The Coevolution of Technology and Consciousness

Jayne Gackenbach

Communication Studies Athabasca University, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Greg Guthrie

Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa

Jim Karpen

Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield, Iowa


This is the concluding chapter from "Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, and Transpersonal Implications" Copyright¸ 1998 by Academic Press. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.


It is a common observation that the pace, range, and richness of life seem to be ever increasing, and at an ever-accelerating rate. Technology has come to play a fundamental role in the nature of modern life, and indeed is the most visible and active agent of this rapid pace of change and progress. Modern society seems to be characterized by its great technologies, which extend our knowledge, power, experience, and sense of presence over vast extents of time and space, from the microscopic to the galactic, and from the abstractions of computation to the concrete experience of physical realities.

This trend is perhaps most notably represented by and embedded in the global Internet, the collection and interconnection of the majority of the world's computing, communication, and electronic systems. While striking in its sheer size, complexity, scale, and range of components, its most important characteristic is its emergent collective properties. Perhaps here as in no other example is it clear that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The Internet has emerged as the single entity that is not only the vehicle of an explosion of new paradigms in our society, but has itself become a participant in these transformations. Note that this is not only as an agent of the (human) users, but indeed as an actor in this drama itself, as an emerging autonomous intelligent agent, its behavior originating in our desires and at our bidding, but also displaying collective emergent behavior not evident or predictable from the parts involved, and rapidly showing itself to be a major force that stirs and embodies the trends of the future in all areas of life.

With this great force and display of technology, we are drawn to question the nature, processes, and limits of this global system. Is it a passive reflector of our programmatic intelligence, with behavior and characteristics predictable from its components? Or is it something new, a complex system with emergent self-organizational characteristics, in a dynamic intelligence constructed from, but dynamically compounded beyond, its individual constituents?

The chapters in this book explore a range of aspects of the Internet, from its impacts on our sense of self through explorations of new social realities, to its possible role in establishing a more tightly coupled field of intellectual and social interaction, perhaps viewed as a global brain (see chapter 12). All of these have been a means to understand what this new entity means, and what its impact and future will be. Similarly, in this chapter we reach for the same goal, but from a different approach: that of consciousness. In this chapter we present the logic, evidence for, and implications of this approach. Beginning with a brief introduction to the Internet and its unique characteristics and impacts, we then consider it in the context of the story of language technologies. Psychology and complex systems are then used to broadly characterize the technology of the Internet, and its capabilities and limitations. To understand the relationship of the emergent intelligent behavior of this global system, we draw on research into the characteristics of human consciousness, and then apply this to analyze the expression of consciousness into our technology as seen on the Internet.


What is the Internet? Of course it includes the collection of hardware components, the cables and computers, routers, hubs, servers, and clients. In addition it is characterized by the software, which runs on this system, the protocols, servers, browsers, and the content served. Indeed it is this software and information component that is the dynamic aspect, and which mostly directly characterizes the experience of the Internet. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Internet is the collection of information and interactions which flow over it; the users and their usage which generate the information, and their experiences of it. Every word on every one of the hundreds of millions of Web pages, the discussion groups, the archives, the e-mail traffic, the text and sounds, and video, live and recorded -- all of this, and the interactions between users structured through it, is the Internet. But the real significance lies beyond this; the collection of all of these components creates a new wholeness which is greater than the sum of its parts. The unique experience of and through this new system including all the aspects of shared experience, dynamic interactions, and automated interaction with information, is a new and powerful extension to our normal experiences. This cyberspace is indeed an entire world unto itself, of and from our more concrete world, but more abstract and powerful in its representations and reflections of it. The importance of it is in our experience of a new conceptual space created by the global collection of human - computer interactions made available through the Internet. It is this conceptual and experiential aspect of the Internet that we are most interested in here.

The Internet has been a milestone not only in terms of its technical achievements, but also a social phenomena in terms of acceptance, and indeed enthusiastic embrace by the world. What is the basis of this universal appeal? It is amazing that something that was as recently as 1992 a research vehicle used primarily by a small community of academics would, in the remainder of the 1990s, create such a worldwide explosion. It is estimated that the size of the Internet has doubled every 12 - 18 months -- an amazing exponential growth rate. People seem to be spontaneously drawn to it, even to the point of a new phenomena of Internet addiction! What is it about the Internet that is so charming? While all technologies are somewhat charming in terms of their enablement, their ability to extend our abilities in powerful ways, the initial thrill of such systems is often rapidly lost, perhaps even resulting in subsequent aversion to the complexity and inherent limitations of all such systems. It is indeed a successful and uncommon technology that can sustain this initial thrill, even in the presence of significant learning curves, system complexity, and cost obstacles. The Internet is wildly popular despite these obstacles, and its popularity is only growing. While one can cite the vast amounts of specific information available through it, the popularity of the Internet seems to go beyond this. It seems to lie in the thrill of being connected. There is a sense of plugging into an almost universal entity, a sense that one can access virtually anything, can communicate effortlessly with other people across space and time. The developed terminology of surfing the Internet clearly reflects this feeling: that somehow accessing things through the Internet is not a trudge to the library, but a joyride through some vastly richer and more charming terrain.

Such increasing ability to gain and express knowledge and connect to others creates several important results. The first is the ability to share knowledge across time and space. Individual insights and understandings can be accessible to others in different places and times. The recipients can then incorporate their knowledge, and thus an interacting system of growing knowledge is created. With increasingly sophisticated expressions, the time and effort required for such interactions is increasingly small, until the loop is interactive. While this is fundamentally the same dynamic as with previous systems, with the multiple-orders-of-magnitude increase in capability, there is a quantitative change in the effect. Rather than months, days, weeks, or even hours, users of modern technology can interact in milliseconds, the same effective response time as being colocated. Time and space are virtually gone, and a new global interactive automated knowledge system is created.

In addition to augmented interaction, the system itself adds new capabilities. The network can record, model, expand, and apply interaction patterns on behalf of its users. These may be explicitly specified, in the form of profiles or programs, or may be implicitly derived by the system, through observation and modeling of previous interactions by a user. Such new systems (e.g., collaborative agents) provide a new result. Now you may not be able to tell if you are interacting with a live (human) user, or some agent on its behalf. This increasingly plastic medium is significantly different than previous linear, flat, static, local, technological, and nontechnological media and tools.


There have been many media revolutions in the past that have had a similar scope and wide-ranging influences throughout society. Each had a role to play, but all have in common their role of expressing the growing depth and breadth of civilization, represented in its expansion of knowledge of various areas of life. This growth of knowledge, which can be viewed as an evolutionary quality of life, we take to be a natural expression of evolution of consciousness. Going back to Plato, linguistically based thinking has been characterized as defining our species with even symbolic forms of expression rooted in language. More recent psychological inquiry has pointed to mind as a multiplicity with verbal skills as one of a variety of intelligences (Gardner, 1983). Thus the relationship of language to consciousness becomes one of language being an aspect of our experience of consciousness but not the entire framework. The great contribution of later language technologies has been to add other sensory modalities to mediated communications other than just language and thus increase the potentiality of impacting our consciousness. In this section we will briefly outline the history of language technologies (for a fuller review see Karpen & Setzer, 1997) followed by their recent merging with multisensory communication modalities to more fully embrace the notion of human consciousness.


Historically these great expansions in media technology all have their basis, in some "language technology," a technology for storing, organizing, retrieving, and transmitting language-related content. The earliest roots of this are in basic written notational systems. Every large early civilization seems to have independently developed a system of notation.

