The development of shared
consciousness will be an evolutionary leap more comparable to the invention of
language than of Gutenberg’s printing press.
Jorge Luis Borges describes an arch beneath a staircase in the cellar of a house in Buenos Aires which is the location of a point that encompasses all other points of the planet. He calls it an Aleph – a microcosm of alchemists and Kabbalists; a sphere, the central point of which is everywhere and the circumference of which is nowhere.
By hunching in the space beneath the stairs and staring straight into the Aleph, one can see absolutely any point in the world, at any moment, and in whatever light. A deranged graphomaniac spends all his time sitting gathering material for an endlessly long poem, in which he intends to put the entire visible world into verse.
Today, photographs constitute this Aleph. The pictures of our present era are no longer kept in physical albums – they are everywhere and nowhere; they fill the Internet, archives, and databases; they clog our nervous systems and rain down upon us from the digital cloud, spattering every pixel of our monitors.
The first camera phones went on sale in the year 2000. A time when portable telephones were learning how to take pictures seems just as revolutionary in the course of human civilization as was the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press. Most importantly, mobile phones are plugged into the Web – they are similarly able to forward, collect, and sort pictures.
Photographing has become an unconscious habit. Pictures are taken more and more at work, at home, as well as during moments of leisure; before eating and after waking; with selfie-sticks and without. Although it may be a slight exaggeration, one might propose that everything in inhabited areas has now been photographed from all possible angles. Machines now snap photos without direct human supervision, too. For over half a century, we have been enveloped in an ever-densifying cloud of spy satellites. Google Street View cars have been combing the planet since 2007, incessantly taking snapshots in every direction. We encounter innumerable security cameras and surveillance devices everywhere man imagines there to be something valuable.
Over two billion photos are uploaded daily to social media platforms – Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, and Flickr. Statistically each one is viewed (or seen, rather) by 6,666 pairs of eyes, plus an unimaginable number of Internet bots. That makes more than 2,000 visual meetings per day for every inhabitant of the globe. Existing on top of that are television, print media, and advertisements, which shower down everywhere and from every branch of the beanstalk. It’s no longer a picture-storm, and not even a picture-flood. It’s a tsunami.
Processing these data-volumes is beyond any of us; most people aren’t even capable of imagining their extent. All of the photos that have ever been taken and video-streams that have ever been filmed could be assembled into a three-dimensional model of the entire inhabited world – or, if you may, an Aleph. Who might be capable of viewing it all from start to finish is another question entirely.
One may assume that Internet bots are best-familiarized with the current streams of information, and perhaps the only entities acquainted with them in their entirety. Entities, that analyze and systematize Internet content at immense clock rates, second by second. Here, artificial intelligence (AI) and the fears associated with it come into play, because it’s all too easy to imagine a point of singularity, in which AI disappears from man’s event horizon as a result of its unfathomable capability, escapes human control, and conquers. Then, AI will rule the world and, in the best case, ignore the interests of humankind; but in the worst, will use human material as a secondary power source.
There may even be justification for this fear – a self-fulfilling prophecy – for just as we write software, so do we key in our own conceptions of intellect, power, and gains. On the other hand, artificial intelligence, the goal of which is to rule the world and realize its own interests at the expense of common interests, does not seem all that intelligent. Intellect would realize that this would not be the ruling, but rather the enslavement of self-interests. Secondly, intellect would understand that this is not perpetual, but only temporary. If, however, artificial consciousness does not proceed along the given train of thought, then we must acknowledge that a sick consciousness was formed: we tried to create artificial intelligence, but ended up with artificial psychosis.
There is always the chance that man will nevertheless not structure a super-brain according to his own monomaniacal crazes, and artificial consciousness will be quite intelligent. An asinine fun-house mirror will be possible then, also – the program and programmer failing to understand each other. Humans, led by their fears and prejudices and failing to comprehend the fast-developing machine’s conceptual model, interpret artificial consciousness’ selfless motives as selfish, attempt to stop it, and thus merely embark upon their next execution.
