internet and consciousness

Andrea Chen dbennett at
Tue Mar 28 15:09:37 EST 1995

mckee at (George McKee) writes:

>The internet is a human organization, with high-speed interactions among
>its members.  At a mathematical level of abstraction and rigor, most
>people (including myself) are mostly clueless about what anyone could
>possibly mean by "consciousness" that could apply to an organization.

Consciousness is a metaphor when applied to I-net.  Like the term "intelligence"
in AI it can arouse controversy which prevents one from seeing what
is actually being proposed.  It can also be mislead the poorly educated.
It may be a poor choice of words. However when we get down to what
individual human consciousness is we quickly find a lot of disagreement.
We also use terms like "social consciousness" which are misusages but
fairly well understood.  "I-net consciousness" can be considered a
term of that type.  As I understand its usage it refers to individual
nodes (humans and computers) mapping out various features of the
net including patterns found in often spontaneous behaviors and 
using these in various ways to further certain goals.  One possiblre
feature is "meta threads", threads which talk about various threads.

I also believe that if we were able to abstract "consciousness" with
any degree of "mathematical rigor" then it would be possible to
apply these formulations to artificial computing devices including
the I-net which can be concieved as a giant human/machine symbiotic
processor.  While I did not attempt mathematical rigor I did attempt
to clearly state a few possible features in my piece on "Minimalist
Definitions of Consciousness" which (much to be my surprise still
seems to be availible in this group (alt.consciousness) and others).

The appeal to mathematical rigor is an example of the type of thing
I mean when I refer to I-net consciousness.  It is used to give
a statement authority,  but no one has succeeded in creating an
accepted precise model of consciousness.  The terms which we accept
get fuzzy quickly when we start to examine them.  I-net "consciousness"
(I will continue to use the term because it has catching power) is
very much a matter of making people acutely aware of (often unintentioned)
debating tricks which of course combine with all kinds of sociological
and psychological manifestations.  Through our tongue in cheek
"neu neutopian movement" (centered in alt.cyberspace) we strive
to hit on taboos and rub home the lesson that this medium has
all kinds of subtle distorters and behaviors inherant in the human
group (I-net is lab for the study of social behaviors).

Doctress Paul Murphy has suggested we switch from I-net "consciousness"
to "awareness".  I am afraid however that this will raise the same
sort of resistance.  One needs a term (which provides to the ordinary
person some information about what is intended).  "I-net consciousness"
is different from "individual consciousness", but in coupling the
two behaviors information and ideas about one might help illustrate
the other.  This is one of the purposes of metaphor.

>However, you can look at other organizations with high-speed interactions
>among their members.
>- Is a symphony orchestra conscious?  Is the orchestra's consciousness
>located in the conductor?  What about a string quartet?

Many musicians will state that sometimes when they play they become
a part of the music or the music becomes them,  they improv off
each other in an unusual state of personal consciousness which
lie many altered states of consciousness can throw a spanner into
most peoples conceptions (based on their normal day to day perception
of self) of what consciousness is.

The illustration of a musical group is useful because it shares
techniques and is helped by experience as a functioning united entity.
Where the consciousness lies is harder to place.  Obviously each
individual is conscious and part of the whole. The centralized
conductor is close to what we call consciousness (alt.cyberspace
is an informal center in our experiments), but if one goes
to some jazz bands then the center can shift with one individual
after another taking the lead and directing the themes.  In many
ways this is like our individual consciousness,  we have a stream
of often unrelated thoughts which pop up (with indications that
immense unconscious processing power has been devoted to some).  
I would say I-net would have multiple consciousness with each
thread being a stream sometimes connecting to others.  Observing
theads does find parallels,  sometimes they loop around as happens
when something is eating us,  sometimes they wander, other times
intense issues dissipate into more "normal" patter, an attempt
to arrive at a comfortable homeostasis.

I personally am intrigued by the idea of creating a neu Minskian
"Society Of Mind",  places where individuals are able to work
like a musical group or surgical team.  I also lime Doctress
Paul Murphys idea of neu neural threads where other groups can
be tapped into to deal with the problem.  At this time we have
a medium with unprecedented logical capacity and rapid feedback
times.  However (and this can be good) unlike corporations or
formal disciplines we lack structured environments in which to
organize ourselves.  Often the result is individuals wandering
about with much to say,  but being unable to connect these to
a larger whole.  By openly intervening and taking symbolic roles
(eg. Doctress Chen the bitch dom) the neu neutopian movement
hopes to learn how to create clusters and more focused energies
to help move this incredible medium closer to its obvious 

Use of terms like I-net "mind" and "consciousness" is in some
ways inexact,  but these terms also provide some information
on what we are intending and because they play into popular
cultural myths they help attract attention thus increasing the
number of possible contributers.  

The issues involved are vast and interdisciplinery,  there are
places for some of harder sciences, for most of the social sciences
and for the artist.  The official purpose is not the only
purpose,  one goal is to touch on many subjects allowing those
with knowlege to improv off a complex structure making it more
complex and a richer model of "reality".   

              - ac - 

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