-- / --
This exploration is based on the insight that people doing whatever they are (wherever they are "at") may be embodying a more sophisticated philosophy than those who frame and verbally articulate the issues in philosophical or socio-psychological terms (as in this text). The point may have been best made by Molière for whom Monsieur Jourdain produced prose "sans le savoir". It is a feature of action research.
The focus here is on how people sustain their sense of identity through use of computers. Many aspects of the theme, and the justification for exploring it have been articulated by Sherry Turkle (Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, 1995).That study is not about computers, but about people and how computers are causing them to reevaluate their identities in the age of the Internet. People are using life on the screen to engage in new ways of thinking about evolution, relationships, politics, sex, and the self [review]. What had struck her in an earlier study (The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit, 1984) was that otherwise bright students found no more powerful metaphor for themselves than that of a machine -- a concern that continues to be debated [more]. But what follows might be better understood as Life through the Screen: Engaging Reality through Computer-based Forms.
In this light, the concern here is with a subjective understanding of experienced reality through familiar computer operations. The approach is based on the sense that each feature of computer technology with which an individual is familiar also functions as a kind of cognitive framework or conceptual scaffolding -- a carrier for awareness conditioned by what are effectively the prosthetic features of such technology.
Whilst the exploration is a contribution to the philosophy of cyberspace [see resources], experiential referents have been favoured over explanation, wherever possible -- except in the final discussion.
Starting is the process of coming to consciousness -- typical of waking up. Many computer users have compared this to booting up or rebooting. More could however be made of the paraellels with the sequence of steps through which an individual focuses thinking when coming awake -- namely through what is achieved during the boot sequence to the point at which the operating system is functioning and ready for normal use.
For example, much may depend on whether the user is awakening from a deep sleep -- a process perhaps best compared to a cold boot -- exemplified by recovery of consciousness articulated as "where am I". This would then be contrasted with coming back into focus from dozing or recreational "pause" -- a recovery of focus to be understood as a warm boot or restarting.
The most basic functions of a computer are determined by its BIOS (basic input/output system) which determines what it can do without accessing programs from a disk. Consciousness at its most basic level consists of understandings about oneself, the surroundings and the relationship between them -- perhaps to be recognized as a BIAS (see Axes of Bias in Inter-Sectoral Dialogue, 1993)! It is the software hard-wired onto one's psychologtical motherboard that connects all one's input and output peripherals to one's operating system. As with a computer BIOS, conscious human existance is sustained by its answers to fundamental questions. The BIOS provides a computer with the first bare minimum of information to define itself in relation to its environment through its peripherals. When active (awake), the brain contains consciousness that allows normal everyday awareness. However once the human consciousness comes into action it gradually acquires the ability to generate and substitute an entirely different operating system.
Booting up a computer, by turning the power on, causes it to go through a system boot sequence, controlled by the BIOS that is analogous to the stages of "waking up" -- a term applied by some users in starting a session. Booting up typically includes the following fairly rapid sequence of steps [more], of which the user may not be especially aware -- as is the case when waking from sleep (or in the analogous process of "spiritual awakening"):
|1||The internal power supply turns on and initializes. The power supply takes some time until it can generate reliable power for the rest of the computer, and having it turn on prematurely could potentially lead to damage.||Many have experienced the extreme disorientation of being woken up too suddenly.|
|2||When the reset button is released, the processor will be ready to start executing. When the processor first starts up, it is suffering from amnesia; there is nothing at all in the memory to execute -- a common experience for the waking individual. Processor makers pre-program the processor to always look at the same place in the system BIOS, at the beginning of conventional memory, for the 16 byte address of the boot program to avoid compatibility problems. In the computer BIOS this points to the location in memory of the startup program.||For the individual the corresponding momentary awareness may be of the organized set of modes of awareness at the most abstract level -- such as is indentified in the coding system of the I Ching.|
|3||Power-on self test (POST) -- and if there are any fatal errors, the boot process stops.||Individuals may have a somewhat analogous experience of checking whether they want to wake up. Those recovering from a hangover or jet lag may well decide to turnover and go back to sleep.|
|4||Check for video card and the in-built program and runs it.||For the individual this is the experience of first opening the eyes after sleep.|
|5||Check for other peripheral devices to see if any have a BIOS that may be executed.||Similarly the individual checks the various senses, limbs and organs to activate them and integrate them into awareness. This may involve becoming aware of sounds, taste (especially after a hangover), texture, odour and the condition of limbs (as associated with stretching).|
|6||Display of startup screen.||Similarly the indiviudual acknowledges recognition of the state of being awake|
|7||Extended tests on the system, including the memory count-up test which is seen on the screen.||
The individual checks out basic memories ("who am I", "where am I", etc) and signals any anomalies ("how did I get here", "what is that unrecognizable noise", "who is that next to me", etc).
