Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Way of the Superior Avatar

Are video games a band-aid for our busted souls, or a tool for enlightenment in the digital age?

I wanted to share this post from my main blog GamerThink, let me know what you all think!

A couple weeks ago a friend of mine recommended I pick up a copy of David Deida's The Way of the Superior Man -- it's a self help book on better understanding masculinity, being a good lover/partner (oh la la), and, most interesting to me (sorry lover), discovering and following one's deepest purpose. Deida argues that for a person with a masculine core (90% of men he says) to achieve fulfillment in life the most important factor is aligning oneself with their deepest purpose. I've spent the past few days thinking on this idea, especially considering the ways this drive gets expressed in gaming.

Deida's instructions are pretty simple, basically remove distractions and use meditation as way to unlock one's sense of purpose:

"You stay open to a vision of your deeper purpose by not filling your time with distractions. Don’t watch tv or play computer games. Don’t go out drinking beer with your friends every night or start dating a bunch of women. Simply wait. You may wish to go on a retreat in a remote area and be by yourself. Whatever it is you decide to do, consciously keep yourself open and available to receiving a vision of what is next. It will come."

My first thought after reading this passage was "Wow, is there an inverse relationship between video game usage and having a sense of direction and purpose?" I know for myself, when I get frustrated with a project or am feeling kinda lost in life, that tends to be exactly when I get obsessed with Fallout 2, or SimTower, or whatever I can dig out of my game archive. Sometimes it feels like my purpose is to play video games, but unfortunately that illusion fades pretty quickly under a little introspection. The truth is, most of us struggle with understanding what our deepest purpose is, and many of us haven't even spent much time thinking about it...

Interestingly, video games (narrative ones especially) are awesome models for a purpose driven existence. I'm hard pressed to think of a major game protagonist that wasn't essentially mission driven -- from the perspective of the avatar, there are rarely moments when what to do next hasn't just smacked you in the face. I think this is possibly why video games are so engaging for individuals who may not experience a strong sense of purpose on a daily basis. If it's true that we all (men especially) long for the feeling of having a purpose and following it, it makes perfect sense why video games would be an ideal surrogate for the real thing.

Video games are of course not the first medium to offer this kind of engagement. This process of temporarily adopting a fictional purpose as one's own has been going on since the first story tellers. We do it for entertainment, for distraction, but also for growth. In virtually taking on the identity of a hero, whether through Halo of Homer, we simulate the emotions, thoughts, and beliefs that emerge out of embodying a deep sense of purpose. Video games are arguably the best medium for this process yet invented, so why isn't all our playing turning us into fulfilled purpose driven real world humans? What's the missing link? (No... it's not LARPing).

My theory is that the missing link is self-reflection. Video games invite us to forget our primary identities and needs, and fully take on those of a fictional character. In this way they serve as a diversion from a gnawing truth that haunts most of us: "I am unfulfilled because I am not in touch with a deeper personal purpose". I believe video games could serve as a pointer to this truth as opposed to a distraction from it. The very best storytelling works this way, like a instruction manual for discovering the meaning of life and pursuing it. This exactly how many spiritual texts and myths have 'operated' for thousands of years.

The key element in achieving this positive effect is to incorporate a process of self-reflection into the narrative or game experience. The problem is, when we play video games they become fully subjective experiences, and usually we forget we are playing a game (just like real life). In fact, they are designed with that effect in mind: immersion. And with good reason, it's damn fun to lose yourself in a more fulfilling existence. However, self-reflection, or in other words the process of transcending the subjective and coming to see one's experiences, emotions, and beliefs as separate and distinct from a truer self, is the universal core of spiritual growth and self discovery. It is out of this truer self that the all important sense of deepest purpose emerges.

I deeply believe video games have the potential to engage the player in reflecting on their life (real and virtual alike) by transforming once subjective experiences into something subjective and mutable. In essence catalyzing spiritual growth. In fact, video games are ideally suited to this purpose because of how simple it is to manipulate a player's sense of 'what is real' within the game.

