Our world is no longer what we have thought it to be, and a new world is struggling to be born.
Visionary Creatives are driven to bring this new world to all of us.
4th August 2014

Our New Creative Landscape

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fractalI open my book on Visionary Creativity with:

Visionary Creatives swim in the culture of their day and manifest in their work the spirit of their age. The things they create—in art, design, science, technology, business—embody that spirit.

So, what is the “spirit” of our age; what is the nature of our culture; what is the “stage” on which we create and on which we live our lives?

Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.
~ Francis H. Cook, interpreter of Buddhism for the West

What will be the new Creativity?

What kinds of things will be created in the twenty-first century? To paraphrase Joseph Campbell, we can no more say what the Visionary Creatives of the future will bring us than we can say what tonight’s dreams will bring us, as they both come from the same realm. But we can discuss the emerging culture of the twenty-first century, the stage on which we will be living and on which our Visionary Creatives will be working.

Bell’s Theorem and Entanglement

While there have been many twenty-first century developments in science, we will look at just one that began in the twentieth century although we are just beginning to absorb its implications. I could affect us in profound ways.

Although he was one of its founders, Einstein never accepted the “weirdness” of quantum theory, insisting that the theory was incomplete, and once it was completed, the weirdness would go away. Einstein kept challenging Niels Bohr, quantum theory’s designated defender, with problems to prove this incompleteness, all of which Bohr parried, until in 1935 Einstein with two colleagues came up with what is called the EPR paradox. This paradox shows that once two particles become “entangled” due to both being part of the same event, a later action on one should affect the other instantly even if it is on the other side of the universe. Since this is absurd—it negates distance and causality—Einstein felt the EPR paradox would show that quantum theory was incomplete. Niels Bohr dismissed it and most scientists were happy to ignore it.

In the 1960s, John Bell, a Northern Irish physicist, decided it was time to resolve the EPR paradox. He took a leave from his job at the European Organization for Nuclear Research and spent a year at Stanford and other American universities to think through the problem. In 1964 he published what is now called Bell’s Theorem, finally bringing the problem into focus so that it could be resolved by experiment. In 1982 Alain Aspect, a young French physicist, performed experiments confirming that separated entangled particles do instantly influence each other, because in a way, they are the same phenomena. (Just put this in the category of more quantum weirdness.) When Aspect approached Bell for advice on what would be the definitive experiment supportive of Bell’s Theorem, Bell, in surprise, asked him, “Do you have tenure?” Aspect replied that he was only a graduate student, which is perhaps the reason he could do the experiment.

Bell had shown that Einstein was totally wrong about quantum theory. Just as Einstein had a natural intuitive feel for a different geometry of space-time sixty years earlier, Bell had a natural intuitive feel for a quantum world totally different from any that had existed before, and he had the courage to follow his instincts. Now in the twenty-first century we routinely use entanglement in encryption and quantum computing.

What do Bell’s Theorem and entanglement tell us? That particles potentially reflect each other across the universe. Or, stated another way, existence is made up of relationships rather than of space, time, and causality. It’s all Indra’s net.

All of the developments we listed above will bring changes to our world, and some will surely lead to things of immense importance that we cannot predict, but now let’s focus on a development that is already changing both our world and our Selves.

Social Media

Recall that we began this book with the question, what do Michelangelo Buonarroti and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? After observing that both were Visionary Creatives and looking at the world of the private self that Michelangelo had helped to create, we went on to look at the world Mark Zuckerberg is now helping to create, and we observed that we are more than our bodies, minds, and souls. We are also our memories, roles, relationships, friends, papers, photos, etc. Our identities began migrating outside of our skins as soon as we started making art, and the pace of that migration increased with writing and then again with printing. But the pace greatly accelerated in the late nineteenth century as we began to weave an electric net around our planet, and exploded with the Internet as we deposited vast parts of ourselves—our memories, records, images—in networked server farms around the world, known as the cloud. Zuckerberg’s Facebook greatly extends our putting more and more of ourselves into the cloud and facilitates the sharing of this material, thus dissolving the private humanist vision created by the printed book and crystallized by Michelangelo and creating a new vision.

