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 II) – Vectors of Consciousness

Following from where we left off yesterday… If what we are concerned with when thinking on the nature of Outside Space is the relationship between the consciousnesses of those that are present in the space, we need to introduce a more precise way of thinking about this. In order to do this I need to first define a few terms:

Objects of Consciousness: The question as to what consciousness is, is exceedingly complex to say the least. That said, there is a certain amount of consensus amongst modern day philosophers, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists and so on that in analyzing the nature of consciousness as it brings to bear on how we think and behave it is useful to think of the contents of consciousness as consisting of certain ‘objects’. Objects might include ocurrent thoughts of the form ‘It is raining outside’, standing belief states (such as the fact that you believe in God) that are not present in ones immediate consciousness all the time, the awareness that the apple in my hand is solid and the colour red and so on. It is not important to be overly precise in trying to specify what the class of entities is that we consider mental objects, just to understand that this is a useful way of thinking about the contents of our mind.

Phenomenal Objects of Consciousness: If we think about consciousness as containing objects, then we can acknowledge that a certain subset of these objects will be the result of our sensory experience of the world. As I sit here typing, my visual field is presented with the light and colours of my computer screen, my fingertips feel the texture of the keys on the keyboard, I can see light streaming in from my window from the corner of my eye and so on.

In short, our PRESENCE in space entails PRESENCE in relation to phenomenal stimuli.

Whatever our circumstances, we are receiving sensory (phenomenal) stimuli from the outside world. This stimuli is interpreted and is what constitutes our immediate relation with the world.

Others as Phenomenal Objects of Consciousness: So far so good… Given the above, we can think of Outside Space in terms of the fact that there is a reciprocity of consciousness involving Being (one person) and Others (everyone else) in terms of them being Phenomenal Objects of Consciousness for each other.

So if you are sitting in your living room with friends you are all phenomenal objects for each other. Or in simple terms you can all see and hear each other (which is what makes the consciousness reciprocal).

The question we now need to reflect on is how this reciprocal phenomenal consciousness that people have of each other in outside space can be understood such that it reflects differences in the structure of various Outside Spaces, as this is what will enable us to introduce some notions that can help us to develop a taxonomy of Outside Space.

Let me begin by introducing a few terms that will make things clearer:

Vectors of Consciousness: When one is present in Outside Space, we need to think of how the consciousnesses of others are oriented within the spatial context. For example, if we are at piano recital, we can expect the consciousnesses of those that are at the recital to be focused on the performer. If this is the case we can say that the performer is the object of consciousness of those that are watching him. This is not sufficient, however. We need to say more since we must reflect the fact that he is the simultaneous object of consciousness of a number of people in the theatre. In saying this we note this is only so because objects of phenomenal consciousness are objects in physical space and since this is so, they are objects that have a particular physical relation to us. Things can be near to us, far way from us, slightly to the left and so on. Therefore, to capture an important feature of our relation to objects in our sensory/phenomenal field, we need to introduce a notion that captures the spatial relation that we have to these objects. We need to capture the fact that, for example, everyone on the left hand side of the concert hall has to angle their head towards the right in order to see the performer.

We capture the idea that Object of Consciousness have a particular spatial relation to us by introducing the notion of a Vector of Consciousness.

In the world of geometry, a vector is defined by direction and magnitude. The vector, therefore, will capture the idea that the Object of Consciousness is the performer and the direction that the object stands in relation to you is to the right. We can envision times when some people’s consciousness may stray from what is happening on the stage. Maybe someone in the next row sneezes, maybe the person next to you stands up, maybe you don’t like the performer etc. Therefore, it is not necessarily the case that you will maintain your focus on the moment at hand; your consciousness may stray. Therefore, ones vector of consciousness describes the direction of focus of consciousness, and will vary with time. It’s important to note also that it is not my contention that at any particular time consciousness consists of only one vector. What is important is to understand the dynamic nature of the consciousness of objects in its relation to its phenomenal environment.

Intersection of Objects of Consciousness: We now take note of an important fact, which is that in group situations (which, by definition, are in Outside Space) certain phenomenal stimuli will be objects of consciousness for multiple people. The performer on stage is someone of whom everyone (I should hope!) will be conscious. In contrast, if I am holding my program in my left hand I can be certain that, at the most, a few people other than myself will be conscious of the program. The common Objects of Consciousness can be said to Intersect across the consciousnesses of those that are in the hall.