|8||Performance of "system inventory", doing more tests to determine what sort of hardware is in the system. The computer BIOS also now searches for and labels logical devices (COM and LPT ports).||In the case of the individual, especially one who is prone to ill-health, this is the stage at which tests report answers to the question "how do I feel" -- a check of aches and pains, with an associated "error report". The individual similarly goes through a basic process of getting his or her act together and remebering how to communicate with the environment.|
|9||Detect and configure any Plug-and-Play devices (if these are supported) at this time and display a message on the screen for each one it finds.||For the individual, most peripherals are naturally "plug-and-play". Perhaps this stage could be better understood where the person needs to put on a hearing aid, spectacles or other prosthetic devices (teeth, etc) in order to interface effectively with the environmen|
|10||Display of a summary screen about the system's configuration.||By this stage the individual has acquired a good overall feel for their preparedness to interact with the environment.|
|11||Search for a drive (disk) from which to boot.||In the individual this may correspond to detection of the pattern of language and habits that governs self-awareness and interaction with the environment. This may indeed be associated with a particular "drive", whether associated with food, sex, affection, knowledge, or the like (possibly understood in various Asian cultures as associated with distinct disk-like chakras).|
|12||Acquisition of boot information to start the operating system boot process -- typically found in a boot record on the drive.||In the case of the individual this is the process of detecting the conditioning information associated with the selected drive.|
|13||Booting the operating system on the basis of the detected information -- switching to specified alternates until code is found to take over operation.||In the case of the individual this involves detection of a pattern of habitual behaviour that can subsequently iorganize interaction with the environment.|
|14||In the absence of any detectable boot device, the system will normally display an error message and then freeze||In the individual case this would be associated with either returning to sleep or, in pathological conditions, to catatonia.|
The 14 steps above constitute a cold boot. A warm boot, starting from when the machine is on, normally proceeds directly from step 8. For the individual the latter may pehaps be compared to restarting activity after an extensive recreational pause, siesta or doze.
This is the primary program that runs on a computer in order to provide a platform on which other application programs may be run -- and to ensure that they do not interfere with one another. An operating system is a program that enables the computer hardware to communicate and operate with computer software, performing such tasks as: recognizing input from the keyboard, sending output to the screen, keeping track of files and directories on the disk, and controlling peripheral devices such as disk drives and printers. The operating system also controls user access to the system and its resources. Various types of operating systgem are distinguished: graphical user interface (System 7.x, Windows 98, Windows CE), multi-user (Linux, UNIX, Windows 2000), multi-processing (Linux, UNIX, Windows 2000), multi-tasking (UNIX, Windows 2000), multi-threading (Linux, UNIX, Windows 2000), and real time.
For the individual, the primary operating system may be best understood as the dynamic pattern of rules governing attitudes and behaviour. It is thi pattern that provides the coherence for the variety of activities, mental and otherwise, in which the person engages. It may be described in terms of psychological and mental habits ordering engagement with the environment -- as does Antonio De Nicolas (Habits of Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Education, 2000). Quite different patterns (or "languages") may be used to provide such coherence. These can be distinguished as sets of contrasting ways of engaging with reality, notably as characterized by the patterns favoured by different cultures (see Systems of Categories Distinguishing Cultural Biases, 1993). Such differing approaches can be compared with the radical distinctions made by the fundamental cultural preferences of those favouring Windows in contrast with those favouring Apple/Mac or Unix/Linux [more] -- or between the "open source" programming philosophy and that of proprietary products (see Eric S. Raymond. The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary, 1999).
