“I start with the seedling. I don’t feel I really know the story if I don’t watch the plant all the way along. So I know every plant in the field. I know them intimately, and I find it a great pleasure to know them.” … “I have learned so much about the corn plant that when I see things, I can interpret [them] right away.” Barbara McClintock, A Feeling for the Organism
Word cloud of the past two blog entries created in Wordle.
The mirror of EcoSentience has a shape and a language that is cropping up everywhere. It is the language of visionaries. You’ve seen it before, I’ve seen it before - we’ve been glimpsing it for years. But we are just now beginning to recognize it through a larger context – through our understanding of the emergent global mind.
Our newest visualization technologies are beginning to hold up an accurate reflection of the superorganism of collective thought. These patterns are biological, they are scale independent – the patterns we see when we use our powerful lenses to explore the outer reaches of the cosmos and the inner dimensions of the cell. Visionary language mirrors the history of knowledge, the neurostructure of synaptic behavior, the self-assembly of crowd consciousness, the ubiquitous mobility of swarm behavior, the ephemeral architecture of smart mobs. But it does more – it mirrors the span of self-awareness to mass introspection by engaging our emotional intelligence through the act of seeing our reflection. In the words of biologist Barbara McClintock, it offers us “a feeling for the organism.”
Like Nature herself on the scale of the grand to the invisible, the activity of the global mind is beautiful. The mirror images of self-reflexivity delicately weave a fabric of mind that is, quite simply, gorgeous to behold. It is the gift of visuospatial intelligence, a characteristic mode of thinking that is more prevalent in brains of women, of musicians, artists, dancers – perhaps that is why our visualization technologies have made way for aesthetics relatively early in their decade long evolution – they are ushering in an entirely new artform.
The newest patterns of data and information are not merely stunning - they feel good to look at. This beautifully emergent visionary language is already capturing and rendering the organism of thought, dimension, biology, history, knowledge and time on multifarious scales – for all to see and marvel at. Yet not happy to simply marvel at it as art, we can logically toggle around this language from various scales and points of view to engage in a functional dialogue with its message.
Since I call it a reflection, a “mirror” let’s first look at one instantiation of the reflective organism on the scale of the individual mammal through a special class of neurons called - what else? - mirror neurons. Mirror neurons were proven to exist in the mammalian brain when experiments with macaque monkeys in the late 1980s, demonstrated that the same neurons fired off when they were observing other monkeys doing something they had done before as well as when they actually carried out the action themselves. Hailing these neurons “monkey see, monkey do neurons,” the results of this study ushered in over a decade of new scientific research on the neural basis of social behavior. The mirror neuron system is said to be the core of our empathic response, hence, these neurons are often called “empathy neurons” or “Dalai Lama neurons.” The first introduction to the notion of to mirror neurons actually excites the sociality of our mammalian brains – no wonder the term has caught on as a popular meme for today’s mobile, connected human.
Mirror neurons are currently at the forefront of studies of the neurostructure and the nature of consciousness, at the heart of the latest studies in artificial intelligence, of philosophy, language and theater - and yes, also in advertising (witness the rash of new marketing books such as Buyology whose author Martin Lindstrom unabashedly touts that he uses the discovery of mirror neurons to expose the “hidden truths behind how branding and marketing messages work on the human brain.”)
In just the last few years, neurologist Vilanur Ramachandran linked the improper development and functioning of mirror neurons to the some of the underlying causes of autism. As Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UC San Diego, Ramachandran has been on the leading edge of the intersection of the visual perception and neurology. He is one of the Fathers of the emerging transdiscipline of neuroaesthetics. In Ramachandran’s most recent discussion at Edge.org, he explores what he calls the "Last Frontier of Self Awareness." Mapping function to structure, Ramachandran identifies “touch mirror neurons” to suggest that mirror neurons not only elicit the empathic response, but also play a role in human introspection and self consciousness.
In the same way that Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences arose in the early 1980s from his years of looking at the margins of the human brain – the paradoxical underpinnings of autism and genius – Ramachandran takes case histories of obscure and unusual psychological behavior, from Capgras Delusion to Phantom Limb Syndrome, in order to winnow out significant truths about the behavior of our brains.
We must do the same thing with our first vistas of the emergent global brain as Ramachandran has done with perception and the functioning of the neurostructure. Truth is a liminal thing – it takes place in the margins of self-awareness, in the valleys of thought, in the ambiguous tendrils of idea generation, in the activity of random elements and strange attractors of dynamic systems. Visualization brings to light these compelling designs too, and makes us comfortable with a new kind of pattern language.
Let’s move from this theoretical view above to a visual feast of global consciousness. To do that, my next entry will take us on a little journey through the visual landscapes that make up what I see as a language we can now adopt as a toggling mechanism, a Lingua Franca for the global mind -Visioning the Invisible.
"Mirror Neurons" by Tony DeVarco