Currently a huge change in human consciousness is undeniably underway. In terms of the number of people effected its scale is unprecedented. Its most obvious cause is the internet, or more accurately the “communications revolution” which also includes mobile phones and other technologies. Some think it is connected to ancient prophecies relating to “the great year,” an astrological concept describing the passage of time recorded by a phenomena called the procession of the equinox [*1]. Most people from that background refer to this change as “The Awakening”.
However, even without recourse to mysticism, it is obvious people are dramatically changing the way in which they think. Humans are shaped by their technologies and, just as the invention of fire helped evolve our digestive systems [*2], new methods of communication are altering the way your brain processes information. According to a recent study it is possible parts of your mind have already been subcontracted out to the online world [*3]. Furthermore, it is likely you are viewed with suspicion in the minds of others if your existence is not validated by the internet and an online profile of some sort [*4]. These are just a couple of many possible examples where the internet has fundamentally, and possibly permanently, effected human consciousness. Staggering progress for a relatively new technology, the developments caused by fire took significantly longer.
The speed of these rapid changes is a unique factor. Unlike any generation before, it’s likely your understanding of the world was shaped by reference points which have now been rendered almost hopelessly old fashioned in the space of less than ten to fifteen years. Notions received from your elders are antiquated in a way unlike any previous generations’ have been. This is because there is almost no area of human life which has not been either rendered irrelevant or enhanced significantly by the all pervasive web. In a sense it’s incredibly exciting but on the other hand the accompanying uncertainty is quite frightening.
“There is a theory that history moves in cycles. But, like a spiral staircase, when the course of human events comes full circle it does so on a new level. The ‘pendulum swing’ of cultural changes does not simply repeat the same events over and over again. Whether or not the theory is true, it serves as a metaphor to focus our attention.”
[My emphasis] – Does God Play Dice?: The New Mathematics Of Chaos
I believe the pattern emerging in the wake of the internet has been seen before. In its time the printing press caused similar huge changes in the way people were able to think:
“What gunpowder did for war the printing press has done for the mind.”
– Wendell Phillips, abolitionist and orator, 1811AD-1884AD
There is a direct line of cause and effect which goes from the printing press, to books such as the “Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers” onto “The Enlightenment” and finally into the period of wars revolutions and bloodshed which began with the French revolution and, in truth, has only recently ended with the Second World War.
Nowadays “the Enlightenment” is looked back upon as an age of almost unbridled intellectual development and progress. A huge change in consciousness which was facilitated and necessitated by printing presses that allowed mass communication on a scale previously impossible to imagine. This made the free flow of information and accurate exchange of scientific discoveries possible like never before. Sound familliar?
In my opinion “The Awakening” could easily be described as “The Enlightement” put to the power of ten. Massive upsurges in the technology of communication are once again leading to our intellectual abilities being given a dramatic boost. I will confidently assert that your level of intelligence has increased thanks to the internet. The cynical view that it’s all porn and facebook updates is utter nonsense. Sure, that stuff plays its part but the reality is that these days news stories emerge with counter narratives only seconds behind them in their comments section. You now have access to more perspectives on the world than any previous generation. You’re likely to have encountered more concepts online than any of your ancestors did, through more orthodox means, in their entire lifetime.
This brings us to another unique factor in this new age of enlightenment and “awakening”, the question of scale. “The Enlightenment” was something which took place in the minds of a small group of European intellectuals. This time around, the modern mental equivalent of what happened them may well be about to take place in the consciousness of a worldwide audience. In other words, this time round it includes ‘serfs’ like you and I.
Firstly put the change of consciousness which they went through in the 1700’s into context. At the start of King Louis XV of France’s reign it was thought that his touch alone could cure diseases such as scrofula [*5]. This was because The King of France was put there by God in accordance with The Divine Right Of Kings. By the end of, The Enlightenment, his son was being put to death very deliberately as ‘a common criminal’. That’s quite a dramatic turnaround in terms of the certainties of the old world being replaced by the absurdities of the new. On a large scale we can see the recent “Arab Spring,” unthinkable twenty years ago, as its modern expression. However on a smaller scale, the important thing here is not events which happen to others but instead what is happening to you, inside your mind, as a result of these new communications technologies.
Imagine going through an equivalent headchange to that of a 17th Century French philosopher but from the point of view of your own perspective. Imagine a certainty of yours equal to ‘The Divine Right Of Kings’ being abolished inside your mind. We live in an era where such a thing is not only possible but likely. Explore that reality by picking a core belief of yours, which is so obvious it’s currently taken for granted, and picture it being totally reversed and turned upon its head before you’re a hundred years old. There won’t be anyone reading this article who cannot at some point admit to leaving an internet session knowing their world view had changed forever. You’re likely to have a good number of sessions like that online again in the future, the compound effect of this is beyond calculation.
