I’ve only just begun reading Michael Chorost’s new book World Wide Mind: The coming integration of humanity, machines and the Internet, but I’m already struck by something wonderful that gave me chills. From page 27:
A brain-to-brain communications technology would change all that. It would reveal some of a person’s “interior” to the collective…And if one saw groups moving in perfect synchrony to accomplish an object, unrehearsed, without orders, one might begin to believe that they have a consciousness independent of each individual’s objectives. If you knew where your friends were by using the same parts of your brain that track where your arms and legs are, and if you could coordinate your motion with them when needed, then your friends would feel like a part of your body. You would remain an individual, but you would have a new status as an integral part of a group.
I had to put the book down right there and think for a minute because it was giving me chills, in a good way.
A lot of people have been discussing the differences between left and right brain lately, but most all of it in a very superficial way, i.e. left brain people are methodical, right brain people are artistic, etc. But the real distinction between left and right brain functionality is how the different hemispheres either create boundaries between individual objects, or dissolve boundaries into a sea of existence. In Jill Bolte Taylor’s incredibly famous speech at TED, she discusses the experiences that she has since she experience a stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Near the end of that video she delves into the immersive experience of the right brain, becoming one with everything. Though, the Symphony of Science version of her speech has been stuck in my head for days, particularly when Jill says “and it explodes into this enormous collage.”
If this process of developing a technologically induced group mind does come to fruition, I see the potential for having massive amounts of reconnection with the right brain. In our current state of mind, we are all individuals, we are all separate. This is a product of our left brain putting everything and everyone into their own little boxes, with their own little labels. The right brain puts all those labels and divisions aside, and unifies everything.
This could be wonderful, or absolutely horrifying. It’ll probably be somewhere in between. Though most science fiction tends to lean on the side of horrifying. I could easily name several examples, though the most glaring one is from the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Throughout the course of the series about giant robots powered by children who fight angels, you start to discover that there is a deeper purpose to these fights. NERV was created to further the Human Instrumentality Project, which ultimately sought to break down the Absolute Terror field that keeps all life separate from each other. (Trust me, I’m not really giving anything away here). The incredibly surreal finale End of Evangelion shows everyone’s individual physical bodies bursting into a golden primordial ooze, and flowing out across the world. While this would not be the physical experience, it could be the mental experience. Especially if this neurological tech has a deepening effect on the right brain experience of life.