Let me be clear, this is not an argument against designing awesome immersive virtual experiences, rather, it is an invitation to engage the player's awareness on a fundamentally new level. Tibetan Buddhists have trained and used the technique of lucid dreaming for more than 1,000 years in order to achieve this very goal. In a lucid dream, the 'player' is simultaneously immersed in a perfect virtual (biologically, rather than technologically derived) reality while remaining aware that the entire experience is an illusion. This practice is intended to reveal the illusory nature of reality, allowing the player to transcend, what is in truth, a very consistent and persistent dream. By stepping outside this dream individuals connect with the part of themselves that is most real, and in in doing so illuminate their deepest purpose. There are countless practices (meditation, yoga, study, entheogens, prayer) that individuals use to reach this goal, but across many spiritual traditions this process of self actualization is the essence of enlightenment.

The majority of people never 'wake up' from this dream, but I believe video games, as unsophisticated as they might be today, are the ideal platform for catalyzing "enlightenment" on a mass scale. Of course the question remains, how specifically to 'wake the player up' through game design. Thankfully, a number of
great games in the past have achieved this 'effect' to some degree, and I don't think it's a coincidence they are some of the most loved game titles of all time. An analysis of those games, along with some fresh ideas are on their way in future posts.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Computer games that awaken - Part III

In Part II of this series of posts I examined how computer games could be structured so that playing the game would train players to:

· dis-embed from thoughts, desires and perceptions, and come into the present;

· develop the capacity to remain in the present in the face of distractions (including by being given positive feedback on returning to the present after becoming embedded again);

· dis-embed and remain present in the full range of situations and contexts encountered during daily life, including in circumstances that evoke strong emotions;

· use a technique that is highly transferable to ordinary life in order to stay non-attached and in the present (e.g. by dividing attention so that part of their attention rests continually on ‘inert’ bodily sensations); and

· take advantage of dis-embedding by replacing habitual responses with actions that are wiser and more intelligent.

In this post I will look more closely at the potential of computer games to overcome a major difficulty encountered by the spiritual and contemplative traditions: their practices and approaches have been able to produce dis-embedding and awakening ‘on the meditation cushion’, during retreats and in monasteries, but have far less success in the midst of ordinary life. Hence the ubiquity of ‘enlightened’ gurus who can apparently ‘resist temptation’ while meditating, but go on to abuse their followers financially, emotionally or sexually. And skills that are learnt on meditation retreats are generally lost soon after a return to ordinary life.

This difficulty is a major impediment to the future development and evolution of humanity: the serious challenges that currently face humanity require awakening in the midst of ordinary life if they are to be met successfully. The higher capacities that can be accessed by awakened consciousness are essential if humanity is to understand and manage complex environmental, economic and social systems.

In large part this difficulty arises because learning and training is generally context specific. A capacity that is trained on the meditation cushion will not transfer readily to the entirely different context and circumstances of ordinary life. In particular, the nature of the thoughts and emotions from which the practitioner dis-embeds in meditation are different to those encountered in normal life, as are the stimuli that evoke them. Withdrawal from ordinary life to practice meditation makes it much easier to achieve dis-embedding by reducing the intensity of experience, but at the cost of transferability.

Few of the traditions have overcome this impediment by specifically developing practices for use in the midst of ordinary life. Nor have many focused on particular methods for training presence that are highly transferable to ordinary life.

Computer games have particular features that give them the potential to overcome this difficulty. First, because they can simulate a wide range of circumstances, they can train the capacity to come into the present in all the kinds of contexts and situations that are encountered in ordinary life. They also have the potential to train dis-embedding in circumstances that players would avoid in ordinary life (this is very important because until individuals can dis-embed in these circumstances, their behaviour will continue to be controlled by them).

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, games have the capacity to train methods of maintaining presence that are highly transferable to ordinary life. In particular, games can be structured to train players to continually anchor part of their attention on sensations within their body. This ensures that part of the person’s attention is always dis-embedded and free during the events of ordinary life.

