The Relation Between Modernity, Space, Consciousness and Massive Social Change

In yesterday’s entry I introduced the notion of Vectors of Consciousness in order to capture sense in which Outside Spatial environments have a ‘collective’ feel. When a number of people are in the same space and are conscious of each other, the way that collection of people stand in relation to each other, and therefore their environment will depend, in part, on the extent to which the Object of which they are Conscious (Locus of Consciousness) is something about which they are all conscious (Intersection of Consciousness). We used the contrast between watching a performer in a concert hall and being present in a shopping mall. In both cases we are in Outside Space, but clearly these are very different environments. The difference that I want to highlight is that in the case of watching a performance, we are collectively focused on the performer. In the case of walking around in a shopping mall, there is a certain randomness to the way that peoples’ attention is focused.

Today I want to introduce a few more concepts that will give us further tools to understand the sense in which the spaces that we operate in are different. After introducing the concepts I will say a few words about how these ideas are relevant to the wired world that we are living in today.

Size: Defined as the distance required to establish the spatial boundary. This is to be understood in its intuitive sense in that, for example, a concert hall is a large space, whereas a coffee shop is a smaller space.

At first glance we might think of this boundary as being defined by the physical facts involved – that, for example, the walls of the concert hall and the coffee shop define the size of the space. I would like you to think of Size differently, however, as the area within which we can be phenomenally conscious[1] of objects within the space. Since consciousness of objects requires that they are phenomenally present for us, the size of a space defines the boundary within which we can receive meaningful phenomenal stimuli. The walls of the coffee shop define the space because when we are inside the walls, we are not able to be conscious of things outside of the walls.[2] In the case of the piano recital, we are very conscious of being quiet and this is because we know that the slightest sound can be heard by all others in the room (as well as the performer!).

If the space that I am in is defined by the boundary that encompasses the set of possible Objects of which I can be conscious and you also happen to present in the same space, then it follows that it is possible for us to be conscious of each other; their exists the possibility for Reciprocal Consciousness.

One more point needs to be emphasized. Not only is there the possibility for Reciprocal Consciousness, we note that the consciousness is Simultaneously Reciprocal. This is important because not all cases of Reciprocal Consciousness need to be simultaneous. We all, for example, have a consciousness of our friends and family members but this does not mean that when I am thinking about my mother that she is necessary, at that moment, thinking about me. The possibility for Reciprocal Consciousness is simultaneous because it is a form of consciousness that arises from phenomenal stimuli.

If I am able to see/hear you at the same time that you are able to hear/see me then there exists the possibility for Simultaneously Reciprocal Consciousness and we are thus in the same Space.

Stability of Locus of Consciousness: Defined as the predisposition for the Locus of Consciousness to remain constant, across the group, over a period of time. For example, in the case of the performer at the recital, we can expect that he/she remains the Object of Consciousness for the vast majority of those in the hall for the vast majority of the time. We would therefore say that, in this case, the Locus of Consciousness is stable.

Spatial Stability of the Locus of Consciousness: Defined as the relationship between the Locus of Consciousness and the physical characteristics of the Space. If the relation between the Locus of Consciousness and the physical environment remains constant then we can say that the Locus of Conscious is spatially stable. If the performer stays seated on her piano stool, then she represents a spatially stable locus of consciousness for those in the audience. In contrast, we can imagine a pop star dancing around the stage with great enthusiasm. In this case, the performer is the Object of Consciousness to no lesser a degree than the concert pianist (all eyes are trained on both!). Yet in the case of the pop star, the physical facts of the situation are different.

Practically speaking this is pretty obvious. In the case of watching a piano recital we are likely to be fixed in our seats. It is the kind of environment that requires that we constrain ourselves physically etc. A pop concert marks a strong contrast with not only the performer, but the audience free to move around, All of these sorts of variables bring to bear on the nature of how we are conscious of ourselves and others in the spaces that we inhabit.

You can now think about the sorts of spaces that you inhabit, who/what the Locus’ of Consciousness are in the spaces that you inhabit, and the extent to which these spaces are stable.

So what does all of this have to do with anything you ask!

It should be pretty clear that the notion of spatial size has less meaning in the modern world. This is not to say that large rooms aren’t still large rooms! What it means is that the range of possible objects about which we can be conscious do not have to be physically proximal in the same way that they had to be in the olden days. In the days of the Hunter Gatherer communities, people lived in close proximity to each other and the people that they were conscious of were those that they could see, hear and touch. It is literally the case that our ancestors in Africa would not have had the slightest idea that others on different continents even existed.

Therefore, modernity serves to eliminate certain constraints on possible of objects of consciousness.[1]

Intuitively this should be pretty clear to anyone that utilizes the internet. If you are reading this blog, then there is a sense in which you and I are in the same space. It is the precise nature of this change that is taking place that we want to understand.

