Saturday, May 01, 2010

Notes on Meaning (part eight)

Since all meaning can be demolished by sincere application of intellect, the information revolution is exacerbating meaninglessness. How?

The hallowed nature of belief systems, morals, passions cannot stand wikipedia.

If you believe in "x", you should not search for the words "x critique" on the internet. Who knows what facts, what well-argued studies, what deconstructions, lie in wait at the the next click?

The more channels there are on TV, the less "innocence" there is. Now we know everything, or rather, now we can criticize everything. And that is the tragedy.

I went further. I willfully sought taboo-breaking films (Catherine Breillat!), I voluntarily bought Dawkins, I questioned every emotional response of mine, I browsed literature which made me shudder at its irreverence, I called the holy sages by their full names, prefixed with a Mr., ...

I am a modern man, who made full use of the resources available to me.

"God is Great" has been thoroughly, and decisively, replaced by "Google is Great."

As a child I used to enjoy singing patriotic songs. After I read the history of my country, I was without a nation.

As a child I used to enjoy visiting a temple of Ram and Sita. After I studied the criticism of the feminists, I was without my myths.

As a child I used to enjoy Star Trek. As I studied Film Theory and Jung, I recognized the archetypes and the montage, instead of Spock.

As an adolescent I used to cry over a girl. As I questioned my libido, and studied the very foundations of sex, I saw a woman as a biological machine, a fellow human being, a vehicle for her parents' genes. Nothing to cry about. And as I read Freud, Kinsey and Masters, I laughed about love and its neuroses.

The modern man can now laugh about everything. A man who gets outraged needs further education.

And now that there is internet, and google is digitizing all the books in the world, you don't even have to get up.

21 comments:

Change said...

Excellent!

After years of self study/analysis, still prefer to live on other's ideology. Only thing is moved out of the ideology of your region to other region – probably that may give a pride of more knowledgeable.

Like to believe and take wikipedia and Google results as authority and adjust your self to those results. Not even thought of insight, the deep feeling with-in (if have one) for considering as an authority.

Keep going!

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure that the process by which you assess meaning is itself meaningful? Have you held this up to scrutiny?

ElDuderno said...

Ah, but even the engineers at Google believe passionately in these things which according to you can be demolished though the tool they have created.

Your visions of humanity without delusions and ideals is itself a delusion, very rare are people with this level of awareness, and there is certainly not a progress towards awareness, except in a rare subset that seeks knowledge. For this subset indeed Google has laid bare the collective knowledge of millenia, but 99.99% of people

Harmanjit Singh said...

@change

Like to believe and take wikipedia and Google results as authority and adjust your self to those results. Not even thought of insight, the deep feeling with-in (if have one) for considering as an authority.

Reconsider your bitterness, my friend. Why rail against google? They are not creating content, but providing an index.

Of course there is noise, but there is erudition too. And I can generally make out the difference.

You read Krishnamurti, it was valuable for you.

I read a whole lot of things. More Krishnamurti than you, probably. I visited all his schools, met the people, argued with them, meditated with them, went to Krishnamurti's abodes, his place of death, studied books about him, practiced choiceless awareness, had great episodes of bliss and silence, ...

I am not being frivolous.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous:

Are you sure that the process by which you assess meaning is itself meaningful? Have you held this up to scrutiny?

I am doing an exploration of nothing less than what makes humans happy, and why is that becoming increasingly harder, despite prosperity.

What are your views about the present human condition?

Harmanjit Singh said...

@eldudero

Ah, but even the engineers at Google believe passionately in these things which according to you can be demolished though the tool they have created.

A printer may not read all the books coming out of his press. :-)

Your visions of humanity without delusions and ideals is itself a delusion, very rare are people with this level of awareness, and there is certainly not a progress towards awareness, except in a rare subset that seeks knowledge. For this subset indeed Google has laid bare the collective knowledge of millenia, but 99.99% of people ...

Hmmm... I think the malaise is at an increase. Certainly certain long-standing morals and meanings have been cut loose. People are aware to various degrees, but what is incontrovertible is that the general level of awareness in humanity is increasingly, quite rapidly in fact.

Total and continued meaninglessness is perhaps for a minority still, but how about episodes of meaninglessness afflicting more and more people in civilized societies?

More and more people are jumping on to the internet everyday. And it is more effortless than ever before. Censorship is decried everywhere. You can't stop the juggernaut of enlightened opinion.

This is the end of culture.

Change said...

My dear Friend,

I salute for the years you spent with Kirihnamurti's organizations and spent on reading his ideologies. Of course, considering your description, I have not spent even a fraction of that time and energy on Krishnamurti's teachings. Krihnamurti is no body for me.

