by Ben Werner
Article Summary: To realize a “global human organism” we must first understand the underlying unity between our subjective world (the field of psychology) and our objective world (the field of physics). Mastery over the objective world has given us global technological connectivity, but not cohesive global behavior, while mastery over the subjective world supports cohesive relationships, but not at a global scale. The realization of a global human organism may happen in two overlapping phases. In the first phase, developing a technological network that mirrors how we are emotionally connected to others would yield aligned emotional incentives producing cohesive behavior across otherwise incoherent social circles. In the second phase, a common theory of physics and psychology would yield an approach to “the singularity” based on transpersonal emotional resonance.
The need for human beings to work better together to solve global problems is clear. A solution would be a mode of behavior that supports both the health of the individual and the health of the global collective, implying the notion of a global human organism. Natural organisms are clear examples wherein behavior supporting health scales from the cellular level (through tissues, organs, and systems) to the level of the whole organism. In reality however, the “whole organism” (such as a human being) is not an isolated system - the organism is interdependent with other parts of a society and an ecosystem just like cells within an organism. In fact, the boundary of a cell can be analyzed in essentially the same way as the boundary of a human being - its boundary is clearly delineated; it defines a semi-autonomous unit with self-contained intelligence; and it allows certain inputs and outputs (energy, nutrients, information, etc.) from its neighbors and environment. Moreover, both the cell and the human being possess a certain amount of discretion (or uncertainty in the case of cells) in how to respond to stimulus from neighbors and the environment. Why then, do human beings not chose to behave in a way that aligns their individual well-being with the well-being of the society and environment that supports them, as cells do?
Clearly, the set of internal and external influences to human behavior works differently than the set of internal and external influences to cell behavior. A cell’s internal influences are not solely defined by the cell’s role in a larger organism - put a single cell in a petri dish and it may replicate itself ad infinitum. Yet within an organism, the cell’s internal influences align with its external influences and it functions coherently with the larger whole. In an organism, the boundary of the cell is transcended, in the sense that the boundary continues to exist as it does in a petri dish, but the cell’s internal influences become coherent with the cell’s external influences. When its boundary is transcended, the nature of the cell is continuous with the nature of the whole organism. Notably, this co-identification with the whole organism occurs even though the cell is only directly connected to a small number of other cells. This few-to-few network, expanding fractally from the perspective of any single cell, is the architecture by which coherence is achieved throughout the organism.
Humanity in its current dominant form is behaving like cells in a petri dish - growing, consuming, and competing with each other. Globally, we are non-coherent. Yet at the few-to-few level, i.e., family and close friends, we are mostly coherent. Even though we experience conflict with friends and family, any pain to another in our circle we experience as emotional pain, and the well-being of others in our circle is our own emotional well-being. In other words, in our close personal circle our boundary between self and other is partially transcended, meaning that we are in a state of mutual emotional resonance. This emotional resonance is not simply a “pleasant connection” - it is a deeper bond - a co-identification or mirroring between people that exists whether or not we are “getting along” in the moment. Our close personal circles are little social organisms that are held together by emotional resonance, wherein our intrinsic sense of self extends slightly beyond the individual to include a limited set of other beings.
If small groups of emotionally-bonded individuals generally behave coherently, why don’t our close personal circles cohere into a larger structure, as with cells in an organism? The answer is that humanity has not until recently had the necessary connectivity that organisms do, in the form of nervous systems. Though we now have this connectivity in the form of the internet, the social system of the internet is not structured as natural systems are. Within the few-to-few structure of an organism, the internal influences within each boundary (cell, tissue, organ, etc.) are coherent with the external influences outside each boundary, up to the level of the whole organism. Beyond the level of the human organism, coherent behavior within our close personal circles is mediated by emotional resonance, but beyond our close personal circles, this emotional resonance and extended sense of self ends. The question therefore becomes, can we create a technological network, mirroring natural systems, that enables emotional resonance to connect multiple close personal circles, so that influences remain coherent across boundaries and scale from the individual to the global level?