OK, but then what does Locus of Consciousness and Stability of Locus of Consciousness have to do with anything?

Part of what I will demonstrate is that Modernity gives rise to the possibility of Social Change on a scale, and in a manner, never possible before. I will argue that it is possible to engineer solutions to large scale global problems such as climate change, poverty, famine, war and so on; typically problems that we have thought of as insoluble.

The reason that this is possible is that the evolution in the communications infrastructure allows us to make a Particular Object of Consciousness the Locus of Consciousness for a very large number of people – millions! There is nothing, in the world that we live in today that prevents us from aligning a very large portion of the worlds collective energy on large scale problems and thereby creating collective developed solutions for these sorts of, seemingly intractable, problems!

More on all of this tomorrow!


[1] It’s important to note that it does so in other ways than this which I will discuss as we move forward.


[1] Remember that phenomenal consciousness refers to the sort of consciousness that arises from data that is presented to us via our senses. Photons impinge on my retina and I see your face.

[2] One shouldn’t interpret this absolutely literally. Obviously even when one is sitting inside a coffee shop one can see cars passing by, hear people talking on the sidewalk and so on. This is true, but clearly the availability/accessibility of such stimuli is reduced by the presence of the concrete that separates us from those outside of the coffee shop. One must understand this notion as a matter of degree.

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The Concept of Space (Part 1) – Inside and Outside Space

The Concept of Space – Part 1

It’s time for me to introduce one of the most central concepts in the view that I am developing – space! So what do I mean by ‘space’ and why is it important to what I am interested in discussing? When one hears the word ‘space’ one has an intuitive understanding of what it refers to. We say things like ‘There is space to put the table over there ’, ‘We should spend more money exploring outer space’ and ‘Give me more space to do my own things!’ There are countless ways that the concept of space is utilized in ordinary language. For my purposes what I want you to distinguish is between two primary senses in which the word can be used: epistemological and ontological.

The EPISTEMOLOGICAL utilization of the concept of space: Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge. Therefore when we think about things in epistemological terms, we are thinking about them from the standpoint of the way our minds work. Saying ‘Give me more space to do my own things!’ is an example of this sort of utilization of the concept of ‘space’ since when we say this we usually mean that we need space in a psychological sense; we need time to think about other things, for example. Note, however, that in order for ones partner to comply with this request, he/she will have to literally give their partner more physical space as well, which leads us to the second sense in which we can use the concept of space; ontologically.

The ONTOLOGICAL utilization of the concept of space: Ontology is the study of the nature of reality; the way that things actually are in the world. If, for example, you believe that God actually exists, this is an ontological commitment, Therefore when we say that ‘There is space to put the table over there’, we are making a claim about our belief in the physical state of the world. We are saying that we can move physical stuff around such that the table can be moved over there! It can be moved over there because there is space to do so. Therefore, in this sense when we talk about space we make claims about the nature of the way that we believe the world/universe/reality is constituted.

In order to focus the discussion lets keep in view the larger picture that we are painting which is the relationship between technology and social change. Keeping this in mind will ensure that we think about space in a pragmatic way. So what is the pragmatic utilization of the sense of space that we want to think about?

Note to the reader: as you read the following keep the above distinction in mind… You will also note that the following might seem a little technical, but since I am working on developing a theory I need to be as precise as possible in defining terms that I am using. In the long run this will make things clearer and easier for you to understand.

Toward the Evolution of a Taxonomy of Space

We want to stimulate our analysis of space by an appeal to the intuitive. To say that in living our lives we move through space is to say no more than our lives consist of a sequence of spatial environments, each of which can be associated with a point in time in the temporal sequence. For now, we will defer the question as to how, precisely, to individuate these environments. What do we mean by spatial environments? In an average day, we may awaken in the morning, roll out of bed, go to the bathroom and take a shower, walk to the garage and get into our car, drive the car through public streets to the office, attend meetings at the office, go to dinner with our in-laws, go to a baseball game with our families and so on.

However we choose to precisely individuate the above scenarios, we can say that we are moving from one space to another. We also note that there is a clear sense in which my bathroom is a fundamentally different environment to a baseball game. So far so good as this should all be pretty obvious!

How might we taxonomize (organize) spaces in a meaningful manner? In keeping with the strategy that we are employing which is to keep things simple, we now ask the question: Is it intuitively obvious that sitting alone by oneself in ones bedroom is a fundamentally different space than giving a speech in front of a thousand people? It seems that the answer must be yes. We might ask this question in contrast to the question as to whether or not it is immediately obvious whether or not sitting alone in ones bedroom is a fundamentally different space than sitting by oneself in a movie theatre. In this case we would likely agree that there is something fundamentally different between the two spaces, but that however we are to understand this difference it seems less different than giving a speech in front of a thousand people. What is the source of this intuition?