The obvious reason is that notation systems were necessary for communication and organization. With a large concentration of people living in a particular area, and with a correspondingly complex economic system, there must be a mechanism for keeping it organized. Direct personal intercommunication doesn't scale well, growing quadratically, and thus other means need to be created. One important aspect of such social organization is economics--figuring out who owes how much money to whom. Of the extant clay tablets from early Mesopotamia, most are economic records.

One of the first scholars to write about the relationship between communication systems and the organization of peoples was Canadian Harold Innis. In his seminal work Empire and Communications Innis (1950 / 1972) wrote about the relationship of writing and empire: The written record signed, sealed, and swiftly transmitted was essential to military power and the extension of government. Small communities were written into large states and states were consolidated into [an] empire. The monarchies of Egypt and Persia, the Roman Empire, and the city-states were essentially products of writing. Extension of activities in more densely populated regions created the need for written records which in turn supported further extension of activities. (p.10)

There is a profound organizing process at work here, a cycle of development that seems universal. The progression is development of horticulture and agricultural supports a larger population; a larger and denser population can only survive if it is organized; a hallmark of humans is their incredible organizing power; a fundamental means of organization is language; a language technology extends the organizing power of language. If a large group is to function as a coherent unit, they must find a way to synchronize and coordinate their thoughts and actions; language technology, whether oral, written, or electronic, is historically the primary vehicle. More recently it has been combined with other communication channels drawing from multiple sensory modalities to more fully communicate. Thus what began as simply language technologies begins to embrace the entire range of conscious experience.

Historically, notation systems proved to be powerful technologies-as witnessed by the Roman empire. Roman law, Roman provincial governors--all depended heavily on writing. As empires grew, people in the cities needed writing, and writing in turn influenced the culture. Increasing language development and technology proved to be a strong element of the organization endemic to and required for this societal growth. But as powerful as writing was, it had its limits. The alphabet itself was a great innovation over pictographic systems, replacing thousands of symbols for words with a few dozen characters, each standing for a particular sound. This was a fundamental shift; from concrete representations of individual word concepts to a more abstract use of sound values, which then construct larger semantic entities. It was as flexible as language itself, gaining almost infinite range by the permutations and combinations of the symbols, and grammar rules that generate unlimited language. But application of this new method was tedious, and thus expensive and scarce. Technology's Rise to Meet Communication Needs With the printing press, technology rose to meet this need. Early printing was a boon because documents could finally be mass produced. Knowledge became concrete, sharable, and reusable. Printed knowledge could propagate more freely. Still, books were relatively rare and quite expensive. Gutenberg's innovation in the mid-15th century was movable type, greatly accelerating the production of books. The movable-type press could fairly be said to have played a major role in fostering the Protestant reformation, the Renaissance, the scientific revolution, and the growth of the secular philosophies of the 18th century.

It also supported the age of exploration--a wave of expansion that ultimately colonized much of the world. The greater ease of reproducing maps and records was a major factor in this, but also for the first time culture was less tied to place, as it was in an oral community. Most of the early colonizers brought their Bible with them. The portability of culture helped spur the willingness to set out for the unknown.

From early cities, to ancient empire, to modern-day colonization, the pattern seems to be an almost spontaneous development of a language technology to facilitate organization. This technology then has a reciprocal influence on culture and seems to engender even more expansion.

Of course with increasing growth, print media didn't suffice. With the development of nation-states and the shrinking of the planet, there quickly became the need to communicate across long distances faster than a horse or steamship or train could transport such physical records. In the 1800s a transatlantic voyage on the fastest ship took 13 days, an impossibly long time in an age when rapid long-distance communication was becoming essential.

The need for a new language technology is not only obvious in retrospect, but the people at the time also clearly saw its role. The telegraph arrived just as the United States was expanding across the continent, with regionalism and secessionism on the rise. How could these widely separated states be united in a common set of goals, understandings, and laws without a shared sense of commonality, shared knowledge? The New York Herald predicted in midcentury that the telegraph "would blend into one, homogeneous mass. . . . the whole population of the republic. . . . [It could] do more to guard against disunion. . . . than all the most experienced, the most sagacious, and the most patriotic government, could accomplish" (Lubar, 1993; p.85)


On the heels of the telegraph came the telephone, and then in the 20th century radio and TV. At each step, these increasingly powerful language and communication technologies allowed faster, more widespread dissemination of information at a time when the older technologies no longer succeed. but they were no longer solely language technologies because other modalities of communication were now available. For instance with the telephone came an awareness of paralanguage, the vocal intonations that communicate much meaning. With the introduction of visual images initially in still photographs, then moving pictures, and eventually television almost the full range of communication modalities were now possible. Only the vestibular / kinesthetic and chemical sense (odor or / smell) were not yet included (for a more complete discussion see chapter 11 by Preston, this volume). But the challenges of time and space, speed, and extent of knowledge distribution were not the only challenges. The written word reigned supreme for thousands of years, and this success itself created a new problem: the sheer volume of information. To some degree technology had allowed printed expressions of knowledge to now span time and space, and thus be shared and collected to an extent and degree previously impossible. These growing archives themselves presented new challenges; how to maintain, organize, and access such vast amounts of information? Following a familiar theme, a new, more powerful technology was created to manage the huge quantities of data; electronic digital computers. The advent of digital computing now supported the ability to automate the creation, transmission, and storage of all forms of information. Information itself became primary, independent of the original medium. We have retained the information, but are losing the paper. We have seen the writing on the wall, and it is digitized.

The Internet is simply the next step in this logical development, the connecting of so many separate computers into one large worldwide computer, the merging of many disparate information sources into one system. Now, in essence, all knowledge from all times, all across the planet is connected and instantaneously available. The charm of such a global language technology is the same as that of the first impression on clay tablets; it is the thrill of knowledge, of sharing intellect across time and space, of expansion of knowledge.

Further, these electronic systems not only automate the storage and access of information, but also augment its presentation in many strikingly and powerful ways. They have become information amplifiers, and provide a way to create representations in ways that mimic the experiences we would have collecting information about actual systems. They can transduce information collected in one form into a sensory experience representing that same information in a striking different manner. They can correlate data from multiple sources, and synthesize new experiential inputs to the user that were not present in the original data. One can fly through a 3-D range of Martian mountains, a visual and sensory experience based on a stereoscopic projection computed from binocular 2-D data from remote radar scans. Or one can walk through a realistic vision of an ancient Greek temple, constructed from myriad bits of archaeological data and measurements. This sense of reality in presentation information, so-called virtual reality (VR), affords a wide range of novel and powerful synthesized and augmented experiences. Such technology augmented, or indeed synthesized, experiences are powerful vehicle and can have profound impact on our sense of expansion of self. Steuer (1995) conceptualizes VR in terms of telepresence, drawing on the concept of presence from perceptual psychology. With this definition he argues that it is the degree of vividness and interactivity that is the major dimension of VR / telepresence, and shows that virtually all media of communication can be conceptualized in these terms. In this way, full immersive VR could be described as the ultimate expression of vividness and interactivity. As the Internet continues to grow in its extent and connecitvity, there is increasing interest in its use as a VR media. The degree to which Internet VR is able to elicit a strong sense of telepresence may be an important factor in our experience of and through it, and also therefore an increasingly important factor in the development of our psychology. This idea we will take up in more detail later in this chapter.