What do people do with Facebook and other social media? They post details of their lives: biographical profiles, minute-by-minute text and pictorial updates on what they are doing, information about relationships, what they are eating, and references to things they like—for their friends to see, respond to, and add their own links to. Before we go further, if you are not familiar with all that Facebook has to offer, you might want to ask a younger person to show you its features. While they are at it, ask them to show you Twitter, which allows networks of contacts between people, and BitTorrent, a service that lets you download all kinds of files, including pirated movies. (If you are reading this book some years after this writing, you might ask an older person to explain to you what Facebook, Twitter, and BitTorrent were.)
Before we go on with social media, let’s stop for a moment and ask, how does BitTorrent work? (We’ll see in a moment why we are asking this.) You might imagine that someone buys a DVD of a movie, obtains one distributed to the industry if it has not yet been released, or surreptitiously videos it in a theater, and then puts a digital file of it on a Web site from which others can download it. You would be right about the first part, but not the second. One of the ways the Internet works is by breaking information up into small “packets,” labeling the packets with instructions on how to reassemble them to recreate the original file, and transmitting these packets through different channels depending on Internet traffic, letting the destination computer put them back together.

BitTorrent goes one further. When you ask to download a movie, it finds copies of it on thousands of computers whose owners have joined BitTorrent, and sends you pieces from many of them for your computer to reassemble. Doing it that way makes the download much faster—the packets come to you in a torrent of bits. And at the same time you are downloading one movie, you might be contributing pieces of another movie already on your computer to someone else. (Of course the copyright holders of movies, music, etc. are not happy about this piracy of their material.) Thus when thinking about Facebook, Twitter, BitTorrent, and other online media, we might think of the Internet as a huge fractal, cluster of interactive computational networks. Think of Lynn Margulis’s symbiogenesis in which all creatures are exchanging DNA, or Indra’s net.

BitTorrent doesn’t just change how we download things, it completely changes what a “thing,” in this case a digital file, is. Likewise, social media don’t just change the way people interact, social media change what social interaction is, and since in some ways we are social creatures, they change what we are.

All of this is quite recent. It was only in the 1970s and 80s that we saw the introduction of personal computers and the development of hyperlinking—the ability to jump from a place on one computer file to a place on another file, for example using Apple’s 1987 program, HyperCard. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee proposed what we now know as the World Wide Web, and in 1992 Marc Andreessen created Mosaic, the ancestor of today’s Web browsers. The Internet had been launched in 1969 as a means of transmitting information without central hubs that might be vulnerable to disruption during a war, and since the late 1970s computer systems called bulletin boards were doing much of what the Web was to codify. What Lee did with his World Wide Web was to establish a set of standards to allow any computer to communicate with any other computer, allow formatted text and graphics to look as they might on a printed page and pretty much the same on all computers, and allow parts of any document to be hyperlinked to any other document even if they are on different computers. What we call “the Internet” or “the Web” today is a combination of the Internet and Lee’s World Wide Web, navigated with descendants of Andreessen’s browser.

And then Google added something more. In 1996, Larry Page and Sergey Brin began Google as a research project on searching for information on the Internet at Stanford University in California. At the time many search engines ranked results by how many times the word you were searching for appeared on the page. If you were searching for shoes, for example, you would get pages that contained the word shoes several times. But then those selling shoes and wanting visitors would put the word shoes a hundred times at the bottoms of their pages. (Until some began putting it there thousands of times.) Other search engines gave most prominent placement to those who paid the most. Page and Brin developed an approach, sometimes referred to as their secret sauce, or secret algorithm, that ranks results based on relationships between websites, including but not limited to how many other pages link to the page under evaluation, and how many links are made to those pages, etc. What began at Google as a new way to search the Web became a mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Which could have ominous implications for privacy as we discussed earlier and will discuss in more depth below.

Notice something. The previous method of Internet search was to look at characteristics of Web pages to find those you might be looking for. Google’s approach looks for patterns of interrelationships. It’s a huge fractal, cluster of interactive computational networks. And it is important to understand that this is just the beginning. Internet search is still in its infancy, with companies racing to add artificial intelligence, computation, anticipation, and other features. Stephen Wolfram’s Wolfram Alpha, for example, not only gathers data, but also does computations on it.