But the greatest potential of computer games to overcome this difficulty comes from their ability to operate as an overlay on ‘real life’. This enables a person to play and interact with the game while they are going about their ordinary life. To succeed in the game, players must carry out tasks and meet challenges in the real world.

It is easy to see how such an ‘overlay’ game be structured to motivate and guide players to be present and mindful in the midst of the activities of their daily life. For example, an overlay can:

· treat actions that train awakening as achievements that count towards progress in the game (e.g. actions such as practicing dis-embedding and coming into the present, as well as staying mindful in the face of a wide range of distractions [including remaining mindful while engaging in conversations, social interactions, meetings, playing sport, showering, reading, arguing, watching television, eating, walking in the street, riding in a bus, experiencing strong emotions, and driving a car];

· act as an alarm clock to remind players to come into the present (a major challenge encountered when ‘working on oneself’ in ordinary life is remembering to awaken and practice. The spiritual master Gurdjieff suggested working in groups so that it would be likely that at least one person is awake at any time, and therefore able to wake the others up. Game overlays are a much more effective solution);

· assign tasks and practices to players during the day, and give guidance (the overlay could monitor the state of the player, and allocate practices that are appropriate to the player’s circumstances - e.g. it could require the player to awaken whenever stress levels increase);

· link multiple players in order to use competition, cooperation, social pressure, social approval etc to motivate progress in the game (including to motivate the performance of developmental practices and exercises);

· use bio-feedback and remote monitoring to assess the progress made by players and to inform players of such things as when they have successfully stilled their minds and when they might need to come into the present or perform particular exercises (e.g. because they are experiencing strong emotions); and

· motivate actions and practices that develop collective consciousness, including the instantiation of a global workspace system at a collective level.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Computer games that awaken - Part II

In Part 1, I discussed what ‘awakening’ involves and began to identify the key elements of practices that can train awakening and mindfulness. In this post I will continue this examination in order to see how computer game can be structured so that they produce the same effects as meditation and related practices.

As we have seen, meditation trains the capacity to dis-embed consciousness from thoughts, desires and emotions. It achieves this through practices in which the meditator repeatedly moves attention away from thoughts and desires. But something more is needed if this practice is to train the capacity to move into the present. As well as disengaging attention, the meditator needs to practice moving attention to something that leaves consciousness dis-embedded.

Most forms of meditation bring the meditator into the present by requiring attention to be moved to ‘inert’ sensations. Common examples are sensations of the breath, other sensations within the body, a sound (e.g. a mantra), ritual movements, an object, or a visualization (in some forms of mindfulness meditation, open and non-judgmental attention is given to thoughts and feelings as they arise). To be effective, the sensations must be ‘inert’ in the sense that they do not themselves evoke a train of thought or any desires. Resting attention on sensations of this kind will tend to bring the individual into the present—attention will remain dis-embedded from any sequences of thought or desires.

This ‘mind-stilling’ effect of ‘inert’ sensations explains why we can be brought into the present momentarily by such activities as viewing a sunset, taking a shower, looking at good art, overseas travel, diving into a cold lake, an ‘ineffable’ moment in sport, looking at a beautiful, symmetrical object, and viewing a movie scene that is visually interesting but demands no interpretation. It is also why ‘if you see through innocent eyes, everything is divine’ (for a more detailed examination of ‘awakening’ and how it can be understood in terms of information processing models of brain functioning, see my paper ‘The future evolution of consciousness’).

In summary, the essential elements of meditation are to dis-embed attention and to move it to ‘inert’ sensations or perceptions. If these essential elements are incorporated into computer games, playing the game will train the capacity to awaken and be in the present. Games need to be structured so that to succeed in the game, the player must practice dis-embedding consciousness and moving into the present.

