Friday, November 27, 2009

Improving the Meme Pool

Psychologist and social thinker Timothy Leary, in his book The Intelligence Agents, discusses this need for a shift in social perceptions and ‘intelligence’ and offers the following advice on how to develop such capacity:

1. Continually expand the scope, source, intensity of the information you receive.
2. Constantly revise your reality maps, and seek new metaphors about the future to understand what's happening now.
3. Develop external networks for increasing intelligence. In particular, spend all your time with people are smart or smarter than you. We assume that you are the Intelligence Agent from you gene pool, so you will seek Intelligence Agents from other gene-pools who will stimulate you to get smarter.

Leary, in his characteristic playful manner, is drawing attention to the possibility for mental mutation. This refers to the capacity for a mutational process to occur within the neurological dynamics of a given society. Such a process is likely to mark the transition phase from our present species (homo sapiens sapiens) to the next (see Chapter Nine). Whereas in the past the evolutionary markers were first biological, then cultural, today’s evolutionary acceleration demands that rapid change be neurological and spiritual. In other words, the responsibility is on us to provide part of the participatory energies in the form of revitalised ideologies, understanding, and perceptions, if we are to engage successfully in the coming changes. Rather than just a change in the gene pool, we now need a radical upgrade to our species meme pool.

A ‘meme’, which as an evolutionary agent of change, can be anything from cultural linguistic artefacts, social laws and ‘truths’, to belief systems divine and/or dogmatic. In other words, a meme pool is a repository of ideas from which any given social collective drinks and refreshes – or against which they rebel. At the same time, ideas themselves can behave similar to biological viruses:

Consider the T-phage virus. A T-phage cannot replicate itself; it reproduces by hijacking the DNA of a bacterium, forcing its host to make millions of copies of the phage. Similarly, an idea can parasitically infect your mind and alter your behavior, causing you to want to tell your friends about the idea, thus exposing them to the idea-virus. Any idea which does this is called a ‘meme’…Unlike a virus, which is encoded in DNA molecules, a meme is nothing more than a pattern of information, one that happens to have evolved a form which induces people to repeat that pattern. Typical memes include individual slogans, ideas, catch-phrases, melodies, icons, inventions, and fashions. It may sound a bit sinister, this idea that people are hosts for mind-altering strings of symbols, but in fact this is what human culture is all about.

The externalization of human thinking – in ideologies as well as in icons – is both a threat to our growth as well as a means for our empowerment and development. Human language, the expression of our thoughts, can be both a virus and an antidote. Just as RNA protein molecules act as transmitters of information between DNA, that carry information to instruct the DNA to develop and act/function; so does language in the human sphere act as the transmitter of our thoughts between ‘human cells’ within the global body. If a bacterial virus spreads, such as cancer, it causes the cell to decay, and this infected cell is liable to spread the disease further. Similarly, if a segment of the human population gets a virus-idea (such as ‘kill all those opposed to our beliefs’), then this thought can spread rapidly through language and culture. Thus, people and populations, like cancerous cells, can be infected and destroyed. As one cultural critic remarked - ‘An idea is something you have; an ideology is something that has you’.

In brief, biology passes on genes whilst human culture passes on memes. And the condition of our memes, our species mindset, will determine to a large degree our evolutionary fitness in these transition times. It is thus imperative, crucial, that we establish a healthy and positive, forward thinking, mindset and perceptual paradigm. As described in Chapter One, we are all open systems that use information as energy; energy that is precious and required to fuel us as we press ahead as a collective intelligence. Discipline too is required to ensure that our mindful (perception) energies are not lost and wasted through emotions of fear, anger, and other inner disturbances that become enlarged, exaggerated, and then projected externally. It is useful to remember that negativity seeks to impress itself upon us to force us to believe it is more prevalent than it actually is. This is because negativity is always in a minority quantity in comparison to the positive; thus, it needs to pretend it is greater than it actually is if it is to have any chance of influence over us. These are the hallmarks of desperate practices. Our defence is the quality of our own thinking and consciousness - at all times. As Tom Montalk writes,

