Creativity, evolution of mind and the "vertigo of freedom"
A DIALOGUE BETWEEN JASON SILVA AND TECHNO-ECOLOGIC SCHOLAR RICHARD DOYLE
Richard Doyle also goes by mobius, an indicator of just how important interconnections are to him – and how transformative, bedeviling and hypnotic his ideas can be. As a professor of English and science, technology, and society at Pennsylvania State University, he has taught courses in the history and rhetoric of the emerging technosciences – sustainability, space colonization, biotechnology, nanotechnology, psychedelic science, information technologies, biometrics – and the cultural and literary contexts from which they sprout. An explorer of the exciting and confusing rhetorical membrane between humans and an informational universe, he argues that in co-evolution with technology, we find ourselves in an evolutionary ecology that is as vital as it is unexplored.
In Darwin’s Pharmacy: Sex, Plants and the Evolution of The Noösphere, the transhumanist philosopher focuses on his favorite technology: the psychedelic, “ecodelic” plants and chemicals (read: drugs) that can help make us process more information and make us aware of the effect of language and music and nature on our consciousness, thereby offering us an awareness of our own ability to effect our own consciousness through our linguistic and creative choices. And that, from an evolutionary perspective, is simply sexy.
JASON: Your new book Darwin’s Pharmacy talks about the relationship between psychedelic plants and the accelerating evolution of the “noosphere”, which some define as the knowledge substrate of reality, the invisible, informational dimension of collective intelligence and human knowledge. Is this more or less accurate?
RICH: The book features a set of nested claims about the evolution of mind, psychedelics (or, as I prefer and propose, "ecodelics"), and the evolution of the noosphere, but all of the claims can be understood via two claims:
(1) Ecodelics have been an integral part of the human toolkit, so suppressing them is like suppressing music, jokes or other aspects of our humanity. (Here I am following Samorini, Siegel, and others)
(2) As integral parts of the human toolkit, ecodelics are best modeled as part of sexual selection - the competition for mates and the leaving of progeny. A careful look at Charles Darwin's writings on sexual selection will show that sexual selection works through the management of attention - what we would now call "information technologies." Think birdsong, bioluminescence ( the most widespread communication technology on the planet), poetry. The peacock is managing and focusing peahen attention with his feathers, so what we have called "mind" has been involved in evolution for a very long time. Mandrilles eat iboga before competing for mates.
I work with the notion of the noosphere drawn from V.I. Vernadsky, and propose that we define it as the collective effect of attention of ecosystems. Psychedelics seem to draw our attention to the whole. Ecodelics dwindle the broadcast of the ego – it is not very good at perceiving the whole, just as we can't, unlike a butterfly, taste with our feet. With the ego dwindled, we can become aware of the noosphere - the message of the whole. This has particular importance as we grapple with the effects of human consciousness and its externalization in technology on the biosphere.
JASON: The Jesuit Priest and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin spoke of the Noosphere very early on. A profile in WIRED Magazine article said, "Teilhard imagined a stage of evolution characterized by a complex membrane of information enveloping the globe and fueled by human consciousness".. Teilhard saw the Net coming more than half a century before it arrived. He believed this vast thinking membrane would ultimately coalesce into "the living unity of a single tissue" containing our collective thoughts and experiences." Teilhard wrote, "The living world is constituted by consciousness clothed in flesh and bone." He argued that the primary vehicle for increasing complexity consciousness among living organisms was the nervous system. The informational wiring of a being, he argued - whether of neurons or electronics - gives birth to consciousness. As the diversification of nervous connections increases, evolution is led toward greater consciousness... thoughts?
RICH: Yes, he also called it this process of the evolution of consciousness “Omega Point”. The noosphere imagined here relied on a change in our relationship to consciousness as much to any technological change and was part of evolution's epic quest for self awareness. Here Teilhard is in accord with Julian Huxley (Aldous’ brother, a biologist) and Carl Sagan when they observed that“we are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” Sri Aurobindo's The Life Divine traces out this evolution of consciousness as well through the greek and Sanskrit traditions as well as Darwinism and (relatively) modern philosophy. All are describing evolution's slow and dynamic quest towards understanding itself.
JASON: Jacques Monod, the Parisian biologist who shared a Nobel Prize in 1965, proposed that “just as the biosphere stands above the world of nonliving matter, so an “abstract kingdom” rises above the biosphere. The denizens of this kingdom? Ideas... how do you respond to this notion?
RICH: Yes, the irony here is that in in his amazing book Chance and Necessity, Monod was part of the rather vicious attacks on Teilhard. Teilhard was attacked by both the Church and mainstream science. Was he on to something? Nobody was more mainstream than Karl Popper, the philosopher of science, and he also talked about the "Three Worlds" of "objects", "mental events" and the "products of the human mind", with the last, ‘World Three’, corresponding roughly to the noosphere. One significant difference between my use of this map and Popper and others is that I do not limit the effects of attention to human attention. Flowering plants, for example, work on this level of the biosphere that involves insect attention and perception.
JASON: This ‘world of ideas’ sounds a lot like the Noosphere.. are these two guys saying the same thing here?
RICH: As I mentioned above, I think there are important differences in our use of this map, but all of these authors are pointing to the need to model an aspect of our ecosystems that involves what the plant scientists now call "signaling and behavior" as well as the collective effects of that signaling and behavior. I find that the noosphere is a good metaphor and mneumonic device for doing that and helps us think on a more planetary and informational scale.
Precisely because the noosphere is about differentials of attention, it matters how we model it.
See more here http://bigthink.com/hybrid-reality/creativity-evolution-of-mind-and-the-vertigo-of-freedom