How might all of this affect us? Notice the phrase we used above, we are also our roles, relationships, friends, papers, photos, memories, etc. The importance of these things is reflected in the Fourth Amendment in our Bill of Rights which states that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated….” The Fourth Amendment is interesting in that it indicates the importance assigned to our papers, and that we would likely store them in our houses. Now we might store information that had once been in our papers in the cloud. The cloud can also do our computing, so that anyone can rent the computing power of Google or Amazon or Microsoft by the minute. And cloud computing means that what we have called “privacy,” the right to be secure we demanded for our “persons, houses, papers, and effects” during the print era, will be changing. Privacy is dissolving. Parents and teachers are constantly warning youngsters that the things they put on the Internet may haunt them later, as in “this will go on your permanent record.” Given the scandals that some politicians survive these days, perhaps there isn’t that much to worry about.

As we noted earlier, the objections to Facebook, Google, and other Internet services regarding privacy are to a large extent reactions against the ongoing destruction of the private Self that had been a function of the previous culture built on the book. We are experiencing a change from a private individual to a decentered networked person, electronically extended around and off of the globe, who slips the bonds of old institutions as new ones are built for a new environment. McLuhan writes:

After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electronic technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned… Rapidly we approach the final phase of the extensions of man—the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media.

You might initially have thought of Facebook as a tool for kids to coordinate their partying and keep tabs on who is dating whom. You would initially have been right, but that is just the beginning. You can put your entire life history on Facebook; relationships, pictures, news, etc., as well as everything you are doing at the moment—what you are eating for breakfast, what book you are reading and what page you are on, what song you are listening to. All of this can constitute recommendations for your friends, but suppose a handful of your friends are listening to the same song at the same time. This can be broadcast in real time as news to all of your friends. News becomes hyper immediate and hyper local, and you, your friends, the material you link to, and your activities become the nodes of totally new kinds of interrelated networks. You might object that the agglomeration of this information is not news, and for now you would be right; news is what a reporter and an editor filter, interpret, and say is news. But could not news be simply what is happening? In the near future, news may be understood very differently.

Many older people are concerned about who has access to their “data,” fearing, for example, that an online bookseller might know they purchased a book about A and a book about B, and might send them an email offering them a book about A and B. In the mean time, many younger people are spending inordinate hours every day uploading every detail of their lives. As the online gadget review Web site, Gizmodo, says, “… your entire existence, Facebook-ified. It’s terrifyingly amazing.”

Imagine each of Facebook’s billion plus users as a point. Now imagine lines connecting each of the points that are “friends.” Further, imagine lines connecting all of the photos, events, and other items on Facebook to which there are interdependent links. If you are imagining this on a two-dimensional surface, you are going to have a lot of crossing lines. Maybe you could place your points in three-dimensional space and then link them. But that is not how computer scientists think. They can place their points in a matrix of as many dimensions as they need, with no space, no dimensions, just relationships. It is a world of parametric space in which the coordinates of a given point are not on a pre-existing Cartesian grid (the outdated Newtonian stage), but rather are defined by each other; as one value changes, the coordinates of another change at the same time. The static space and time of the literate world no longer exist, and now all is interrelationship, free of any matrix, free of any fixed frames of reference. All is Indra’s net, as we become a part of a huge fractal, cluster of interactive computational networks. What kind of stage, what kind of world are we dealing with here?

Books

How do we feel about social networking, about people in movie theaters tapping away at small glowing screens, oblivious to the big screen, about couples in restaurants looking at their mobile devices and not each other (are they texting each other?), and about young people who do not read books? Our first reaction must be discomfort if not worse. What will the world be like when occupied by people who “live online?” They will be without depth knowledge, without real world social skills, without critical thinking skills.

We contrasted Mark Zuckerberg with Michelangelo. Now let’s contrast Mark Zuckerberg with Edward Gibbon, the English author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Beginning in 1776, Gibbon took twelve years to complete his six-volume work covering the period from 180 CE to 1453 CE, and focusing on the behavior and decisions of the Romans that led to the decay and eventual fall of their empire. Gibbon’s study, using primary sources wherever possible, is the first history of the Roman Empire, is still referred to today, is a model of scholarship, and brings us the quip from the Duke of Gloucester, “Another of those damned fat, square, thick books! Always scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon.” And all done without Wikipedia. Or a word processor. Or even a typewriter.