In the case of the individual these fundamental cultural preferences have perhaps been most usefully explored by Magoroh Maruyama (Mindscapes, social patterns and future development of scientific theory types, 1980; Mindscapes in Management: Use of Individual Differences in Multicultural Management, 1994), who identifies fundamental (and quite incompatible) styles of conceptual operation that might be considered analogous to the above-mentioned varieties of computer operating system: graphical user interface; multi-user; multi-processing; multi-tasking; multi-threading; and real-time.As noted b Walter Fritz (Mindscapes): "A mindscape is a way of thinking that affects all our thoughts. It is a strategy that guides the way we select our objectives and how we act to reach them. A mindscape is one or a collection of a few of the most general response rules we have. Magoroh Maruyama coined the word mindscape, to characterize certain general mental methods, but we use it here for all the most general response rules".
Maruyama identifies four epistemological mindscapes, noted below [see comment], and does recognize how the different mindscapes can be present in a given culture (suchj as the Japanese). But he does not appear to have addressed the ways they can be co-present in an individual. Suggestions according to that possibility (appended in italics below) would be consistent with the contrasting individual experience characteristic of different epistemological operating systems:
For the individual, each of these might correspond to different personality modes: work mode, recreational mode, inspirational mode, etc. As discussed below, with respect to dual booting, people may be quite unconscious of switching between modes -- although others may perceive
Maruyama's framework has been reviewed by Michael T. Caley Daiyo Sawada (Mindscapes, Creativity and Ecosophy, 2000). In the light of Maruyama's explorations, John Gammack (Mindscapes And Internet-mediated Communication, 2002) provides valuable pointers to implications for an alternative to the homogenization of verbal communication, and potential elements of codes for universal understandings.
Another insight into the individual operating system is provided by neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) [more | more]. This endeavours to assist people to change by teaching them to program their brains -- NLP training provides the instruction manual, namely "software for the brain". NLP is defined as the study of the structure of subjective experience and what can be calculated from that and is predicated upon the belief that all behaviour has structure. The Primary Representational System (PRS) of each person -- a tendency to think in specific modes: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory or gustatory -- is identified (and changed) by by NLP, points to the resemblance to an "operating system" as experienced by an individual. Like the continuing development of computer operating systems, NLP is understood as a constantly evolving set of models, presuppositions, patterns, techniques, and observation-based theories resulting from the study of the structure of subjective experience, behavior and communication. Like the components of such an operating system, it is a collection of suppositions about how the structure of language processing in the human brain effects behaviour, based on a combination of neurological research and somewhat more subjective behavioural research [more]..
Also called a multiboot, an operating system configuration that enables the user to boot the computer system from one of two different operating systems that are both installed on the same hard drive. The operating system that is loaded is given control, typically through a boot management program that will override the original master boot record (MBR) and load instead of an operating system.
In the case of an individual this might perhaps be compared to some forms of schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder (or multiple personality disorder). The latter is primarily characterized by the presence of two or more separate selves within the same body, which may have very different ways of acting, thinking and speaking, and may be of different gender identities, ethnicities or sexual orientations. Depending on the severity of the condition, one personality may not recall incidents that happened when another personality was predominant. Generally, one or two personalities assume the role of frontrunner, performing most tasks in the everyday world, although this does not appear to indicate that they are especially more developed or more "real". Ironically Microsoft has referred to Windows NT as a "multiple personality operating system".
