Recently I watched a BBC programme “Visions of the future” on YouTube. One scene that stopped me in my mental tracks was of a young woman who described herself as an introverted history student and who admitted that she much preferred living in World of Warcraft where she was recognized by her online buddies as outgoing and extroverted. She explained that the keyboard exchanges allowed her to expose herself more thoughtfully then in the real life face to face equivalent. There were also shots from Second Life, you know, that virtual place where everyone is young, beautiful and fit and dresses like the extraordinary individuals that they are, in their minds.
WTF, I thought.
An expert psychologist added that there is evidence that this may be a trend where people prefer the virtual society over the one they were born into. She worried, with a smile, whether there would be a time where people would pull faces of disgust at the idea that you meet people face to face with all the associated body language and pheromones that comes with it; a time when people are fully wired up and virtualised to a degree that is indistinguishable from the experience of the real world.
OK, time for a Zen tangent (atheists, do not worry, I’ll be with you shortly).
I listened to Alan Watts this morning. In that tape he quickly demolishes any notion that we know what reality actually is. Anything we know about it takes place inside our head which is, in no minor degree, a sort of Second Life; a place where you interpret an external experience and morph it to your liking; a place where two persons sitting side by side on the same bus, in the same morning rush, experience life in two entirely separate ways. The first is already in the meeting room for that horrible meeting for which she is now late, explaining to her boss that her son was sick and her husband absent, as always. The second person is composing a song in his head. It’s pretty good and the guys at the studio will love it. In fact, it’s going to be a massive hit. He waves at the hordes of teenage girls that throw themselves at him. Outwardly, they are both zombies.
No, Alan Watts didn’t say that. He believes that any attempt at understanding reality is futile. You can only experience it, and that only, if you tell your mind to shut up. That’s Zen and it works for me (though my mind hates it).
It’s not just my mind that hates it. The entire human species hates the fact that their minds are pretty useless at experiencing that bliss known as reality. Our identification with that most awesome of organs, the brain, has derailed humanity from achieving that which it seeks.
There have been some good folks that worked all this out thousands of years ago and have been mildly successful at explaining this to their fellows and dependents. Alas, as soon as a few people understand the importance and truth of their illuminations, they turn the thing into a cult and create another Second Life in which we can be saints, sinners, blessed or cursed. And since most of us are locked up in our minds for 99% of the time, such Second Life’s – a.k.a. Religion – becomes our primary truth.
And all the while our mind, locked in the confines of the brain, is delighted. It has substituted real experience that is outside its reach and couldn’t care if this Second Life is Second Rate.
I see how my kids interact with social media and online experience and it is all-absorbing. They can literally not conceive of a world without internet. In fairness to them, they still have real world adolescent crisis, fall in love and love going out and give their old man a hard time.
And its not just the younger generation. I’m quite sure that once Google has figured out how to put prescription lenses in glasses (duh!), then the augmented reality of Glass will come to us all, and quickly. We’ll overlay a Second Rate on top of the real thing.
I have no reason to doubt the words of that expert psychologist. I’m sure we will witness a new subgroup in society that will substitute direct experience of reality for Second Rate online life. As much as the thought saddens me, this group is no different from groups that live in Religion, New Age, Corporate World, Art, Showbiz, Science, Genetic Fractals, Music, Crime and whatever other world you may wish to add to this.
Evolution has given us an over-sized brain that may be our downfall yet. Its insistence on creating delusional worlds is suspicious. Whatever we think, our smarts may not be enough to avoid it. The good news, is that this evolutionary anomaly is only limited to our species. The intelligence of the universe nor its propensity to generate life here and elsewhere will be unaffected by the demise of our species. It will probably learn not to go for big brain organs again.
On that hopeful note, I shall now leave the Second Rate of WordPress to enter the Second Rate of genetic fractals. Perhaps I should slip in moment of meditation, just to extend the life expectancy of our species.