There is another way of looking at history — in terms of human beings’ struggle to understand, organize and use their own thoughts. So much so that it won’t be wrong to paraphrase one famous sentence of history this way:-
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of thought struggles.
To validate this silly argument, we can introduce struggles between good and bad, right and wrong, duty and passion, ideology and compassion, ego and emotion, x god and y god, and so on; all existing inside the human cranium in the form of thoughts and thinking, therefore all struggles in a word, thought vs thought. A crisis of thought management.
I think it is safe to say that Identity, that is, the way we define ourselves or the things which we identify ourselves with exists in the form of thoughts. In fact, our very existence and the proof of existence’s existence is only possible through thoughts, said one Descartes a long time ago. But we will not go in that end of the spectrum here.
Where we will go though is in the ancient times where different tribal groups fought and killed each other for resources. What separated those tribal groups from each other and made them go for each others’ blood and bounty was their identities. Members of each tribe identified themselves as a part of that particular tribe and not the other, which made them think it was right to kill the people from other tribes and not one’s own.
We have plenty of examples of history where tribal groups and small states fought with each other until the whole system united into one single group, immediately after which the individual members who fought each other before the unification suddenly identified with the nemesis as one and searched for new foes with a different identity. The latest example being that which is going around the world today where more and more people are choosing to identify themselves as a single species called Homo Sapiens instead of identifying on the basis of their race, ethnicity, caste, class, nationality, continent etc.
Of course, there are those who would like us all to be obsessed with minor identities to exploit the sentiment of such identities for their own power-game, but it is safe to say that we all are becoming wiser by the day and learning to utilize our specific racial, ethnic identities for cultural and emotional values instead of using them to decimate each other. It is only a matter of time, and, yeah, of thought!
Our difficulties in thought management and the absurdity if not used well was understood very well by some of the ancients folks who being way way way ahead of their times worked hard to find some method to the madness. While some came up with the idea of One identity with the entire Cosmos, a person called Buddha came up with the idea that this entire identity BS is the most BS thing in existence and we all have to get rid of it from its source in order to stop suffering and ending this identity game for once and for all. Buddha and his subsequent followers established an entire religion which is nothing but a course in thought management.
With the identity side of thoughts aside, let us talk about our earliest tool of thought management (apart from various forms of chemicals, which basically are just chemicals that alter the brain neurochemically which takes thoughts to directions as per the nature of the chemical and the default character of the user) without which it would have been impossible for Buddha to do what he did — Language. Many thinkers on thinking agree to the fact that it was language which allowed man to actually take a giant leap forward. Not only did it provide man with a sophisticated mechanism to record thoughts, it also allowed man to conceive previously unconceived things and communicate with each other better which only improved as ages passed by. One can only imagine where man would have ended up if not for language.
Along with it, humans had been using techniques of arts — drawing, music, storytelling, dancing to make sense of thoughts by expressing them in a systematic way. While the arts had allowed people to express what buzzes inside the cranium it was far from becoming an actually serious pursuit.
Then the Greeks beginning with the fabled Socrates ‘seriously’ began working on thought management. Plato became so obsessed with the idea of thoughts that he thought all there is- is in that form, while Aristotle took the game a hell of a lot of steps further and began the establishment of an entire system of thinking. While we can go on and on about such theoretical managers, all we will do right now is stop at Aristotle and say that the works he did opened doors to a lot of things in the domain of thought management and utility, the fruits of which we are enjoying today in the form of writing, rationalism, philosophy, science, technology, etc.
And now that we have arrived at today, we have arrived at a point in time where our understanding of our thoughts and their management are about to go to a whole new level. Perhaps, we are entering a period of significance in thinking matched only by the advent of language.
The computer is a strange machine. While all machines and tools developed by man since his ‘rise’ had been to make his task of physicality, be it seeing or running easier and smarter, the concept of computing machines took tool usage directly into the domains of the mind. While various transport vehicles must have allowed ancient people to lessen the distance between their objects of interest which they had to count themselves, tools such as abacus allowed them to make counting easier and more reliable.
If language provided voice to human subtleties, computers provided tools to supplement the brain in the tasks it is to do. Beginning with simple arithmetic operations, computers soon evolved into doing heavier and more sophisticated mathematical tasks, some of the type which is almost impossible for a human mind to do. But all this to supplement human mental labour.
If we are to stick to the definition of computer as a device that makes human thought management easier, then we have to include devices such as navigational compass, clock, recorder, camera to the list too. The compass provided with the ability to think through directions, the clock helped keep track of time, the recorder allowed to record sounds, which is an advancement of audial-memory and the camera enabled to record images, which is an advancement of visual memory. The difference between other tools for same functions such as a drawn map, notations and drawing and these tools is that the former tools cannot be qualified as machines, they are mechanisms/methods alright but are not automatic.