The video display screen is the primary means of observing the operations of a computer and the consequences of interacting with it [more]. The quality of the display, its resolution, is measured by the number of pixels in a given area. A fast refresh rate (the number of times per minute that a screen image is renewed) makes a screen easier to view and is better for the eyes -- as the refresh rate is increased the the image becomes clearer. This contrasts with the appearance of a flicker, flashing, or unsteadiness in an image.
For an individual, the experience of a computer video screen or monitor may be associated with various functions:
Conceptual frames: Some of these functions may be combined. One intentional community, the Institute of Cultural Affairs [collective research], has made very intensive use of conceptual matrices (termed "screens") to select and focus thinking and understanding. Screens may then be understood as ways of framing reality. The question is how such conceptual arrays ("comprehensive screens") function to orient the flows of insights and control messages throughout a community -- or for an individual. For these purposes a screen may be experienced as a compilation of perspectives and models that might, for example, be applied to change management in a variety of ways, some complex and some simple. Typical presentation screens, as recommended by the International Association of Facilitators, include single rating scales as well as two dimension matrix charts on which any two variables may be compared, so relationships are better appreciated. In French, a common expression for such a screen, or conceptual matrix, is a grille de lecture -- especially given the recognition that different styles of learning call for their personalization [more].
Identification: Following the interest of Sherry Turkle (Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, 1995), it is also clear that individuals can live "on the screen" -- as has been the case for decades in the identification with movie content and movie stars. It has become much more evident with "avatars" developed for internet games and virtual world chat rooms. This points to the a contrast between the "superficiality" of life on a surface (reminiscent of Flatland) and the 3D reality of immersive worlds. There is increasing recognition of the ambiguity of functioning in real world mode or in virtual world mode -- and the challenge of which is more "real". The virtual world has a strange resemblance to the discredited magical worldview of peoples of the past -- populated by mythological animals and beings with unusual powers, re-embodied or reincarnated into the 21st century.
Interface: A graphical user interface (GUI) is a form of operating system that uses windows, icons, and menus to carry out commands such as opening files, deleting files, moving files, etc. -- widely used because they are much easier for end-users to learn. I-con***
The interface between real and virtual worlds is exemplified by a particular special effect used in many science fiction movies involving transfer to other realms through a "gate" -- presented as a shimmering, water-like, mirrored surface. For many a screen also functions as a form of gate or gateway. Content regularly updated from the web can be stored on the screen (as an "active desktop"). Similarly links to other virtual locations can be provided through icons there. Touching the screen can then transport the user elsewhere. Many computer users attach importance to the choice of a background image as "wallpaper" for their screen -- or as a screen saver.
Zooming: Used to describe a method of focusing on a section and increasing the overall size of that section allowing the user to manipulate or view it in greater detail. With respect to a GUI window, it refers to the ability of making a window increase in size or occupy the full available area of a computer screen. Making users feel at home in their user interface is important to the development of users abilities to imagine and intuit how the interface will work.
For the individual, as argued by Tim Rohrer (Metaphors we compute by: bringing magic into interface design, 1995), the experience of zooming windows is an extension of the physical world metaphor which draws on the common pattern of feeling we experience when an object approaches. The effect of zooming windows is a deliberate attempt to make that physical metaphor of the user interface include both three-dimensional space and time.
Split screen: Both in nature and in engineering, complex objects are fabricated from a recipe ("how to make it"), not from a picture ("what the finished product looks like"). The "split-screen" metaphor as a modern alternative to WYSIWYG allows the design plans to be edited in one window, with the computer showing the user in real time the resulting product in another window.
In addition to a monitor, peripheral devices attached to a computer typically include keyboard, mouse, printer, CD/DVD reader (and writer), scanner, speakers, microphone, video-camera, and external storage.
The individual can also recognize experience of the world as being channelled through a distinct variety of input/output "devices", namely the senses. For one school of yoga, these channels (indriyas) are distinguished as:
Device drivers: Of particular importance in the addition of a new peripheral devices is the installation of an appropriate driver prorgam to control it. Many drivers, such as the keyboard driver, come with the operating system. Others require a new driver to be installed in order to connect it to the computer. A driver acts like a translator for the device which has its own particular set of commands. Most programs access devices by using generic commands which the driver receives and then translates them into specialized commands for the device. Locating and upgrading appropriate drivers is often a highly frustrating experience for computer users -- especially when compatibility issues are involved.