This natural desire to gain greater knowledge and express it in and through our technologies seems to be a natural aspect of humans, a part of our evolutionary process, which psychologists have related to the strong curiosity / creativity instincts / motives present early in human life. While the Internet is the latest in this lineage of "language" technology developments, it is unique in many ways, and in this represents a new vision of what and how future growth and expressions of knowledge will continue. The more we know, the more we want to and are able to express our knowledge. Further, the nature of these expressions themselves has significantly changed from static and local, to dynamic and global. Our greater knowledge is expressed through and into increasingly powerful systems, which themselves augment greater exploration and expression: technology becomes a dynamic agent in a feedback loop between our knowledge and its expressions.

The relationship that humans have with these technologies of language and information bears upon the discipline of psychology in many interesting ways. The proponents of evolutionary psychology may even claim that our humanness itself-our large brain and our penchant for language-was an adaptive response to the greater organizational needs of our species due to our social complexity. this is even seen in our cousins, the great apes. The development of language technologies, including the Internet, can be seen from this perspective as an extension of the argument that our mental processes and capacities are themselves the result of natural selection.

In addition, although this natural propensity of developing mechanisms that facilitate greater levels of organization is inherently interesting, it also seems to be true that the specific characteristics of each technology have influenced thought and perception. Marshall McLuhan popularized the notion that the medium is the message, that information doesn't exist in the abstract, and that the medium itself has an extradorinary influence.

Quite a large body of investigation, often coming more from a literary / analytical / historical tradition rather than empirical, now strongly suggests that the form of the language technology (a phrase not used by these researchers) influences thought and perception. Ong (1982) convincingly argues that a primary oral culture, defined as one not exposed to literacy, has quite a diVerent style of thinking and perceiving than a literate culture. The reason for this, of course, is because of the multiple channels of communication that are available to a primarily oral communication of knowledge and are not available to a language technology that is stripped of these other modalities. But now with multimedia and immerse VR on the horizon, the predictions of McLuhan and others that electronic media have a similar influence on our perceptions and constructions of self in the world are increasingly coming true. Biocca, Kin, and Levy (1995) discuss the reasons why immersive virtual reality has captured the imagination of the public. They point out that it is the long-held human desire to produce the essential copy in order to physically transcend the confines of the human body that is at the root of our increasingly sophisticated attempts to reproduce our lived realities, most recently expressed in our fascination with VR. This desire to physically transcend the limits of our bodies is also spoken of in terms of the development of consciousness beyond its ordinary adult limits. In subsequent sections we will further explore this connection of this thirst for expansive experience and the qualities of experience through the Internet.


The growth of technology to support human communication creates an increasingly effective loop of interaction and collaboration. In addition to the benefits to its users, technology itself becomes a major benefactor of this increased capability. The complexity of current computer systems exceeds anything previously created by humankind, or possible. A single microprocessor chip used in a typical PC includes between 5 - 10 million transistors and all of the connections between these basic circuit components. The ability to actually create a physical representation of this logical circuit representation is another milestone of technology. Such a CPU microchip would typically be implemented on a silicon integrated circuit about 1 square centimeter. The point is that today's computer technologies are fabricated at a level of physical components below that which can be directly manipulated by humans, in both precision and scale. One modern supercomputer is fabricated from gold wires so small they are invisible. These systems are thus fabricated by machines, computer-controlled assembly robots, which thus allow us to extend the range of our technology through technology. Such self-referral systems are well known in science and engineering, and the presence of such a reinforcing feedback loop gives rise to an exponential rate of growth that serves and is served by human communication and VR needs.

This startling growth of technology was predicted as early as the mid 1960s, by one of the inventors of the integrated circuit, Gordon Moore, who went on to found one of the major semiconductor and microprocessor chips companies (Intel). His prediction, now classically known as Moore's Law, proposed that the ability to manufacture chips of increasing density would approximately double every 18 months. This startling prediction of an exponential growth has indeed been realized in the subsequent two decades. While the technological advances at the level of chip fabrication were predicted, the impact they would have on systems, and of those systems on the world, is beyond any vision of industry or academic pundits.

Similarly in the applications of technology, the greater sophistication of tools allows us to discover and manipulate more information, to know more, and thus to also create better tools. Again this creates an exponential growth of information. It is this nonlinear growth of technology, knowledge, and the resulting capabilities that has most strikingly become evident in the Internet, and its many impacts on life and society. One main reason for the challenge of predicting such impacts is the fundamental element of the complexity of such systems. Traditionally, physics and other areas of science have relied on mathematical models to describe the dynamics, and thus predict the behavior of systems. However, beyond a certain threshold of complexity these classical methods fail, due to the intrinsic instabilities caused by the nonlinear feedback paths in these systems. Indeed, a new discipline of complex systems or Chaos Theory has arisen within the last decade to describe the unpredictability and modeling of such systems across a wide range of disciplines.


Chaos Theory has emerged simultaneously from several disciplines including mathematics, physics, biology, and climatology, and is essentially the science of complexity. Its name derives from the observation that in sufficiently complex systems, the propagation of small perturbations interact in sufficiently complex ways as to prevent one from forming closed-form computational models that predict system behaviors. In other words, unlike traditional system models, these systems are unpredictable. Their aggregate behavior can be predicted in a statistical sense, but the specific states and configurations are not. Russell (1995) notes that complex systems have three basic characteristics:

1. Quantity / diversity: The system contains a large number of different elements.

2. Organization: The many components are organized into various interrelated structures.

3.Connectivity: the components are connected through physical links, energy interchanges, or some form of communication link. (pp. 90 - 91)

This complexity is apparent in all levels of analysis and increases as we move up the evolutionary chart. With increasingly complex systems, the synergistic collective behavior of the components gives rise to increasingly sophisticated results. Previously these systems were thought to be so complex that they were simply unpredictable. Chaos Theory corrected this, to say that while microstates are unpredictable, the macrostates will fall into certain common patterns. This theory then went on to define and analyze these global patterns common to many systems. These global emergent patterns are the characteristic and important result of such complex systems.

The reason that Chaos Theory has emerged as a way of understanding complexity is due in part to the relative lack of broad-scale linear predictability as levels of analysis become increasingly complicated. For instance, we can talk about the effect of blocking serotonin, a neurotransmitter, by taking Prozac and thus trying to control depression. But in point of fact that biological event, reuptake of serotonin in the brain, is still a rather small segment in the complexity of an individual's life. When we try to exactly predict what that person will do at any given minute, the sheer number of variables that might affect the occurrence of any one behavior is so large, complex, and interconnected that the details cannot be analyzed, and thus such predictions generally fail. This sort of failure in predication is common wisdom when trying to predict the weather or earthquakes! The insight of Chaos Theory is that even fairly simple systems, with adequate interactions, can exhibit similar complexities. Even systems as basic as mold colonies show these properties. In Prigogine's (1984) pioneering work, a new theory is presented explaining these emergent organizations from complex systems of simple elements in terms of dynamic equilibrium points in complex phase spaces. A new approach has emerged from Chaos Theory that is literally revolutionizing all of the sciences, as Hunt (1995) explains: Scientists have begun to focus on the way in which certain form constants found on all levels of the natural world, from galaxies to fluid eddies to seashells, self-organize out of ostensibly chaotic or turbulent backgrounds. Traditionally, such turbulence, based on the intersection of multiple-flow dynamics that set up complex interference patterns, was regarded as random -- in the traditional or literal senses, "chaotic." Now, however, turbulent systems can be represented mathematically by means of relatively simple equations based on repeated iteration and feedback. (p.57)


Chaos Theory can also been applied to the study of the Internet, as it has a complex architecture and behavior -- more so than any other system ever created by humans. There are two main impacts of increasing complexity in systems; the benefit of the greater descriptive power, and the liability of managing and programming the system. These impacts have been likened to the brain's neural network, including the similarity of the flow of attention manifest from these neural nets in the human brain to the flow of electronic communications in the Internet. Neural or electronic nets can know anything,1 but programming becomes intractably difficult unless "self programming" or "self-training" can be developed. In computational models, this process is describe as supervised training. In this view, the Internet thus grows and evolves to greater levels of organization by modeling our usage, our interests, and most basically our flow of attention.

