Our New Hyperreality

When we get to the concept of consciousness I’m always reminded of this global consciousness term people bandy about when they talk about the inter-connectivity of the Internet. We now longer have solitary, individual worldviews that are shared only by letter, voice, or tangible forms of writing. Our spheres of communications have expanded. Now we can upload and post everything and anything to sites accessible to anyone with Internet access, anywhere in the world.

It’s really an amazing technological advance, but because not everyone understands how the Internet works—to be honest, I don’t either—our imaginations take the technological possibilities to a dark place.

Current films like Her and Transcendence and even Lucy expand on the fear that comes along with new technology. Their stories play with the idea of forming a consciousness independent of physical form; a kind of elevated, immaterial, fourth dimensional conscious “being” that exists outside spatiotemporal limits. Somehow, now that we can upload everything to this immaterial “online” that has no place or boundaries, we fear the extreme: that we’ll be able to upload our literal selves onto servers and in doing so, create a type of god with powers of control over creation and destruction.

Technological advances in communications and computations have brought about machines that seem to be smarter than humans. Indeed, some people have argued that there’s no difference between computing machines and humans; that we are all following programming (software) embedded in our physical systems (hardware).

Believers in the theory of machine functionalism—supported by Hilary Putnam in the late 20th century—claim that the consciousness that arises in our brains is the same that arises in computers, and by that theory it’s not impossible to imagine a universe where computers become sentient beings akin to humans.

Luckily for the fearful and over-imaginative, functionalism has a major flaw: human brains think semantically and mechanical brains think syntactically. Both thinking entities are a combination of infinite complex systems and programs, but computers and the like are simply rule-following devices, while the human mind adds meaning to its programs and can even write their own code, so to speak

Until we create computers that can rewire themselves, write their own complex systems of programs, and build new hardware to support these systems, I highly doubt we’ll be facing world domination by the Internet. But it sure is fun to imagine, and it seems pretty likely. We live half our world on the web—that’s where we upload our thoughts, feelings, and ideas in picture, video, and textual format, both fragmented and traditionally structured. The Internet is the place we go to absorb the same from other human beings around the world.

When we don’t have our electronic devices on us we feel naked. How are we going to get around or stay in touch with people?! What will we do in case of emergency or in case of unexpected sighting of a celebrity or adorable, fluffy animal or child protégé?! How will be we able to share our experiences with others online so that they can confirm we experienced them?? On the bright screens of our electronic devices we’ve created another world full of copies and representations of what’s around us, a hyperreality, that seems just as important, if not occasionally more so, than the physical world.

We shop online, we “pin” pictures of places we want to visit and fashion items and artwork that we like on “boards,” just like kids used to hang posters on their wall or actually travel outside their houses away from their computers. We communicate in Emojis online, little faces and icons that are meant to depict emotions and now, people even imitate Emojis in real life as a common form of communication. (And by ‘people’ I mean myself. handsup okay)

What we experience in life is immediately copied and posted online for others to view and incorporate in their understanding of their reality which then influences what they choose to share online later. With this unceasing forging of a hyperreal universe, it’s not too crazy to assume the future will hinge on further technological advances. It might not be so crazy of an idea that we’ll end up living completely online—Wall-E and The Matrix might not be too far off track.


But will we be able to ditch our earthly bodies? I’m still not convinced.


The Hard Problem of Blogging about Philosophy


I have to admit, sitting down to write a blog post about philosophy of mind is daunting. It’s such a specified interest that hits on terms and ideas so deeply entrenched in the philosophy world that trying to make them accessible to the average, curious Internet-user overwhelmed me. We use the words “minds” and “consciousness” all the time, but not in the way philosophers do. We talk about relations and cause and effect, but not in the way philosophers do. Translating philosopher-speak into something more widely understandably oversimplifies and confuses the concepts at the same time.

Nevertheless, I sat down to write an overview of the philosophy of mind to an unknown audience of unknown prior understanding of philosophy. I knew I didn’t want to explain it like philosophers do, but I wasn’t sure how to explain it any other way. Even if I do find different words to explain the concepts, that doesn’t make the ideas themselves any more easily understood. Especially since each era of philosopher comes up with new words for the same meaning and new meanings for the same word.