In the case of an individual, some of the "devices" through which he or she communicates with the world may have their particular challenges -- illustrated by any need for training of the voice, the ear (music), the palate (food), the nose (perfumes), etc. Individuals may become reconciled to inability to use some of these means of communication effectively, or be faced with disorders in their functioning (eye disorders, hearing disorders, erecticle dysfunction, incontinence, etc).
User interface: Apple's Human Interface Guidelines: The Apple Desktop Interface (1987) states, "Use concrete metaphors and make them plain, so that users have a set of expectations to apply to computer environments." The process of choosing interface metaphors -- the "metaphor game" -- is reviewed by Diane Wilson et al. (Generating Metaphors for Graphical Interfaces, 1992).
Lucy Karpen (User Illusion of the Self) points out that many people who work with computers for a long time, particular if they work with the same machine, subscribe a personality to that machine even though the person is aware that the computer is just a dumb machine, a tool, that can only do what it is programed too. The user still insists that the machine has a personality. This phenomenon is often referred to as a user-illusion. The self exists as much as user-illusion exists. This illusion has been explored in relation to all designed objects, notably by Norbert Bolz (The User-Illusion of the World: on the meaning of design, 1998
The user interface is now recognized by computer designers as being primary because, to novices and professionals alike, what is presented to one's senses is one's computer. According to Tor Norretranders (The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size, 1998), the "user illusion", originally identified by Alan Kay (developer of Smalltalk), is the simplified myth everyone builds to explain (and make guesses about) the system's actions and what should be done next. The user illusion, is the picture the user has of the machine. Kay (1990) and his colleagues realized that it does not really matter whether this picture is accurate or complete, just as long as it is coherent and appropriate. It is better to have an incomplete, metaphorical picture of how the computer works than to have no picture at all. So what matters is not explaining to the user how the computer works but the creation of a myth that is consistent and appropriate -- and is based on the user, not the computer... The user illusion is a metaphor, indifferent to the actual 0's and 1's; instead it is concerned with their overall function. The claim, then, is that the user illusion is a good metaphor for consciousness. Our consciousness is our user illusion for ourselves and the world. [more | more]
Syntonicity: The approach above is consistent with the concept of body syntonicity developed by Seymour Papert (Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, 1980), further articulated by Stuart Watt (Syntonicity and the psychology of programming, 1998), whereby an individual takes something as a psychological system rather than a physical one. Watt considers the process of identifying with: the computer, the operating system, the interpreter, the compiler, the language, a program statement or expression (imperative), a program procedure or function (imperative), an object (object-oriented), a clause (declarative), or a process (data flow). The hypothesis is that programs and execution models are at least partly psychological, rather than being purely computational or physical. That is, people think about the behaviour of a program in mentalistic terms, rather than formal, logical, mathematical, or physical ones. The corrolaries are: the more syntonic the programming language, the easier it will be to learn; Execution models will be easier to grasp if people can identify with them.
For Tim Rohrer (Metaphors we compute by: bringing magic into interface design, 1995):
By evoking a pattern of feelings consistent with our bodily experience, the user's imagination is stimulated to investigate how the world -- or the Macintosh desktop -- is a complex web of similarities and differences. Zooming is an excellent example of one of the patterns of feeling the philosopher Mark Johnson calls image schemas. In The Body in the Mind , Mark Johnson defines an image schema as a recurrent motor or visual pattern common to the activities of bodily experience....These imaginative metaphorical extensions of bodily patterns of feeling are what allow our minds to organize the world.... Johnson catalogs a number of different image schemas, including balance (homeostasis, symmetry) and links. Designing user interfaces well requires that designers consider how the image schemas and the patterns of feeling underneath metaphorical conceptualization can be instantiated in the user interface.
