The Imaginal Within The Cosmos: The Noosphere and Cyberspace
According to the speculative thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the great Jesuit theologian-scientist, the destiny of man is to culminate into a consciousness of the species. This consciousness of mankind would ultimately become the "thinking layer of the earth," which Teilhard called the noosphere.
Teilhard also believed that there is a Within in the heart of things. From the beginning of primordial evolution there has been a kind of embedded cosmic intelligence or encoded information, a cosmic interiority!
Teilhard's idea of a cosmic interiority has also been expounded upon by David Bohm, the late world-class physicist and science philosopher. Drawing upon his theories derived from quantum physics, Bohm is of the opinion that a fundamental cosmic intelligence is the Player in the cosmic process of enfoldment (an implicate order) and unfoldment (an explicate order). Bohm suggests that this process, in endless feedback cycles, creates an infinite variety of manifest forms and mentality.
Both Teilhard and Bohm believe that there is an accumulation of a cosmic reflective nature. Both thinkers believe that human individuals participate in the Whole and consequently give it meaning. They believe that man is a definite turning point on this planet, an upgrading of the cosmic process towards consciousness.
Using the analogy of the transformations of the atom ultimately into a power and chain reaction, Bohm ponders that the individual who uses inner energy and intelligence can transform mankind. The collectivity of individuals have reached the "principle of the consciousness of mankind," but they have not quite the "energy to reach the whole, to put it all on fire."
For both Teilhard and Bohm, it is this collective consciousness that is truly one and indivisible. And it is the responsibility of each human person to contribute towards the building of this consciousness of mankind--this *inner* noosphere!
Both thinkers believe that mankind can only build the inner noosphere by turning to that which they believe is present within us. Each individual has to seek and recognize that embedded knowledge that lies buried in the depths of our being. That which is implicate results in the manifest! In other words, the development of the outer noosphere depends on the evolution of the more fundamental inner noosphere, be it seeded in the individual or collectively contained by the whole mind of the species.
In order to develop this inner noosphere, to follow our cosmic destiny, we need to begin to know better that precious information that is within us. Since the dawning of mankind-- both intuitively and historically, and in many ways and by many means--individuals have sought this inner pearl of great price.
This sense of gnosis, of inner knowledge, of knowing that which is within us is often labeled "contemplative consciousness." In the past contemplation fell mainly into the realm of religion, and more specifically into mysticism and meditation. Ancient and medieval contemplatives in the West flourished within Christendom. Their main focus was God or the Christ. These interpreted divinities were that which a contemplative would discover within himself. Most Western mystics--such as John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, Hildegarde of Bingen, and Julian of Norwich--belonged to religious or monastic orders or were anchorites. Their writings were long, but often very organized approaches into a *virtual* dimension of divine union.
Later avenues of contemplation were enmeshed within the process of meditation and its variety of techniques. Akin to medieval mysticism, contemplative meditation remained linked with the religious pursuit, mainly with prayer and spirituality. The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola provide an example of a psychic process of self-examination, which led supposedly to spiritual purification. There are also non-religious meditative methods, ancient and contemporary, such as kindalini, Tantric Yoga, Zen, and New Age.
There is, however, a more modern approach to contemplative consciousness. It is the psychological approach, which considers this sense of interiority to be a necessary part of the individual process.
The individuation process is a chain of transformation within the individual personality. Analytical psychologist Jolande Jacobi presumes: It is a coming to self-actualization, a coming to selfhood, bringing with it the "infinite capacity for the development of the human psyche." During individuation, both the inside and the outside experience of a person's life must be given their due. Conscious realization and "self- knowledge is...the heart and essence of this process."
Carl Jung noted, too, that "the individuation process is, psychially, a borderline phenomenon which needs special conditions in order to become conscious. Perhaps it is a first step along a path of development to be trodden by the men of the future..."
Individuation, in terms of human development, in terms of the future, returns us to Teilhard's idea of the noosphere partly as an interior undertaking. It is contemplating, paying attention, coming to know the unknown universe that dwells within each of us and the All of Us. Using modern psychological methods, we now work with dreams and active imagination. And psychology has begun to encounter the Collective Mind as well, encountering myths, legends, fairy tales, heroes and gods from the perspective of the collective's individuation.
