Friday, September 12, 2008

The Machine of the Mind

In an article in the latest issue of Parabola magazine, the writer Nan Runde explores a theme recurring in Science Fiction - the collective machine mind.
In the TV series Star Trek: the Next Generation, the crew of the starship Enterprise is repeatedly beset by The Borg - a collective machine entity that is also an agglomeration of humanoid automatons sharing one consciousness, one will, one mission: to assimilate the technologies and biological distinctiveness of other races.
As we see human ingenuity increasingly transferring power from human beings (subjects) to objects, we fear a near future in which the individual will be assimilated by an artificial intelligence, a machine consciousness that will usurp our humanity.
For Teilhard de Chardin, the increasing mechanization and mass-mindedness of our race are signs of regression: a sinking into matter instead of the 'upsurge of consciousness' of which humans are capable. This regression is a movement towards the evolutionary dead end of the insect hive mind.
The antithesis of the hive is what Teilhard calls the Hyper-Personal. In his view, our most important contribution to the human community is not our scientific discoveries or our ideas or our works of art, much less the material acquisitions of our lifetimes, but 'our very selves and personalities'; not what we have done or made but the centers of our consciousness, from which our actions and creations spring. When asked why he did not devote himself to karma yoga (good works) Sri Ramana Maharshi replied that the greatest good deed one can do for the world is to attain Self-realisation oneself. This seems selfish until one realises that Self and world are one, and the idea of separate individual agency is an illusion produced by ego.
The ascendancy of the collective [in the negative sense of mass-mindedness, fads etc] in our culture is due in large part, paradoxically, to an overemphasis on the individual, since egoism, as Teilhard remarks, inclines us to confuse individuality with personality.
We tend to assert our individuality by setting ourselves apart; but only in community can we become truly ourselves, only by transferring the center of our being outward, from self to other.

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