What is the internet’s mode of consciousness?

Unrelated to our earlier treatment of Integral Theory, we want to highlight another aspect of Rich Carlson’s essay.

The remarks discuss an essay by Ronald Purser, i.e. The Limits of Cyberspace – Hypermodernist Detour in the Evolution of Consciousness.

The issue discussed here is: what mode of consciousness is induced or visible in cyberspace? Purser refers to Jean Gebser’s analysis and prediction of the emergence of a new form of ‘integral consciousness’, which he described in his masterpiece, The Ever-Present Origin.

For comparison purposes, see the interpretation by Chris Lucas.

Rich Carlson:

Ronald Purser’s The Limits of Cyberspace – hyper-modernist detours in the evolution of consciousness – posits that any integral mutation Gebser may have thought was heralded by certain scientific and artistic movements of late Modernism has rather morphed into a Hyper-Modernity

Through the exponential growth of information technologies we increasingly live in simulated environments that collapse space not as a function of time concretion but as an implosion of real space into cyberspace. What follows is hyperperspectival rather than aperspectival mutation.

“Since the emergence of linear perspective, we have progressively intensified our ability—especially through electronic and digital technologies–to distance ourselves from the world. Cyberspace has taken root in a period where the subject is “…already virtualized, volatized and fragmented” (Simpson, 1995, p.159).

This technologically mediated detachment has provided the cultural infrastructure for the postmodern ironic subject (Simpson, 1995). Indeed, viewing the world from a distance becomes the habitual posture of the disengaged, self-as-bystander.

What we are witnessing today is the extreme manifestation of the rational-mental structure operating in what Gebser referred to as a “deficient phase.” In this phase, rationality takes center stage, disallowing all other structures of consciousness from coming into awareness. In a sense, rationality becomes hyper-rational, deficient, and imbalanced, its mentality proliferates into collective consciousness, dividing and segmenting the world to such a degree that the result is fragmentation, anomie, and a decline in meaning. In effect, the rational-mental structure has imploded in on itself — not into a mutation, not into aperspectival consciousness, but into a hyper-extension of the perspectival world.

Hyper-perspectivism, in conjunction with cyberspace, has created a new epistemic order based on non-referentiality or depthlessness, collapsing the distinction between signified and signifier. The result is a cultural fascination with surfaces, images, and a restless energy intent on gratifying arbitrary and ephemeral desires. Simpson (1995) maintains that this detached stance, especially as it is mediated by information technologies, is actually “a way of anesthetizing oneself to loss,” reflecting an existential dread of being in linear time (p.136). In a hyperperspectival world, the postmodern subject takes up a cynical and ironic stance, keeping the world at arms length.

That the dominant mode of consciousness in digital culture is hyperperspectival (and not aperspectival) can be ascertained simply from the fact that cyberspace is founded on a spatial metaphor. Gebser (1985), in numerous passages, associates perspectival consciousness with spatialization and concretion of space.

“Perspectival thinking spatializes and then employs what it has spatialized” (p.258). The psychic experience of our period, according to cultural critic Frederic Jameson (1997), is that of being dominated by categories of space (rather than of time), of being immersed in the synchronic rather than the diachronic (p.16). Hyperperspectival thinking is an extreme form of spatial fixation and attachment, manifesting in the technological conquest of the globe ….

A troubling inconsistency arises between the functional limits and the hype/hyper-potentiality of cyberspace. Unfortunately, as we can see from this discussion, the current trajectory of the digital age is not a fundamental break from the past; cyberspace is not catapulting us into integral consciousness. Instead, we are taking a hypermodern detour.(9) (Purser 1999 para 21-25 & 68).

7 Comments What is the internet’s mode of consciousness?

  1. Avatargregorylent

    what is the purpose behind using all of these amazing yest meaningless terms? what are you actually trying to say?

    what the heck does this actually mean?

    “Hyper-perspectivism, in conjunction with cyberspace, has created a new epistemic order based on non-referentiality or depthlessness, collapsing the distinction between signified and signifier. The result is a cultural fascination with surfaces, images, and a restless energy intent on gratifying arbitrary and ephemeral desires”

    it has no meaning, beyond implying an addiction to concepts that are disconnected from what the concepts are about.

    and please, i am not trolling you, i found the title on a google search of blogs, and it is an interesting question.

    but my gosh, the page is unreadable, except perhaps for academics … words about words, not words about what the words are about ..

    say it in one sentence, please.

  2. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Hi Gregory,

    Unfortunately, most of the time, complex thinking requires a specialized vocabulary, which is sometimes exagerrated for other reasons, and not everybody is as able to then retranslate it for laypeople.

    This text is therefore not meaningless, but admittedly difficult, as it requires some grounding in the work of cultural historian Jean Gebser, and perhaps some familiarity with postmodern philosophy, and it is written for a specialized magazine of people following this tradition of thought. With the right context it would therefore make sense.