Thinking of the future, however, we need to consider the advancement of the inner noosphere from the perspective of technology. Computer networking and artificial intelligence conceivably could contribute towards the construction of the outer life of the noosphere, but the potentiality of *cyberspace* could enhance inner comprehension and growth of both the individual and the noosphere.
What is cyberspace? And how might it be used? Originally coined by William Gibson in his 1984 book NEUROMANCER, cyberspace early on meant a "consensual hallucination."
Today, following the advent of sophisticated simulation technology and virtual reality research, cyberspace can be defined more deeply. Today cyberspace means the possibility of immersing one's self into an electronically-generated artificial world and exploring it.
What are the technologies that propel cyberspace? Howard Rheingold, a science writer specializing in computer advances, has suggested several: such as wrap-around, 3-D television, or computer displays outfitted with 3-D sound. Or there could be advanced simulation technologies with displays and computer graphics. Basically, all these developing technologies equate into what is called a virtual reality system.
Today's fledgling virtual reality research already supports the sense of immersion by using steroscopic and gaze-tracking technologies. Also, regarding navigation, images can be created with optics and electronics. And gestural input can be implemented through gloves and head-mounted displays. Finally, software already can produce a model world--programming behavior that reacts to other programmed forces such as a user's movements.
Thinking about how to currently use a virtual reality system has taken a very pragmatic turn, which indicates how successful the concept of virtual reality is becoming. For example Wall Street analysts plan to test a "stock market" version of virtual reality. A stock trader, wandering through a virtual world of colored squares representing stock and market changes, will be able to see instantly how stocks are performing in relation to others.
Virtual reality systems, as the stock market example illustrates, will be able to present exciting new avenues to view and manage data. They will also ultimately allow business people to hold meetings from the same desk, miles apart, providing the ability to move electronic documents back and forth.
Another obvious use of virtual reality will be in architecture, where architects will be able to artificially walk through blueprints or computer-generated designs of their buildings. Other practical services prompted by virtual reality systems will be in the military community, where simulated combat scenarios will be required. Virtual reality could also be helpful to astronauts, helping them to familiarize themselves with the terrain of alien planets by means of artificial exploration.
But what about the more futuristic possibilities of virtual reality, of cyberspace? Where will such possibilities be heading in terms of promoting human abilities? Virtual reality is already being considered for its potential for intelligence amplification. Proponents believe that virtual reality systems could truly amplify the human mind. Such a system could assist the human being in the areas of strategy, evaluation, pattern recognition, planning, and fetching information in context.
Virtual reality could augment visual thinking. As cognitive theorist Robert McKim put it, "visual thinking pervades all human activity from the abstract and theoretical to the down-to-earth and everyday." Football coaches prepare their team moves; astronomers consider cosmic events; surgeons think visually before carrying out an operation; mathematicians need to consider the relationships of space-time; and engineers visually design circuits, mechanisms, and structures. And physicists visualize electrons bouncing off atoms. A virtual reality system could help a user to enter into visual space and travel through it, and as computer guru Myron Krueger states, the user could probe "the problem space, learning about it, and intellectually and physically seeking a solution."
Human beings are agents of action. They consist of bundles of traits and are predisposed to act in certain ways. Virtual reality, cyberspace, could provide a user more potential for action. Virtual reality could increase the possibilities of action by altering the plot of a given situation in a multitude of different ways. Patterns of prospective action could be altered to forsee outcomes. Thus, action could be more orchestrated. Multiple actions could be pursued concurrently. Overall, human action creates further possibilities or constraints. Brenda Laurel, a progressive thinker concerned with the computer as theater, has suggested that virtual reality will enable the human agent to become more knowledgable of the "contextual, structural and formal characteristics" of action. In turn, the human agent could better focus on how actions "can be arranged and causally linked."
Working in virtual reality, in cyberspace, could also afford the user more prospects of surprise and eventual discovery. Such potential could enlarge the means for achieving radical shifts in probability. Related to action--as Laurel believes-- surprise and discovery could "create changes in the slope of action."