Locus of Consciousness: To the extent to which the performer is the focus of the consciousness of the observers at the recital, we can say that the performer is the Locus of Consciousness at that point in time and space. It is the object within the space that is the focus of the majority of consciousnesses.

It’s important to note that it is possible that the Locus of Consciousness is not defined for a given space. Consider, for example, a super market. There is no single object that is the primary focus of all shoppers.

Spatial Vectors of Consciousness: We might want to think about things from the perspective of the space itself by suggesting that it can be understood as the sum total of all of the individual vectors at a particular point in time. In the event that everyone is focused upon the performer, we can say the vector that represents the entire space is directed at the performer. The precision of this alignment towards the performer then defines the magnitude of the vector. In the event that half the audience is distracted, the vector will not be fully directed at the performer, nor will its magnitude be as great.

This idea captures the sense that we have, for example, when we are part of a crowd that is watching a mesmerizing speech or an amazing artistic performance. Imagine what it might have been like to watch Hitler give a speech. We can imagine that the entire crowd was completely enthralled. That this was so would have resulted in a certain collective sense; a certain commonality to the experience – that of everyone being mesmerized by Hitler! In this scenario, the Spatial Vector of Consciousness would have been very large.

In contrast, if one is at a boring lecture ones mind tends to stray. One starts looking around the room, observing others, thinking about what is for dinner later in the evening and so on. Ones focus of consciousness is not directed at a fixed point in space in the say way. If others feel the same way, the feeling (or maybe we can say ‘energy’) in the room won’t be the same.

The significance of the idea of the Vector of Consciousness is that the magnitude of the Spatial Vector of Consciousness describes the extent to which participants in a particular group at a point in space and time have their collective consciousnesses directed at the Locus of Consciousness. It describes the extent to which the Locus of Consciousness is the collective object of consciousness. We note that the Spatial Vector of Consciousness is a property of the group.

Who Am I?

I just updated my Who Am I page and decided I might as well post it…

The question as to who I am is difficult to answer, but since I raised the question I’ll have to give it my best shot!

  • I reside in Vancouver, Canada
  • I am a prolific writer of all sorts of stuff; prose, poetry and lots of philosophy
  • I am working on completing a Master’s in philosophy
  • I am an aspiring percussionist
  • Prior to entering the Master’s program I ran a company called Catalyst Capital Partners, Inc. that provided financing and strategic advisory services for early stage technology companies.
  • Prior to that I was a stockbroker at a major Canadian investment bank.
  • I have an undergraduate degree in physics
  • I am an explorer of people, ideas, places etc.
  • I am deeply committed to the idea of community; as that which is the basis for personal identity and therefore is constitutive of who we are. There is no sense in which we can understand ourselves independently of the community within which we are situated.

How does all of this relate to this blog, you ask?

Good question… As you might be able to gather from the many twists and turns in my path, I am not someone that is motivated by easily definable societal roles. I don’t view success in terms of ‘making money’, ‘getting a good job’, ‘having a nice car’, etc. I am in search of something more fundamental – to try to understand what people really need. What is it that will satisfy us in a much deeper way.

At this point I don’t want to digress too much. I will leave the more spiritually related thoughts to another blog. Suffice it to say that along the path that I have been walking I have participated (as has anyone that is reading this blog) in the extremely rapid evolution of the internet as a social force. I have invested in technology, raised money for technology companies, advised clients to invest in technology companies, read countless research reports and so on. In doing so I have come to the conclusion that the EVOLUTION OF THE INTERNET WILL HAVE A MUCH BIGGER SOCIAL IMPACT THAN PEOPLE REALIZE!!

This seems like a strange thing to say because there is no doubt that people realize (to a large extent) the social impact that the internet is having. I, HOWEVER, FEEL THAT PEOPLE DON’T FULLY APPRECIATE THE ROLE THAT THE INTERNET PLAYS IN THE CONSTRUCTION OF IDENTITY AND COMMUNITY AND THE CONSEQUENT ROLE THAT THIS WILL PLAY FOR THE FORMATION OF NEW SORTS OF COMMUNITIES – TRULY GLOBAL COMMUNITIES!

In forming truly global communities it becomes possible to solve global problems; war, famine, poverty, climate change etc.

Don’t be dissuaded by the grand vision. Just keep reading and respond directly to what I am saying. If you think that I am wrong please be specific in telling me why this is so.

Peace and Love.

Suresh