As it grows, it becomes more adept at reflecting, representing, and extending our patterns of attention, and thus becomes a more powerful tool. This increasing capability extends our experience and power, thus changes our experience, and thereby our attention patterns. This is clearly another feedback loop, whereby the agent of our attention grows through our attention. It is this uniqueness of the Internet, and the fact that it is a component in a loop based on the flow of attention, that makes it uniquely powerful and important.

As the Internet learns more and more through this implicit process of supervised learning, it models our attention patterns of network usage with greater and greater accuracy and completeness. Thus it begins to have the capability to express this internal learned structure, and it gains the capability to thus exhibit increasingly intelligent behavior. That is, behavior that more accurately reflects that of its intelligent user / tutors. This creates a fundamental question; is the network itself becoming intelligent? Is this global computing system, by nature of its ability to display (increasingly) intelligent behavior, intrinsically itself intelligent? This is not a new question, having been considered in various forms since the first conception of computing systems, even predating the first actual implementations of any actual computer. The affirmative response to this has classically been called to strong artificial intelligence (AI) position. This position and its relationship to consciousness is explained by Hunt (1995): Mainstream artificial intelligence, based on the digital, serial modeling of cognitive functions, has always been divided in regard to the nature and function of consciousness. For most AI researchers, consciousness is purely epiphenomenal, and certainly irrelevant to the algorithmic computations on which artificial intelligence simulates various "expert systems." For a minority, however, consciousness refers to functions that could be regarded as emergent at sufficiently complex levels of computation -- and so need not be considered as specific to neural systems at all. On this view, the executive capacities associated with consciousness are emergent properties of any computational system with succient levels of self-modification. A very few (Hofstadter, 1979) do not rule out the possibility that a complex-enough computational system would somehow become qualitatively conscious, or at the least that it would be indeterminate. . . . The fact that all such self-referential systems have hitherto been based within sentient beings is here regarded as an evolutionary and historical accident. (pp.59 - 60) Scientific understandings of the nature of complex systems, especially chaos theory, can in part address the problem of consciousness. Using many parallels to human brain organization, mathematical, cognitive, and computing scientists have recently begun to consider that the emergent self-organizing behavior resulting from the complexity of the Internet may represent a new form of intelligence called by some the global brain (Goertzel, chapter 12, this volume). Alongside such a cognitive science perspective of consciousness are those developed in transpersonal psychology, which "has gradually crystallized as the discipline involved in the study of transformations of consciousness especially those associated with the various meditative traditions, as potential expressions of the maximum synthesis and integration open to consciousness" (pp.3 - 4)

We propose that people's attraction to the experience of the Internet can be part of a general attraction to the qualities associated with the development of higher states of consciousness (HSC). However, one should be cautious about not confusing the experience of correlates of HSC with the actual development of some such HSC. One is cause, the other effect. In any feedback system that is trained to seek development of fundamental quality by positive feedback on a resultant attribute, there is a danger of suboptimal behavior based on false targeting of behavior. That is, the system may erroneously adapt some alternate behavior that also produces some degree of the same goal attribute. In that case, the training algorithm, or evolutionary strategy, would need to somehow give information to the system to allow it to distinguish such false local optima. This is a classic case of mistaken cause and effect.

In the case of technology and HSC, in the longer term, technology can result in negative symptoms such as burnout and stress. One could argue that in theory such negative experiences would, in time, distinguish actually evolutionary paths to HSC from false directions. This is a fundamental point on which we distinguish HSC and technology. As our consciousness continues to evolve to HSC and express itself into technology, technology itself will grow in those qualities. Although it is a mistake to identify technology itself as the source of such experiences, such exposure to technology might facilitate, or to use Alexander's term serve as a "cultural amplifier," for such development. We take this up in more detail a bit later in this chapter.


In the computer science field, AI researchers study the issues of finite symbolic or structural representations of intelligence, and the capabilities and limits of such systems. Two major contrasting positions have emerged; so-called strong and weak AI. The strong AI position, mentioned above, which proposes that such systems can in fact have qualities of consciousness, has been thoroughly debated and has few adherents. Penrose (1989) discusses the strong AI position: Thus, according to strong AI, the diVerence between the essential functioning of a human brain (including all its conscious manifestations) and that of a thermostat lies only in this much greater complication (or perhaps "higher-order structure" or "self-referential properties," or some other attribute that one might assign to an algorithm) in the case of a brain. Most importantly, all mental qualities--thinking, feeling, intelligence, understanding, consciousness--are to be regarded, according to this view, merely as aspects of this complicated functioning; that is to say, they are features merely of the algorithm being carried out by the brain. (p.17) Penrose goes on to explain that "the virtue of any specific algorithm would lie in its performance" (p.17). In his view the ultimate performance algorithm would be one that would most accurately model the human brain's functionality. Hunt argues regarding the "weak" AI position, "anything, in principle, can be simulated computationally, that would certainly include consciousness if its actual performative functions could be suffciently specified" (p.60). In a more recent book Penrose (1995) extends his analysis directly to consider the question of the relationship between AI and consciousness. In this selection, Penrose points out that viewpoints on the nature of consciousness and AI range from "All thinking is computation . . . " to "Awareness cannot be explained by physical, computational or any other scientific terms" (p.12). Penrose explains why studying the relationship between AI and intelligence / consciousness is important from four perspectives:

1. The study of robotics, . . . which can perform 'intelligent' tasks--tasks of a versatility and complication which have previously demanded human intervention or control--and to perform them with a speed and reliability beyond any human capabilities, or under adverse conditions where human life could be at risk.

2. The development of expert systems, according to which the essential knowledge of an entire profession.

3. Direct relevance is psychology. It is hoped that by trying to imitate the behavior of a human brain. . . . one may learn something of importance concerning the brain's workings.