Human creativity could also be benefited by the future promise of virtual reality. Rheingold believes that new art forms will be developed out of the experiential side of virtual reality. Future artists will paint the "silence with the kind of possibilities only artists can show us." Above all, in cyberspace, we will be able to create new kinds of experience!
Human interaction, human communication, could be unbelievably enhanced by the future world of cyberspace. Laurel has posited that users of virtual reality could create models of interactive fantasy. Their virtual world could be likened to a stage where interactive magic could be created artificially. This interactive magic could optimize the "frequency and range of significance in human choice-making." Interactivity could become a threshold phenomenon, providing new worlds of action and reaction, which could assist the human agent to design new, creative interactive systems.
More practically, Rheingold believes that "virtual reality as a communications medium" could benefit an array of human institutions. They could range from the global economy to communications-based industries to entire cultures.
Futuristic thinking on cyberspace, as illustrated in science fiction, takes the potential of virtual reality, of cyberspace, even farther into the reaches of our imagination. Vernor Vinge, in his book TRUE NAMES, has his hero descending into the "Other Plane." The hero, using electronic and computer equipment in addition to intense mental concentration, moves into an enlarged communal virtual universe. (It is a world, as Gibson noted, of consensual hallucination.)
This cyber-universe of Vinge's includes everything from social clubs to criminal organizations that use this plane of being "for their own purely pragmatic and opportunistic reasons."
Depictions of cyberspace in science fiction have alluded mainly to swashbuckling virtual adventures, bordering upon or entering into criminality. Human participation, whether in the real world or a virtual world, seeminly always contains the elements for abuse.
On the other hand we have already cited the virtual opportunity in cyberspace for intelligence amplification, for more wise action and decisions, and for human creativity. It is within the confines of this more positive arena that we need to look more closely at the prospects of cyberspace advancing contemplative consciousness and forthwith the inner development of the noosphere.
But first, we need to look at contemplative consciousness in relation to the concept of virtual reality. Rheingold, while duscussing the inner world of the human mind, rightly points out that the illusions we build around this mystery are virtual worlds! Humans have been engaged in these helpmate, sometimes almost utilitarian virtual worlds since the rise of history. Indeed, an evolutionary sequence of such virtual worlds is quite detectable.
Rheingold observed that Cro-Magnon men of Europe left a virtual world for all to see: the caves at Lascaux in France. Selected novice-candidates, so paleontologists speculate, were specially positioned...by their toolmaker shamans...inside the caves. Suddenly the darkness was illuminated by torches and lamps, and they were startled by the visions of supernatural figures on the cave's ceilings. They were overwhelmed by painted human figures, symbols, and animals. Modern scientists believe these young primitive Europeans were frightened into another plane of understanding. Techological secrets were passed on. Paleontologists suggest that the young tribesmens' psyches were sensitized, by this virtual world at Lascaux, to reframe their minds to grasp the secrets of fire and metal and the connections between seeds and stars. They were inwardly transformed into the "first paleolithic agriculturist/technologists."
Rheingold presents yet another such example of a virtual world used by primitive men: the kiva ceremony of the North American Hopi and Pueblo tribes. The ceremony invoked altered states of consciousness and invoked an "explicit map of human origins and goals, theatrical and symbolic rituals, and hard information about a technology necessary to sustain a new way of life for the culture. In this case, that technology made possible the cultivation of corn."
Rheingold considered, too, that the ancient Greeks engaged in the virtual world of the Eleusinian Mysteries. An initiation process, this virtual world was designed to awake the initiate to a more firm, inner understanding of the balance between life and death. It involved a descent into the underworld--symbolic for the inner, unconscious world--and ultimately transformation into a new spiritual life in which the body was only a mortal vehicle.
As previously discussed, there are the virtual worlds of inner religious experience. Contemplative consciousness, in medieval times and even into our contemporary experience, is translated into the Divinity Within. Through prayer and meditation we can attune outselves to a divine presence, to the inner vision, to open the doors of perception. Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, believed that inwardness, via this virtual world, "the real sense of our own existence...is now revealed in a central intuition."