The surest way to work for the betterment of mankind is to improve yourself, educate yourself, become aware and skilled at delivering that awareness to others who are interested. It’s more about building up your potential to serve than just going out there and haphazardly trying to do good…Improving yourself means becoming ever more mentally stable and emotionally balanced, acquiring wisdom from observation and experience, taking great care to deal with people according to their level of understanding. Educating yourself means learning more about what really matters, what is really going on in this world and within yourself, the hidden things that manipulate people that could be stopped if only they knew about it, and the positive principles that if known and applied would allow one to progress more intelligently and powerfully yet compassionately through life.

To engage with the transition times does not require from everyone that they should take the role of direct action. Much can be given through more subtle interactions: by simply being ‘in presence’ with the right intentions and energy. The real evolutionary struggle we are facing now is a battle for our consciousness. The changing times of life on planet Earth now require that we take more responsibility with ourselves. After all, when we lift ourselves we also indirectly, yet significantly, lift the world around us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Our Perceptions

The quality of our perceptions has perhaps never been more crucial to our cultural and social survival. Historians note that there are particular periods in history when society goes through a more fundamental, marked shift, which involves not only the people but also most of a society’s basic institutions. According to famed historian Lewis Mumford there have been no more than four or five such great transformations in the entire history of Western civilization. Mumford in The Transformations of Man (1956) writes that

Every (human) transformation...has rested on a new metaphysical and ideological base; or rather, upon deeper stirrings and intuitions whose rationalized expression takes the form of a new picture of the cosmos and the nature of man... we stand on the brink of (such) a new age: the age of an open world and of a self capable of playing its part in that larger sphere. An age of renewal, when work and leisure and learning and love will unite to produce a fresh form for every stage of life, and a higher trajectory for life as a whole...In carrying [human]...self-transformation to this further stage, world culture may bring about a fresh release of spiritual energy that will unveil new potentialities, no more visible in the human self today than radium was in the physical world a century ago, though always present.

It was prescient of Mumford to view the next epoch not only in terms of ideological renewal but also as one that brings about ‘a fresh release of spiritual energy’. Likewise, British historian Arnold Toynbee (in his A Study of History) referred to the possible ‘transfiguration’ of modern society into some kind of ‘re-spiritualized’ form. Toynbee coined the term ‘The Law of Progressive Simplification’ where true growth occurs as civilizations transfer increasing amounts of energy and attention from the material to the non-material side of life, towards increased self-articulation. In other words, the criterion of growth is a progress towards self-determination. Any significant shift in society thus requires a change of the incumbent dominant paradigm: today, this requirement is global – a total global mind change. Our historical record as a species is the story of our movement through a series of perceptual paradigms. This is the hallmark of transformation - a change at the deepest levels within our social structures.

Similarly, our own belief systems are themselves ‘social structures’ that have been reinforced throughout our lives, beginning in infancy and throughout childhood. We literally have any ‘anomalies’ ironed out of us so that we agree to a consensus picture of reality. In a sense we are more than nationalized; we are culturally hypnotized. Such processes are well-documented by cultural anthropologists who have shown how persons who grow up in different cultures perceive different realities. Yet now such an ideological base is fundamentally inadequate. One of our greatest inadequacies is that we have ‘agreed’ to a social reality that all but denies the presence and potential of consciousness. Our social affliction thus stems from an ‘omission of consciousness’ within our paradigm of reality. We are in effect deceiving ourselves. We have become blind (perhaps deliberately so) to the edict that ‘by deliberately changing their internal images of reality, people can change the world’.

A well-known story from the East tells of a fool called Mulla Nasrudin:

‘Someone saw Nasrudin searching for something on the ground.

“What have you lost, Mulla?” he asked.
“My key”, said the Mulla. So they both went down on their knees and looked for it. After a time the other man asked: “Where exactly did you drop it?”
“In my own house.”
“Then why are you looking here?”
“There is more light here than inside my own house.”’