Some existing computer games use bio-feedback to achieve this, at least in a limited and rudimentary fashion. Journey to Wild Divine uses bio-feedback of heart rhythms and skin conductivity to represent the state of relaxation of the player. The game presents challenges that can be overcome only to the extent that the player achieves and maintains a calm state. In a simple example, the player must regulate their level of relaxation in order to levitate a ball on the screen.

Heartmath uses bio-feedback of heart rhythms to train the ability to reduce stress levels, and NeuroSky has developed a headset that monitors brain wave patterns. NeuroSky has created a simple demonstration game that enables a player wearing its headset to push objects such as cars by concentrating on them, and to levitate objects by relaxing.

Using bio-feedback to train awakening has a number of limitations. First, bio-feedback is able to train access to a particular state only to the extent that the feedback is a good correlate of the state. The problem for common approaches to biofeedback is that calmness and relaxation are not a good indicator of ‘being in the present’ in all circumstances. For example, an individual can be in the present even though their body may be manifesting a stress response. Mindfulness and ‘being in the present’ does not involve suppressing normal bodily responses to fear and other emotions. Although individuals who are in the present are not embedded in their responses and so can act more wisely, they still experience their feelings, sensations and emotions fully.

Second, the value of bio-feedback can be limited where the goal of the training is to develop the ability to come into the present in the midst of ordinary life, unaided by any external process. To achieve this, individuals need to learn to discover and use their own internal feedback process. They need to be able to sense something within themselves that indicates when they are in the present. Individuals need to use this internal sensation to practice coming back into the present whenever they find themselves embedded again in thoughts or desires. Games that use bio-feedback should therefore be designed so that players have to learn as quickly as possible to replace external feedback with their own internal feedback process.

An alternative to the use of bio-feedback in games is to incorporate challenges that can be overcome only if the player is in the present and dis-embedded from thoughts, desires, perceptions and other distractions.

For example, the game may be structured to demand continuous, concentrated attention on a particular focal point (at its simplest, this could be a requirement to monitor a particular location continuously). Or it may demand relaxed but continuous attention over a wide field (at its simplest, this could involve a requirement to monitor two or more widely separated locations simultaneously and continuously). In both these examples, the game would be structured so that success would require dis-embedding quickly from any thoughts, feelings or perceptions that interrupt continual monitoring.

This basic framework could be used to train the capacity to awaken in the full variety of circumstances encountered in ordinary life. This would ensure maximum transferability to ‘real life’. In particular, different aspects of a game could focus on training the ability to dis-embed from particular classes of ‘distractants’. For example, the content of a game could be designed to produce various kinds of emotional reactions in players, and to make success in the game depend on dis-embedding from them. This would train the ability to stand outside emotions and implement wiser responses. Different aspects of a game could also be designed to train dis-embedding during each of the key activities in which individuals engage during ordinary life.

Explicit trainings that provide instructions about how to come into the present could be integrated into the narrative of games. For example, the game could provide guided meditations at appropriate points.

As is necessary for games that use external bio-feedback, it would be important to design these games so that players develop their own internal feedback processes for maintaining presence. A key goal would be to train players to always rest part of their attention on bodily sensations while engaging in an activity. This would ensure that attention does not come to be fully embedded in the activity. The part of the player’s attention that is rested on bodily sensations is always dis-embedded. Dividing attention in this way ‘anchors’ the individual in the present.

Once games dis-embed players, they can also train them to reflect on their thoughts and emotions, realize the limitations of their habitual responses and devise wiser ones. Story-based games that immerse the player in a complex quest are particularly suited to this approach. The game can be structured so that the players’ desires, values, beliefs, thought processes, unconscious motivations or other predispositions limit their ability to succeed in the quest. To proceed further, players must reflect on their predispositions, recognize the limitations of their previous approaches, and attempt to free themselves from them. Dis-embedding combined with reflection can rapidly develop meta-cognitive skills and emotional self-regulation. In this way, computer games can provide the same kind of learning that is experienced by the hero of mythology in his journey of self-discovery.