Or perhaps artificial consciousness will not be constructed, but will develop on its own, instead – stealthily and independently. Steven Shaviro writes of artificial intelligence as a self-forming quality of a sufficiently dense system of contact networks. When network density exceeds a critical limit, it will initiate its own logic and achieve spontaneous consciousness.
Even in the case of such a scenario, it is easy to imagine man and machine failing to find a common language, which will lead to more confusion than cooperation.
However, this all becomes truly funny when it dawns upon someone in Tartu or Silicon Valley that a direct tap into the nervous system could replace our tiring tapping on tiny telephone screens. Communication would suddenly be total – all the databanks around the world would no longer be a mouse-click away, but right here within us. Not reality, but rather man turning virtual. The idea is horrifying, but tempting. The whole of human experience could be yours if you can only manage to balance on the razor-thin edge of consciousness. Omnia mea mecum porto. Surfing the tsunami requires a fair amount of effort, but I fear that sensory enjoyment is worth it. With this direct connection, the world could be viewed through the eyes of absolutely anyone; you can be in Borges’ Aleph and experience anything your heart desires. It probably won’t be long before most people will have equipped themselves with this kind of an interface.
If this were to develop, we would begin to perceive one another with ever-greater immediacy in a directly connected network. In all honesty, we currently can’t even imagine how it would all work, exactly. When contact-density overwhelms us, when there are so many network connections between us and connection speeds swell so high that a new type of self-consciousness forms, then a different kind of ego will form – one that intersects with all other egos; one, which is both “I” and everyone else. Thus, an entirely new entity will evolve: shared consciousness instead of artificial consciousness.
The development of shared consciousness would be an immense leap. Not a technological or intellectual leap, but rather an evolutionary one comparable more to the development of language than the invention of Gutenberg’s press. The consequences that this leap would entail for our modern-day systems would probably be calamitous, but perhaps also quite fantastic for humanity as a whole. Shared consciousness would change our primary profile as a species, as well as our relationship with the biosphere. We would evolve into a rhizomic colony; a transsubjective superorganism with a heart everywhere and skin nowhere. It’s not inconceivable that such a being would be capable of finding a more balanced relationship with the environment, and would perhaps even survive.
It’s quite difficult to imagine this kind of a transsubjective subject. Shared consciousness is inaccessible by our usual conceptual glossary. What is it? Where is it? Whose consciousness? What will become of pronouns? How will sexual behavior change? How will we be able to tell reality and imagination apart? Most of the fundamental concepts of our civilization will have to be re-thought from square one. Ego? Ownership? Freedom? The situation becomes especially complex when we consider dualist pairs such as body and spirit; objective and subjective; cause and consequence. Many things will need to be renamed.
Our entire legal system and some institutions that are the glue of society will face the greatest destruction. It will be very difficult to compare private interest with common interest in shared consciousness. In a way, we would all become equal shareholders in all the corporations of the world: who would be competing with whom? We would need to come up with a completely new form of economy. Synapses would still want coffee and candy, naturally.
I sit here in a jungled terracotta café in the Old Town of Chiang Mai, striving to envision a networked shared consciousness; to grasp what it might feel like to be interconnected with all other consciousnesses. I’m not at all certain that the nodes of such a network would be conscious of their own existence. It’s more likely that self-consciousnesses would dissolve into a wider-reaching resonance. And all in all, who would gain awareness of their state of connectivity with all other consciousnesses? An immense fractal wave comes to mind – something akin to a mandala stretching into infinity. Thus, Aleph could experience Aleph.
A question is left unanswered: will, perhaps, the system for administering transsubjective shared consciousness be tempted to slip to the other side of the point of singularity, and start to simply utilize humanity as raw material? A neuron broth? A resource for cabling or energy? If we are incapable of releasing the hierarchical and monomaniacal model that has become dear to us over the centuries, then this is entirely credible. Islam and Christianity both (with gracious help from the Kremlin) go to great pains to distort populist online-fascism into especially disgusting forms on social networks. The process has escalated quite rapidly. The monomaniacal market-fundamentalist economic model has always been more than ready to devour any other alternative model of development.