For example, substance, entity, body, “thing,” object are all meant to refer to the same…thing. But see, already this is getting weird because I’m using the term I aim to define in the definition. Circular reasoning at it’s worst. In conjunction with terms that are almost so basic they don’t describe anything with clarity, philosophers use phrases like x and y are causally related instead of x causes y or  x instantiates a property of instead of simply, x has.

As if matters could get even more frustrating, this oversimplification and over-complexification sitting side by side barely covers up the fact that in four hundred years of study and debate, nothing has been decided upon. Advances in biology, technology, and physics might add a new bone to the pile, but nothing really new in terms of minds has been discovered. So in addition to making these ideas easy to understand, I also have to write my blog in such a way that the readers—if I even have any—stay interested in tossing these nebulous theories around.

I know I’m not the first person to attempt to simplify these ideas, so, lucky me, I can hyperlink to Psychology Today or TEDtalks or smart Youtubers. But will the readers all click on the links? They have to seem like the most interesting or essential links in the world in order to get the average reader to click through, and then the information on those pages has to be fun or easily digestible. In this instance, they aren’t.

The TEDtalk I posted was 25 minutes long. That’s a long time to listen to an ex-hippie Australian slowly, and with many pauses, walk us through philosophy. So I do a quick Google search for something to explain consciousness; I type in “What is consciousness?” a simple answer (or so it would seem). The first hit was a long article from Psychology Today with no pictures and no hyperlinks. It’s essentially an essay slapped on a website. The author of the article, or more likely the designer of the page, didn’t bother to make us of any of the many tools available to bloggers and online journalists that work to grab readers’ attention. They benefit from a very simple and self-explanatory title (What is consciousness?) but make no effort to ensure the reader stays. To be honest, I can’t tell you if the article was well-written, entertaining, or easily understandable because I only had so much time to write this blog and, after realizing how long it was, I clicked away for something “better.”

That’s when I realized just how important attention to visual details are for people writing on the Internet, or for anyone trying to communicate on the web. Search Engines and online news sources, even our social media platforms, put an unending amount of information at the click of a button. Even though we spend an inordinate amount of time scrolling through the web, it would be impossible to keep up with the stream of new content posted and published daily, hourly, by the second.

upworthy headersAnyone hoping to find an audience for their work has stiff competition for readers’ attention. Some sites opt for dramatic headers to get you to click the link—my least favorite method, because the titles generally hyperbolize the content and mislead the reader. Others have enticing thumbnail pictures like the one to the left, for people to share on Facebook. For all purposes, videos, pictures, and personable voices make the average reader more likely to spend time on the site or article. On personal sites, the competition is more fierce, more personal. People go through their days with half an eye on gems that would make popular Facebook posts, Instagram photos, tweets, tumblr posts, Pinterest pins, and more. The moreHook 'Em shebang your voice or photo has online the more attention and adoration you will get. Who doesn’t want that?

Of course, if you’re not necessarily a person who shares themselves easily, takes lots of photos, cares about their appearance, or hones their wit on the daily, then you aren’t going to bask in as much social media glory as some others. So we make ourselves that fun, fabulous, sassy person—we create an online persona to get more likes, shares, and comments. We write stylishly, wittily, poetically on our professional blog sites. News sources, social issue groups, advertisers, everyone develops an online voice that combines diction, syntax, media, and visual design to demand that people pay attention.

We focus so much on grabbing people’s attention that it becomes second nature, this online voice that people like so much. So now I know how to blog about philosophy of the mind. I need to stop thinking like a weed-smoking, navel-gazing intellectual of the 1600s and start thinking like an attention-hungry, cynical intellectual of the 2000s. I need to write like I speak—no, ten times funnier, smarter, and cooler than I speak, because that’s the kind of image I can create for myself on the web. That’s the kind of person that the average online reader would listen to. Kind of like this guy does–bridging the gap between science and entertainment with brightly designed and easily digested media: