Thinking in real time

Machine networks and the human brain seem to resemble each other much more closly than we have previously imagined. This does not mean that we, too, are machines, Ossi Urchs and I maintain in our recently published book, Digital Enlightenment Now!

Thesis 8: Humans will need to reconsider the way they lead their lives. We need to develop the ability to think in a digitally and networked fashion – and in real time.

As the German philosopher and cultural theorist Peter Sloterdijk writes in his book „You Must Change Your Life“ [1] mankind in the 21st century faces the need to “think dangerously”. Essentially, this will require quite a bit of strenuous mental exercise, but perhaps as we sweat on our mental treadmills, we can console ourselves with the thought that our object is to appreciate and penetrate the digital and connected systems which surround us; in fact to function the way the human brain is programmed to work, namely by synthesizing the many different perceptions our senses provide into an (interconnected) view of the world and of ourselves. Human thought, cognitive scientists now believe, works essentially like a computer network.

This does not however mean that the idea of man as a machine (“automaton”), so popular to enlightenment thinkers and cultural pessimists in the past, is true. Instead, we need to understand the similarities between the functionality of networked systems and human thought processes. This has less to do with the concept of “internalization” in the psychological sense and more with “differentiation” as understood by computer scientists – an essentially human form of information processing. The difficulty here lays not so much in the act of processing information but in the ability to cope with the results.

[1] Peter Sloterdijk: You Must Change Your Life, translation by Wieland Hoban, Cambridge, Polity Press (2013)

BoD DENThe ten theses are at the center of our book, Digital Enlightenment Now!, that was recently published on BoD. I am reprinting them here as a mini-series to encourage debate among DEF members.


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