“(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.
“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.