There is the optimistic hope that for similar seasons AI might have something to say about deep questions of philosophy, by providing insights into the meaning of the concept of mind (p.11). Penrose feels that there are important differences between the rain and the computer, but it is also easy to see at this level of analysis the similarities between them. Penrose argues that the most important difference between computers / AI and human brains is the brain's amazing plasticity, and he goes on to explain that the "all or nothing" characterization of the human neuron is a bit overstated: It is actually not legitimate to regard the brain as simply a fixed collection of wired-up neurons. The interconnections between neurons are not in fact fixed, as they would be in the above computer model, but are changing all the time. I do not mean the locations of the axons or dendrites will change. Much of the complicated "wiring" for these is established in broad outline at birth. I am referring to the synaptic junctions where the communication between different neurons actually takes place. (p. 396)

Because memories are partly laid down as a function of this dynamic / plastic quality of ever-changing synaptic connections, we can see that "brain plasticity is not just an incidental complication, it is as essential feature of the activity of the brain" (p. 397). These dynamic and changing connections create what have been called neural networks both in the brain and computer science. Thus computers now learn, but with nothing like the sophistication of human brains--but then this science is young. Consider these statistics from Penrose regarding the smallest physical unit on the computer that mimic neurons--logic gates: There are only very few input and output wires (say three or four at most), whereas neurons may have huge numbers of synapses on them. (For an extreme example, those neurons of the cerebellum know as Purkinje cells have about 80,000 excitatory synaptic endings). (p.396) In addition to his logical and theoretical arguments against strong AI, Penrose points out that even the "stimulation of anything that could pass for genuine intelligence is yet a long way oV" (p. 15). Computers play a strong game of chess, they can ask what appear to be empathetic questions in response to a patient's plight, and they can help diagnose what is wrong with our car, but the capacities of the human mind involve far more elaborate activities than the relatively "simple" ones that are now available to computers. Further, different than simulation of more simple qualities, intelligence is quite different. We take intelligence to be a quality of consciousness, but by simulating that quality one does not create its source; implication is only from cause to effect; the reverse is false logic. The most fundamental quality that defines consciousness is not any quality of behavior, no matter how seemingly intelligent.


Some argue that chaos or systems theories can successfully address the problem of understanding consciousness, by providing a model of how the qualities of consciousness can be displayed by a complex system. Consciousness is itself a complex quality, exhibited and affected by various states of the brain. The brain itself is a massively complex system, with over 10 neurons, and perhaps 10 times that many connections. It may be that modeling the brain as a complex system can help us better understand it and consciousness as an emergent behavior.

According to this thinking, Chaos Theory brings us closer to understanding the nature of mechanisms of consciousness in the brain, if one assumes consciousness to be a manifestation of, or correlated to neural activities. Until recently, we have thought that certain parts of the brain were responsible for specific abilities. Now we know that complex networks of neurons throughout the brain, and some with concentrations in certain areas of the brain, determine the wide range of brain functions. In fact, a comparison is often made between the neural nets of the brain and the network of links called the Internet. The unique quality of a (human) brain is consciousness--a quality and degree that is not evident in any other system. In the next few sections we will consider a qualitative definition of human consciousness and how it relates to the growth and application of technology and, specifically, the Internet.

Introductory psychology texts use simple definitions, such as "consciousness is your awareness of external and internal stimuli" (Matlin, 1995, p.134) and focus on the role of attention. Although early psychology focused on the problem of consciousness, it went out of favor as an area of inquiry until revived by cognitive and transpersonal psychologists. These two subdisciplines of psychology, unfortunately, share few thinkers, journals, departments, or other more formal areas where they might discuss their mutual fascination with the problem of consciousness. A few notable exceptions exist like the consciousness studies department at the University of Arivona's biannual meetings titled "Toward a Science of Consciousness" (http: / / www.consciousness.arivona.edu). Additionally there have been some attempts to more broadly understand consciousness by integrating a variety of disciplinary perspectives (Hunt, 1995). In fact, interdisciplinary approaches to the study of consciousness are increasingly becoming recognized as necessary in order to truly comprehend the nature of consciousness. In his Vedic science (Maharishi, 1994), a unique formulation of a science of consciousness emerging from the Vedic tradition in India, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi also provides such an integrated approach. While based in a direct subjective definition and approach to the science of consciousness, it also derives relevant models of the dynamics and properties of Western disciplines from this perspective, including unified field models of physics and number theories of mathematics. Maharishi Vedic Science (MVS) explains that this is the only theoretically sound approach, as the purely abstract field of consciousness cannot be derived from its more concrete expressed modalities. This would then intrinsically limit the ability of a Western scientific approach: to learn about consciousness through its attributes. This gives a different perspectives than the Western interdisciplinary approach that we will briefly review.

We earlier described the historical growth of language, and it associated technologies, as a natural aspect of the growth of knowledge, the thirst to know more about the world, and then express, apply, and utilive this for greater scope of experience and effectiveness. Although we base this on observation and logic, this perspective has been presented in the context of an overall model of consciousness, and its properties, dynamics, and qualities, including those of human consciousness. In has Vedic science, Maharishi describes this natural inclination towards expansion as a fundamental quality of life. He explains that life is always seeking more happiness, knowledge, and capability, and this is gained through the growth of consciousness, the abstract fundamental quality that expresses itself in these attributes. Maharishi describes that it is natural for one to seek such higher levels of consciousness and correspondingly higher levels of knowledge and technology. We connect this to the charm of the Internet experience, in that it also provides to some degree qualities which Maharishi and others ascribe to these HSC. The most characteristic qualities of such HSC are a universality, unity, and connectedness, qualities provided by the Internet to some degree.

We are not saying that the Internet is an embodiment of HSC; rather, if we have a natural tendency toward this experience of universality, and if a phenomenon gives us a taste of that experience, its appeal may lie in the fact that it is satisfying this natural propensity. It may in fact not nourish the underlying quality of consciousness that we are seeking, but it would present some charm. To make this connection, we must first establish in more detail the description of various levels of consciousness, and their attributes, and progressions leading to HSC. The base of such a description most easily starts from what psychologists understand to be normal waking consciousness. Here it is important to appreciate the differences in the methodologies to know the truth inherent in Western culture (e.g., science) and various Eastern cultures (e.g., introspection). Those who are considered the experts in such HSC are the saints and sages of numerous cultures around the world but especially those in the East. They have directly experienced such higher states and described them in various ways to their followers and in their writings. Some have presented detailed accounts and analyses, others more poetic descriptions. Contrasting this experiential approach, Western science presents a relatively mechanistic approach: delineating various qualities and mechanisms and models that appear to be related to HSC. In the following section we will present a very brief review of the research and theoretical thinking regarding the experience of and development of HSC from both perspectives.


Central to the understanding of consciousness is attention, or the selective focus of mental activity. Psychologists have determined that attention is selective. Our brains are bombarded with millions of pieces of information every moment, and we filter this incoming information and selectively attend to what is important for us at that moment. As our attention is on something, we gain more information about it; our ability and knowledge of an area grow through this focus of attention. As discussed previously, in fact, the actual physical neural structure of the brain grows as a result of this focus of attention, and this increased neural connectivity creates greater capabilities. So this quality of attention, selective awareness, is a primary vehicle not only for our effective activity, but also a key element in how we grow. Although an intrinsically subjective quality, such attention also has strong external effects; it has become a commodity, an indicator of power in the free market economy of the Internet.