If you can deal with this thought easily you are likely suffering from a failure of the imagination. The sheer scale of change on the horizon allows no room for complacency. The words of the philosopher Socrates echo across the ages with a new significance:
“The only true knowledge lies in knowing you know nothing”.
Stand in that void for a moment and embrace the possibility that “everything you know is wrong”. The feeling you should get is in my opinion one of consciousness:
[O]nce, in the Greek New Testament class on Sundays, taken by the Head Master, I dared to ask, in spite of my stammering, what some parable meant. The answer was so confused that I actually experienced my first moment of consciousness—that is, I suddenly realized that
no one knew anything.
I believe the abolition of certainties, “knowledge” and higher authorities is one of the most obvious positive consequences of the “communications revolution”. The fact no one other than yourself can tell you what to believe puts us into a fascinatingly “conscious” position in our near future. There is literally nothing we can rely upon intellectually in the future and it’s easy to fall into a void of endless speculation as to where collectively we might “wake up” once “the awakening” takes hold. Furthermore, this is an ongoing process and it is effecting everyone on the planet.
“Do we presently live in an enlightened age?” the answer is, “No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment.”
-Immanuel Kant (“What Is Enlightenment?” 1784)
Perhaps this experience we’re collectively having is best compared to that of someone who ingests a “mind altering” hallucinogenic drug and then announces nothing will ever look the same to them again. The difference is again one of scale, a psychedelic user returns to a world and people who have not changed. Only the drug user’s perceptions have altered. In our instance this trip touches everyone.
Perhaps the pioneers of the psychedelic age have something to teach us here though:
“LSD and other psychedelics function more or less as nonspecific catalysts and amplifiers of the psyche. This is reflected in the name given by Humphrey Osmond to this group of substances; the Greek word “psychedelic” translates literally as mind-manifesting.”
The above description of mind altering psychedelics suits our comparison with the internet. It too acts “more or less” as a nonspecific catalyst and amplifier of your psyche. This article, as an example, will in the main only be read by those whose minds were already headed in its direction. It will be used to confirm thoughts or re-articulate them more forcefully. Those who are not on our wavelength will have ignored it as irrelevant. It is a digital manifestation of aspects of my mind and yours. It is part of a larger thought process which is gradually unfolding onto a unique and truly “psyche-delic” or “mind-manifesting” map of the collective human mind. This is of course true for the writers and readers of all online articles.
Furthermore this article’s polar opposite will likely exist in some other corner of the ‘net, perhaps written in a different language. There each of the points I raise here will have been utterly destroyed in the minds of another by an intellect driven equally far in a different but incompatible direction. It is possible, or perhaps even desirable, that such an article will evn be linked to in the comments section. This serves to demonstrate my earlier point that nowadays ideas exist with an equally potent counter narrative only seconds behind them.
The internet’s ability to act as a non-specific amplifier means it is able to squeeze every last drop of psychic energy out of even the most inconsequential of moments. A panda sneezing, a boy getting his finger bitten, a mad comedian being all racist. On the flip side of this it’s no surprise that mass hysteria moves through it like an electric current. Grievences both legitimate and otherwise can find an audience online and bubble over into acts of violence, as happened during the civil disturbances of last year in the UK. In that instance the amplifying effect of the net acted as a magnifying glass upon the hot rays of the summer sun and frankly it appeared to catch the establishment completely off guard[*6].
Despite the positive tone of this piece the possible future revealed by our comparison between the printing press and the internet is quite daunting in places. If the pattern of history holds true “the awakening” is likely to bring a very violent and dangerous period along in its wake as the establishment tries desperately, like King Cnut, to hold back the tidal wave of change.
During the time of the French revolution debate was stoked by a group of people collectively known as the pamphleteers. The most notable of these in France was a character called, Jean-Paul Marat, who used the new media opportunities provided by printing presses to stir up revolutionaries and attack people in power. He’d write vitriolic attacks aimed at the prominent figures of his age publishing the names and details of anyone he deemed a “traitor” to France. Nowadays characters like him spit their bile and ideas into the net with blogs, youtube videos and podcasts that lie outside the censorial power of an increasingly worried hierarchy[*7]. Without doubt these neo-pamphleteers are only just getting going, their teeth are in the main blunted by exposure to the media of the old world. I suspect their younger successors will be the ones with the sharp teeth which humanity displayed during the times of Marat. Go google him if you’re political blogger, it’s he who sets your example not the likes of the MSM’s mealy mouthed political commentators.
