July 14, 2010

"If being woven into a giant global brain means the further intertwining of our fates with the fates of others, maybe there’s something to be said for giant global brains."

"And if people respond wisely to this spiritually challenging predicament, maybe the life of a cell won’t be such a bad life after all."


Christy said...

Sounds an awful lot like the lamb lying down with the lion to me. Worst possible fate for mankind in my book.

I liked reading Wright back in the day. Now I read him with his smug superior tone in my head and his credibility is gone, gone, gone.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

And one day we woke up to find our lives had become a bad science-fiction movie.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Comprehending culturally distant people well enough to grasp and thus begin to undermine their hatreds strikes me as a spiritually enriching challenge

To Wright's more obvious mental foibles you can now add the fact that he doesn't know what the word "thus" means.

Dead Julius said...

Shorter Robert Wright: The poison of the global organism is hatred; we can extinguish that and all live in freedom and peace.

All he's singing is "Kumbaya My Lord, Gaia, Kumbaya" based on an idealized, fictional view of humanity.

Wright is one of the most annoying writers ever. A "slow news week" so you are going to pollute the global organism with your prolixity? Ugh... And this is after he gave us the incessant blah-blah-blah of bloggingheads.

I suggest that the global organism take some anti-Wright medication and hopefully this cancer can be eliminated.

Henry said...

Someone should ask Bob Wright if he wants to be intertwined into Mickey Kaus's giant global brain. That should get a reaction.

In reality, I think the quote/link combo disserves Wright's genuine playfulness. His take on metaphysics runs from wry humor to the deadpan takedown: "Well, it’s been a slow news week, so why not? I mean, I can't come up with a whole theology."

He rides the flight of fancy that is the giant global brain only for the purpose of analogy. And yet, such is the nature of Bob Wright, when he jumps off he lands squarely in a commonplace. It's a small world after all.

As for the metaphysics of it, the giant global brain sounds to me like homeopathy for thinking. If we just dilute the self enough, all will be well as rainwater.

YoungHegelian said...

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

Christy said...

To build upon what Paul just pointed up, I wonder if Wright considers the New Black Panthers as culturally distant as I do? How will he undermine their hatreds?

Robert, Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. IOW, Start this casting out of hatred closer to home.

halojones-fan said...


I love these "we should be a global organism because no organism attacks itself" ideas, because anyone who's studied autoimmune or inflammatory disease knows that organisms attack themselves all the time.

Lem said...

The less hatred there is, the more freedom there will be.

This is what I was writing about here the other day.. How Obama wants to remake the US into just another average country believing that will make us more loving.. Less hating in his view.

See Obama's answer ie America's exceptionalism.

rhhardin said...

The YouTube server has left the room.

tim maguire said...

Prof, I looked at your nonsensical excerpt and thought "I gotta see this!" until I clicked on the link and saw how long the essay was.

Wright's gonna have to either become more succinct or more witty. As things stand, I ain't readin' it.

traditionalguy said...

That is the funniest image of God that I have ever heard of: a giant global brain. Presumably the GGB speaks and has anger and has loving kindness and faithfullness to his promises. But why can't GGB speak to us thru a human brain? The answer must be our submission is demanded to the collective of all that are submitted to GGB.` Sounds like an Internet wi-fi Big Brain Brother to me. Does this GGB's rule start in 2012 and speak to us in Mayan?

ricpic said...

Does a single cell get that tingling thing?

c3 said...

then he should take the red pill

edutcher said...

What ever happened to being your own man, or rugged individualism?

Oh, yeah, the Democrat Party, the Gray Lady, Haavahd....

Lem said...

The more fearful we are, the more liberty we’ll willingly sacrifice..
So how do we reduce the level of fear?.. By reducing the amount of hatred in the world

The left believes that much of the hatred aimed at the US, for example, is justly deserved.. So it is we who should change around the will of others.

Moose said...

"Your distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

That's what I want. Christ.

t-man/wurly/henry buck said...

But in the Rawlsian "original position," what part of the brain would you want to be? I'm sure that Wright imagines himself as cerebrum material. But would he be so happy stuck in the brain stem?

Moose said...

Now, that being said, how is it that every Utopian vision involves surrendering your individuality to some greater whole? Are we that sure the being unique and separate is so horrible?

Cousin Bob said...

Man, every time I go on the net I feel like part of one big Brain.

And it belongs to a hooker who tweaks & takes ludes to cool down.

(Don't you dare talk to me about the acid flashbacks!!)

Whadya think? The World Brain would belong, like, to Jesus Christ or somebody?

Lem said...

The idea goes something like this..

If Mel Gibson was poor he would not have said all those "hateful" things he said that has him in trouble.

Its socialism.. its communism.

Cousin Bob said...

Yeah, The World Brain sez to me, "I gotta get me some better shit, man!"

An' I say, "You wanna score some shards, or you want downers, or maybe some weed?"

The World Brain sez back, "Naw, none of that. I want your fuckin' LIFE, bro! Bwhahahahaha!"

Lem said...

The late Ron Silver on the dreaded "fear", so feared by the left.

Palladian said...

"In an earlier technological era, isolated pockets of hatred emerged and subsided with no salient consequence."

Yes, because everyone involved slaughtered each other.

GMay said...

It's fun to joke about the liberal "hive-mind" and all, but now we have one of them talking about it literally? I think this guy saw Avatar one too many times.

I'm bookmarking this article and linking it every time I type "hive mind". It's really all this piece of shit is good for.

reader_iam said...

The fact that we don’t feel efficient — that we feel, as Carr puts it, like “chronic scatterbrains” — is in a sense the source of the new efficiencies; the scattering of attention among lots of tasks is what allows us to add value to lots of social endeavors.

I find this interesting.

David said...

Sex always comes to mind.

If we are a super organism, can we have a super orgasm?

All together now . . . .

Dead Julius said...


Global orgasm. Been there, done that.

Money quote from the link:

Global Orgasm for Peace follows in the footsteps of other mass meditation and prayer events which also claimed to be able to change the energy field of the Earth. The Global Consciousness Project (GCP) measures random numbers and claims that large events that create focused attention can create measurable effects on random number sequences. The Global Orgasm's organizers hope to create a positive change in the energy field of the Earth that can be measured by the GCP and that might begin a shift away from war as foreign policy.

Palladian said...

Bob Wright makes the mistake of thinking that the coming Technological Singularity will be a net positive for humanity.

A much better accounting of a version of this idea can be found in my favorite Asimov short story, "The Last Question".

reader_iam said...

Palladian: I've often thought before, as now, that you and I could easily share a library.

DADvocate said...

intertwining of our fates with the fates of others

Isn't that what happened in Jonestown?

tooclass said...

I don't know why I fucking come to this blog so often. Part of it must be to see how the right acts now almost EXACTLY as the left did when bush was in office. Left during Bush: all our rights are being taken away, he's expanding homeland spying and taking away liberties, he's like hitler! Right during obama: et al.

You would think people would learn to stop acting them same way they deplored their enemies for acting, but instead the cycle just starts itself over. Pathetic really.

Palladian said...

"I don't know why I fucking come to this blog so often."

I don't know why you fucking come to this blog either, especially when your fucking comment hasn't a fucking thing to do with the fucking topic of this fucking blogpost.


Cousin Bob said...

I don't need a Global Orgasm.

I've got a Mexican wife.

lemondog said...

The Great and Good OZ.

Does love conquer power-lust?

Who/what body will oversee the Great and Good technologically adept Oz?

And who/what will contain/control the age-old lust for power of the body that oversees the Great and Good Oz?

The UN seems to have its....er....uh....flaws.

The EU work in progress and microcosm of the giant global brain seems almost at a point of unraveling.

sunsong said...

I liked the article :-)

So sue me :-)

I doon't know who Bob Wright is or what a global brain would be - but I like the idea of Love gently guiding humanity.

I would imagine, however, if Love is gently guiding humamity - it would not be limited to earth, a *global* anything - it would be WAY beyond that :-)

Arrogance, I guess, is hard to let go. No need for a "global consciousness" when Love is available.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Rely on it: If the meek do inherit the earth, they'll rule it with an iron fist.

Moose said...

...and another thing.

"Money quote"? I hate that term and its getting more and more use. Sorry folks, but porn movie terms belong in porn movies...

Donna B. said...

What The World Needs Now

Tibore said...

"If being woven into a giant global brain means the further intertwining of our fates with the fates of others, maybe there’s something to be said for giant global brains....

Who is this idiot? He scribes both a statement of the obvious with an ethereal impossibility and calls that thought? "(W)e could buy ourselves more freedom by reducing the amount of hatred"... yeah, no shit Sherlock. It's the "then" part of your If-Then argument, Mr. Wright, that would fall flat if it had any solidity. "Comprehending culturally distant people well enough to grasp and thus begin to undermine their hatreds strikes me as a spiritually enriching challenge — especially since succeeding could wind up helping them as well as you (even liberating them as well as you, if in somewhat different senses)."... Nope. Not falling flat. Rather, your statements, Mr. Wright, are evaporating, wafting on the air like the vaporous vacuities they really are! >:-(

(To be continued...)

Tibore said...

