Technology and the human idea process and identity; observations and elements of a new direction

Sadia Tariq

Technological advances and feats of the last fifteen years have been nothing less than a tsunami for contemporary humans. Their huge manifest benefits and potential for further progress in all areas of human concern are clearly visible. The downsides are also revealing themselves with each passing day. It is also clear that the momentum of this process will neither slow down nor can it be curbed or reversed. This means we need to rethink and incorporate more aspects and factors into our understanding of this process and our current and future relationship with it.  Apart from a radical transformation of our external environment the life of our emotions, feelings and thinking has also become extremely complex and unstable. One marked impact of the technological revolution, especially information technology, has been an exponential growth in human capability of not only producing ‘more’ ideas, but also ‘novel’ ideas. 

Ideas have not only become innumerable but have now acquired an identity and existence of their own. They have become like a super-organism which consumes facts and information and derives its sustained existence from unceasing technological advances, especially in Information Technology. The internet revolution, a primary engine of unleashing contemporary ideas, has turned human beings into what Schirrmacher calls ‘informavores’, who eat or consume information. This analogy shows our unthinking approach towards the flood of information and ideas that we are continuously generating and consuming today but not being able to digest or utilize as productively as we should be. The problem however is that the whole process of manifest and un-manifest transformation through ideas has created an unprecedented quantity and a new quality of complexity, which is breeding all kinds of instabilities and coping problems within human beings. How ‘new’ technologies, especially information technologies, are affecting and influencing human behavior and sense of identity is becoming a critical issue in mainstream social discourse. The material and mental consequences of information technologies like the internet, which has literally taken over the lives of millions of individuals especially young people, are being vociferously debated. According to some thinkers, disassociation and fragmentation is a dominant experience of these individuals. They feel and think that real life is too complex, unstable and impossible to fix so it is better to live in a relatively less complex virtual or simulated world, which they can control and manipulate to some extent at least. This means they become disassociated and disconnected from actual reality and start living in a kind of a parallel universe manufactured by their minds. 

Due to disconnection from actual reality coupled with the rapidly growing ability to form innumerable multiple connections and networks through the internet and other connected technologies, and its consequent experience of continuous information (myriad types and levels) bombardment, the identities of contemporary individuals have become more fluid and less stable. According to a Senior Magazine Editor and Author, Kevin Kelly “Our identities are being pushed and nudged and twisted by the arrival of new technologies…Nearly every signal broadcast by technology chips away at our identity” and then he goes on to say “… In a deep irony, the more technology advances, the less sure we are of who we are and what we stand for as a species and as individuals…”. In his view contemporary man is facing a ‘large scale technological identity crisis’. This is an idea which would perhaps resonate with many of us today who are living and experiencing the haphazard and chaotic advancement of Information Technology and its many-layered effects on our lives and minds. 

In this scenario the mind of an ordinary individual living in these times has become an amalgamation of an emerging technological identity crisis and his anti-structure and anti-ideology postmodernist (including post-postmodernist) thinking. Of course it is essentially a reaction to modernism and its roots going back to the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. This mental state is reinforced by corresponding social trends in the external environment. The result is a more confused, fragmented, skeptical, cynical and most importantly unhappy individual. There is a global sense of helplessness and despair, which is not just confined to one nation, society, class or a particular type or age group of people but has become a general phenomenon. Unfortunately, however, despite this mental state and its disturbing and conflict producing subjective experience there is a kind of resistance and revolt within an individual to even the idea of having any stable and crystallized idea framework, which postmodernist lingo refers to as ‘grand narratives’, ‘meta-theory’ or ‘meta-ideology’. An individual rejects the pre-existing frameworks and has developed a preference both emotionally and intellectually for mini-narratives, small (is beautiful!) and localized practices and events, which are varied, situation or event based, limited (and thus controllable), partial, temporary, and cannot claim of universal applicability, objectivity, truth or stability. The underlying assumption or mental paradigm is that it is not possible today to come up with a holistic, stable (for the long haul) and crystallized framework for human thought and actions due to the complexity, plurality, fluidity and unpredictability of contemporary human existence. So both the spoken and unspoken impetus for doing or action is to think within the framework of existing global trends but act locally and not worry about coming up with some grand idea framework and design, to channelize or guide one’s thinking and doing.

Today we as individuals and societies have a massive fund of experience, observations and analyses of the results and consequences of both grand ideologies and micro initiatives, which tells us that both have largely been unsuccessful in stemming the momentum of growing disintegration, unhappiness, conflicts, and problems within individuals and also in our social formations and structures. All our ideas, methodologies, schemes, whether grand and profound or very simple and crude have not made contemporary individuals and societies more stable and happy in the long-term. Despite having thousands of think tanks, policy makers, activists, social reformers, in the world today the world is becoming more and more unsafe, unmanageable, destruction prone, and unhappy. The hitherto unavailable potential for harmony, happiness and progress at all levels and in all dimensions is today available to man but in reality he is moving, moment to moment, towards more and new forms of conflict, erosion, disintegration and disharmony. 