The columnist and novelist, Anna Quindlen, writes in her How Reading Changed My Life:

“In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself…. There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books, a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but was never really a stranger. My real, true world. My perfect island.”

How many young people today feel this way today about books? A book—a real book, not a contrived book for people to buy as a holiday gift—can take years to write. Books represent a way of knowing and existing; a person with a point of view is interested in something and wishes to understand it more deeply. From their point of view, they research it, think about it, and come to conclusions. They then presents their findings in a book, a medium that communicates with other persons who invest the time to read it, to follow the presentation and the arguments, and reach or not reach the same conclusions from their own points of view. All of which is dependent on the existence of literate individual persons capable of knowledge, insights, and emotions, with points of view. McLuhan writes:

Like easel painting, the printed book added much to the new cult of individualism. The private, fixed point of view became possible and literacy conferred the power of detachment, non-involvement.

As literacy is replaced by electronacy, “individual,” “person” and “point of view” as we have known them become replaced by something new. Those attached to literacy cannot see the new and therefore see only disillusion. Reviewing Russell Banks’ Lost Memory of Skin, a novel she describes as canonical of our time, the New York Times book critic, Janet Maslin, writes:

“It tells of a plugged-in, tuned-out Internet culture “lost in the misty zone between reality and imagery, no longer able to tell the difference.” And it explores the terrible, dehumanizing consequences of choosing to live this way…. This book expresses the conviction that we live in perilous, creepy times. We toy recklessly with brand-new capacities for ruination. We bring the most human impulses to the least human means of expressing them, and we may not see the damage we do until it becomes irrevocable.”

In an article in the New York Times titled “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction,” Matt Richtel writes:

“By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.
He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos.”

Richtel then writes that Allison Miller provides Vishal with serious competition:

“Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying.”

We could lament the activities of Vishal and Allison, just as Socrates lamented what he saw as the destructive effects of reading on the Athenian youth of his day, who, he said, would lose the ability to memorize. And as Cervantes attributed Don Quixote’s insanity to too much reading: “He read all night from sundown to dawn, and all day from sunup to dusk until with virtually no sleep and so much reading he dried out his brain and lost his sanity.” Or we could celebrate the entry of Vishal and Allison into new words of interactive discourse and visual thinking based on their emersion in video making, a kind of thinking those from a literate past may never fully experience.

For Maslin these are creepy times. For Richtel, 27,000 texts in a month are too many. But those who live in a world of “electronacy” cannot for the life of them see the problem. Today, some young children, when given a magazine, will run their fingers over the pictures and wonder why they don’t move the way they do on a tablet computer. Many young people today may not share Anna Quindlen’s experience of books, but they have visual experiences far richer than the visual experiences of their literate forebears. Let’s look again at the Lord of the Rings movies. The point here is not the hobbits and wizards, the elves and dwarves, the orcs and battle mastodons. A reader of the Lord of the Rings books can imagine these. But the movies give us new points of view from ever moving cameras that swoop through the scenes. Perspective gave us an observer who was outside of the scene and who had a fixed position. In these movies, as in video games, we are integral with the scene and we are in motion with the action. The verbal richness that literate generations swam through in print is now replaced by a visual richness we do not yet know how to fully describe.

We are now in a world of networked creatures, our persons, papers, and effects perhaps not secure, but always instantly accessible along with all of the world’s information, interconnected with our friends and colleagues, swimming in seas of information, having migrated from inside our skins out to the electronic cloud, destroying the literate, humanist world and opening a new one with new kinds of interrelationships.

A New Self: Is Humanism Anachronistic?

Recall that at the beginning of this book we referred to the “humanist vision that some anachronistically still hold today.” In what way is that vision anachronistic?

Stand in the Accademia Gallery in Florence where Michelangelo’s David is now situated and look for a while at the sculpture. Its recently cleaned marble gleams pale white. We feel an empathy, a relationship with the figure, it is our image of a young man, and we perhaps recall how young men looked when we were that age, or might have wished to look, as it is quite idealized. We look at his furrowed brow and intense eyes and imagine his thoughts, and then look at our own thoughts. But while David is thinking, there is no emotional depth, no backstory. We do not yet fully see ourselves. So let’s move forward through the history of Western art and add some layers to our notion of a human being, of a Self. The inner sorrows we see in a Rembrandt self-portraits reflecting the sadnesses in his life add emotional depth. And then add the rationality brought to us by the great successes of Newtonian science, and the application of that rationality to ourselves that the Enlightenment brought us.