    It is hard to explain in one sentence, but I’ll try to rephrase it. If you can picture yourself as consisting of different ways of functioning and feeling/being, and let’s call that a mode of consciousness. If you can also see that you can function instinctively, emotionally, mentally, and that there are different ways to function mentally. The integral consciousness described by Gebser is one that allows an individual to transparently move between them, you can see that as a meta-programming possibility. If you know which program is functioning in yourself, you are more able to switch from one to another, thereby obtaining more autonomy and freedom vis a vis yourself and your conditioning. Gebser believes, after a deep study of the vanguard thinkers of art and science at the beginning of the last century, that it is possible to attain a a-perspectival form of consciousness, looking at programs without having any one active if you like. (if this sounds unbelievable, it is very close to what the meditative traditions think is possible)

    The argument of the Purser, is that the dominant mode of consciousness in cyberspace is not such an integral one, but merely a ‘hyper’ rational one, not a-perspectival, but a summation of mental perspectives.

    In my own words, again, from a text published here at http://integral-review.org/documents/Integral%20Review%20and%20Its%20Editors%201,%202005.pdf, pages 12-13

    “Humans are layered persons. We have an instinctual apparatus and corresponding reactions, we have an emotional apparatus, a mental apparatus, a transmental ‘witnessing’ apparatus, at the very least. But because of our civilisational evolution, these different layers are far from well integrated. There has been a lot of unconscious ‘repression’ of our earlier layers, especially by mental layer, resulting in many individual and collective pathologies. As I see it, every human being should at some point in life, undertake a ‘regression in the service of the ego,’ i.e. make a voyage of discovery into the repressed aspects, undertake a ‘dark night of the soul.’ An important aspect of the integral approach is its developmental aspect, a focus on the fact that humans, societies, systems, evolve from the simple to the complex, from one historical formation to another. By uncovering this development, making the unconscious conscious, we become more whole, more integrated. Thus an integral approach obtains a ‘transparency’ in terms of our functioning, an ability to recognize ‘where we are coming from,’ not only historically, but ‘here and now:’ which layer is active, and ‘is it appropriate.’ In our particular civilisation this means a growing capacity to grasp reality as ‘a whole,’ and understanding how our different layers oper-ate simultaneously. We can go beyond the ‘cognicentrism’ that is our common cultural lot. This is how I interpret Thomas Jordan’s contribution as well: through our own comprehension of our perspective, we can better understand other perspectives, and thus achieve a growing meta-perspectivity.”

  3. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    One more thing, Gregory:

    when you write:

    “it has no meaning, beyond implying an addiction to concepts that are disconnected from what the concepts are about … words about words, not words about what the words are about ..”

    This is in fact precisely what Purser is saying about the mode of consciousness at work in the internet.


  4. Avatargregorylent

    thanks for taking the time to reply … i appreciate the work of the specialists in the world, whacking away at knowledge.

    a large part of my impatience comes from years of meditation, and an exposure to advaita vedanta, and oh my god, how much i had to unlearn … and i simply cannot go back to that style of intellectualization.

    i read a bit of current neuroscience dialogues, and sometimes i am shocked at the circumlocutions of the evidence-based researchers, knowing that some yogi already said the same thing hundreds of years ago, and they also said the next thing that you are hoping to research next. it is amusing, really, how backwards science is in some fields. oh well, we all have to learn in our own ways.

    your blog is pretty amazing, i see this topic here is a departure from your usual work.

    again, thanks for your time.

    regarding the internet, patanjali put all the abilities of consciousness into a very small book, the yoga sutras, and all the internet is, is a very primitive attempt to model in the “external” world what the mind can already do, if developed. it will get better.

    interesting times

    pardon my inarticulateness

    gregory lent

  5. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Thanks for sharing your views.

    I understand very well your point of view as meditator, but consider this: while the yoga sutras of patanjali may be simple, there is ample evidence of very complex sacred texts, including treatises on all kinds of meditative traditions, that are just as impenetrable to non-meditators as postmodern musings are to those unschooled in contemporary philosophy, and similary with hard science, most of it would be incomprehensible to the average lay person. I guess the key is to choose where we will put our energies to achieve some kind of mastery, which is necessary to enter into the collective debate, what we ignore, and what fields we choose to be satisfied with through vulgarisation works …

    As you say, that text, a presentation of the work of Rich Carlson referring to Purser, was certainly out of the ordinary in terms of language complexity, and normally, I make an effort to communicate with the average lay person on the blog. Nevertheless, I do get many complaints of those who say it is too complex.

    As a thinker, you sometimes make the choice to continue the development of your own thought, at the expense of repeating the main ideas to a larger audience, which you may then loose along the way.

    It is a familiar phenomenom, but one I understand, since I’m faced with similar choices,



  6. Avatargregorylent

    i learned a lot from your comment, something along the lines that i a battle of metaphors there are never winners; at best, expansion of an existing set of concepts may be possible.

    but not often, i think.

    have you ever dealt with change, or transformation? is it possible for people or organizations to change? or is the statement “science proceeds through funerals” true everywhere?

    thanks for your time, very very extensive blog/organization you have…

    enjoy, gregory lent

  7. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Dear Gregory,

    From my own life path, I would say that yes, it is possible to change, though it is very difficult, and unpredictable; there are always unforeseen side effects, and I believe that certain core programs of your personality are indeed very hard to change, if not impossible. So wisdom would recommend to recognize those elements that cannot be changed and have to be accepted.

    From history, I think we can see also that change is possible on a macro-scale, but that is hardly under conscious human control at all.

    I think that human groups sit somewhere in the middle, as to degrees of difficulty.

    My own theory of change would be to nibble at a great number of impact zones, in the hope that at some point, the accumulated microchanges coalesce in a qualitative transformation of the core logic of the person, group, or society,


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