John Maguire: Stockholm Syndrome of the Soul – Proto-Intelligence for the Evolution of Collective Thought

Cultural Intelligence
John Maguire
John Maguire

*A Stockholm Syndrome of the Soul: Proto-Intelligence for the Evolution of Collective Thought*


“[Nothing] is [certain]. There is so much mystery involving consciousness…these are just ideas to play around with and to entertain rather than [some] new form of certitude.”

– Jeremy Narby, Anthropologist and Author of The Cosmic Serpent

This book is not the fulfillment of some grail quest meant to discover an elusive, unifying theory of everything. Nothing enclosed here is gospel because monopolies on truth do not exist. All theories and all philosophies, no matter how coherent, are inherently limited in one way or another. At this particular juncture in evolutionary history, it would appear the true nature of reality still remains far too vast to fully comprehend; its scope seemingly impossible to encapsulate within any one framework.

It seems to me that as conscious human-beings all we can truly hope to accomplish is logically formulate what makes sense to us based on evidence gathered through our limited perception and reasoning. Coming close to identifying absolute truth, by means of abstraction, is probably the best we can hope to achieve within the classical realm. Therefore it is important to be humble and acknowledge our own short-comings when attempting to discuss and/or remedy the plethora of crises facing the planet and humanity today.

While this might appear to be an intractable dilemma at first glance, our cognitive limitations should not lull us into a state of apathetic inaction or cynical nihilism. As philosopher Thomas Nagel puts it:

“It is perfectly possible that truth is beyond our reach…but I believe we cannot know this [for sure], and that it makes sense to go on seeking a systematic understanding of how we and other living things fit into the world.”

Despite the challenges inherent in such an endeavor, I believe we can learn to distinguish between what constitutes a coherent, constructive abstraction opposed to an incoherent, destructive abstraction. While we should certainly strive to reason logically from observed fact, we need to rely on intuition to a large extent. As Computer Scientist and Systems Philosopher Sally Goerner has written:

“It is…quite possible that we have an ability to sense better versus worse constructions as, for example, in the sense of ‘beauty’ or ‘elegance’ in science…Thus, constructions can be ‘judged’ not because we ‘know’ in some ‘provable’ way but rather because we have the ability to sense better (more consonant?) constructions. Constructions improve with time because selection keeps constructions honest; dysfunctional constructions, individual and societal, detract from our ability to survive.”

This is actually more self-evident than you might think. Scientists, for example, often come to value and promote certain theories over others based on their aesthetic qualities (i.e. string theory). Advertisers and merchandisers have understood for a long time that all people have an intimate, feedback-driven connection to their environment. This is often exploited to get us to buy more useless, toxic junk, and is known in the consumer industry as atmospherics — undoubtedly an outgrowth of the work of the famous propagandist Edward Bernays. By tapping into our archetypal minds we can be made to feel disoriented, or be made to feel at ease, but either way our collective subconscious is being exploited.

Humans are derivatives of Nature and therefore have an innate sense for identifying natural harmonies, as well as disharmonies. Hidden, unifying order is a well-accepted tenet of complexity theory, and we are direct products of the spontaneous self-organizing process that underlies the entire Universe (i.e. Implicit Order). It’s undeniable, and we deny this reality at our own peril. I think that on an intuitive level, for those of us not yet completely numbed by the alienation of modern life, we can still properly identify right from wrong…good from bad…constructive from destructive.

For better or worse we have inherited the most complex, interdependent, and unstable planet in the known epoch of human history. We are teetering on the edge of chaos; on the brink of a bifurcation point. Ecological pressures brought on in large part by human folly are accelerating and bearing down on us. The global community has never been more entangled or mutually interdependent, yet paradoxically exploitation runs rampant and many of us on an individual level have never felt more isolated; the corporate-technocratic agenda, underwritten by a calculated scientific-fundamentalism (aka scientism), now rules and dictates the lives of billions.

And unfortunately for us, most of our current approaches intent on dealing with these myriad issues have reached the point of diminishing returns. We are victims of a collective cultural Stockholm syndrome, and our modern-day mass dysfunction reflects that truth. Now more than ever we need to rethink the wheel; develop new understandings, adopt new paradigms, and rethink our collective goals. I hope some of the information put forward in this book, which I like to refer to as proto-intelligence, can buttress that effort in some small way.

Purpose, not pitiless indifference, is the defining feature of our Universe. The teleological aspects of life and the biosphere are undeniable. What state we’re evolving toward is of course an open question. Interestingly, even the most cynical Neo-Darwinist acknowledges a meaning behind life; theirs just happens to be defined as red-in-tooth competition for the sake of gene propagation. I contend humans, and subjective conscious experience, cannot be reduced to overly-simplistic notions such as selfish genes, binary computation, and random mutation (even though these elements are certainly at play and relevant to our understanding).