We see all of this in the 1765 painting, A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery by Joseph Wright of Derby, with its demonstration of the orbits of the planets viewed by children who are fascinated and who we feel will grow up to become scientists. And finally let’s add a dose of respect for the powers of nature and the human passions that Romanticism gave us in and that we see in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and J. M. W. Turner that we referred to earlier, as well as in Henry Fuseli’s 1781 The Nightmare, depicting a sleeping woman beset by strange creatures, and we have rounded out a portrait of the humanist Self.

But is that humanist self still us today? Look at Edvard Munch’s paintings, The Scream, done in several versions between 1893 and 1910. Referring to his paintings, Munch writes:

I was walking along a path with two friends—the sun was setting—suddenly the sky turned blood red—I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence—there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city—my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety—and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

Do we today sometimes feel more like Munch’s poor terrified figure than Michelangelo’s confident youth?
But even Munch’s image is from a distant past, over a hundred years ago. Today we have perhaps adjusted to our new condition, and no longer feel the convoluted anxiety or even horror of the classics of modern art such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon or Dalí’s Premonition of Civil War, but neither do we confidently reside inside our skins as does David. Rather, we have migrated out into interactive networks.
Throughout this book we have looked at many examples of works of art. What kinds of art will characterize our future? It would be foolish to attempt to predict, but there is something we can say. We see different periods are dominated by different art forms. The early 1900s by painting, including the work of Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, and Braque. The 1920s through the 1940s by the novel, including the works of Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, and Falkner. The 1960s by foreign films, including those of Bergman, Godard, Antonioni, and Felini. The period between 1968 and 2001 was dominated by what we might call the “visionary movie,” typified by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lucas’s Star Wars, Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner, and Speilberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. But that era has past, and more recently, as we mentioned, we saw the new genre of the long-form cable television drama that began with The Sopranos among our leading art forms.

Which of the arts will dominate our near future? Perhaps the leading edge of our culture in the near future will be not carried in any of the arts, but rather in science, technology, and business, as exemplified by our interest in DNA and parallel universes, our absorption in our smart phones and tablets, and our fascination by companies like Apple and Google.

A Mixed Metaphor

Let’s try to visualize our Selves today with an awkward agglomeration of mixed metaphors. We will begin our agglomeration with Georges Seurat’s Pointillist painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the painting that inspired the musical, Sunday in the Park with George. Recall that for Lynn Margolis, the painting represents biological life. From a distance, we see the solid, almost classical figures. But as we move up close, we see that it is made up of dots. Lots of dots. Margolis says that we as biological creatures seem distinct from a distance, but on moving in close we see seas of bacteria carrying DNA. Let’s extend this metaphor in attempting to understand our Selves today. Living our lives, walking about each with our tasks for the day, we seem to be the same distinct humanist Selves that Michelangelo or Rembrandt had portrayed. But we are in fact far different creatures living on a far different stage.
Let’s extend our agglomeration. In Chaos: Making a New Science, James Gleick described how the “molecules” in some fractals are connected:

“Douady and Hubbard used a brilliant chain of new mathematics to prove that every floating molecule does indeed hang on a filigree that binds it to all the rest, a delicate web springing from tiny outcroppings on the main set, a “devil’s polymer,” in Mandelbrot’s phrase. The mathematicians proved that any segment—no matter where, and no matter how small—would, when blown up by computer microscope, reveal new molecules, each resembling the main set and yet not quite the same. Every new molecule would be surrounded by its own spirals and flame-like projections, and those, inevitably, would reveal molecules tinier still, always similar, never identical, fulfilling some mandate of infinite variety, a miracle of miniaturization in which every new detail was sure to be a universe of its own, diverse and entire.”

So, now we have dots, and they are all linked together, but there is one more step. Several computer scientists, including Ed Fredkin, Stephen Wolfram, and Seth Lloyd, believe that the universe is a computation in which very simple rules generate the complex world we experience. Now our dots are not only linked together, they are also computing!

