Image, Word, Digit - on a Halfway to Insect Civilization
(Article for UNESCO 7th International Congress on Philosophy and Culture. August 2004)
For a human being world is not restricted to physical reality alone, it comprises some virtual component which one can call a system of "worldviews" or reality interpretations. This system embraces philosophy, religious doctrines, scientific and all other ideas, concepts and theories. Such system of reality interpretations becomes more important to some people than reality itself: ideas affect motivation and behavior, judge results of our actions and define our image of self. There’s a statement in sociology known as theorem of William Thomas: "a situation defined as real is real in its consequences". It literally means that our worldview is actually real in its consequences, no matter to which extent it corresponds with physical reality.
System of world outlooks and civilization of today are based on words (or semantics). "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made" (John, 1; 1, 2, 3). Mental processes, experience imprinting and communication between people are impossible without using language and words. Word is a discrete unit of consciousness, a unit of meaning. Human perception is mediated by word: everything that doesn’t have a name is left behind the frames of conscious perception. As a result we do not perceive the world directly, but only by means of its verbal description, its conscious reflection. World comes into existence when it gets a description as Carlos Castaneda would say.
Breakdown with reality and necessity of consciousness as mediator in perception of the world is the payment for acquired ability to think. The fact that humans lost its ingenuous state has found a mythological reflection in biblical legend when Adam was banished from Eden for tasting forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. "And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (Genesis, 3; 22)
There is a hypothesis that sequence of obtaining and processing information in humans by hearing – speech – thinking based on the word was preceded by pre-human sequence: seeing – telepathy – meditation, when a discrete unit of consciousness was visual image instead of a word. It is known from the theory of information that visual images need considerably greater volume of operative memory to be processed, than verbal descriptions. In other words, memory output greatly increases if visual images are substituted by words. Development follows the most economical path.
Arguably all those restrictions to create images of humans and animals common for monotheistic religions as well as negative approach to creativity in various religious traditions tends to illustrate a tendency of consolidation of role of the word as semantic unit of consciousness. "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below" (Exodus, 20; 4). Thus religion contributed to formation of a new mechanism of mass-consciousness management by means of using words.
We must note that iconoclasm preceded the Separation of Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Worshipping icons was considered idolatry. Around that time Catholic church introduced a notion "filioque" ("from the son" in Latin) which means communicating with Holy Spirit not only through the Lord God, but through God Son as well, who was interpreted in Gnostic tradition as Logos, i.e. word. In visual arts the archaic chain of obtaining information from visual perception still retains. That is why painting requires ingenuous, emotional perception. Painting stops being self-sufficient, unique and specific language, stops being true art once it becomes descriptive and meaningful.
Another existing chain of information processing, which is even more rational than the one operating with words, utilizes digit as a discrete unit. This principle underlies functioning of computers.
The change of a discrete unit in information processing chain from visual image to a word and then to a digit implies that:
- The same volume of operative memory is capable of processing greater volumes of information.
- Description of reality becomes more formalized and abstract, while nuances of individual perception are being leveled.
- Description becomes synonymous, relations between elements are strictly determined and possibilities for interpretation are very limited.
- It becomes easy to enter an external command, a code, indiscernible from system’s own sensory data, for someone to gain control over it.
The last consequence justifies the possibility of suggestion on conscious level. One can see the amplification of suggestion effect as individual consciousness unifies, becoming a mediocre particle of mass consciousness. The nature of suggestion effect is alike of a virus: informational commanding code (or RNA of a virus) infiltrates cell, organism or computer system, in order to change its behavior or mode of functioning.
Rationalization and formalization of the chain of information processing is also possible within the same unit of consciousness, word for example. Comprehension of a poetic line involves larger volume of operative memory (due to multitude of meanings, associative cohesions and aesthetic effect) than comprehension of an order or synonymous command that contains the same number of words. The better the poetic line is – the more orders you can "replace" it with.
Consciousness projects its characteristic mode of perception on the world. Determined consciousness considers the world as linear sequence of causes and consequences. Living in at least 3-dimensional world we keep thinking in a single "linear" dimension. Rational scientific interpretation of the world exists as a projection in a space with fewer dimensions than physical reality. Thus number of degrees of freedom decreases as system becomes more determined. And it’s not the reality which is fully determined, but our thoughts about it. People restrict themselves by accepting dominant system of world interpretations and using the trivial ways of obtaining information.
Acceleration and formalization of thinking are manifested in "informational explosion". As time becoming denser and concentration of events increases our logic starts to give up unable to cope with overwhelming stream of information, which leads to stress and neurotization. It is not just an external phenomenon but the effect of selected mode of information processing.
Pure logical approach is unable to convey multisemantics and vividness of perception without losing significant emotional nuances thus limiting the freedom of choice and losing individual meaning. Husserl noted that consciousness is the field where meaning is being obtained. Meaning is what we introduce to the world. Every person brings new meaning.
Unification of consciousness, development of technocratic approach applied to reality and attempts to institute the unified consensual reality with the same set of rules for everyone are resulting in the loss of freedom and meaning of life. Along with rationalization, as information is put in the higher order, the system will be getting more and more mechanistic and artificial as a degree of its "vitality" in biological sense will decrease.
There are examples of civilizations based on absolute superiority of social interests over individual ones common for insect associations. Maurice Maeterlinck wrote in his book "Life of the insects": "Termites used to have wings, they don’t have them anymore. They had their eyes, but eyes were sacrificed. They had a sex, but it was sacrificed too". We could say very similar thing about mankind: we have long lost our wings, we refuse to trust our own eyes and we are almost ready to deny our sex.
Biological world is ruled by the strict regulations of survival - instincts and species competition. Organic life when it starts obtaining social qualities and characteristics tends to become totalitarian. The leader in animal pack has absolute power, ants associations have some elements of slavery, and bees have distinctive features of communist society. There’s no freedom there at all.
Human society is also aimed on achieving total subordination of individual interests to the ones of a group of people to provide maximum manageability. Certain elements of freedom are present in the social sphere as a result of a compromise, a concession of society. But the need in such compromise arises only when a large group of people wants to get more freedom. This, in its own turn, requires certain level of spiritual and cultural development.
Freedom proposes various possibilities for making choices. The more possibilities – the more freedom you have. Freedom begins with a possibility to interpret reality. Nietzsche wrote that "reality is open for countless interpretations". Human creativity is a form of freedom manifestation. Russian historian and philosopher G. Fedotov (1886 – 1951) said that "freedom is the late and subtle flower of culture".
Art has an exceptional value in this context. Creative aspect of art is being more important than cultural aspect, which tends to establish a system of values and define stereotypes of perception. Creative aspect implies overcoming old and conservative while making something new, at least when it comes to new interpretation of reality. Creativity is not just making new things, but it is also a perception process that expands your abilities and helps to form one’s opinions and tastes. This is the path that protects one from any form of suggestion from the outside world.
Artist’s predestination is overcoming canons and stereotypes of perception. This does not promote sustaining of social stability, based on suggestibility and manageability of ordinary society members. But it is the only way to manifest new qualities and capabilities of perception by overcoming old stereotypes, which leads to change in the whole hierarchy of values. Artists are helping to accumulate mutational material needed for mankind evolution.
Probably in the future the greatest achievements of humankind will be the ones of imagination and creativity instead of logic and pure reason.