Mr. Wright: You think that the magic wand you're waving can suddenly end hatred simply by "grasping" it? As if we don't already "grasp" this "It" and all "It" entails? Are you that oblivious to what is known about the hatreds fueling terrorism? Have you not looked into the sources like Sayyid Qutb, who's writing forms the base of their hatred have written? Do you think that others have not already read this and understand it, as well as what needs to be done in order to counter it?

And what of this black box you call "undermine"? You think this hasn't been occuring, that society hasn't been trying to move from Dark Ages thought and attitude for centuries now? What in God's name do you think society's been trying to do since the middle ages then? What with the Renaissance, enlightenment, the inculcation of the importance of education, the development of science, and so on... you think that people have been standing still this whole time? Do you not realize that your black box "undermine" is the entire purpose of advocating for principles of freedom, enlightenment, and real justice??


Tibore said...

But what happens when society does try to advance those principles? Do we get acknowledgement that such is a fine thing? Or do we get lectures about cultural relativity and accusations of assuming the "white man's burden"? As if such advocacy is a sign of condescending superiority, instead of honestly acknowledging the equality of an individual's potential, regardless of nationality. The West advocating for freedom, equality, and justice accomplishes exactly the sort of undermining you imply isn't happening, Mr. Wright, but when such advocacy does occur, your employer is one of the first to knee-jerk against it. Or remain silent; I find it flabbergasting that your paper doesn't mention thing one about the irony of a Spanish Gay Pride festival barring the only Middle Eastern nation where no law exists banning homosexuality, and doing so on the basis of Israel fighting a group subscribing to a religion that would single out the homosexual for persecution. You'd think this would be the exact sort of issue your paper could illuminate: The lunacy of misguidedly enabling and even defending dark ages mentalities. But oddly enough, your paper is silent on this.

In sum, Mr. Wright, have you even attempted yourself to understand what has been done towards this "inter-cultural outreach"? Or have you occupied yourself with the composition of new age sounding drivel instead? I see much verbiage, but little substance on what it takes to reduce hatred in this world. What little substance is provided seems to be aimed at the US government's actions, instead of the terrorists mentalities, which you pretend to decry but show zero signs of comprehending. I see zero attempt to "grasp" what forms the basis of irrational hatreds, let alone any idea of what it takes to "undermine" such. But I do see a weak screed against the US buried in the otherwise wispy callowness that is your article, a callowness you'd expect from a pre-teen, not a fully adult professional. If your goal is to critique US government actions, why diminish it by encasing it in such empty reading calories? Why not build some substance?

Maybe it's because it's easier to indulge in grandoise conceptualizing, stippling the canvas with the impression of a cohesive vision, but ending up with a mere collection of dots, unconnected, and in the end adding up to less than the sum of its splattering on the page.


tooclass said...


GMay said...

Hey tooclass,



Eric said...

I read the complete essay and decided this guy has no clue why people hate each other. When did people start to see hate as a character flaw rather than an emotion?

traditionalguy said...

Seriously, this teaching is a classic cult which offers peace in exchange for your money but declares war upon those who resist. It is a classic example of those who have defied any belief in God then quickly believing in almost anything else no matter how unreal.

Methadras said...

The global consciousness morons just need to die already. Fuck, there is no such thing as a collective consciousness. The universe DOES NOT TALK TO YOU, ASSHOLE!!! My dogs are smarter than the universe. Shit, a grain of rice has more intelligence than the collective whole of the universe. NEW AGE MUST DIE!!!

bagoh20 said...

The global brain has all the neurosis, psychosis and frivolity of it's cells. I don't see much change, but we still have hope, just like the time before last and the one before that.

I see it more like a nuclear reactor from which we are gradually removing the control rods.

Synova said...

I've been trying to let this settle so I'm able to say something intelligent about it. (I've been doing that for a while, actually, because if I can get it to gel enough to write a story I might be able to sell it.)

This idea is not new; this notion of a sort of aggregate consciousness. In fiction it takes many forms, sometimes benevolent, sometimes oppressive.

This is from the article the article Althouse linked to was referencing:

"But at least the superorganism that seems to be emerging, though in some ways demanding, isn’t the totalitarian monster that Orwell feared; it’s more diffuse, more decentralized, more reconcilable — in principle, at least — with liberty.

And that’s good news, because I do think we ultimately have to embrace a superorganism of some kind — not because it’s inevitable, but because the alternative is worse. If technological progress grinds to a halt, it will be because chaos has engulfed the world; and if we don’t use technology to weave people together and turn our species into a fairly unified body, chaos will probably engulf the world — because technology offers so much destructive power that a sharply divided human species can’t flourish.

This is... amazing. And so very wrong.