Beginning with the futurist Alvin Toffer, it has become common wisdom that power is shifting from goods and commodities to information. The personal computer and, more recently, the Internet have revolutionived our notions of what to do with information, and what information systems themselves can do. The new "information technologies" illustrate that our interactions with computers have become largely informational and that those who have information have the resulting associated power in such an information-based society. One of the major questions in this shift of economic power is, what is it that has value? Some who are trying to understand the Internet and how it will change society, including economics, have concluded that value has shifted from physical goods to more abstract information, and now to something even more subtle: attention. Goldhaber (1997) argues that by definition, economics is the study of how a society uses its scarce resources. He says that the so-called "information economy"is a misnomer because information is not scarce. Unlike physical goods, information is nonconservative -- as it is shared it increases. The result is a growing and accelerating abundance of information. It's not scarce; in fact, we're drowning in a sea of information. What's scarce is attention. So scarce that you must often allocate it as your most precious resource. So scarce that advertisers pay huge amounts of money for it. The new currency in the era of cyberspace is attention. This is certainly true of the Internet. The flow of attention toward a particular website confers extraordinary value, often measured by the number of "hits" on a particular website. What is a hit? It's a decision make by a single individual to direct his attention toward a specific bit of information. If nothing else, the Web has make it possible to measure, in a very crude way, the attention paid to a particular object, in terms of number and duration of visits to a displaying page on the Web. Thus viewing the Internet from the perspective of the study of consciousness becomes clearly more relevant when viewed from the perspective of this fundamental role of attention. As attention changes with different states of consciousness, the qualities and objects of attention will also change, and thereby the vehicles we use to focus our attention on various objects. With the Internet now providing a global, highly dynamic, connected vehicle for attention to seek information, information and to seek attention, the growth of these two elements are clearly interdependent. One can think of the Internet in terms of its basic structure, as created by and reflecting the patterns of such flow of attention. We argue that to some degree this shows the Internet to be an artifact of, and participant in, the development and a display of HSC. First we examine the research and current thinking on model and qualities of HSC.


Consciousness is a challenging and ephemeral concept. Historically it has been approached from a range of contexts, and with equally diverse definitions. We will base our framework on the empirical research and have adopted specific meanings for a range of terms. Consciousness here simply means awareness. HSC means the experience, perception, and appreciation of a reality, as a result of developmental processes, that is fundamentally different from that experienced by the majority of people in their day-to-day experiences. We use the terminology from Maharishi (1966) to describe HSC, where "pure consciousness" means the substrate from which all things arise and of which individual consciousness is a local expression. "Transcendence" is the process of going beyond ordinary reality and experiencing the source of consciousness. Although we view these terms as distinct concepts, historically psychology has clumped them together under the generality mystical experience, or transcendent. Mystical experience generally means either a transitory or permanent experience of these qualities of a HSC. (for a full review of this material in the context of contemporary psychology see Gackenbach, 1992.) These qualities have traditionally been defined and described in a variety of ways. In review of the mystical experience Lukoff and Lu (1988) acknowledged that the "definition of a mystical experience ranges greatly" (p. 163). Maslow (1969) offered 35 definitions of transcendence, a term often associated with the mystical experiences. There is now a large body of empirical work on higher states of consciousness. In the late 1970s researchers began to systematically and empirically define consciousness and its state using a range of assessment instruments. Lukoff (1985) identified five common characteristics of mystical experience which could be operationalived for assessment purposes.:

1. Ecstatic mood, which he identified as the most common feature

2. Sense of newly gained knowledge, which includes a belief that the mysteries of life have been revealed

3. Perceptual alterations, which range from "heightened sensations to auditory and visual hallucinations" (p. 167)

4. Delusions (if present) have themes related to mythology, which includes an incredible range diversity and range

5. No conceptual disorganivation; unlike psychotic persons, those with mystical experiences do NOT suffer from disturbances in language and speech.

Alexander et al. (1990) say of these states that to call them mystical is a misnomer, for they transcend ordinary thinking in no more mystical a way than abstract thinking transcends motor behavior in infancy. They make a point of explaining that this experience of "transcendental consciousness" is the same one that the world's mystics have often spoken of with these common features: "universally available . . . discontinuous with ordinary modes of cognition . . . more developed . . . personally meaningful" (p. 308). The point of transcendental consciousness is the "direct experience of the ultimate ground state of mind, pure consciousness" (p.309). Whereas most researchers on mystical experiences consider them isolated or infrequent experiences with little if any theoretical "goal," this group describes them in the context of a general model of development (Alexander et al., 1990,) with their permanent establishment in an individual as a sign of the first higher state of consciousness. Furthermore, they point out that "during any developmental period, when awareness momentarily settles down to its least excited state, pure consciousness can be experienced" (p. 310). In terms of incidence they quote Maslow, who felt that in the population at large less than one in 1,000 have frequent "peak" experiences so that the "full stabilivation of a higher stage of consciousness appears to be an event of all but historic significance" (p. 310). Virtually all researchers studying the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi are very careful to distinguish the practice of meditation from the experience of pure consciousness, explaining that the former merely facilitates the latter. They also go to great pains to show that their multiple correlations of health and well-being are strongest to the transcendent experience than to the entire practice of meditation (for psychophysiological review see Wallace, 1987; for individual difference review see Alexander et al., 1987; for theoretical review see Alexander et al., 1990; for educational reviews see Dillbeck & Dillbeck, 1987, Nidich & Nidich, 1987, 1990). This large body of research surpasses any other in transpersonal psychology; thus, it is beyond the scope of this chapter to review it. Although there is a large meditation literature (reviewed in Murphy & Donovan, 1988), few other research groups go to such pains to distinguish the practice of meditation from the experience of transcendence. For instance, in Murphy and Donovan's summary of research on subjective reports associated with meditation, there was little if any distinction between the practice of meditation and the state of consciousness. There is an awareness that experiences that are described as ineffable, blissful, exciting, etc. occur during these practices, but tying these subjective experiences to a specific period or practice is rarely done. The result is that the research literature on these states excepting the group noted above is, in a sense, still at a shotgun stage. In fact, Murphy and Donovan's review lacked a theoretical integration. Because of the Vedic researchers' insistence on the importance of transcending and the universality of the experience in or out of meditation, their research is applicable to any inquiry into mystical states. Further, their research is consistent with research on meditation in other traditions; thus, it cannot be argued that the effects are local to only one practice. Theoretical Models from Transpersonal Psychology The experiences we have been discussing have been contextualived in several transpersonal developmental psychology theories. Historically most developmental theorists have thought that although there is adult development, it is "horivontal" and is quite different than infancy and youth, where momentous changes in psychology are accompanied by parallel changes in biology. That is, although we may become more wise as we age, it has generally been thought that there are no fundamental biological changes that accompany this psychological breadth. Alexander et al. (1990) postulated a model of development that accounts for transpersonal experiences, and especially the mystical experience just discussed, throughout the life span and as indicators of the natural direction of development. The adult development Alexander et al. talk about is not only in terms of postformal operational development but changes that go beyond representation, called postrepresentational. This concept of postrepresentation is key to Alexander's theorizing, as traditional developmental psychologists believe that there is really only one big developmental leap, from the sensorimotor to the representational tier. In the latter the child simply goes through three stages of increasingly sophisticated abilities to represent his or her lived world experience; preoperational, concrete operations, and formal operations, and formal operations, although some researchers have discussed postformal stages of "intuition" and "wisdom" (Souvaine, Lahey, & Kegan, 1990; Pascual-Leone, 1990). Alexander and colleagues, as well as other transpersonal theorists, go further in their model than the development of feelings / intuition an ego / wisdom. These they hold are still representational because there is still and "object" of feelings or an ego in wisdom to represent. They describe three postrepresentational levels of development (otherwise known as HSCs), which have a number of noteworthy characteristics:

  1. They are as far beyond representational thought as representational thought is beyond the sensorimotor domain. Whereas sensorimotor period was dominated by action sequences in the world and the representational tier is dominated by symbolic activities, the use of the symbol is no longer necessary in postrepresentational thought. It is not simply more complex levels of symbolic use.
  2. They note that "such a fundamental qualitative advance in cognition . . . should presumably require major neurophysiological maturation" (p. nnn). Research has shown over 20 physiological changes associated with the postrepresentational level.
  3. "Postrepresentational development should resolve the fundamental epistemological and ontological constraint of the abstract reasoning level-that the reflective knower cannot directly know himself" (p. 288).
  4. Postrepresentational levels embrace lower levels just as the representational tier embraced sensorimotor. The entire ability to think about thinking would "take on the status of a subsystem, rather than the executor of, mental life," says Alexander et al. (1990, p. nn) Thus the use of the symbol would be subordinated to an entirely new way of knowing.
  5. Finally, they point out that "postrepresentational stages should be 'higher' not only in a purely structural sense but also in a functional sense" (p. 288).