Computer metaphor: Turkle studied the way people interact on so-called MUDs or role-playing games on the Internet, in which they play fictional characters in equally fictitious "worlds," created with words. She concluded that these experiences can help people discover a postmodern way of knowing. Just as they recognize that the computer screen is merely a play of surface simulations to be explored, so they come to see reality the same way. This accords with work on metaphor such as that of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Philosophy in the Flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought, 1999). From the perspective of the earlier work of Lakoff and Johnson (Metaphors We Live By, 1980), Turkle's concern is legitimately challenged from the perspective of a programmer: "A metaphor is a context for thought and understanding which has relevant similarities to a target conceptual domain. A 'good' metaphor is easily understandable to the thinker and has similarities to the target domain which are relevant to some pertinent task" [more]. As indicated by Stephen Gislason (The Book of Existence and The Human Mind) with regard to the brain-computer analogy: "At a meta level, the levels of organization in computer systems and the strategies used by programmers provide useful ideas about and metaphors for brain function. After all, it is the human brain that creates computer systems and programs them. We can try to understand the self-reflective and self-modifying features of both brains and computers."
Such a perspective may indeed be consistent with explorations of the proposition, from the perspective of quantum mechanics, that the universe as we know it is not a physical, material world but a computer-generated simulation -- a kind of virtual reality (see Ross Rhodes. A Cybernetic Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, 2001). Behaviour is often described as the computation of a response to a stimulus leading to an extensive exploration of a computer metaphor of behaviour (see P Cisek. Beyond the Computer Metaphor: Behaviour as interaction, 1999; A. E. McClintock and Alexander McClintock The Convergence of Machine and Human Nature: A Critique of the Computer Metaphor of Mind and Artificial Intelligence, 1995). Such descriptions are not the concern here.
The exploration above should not be confused with the debate over whether computers are, or could be conscious. As noted by Michael Travers (Animacy and Computation): "Computer systems in particular are prone to be anthropomorphized, due to their complexity and apparent autonomy...We have seen that animate metaphors and usages play a number of roles in computing: they appear in the discourse of computation as foundational metaphors, in pedagogy as teaching devices, and are taken with various degrees of literalism in interface design and AI. Fundamentally, computers are devices that act, and thus we are prone to see them in animate terms." Travers then goes on to develop a theory of agent-based programming, that is, a model of programming strongly based on animate metaphors [more]. Computers are typically anthropomorphized through marketing and education -- especially when new "personalized" interface metaphors are introduced: "skins", "threads", "assistants", etc.
Computers and understanding: Donald J Cunningham (Metaphors of Mind) endeavours to move beyond the metaphors of "mind as computer" or "mind as brain", building upon the latter, metaphor but moving the mind out of the head and deliberately blurring or obliterating such common distinctions as environment/ individual, inside/outside. and self/other -- namely a metaphor for minds as distributed in social, cultural, historical and institutional contexts. He labels this view as "mind as rhizome" -- a metaphor inspired by Umberto Eco (1984) whom he quotes:
Such a notion... does not deny the existence of structured knowledge; it only suggests that such a knowledge cannot be recognized and organized as a global system; it provides only "local" and transitory systems of knowledge which can be contradicted by alternative and equally "local" cultural organizations; every attempt to recognize these local organizations as unique and "global" - ignoring their partiality - produces an ideological bias."
As a language, computer jargon provides a specially structured way of articulating meaning that is common to millions around the world -- and merits exploration as such. The importance of such a "universal" language lies in its capacity to articulate complex insights that otherwise do not lend themselves readily to being communicated. Computer use may thus be said to provide a metaphor for dialogue about more complex and subtler modes of dialogue.
For Tim Rohrer (Metaphors we compute by: bringing magic into interface design, 1995):
... the aesthetics of user interface design requires thinking about subjective, preverbal bodily patterns of feeling. Thinking about bodily patterns of feeling instead of abstract, symbolic, and verbal communication is at the core of my distinction between feeling-based and conversation-based user interface design. The development of good user interfaces depends on careful phenemonological and psychological research on subjective bodily experiences. To write good user interfaces we must be willing to embody our magic.