So, in our twenty-first century world we look like the classical figures in the Sunday in the Park painting, but we are actually the dots that you see when you look close up, and all of the dots are connected, and they are all computing by following simple rules. And these dots… they must be floating around in some kind of space. Or must they? The physicist Lee Smolin writes:

We live in a world in which technology has trumped the limitations inherent in living in a low-dimensional space…. From a cell-phone perspective, we live in 2.5-billion-dimensional space, in which very nearly all our fellow humans are our nearest neighbors.

The Internet, of course, has done the same thing. The space separating us has been dissolved by a network of connections.

It’s all webs of interconnected fractal networks computationally generating themselves.

A New Self in Technology

Now let’s look at one example of all this in the experience of one Visionary Creative, David Karp, founder of the social networking site, Tumblr. Karp didn’t drop out of college, he didn’t go to college—he didn’t even finish high school. His personal life veers between reclusion, coming to work early to avoid coworkers, and intensive partying. His site allows users to create all kinds of content—blogs, pictures, videos—and to link them to those of others.

Tumblr was bought by Yahoo for over a billion dollars. Obviously luck and timing played a role in the success of Tumblr, along with Karp’s skill as a programmer. But perhaps more important is that Karp is immersed in, lives in, a mobile networked world—he is a “mobile digital native,” he doesn’t “understand” our new world, he lives it. When an early employer asked him to create a video platform for computers, he refused, remarking that doing so was “So 2000.” Video, he explained to his employer, would, in the future, be experienced on mobile devices. In other words, the world has already changed since the launch of Facebook. Facebook was originally created to be used on home computers, but young people now interact with each other through their smart phones and tablets. And while Facebook allows for continually updating of one’s “status,” it has a static quality, and it does not giving users the tools to create videos and interactive Web pages the way Tumblr does. Karp is a “digital native” in a way that Zuckerberg is too old to be, and Facebook is evolving into a valued oldline company like General Electric or Procter and Gamble.

At the beginning of this book we said that Visionary Creatives feel that our world is no longer what we had thought it to be and that a new world is struggling to be born. They wonder what is wrong with everyone else that they do not also feel this, and they are driven to produce works that will help others feel what they feel. Karp lives in a new world and he created a vehicle to allow others to experience it as he does.

Are we happy with the world that Facebook, Tumblr, and other social media bring us? If we are literate, private, discrete individuals, living on a stage of uniform space, time, and causality, we are very likely unhappy with this world. If we exist as interconnected networks on a stage that is made up of other networks, an Indra’s net, each jewel reflecting all of the others, we are likely happy with it.
Recall that we earlier described the advent of electric communications—the telegraph, telephone, radio, etc.—as in part responsible for the coming apart of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Now our communications technologies are digital, allowing everything—text, voice, images, and even the instructions for fabricating material products on 3D printers—to be stored and disseminated, to travel instantly, to be infinitely reproduced, and to rapidly approach zero cost. We have for some time been plugged into this new world through our computers, but now we walk about with mobile devices far more powerful than the supercomputers of just a few years ago interconnecting all of us. So, what does this mean for the new human being, for the new Self?

The private, literate, separated Self, the person that we criticize young people for no longer being, was a product of the print universe. That universe had made possible, had encouraged, had valued the private act of taking up to several years in solitude to write a book, and reading books in solitude. That Self is fast fading, and is being replaced by a Self that lives in the cloud, is interconnected with its environment and with its friends anywhere in the world, getting entertainment and instant updates on news, stocks, traffic, and restaurant and product reviews. What might life under these circumstances be like? We are just beginning to live it, but we might think of something like Cloud Atlas, a film directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. It presents a world of interconnectedness, features multiple plotlines with parallel characters that are perhaps reincarnations of each other set across six different eras. The producers describe the film as: “An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.”

Of course the interconnectedness we see in Cloud Atlas is not new. We see it in Buddhism and in the writing of the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, who asks in his essay, “On the Basis of Morality,” “How is it possible that when once compassion is stirred within me then another’s well-being or distress go straight to my heart, exactly in the same way, if not always to the same degree, as otherwise I feel only my own. Consequently the difference between myself and him is no longer an absolute one.” But perhaps today we feel that interconnectedness more directly.