The distinction lies in the fact that in the case of giving a speech we are the object of the consciousness of a thousand people. Somehow the stakes seem higher in this case, don’t you think?

With this in mind, we will introduce the most basic element in our taxonomic structure. The distinction between Inside Space and Outside Space, and we introduce the following definitions:

Inside Space (IS): Beings[1] presence in space such that Being is conscious of the absence of Being-as-object-of-the-consciousness-of-Other. In other words, when one is in IS, there is a consciousness that one is not being ‘watched’, so to speak – we are alone with ourselves.

Outside Space(OS): Beings presence in space such that Being is conscious of Being-as-object-for-Other. In other words, in contrast to IS, we are conscious that we are being watched by others.

In reflecting on the examples we just posed, we immediately see the relevance of the IS/OS distinction. In the case of one sitting alone in ones bedroom, one is alone (therefore in IS). When one is giving a speech, one is the object-of-the-consciousness-of-Others (therefore in OS). When in a movie theatre, we see that we might be the object-of-the-consciousness-of-Others. We therefore see that this distinction is revealing of the obvious fact that these spaces are somehow different. How, more precisely, might we understand the difference between the movie theatre case and the speech case?

We now point out the obvious which is that in Inside Space, there is only one consciousness to contend with – Beings (yourself). In Outside Space, there are potentially many consciousnesses present (Others). Therefore we can conclude two things:

1) Whatever strategy we use to taxonomize Inside Space, it will somehow be defined in terms of a singular consciousness.

2) Taxonomizing Outside Space will involve examining how many (a multiplicity) of consciousnesses can stand in relation to each other within a singular space. Therefore, we will attempt to identify obvious distinctions in the way a multiplicity of consciousnesses must stand in relation to each other.

The Inside Space/Outside Space distinction is a pretty intuitive one. What requires some reflection, however, is the relationship between this distinction and the epistemological/ontological distinction introduced at the outset.

At first glance it would seem that the Inside Space/Outside Space distinction might be an ontological one since the distinguishing feature of Outside Space is the fact that you are the object of the consciousness of Others, and this is only possible to the extent to which others can ‘watch’ you, so to speak. But to view things in this way is to miss something exceedingly important which is that the distinguishing feature is the relationship between your consciousness and the consciousness of others. This, in and of itself does not seem to have anything direct to do with the physical facts that relate you and the others. That said, my point is not that the distinction is an epistemological one, but that there is some complexity in terms of identifying what precisely the distinction is.

A lot will hinge on why this ambiguity exists.

Enough for now, stay tuned…


[1] We are introducing the notion of Being to refer to people, generally understood. We introduce this term in virtue of its philosophical implications with the proviso that what these implications are and how they are relevant to this discussion will be developed in due course. At this point it provides a straightforward concept upon which these ideas can be developed and introduces a formality that is absent if we just use the term ‘person’. The term Other is to be understood as a Being that is known by Being as a Being, and is known reflexively as not itself. Intuitively, other persons etc.

Content

i just updated my content page and thought I might as well post it…

It is necessary for me to say a few words about the nature of the content that you can expect on this blog so that you can understand why many of my posts are abstract and philosophical and yet I have am providing links to various organizations. Read the following to understand where all of this is going…

It is the nature of the issues that I am interested in writing about that they are complex and therefore there is no simple way to address them. Therefore, the vast majority of the content that you will find on this blog is conceptual in nature. If you are going to benefit in any way from this blog, you will have to think and reflect on the ideas that I put forth.

My objective is, over time, to advance a THEORY about MODERNITY, that will provide people with a certain amount of optimism about the future.

A THEORY (in the sense that I am describing it) is a set of interdependent CONCEPTS that will comprise an overall vision of how I see things. My goal is simply to communicate what I am thinking with the hope that this will generate a certain amount of DIALOGUE.

CONCEPTS will be represented in ALL CAPS and, over time, will be elucidated in much greater detail. If the purpose for this is not clear consider my making the assertion that the ‘modern world is a lot different than it used to be in the past’. For you to understand this, you will have to know what I mean by modern as this is a central concept in the assertion that I am making. Hence, if I am to effectively communicate with you it will be imperative for me to elucidate in some detail many of the concepts that I introduce. Unfortunately this cannot be done all at once.

In due course I will hyperlink the concepts so that you can click directly to a more precise elucidation of the idea.

The specific content that I am introducing relates to the role that the evolution of the INTERNET is playing on the formation of IDENTITY and COMMUNITY, and how this creates unique conditions for positive social change.

As a result, I AM GREATLY INTERESTED IN ORGANIZATIONS THAT UTILIZE THE INTERNET FOR THE PURPOSES OF POSITIVE SOCIAL CHANGE. I AM CREATING A DATABASE OF SUCH COMPANIES, some of which are provided as links on this blog.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or comments on my project.

Peace and Love,

Suresh