Even if we can never arrive at perfect knowledge, I believe we have the ability to eventually arrive at satisfactory approximations that can help us transcend the fragmentary age we find ourselves mired in. We have to stop selling ourselves short and open our minds to new ideas. As Technologist and Philosopher Jaron Lanier once put it, “Spirituality is committing suicide. Consciousness is attempting to will itself out of existence…The deep meaning of personhood is being reduced by illusions of bits…we must find an alternative.”

*Part I: Intro-Genesis*

Chapter 1: The Utility of Proto-Intelligence

Defining Proto-Intelligence:

“Since the universe is actually composed of information, then it can be said that information will save us…There is no other road to salvation.”

– Philip K. Dick, Author of Valis and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

What is proto-intelligence exactly? And what practical utility can we get out of it on both an individual and collective level? Proto definitively speaking means first, original, or earliest. It is foundational; that which underwrites higher levels of complexity and coherence. Consequently proto-intelligence can be thought of as fundamental information critical to the long-term survival and evolution of human systems. Integration of proto-intelligence on a global scale could help initiate humanity’s transition toward an emergent era of coherence.

Most manifestations of proto-intelligence usually start out as small ideas on the fringe; sort of like tiny quantum fluctuations erupting from the vast seething vacuum of space (which just so happen to provide the seeds for the formation of planets). These fluctuations needn’t be large or even well-acknowledged to have widespread and enduring effects. This is commonly referred to as the butterfly effect (aka sensitive dependence in the technical parlance) in which even miniscule perturbations (disturbances) can have unexpectedly broad repercussions in non-linear systems poised far from equilibrium. As I will explain more in depth later, sensitive dependence manifests itself in all manner of chaotic, interdependent systems; human society serving as one such example. This understanding has deep implications for the relevance of individuals who strive for systemic change.

For a long time I have struggled to answer those nagging existential questions many of us face. What is my purpose in life? How can I make a real difference? What can I possibly do as a mere individual to bring about substantive change in my life, my community, and the world at large? Perhaps I should commit to teaching? Maybe I should try to get work at an NGO? Or I could simply run off to the wilderness and become some variety of vegan hermit in my attempt to leave the smallest ecological footprint possible.

Over time I have concluded that none of these options, by themselves, are real solutions for me personally. In my time working as a substitute teacher I have encountered mostly bureaucratic nonsense and pent up frustration amongst students and staff alike. While I enjoyed my time as an intern for a small, successful, community organizing group in NYC, I once again found a committed group of exceptional people handcuffed by paperwork, institutional pressures, and fiduciary purse strings. And while I have no direct experience acclimating myself to a damp forest dwelling, I don’t think I require a prolonged campout to know that is just not for me. Not quite yet anyway.

As I continued to research, a methodology for effecting meaningful change slowly began to reveal itself. What the world needs now more than anything is what is called decision-support. In his book The Open-Source Manifesto former marine and CIA case-officer Robert David Steele puts forward the powerful thesis that coherent collective intelligence can help correct our current course and pull us back from the brink of collective disaster. A similar sentiment was echoed by Philip Dick at the beginning of this chapter.

The underlying issue at the heart of our problems is quite simple: most people don’t know what they don’t know. We are drowning in data and misinformation because we have endured a systemic failure of human thought. Be that as it may, the modern crisis of information processing presents us all with an opportunity. We have to learn to better create and direct information flows so as to create a more complex and successful society. We can reclaim our integrity and influence global development simply by engaging in honest dialogue, exchanging coherent information, and participating in coherent direct (often local) action. As author and mathematician John Pierce wrote in An Introduction to Information Theory:

“Our particular actions depend on the objects and events about us…But our information about the world does not come from direct observation, and our influence on others is happily not confined to pushing and shoving. We have a powerful tool for such purposes: language and words.”

Something as simple as a mere thought or idea, if projected into the Universe and given ample time to resonate, harbors the profound ability to completely reorganize an entire system. Our historical record is littered with such cases. Despite existing within an unassailable wholeness, sensitive dependence clearly brings the importance of the individual back into focus. Every well-intentioned act is potentially revolutionary. Notions surrounding simple cause-and-effect relationships completely break down in the face of such an idea. Acausal relationships and dynamics come to the forefront. The proper measure of a person must now be reconsidered.

There are many potential mini-revolutions in the works today. New ideas about how to develop an economy, structure the money supply, manage social relations, institute cutting-edge renewable energy sources; there are legion. Just as important people are exploring new ways to think. As David Bohm made clear, thought is a system that must be better understood and not taken for granted. Access to abstract thought may be our greatest piece of technology. We need to better care for it moving forward.

Phi Beta Iota: The above is a work in progress. Anyone desiring to communicate with the author may do so via email to foks0904 AT gamil DOT com.

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John Maguire @ Phi Beta Iota