In Part III we will look at how computer games that operate as an overlay to ‘real life’ can be structured to guide and motivate awakening in the midst of ordinary life. We will see how they can overcome many of the difficulties encountered by previous approaches.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Media and Why We Buy

Here's an interesting article that just came out in the Times on image, priming, self, etc. as they relate to desire -

Also, for those that are not aware, TSC has a NING site up at Please participate and add your abstract to your profile! If you read the Times article, I suppose I should post a picture of someone of the opposite sex before making the request!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Computer games that awaken - Part 1

In previous posts I have discussed how computer games can be structured to make the acquisition of skills enjoyable and relatively effortless. In this post I will explore their potential to train the capacities that are generally associated with spiritual development.

More specifically, I will examine whether computer games can be designed to produce the same kinds of effects as meditation. Are computer games able to motivate and guide the kinds of practices that awaken human beings? Does the ability of computer games to overlay real life give them the potential to motivate the practices needed to awaken us in the midst of ordinary life?

These are critical issues for humanity at present. We are in great need of the capacities that are claimed to be produced by spiritual development and meditation. These include: access to ‘higher mind’ (including access to wisdom, intuition and other capacities that are essential for understanding and managing complex environmental, economic and social systems); the capacity to free oneself from the dictates of negative emotions and motivations (e.g. the ability to ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘resist temptation’ at will); and the ability to experience life from a position of stillness and peace, without stress.

However, it is evident from the dearth of enlightened ones amongst us that the spiritual and contemplative traditions do not often succeed in developing these capacities in their adherents. Only rarely do the practices and approaches they recommend succeed in producing these capacities to a significant degree. The traditions themselves acknowledge the difficulty in achieving spiritual development (for example: many are called, but few are chosen; the gate is small and the way is narrow; the path to salvation is like walking a razor’s edge; reaching enlightenment takes many life times; and seekers must work so hard that the soles of their feet sweat).

Do computer games have the potential to change this? Can they guide and motivate practices that will develop these higher capacities? Could they play a major role in awakening humanity? If the potential of computer games is fulfilled, will a new type of human enter history and evolution?

To address these issues, we first need to understand what ‘awakening’ is, and how meditation and related practices can train it.

It is useful to compare the ‘awakening’ of consciousness with awakening from a dream. While in the midst of a dream, we are embedded in it. We are unable to see that our behaviors in the dream are restricted and limited. We cannot ‘stand outside the dream’, think about and reflect upon how we behave in the dream, and see that our actions ignore many factors that we would normally take into account.

In contrast, when we awake from a dream, our consciousness is no longer embedded in it. Consciously we ‘stand outside’ the dream and we can think about and reflect on our actions during the dream. We can see our actions in a wider context and consider alternatives and their consequences. We can see immediately that the way we behaved in the dream was often absurd in this wider context.

Awakening in the midst of ordinary life is an exactly analogous process.

In ordinary life, we are embedded almost continually in our desires, perceptions, emotions and thought processes. In particular, we generally do not consciously ‘stand outside’ our desires and emotions. We do not consciously choose our likes and dislikes. Nor can we choose freely to move at right angles to our motivations and emotions. We cannot effortlessly ‘turn the other cheek’.

Nor do we have a well-developed capacity to stand outside our thinking as it proceeds. We tend to be embedded in and attached to our thoughts. We have some capacity to think about our thinking, but when we do, we are embedded in our thinking about our thinking. We have little voluntary control over whether our mind is occupied by thought or not. We cannot still our minds at will and just ‘be’ in the present.

Because we are almost continually embedded in thought and desires, we are not aware that we are embedded in them. As when we are dreaming, we are not aware that there is a state of greater consciousness and awareness that we are missing. Our consciousness is fully occupied by our incessant thinking and feeling, so there is no awareness left over to see our thinking and feeling in a wider, wiser context.

This is perhaps the biggest impediment to the further development of consciousness in humans. It prevents us from seeing the limitations of our existing state.