There is an inevitability to the interconnectedness of humanity and yes, if we don't end up going there it will be because something very bad has happened. Being afraid of it is pointless.

But what is described here is something as fundamentally wrong as the movie Silent Running where humanity has wiped out all plant life on earth. Humanity *likes* life. We are obsessive gardeners. We're obsessive breeders of animals even in the smallest urban spaces. There may have been a moment where the trend seemed to be away from the earth and soil and the compulsive need to grow things, but the movie sure looks silly now.

What humanity is as compulsive about as gardening and animals is sharp division. As allegory or as fact, the tower of Babel is immutable. We *will* splinter. We *will* diverge. (And we will *garden*, and breed our dogs, and have children, and *cook* and sing and create art, and spread like a fungus throughout our solar system.)

We grow up and we leave home.

Synova said...

Unity itself is stifling. We can't grow if we're held in check.

Yet here Wright is saying that because technology is so destructive we must somehow find unity. And then he goes on to talk about reducing hatred, increasing love and getting theological over it in the column Althouse linked.

And he presents a paradox.

"To put the point more generically: maybe the orderly functioning of the superorganism needn’t imply the slavish obedience of the cell. Maybe we have something to say about the exact shape the superorganism takes, and how comfortable an abode it is."

The cell cannot "have a say". The cell can only be free or unfree. Nothing more.

In order to "have a say" in the shape of the superorganism force has to be employed, must be employed, to move the superorganism toward the form the cell prefers. And Wright is clear about this being a conscious and willful influence to suppress undesirable outcomes.

And Wright is also clear that this control ought to take a theological sort of flavor of growing beyond one's self for a higher purpose. (If that's the case, just say yes to Jesus and get it over with, why start new?)

"...I can’t come up with a whole theology. But I can highlight a sense in which the emerging superorganism challenges us cells to reach greater moral and spiritual heights — and, in the process, to preserve our hard-earned freedom, thus leaving DA06488 little cause to get the shivers."

And yet, this is the part I consider shivery. Greater moral and spiritual heights?

What is glorious about the interconnectedness of humanity and the way we might, after a fashion, consider these connections to be the essence of something larger and more powerful than ourselves is held precisely and firmly and *immutably* in the fact that each cell of that "organism" must be wholly and gloriously FREE.

Or else it is no more valid than any corrupted computer or brain with a glitch and we can all be bound with chains of a superorganism with a mental illness.

Synova said...

Within all of our interconections we do, yes, prefer mostly to inhabit echo chambers and in those echo chambers we refine our thoughts and arguments and build consensus and present those thoughts in the strongest possible way to the larger "organism" as we rub elbows on the fringes. Vastly diverse other computational groups or echo chambers are doing the same thing. Some of them silly and some of them violent and dangerous. And we rub at the edges and ideas do percolate and consensus shifts.

What Wright is talking about, while saying that we shouldn't be fearful of this, is finding a way to influence the organism so that our ideas win in the end, that the proper emotions (love) guide the jostling of independent minds so that individuals are not uncomfortable as part of this larger thing.

But what if I find the idea of submitting to someone elses notion of love oppressive?

The question then becomes... Am I free to be angry?

Again, if I am not free to be angry, to be inflammatory or rude or in any other way not entirely free in my own mind, then the power of connection between all the diverse brains, strong or weak, foolish or wise, is subverted and corrupted.

Think of the VLA down here in Socorro. Each dish has to see, honestly, what IT sees or the array is useless.

I am not afraid of technology or interconnectedness or what will happen when that interconnectedness finally impresses it's dominion on those who have great faith in the deep thoughts that they think.

bagoh20 said...

All through history we have feared technology and completely miscalled it's form in the future. It seems to me, we generally err on the side of paranoia and never seem to expect the wonder it produces and nearly instantly take it for granted as fast as it appears.

We can blow it, but I think us better than our default self-portrait. It's not what some evil stranger will do with the power; it's what WE will.

Synova said...

The deep-thinker part actually ties to my first, initial, and unconsidered reaction to the piece.

It reminded me of yesterday.

People are blind to their own blind spots. In this case it was someone realizing that she needed to control her urge to give a friend unsolicited advice who then confused my son with unsolicited advice. (He texted me, and it wasn't at all that he'd done something wrong, she seemed to want him to find joy and happiness and since he felt plenty joyful and happy he had no idea how to react to that.)

In any case, that is the first thought that popped into my head... Wright is suggesting as a solution the same thing that he clearly sees needs a solution.

He can see it. He just can't see it in his proposals.

Sort of the way he seems to be able to see what religion can do when it tries to control people, and then suggests a type of religious enlightenment in order to control people, only without the nice side benefit of eternal life.