But what for you did all these things. Why did you spent all these years with krishnamurti, then with another guru for years and years with "AF". What for all these things? Is it just to find what they taught are bull shit? Or is it for determining yourself? After investing so much of your time (a considerable part of your life), cant you find even a small relevance of any of those teachings/idealogies in your life? If the major part of their ideologies are not relevant to you, should you reject things what are relevant to you also. If so, on what basis you are calling yourself as modern man, educated and all other funny terms? Is it to reject your life itself as it has some relevance to the teachings of Gurus once you followed and then rejected?

What for these entire things? What satisfaction are you driving out of this self pity of wasting all those years with so called Gurus – including Krihnamurti

I know, all these things have no relevance to you. Of course, I am posting this comment just for my self satisfaction!

Thanks!

ElDuderno said...

Total and continued meaninglessness is perhaps for a minority still, but how about episodes of meaninglessness afflicting more and more people in civilized societies?

More and more people are jumping on to the internet everyday. And it is more effortless than ever before. Censorship is decried everywhere. You can't stop the juggernaut of enlightened opinion.

This is the end of culture.

#Haha, you must come to the US to witness how many people do even question anything at all, everyone is preoccupied with the same old things, their careers, spouses children, media gadgets, and weekend plans. The internet is mostly used for Facebook/Twitter, and certainly not to browse deep philosophy. It seems your social circle has become somehow limited to intellectuals and you project that onto the world.

Anonymous said...

You fret too much. All is not lost. If morals and happiness are not replaced by sensible behavior all the knowledge in the world will not dislodge them, they will come back through the window as they have in you 'til the day be actual.

sunson said...

Been following your series on "Meaning" and thoroughly enjoying it.

The human condition "despite prosperity" is perhaps only temporary. The so-called "we no longer need the instincts" is perhaps gone soon. As Mr.Kenneth Deffeyes puts it - we're back in stone age by 2025.

Nobody would even know that a google existed some day and that thought... doesn't produce any reaction to me anymore :)

For me, I know I've come to depend on the Internet as a source to verify/aid my intellectual pursuances. But when I got to know that the whole thing - our ability to process such vast amounts of information, our ability to Get Things Done and Solve Problems stems from the literally free but finite energy from earth, it leaves an emptiness to think about human condition as it is going to be. The pathological "liking" for Growth and a still intact reptilian brain and the assumptions people make (including the ones people make about "prosperity" or even about the AF hypothesis) doesn't show propensity for a better human condition.

As I inspect my inner self further during these intellectual pursuances, I no longer see any emotional / affective reactions anymore. The question I seem to face myself is "Why inspect in this moment when I'm already happy?".

... Not sure if that reaction itself is pathological or not! ;)

sunson said...

Tainter's book "Collapse of Complex societies" argues that societies exist to solve problems. The easiest to solve problems require the easiest means (ex: to grow food, one needs land) but as the easier problems are solved, more complex problems are "left" to trouble society (ex: disputes about who owns what land and what can be done with it). In lock-steps, IF a society develops a way to maintain stability by introducing new artefacts/concepts/beliefs (which may or may not be absolutely truthful but might be "meaningful" to the individuals of the society) then it can focus on processing more information - information about problems to be solved.

Complexity is a good thing to the individual who is part of that society. Most today cannot imagine sleeping wet and cold under a tree somewhere, like how our ape ancestors lived. But getting _here_ required a lot of complexity... and we've done that by introducing meaning to understand our then-defined set of problems and removing old ones when we no longer require them or when our understanding becomes more realistic and starts conflicting with earlier assumed "meaning".

As a "geek", I used to feel silly proud that we invented the Internet and made a trip to the moon and used to "believe" that humanity no longer requires to live an animal life like our ancestors... but perhaps those "achievements" were not avoidable given the nature of energy that we found - a literally free source of abundant, but finite resource formed over hundreds of millions of years. A one time "lottery" and like the typical lottery winning ape, we burnt up the easiest to get resources in a mere 150 years. Perhaps, even that was inevitable given the monkey brain.

Where does meaning figure here? The smart organism decides to co-operate for mutual benefit during a period of stability and abundance since the last ice age. Over history, many times, complexity evolved and reached a point where further complexity results in diminishing returns on investment and has collapsed. But whenever complexity emerges, the world as perceived by the reptilian brain + neo-cortex duo changes drastically - the general purpose survival machine is now required to temporarily play the hat of a specialist ("SME", in IT lingua) requires the introduction of God, King, state, country, race, corporations, laws, hippies and strip clubs - all only mechanisms that are part of this complexity, evolved to keep this artefact called "society" composed of primitive, ape-like, intelligent creatures to co-operate and go about it's means of playing the game of life.

energy flow, emergent complexity and collapse.

Modern Man said...

