Telepathy Mind to Mind Metaphysics in Alphabet and Cyberspace icon

Telepathy Mind to Mind Metaphysics in Alphabet and Cyberspace

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Mind to Mind Metaphysics in Alphabet and Cyberspace


David Porush []

[1] "He went to the window [of his hotel room in Istanbul]...There was another hotel across the street. It was still raining. A few letter-writers had taken refuge in doorways, their old voiceprinters wrapped in sheets of clear plastic, evidence that the written word still enjoyed a certain prestige here. It was a sluggish country."

- William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

[2]"She passed many things that Case hadn't understood, but his curiosity was gone. There had been a room filled with shelves of books, a million flat leaves of yellowing paper pressed between bindings of cloth or leather, the shelves marked at intervals by labels that followed a code of letters and numbers."

- William Gibson, Neuromancer

[3]"Can you read my mind, ...Wintermute?" ...

"Minds aren't read. See, you've still got the paradigms print gave you, and you're barely print literate. I can access your memory, but that's not the same as your mind." He reached into the exposed chassis of an ancient television and withdrew a silver-black vacuum tube. "See this? Part of my DNA, sort of..." He tossed the thing into the shadows and Case heard it pop and tinkle. "You're always building models. Stone circles. Cathedrals. Pipe organs. Adding machines. I got no idea why I'm here now, you know that? But if the run goes off tonight, you'll have finally managed the real thing."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"That's 'you' in the collective. Your species."

^ William Gibson, Neuromancer

"I’m telling you this because you’re one of my friends

My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!

Dr. Seuss, On Beyond Zebra

In the excerpts from Neuromancer (1984) above, the aboriginal novel about cyberspace, William Gibson suggests that when we get there, we may be illiterate but we will also be telepathic. The first excerpt [1] is a sly allusion to ancient Babylonia, Sumeria, and Israel, where scribes opened stalls in souks to send letters, write contracts, and take dictation for pleas to monarchs and prayers to deities.

The second [2] comes from a scene in which Case, the cyberspace cowboy and barbarian from America, is viewing a strange room through the eyes of Molly (the cyborg assassin) to whom he is telepathically linked by cyberspace technology. We can recognize it as a library. Case has no clue. At the same time, the fact that Case is seeing the world through Molly's eyes, is feeling her body as it moves through this remote, alien space, demonstrates the new telepathic powers cyberspace gives.

The third [3] describes an encounter between Case and the Artificially Intelligent entity, Wintermute, who has hired him to link him with Neuromancer, the right-brain libidinous entity. Case believes that Wintermute can "read" his mind. Wintermute hints that "reading" is an anachronistic metaphor for what minds do to each other. What's needed is a whole new way of "knowing" how minds work, a system describing cultural evolution in which technological innovations like television are the "genes" that evolve new consciousnesses, new cyborg facilities of mind.

Although there are enormous technical difficulties that must be overcome before we reach the cyberspace Gibson imagines -- not least of which is being able to create an interface for subjective bodily coherence in the brain -- we can at least imagine that some day such telepathy will be possible. Even if we disregard the technical infeasibility of the thing, it is obvious that the cyberspace of our imaginations, our virtual future, beckons us with the promise of a whole new way to communicate which in turn is unleashing in us a yearning for a new kind of intimacy. "Assuming" cyberspace provides an imaginative vantage point from which we can regard the revolution in culture and definition of the self that might ensue, a transformation already occurring. And from this vantage point, we can implicitly critique our own postmodern states of body, mind, self, culture. That's what the game, and the pun, in "virtual futures"1 is about. We can imagine a future that isn't quite real, created by a technology that delivers a reality that isn't quite real, in order to talk concretely about where we are now.

This paper attempts to reflect on the essence of cyberspace without much talking about it. Instead, it examines an analogous moment in history when culture found itself in possession of an equally new and transformative cybernetic technology for telepathy, for getting thoughts from one mind to another.

One analog to our own position today is found in the ancient invention of the primitive Hebrew alphabet. The alphabet itself -- the idea that you could transcribe not the pictures of things but the sound of language itself -- gave birth to a cybernetic tech that spread so rapidly and was so potent that it only needed to be invented once: in the South Sinai some time in the fifteenth century BC. It fostered a new way of thinking, a new facility for abstraction. It rearranged social organizations and even created a new epistemology and a new metaphysics.

Examining the primitive Hebrew alphabet as an analog for our own cultural moment has a second virtue: by standing outside the long era of alphabetic civilization, by imagining a virtual future, we can, perhaps with some nostalgia, understand "alphabetic consciousness" and the special cyborg gifts that the alphabet brought to our cognitive apparatus, to operating our brains. We also come to appreciate what we might lose -- what we are already nostalgic for -- as we move to the illiterate, telepathic cyberspace of Gibson's imagination, one possible virtual future. We can read how the advent of a new technologically mediated telepathy will spell the obsolescence of an older media that increased our ability to transmit thoughts mind-to-mind: the alphabet. We can understand why world statistics bear out the message that literacy has peaked, why even as third world and developing nations increase their literacy, first world corporations like McDonald's move towards pictographic icons and immersive computer simulations in their training and customer interfaces, and why American television, after two generations and the proliferation of 500 cable channels, has finally manifested its anti-literate effects in declining literacy among Americans. After all, who can resist committing adultery with multimedia after so many centuries of faithfulness to the written text? Who can resist the sensuous widening of the bandwidth that video games and mind link tech provide? I call this new, secondary loss of the alphabet "cyborg illiteracy": we abandon reading for the hyper-MTV wide-band pleasures of the text of the body inscribed and transcribed back out into the world and then back onto us.

Observing what happened to culture with the origination of the first phonetic alphabet provides a remarkable model for the sort of cognitive, cultural, epistemological, and even metaphysical revolution we are beginning to endure with the advent of vr. So even as we are already nostalgic for alphabetic consciousness and the particular way it gave us out-of-body experience and a new metaphysic, by understanding its essence we can also refine our games of prophesy, and try to understand the metaphysical revolution immanent in vr.

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Date conversion02.09.2011
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TypeDavid Porush, Educational materials
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