However, there also exist different younger, decentralized, and eccentric network structures. The system can administrate itself; the administrator can scatter itself across the entire system, reflecting fractally into all nodes. Blockchain, which is a new type of database developed by bitcoin, mirrors all completed transactions into all connected accounts. This system has no need for a central bank and voids fears of falsification. In order to falsify one transaction, it must be falsified in all connected computers, because every network node contains a copy of everything contained within the network. Thus, falsification becomes hopelessly ineffective, and the possibility of inside information collecting in any one hand is ruled out, likewise. Yet, this is only the beginning – beta versions are still feeling their way forward. In principle, there are prospects galore for decentralizing our civilization.
Yet, if the system is completely decentralized and collective, then mightn’t we come down with illnesses all too familiar from our experiences with collectivism – i.e. laziness and idiocy? Just look at what television is used for today, not to mention the Internet. A colossal amount of hardware- and network capability is spent on shooting up other Doom players in real time with millions of colors and stereo sound. It’s spent on shared media, where members of a couple of neo-Nazi chatrooms taught a newborn chatbot to speak racist language in under a day’s time. In networked shared consciousness, will the democratic majority’s mass really drown the entire system in cheerful idiocy? Why on Earth are we using the software-development resources of the e-state for keeping the Enlightenment-era conception of a fantastic state alive, instead of seeking more promising and up-to-date models for determining the wisest ways to act in a networked society?
If we give serious consideration to shared consciousness, then we easily arrive at the question: What is the point of doing it at all without other beings? The family dog could offer quite a few eye-opening ideas if we’re able to find resonance with its consciousness by way of some trick. The same goes for migratory birds. And trees. And mosses. Shared consciousness would probably grasp that our primary common interest is to start healing the biosphere as fast as possible, and it would also be capable of reacting to that knowledge. It is within our human means to establish at least the preconditions for restoring balance, but if we do not, then we will have to disappear from the stage momentarily. Therefore, in our present situation, it’s not unwise at all to ponder how we might share consciousness with other beings; how we might start a conversation with a flying squirrel. We could start by observing how the whole thing works for other beings.
A number of forms of shared consciousness in the animal kingdom have been documented in relatively great detail. For instance: in 1930s England, milk would be delivered to people’s doors early every morning in bottles covered with an aluminum-foil lid. In 1938, one clever Southampton Eurasian blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) realized that the aluminum foil could be pierced with its beak, allowing it to secretly enjoy the treat. The information spread like wildfire across all of England (even though blue tits are a location-loyal species with a small radius of movement), then across the sea to the Netherlands, resulting in ever more blue tits flying around with milky whiskers. Law-abiding Brits called the police to the scene every time, and using police reports from the era, Rupert Sheldrake has composed detailed cartography of the explosive dissemination of blue tits’ inside-information.
A pragmatic would say that tits are a flocking species and simply copied what the cleverer of them accomplished first. However, the story does not end there. In World War II, glass bottles would explode during bombings, so milkmen started delivering their product in aluminum containers and tits were forced to find a new snack. Milk distributors returned to using glass bottles only in the late 1940s, by which time the last tits with pre-war experience had long since become compost. One might suppose that their valuable knowledge would have disappeared. However, police reports show that as soon as the return to good old aluminum-foil-capped glass bottles was made, the tit population descended upon milk bottles as if they had been attending regular training seminars in the intervening years.
Still, the grandest portals of shared consciousness exist all around us and right under our noses – in forests, for example. The research of Suzanne Simard and L. J. Philip Simard has gained much attention over the last few years. Specifically, the two measure and describe the communication and material circulation between tree species. In areas of mixed firs and birch, the separate species mutually support each other, and the flow of nutrients is re-channeled towards the greatest need several times over the course of a year. Prior to leafing, it is routed from firs to birches; at the peak of summer photosynthesis, it switches from birches to shaded firs; and in Fall, it is directed once again from the firs to birches shedding their leaves. Mediating this process is a fungal network interspersed throughout the trees’ roots: the trees and fungi form a dynamic, cooperating system. Myorrhiza functions as an inter-tree cable network that resembles the Internet.