Why do so few people ever get there if this is the "natural" direction of development? Alexander et al. argue that it is because we lack the "cultural amplifiers" for such development. In other words, such higher states of being do not develop in a stable fashion out of a context of what is available in the environment. For instance, we put a big emphasis on an enriched environment for infants that exposes them to the appropriate cultural amplifiers (i.e., mobiles, bright wallpaper), thus moving them to the representational tier, where the emphasis changes to the use of symbols (i.e., language, drawing). But we have very few postlanguage developmental technologies. Alexander et al. (1990) point out that meditation is just such a technology and notes that, "purely postconceptual mechanism may be required to free attention from the habitual domination of symbolic thought" (p. nnn). Meditation, as well as other postrepresentational technologies, "frees attention from the control of language and the semantically conditioned thinking process" (p. nnn). In the absence of postrepresentational technologies, physiological development appears to "freeze" during adolescence or early adulthood.

Alexander's model focuses on the processes of development of HSC and does not analyze in details what can go wrong. That is, how one could become stuck in our passages through the stages of the development of consciousness. A model similar to Alexander's but that focuses on these problems is Wilber (1987). Alexander categorizes all of the trouble points in development under the general category of "stress." His research primarily describes a single solution: the physiological and psychological changes that take place as a result of practicing the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation Program. More recently, the introduction of a comprehensive approach, also based on the Vedic tradition and called "Maharishi's Vedic Approach to Health programs," offers a wide range of diagnostics and treatment modalities, the beneficial eVects of which are being tested empirically (Orme-Johnson & Herron, 1997). Although the results are just now starting to come in, and do not yet have the large empirical verification of the hundreds of studies relating to Alexander's model, many of Wilbur's higher order interventions have not been tested either.

Major transpersonal theorists, including Alexander, agree that the Eastern and esoteric philosophical and religious perspectives offer the best clues to the character of the highest stages of human development. But here, too, there are differences. While Wilber is very eclectic in his treatment of these higher stages, Alexander stays within the teaching of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. As the basis of this choice Alexander lists five reasons for using the Maharishi's presentation of Vedic psychology:

1. Maharishi is presenting this diffcult material in scientifically testable terms,

2. Transcendental Meditation is a uniform procedure to elicit these states of being, 3. Large numbers have been trained in it,

4. Vedic psychology has a decidedly developmental orientation, and

5. It has enormous breadth. (pp. 289 - 290)

One can see that the first three points are aimed directly at the scientist and are certainly relevant for any scientific inquiry into the development of higher states of consciousness, while the last two are also true of other transpersonal theorists. Alexander and other Maharishi Vedic scientists stress the universality of these experiences with or without meditation of any sort. Meditation simply facilitates and acts as a postrepresentational "technology" or "cultural amplifier" for the development of higher states of consciousness via access to or transcendence to pure consciousness. The research outlined above, both soft and hard, suggests the existence of higher states of consciousness and that these can be seen, given the right circumstances, as a natural development beyond the formal operational stage commonly thought to be an end point. These higher states are characterized by, among other things, the experience of universality and boundlessness, of a transcendence of space and time, and of a heightened sense of well-being. Instruments that have been developed suggest that these are not vague, subjective experiences, but rather are empirically defined levels of functioning (Alexander et al., 1987). In Alexander's view, they can be developed through a specific meditative practice that allows the mind to go beyond thought to a thoughtless state that is the experience of pure consciousness--that is, consciousness without an object of perception. This state of transcendental consciousness is not an end in itself but a means of systemically developing the permanent experience of higher states of consciousness. He acknowledges that other postrepresentational techniques or cultural amplifiers from other cultures may have traditionally had the same end. Summary of the Research on Consciousness The purpose of our literature review has been to create a framework for understanding higher states of consciousness so that we can get to the work of applying this to the Internet. In summary, the field of transpersonal psychology offers an understanding of self in relation to consciousness. It includes Eastern cultural perspectives, and with this inclusion the field considerably builds upon contemporary Western psychological understandings.

The developmental model given above, which is firmly rooted in empirical research, suggest that not only do higher states of consciousness exist, but that they are, in the presence of particular "cultural amplifiers," a natural next step beyond the representational stage of development.

A crucial point for us is this: in the West there has often been a dismissive attitude toward these sorts of experience as they are regarded as anomalous and not useful in exploring an understanding of the human psyche or the nature of reality. They are often thought to simply be subjective experiences without wider meaning. The inference the authors make from this substantial body of research is that there are levels of existence that have rarely been studied by science but that are now being investigated in a scientifically rigorous manner. These levels have been described in the literatures of ancient traditions, but have typically been thought to be culturally specific religious experiences. The research, on the other hand, suggests that the fact that any person can develop these experiences means that this is real in the Western scientific sense of what is real.

In other words, just as most scientists now accept the existence of a weird zoo of subatomic particles, based on a body of research, so too one might now accept that there exists a state of pure consciousness that is based on a body of research.

The terminology varies, but the many descriptions, both from Alexander's measurement instrument and from the literatures of various traditions, are uniform. These characterize the levels of existence including pure consciousness, the process of experiencing pure consciousness, and the resulting higher states of consciousness experienced by the individual.

Alexander uses the language of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Vedic tradition that he represents. As a yogi who embodies a tradition of experience of transcendental awareness, Maharishi, borrowing some of the language of quantum physics, explains that the ground state of human awareness is the state of pure consciousness, unbounded awareness without any activity. Ordinarily we are busy thinking and doing, spending our consciousness in a thousand directions. But consciousness also has a ground state, its infinitely expanded quiet state preceding any specific thought or action. In this expanded state, Maharishi explains, "Consciousness coming back onto itself gains an integrated state, because consciousness in itself is completely integrated. This is pure consciousness, or transcendental consciousness" (Maharishi, 1986, p.25). Not only is pure consciousness the basis of all human activity, it is also the basis of all nature's activity, for consciousness is the basic quality of existence itself: "From this basic level of life emerge all fields of existence, all kinds of intelligence." Marharishi continues, "The self-referral state of consciousness is that one element in nature on the ground of which the infinite variety of creation is continuously emerging, growing, and dissolving" (p. 25). To summarize, then, from the perspective of developmental psychology and Eastern traditions, the individual has the capability to experience a quieter state of mind, one in which thought ceases and the experience is of pure consciousness itself. This pure consciousness is the fundamental level of existence. Techniques such as meditation can systematize the experience of pure consciousness, but the technique is not an end in itself. Ultimately, the individual continuously experiences higher states of consciousness in which the experience of pure consciousness is maintained at all times, in every activity, and even during sleep and dreaming. This state has been called "witnessing" sleep and dreams (for a review of these states see Gackenbach, 1991). A hallmark of a higher state of consciousness is this expanded sense of self. It is in no way pathological, as in disintegration of the individual personality, but the individual simply experiences him-or herself as being primarily infinite, unbounded, immortal, and eternal. It is clear from research that these states of consciousness are real; they are psychological and physiological states that are systematically definable, logically modeled, and physiologically verifiable. It is these fundamental attributes of consciousness, and thereby qualities of the experience of HSC, that are important here: the expanded quality of experience, unboundedness, and greater knowledge. We find that these same qualities, to a limited degree, are also characteristic of the experience of, and mechanics of, the Internet.


