Crinoid fossil in the rock, St Donats. Photo by me, 2016
Having relied so much on wifi to express my love for family and friends recently, I have been considering the comparative values of the internet. By extension, I have realised I am considering the worth of the inanimate; the cables, the silicon chips, and the raw materials like oil and copper derived from Earth’s rocks and deep wells that constitute much that is ‘man-made.’
I watched the film “Her” recently. The story-line centres around a man falling in love with his artificially intelligent operating system with female voice called Samantha. ‘She,’ meanwhile, is learning the meaning of human relationships and love. Hardly an obvious connection to the axiology of geodiversity, but amid the interplay of fictional characters, I realised that the hardware (and therefore the rocks), were integral to Samantha’s developing personality, her consciousness. She seemed not to represent anything artificial in this sense, but something more tangible. Ourselves.
Nearly 3.5 billion users globally connect to the internet (and to each other), every day, and these blistering connections constitute not only a new era in technological communication, with issues of equity and speed of access also prescient, but perhaps a kind of manifestation of human intelligence outside of our physical bodies.
If all humans dropped their devices and switched off the energy sources, the internet would quickly become inert, of course ~ just a series of cold cables and silent mainframe computers. But the same could be said of ourselves when we die. Cut off our energy sources and what is left? Our bodies, as biological husks, would revert to dust to become part of the biosphere’s elemental flows or absorbed into other organic life forms. There is a difference, of course, in the internet’s favour. A dormant internet has potential to be re-energised and operated once more given restorative maintenance and materials. We humans, so far, cannot be brought back to life.
The internet forms a kind of protection in unifying those with a cause, although it is fallible without policing, abused by hardline capitalists, malicious hackers and in hiding evils. None-the-less, billions of connections are made every second. How could consciousness exist within the system, when the materials used to transmit information and data around the globe are perceived widely as inanimate and simply tools? There must be more to it.
There is something of an extension of ourselves in the mass of cables stitched across Earth. Our personalities, our consciousnesses flow through the ether, as Einstein would have it, a fabric woven of both matter and time. Make a gesture, and like ripples, you’ll find union of consciousness with others and in some form, by an extension of your thoughts and physical touch. All things are connected.
My brain formulates a thought, which I communicate through using my body to type (or speak), into my electronic device. It is translated by the computer into bytes and pulses sent along through wireless (radio waves), cable and mainframe until it reaches my friend’s computer and translates into typed words, which can be displayed and then read by his eyes and transmitted to his brain. Brain to brain. The brain is a powerful organ and is constantly filling in gaps, a pseudo-reality of company in the absence of direct contact. Instead of the handwritten ink words of a paper letter, that we may touch, smell, even taste, we now have an exchange of photographs, text, even video to facilitate the brain in strengthening connections. Our imaginations do the rest. Perhaps in future, all our senses will find ethereal connection. Mind altering stuff.
The Ghost in the Machine, or the replacement of ones own being, even temporarily, into radio waves and electrical impulses reminds me of the Theseus Paradox, an ancient thought experiment. Plutarch asked whether The Ship of Theseus (restored by replacing all single wooden parts), remained the same ship. Does an object, or ourselves transmitted digitally through the ether, with all parts replaced over time, stay fundamentally the same object/subject? Heraclitus looked at this question by asking whether one may step into the same river twice. There is a unity of opposites. Hegel similarly wrote, “Identity is the identity of identity and non-identity.” Is the fossil in the rock still a crinoid? Could we be ourselves and, at the same time, not ourselves, because we are also the cables, the mainframes, the rocks?
And more, there is an extension of the self and community, like the mycelium hyphae connecting trees of the wood-wide-web. Laptops, routers, cables and mainframe computers may not contain our DNA, but they contain our social evolutionary equivalent, our inventive fingerprints, broadcasting seeds of thought through ripples of nutritious data potentially for the collective good.
I wonder how all nature, if it were somehow plugged in to our internet, The Ghedeist in the Machine, may gain or lose from this intense stream of information. I have a bold suspicion that we humans would gain far more from the sum of other life-forms than we could ever offer. But the rocks themselves, in situ, the geo-diverse epochs of formation and incremental movement, might well be one of nature’s original foundations for exchange of information. Heat, static electricity, H2O, sounds ~ all transmitted through rock, our species requiring high-tech gadgets to perceive, though other life-forms may well already have the biology to sense. There is so much we do not yet know.
Let me bring in again the concept of Albrecht’s ‘Ghedeist’ and whether it is life alone which constitutes ‘aliveness’ as interconnection or whether there are what are considered inanimate (by Western standards), elements integral to it. If all life ceased, and what is left are rocks, would a universal Ghedeist still exist? On the basis that the rocks have the potential to hold a form of our consciousness, our identity and non-identity as one, and could possibly already be integral to the consciousness of other life forms, I have come to the conclusion that it would.
This has been a revelation to me, because so far I have only found solid reason enough for inherent value of life. That we are made of ‘inanimate’ star dust has always to me been fascinating, yet secondary, in that the inorganic could not merit the same hierarchy of value as a miraculous collection of evolved cells and life-force that constitutes an individual being. I still cannot assert that I would ever choose bare rocks over existential life, if there was ever the slightest cause to make that choice. I can’t simply let go of my biocentric leanings. Life and the will to flourish, both individually and collectively, is miraculous and precious. But neither can I now detach from the idea that rocks are integral, not simply utility, to our existence and consciousness, old and new, even via the food and water we absorb. There is a profound intrinsic worth in the inert and alert. All is the Ghedeist. Even the internet, when we connect for the common good.
There seems purpose in the formation of phenomena, dynamism and pattern in the natural laws that appear to count (so far) as universal. So much is invisible to our senses and, perhaps, even more to our technologies. But there is deep interconnection and runs unbroken if the spirit of the advancement of co-existence and evolution of all species on Earth is conserved and protected. Conflict and disturbance, we know, may result in evolutionary traits emerging and surviving. One cannot assume that all life will ever be at peace. But what we may find is that, as the Ghedeist flows, and we are fully connected with and aware of it, there will be less suffering. And so, more on this from me, in time.