Despite being in an “information age”, conflict, mistrust, and an inability to discern the truth of information is as high as it has ever been. The only domain where we consistently resolve conflict and cultivate trust, by emotional necessity, is the family and close personal social circle. This is the domain of expertise of therapists and counselors (here distinguished from psychoanalysts) wherein emotional awareness and attunement is the most valuable skill, albeit difficult to define. Close personal circles and the emotional resonance experienced within them comprise the ripe ingredients of a global human organism, if the means were available to synergize intrinsic emotional incentives across multiple circles. The internet could provide the connectivity for this to occur, if a new social architecture and interface were implemented, potentially in the form of a social technology that could run on existing internet-connected devices. Just as a cell connects with a limited number of other cells, and this pattern scales fractally to encompass an entire cohesive organism, interconnected close social circles could scale through a fractal few-to-few network, aligning intrinsic emotional incentives from one circle to the next. Such a possibility may seem remote, especially if we consider the low likelihood of a mass of cells in a petri dish cohereing into an organism. In reality, cells only function as an organism when they are in a very specific arrangement, and this arrangement only occurs because the relationships among the cells have coevolved over the life of the organism.
In reality, a fractal network of relationships among humans does exist, in a state of continuous evolution since the beginning of human history. The proverbial “six degrees of separation” pertains to a network in which all humans are connected through a continuous sequence of close personal relationships, organized as a fractal network of personal social circles. Therefore an emergent behavior characteristic of a global human organism may be extremely near - it may only be a matter of implementing an architecture and interface within the internet that is coherent with the existing (though currently invisible) emotional fabric of human society. Ironically, such an internet-based system would reorient our attention towards our immediate personal relationships, and away from purely virtual ones. The system would show us how our communication in our personal relationships coheres (or does not cohere) with a larger network, while showing us opportunities to branch out and connect with highly coherent behavior where it exists in the network, beginning with our personal circle.
As welcome as the possibility of coherent global human behavior may be, the notion of a global human organism implies something more profound, namely, a transpersonal experience with a larger organism with which we a part. Emotional behavioral incentives through networked devices alone will not produce such an experience. In fact a “transpersonal global human organism” may sound like little more than fantasy or science fiction. However there are two trends in human thought that if taken seriously, point towards such a reality, especially if we consider the convergence of what these trends point to. One such trend is the conviction among an increasing number of philosophers and technologists that exponentially increasingly artificial intelligence will lead to a singularity, in which human intelligence and artificial intelligence will merge. The other trend (now going through a renaissance) is rigorous academic research into the psychological value of psychedelics. What proponents of each of these trends have in common is the recognition that our experience of self may not be inherently bound to the human individual, or in other words, that the boundary of our human identity may be permeable, and that a transcendance of human subject-object division is an achievable reality. If this is true, then there must be an underlying unity between our subjective experience within the boundary of our human identity, and our objective experience outside the boundary of our human identity.
Presently, our study of the subjective experience (psychology) and our study of the objective experience (physics) are both very mature, yet they are separated in academia. Therefore if we are to approach a transcendence of the boundary of human identity, we must begin by developing a synthesis of physics and psychology. Whereas psychology may admit a subjective basis for the objective world i.e., that everything is a matter of perception, physics at its core supposes an objective world independent of any human subject. This latter stance is fortified by the astounding predictive power and mastery over the objective world physics has given us (enabling us to send men to the moon, build smart phones, etc.). It is primarily the observer-dependence inherent in quantum physics that suggests consciousness may be a necessary part of theoretical physics, and various attempts at a unified theory of consciousness begin with this suggestion.