Finally a note of caution, for some the above vision of our future is woefully misleading because it is guided by and rests upon the existence of external technologies. Some believe that “the awakening” is a process which will occur more mystically and without such artificial aids. In this version of events the “net” or “web” literally becomes a trap designed to carry the mark of the beast into the sacred mind of humanity and, by extension, God. Here the internet, as a mere extension of the big brother state, becomes enslaver as opposed to liberator calcifying the world order and freezing us into a position of eternal subjugation. For me it is worth filing this idea as a maybe and keeping it in mind when my optimism goes too far.
In conclusion there’s something quite thrilling to me about this vision of our times that I’m attempting, with the blunt instrument of my own inarticulacy, to spell out for you. I think it’s the smell of inevitable change. I think it’s the fact we can at least inarguably see an early dawning of a long predicted “awakening”. I also think it’s the fact that I’ve just told you a story which we both know we can’t know the end to.
This article, like most things that exist online, is an ongoing and evolving piece. I posted an earlier version of it on my personal blog and received interesting comments which I have now addressed in this newer version.
I’m very keen to receive your thoughts and intend to include them on a future version of my podcast: http://thecultofnick.libsyn.com/
1, Disinfo provided an excellent short introduction to the astrological part of this topic here: Are We Entering A New Age?
“You are what you eat.” Can these pithy words explain the evolution of the human species?Yes, says Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, who argues in a new book that the invention of cooking — even more than agriculture, the eating of meat, or the advent of tools — is what led to the rise of humanity.
Wrangham’s book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” is published today by Basic Books. In it, he makes the case that the ability to harness fire and cook food allowed the brain to grow and the digestive tract to shrink, giving rise to our ancestor Homo erectus some 1.8 million years ago.
“Cooking is the signature feature of the human diet, and indeed, of human life — but we have no idea why,” says Wrangham, the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “It’s the development that underpins many other changes that have made humans so distinct from other species.”
3, Human brains tend to allow themselves to forget information which they know they can easily find. So, if you subconsciously know something is easily “google-able” you’re unlikely to remember it. In this sense our brains are gradually fusing with the map of a collective consciousness that is the internet. The New York Times reports:
The widespread use of search engines and online databases has affected the way people remember information, researchers are reporting.
The scientists, led by Betsy Sparrow, an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia, wondered whether people were more likely to remember information that could be easily retrieved from a computer, just as students are more likely to recall facts they believe will be on a test.
Dr. Sparrow and her collaborators, Daniel M. Wegner of Harvard and Jenny Liu of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, staged four different memory experiments. In one, participants typed 40 bits of trivia — for example, “an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain” — into a computer. Half of the subjects believed the information would be saved in the computer; the other half believed the items they typed would be erased.
The subjects were significantly more likely to remember information if they thought they would not be able to find it later.
4, You’ve probably encountered this phenomena yourself if, like me, you’re not keen on the obvious data mining tool that is Facebook. The Daily Mail reports:
Facebook has become such a pervasive force in modern society that increasing numbers of employers, and even some psychologists, believe people who aren’t on social networking sites are ‘suspicious.’
The German magazine Der Taggspiegel went so far as to point out that accused theater shooter James Holmes and Norwegian mass murder Anders Behring Breivik have common ground in their lack of Facebook profiles.
On a more tangible level, Forbes.com reports that human resources departments across the country are becoming more wary of young job candidates who don’t use the site.
5, The French revolution is ESSENTIAL reading for any true Disinfonaught. Most of the lexicon of conspiracy theory ties back into it. It’s a genuinely strange moment in European history when an elite power family is overthrown and “the leftwing” are born kicking and screaming into a blur of violence. It culminates in a man climbing down a giant papemache mountian proclaiming his Godhood to the citizens of France and then having his jawbone shot off and dying in a room full of his enemies all shouting at him telling him what a c*nt he is. It’s a great story of an awakening that perhaps came too early. Anyway, here’s a link regarding “the King’s touch”, Science Museum tells the tale well:
In the Middle Ages it was believed in England and France that a touch from royalty could heal skin disease known as scrofula or the ‘king’s evil’. Scrofula was usually a swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck caused by tuberculosis. The practice began with King Edward the Confessor in England (1003/4-1066) and Philip I (1052-1108) in France.
Subsequent English and French kings were thought to have inherited this ‘royal touch’, which was supposed to show that their right to rule was God-given. In grand ceremonies, kings touched hundreds of people afflicted by scrofula. They received special gold coins called ‘touchpieces’ which they often treated as amulets.
[…] Louis XV touched more than 2000 scrofula victims
6, Despite its occasionally dogmatic left stance The Guardian Newspaper provides interesting detail on the UK’s 2011 riots here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/london-riots
7, Good examples of the neo-pamphleteers include:
I’m very interested in people like this and any further suggestions in the comments section are encouraged. It’s not unlikely you’re either going to be or already are one of these kinds of people, if so post a link to your own work.