the free choices before us, the frustration of not knowing the outcome of our choices makes us fear too much change, so we seek ways to reduce our decision load by cults, sub-cults, or mass movements.

Worse yet, if we seek truth, Godel’s theorem tells us there is no way to get all truth in one package, so we know that, even with the most disciplined attempts, we will arrive at more undecidable propositions, and therefore more uncertainty.

Slater writes of this as responding more to “internal circuitry” than responding to our external environment.

Hoffer writes that the developments of cults and mass movements depend on “renunciation of self”. If we renounce our selves for the greater glory of the movement, we have become a part of something that is wonderful, and by extension we are wonderful. As Slater poined out(my previous essay) we will gradually seek to make ourselves part of a greater sysem of abstract rules tha ignore the ineractions of ourselves as individuals. This leads to the condition of self renunciation.

Bu now we know, due to Godel’s theorem, that we cannot, by the most formal and consistent system, avoid the infinity of undecidable propositions in that system. That is, you can’t get “there”(truth in one package , or God as truth in one package) from “here”.

If society is based on an illusion, that is the illusion. The human tendency, however, is to abandon one illusion and then start the same illusion by simply altering the contents of that illusion. That is, if we can’t find truth by renouncing our selves in one group, we seek to find truth by renouncing self in another group. All such attempts ignore the self in favor of a greater system which itself is an illusion.

It would appear that the story of the Tower of Babel and Godel’s theorem work to force us into constantly splintering and speciating because we can’t seem to learn that one lesson, that the world does not and will not operate according to our plans, dreams, or whims.

What Next? And What Of “God”?

Philip Slater, whom I consider a brilliant thinker, points out the evolution of civilization, and leaves us with two basic choices: Community, or the mechanical psychopathology on which we seem bent. While I am a big fan of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Slater offers some interesting points worth examining, which may also explain ancient truths as well.
“…we need to recognize the degree to which objectivity is a symptom of our cultural disease, and consistency the mechanism of its metastasis.”
Ayn Rand offers reason as the standard by which freedom is attained, and many disagree. However, Rand stated the first axiom of objectivity: “I am” or ‘I exist”, and the ability to state one’s self existence is important as a beginning to any civilizational prescription.

However, in describing the stages of civilizational evolution, Slater writes:

“In the simple community, objectivity as we understand it scarcely exists. Almost all acts, decisions, and rewards are based on particular relationships and positions within the community. There is inequality, there is inequity, even a modest degree of exploitation….No one dies unnoticed or un-mourned”.

Slater goes on to explore relationships that move from bottrom to top and back down, with everyone having some contact, from town drunk to town banker or minister.

Slater goes to the next stage:

“When, with increasing size, this form breaks down and authoritarianism takes its place, we begin to encounter brutality and exploitation on a scale and a form familiar to us. Here for the first time rewards and decisions tend to be based on a kind of crude principle: the closer to the center of power, the more rewards.”

Slater then goes on to point a kind of crude “algebra” that allows people to predict the distribution of rewards while ignoring the relationships and “checks’ that existed in the community. This leads us to a “geometry” of relationships that can avoid the lack of objectivity in community life.

As you can see the increase of sociopaths and psychopaths can increase in such an environment because the rewards become subject to a kind of “pure geometry”, devoid of the necessary relations springing from community.

McLuhan offers an explanation of how consciousness is shaped by our process of communication that elevates linearity and principle above the random affairs that occur in communities, but I’ll hold off for now.

Slater then goes into the next stage:

“…with further increases in size and complexity, authoritarianism itself breaks down. The personal limitation of despots give rise to demands for objective, mechanical systems for distributing rewards. People begin to feel that personal relationships should play no part in arriving at political or economic relationships.”

At this point I would point to the cultural influence of Judaism and the bible in this regard. The beginning of Jewish history is as slaves. Being slaves, and being of a particular race, they sought ways of self identification or self reference apart from their social milieu. As you will see, this is the beginning of a reward system that became more predictable as people rose closer to the seat of power. The more perfectly the legal system could define the process of reward by distribution, the less randomness threatened the system. Two things were needed for the Jews to establish their freedom from surrounding systems:
1.An all powerful God to enforce their laws
2. A system of laws that defined the distribution of rewards according to strictly Jewish principles wherever they found themselves.

This was the second stage “infection” of community systems by that process that defined a reward system more directly and ignored the complex interplay of community relationships. However, it is also the process by which individuals begin separating themselves totally from the social milieu and claim connections to that “higher power” that brings rewards to all those most directly related to “Him”.

This means that there will be a demand for consistency on the part of all adherents. “God”, or “Jesus” or any religious power becomes the unity of all perfection and we seek to be like Him/It.  But to achieve that, we tend to seek the set of abstract mechanized systems that are independent of human flawed thinking.

Community, in which every person has a part, is abandoned in favor of a system of abstract rules to which everyone is said to agree to constant striving for consistency wih those principles.

Slater points out:

“The demand for consistency treats the disease by seeking to extend it to the entire organism.”

With the advent of the computer, and those mechanical processes contained within a machine in a kind of self referential system, people such as Ray Kurzweil write of “uploading” your mind into a computer, since it is held that the mind is subject to laws of physics, and can therefore be uploaded as a kind of “miniature model” of the universe. This is the full realization of the last stage described by Slater, with all physical processes, including the human being, discarded in favor of nothing more than a set of instructions, rules, and algorithms.

It also parallels the evolution of religion, with the emphasis on a “soul” apart from our fleshy self, that is more important than the salvation of the fleshy body. But what is the soul? It is seen as the interconnection of all “spiritual” things, that is, those things that can all be reduced to concepts, rules, laws, and algorithms. Until now, the church was the “upload” that we had to seek. In the future, we can simply upload the mechanical rules of the “soul” into the mechanized model known as the computer, or Artificial Intelligence.

At this point we seem to be hovering philosophically between the concept of the “immortal soul”, which is nothing more than the mechanical conceptualization of a complex interplay of laws of physics, and community, the interplay of human relations at all levels. Church and state combined in the machine. With the rise of epigenetics, I see the rise of community taking a central place.