Individually and collectively, we often search where there is more light; which often means within the old paradigm, the old way of thinking. We need to start looking in the ‘dark’ for that which we think is lost - yet in truth it has only remained dormant: a way of understanding that will shift how we perceive of life, reality, and ourselves.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Collective Intelligence: The Need for Synthesis

To upgrade our thinking patterns is a beginning step to an upgrade in human consciousness, and is necessary if we are to succeed in adapting to our rapidly and inevitably changing world. In other words, if we don’t enact a change, or learn to adapt to the incoming energies of change and transformation, our presence is likely to be no longer required, or needed. It is a sobering thought.

The human species has entered a period of profound, fundamental, and unprecedented change. It needs to acquire new skills in order to co-exist with an environment that is itself undergoing profound change within the larger fabric of living systems - planetary, solar, and galactic. We need to upgrade our capacities in order to have the internal resistance to an upgrade in energies. Not to do so may result, quite literally, in us blowing a species-fuse! Whichever way we look at it, we are in need of preparation. If we are not prepared, that which manifests as truth may very well seem like science-fiction. And it needs to be stressed that our future depends to a large degree upon the ability to renew our perceptions about the world. It is a question of how our inner vision can be brought in balance with (and in support to) the impacts of a changing environment. If there is enough ‘critical mass’ of mind-change then there is a better possibility that shifting energies will be experienced less chaotically. Evolutionary biologist Elizabeth Sahtouris expresses the same sentiment when she writes

While people have always created reality out of their beliefs, until now a handful of powerful people dictated the beliefs of each human culture. The glory of our own time is that the news is finally out that each and every one of us has the authority, even the mandate, to choose the beliefs by which we live and create our individual and communal lives. To create the human future well we need good Vistas - consciously created belief systems comprised of worldviews and the values for negotiating them courageously and lovingly.

Our priority is to first change our perceptions and way of thinking. It is a challenge we face to adapt our thinking so that we ‘think-in-sync’ with our changing world.

Collective Intelligence: The Need for Synthesis

All living species are inherently connected in varying degrees of subtlety - the collective mind of humanity is no exception. Often we discover our ideas are simultaneously shared with our friends or associates as minds in close contact/proximity entangle together and share thought-forms. The collective mind of humanity is moving ever closer to being more awakened, yet we require triggers, stimuli, in order to activate latent capacities. Global communications have helped to increase our awareness of distant events and to trigger shared empathy and collective emotionality. This is part of what can be termed ‘collective intelligence’; others have named this the ‘global brain’, or the ‘noosphere’. The thought forms that we emanate go towards the state of our collective mind, and are functional in that an intentional act carries with it more force, power, and effectiveness than a non-intentional action.

A species collective intelligence can exist without being self-aware because it already exists. A collective consciousness does not require that all ‘components’ be conscious since a conscious entity produces an exponential effect, so only a relatively few conscious ‘nodes’ or ‘awake people’ can represent the many. This is why human history has progressed from the actions of the few; it is not surprising that many of the agents of human history have been conscious of the collective mind of humanity, or have been the agents of conscious entities. As proclaimed inventor Doug Engelbart says – ‘The key thing about all the world’s big problems is that they have to be dealt with collectively...If we don’t get collectively smarter, we’re doomed’. Likewise, the well-known thinker Marshall McLuhan, who coined the phrase ‘the global village’, sees humanity as a total global community. He wrote that where previously human evolution was about the ‘outering’ of physical tools and technology for progress, human acceleration is now concerned with the intensification of the central nervous system worldwide: ‘Evolution became not an involuntary response of organisms to new conditions but a part of the consensus of human consciousness. Such a revolution is enormously greater and more confusing to past attitudes than anything that can confront a mere culture or civilisation’.

The analogy is that of humanity operating as a planetary ‘nervous system’; a global brain, with each individual representing a firing neuron and our communications as conscious informational networks. Systems philosopher Ervin Laszlo defines the global brain as:

The global brain is the quasi-neural energy - and information - processing network created by six and a half billion humans on the planet, interacting in many ways, private as well as public, and on many levels, local as well as global. A quantum shift in the global brain is a sudden and fundamental transformation in the relations of a significant segment of the six and a half billion humans to each other and to nature - a macroshift in society - and a likewise sudden and fundamental transformation in cutting-edge perceptions regarding the nature of reality - a paradigm shift in science. The two shifts together make for a veritable “reality revolution” in society as well as in science.