However, when we are awakened and come into the present, thinking and emotions no longer crowd out our access to intuition and wisdom. Once consciousness is free from absorption in thought and feeling, we experience consciousness as being more spacious and perceptions as being more vivid. We also experience peace and centeredness because our attention is no longer continuously jerked out of the present by desires, emotions and thinking. But this does not mean that we repress our emotions and feelings when in the present. They continue to arise and we experience them fully and vividly. But we are no longer embedded in them – they do not dictate our behavior, we can reflect on them freely, and can respond wisely rather than habitually.

How can we train ourselves to awaken in the midst of ordinary life and to stay awake at will? The spiritual and contemplative traditions have developed a wide range of practices that are claimed to do this. And they have an extraordinary array of explanations and theories about why their particular methods are effective.

But most of their practices, including most forms of meditation, include a simple but powerful training process. Most practices train the ability to dis-embed attention from thought and desires. They require the practitioner to repeatedly take attention away from thought processes and from desires and emotions as they arise.

At first this training has little effect: individuals spend nearly all their time embedded in thought and desires, as usual. But gradually the practice trains the ability to spend at least small amounts of time in the present, with attention dis-embedded.

In Part II of this series of posts I will look in greater depth at the essential elements of this form of practice, and consider how they can be embodied in computer games. We will see how computer games are not limited to producing states of absorption and immersion. They can also train us to be more aware and conscious.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Evolution: the greatest game of all

I concluded my previous post with a brief discussion of strategy-based simulation games.

These games motivate players to find out for themselves how complex situations respond to their actions, interventions and strategies. Complex circumstances that can be simulated by games include any aspect of everyday life (including social interactions, goal setting, and ethical and moral choices), environmental systems, societies, economic arrangements, and political and governmental systems. To succeed in the game, players interact with the simulation to learn the consequences of various choices and actions.

Strategy-based simulation games are particularly suited to exploring the emerging evolutionary worldview. This new worldview locates humanity in a much larger evolutionary process that has a meaningful role for us. It therefore is central in providing science-based answers to the ‘big questions’: What are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going to? What should we do with our lives?

Evolutionary science is developing an understanding of the universe that makes sense of human existence. Far from being a meaningless accident in an indifferent universe, life appears to have a central role in its future.

There is a direction to the evolutionary process that has produced life on Earth and that will determine our future. Importantly, humanity has a role in these larger processes. Whether we fulfill this role effectively will determine whether life on Earth contributes positively to the future evolution of life in the universe. What we do here and now matters in a bigger scheme of things. Humanity has a central role in a great adventure.

To date, evolution on Earth has moved along its trajectory of its own accord. But it will not progress beyond this point unless it is driven forward intentionally. Evolution will continue to advance on this planet only if certain conditions are met: humanity will need to awaken to the fact that we are living in the midst of a meaningful and directional evolutionary process, realize that the continued success of the process depends on us, and commit to intentionally moving the process forward.

If this transition to intentional evolution is to be completed successfully, sufficient numbers of people across the planet will need to develop an understanding of these complex evolutionary processes and their implications for humanity. However it is not easy or straightforward for individuals to build this understanding.

But properly-designed computer games can make a major contribution to overcoming this difficulty. They can graphically simulate evolutionary processes across wide ranges of time and space, motivate the effort required to develop the complex mental models needed to envisage the processes, and facilitate exploration of the consequences of the evolutionary worldview for the individual and for humanity.

Computer games are particularly suited for this task because evolution operates like a game. There are struggles for survival, strategies, competition, and winners and losers. Everything that survives (including all life currently on the planet) is the winner in some evolutionary game, and has been shaped by it.

Looked at from a gaming perspective, evolution can be seen to be ‘The Greatest Game of All’. It is the game in which we, our societies and future humans are all players. Evolution is the game we all play whether we want to or not, or whether we are conscious of it or not. It is the game that sets the context and frame for everything we do in our lives.