Computer use (for those familiar with it) thus functions as a form of conceptual prosthetic -- suggestive of an "assembly jig" for conceptual configuration, a cognitive "exoskeleton", or a carrier wave for understanding. Commentators have made the point that such use offers a surrogate interface with reality. Such use effectively gives the user an operating perspective -- placed in a navigational "driver seat". The user can then manipulate mind-frames as with a muscle-amplifying exoskelton that can be donned or doffed -- whether treating the exoskeleton as an instrument or identifying with it, possibly to a pathological degree in sustaining narcissism [more | more].
The pathological possibility -- of concern to Turkle -- is otherwise explord by psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion (A Memoir of the Future, 1975-79) who repeatedly uses the metaphor of the 'exoskeleton' to convey the gradual acquisition -- through certain kinds of development and an inability to learn from experience -- of an external and inadequate substitute for an internal spine. He speaks of the uselessness of such an exoskeleton in the cold night of one's own truth - or for any purpose other than hiding it [more].
Computers and consciousness: As indicated by Sam Vaknin (Metaphors of the Mind): "The brain (and, by implication, the mind) have been compared to the latest technological innovation in every generation. The computer metaphor is now in vogue. Computer hardware metaphors were replaced by software metaphors and, lately, by (neuronal) network metaphors". John Parrington (Computers and Consciousness, 1996) concludes: "the problem with comparing human consciousness to a computer is that it is based on a gross underestimation of what it means to be human. Computers process information and so do humans, but, whereas that is all that computers do, information processing is only one side of human consciousness. The other side, and the side that also distinguishes us from animals, is that for humans all information is also infused with meaning".
Tim Rohrer (Metaphors we compute by: bringing magic into interface design, 1995) argues that:
Zooming is more than just a nice touch however; it is one of the best examples of how user interface design can draw on common patterns of feelings. Zooming is a pattern of feelings that takes place in and through time; the realization that all feeling takes place in and through time is the most important step in thinking about users' bodies. Part of being embodied is being a creature in time, and being in time is part of what the Cartesian theory of mind and ideas as objective entities hides from our attention.
The philosophical implications of the computer metaphor, and the sense of identity to which it gives rise, have been explored by Philip Toshio Sudo (Zen Computer, 1999) and also by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati (Computers and Consciousness). The latter highlights its merit for distinguishing between various levels of consciousness:
The computer can be used as a modern metaphor for understanding the process of meditation and the levels of consciousness through which one journeys. By understanding these levels or stages, it is much easier to understand how meditation is not used merely as a means of relaxation or psychic experience, but as the means for the realization of the ever pure, ever joyful core of our being, by whatever name you choose to call that center.
The exercise above might possibly be understood as a reflection on the perspective developed in such explorations -- with pointers to further insights. However, unlike these approaches, the concern above is not to frame or explain the experience of computer use as an exemplification of the insights of Zen, Yoga or other perspectives. Nor, however, does the approach seek to support computationalism or philosophical AI (also known as Strong AI), which is the materialist view that all human mental activities are reducible to algorithms, and could therefore be implemented on a computer. This is diametrically opposed to Buddhist philosophy (including Zen), which regards the very subtle mind as a fundamental aspect of reality, not an epiphenomenon of matter. (Mind as Machine - Limits of the Computer Analogy)
For A.Revonsuo (Virtual reality as a metaphor of consciousness, 1996) the present metaphors of consciousness (e.g. Global Workspace, Cartesian Theatre) are seriously flawed, especially as metaphors of the phenomenological level of organization. A better metaphor is virtual reality, namely the state in which there is an experience of presence in, or immersion into, seemingly real perceptual world with which the subject can be in real-time interaction. Immersion and the sense of presence are basic features of the high level structure of conscious experience. In fact, the brain is constantly creating the experience that I am present in a world outside my brain although the experience itself is brought about by neural systems buried deep inside the brain: this is an `out of the brain experience'. The brain is essentially producing a natural virtual reality: the sense of presence in and immersion into the world outside the brain. According to Revonso, this metaphor might provide a unifying framework that catches important aspects of consciousness -- reminding that conscious experience is an internal construction of the brain; that the structure of consciousness tends to have the form "a self in the world"; that the phenomenology of consciousness basically feels like the sense of presence in a reality of some sort. The metaphor preserves the first person's point of view, denies infinite regress, and is consistent with a number of empirical facts.
