Sunday, November 11, 2007


Mind you, I'm not a self-identified Buddhist, not by a long shot, but when I read this by Brian Rotman on "Becoming Besides Oneself":
Computer scientist Marvin Minsky's phrase "Society of Mind" (1987), perhaps the most cited contemporary metaphor for this inside-the-head parallelism, is a rediscovery of past rediscoveries. A century before him, the idea was widespread. William James wrote of an inner mental multiplicity; Robert Louis Stevenson asserted: "Man is ... truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point. Others will ... outstrip me on the same lines; I hazard the guess that man" (and he means individual humans not mankind) "will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens." Whilst Nietzsche, ahead of the game as usual, suggested: "The assumption of a single subject is perhaps unnecessary: perhaps it is just as permissable to assume a multiplicity of subjects whose interaction and struggle is the basis of our thought and our consciousness ... My hypothesis: The subject as multiplicity." More than a century before this, David Hume likened the mind to "a kind of theatre" and argued that "The true idea of the human mind is to consider it as a system of different perceptions or existences, which are linked together ... and mutually produce, destroy, influence, and modify each other."
I was reminded of a conversation I recently had with one of the Zen Buddhist monks who invited me to Seoul last month and who, upon hearing me riff on the subject of the Networked Buddha, asked me: "Can you show me this state of mind?"

How would we begin to visualize a networked mind? Vannevar Bush conceived of the networked research mind via the memex, an apparatus that would facilitate the linking/distribution process (the tech spec was soon to follow and 45 years later we had the World Wide Web).
"The human mind [..] operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature."
Flusser carves out a rough draft of this networked mind in relation to what he calls the Universe of Technical Pictures:
Today we have access to deeper insights into brain function and telematic technologies that would permit us to turn a stupid society into a “creative” one. Specifically on the basis of a circuitry that does justice to the interaction among brain functions. In such a social structure there would be no more broadcast centres. Rather each point of intersection in the web would both send and receive. In this way decisions would be reached all over the web and, as in the brain, be integrated into a comprehensive decision, a consensus. That which is known in the biological sciences as the leap from individuation to socialization, for example the shift from single-celled to multiple-celled organisms, or from individual to herd animal, would here be achieved at the level of the “mind,” intention, decision, freedom. The single “I” would maintain its singularity (as does the single cell in an organism and the single animal in the herd), but the production of information would take place at another level, namely at the level of society. (Translation by Nancy Roth, currently unpublished)
Rotman writes:
[...] according to historian Anne-Marie Willis, "The means of production of ... visual imagery is undergoing a mutation as significant as the invention of photography." The mutation is digitization, the enabling technology of the post-photographic practice behind the vast upsurge of contemporary semiotic images that Richard Friedhoff glosses as the "second computer revolution." And, as with its predecessors, there is the question of the transformation of the self accompanying it.
Is it possible that the digitization and mutation of what we used to call "self" is now entering a post-photographic universe of technical pictures, one that transforms the self into a networked mind that renders our unconscious digital imagery as embodied destinarrativity? For hyperimprovisational remixologists, the transformation into the not-me is not about experiencing a religious epiphany. It feels more like an always already just-in-time "cut and paste" open source lifestyle that is intuitively structured within the flow of an imaginary timeline. Think of it as the narratological version of a poetic-mystical vision similar to the one Allen Ginsburg had in his youth. In an online interview, Ginsberg said that at age 26 he heard a voice that was his own mature voice, his mature voice being the voice of William Blake. He describes the voice of Blake as "completely tender and beautifully ... ancient."
Looking out the window, through the window at the sky, suddenly it seemed that I saw into the depths of the universe, by looking simply into the ancient sky. The sky suddenly seemed very ancient. And this was the very ancient place I was talking about, the sweet golden clime, I suddenly realized that this existence was it! And that I was born in order to experience up to this very moment that I was having this experience, to realize what this was all about -- in other words that this was the moment I was born for.

Anyway, my first thought was this was what I was born for, and the second thought, never forget -- never forget, never renege, never deny. Never deny the voice -- no, never forget it, don't get lost mentally wandering in other spirit worlds or American or job worlds or advertising worlds or was worlds or earth worlds. But the spirit of the Universe was what I was born to realize.
It sounds like a religious epiphany, yes?

But he later remixes this version of the mystical experience into a more digitally inclined poetics that grows out of the thinking of his Paterson patron, William Carlos Williams:
Since a physiologic ecstatic experience had been catalyzed in my body by the physical arrangement of words in so small a poem as "Ah, Sunflower," I determined long ago to think of poetry as a kind of machine that had a specific effect when planted inside the human body, an arrangement of picture and mental associations that vibrated on the mind bank network: and an arrangement of related sounds & physical mouth movements that altered the habit functions of the neural network.
Now he sounds more like an autohallucinating new media artist experiencing a kind of body-brain-apparatus achievement. The idea of "poetry as a kind of machine that had a specific effect when planted inside the human body, an arrangement of picture and mental associations that vibrated on the mind bank network" is something I have elaborated on in my own metafictional works like GRAMMATRON, especially in regards to the concept of Nanoscript.

One question we have been asking at the Professor VJ blog is: "Is a more fluid version of self beyond self, one that is multiple [networked] and continuously mutating, really capable of turning the human figure into a postproduction medium?"

The hyperimprovisational remixologist conjures up images ready for instantaneous remixing. The self per se disappears in a sea of source material and what emerges instead are the "ghost tendencies" that Heisenberg called potentia, data-things to be experienced via unlimited mediation and manipulation (the art of generative remixology, philo-style).

[Another thread in this hypertextual digression of associative thought relates to the poem as a narcotic machine. By this I mean to ask: "Is it possible that the 'ontological aneurism' that inaugurates the remixologist as postproduction medium is the result of "a physiologic ecstatic experience," one that has been catalyzed in the body by the physical arrangement of new media codeworks packaged as just-in-time-released nano-drugs of the future? How would these new media drug-poems remixologically inhabit the pharmakons of the past? Through muscle memory?]

In writerly terms, Ginsberg nails it again when says:
..the ambition is to write during a prophetic, illuminative seizure. That's the idea: to be in such a state of blissful consciousness that any language emanating from that state will strike a responsive chord of blissful consciousness from any other body into which the words enter and vibrate.
Were the voices inside Ginsberg's head and that he attributed to Blake, a kind of "metempsychotic flashback"? Perhaps that would be the neuro-narcotic effects of the Networked Buddha in ecstatic form. A reality sandwich with a smear of experiential metadata.

What's the word for "alternative state of mind"?

Om -- ?


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