What Laszlo refers to as the ‘reality revolution’ is simultaneously a ‘quantum’ shift in the species collective mind alongside a global transformation in perception regarding the nature of reality. For such a revolution to occur during our period of transition on this planet would be of tremendous value in terms of parallel evolutionary shifts. As famed Jesuit preist and ‘noosphere philospher’ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote: ‘…according to the evolutionary structure of the world, we can only find our person by uniting together. There is no mind without synthesis’. It is no coincidence that at the same time our planet, within its solar family, is experiencing a sudden evolutionary ‘jump point’ (or phase transition), our species is coming also to a peak in its collective mind. We must remember that throughout human history the real and fundamental changes have always come about from sufficient numbers of people changing their minds; rather than from governments or social decrees. By a deliberate change in the way people perceive reality, and thus the world, great shifts can be brought about. It is a dangerous flaw to take our own limits of perception to be the limits of our world, as Schopenhauer so ably noted.

Friday, November 06, 2009


Every epoch has fashioned its corresponding mind-set, some more functional than others. For example, the earlier mythic conceptions of a sacred world dominated by unseen forces and humankind’s integral relationship with powerful nature developed into a theistic consciousness. Here, divine right on Earth developed into a hierarchical system of religious authority. This belief of a divinely-ordered cosmos then progressed into the Enlightenment’s mechanistic ‘clockwork’ view of the universe where science sought to prove that natural laws held the world under linear domination. However, this materialistic mind-set that has prevailed more or less intact up until the present moment is no longer of functional use to us. In fact, if we continue with it we are liable to become its victims. Thus, an ‘upgrade’ of our perceptive capacities is required in a very real and practical way. For the past 300 years mainstream western society provided its citizens with a worldview and belief-system that has encouraged ideas related to ‘survival of the fittest’; the sense of competition and conquest. Such ideals are now rapidly contaminating our social and cultural environment and leading us on a path to destruction. The next shift must coincide with the transition phase and involve a conscious decision to develop our understanding, worldview, and wisdom, through an intensive ‘inner evolution’. The focus of this shift is to replace such obsolete material beliefs with ones concentrating on connection, communication, and consciousness. Ghandi was right when he said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. When you evolve your inner world you also change the immediate world around you, as well as those close to you. It is time to release, or abandon, obsolete and superstitious beliefs. Our newly emerging scientific paradigm, with its quantum theories of entanglement, reminds us that we participate within an integrally connected and living universe. This understanding of a living universe makes it more imperative that humanity lives in accordance with balanced needs rather than consumptive desires. It is more about living simply so that others may simply live. As Willis Harman puts it

Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in societies have come about not from dictates of governments and the results of battles but through vast numbers of people changing their minds - sometimes only a little deliberately changing the internal image of reality, people can change the world. Perhaps the only limits to the human mind as those we believe in.

Such a ‘macroshift’ in human thought requires a critical number of people in society to evolve their mindset. It is a radical, yet necessary, shift from a Cartesian worldview of ‘parts’ to one encompassing a connected ‘wholeness’. By way of paraphrasing what Einstein said, the problems created by the prevalent way of thinking cannot be solved by the same way of thinking. This is a crucial insight. Without renewing our outdated cultural attitudes and thinking we will be unable to regenerate today’s dominant mechanistic civilization into a rejuvenated and integral global civilization. Thus, the modes of colonization and consumption need to be replaced by connection, communication, and consciousness. This entails a behavioural shift from possessiveness to sharing; from separation to wholeness; and from outer to inner authority. Humanistic thinker Ervin Laszlo outlines what he believes to be obsolete thinking:
- Order through hierarchy
- Individual uniqueness
- Everything is reversible
- Economic growth is good
- New is better/Technology is the answer
- Our country is right