Reservations concerning what the computer metaphor excludes: Antonio de Nicolas (2000) argues that our culture has, or is about to, lobotomize the human brain through repetition and embodiment, or lack thereof:
What is excluded by the computer metaphor is the "mytho-poetic mind" of the preliterate human. The mind that saw the world from the perspective of the "season" not the flower, the "species" not the individual and gave us the models of the gods being born, rising and disappearing with the season itself. This mind is the mind of the Asat of the Rg Veda, of the geometries earlier than forms; this is the mind Plato tried to save through the exercises of the fourth (memory/imagination)and fifth (experience) in the divided line of the Republic, and Aristotle reduced to the one (name), two (definition), three (theory) -- that subsequent Philosophy followed.
There is a fundamental distinction between a digital computer and an analogue computer. The qualities appreciated in music derive from their analogue features -- however much the music is "digitized". Given the increasing importance of music in society worldwide, the contrasting insights from those of the digital computer are well-highlighted by Antonio de Nicolas (1978):
Therefore, from a linguistic and cultural perspective, we have to be aware that we are dealing with a language where tonal and arithmetical relations establish the epistemological invariances... Language grounded in music is grounded thereby on context dependency; any tone can have any possible relation to other tones, and the shift from one tone to another, which alone makes melody possible, is a shift in perspective which the singer himself embodies. Any perspective (tone) must be "sacrificed" for a new one to come into being; the song is a radical activity which requires innovation while maintaining continuity, and the "world" is the creation of the singer, who shares its dimensions with the song.
For him the world of the digital computer is essentially a language of sight:
Whereas in a language governed by sound:
"Thus, in a language ruled by the criteria of sight, vision may mean the sum of perspectives from which a fixed object can be seen, plus the theoretical perspective of the relationships holding amongst different perspectives of the object, plus the mental acts by which those perspectives, relationships and visions are performed. In any event, the invariant object is the condition for the variations in the meaning of vision. The object is the condition for the variations in the meaning of vision. The invariant object is, therefore, not a reality, but a theoretical precondition (phenomenal or noumenal) for a whole system or method for establishing facts. Therefore, it is no wonder that when people speak of transcendence, within this framework, they are mostly forced to speak in mystical terms of things unseen or unseeable, either in terms of religious experiences, or in terms of modern physics. In a literal sense, in the latter two cases, speech is aboutno things by the same criteria of the speech used to designate things.
In a language ruled by the criteria of sound, perspectives, the change of perspectives and vision, stand for what musicologists call "modulation". Modulation in music is the ability to change keys within a composition. To focus within this language, and by its criteria, is primarily the activity of being able to run the scale backwards and forwards, up and down, with these sudden shifts in perspectives. Through this ability, the singer, the body, the song and the perspective become an inseparable whole. In this language, transcendence is precisely the ability to perform the song without any theoretical construct impeding its movement a priori, or determining the result of following such movement a priori. Nor can any theoretical compromise substitute for the discovery of the movement of "modulation" itself in history. The human body would then be asked to lose the memory of its origins; a task the human body refuses to do by its constant return to crisis. It is up to the philosophers to discover the language ruled by the criteria of sound, rather than presuppose a priori that the only language universally human is the one ruled by the criteria of sight. (1978, p. 192)
Capacity / Performance
Organization / Order
Security / Recovery
Registration / Services
Sys admin (reviewing the whole)
Application / User
emptiness of form
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