We have presented in this chapter that the evolution of technology is a part of the natural process of the development of consciousness. It is natural to express our growing consciousness through its resultant discoveries, insights, and creativity into our technologies, and thus make them richer, more complete, and more powerful expressions and embodiments of our growing knowledge of the world around us. But as our technologies have evolved into the dynamic, powerful, and expressive vehicles of today, these expressions now become active participants in our learning and growth process, components in our growth of experience of technology. In this manner, the Internet can function as alternate, supplemental, or amplifying vehicles for our experience of the world, and of our participation in it. Technology allows one to have experiences far beyond what are supported by the normal human physiology. To be able to peer through space to the distant planets, to view atomic and molecular dynamics, to see the entire spectrum of light, are all thrilling experiences.

As noted in the history of the development of the Internet, a main issue in providing such experiences is the ability to more tightly couple our internal perceptual interpretation systems with the computational and / or technological systems that provide the augmented or synthesized input data. There are many such possible arrangements; from purely synthesized environments as in a computer game, or in data or model visualization from a mathematical system, to instrument-augmented perception systems. With advances in sensor technology and improved human interfaces, such VR systems are becoming an increasingly common part of industry, research, and entertainment systems.

Not only do such systems augment perceptual capabilities, but they can couple significant input processing and analysis and image enhancement to normal experiences. Imagine an inspector wearing a set of goggles that allow him to see in the infrared, and which measure dimensions and status of the viewed system and compare to original specifications in its internal memory, and give a visible warning and indicator of a virtual arrow pointing at any irregular component with the details of the problem. Such experiences are far beyond the common level of daily life, and the ability to have such experiences expanded in space, dimension, scale, and richness is possibly parallel to the qualities of enhanced experiences associated with the development of higher states of consciousness. An example of the interaction of such technological augmentations and their eVects on development of consciousness is the relationship between video game play and the emergence of experiences thought to be related to consciousness development. Based on the cognitive science (mental model) understanding of our sense of self in the world, it has been pointed out that our perception of reality is a construction, a best guess. VR and especially full immersive VR, potentially offers practice in maneuvering around in, as well as being in, "artificial" or perhaps "alternative" realities (discussed in the VR literature as telepresence). It may well be that such VR practice would translate into more accurate state recognition in dreams (i.e., and increase in lucid dreams). One area where we see such extensive practice is in video game playing, which may be associated with an increase in lucid dreaming.

There are other lines of evidence that further support this hypothesis, such as research on the relationship between performance on such games and intelligence. Jackson, Vernon, and Jackson (1993) explored performance of computer game-like measures of dynamic spatial ability, which assess judgments about moving visual displays. These are linked to measures of reaction time and speed of mental processing, which in turn are thought to be linked with general measures of intellectual ability. Recent research in this area concludes that video game play increases choice reaction time, spatial skills, scientific problem-solving skills, and intelligence (Greenfield & Cocking, 1996).

In research involving individuals who have developed their individual consciousness beyond what most of us experience (i.e., by the regular and long-term practice of meditation), a choice reaction time was used to determine if these people had higher general intelligence. Other studies have shown that those who have these sophisticated spatial skills with high choice reaction time are more intelligent in a global sense. This body of work has shown that those with developed individual consciousness show higher levels of what is called EEG coherence and that such EEG coherence surges, and the associated higher states of consciousness, have also been found to be associated with higher performance on spatial intelligence tests like the Raven's Progressive Matrices test and choice reaction time correlates to such performance as well (Cranson et al., 1991).

This and other ongoing research in interactions and correlations of video games, on-line, and VR experience show some very interesting and provocative results, and important directions for future research. Even current results give a clear indication that such technological experiences seem to have a notable eVect on various experiences of consciousness; from waking consciousness, creativity, lucid dreaming, and other areas, that the increasing growth of Internet connectivity and on-line experiences may play a significant role in future psychological qualities and development of society. (For a report of pilot data examining these ideas see Gackenbach, 1998). However, this does not imply that technological augmentation of experience, whether playing video games or Internet-mediated interactions and expanded experiences, is a significant approach to the development of HSC. What it indicates to us is that all possible experiential methods, including these, have the capacity for increasing development of our self-knowledge, and this is always an element of development of consciousness. What we see is that our consciousness grows automatically. This automatic response creates as an artifact technological vehicles that extend its experience, and may also help augment its range and growth. This may result in a circular loop of self-augmentation, literally, via technology.

However, although such breadth of experience effects certainly do seem to have effects on one's sense of self, other qualities that could be termed depth of experience may play a more fundamental role. This is indeed the premise at the basis of most meditative techniques and introspective methods. They explain that amplification of such outer experiences may be charming, and perhaps enriching, but only by experiencing the alternate introspective qualities of self does development of HSC proceed. This is clearly shown in the Maharishi Vedic Science approach, where the transcendental nature of the experiences, orthogonal to daily sensory experience, is emphasized as of fundamental importance. If technology is a cultural accelerator or experience, it may be that it is limited to amplification of a particular quality of sensory experience, which may be of some value in terms of development of HSC. However, the degree or nature of its relationship to the development of HSC is as yet unknown and needs to be further explored.


With the identification of consciousness as the basis of technology, and the intelligent properties of technology as reflections of our consciousness, a new emphasis is placed on finding methods for assuring the integrity, growth, and evolution of this most fundamental aspect of human intelligence. It is interesting and somewhat ironic that an investigation of the growing intelligence of technology leads us back to the domain of human intelligence. While in one sense this is obvious, as human intelligence is the source of all such technology in not only its creation, but in its ingoing evolutions through our usage of it. In another sense this correspondence has not been so obvious, in that there have been significant fears of machine intelligence and its threats and dangers. Even in this analysis, these fears have significance, in that if we are to continue to create increasingly powerful technologies, based on a limited level of consciousness, and thus limited knowledge of the full extent of nature, we indeed are in danger of creating systems that reflect partial or limited knowledge, and thus accomplish one result, but with the side effect of damaging others. Current ecological and sociological problems with technology at all levels are clear indications of this effect. The atomic power derived form nuclear physics brings great potential, but the great(er?) dangers were less obvious, took longer to understand, and are still unsolved. Technological impact on social, economic, and psychological areas is still unfolding, and what is mostly known is that technology is a powerful intervention in these areas, but the areas are so complex that the effect of such allopathic perturbations is not simple to understand; indeed, they may be beyond intellectual comprehension. There is one theory that the world is computationally irreducible. That is, the only system with adequate complexity to model the universe is the universe itself. No other system, no smaller system, has the computational capability to model the world in all of its complexity. This is a significant result. It says that only by utilizing the principals of nature itself can we create technologies that are comprehensive to not exclude some aspect of impact. Only by developing a level of consciousness comprehensive enough to know the totality of nature can one safely develop advanced technologies without harmful effects.


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1 The famous Russian mathematician Kolgomorov proved that any mathematical model can be represented in a very small neural network system.



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