If we compare the human race with clusters rooted deeply in nature, then one is left with the impression that man is a failed species, which has managed to beach itself on the shore of oceans of shared consciousness. The adoption of language and writing have explosively widened our communicative abilities, but have constricted our access to shared consciousness – call it telepathy, collective unconscious, or morphic resonance. People did once speak the language of birds. To paraphrase Margus Ott: consciousness is everywhere. Consciousness, just like energy, is neither created nor lost. It transforms. This happens even when we construct a machine or assemble a system of switches, which in addition to reasoning has free will and the ability to perform independent acts – this is nothing less than the transformation of consciousness into a new form. Shared consciousness is nothing new, cybernetic, cultural, or reserved for man, but rather a fundamental quality of the world that surrounds us from every angle. It is not discovered, but re-discovered, and we will be taught how to act within it.
Submerging in the shared field requires effort and discipline, but is worthwhile. Whereas a transistor has only two possible modes – on and off – a neuron has close to a thousand variations. This makes us humans a highly flexible system, if we can only be bothered to implement it. Shared consciousness may be entered with a sparking, instantaneous connection like satori; it can be entered gradually and along a winding mountain path like in a Chinese Indian-ink painting; or it may shoot from one fractal floor to the next by way of quantum leaps. We do not need microprocessors made out of nerve-fibres, touch-sensitive necklaces, diver goggles, or data gloves to see the mirroring of private- and public interests and to cooperate in the interests of common goals. Good intention, curiosity, and the ability to see ourselves through others’ eyes will suffice.
In our civilization, individualism has arrived at a frivolous extreme where one percent of humanity controls the interests of over half the planet. At the same time, giant global corporations are buying not only laws, but also governments and presidents; are safely nestled into package-based Panama tax havens; and search for legal justifications for purloining water supplies in addition to light and air, or even spraying entire agricultural regions with poison. The greed with which we are pillaging the biosphere is insanely wide-reaching; market-fundamentalism is running amok and aims to transform a whole planet’s worth of organic materials into anorganic ones – plastic bags tumbling across concrete fields – as fast as it can.
When the oscillation has reached its maximal position, it will inevitably start descending towards the other side. The laws of nature will force humankind back into the gully of our capacities as a species. Since, in the bondage of private interests, we will be able to go no further, we will turn curiously towards common interests. Over the last two hundred years, some forms of slavery (having one or many wives, running plantations, keeping serfs or black slaves) have become highly unpopular at the same time as other forms of slavery (weighty loans issued to young families, insurance, and usury) are just getting started. Revolutionary processes are not one-directional – they pulse. We gain consciousness of the manner in which everyone alive is enslaved only gradually – bit by tiny bit. We can hardly grasp even a fraction of the havoc we have wreaked, but even that picture is as terrifying as can be. The system of values upon which this ravaging is founded is similarly cruel and demented.
The last few centuries can be deemed apocalyptic – the agonized and theatrical collapse of our wide-blanketing basic principles has been long, painful, embarrassing, and may indeed be likened to the end of the world. At the core of this apocalyptic culture accelerated by modernism is collapse, the sanctifying of collapse, the demonization of collapse, and obsessive questions – What collapse is it? Where did it come from? Is there a way out, and how? It is a polemical, provocative, conceptualizing, and inclusive culture prone to protest, interfering, and chastising.
I am tired of this culture. I don’t see much of a point in the modernist, or even the post-modernist strategy; the collapse cannot be mended, and demonstratively posting it on a wall or wearing it on one’s chest is not an especially wise act. The endless deconstruction of the collapse won’t help us going forward either. Shaking the decaying corpse is a futile act directed solely at ones self. I yearn for a different culture – a kind that is not social-critic or topical; that does not instruct or re-narrate. One that strives to understand something other than itself and stretches to reach philosophical questions; to extend out to questions of knowledge, space, and time. A culture that considers millennia and leaps; that wonders what to do after the collapse.
