Thursday, June 01, 2006

How would Freud treat a cybermind (updated)?

On Freud's 150th anniversary, I want to ask Freud a few questions while his legacy is being dismantled.

Cognitive therapy is now the orthodox talking cure and social media seems to be supporting this. But with cognitive science comes a new battle for the meaning of the human mind. And the human mind is being shaped by technology.

Ok this will get a bit philosophical but stick with me.

The analysts - whether Freudian, Jungian, Kleinian, or Lacanian - do not tell you what it is that you've got, nor does he or she explain how you will get over it. Instead, you embark on a personal exploration during which you find that you don't only suffer from the symptoms you thought you did, but also a range of other conflicts underlying them.

The process is classically driven by two mechanisms and these are essentially all there is to the technique (though not, of course, the theory) pioneered by Freud. These are 1. data extraction (receiving structured information in a cognitive form) and 2. contexuality (what does this information have to do with me or how can I use it effectively).

The form that the information is now delivered and received is being shaped by technology - mainly, the Internet.

Delivery models are being drastically modifies and the ontology of the cybermind is changing. Basically, because I receive information in new ways, I classify and retrieve them differently.

Enormous changes occur within every social order which always returns the unexpected; this is the only law.

I used to receive many phone calls and very many happy knocks at the door. Surrounded with the smiling faces, I would receive the voices and visitors with joy in my heart (and beer in the fridge). Now, the voices and visitors come over the wires and I am reduced to the sound of myself typing or scrolling to the texts that fall upon themselves on my screen.

In order to speak or hear or see you, I move my fingers. My fingers now talk.

My kids now chat with me. They sign me on and sign me off; I am in a folder called ‘family’ under the sub_folder called ‘Dad’ which in the end is represented electronically by a stain on their hard drive. Recorded – dad lives on to be heard or seen whenever they want.

What would Freud think of the new cybermind? Does the cybermind mean that a cybersociety exists independently of human action?

Is there both an ideal and a real manifestation of cyberspace. The former is the mapping of transmissions across nodes - i.e. ideal movement of data-streams and the latter is the hardware and actual movement across it.

If cyberspace can be considered a form of liquid transcript with its contents in bytes, then one might speak of cybersocieties in the plural - referring to any telecommunications network and its transmissions/receptions. I can be here and there at the same time.

This cybermind does not need to postulate an identity-holding ego amid a network of neural processing; this sits well with the Buddhist principle that the self is constituted out of a series of illusions which may be extinguished on the road to enlightenment.

I can be here and there at the same moment and then disappear when I want. Which begs to ask, 'What happens when we die? Do we continue to grow and self-develop in cybersociety?'

Freud's favorite novel was The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky's vision of the inherently perverse, self-destructive drives of human nature made sense to Freud. He got much of it scientifically wrong, and he famously misinterpreted some of his own patients.

But the ambition was to articulate the conflicts to which the human mind is subject and from which it may never escape. Cybersociety creates conflicts with the 'disconnected' world.

Little may remain of his classifications or his model of the unconscious, but there are those both inside and outside the psychiatric profession who understand that change may contain meaning and that the relationship between people was the engine of human change. Is technology the mew engine? Can we control it?

Freud remains one of the pioneering influences; trying to understanding our new social constructs and how the world is developed is not child’s play. We all need to take this serious and play a role. We all have a role.

Are you defining your role or is technology defining it for you?

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