ElDuderno wrote: "Haha, you must come to the US to witness how many people do even question anything at all, everyone is preoccupied with the same old things, their careers, spouses children, media gadgets, and weekend plans. The internet is mostly used for Facebook/Twitter, and certainly not to browse deep philosophy. It seems your social circle has become somehow limited to intellectuals and you project that onto the world."

I think Harman has addressed this issue in his "Notes" series. In the U.S., India, or any modern (or modernizing) parts of the world, the outcome is - to varying degrees - the same: human beings increasingly distract themselves with the new toys, which leads to mental isolation (i.e. a conscious decision not to think about it). These are some of the tools used by modern man to avoid facing the truth of his existence. Since this is an increasingly difficult task, however, he has to buy more and more toys and experience more and more distraction. This is all fun-and-games until there's some sort of catastrophe depriving him of this (i.e. a divorce, loss of a job, economic collapse, peak oil collapse, etc.), and he's left face-to-face with his meaninglessness. Depending on how fast he can anchor or distract himself again, he could face extinction.

Right now, the U.S. has a society designed for optimal distraction, and modern man loves it. This doesn't mean the crisis that Harman mentions isn't happening all around us.

-MM

Anonymous said...

Bore Dome

ElDuderno said...

And while the old ideals may seem foolish, new ideals are created. In the university most are atheists, but they have their own fervent ideals such as the Nobel prizes, Fields medals, grants best paper awards, citations. On Wall Street it is the size of the bonus. Others go into activism, naturalism, socialism, environmentalism, Buddhism what have you. Even an intellectual such as Chomsky has his ideals, and he for sure does not see the futility of it all.

Pankaj said...

I think this is too grand an attempt to depict the crumbling of human society. Such crumbling has been predicted before. Thats what Nietzsche predicted when he said "god is dead". Maybe his reaction to the wide circulation of print. This was certainly the mood after ww2. Existentialist philosophy a reaction. I remember ted huges writing exactly this in the 70s - about the vacuum created by the death of religion and the doom that hangs over humanity.

The internet is indeed an unprecedented force. But human nature certainly isnt any different than it was 10000 years ago. Drastic changes are unlikely to come about in a short span. The internet itself has conflicting forces within it. A majority of traffic is going towards FB, Orkut, YouTube, rather than looking for information. Inspite of all the different perspectives available on the net, the terrorists are still considered bad arent they.

Some say the internet is a battleground of political forces looking to control information and hence perspectives.

You could say the media frezied world is a result of people looking to distract themselves and fill their emptiness. But chomsky would say its a corporate-political conspiracy to keep populations under control.

There are a myriad ways to conceptualize this.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@eldude

Haha, you must come to the US to witness how many people do even question anything at all, everyone is preoccupied with the same old things, their careers, spouses children, media gadgets, and weekend plans. The internet is mostly used for Facebook/Twitter, and certainly not to browse deep philosophy. It seems your social circle has become somehow limited to intellectuals and you project that onto the world.

MM has already responded, but I will add that in the absence of "anchors", one can either drift into despair, or into distraction. You are right that a vast majority is on the latter bandwagon.

Harmanjit Singh said...

And while the old ideals may seem foolish, new ideals are created.

Yes, but it is easier than ever to come out of an ideal. There are all the resources in the world if you want a counter-opinion. It needs willful cognitive blocking for an ideal to survive the information revolution.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@pankaj

Information revolution is going to result in a breakdown of sacraments.

A real web-surfer is an atheist. Geeks are godless, don't you think?

At least earlier you had to get a book and read it through to find the argument against your belief system. Now the distilled versions are a click away.

How can urban parents prevent any kind of hedonism-narcissism (and inculcate religious, or any other, values) in their kids when the full force of mass media and internet is working to demolish every shred of values?

A kid who grows with a primary information source of TV and the internet lives a life of constantly advancing boredom, and that is because all his meanings have been destroyed by the time he is 25.

He is left only with "Fun".

Pankaj said...

I dont think a kid who watches TV or has a computer has meanings destroyed. He just gets lost in a world which requires just passive involvement. A couch potato is not an englightened man.

Harmanjit Singh said...

@Pankaj:

A couch potato is not an englightened man.

Apathetic/amoral is more like it. Concerned with little apart from himself/herself.

The glitz and porn of TV and internet make the reality of life a sorry shadow which is not worth caring about.

Modern Man said...

A few thoughts:

Modern media and entertainment destroy tradition/meaning while simultaneously providing distraction from the tradition-less/meaningless culture it helps create.

Pankaj wrote: "A couch potato is not an enlightened man."

No, modern man is not enlightened, but continually distracted. This distraction, perpetrated by the nihilistic content of the distracting agent, breeds isolation (or, "a fully arbitrary dismissal from consciousness of all disturbing and destructive thought and feeling" (The Last Messiah)).

What we have now, on the contrary, is a wide-spread unenlightened nihilism, a nihilism that is increasingly felt but not seen.

-MM