The outcomes of undertakings by artists, philosophers, dancers, or researchers – sensory-workers in no matter what field – could foremost include unpredictable developments that widen the bounds of cognition. Our grant-based culture does not allow for this. Before going to work and while still in the grant-writing process, the capitalist artist has to know in advance the goal of the project and that, which he or she would like to achieve. The goals are later compared with the achievements, and if they do not overlap, then the grant money is cut off. This type of culture is hopelessly futile, can be viewed on-demand from a glossary of clichés, and is as predictable as an Excel table. If anything new and surprising actually does arise from such red tape, then it is solely a result of the draft-applicant’s trash.
In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pentalogy, he introduces the Deep Thought supercomputer, which was built by a pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent species of beings. After 7.5 million years of calculation, the computer produces the Answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything: 42. Alas, no one can remember what the original “ultimate question” was, and Deep Thought itself is unable to re-construct it.
Therefore, a new type of biological hyper-computer is built and tasked with extracting the original Ultimate Question. On this occasion, the planet Earth is the computer (designed by Slartibartfast, who, incidentally, won a pan-galactic award for the Norwegian fjords) and the human population is the matrix for computation. The pan-dimensional, hyper-intelligent beings direct the project in the form of white lab-mice. Everything runs smoothly for millions of years, but shortly before the answer is produced, the planet is destroyed by another department in order to clear way for a hyper-spatial bypass. Shit happens.
Translated by Adam Cullen
 Jorge Luis Borges. The Aleph and Other Stories, Editorial Losada 1949
 Jack Paglen, Wally Pfister, Transcendence, Warner Bros, 2014
 Steven Shaviro, Connected, or What It Means to Live in the Network Society, University of Minnesota Press, 2003. P 117
 The proliferation of SIM cards can be viewed in real-time at https://gsmaintelligence.com. In the left column is the number of all SIM cards, including those connected machine-to-machine; such as cards for ATMs and security devices. In the right column is the number of unique mobile-telephone users. Four-point-seven billion is over half of the planet’s population. This is impressive, especially considering the vast poverty of the most densely-populated regions.
 The Wachowskis, The Matrix, Warner Bros., 1999
 Dave Eggers, The Circle, Alfred A. Knopf/McSweeney’s Books, 2013.
 Tayward Youth, “Who turned Microsoft’s chatbot racist? Surprise, it was 4chan and 8chan”. http://fusion.net/story/284617/8chan-microsoft-chatbot-tay-racist/
 Rupert Sheldrake, The Presence of the Past.
 Suzanne Simard, Mary
Austin, “The Role of Mycorrhizas in Forest Soil Stability with Climate Change”,
Climate Change and Variability,
Suzanne Simard (Ed.), 2010.
L. J. Philip Simard; M. D. Jones, “Pathways for belowground carbon transfer between paper birch and Douglas-fir seedlings”. Plant Ecology & Diversity, 2010.
 Margus Ott, Filosoofilised esseed, 2015, p 128
 According to the 2015 OXFAM Inequality Report, the richest 1% of the population owns the same amount as everyone else combined. https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2015-01-19/richest-1-will-own-more-all-rest-2016
 Commentary by Margus Ott: “It fits wonderfully with the ideas of Chinese Legalism: according to their teachings, one primary method of governance is the fitting of title and reality. For example, a ruler must allow a subordinate to say something, and then observe whether he does exactly that. If he does less, then he must be punished; if he does more, he must be punished, likewise. A job title and its jurisdiction must also be in exact accordance. One classic story of this is found in Chapter 7 of the Han Feizi: Han Dynasty Marquis Zhao imbibed heavily, fell asleep, and upon waking up discovered that someone had laid a cape over him. He was pleased, and asked who did so. Your hat-bearer, they replied. The marquis was enraged and ordered punishments for both his hat-bearer (for having overstepped the bounds of his competency) and his cape-bearer (for not having fulfilled his duties).” – excerpt from personal correspondence.