Evolutionary games can challenge players to discover and explore strategies that will win evolutionary games in a wide range of circumstances. For example, appropriate simulations could lead players to discover and understand the direction of past evolution on Earth, the direction of human social evolution, why moral and religious systems emerge and why they take the form they do, why we have the types of emotions we experience, how evolution has shaped our motivations, personalities, needs and values, the nature of the next great steps in evolution on Earth, how the critically important step to a unified global society can be organized while maintaining diversity, creativity and freedom, where evolution in the universe might be headed, what humanity might do to contribute positively to this process, and so on.

Of course, the ability of a game to facilitate evolutionary understanding will depend on the relevance and accuracy of its simulations. For example, much that is learnt in playing the game Spore has little to do with actual evolutionary processes or outcomes. And many of the key features of the evolutionary processes that have shaped us and will continue to do so will never be learnt playing Spore.

The evolution of cooperative organization is a very important area for game simulation. The central trend in the evolution of life on Earth has been towards the organization of cooperation over larger and larger scales. Evolution has moved through a sequence of transitions in which smaller-scale entities are organized into larger-scale cooperatives. Self-replicating molecular processes were organized into the first simple cells, communities of simple cells formed the more complex eukaryote cell, organizations of these cells formed multi-cellular organisms, and organisms were organized into cooperative societies. A similar sequence has unfolded in human evolution from family groups, to bands, to tribes, to agricultural communities to city states, to Nations and so on

The next step in this evolutionary trajectory is the formation of a cooperative and sustainable global society.

Games that simulate this trajectory will need to capture the fact that although cooperation is an extremely effective evolutionary strategy, it does not evolve easily. Cooperative organization is easily undermined by free-riders that take the benefits of cooperation without contributing anything in return. Evolution only progresses when it finds a way to suppress free-riding and to align the interests of individuals with the interests of the whole.

When this is achieved, cooperation pays because individuals capture the benefits of their cooperation (and the costs of any harm they visit on others). This is how cooperation has been organized at all levels, including at the level of individual cells, organisms (including humans), corporations, and Nations (for more on the evolution of cooperation, see Chapters 4 to 7 of my book Evolution’s Arrow).

Games that capture these dynamics should be able to explore the evolution of cooperation at all levels, including the forms of organization that will be needed to enable the emergence of a cooperative and sustainable global society.

Computer games that explore the evolutionary worldview can make a major contribution to the awakening of humanity to its role in the evolutionary process. When individuals involve themselves in designing or playing these games, they are therefore participating in a major evolutionary event on Earth – the transition to intentional evolution in which humanity wakes up to what the universe is about and commits to actively advancing the evolutionary process.

A further very important trend in the trajectory of evolution is towards increasing adaptability, creativity, intelligence and consciousness. The furtherance of this trend within humanity requires not only the acquisition of greater knowledge but also enhanced skills and capacities. Computer games that advance this trajectory will therefore have to motivate activities, practices, and experiences that develop these capacities.

This will be the subject of my next post.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Meaning of Truth in the Media

Of course, we all know that truth is relative; the personal and cultural view of truth is contextual. But, what can we say about the eternal verities? What are those anyway, and should they be considered at a meaningful media discussion? I’m not sure that anyone who plans to attend MM wants to get into that philosophical discussion. On the other hand, “transformation” can go in many directions—even sideways. In the decades after World War II, the media-initiated transformation of American cultural values from needs to wants. This marked a transition to the so-called “consumer” culture—certainly a major transformation. To most people, this seemed like a good thing at the time, but as documented in the BBC documentary, “Happiness Machines,” we see that this transformation had its origins in what many would recognize as a pathological “nightmare” that led to Cold War foreign policy and Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Based on the arguably paranoid schizophrenia of certain academic researchers, professionals, and industry elites, these policy manipulators were successful in altering the collective consciousness and turning much of the 20th century into a psychological trap modeled on game theory and the symbolic manipulations of the media, advertising, and statistics (The trap: Game Theory).

