Un-enlightenment

The age of internet seems like a bygone era, much like how retro romanticists might reminisce about the days before the internet. We live in an era of on-demand information now. The internet is ever pervasive and might even prompt a thought about Ptolemaic theory of physics. The internet has become the ever-pervasive ether in which humans exist. All information one might need is not just out there anymore. It is right within our reach. Some might go as far as calling it the biblical snake in the garden of Eden, freeing the human race from the clutches of ignorance. Unlike the snake that gave Adam & Eve their sentience, this new-fangled version seems to be undoing the work of its predecessor.

Humans haven’t been freed by this era of information. Each of us has been put in a prison of our own mind, like Trumbo’s protagonist in Johnny got his Gun. A few centuries ago, if scholars had a place to come to and ask questions to get answers right away, they probably would have been limited by what was available to them. Google has gone from being a noun, a name of a company, to being used as a verb form. One can google things, and it’d mean doing a quick search on the internet. Everything on the internet is available at the click of a button now. There is a virtual engine that precisely does this – searching and giving the user the information he or she wants. Arabian nights would have been a totally different story if the geniuses, more commonly known as genies, in the stories were replaced by a search engine.

The driver behind human advancement is the innate & insatiable hunger for improvement. Being content has long been touted as the key to happiness. To be content, from how we have defined the meaning of the word, is the acknowledgment that one’s desires have been completely satiated. Conversely, the root of all evil has often been linked to human desire. Religions often describe sins as excesses of human desire. I was tempted to add undesired as the adjective to qualify the excesses, but this is the loop of infinite regress we have subdued ourselves to. The shackles of Aristotelian semantics make themselves visible right at this moment. Contentment, if expressed mathematically, achieves a clearer articulation. Best expressed with mathematical limits, desire should towards contentment, but never truly be achieved. For long, humans have fantasised death as the stable state with living being associated with volatility. Death is the only state of stability in this life. A truly content person, therefore, has to be dead. A truly content society is one that doesn’t exist anymore. Contentment as we seem to understand is an incomplete formulation. Hunger gets satiated upon eating. Gluttony, a cardinal sin, is an excess of it. The fine line between hunger & gluttony is where one draws the line of contentment.

When humans set off on a journey of wisdom, there were no answers around. What something is, was defined by us. We have formulated the world around us as anthropo-centric concepts to answer what they were. When it comes to asking why things were so, or what made them so, or how they were so, or any question that necessitated thinking and deliberation, there came in the search for wisdom. Did humans always find “what” they set out to find? Ptolemy theorised the world as one that was driven by an invisible hand of god. He observed all physical phenomena as being ones operated by a god he couldn’t see. What was Ptolemy after? What are we after when search for something on the internet? The human desire to know and the contentment of attaining what we seek causes human advancement if it spirals upward instead of closing up as a loop.

On any search engine, we type a query down. Quite literally, we have put up a question for which we find answers to. The meaning of the question becomes a vulgar affair. The engine has to first abstract the meaning of the query placed. A quick comparison between Google & Duckduckgo with the same query typed in shows how different they do the job. A search engine has to show results with ‘what’ I want to see. The semantic abstraction of the same query will differ in both the search engines. Contentment has been reduced to the release from anxiety of not knowing, since what we think we need to know is being defined by an engine with an objective. The search engine learns; unfortunately, the users don’t.

Learning is the anti-thesis of contentment in a certain context. Learning is not just knowing new things. To know and to learn are not the same. Learning is an iterative process. It is the result of abstracting meaning from information received. If we remain content with just information & fool ourselves into believing we have learnt something, that marks the end of sentience. One can only stop learning when one has learnt all there is to learn. The limit of wisdom & knowledge has been achieved in this situation. The word in Telugu for such a state of existence is kaivalyam (కైవల్యం).

Korzybski’s theories would need an update in the new era of information, often erroneously mistitled “era of misinformation” or “era of disinformation”. A search engine’s job is to abstract the meaning of one’s query, not to help us find answers. Great ideas come from independent thinking; not from knowing what everyone else might find.

2 Comments

  1. hi Anirrudh,
    I say only as a friendly, off the top of my head comment- you seem to have developed a neuroses of sorts against artificial intelligence. I can understand and sympathise. I go through a similar thing myself. I share somewhat similar views though not completely agreeing with your antithesis.
    But now, to actually deal with the problem at hand, I propose that the only way to assuage the self-inflicted damage caused by our maniacal google-searching is that we set up an ethical system of what is allowed and when it is allowed for us to google. Information on the net is after all, when we have removed the feed system and search algorithms merely a repository. If we have removed all excesses in our lifestyle, our needs will be but a few and the information regarding those few will easily be available by the nearest academia. what do you say? Of course I cant warrant those who simply “surf” the net for information. But the one who is looking for something that is close to him will sure find a credible notwithstanding authentic source apart from the internet.

    Like

    1. It stems primarily from the point that when there is too much information, our brains tend to go with sources they agree with. In other words, cognitive biases act where we seek confirmation of our own opinion. This is also in coincidence with wanting to avoid any cognitive dissonance. Un-enlightenment is my argument that excess information is just as bad as too little. A psychological study was conducted by the CIA (Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards Heuer) where two groups were given different levels of data to arrive at a conclusion. One group was given 5, the other was given 50. The difference in accuracy was 3%. The internet and information being available has made lives easier, but it has also made a lot of things very difficult for us to perceive reality. The title is also an allusion to the era of enlightenment.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Aniruddh Nadimpalli Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s