I spent much of the day walking snow covered trails with incredibly beautiful views of the snowy mountains around me. What I loved most was the silence. Almost total silence. No distraction. No interruption. Just snow, mountains, beautiful views, and me. I realized how much I miss nature. Spaces to explore. Walking around. Climbing mountains. Using my legs. Indulging in nature. It feels so good.
Traditional societies postulated a religion or other forms of absolutism (king, dictator, etc.) as the source of meaning. Liberalism postulated the well-being of the individual as the source of value. This liberal utilitarianism is the moral foundation for market economics and democracy. The extension of the self through external algorithms and the disaggregation of the self into algorithms that can be directed (manipulated) by external algorithms calls into fundamental doubt the meaning of individual utility as source of value. Harari (in 21 Lessons for the 21st Century ) seems to suggest that suffering (or its absence) would be a more appropriate source of value. That does not convince me as suffering is also just an algorithm (the brain chemicals causing the feeling of suffering), and the quest for the source of value remains unanswered. Yet, the attempt to link the source of value to our consciousness (rather than our actions that are subject to multiple layers of manipulation) sounds appealing. But how can we determine the state of our consciousness and how can that state be used to express value and meaning? And is that state of consciousness truly independent of the brain chemicals that induce feelings of sadness and happiness and are subject to all the usual manipulations.
We are entering a world where manipulation of the self can reach un-imagined intensity. Political manipulation (Hitler-Germany; Trump-USA) or commercial manipulation (advertising) is not new at all. But it was based on aggregate appeal and not based on detailed understanding of each individual. Big Data allows that understanding of each individual and can take manipulation to a new level where the notion of the individual itself (and certainly the liberal notion of free will) is profoundly called into question. The only defense to remain in control (if that is what we want) is to know yourself better than the algorithms know you. Meditation and observation of one’s own consciousness could be one path where individuals can retain control in a world that is not (yet) accessible to the algorithms: or consciousness. (reflections on 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari)
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