George Lakoff has argued that a “rational enlightenment” faith in the human capacity for reason is faulty. In fact, Lakoff cites research which suggests that 98% of human function is based in dimensions of the cognitive unconscious. My feeling is that the views of Jung, Lakoff, and others in the field of cognitive research have not received adequate attention. Re-framing our approach to global crisis from a perspective on cognitive science and the media would prove practical and cost-effective in every way.

The cognitive view of reality is far more comprehensive and scientifically based than orthodox science—until lately—has been willing to admit. Jung says, “Nothing influences our conduct less than do intellectual ideas…for such ideas represent forces that are beyond logical justification and moral sanction…man believes indeed that he moulds these ideas, but in reality they mould him and make him their unwitting mouthpiece.” (Jung, 1933, p. 42) He observes that, “Under the influence of scientific materialism (What he calls The Spirit of the Age), everything that could not be seen with the eyes or touched with the hands was held in doubt,” (p. 173) Based on discoveries in quantum physics, researchers in an array of cognitive sciences have been exploring dimension of the cognitive unconscious—dimensions that, due to apparent compatibilities of physics and cognitive science, qualify as psyche-physics.

If Jungian thought did not generate much of the thinking in current cognitive research, Jungian principles are certainly compatible with this thinking. Jung understood and articulated what is now emerging as scientific fact in many fields: that the “materialistic” Spirit of the Age was not particularly rational. He said, “It is a religion, or—even more—a creed which has absolutely no connection with reason, but whose significance lies in the implicit fact that it is taken as the absolute measure of all truth and is supposed always to have common-sense upon its side.” (p. 175)

The measure of truth seems to be related to our cognitive architecture—the narrative-metaphorical frames that experience and repetition have forged. So, what do folks have to say about this kind of truth? George Lakoff argues that the basic assumptions of rational materialism are faulty. (Lakoff) Bernard Baars notes that all cognitive models are based on the theatre metaphor (Baars) that assumes a dynamic relationship between vast unconscious dimensions (of psyche) and a much more limited “lighted stage” of consciousness. Due to discoveries in Physics, modern science has gone well beyond the truths of rational materialism. In our everyday media-sphere, we experience the scientific fact expressed by Shakespeare that, “There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in (our) philosophy.”

The commonplaces of our media age are ideas that were given no credence in the recent past: thoughts are things, time and space are relative, day exists simultaneously with night, time is a psychological phenomenon, politics is religion, two plus two equals five, the past can be changed, space can bend, and dreams are real. Meanwhile, two of the most rational facts of our time are ignored. Of course, these facts have to do with the catastrophic consequences of ignoring the “natural” environment and the suicidal consequences of ignoring the psychological-somatic global media environment. Perhaps it is time to review Jungian principles of the cognitive unconscious from the perspective of an emergent media age.

Jung was the quintessential media expert, and he researched the quintessential medium—the medium of dreams. By discovering how dreams function in an environment of psyche, Jung discovered the fundamental parameters of a media age. But so far, the benign mandate of mediation has not been adequately addressed, so most of the indications are that the media can have an overwhelmingly negative impact on all aspects of culture. This subject has been addressed by Neil Postman who argued that the structure of our media influences the structure of our culture and of our cognitive processes. (Postman) Observers of the syndicated nightly news for the past decade or of the 2008 elections understand that the so-called reality we experience in the media is too often delusional. Jonathan Schell recently addressed the problem in The Nation (Schell) where he details the political dangers of unprincipled political campaigning. The campaign provided meaningful insight as to a future in which humans intentionally recreate reality with the technology and dynamics of illusion. The media-sphere must be our first priority. It is upon the media that all else depends.

I have one final recommendation as to the nature of “truth” in a meaningful media. Significant research on the influence of the heart on cognitive function can be found at This is important research relative to the coherence of heart rhythms and oscillations and their affect on cognitive processes in both personal and collective energy fields. Technology already exists and is in process of being applied to the unified Earth field. Relative to any discussion of truth and meaningful media, we cannot afford to ignore the intelligent heart.