Even modern cognitive theorists, like Daniel Dennett, compare human consciousness to an "evolved virtual machine." He argues that the "brain's virtual machine composes the shifting representation of an individual's self." Dennett believes that the self is a virtual composition that provides the individual a means for survival in this world.
During our modern period, psychologists have gained considerable insight into the meaning and development of consciousness. Many psychological researchers now believe that the task of the human mind is to create *more and more consciousness.* And the contemporary evaluation of consciousness is that connection of "knowing with, " "seeing with" and "other." Premier psychologists, such as Edward Edinger, have accepted the reality of an inner "knowing one," i.e., the Greater Self.
It is at this point--in this period of psychological pursuit towards a greater contemplative understanding of the inner Greater Self--that a new virtual world is beginning to unfold. Modern psychology has already developed some tools to explore this modern virtual world: mainly the interpretive tools provided for the analysis of dreams and active imagination, as well as the conceptual tool of the personal myth. It is precisely at this juncture, in the modern period of psychology, that the electronic possibility of virtual reality, of cyberspace, is looming!
Rheingold declares that this is historically the time that our electronic simulation capabilities will provide humanity the potential for synergy between the inner world of the human mind and the computer world of virtual reality. He forsees the cyberspace experience as destined to transform us inwardly. Such a virtual world can lead us towards cognitive simulation, towards "model-making par excellence." This virtual model-making ability could eventually permit us to establish a greater, more comprehensive and contemplative understanding of our inner life and resources. What is the merit of these virtual worlds?
These virtual worlds, actually virtual models, that we have built over the millennia accomodate that which is within us to our outer realities. In turn, the external world acts upon and molds these virtual models of our mind. Individually, these models help us to pursue our own need for personal happiness and fulfillment. They could also be the inspiration for profession or vocation. Persons are often "called" by the Greater Self, challenged to forge their role in the outer world.
Collectively, cultures and civilizations have constantly been changed throughout history by the imaginative virtual worlds of their more contemplative citizens. The lives of the great masters in the arts, in science, in religion and the humanities, attest to this.
How can the potential, future reality of cyberspace contribute to a greater contemplative grasp of our inner life, and thus create even more effective virtual models? How can we institute the synergy between the inner worlds of the human mind and the virtual worlds of cyberspace?
Virtual reality, cyberspace, could electronically simulate the environment of our personal dreams and fantasies or magical journeying. Following programming, a user could walk through an important dream, or through a composite of dream series, acting upon and interacting with dream characters, who are symbolic to the message of the dream. This kind of "hands on" with these characters, within the dream scenario, should enable us to acquire a more deep, comprehensive understanding of what these inner messages (the dreams) might hold. Following this, a user in cyberspace could then act out this understanding. In a sense, he could practice what needs to be accomplished in the outer world.
Conversely, the cyberspace user could program elements of his perceived external reality into his virtual world. Then he could embellish or delete potential, external actions through virtual practice. (One could liken this situation to the architect walking through the computer blueprint of his proposed building.) Cyberspace "dream" practice might not be perfect, but it presupposes the establishment of a much more thorough, effective relationship between our inner and outer worlds.
Collective contemplative consciousness, as well, might be expanded through cyberspace scholarship. Professionals, such as mythologists, psychologists, and societal planners of all stripes, could work together on particular issues in consensual, virtual worlds. The virtual worlds of cyberspace could be the locus where personal myths and collective myths converge. Psychologists could literally have a "field day" analyzing the implications of such a convergence. Mythologists and social analysts could trek through the programmed worlds of our collective myths and legends, determining the implications for our present and future socieities and cultures.
Overall, the potential of cyberspace could be a grand, virtual tool for the development of the inner noosphere. Cyberspace could help unlock the individual's inner world, enhancing his personal contemplative consciousness. Compounded, personal development at the planetary-level could soar at a monumental rate--thus inwardly empowering the individual elements of the noosphere.
Finally, a cyberspace-derived comprehension of the reality of a Collective Mind, of its gradual development, could help futurists to evolve authentic and useful cognitive maps, paradigms, that would steer this planetary inner world towards a more safe, more eloquent expression of thought and action. Cyberspace-derived cognitive maps could conceivably lead to a more conscious and creative planet!
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