In this scenario there is a dire need to come up with some intelligent and holistic framework of ideas which can provide contemporary man with some direction to start afresh. From where he can begin a process of getting a more detailed and deeper sense of this mess and chaos that he has created both within and outside of him so that he can identify some real and long-term steps to get out of it. There has to be a new foundation of this framework which has not yet been explored. And that foundation has to be a new evolutionary design of man’s mind and personality. As the hitherto evolved design and actual form and functioning of the human mind stands exhausted. The foundation of the existing mental design of man has been genes and biology while intelligence and then intellect along with developed emotions or sensitivities have primarily remained hand maidens of the former. The main product of this design is the existing lopsided mind of man and what it has managed to achieve so far in human history. A mind which is highly developed and sophisticated in relation to tangible external phenomena and quite primitive and crude when it comes to its own inner processes and their design and mechanics. 

 

The awareness, intelligence and intellectual growth that it has acquired in relation to outside things and processes is way ahead of what he knows about his own mind—its origins, evolution, structure, design, functioning and relationship with the process of Nature. He has accumulated a lot of knowledge about the tangible areas of both genes and the brain but the intangible areas of both these processes, i.e. the mind and its genetic roots, are still beyond the grasp of his existing scientific/empirical and even philosophical frameworks. Whereas the need to have a detailed and in-depth understanding of this area is indispensable if he is to actually and concretely move towards harmony and happiness and away from conflicts and unhappiness. He has tried all else and this is the only path which he has not yet travelled on. 

 

Today his mind and its knowledge fund have developed to a level where it is possible to undertake this task. The human intellect and developed sensitivity process are capable of making a new mental design, a ‘post-biological’ design, which is derived from an intelligent understanding of the evolutionary process of Nature and its logic and how the human mind is integrally connected to it. In fact, it is the most developed and complex product of Nature and one through which Nature itself is on the verge of taking the next step in its own evolution. It is only through the maturing of the new intellect based human mind that Nature itself can move towards more stable, harmonious and happiness producing interactions, processes and forms. And away from the existing unstable, contradiction/conflict and unhappiness producing interactions, processes and forms, which if left unchecked will logically lead to the nemesis of the human species and also non-human forms of Nature. Both these dialectical processes, and their interplay and fallouts can be observed if one traces the evolutionary journey of Nature starting from before the big bang till now. 

The issue is that this composite dialectical process has reached its most developed and critical stage within the human mind and also in the world created by this mind and its highly developed idea process. Within the human mind it exists as a tug of war between the old deep-rooted and dominant biology based mind and the emerging ‘post-biological’ intellect based mind. And in the external environment it manifests in the form of this dichotomy and contradiction between the products of the old and the new mind. On the one hand, we find exponential and unprecedented material progress, advance technology, inventions, infrastructure, developed Arts, etc., which are a consequence of the new sophisticated intellectual process and highly developed motivational/sensitivity processes. While on the other, unabated wars, violence, misery, destruction, disintegration, stagnation, unhappiness, which are products of the adversarial, contradictory, and conflict producing mental and emotional formations, positions, paradigms of the old mind within individuals and also in groups and institutions. An acute, many-sided observation and analyses of human existence will make it difficult to deny or refute the fact that today the ‘dialectic of contradiction’ is dominant both within and outside of us. However, it will be equally illogical to side-step or ignore the potential for achieving a qualitatively new state representing the ‘dynamic of harmony’, which can become a reality in our time. But only if we make the choice of evolving the new mind and making a new hierarchy in which the old becomes an appendix of the new and does not remain in the driving seat. One cannot destroy or get rid of the old but intelligently make it a part of the new mental design and hierarchy that we evolve within us. This seems to be a possible direction in which contemporary human beings need to and can move if they want long-term and stable solutions to the web of problems created by their minds and idea processes in which they are presently entangled and in danger of drowning. 

Notes

i. Klages, 2006.

ii. Genetic software and programmes.

iii. Thinking and problem solving for one’s need/desire based agenda.

iv. Intelligence operating beyond the subjective agenda.

v. Feelings and emotions colored by the intellect.

vi. It is due to intangibility and ignorance about the mind that the concept of ‘human nature’ emerged along with the issue of controlling or managing it through dogmas (religious ideas and other idea constructs which become unchallengeable truths), unintelligent use of Will power and even reason. Of course the practical experience of man in using various devises to tame human nature is largely of failure with limited occasional success.    

vii. Here we do take note of the continuously emerging knowledge about mind and consciousness in disciplines like Cognitive science, Cognitive Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Mind sciences, AI, Psychology, and Philosophy of mind, and the growing diverse applications of this knowledge. But in our view the primary focus of this knowledge is either to enhance or boost the operation of some existing mental processes like cognition, memory, etc., or to treat various mental disorders which are on the rise in all parts of the globe. Whereas we are proposing the further intelligent evolution of the mind based on a new mental design and architecture; a new complex of interconnections, interactions and hierarchy among the various mental functions/processes driven by another emotional and intellectual agenda, and not the hitherto evolved system of emotional and intellectual drives and motivations, which is responsible for making the inner and outer lives of contemporary human beings.       

viii. Not centered in biology.

ix.  What we refer to as ‘dialectic of harmony’. 

x. What we call ‘dialectic of contradiction’.