The New Hunter-Gatherers

Earlier we presented the worldviews of five Eurasian cultures: That of ancient China, that sees humans in a continuity with nature, and which turns to the “way” of nature (the Tao) for guidance in human affairs. That of ancient India, which sees the phenomenal world as illusion, and councils that we should seek to identify with the transcendence that stands behind our world. That of the ancient Middle East, which demands that we put ourselves in accord with the dictates of a creator. That of classical Greece, which sees the emergence of the individual human being, but one which remained subject to fate. And finally that of our Western culture, which sees an individual human being guided by an inner moral sense, one that seeks to take its fate into its own hands. All of these characteristics exist in all people. A culture defines itself by encouraging those it favors and repressing those it does not favor.

Now let’s look at one more culture, that of hunter-gatherers. Marshall McLuhan refers to our electronically connected world as a “global village,” and to the notion that we have again become hunter-gathers, now hunters and gatherers of information. This is, of course, a very large category. Human beings were hunter-gatherers for the first ninety thousand years after our emergence until the development of agriculture, and for millions of years before that if we include our hominid ancestors. And there are still a very few hunter-gatherer peoples today, although their numbers are fast dwindling. However, combining archeological evidence with findings about contemporary hunter-gatherers, we can make some generalizations about how they experienced their world. So, imagine a tribal hunting-gathering culture in the Amazon rain forest. The Yanomami might serve as an example, although they now practice some agriculture. These tribal peoples moved under a perpetually green canopy, deriving food, shelter, clothing, and healing and psychoactive herbs from their organic home.

Today the Gaia hypothesis suggests that the Earth’s biosphere can be understood as a self-regulating organism, but for our hunter-gatherers, this is not a hypothesis, it is a direct experience. Individual consciousness is not differentiated from the flow of the Earth’s processes. In attempting to understand the experience of these people, we might go further with our Gaia metaphor. Gaia is an ancient Greek goddess who personified not only the Earth, but the entire cosmos and who gave birth to the ancestors of the gods. Think of our hunter-gatherers as unborn children of Gaia, living in the body of the cosmos, as yet undifferentiated from it.

How do our hunter-gatherers relate to their world? Since they have neither the ability nor the desire to “conquer” nature, they use “sympathetic identification” to function within nature, indeed, to be part of nature and to know its patterns and energies from the inside. Thus the stage on which they act out their lives is a flowing continuum, and their cosmos is an all-encompassing unity in which everything is alive, conscious, mutable, and interactive. Their time is non-linear, allowing an integration of past, present, and future—flows of simultaneity.

Like all human beings, our hunter-gatherers have egos, but they choose not develop them. The term “ego” denotes that part of the Self that establishes a central reference point within a boundary and from which everything is interpreted. The boundary defines and protects one’s territories. Without center or boundary the Self defuses and interpenetrates with its environment. The German philosopher Ernst Cassirer writes:

If scientific thought wishes to describe and explain reality it is bound to use its general method, which is that of classification and systematization… But the primitive mind ignores and rejects them all. Its view of life is a synthetic, not an analytical one. Life is not divided into classes and subclasses. It is felt as an unbroken continuous whole which does not admit of any clean-cut and trenchant distinctions. The limits between the different spheres are not insurmountable barriers; they are fluent and fluctuating.

Let’s take McLuhan literally, that we are now living in a global village, and that we are again hunter-gatherers, this time hunters and gatherers of information. Then what we have said above about tribal hunter-gatherers might apply to our interconnected networked Selves today. Let’s look at a forest camp of Mbuti pygmies in Africa. The camp is set up and occupied for several weeks, and after the Mbuti have gathered the edible vegetation and hunted out the small animals in their surroundings, they move on. The camp has no fixed plan, follows no particular principle of orientation, and uses no axial alignments or abstract geometric forms. Women build the huts of bent branches and broad leaves, and orient their entrances toward the huts of their friends. If a woman has a falling our with a neighbor once her hut is erected, she may pick up it up and point its entrance away from the hut of her former friend. The camp changes from day to day in response to changing relationships. Sound a bit like “friends” on Facebook?

The meaning of our new identities as hunter-gatherers? With electric technology, our nervous systems were extended outside of our bodies. Now with digital technology much of our Selves are being uploaded into a commons to be shared by all. And what will be the consequence of all of this? What will we be like in this emerging world? What will be the creations produced on this new stage? We await our Visionary Creatives.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 4th, 2014 at 3:08 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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