In regards to the camera, the reason it qualifies as a thought machine and tools such as binoculars and telescopes do not is that- binoculars assist the physicality, the eye while the cameras assist thoughts by saving space and effort for memory.
This brings us to modern gadgeteries. While smartphones with the internet are supposed to be such thought managers, their niche is limited to integrating all other forms of retro thought machines into them and enhancing communication. Along with it, they are important assistances for other functions such as selection (eg. shopping items), distribution, entertainment and information, among few. While the amount of information they contain can surely be said to be assisting thoughts, which they certainly do, they haven’t reached to a point where they automatically as a tool allow us to understand, interpret and manage our thoughts. They are merely existing in the form of content of someone else’s language or such other forms.
But there are three up and coming technologies that can make a difference — VR, AR and BCI.
One of the founding fathers of Virtual Reality, Jaron Lanier has listed a total of 52 definitions of VR in his book Dawn of Everything. Among those are definitions that talk about VR as a type of sensory and motor organs tricking devices which can make one identify with a whole other thing and environment instead of one’s own biological body and immediate surroundings.
VR functions as an immersive technology, in that, they temporarily disconnect all sense organs from the actual identities and environment and submerge them in some other scenario, tricking the brain/mind into believing that its actual body and hence responsibility is of that which is given by the device. This way of approaching the self can have huge consequences in the domain of thoughts and thinking. It directly toys with self-identification. But it doesn’t seem to have direct mechanistic implications in regards to our understanding of our thoughts.
Augmented Realities on the other hand can be called extended and enhanced smartphones. They provide information better and easier but I don’t see them assisting in our thought comprehension.
And then come — BCIs
Brain Computer Interfaces in this context stands for consumer-end subset of neuroimaging which are fundamentally devices that allow us to send information of our brain directly to a computing device and vice-versa. It is a product that is and will be available to any human being. This is what makes it interesting and a serious contender for filling the shoes of language.
While still at their primitive stage, ideally, BCI can be that technology that allows us to see the happenings of our brain in a system that is, firstly, not our own brain and secondly, is a machine. Language, Writing and Art allow the former but are not automated machines, meanwhile, a computer is a machine but does not have the ability to help us see those happenings if not for its usage in Language, Writing and Arts. BCI can be both.
With its capacity to map the workings of the brain in a computer in real time, we can expect to have greatly enhanced understanding of how our own brain works and which part of it does what when we are involved in x,y, or z. But as mentioned earlier, this mapping is still in its primitive stage due to the technique it uses called EEG which produces weak signals and is prone to interferences and also due to lack of information about brain-mechanisms, in other words on actuation.
Yet, they hold potential and no one can deny that. Considering the amount of investment being done on them in terms of both financial and talent resources, we can be sure that their limitations will surely be overcome in the not too far future.
Imagine being able to place a device in your head that is connected to your computer and being able to see the workings of your brain when you engage in xyz in real time. Now, imagine you being able to manipulate information in your brain, not by thinking but by making changes in the program in your computer which in turn affects the brain. Further, imagine your most important desire in life, say, taking care of your family, and imagine being able to computerally store that desire in a part of your brain via a computer and programming your computer to send you an electrical nudge each time you put on the device in that specific part of your brain where you have decided to keep that desire. Now we’re talking about thought management!
Imagine being able to see everything you have thought and your pattern of thinking in a computer device with you being able to press a few keys and play around with them! All this might be possible with BCI.
As with every other tool of importance, there will be vulturesque and hyenaesque humans to take advantage of your privilege.
Now imagine a corporation such as google or facebook being able to observe everything going on in your head and manipulating the information therein as they own the device or the system related to it! Not pretty now is it?
With great potentiality come great opportunities, ergo there will be opportunists waiting to cash in in your new found glory. But with the amount of control you have over your own thoughts, may be, you will be able to deceive them at that game and actually win! All this and much more is awaiting us with BCI.
We are on the verge of a paradigm shift in thought and thinking. Not only due to the technological sophistication but also due to the nature of our lives today with crazy amounts of information and complexities, we will be in dire need of thought assistance. Our brain will just not be able to handle the incoming times.
Name any kind of thought manipulating item and we are at a juncture where that item is getting more and more advanced with each passing day. This change is inevitable. All we have to do is think really really good now.
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of thought struggles.
can be turned into:
The future of all society is the future of thought magic.
We humans will have tremendous opportunities opening, the kind we are not even capable of imagining today once we get hold of the tools that will allow us to for the second time in history understand and manage our thoughts. Those tools are at our doorsteps. And so are opportunistic exploiters…
WILL WE WIN?
CAN WE WIN? but more importantly:
CAN WE BE FINALLY PUT AN END TO THE THOUGHT STRUGGLES?