Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Black Whole

[I'm sitting here reading my Major Advisor's most recent article and feeling two things.

1) An overwhelming sense of Attention Deficit. I want to be browsing my favorite sites instead (eating mental sugar), playing games, overstimulating myself.

2) The sites I visit are somehow less exciting than they used to be. I go to them because they're easy, because it takes virtually NO willpower to enjoy them.

I just wanna absorb.

So I'm struggling to read through [my advisor's] writing. It's detailed, methodical, logical. I feel like a 2nd grader trying to enjoy the dictionary. It's not his fault, it's my own. His essay is trying to describe the reasons for why I feel driven to browse the web as I do, but mental habits produced by years of browsing make it difficult for me to understand what he's getting at. At this rate it's pretty easy to imagine a time when I might be unable to understand a commentary on the deficiencies in modern cognition due to the deficiencies being described.

He writes:

"We visit the same sites each day, settle into familiar and comfortable habits of browsing. But it was not always so. Twelve years ago you did not browse but surfed the Web. Surfing is active, thrilling and risky. The waves carry you where they will, and the water may even overwhelm you. The experience of surfing the Web used to be an unpredictable and exciting one; the next link led who-knows-where. "

But it isn't like that anymore. Geocities was taken down last week, sites are becoming more standardized. There isn't as much risk, as much mystery as I experienced as a child hopping from keyword to keyword.

Right now I'm writing about an article I haven't finished reading. Where's that tab....? I have 34 open. What?

Whenever I spend the time to actually sit down and read something
great, I become overwhelmed by the number of remarkable ideas buried underneath the garble of dated prose I encounter. I want to take every little snippet of clairty and type it into twitter where my less patient peers might gobble-up and reproduce the abbreviated idea. Does this mean I'm simply underexposed to good ideas, or has my hop-skip-jumping from concept to concept given me a better ability to see the far reaching implications of the singular "good idea"?

Does the same thing happen to the physical world as we master and commercialize it?
Maybe, though I don't think my generation gets out enough to have reached that point.

"A dozen years on and the risky thrill of surfing has given way to the bourgeois fantasy of browsing. Idling one's way along the aisles, one peruses goods which for their part offer no resistance, no threat, and very little surprise."]

I stopped writing this post for some reason a month ago. I must have been distracted by something. 我要學中文可十想謝。Found an email I sent in response, where his ideas are discussed further. Please take the time to power through his essay, here.

[Dear Professor X,
I have finished reading your article and thought I would share some of my thoughts. My favorite bit is found in your abstract conclusion. You hammer on a very important chord. I quote so you don't have to go searching for what I'm talking about:

"When Eve eats the first apple, man discovers his humanity: alienation from nature and from God is the human condition, but the Fall is also the condition of freedom and responsibility. Wozniak dreams the undoing of the Fall; this time the first Apples, rather than leaving you to your own devices, let you know what you want, resubmit humans to a nature and thus to a (digital) God who rules that nature. After all, the computer that tells you what you want provides not only your desire but also its satisfaction: the black whole."

"The black whole." The thing we reach for, are drawn towards with every click. I think this is a very important idea and I wish only that you would flesh it out for me. The subjective levelling-out that you point to might be more dangerous than you reveal. You hint at it:

"Exciting and powerful, interactivity is thus also dangerous, for it threatens to dissolve actors and medium."

I wonder how you think such this system will or could perpetuate itself. I don't think it can! Wouldn't we reach a point at which... the division becomes indiscernible? What would such a scenario look and feel like? We are clearly heading towards this
black whole, drawn there. But is every form of web 2.0 a symptom or can the destructive be parsed out from that which is not? What is the opposite of "the black whole?"

You hint at the existence of such an opposite when you say:

"Self-expression and thus also self-recognition become the defining experiences of Web 2.0, such that the Web is both mediate and immediate at the same time. How far does this paradox extend?"

Perhaps only technologies within which the user does
not have a subjective representation are safe. Facebook, WoW, Email... technologies which alter/ abstract / amplify/ distort the subject... are worse than those that do not? Can anything we interact with on a computer avoid affecting our subjectivity?

So you ask how far the paradox extends; perhaps we can only guess: How far could it? How close are we to the limit if there is one? Which technologies bring us closest?

My guess: It goes to the brain stem, to the basic drives behind every human action (understanding of death, sexual drive, self-awareness). I see the black whole as a point where we no longer have individual will, where we can be swayed by outside media/inputs/forces into action without question. Where we prefer to be.

When? 100 years. Worst current symptom? MMORPG's.

Because MMO's take a human subject and reduce it to a series of menus. (
"Each user gets to assent to those expressions that suit her, authorship having disappeared in favor of selection, a menu-driven collective creativity.") This feels good, allows us to feel secure in a way. With menus we know we cannot make a bad choice, but in reality we cannot make a choice at all. As the computer comes to "know what we want," we can no longer see the menus. They feel too good.

Which leads to my only disagreement. You say:
"Linking, which was only a marginally revolutionary possibility even in Rosenberg's account, has now become simply a normal experience and no longer destabilizes the reader."

Yet I think that hyperlinks still destabilize the reader's subjectivity, fracturing it. The difference is that this destabilization now pases unnoticed; users are no longer as shocked into a reflexive awareness of what they are doing. It's just the hum of "browsing." Menu selecting.

The Paradox of Choice.]

We don't like having to make decisions. Actively reading heavy text involves many. Did you make it this far?


Monday, November 16, 2009

Skype Metaphysics in 30 seconds.

Raven: can i be in more than two places at once, and be relaying different messages to different people at the same time?
Dr. Cosmos: no
Dr. Cosmos: you can only jump quickly
Dr. Cosmos: or have simulations of your thoughts act for you
Dr. Cosmos: : D
Raven: what if the other groups asked me opposite questions
Raven: and i answered "yes"
Raven: the other people with whom i was communicating
Raven: obviously i could do that
Dr. Cosmos: in this example each of your messages would themselves be a simulation of your original intent
Dr. Cosmos: like words in a book.
Dr. Cosmos: and each of them would ony "be" with you in their understanding of what you had thought at the moment you thought it.
Dr. Comos: if they even did that
Dr. Comos: Im not sure that you're really "here"
Raven: i am there
Dr. Comos: you are imagining that you are
Dr. Comos: hallucinating
Dr. Comos: assisted in your effort by the images on your screen
Raven: that's what you learn in Perception though... seeing me on a screen and being able to talk to me in real time is the same thing as me being there.
Raven: just imagine that this screen has perfect image quality
Dr. Comos: right
Raven: and it's so big that it reaches beyond your field of vision
Raven: and the audio is perfect
Dr. Comos: a perfect simulation would become the thing it tried to represent
Dr. Comos: i feel you
Raven: ok
Dr. Cosmos: though I feel that your conscious mind can only truly apply itself to one question, one place at a time.
Dr. Comos: surely you can have thoughts under the surface, or echoes in other places
Dr. Comos: but to "be" somewhere
Dr. Comos: i dont know
Dr. Comos: maybe I'm romantic

Someone who knows more than we do about the nature of everything would probably have more than a few things to point out:

1) To think that our understanding of the words "space" and "time" allow us to come close to understanding what's up is laughable.
2) Everything is a hallucination. You're "seeing" what the graphics card in your brain tells you you're seeing. So every sensation is a simulation. Even the buddha experienced a simulation, albeit one of stunning clarity.

I still believe that is only possible to "Be" (as deeply or sincerely as any human being can really "be") in one place at any given instant. I think we jump around.

If you break it apart it's something else.