However, rather than building a theory of subjective experience from scratch from quantum physics, it is more reasonable to consider a synthesis of physics with the established theory of the subjective experience - psychology. In order for the possibility of such a synthesis to exist, there must an opening within physics at the human scale of objective sensory experience, from which to build a bridge to the internal human experience. At first glance such an opening does not exist, given that physics does not have any issues describing objective phenomena at the human scale. Yet, a synthesis does not require that its opposing components are wrong - it just requires that its components are incomplete. An opening for this synthesis is apparent in the form of three paradoxes within physics at the human scale. Each of these paradoxes suggest that there is a missing half to the human sensory scale of objective phenomenology described by physics. The simplest resolution to these paradoxes is that the missing half of the theory that describes what we observe through the senses, is the theory that describes how we correlate what we observe through the senses into a coherent experience, which is psychology.
Any successful synthesis produces a result that is greater than the sum of its parts. If there is anything within our everyday experience that is described neither by physical theory nor by psychological theory, it is our emotions. If asked to gesture to the objective sensory realm, we would point outwards; if asked to gesture to the subjective ideational realm, we would point to our head; and if asked to gesture to where we feel our emotions, we would point to the core of our body, anywhere between the base of the spine and the neck. Emotions occupy a space in between the purely subjective and the purely objective. The purely objective is the global physical reality; the purely subjective is the personal idea not experienced by anyone else; and an emotion is a shared experience among a limited set of beings, usually but not necessarily in the same physical space. Emotions cross the boundary of individual identity, as a sensation that is shared by the self and the other. However in our state of self-awareness characterized by human individual boundaries of self, we are mostly emotionally unintelligent and unable to register the shared extent of emotions - we tend to think emotions are isolated within us as our ideas are.
Once the subject-object division diminishes, the emotional field becomes a resonant transpersonal experience with other beings and the environment. One model for a synthesis of physics and psychology could be the basis for technologies that produce such resonant emotional fields. This represents an approach to “the singularity”, wherein a union between human and machine is achieved through emotional resonance, as opposed to the predominant theory that a singularity would be enabled by superior artificial intelligence. Such hypothetical technologically-amplified emotional resonance would produce a transpersonal experience for those immersed in it, while simultaneously being an intersubjective quasi-gravitational object. In contrast to the literal notion of “the singularity”, such a global human organism would not lead to a dissolution of diversity, but rather to a harmonization among the diversity of perspectives and abilities necessary for a global organism, or ecosystem, to function.
While hypothesizing the technological aspects of a global human organism, we must acknowledge that the pathway towards such a reality is more than just technological - it is simultaneously an evolution of our sense of self. The notion of a global human organism may even sound frightening, because our predominant sense of self is tightly bound to the individual. Even the challenges to our individual self presented by close personal relationships can be scary, let alone those presented by something “globally intimate”. In a few-to-few network however, such fears of a global dissolution of self would be unfounded, because our intimate connections would be none other than those already present in our close personal circles. Therefore the work we do to become better spouses, parents, and friends, is the same work needed to move towards a potential transpersonal experience of a global human organism. This work is not just at an individual level, because our sense of self is not an isolated property of the individual - it has co-evolved with and exists in mirrored relationship with our collective identity as a society.
In our society it is practically impossible to become a functioning adult without adopting a profound division between a subjective inner world and an objective outer world. In other words, we do not experience coherence across the boundary that forms our sense of self. Compared to a cell in a natural organism whose boundary has been transcended, we experience an unnatural division between our inner world and our outer world. Societies do not always work this way. Many indigenous societies organize themselves around shamanic practices and/or psychedelic compounds which serve the express purpose of dissolving the subject-object division, thereby supporting a transpersonal experience between individuals, and between the individual and the natural world. While the colonial industrial society may be characterized by an exponentially increasing mastery and power over the objective world, the non-colonial indigenous society may be characterized by a mastery of relationship with the natural world, as evidenced by the longevity of such societies. Therefore a synthesis of objectivity and subjectivity, on the part of industrial society, may be coincident with a synthesis of industrial society and indigenous societies. Such an historical arc is suggested in the prophecy of the eagle and the condor, an increasingly popular narrative in the Western Hemisphere of a pathway towards a global sustainable human culture.
A synthesis of the subjective and the objective - a transcendance of our boundary between our internal world and our external world, is fundamentally about self knowledge. The quest for self knowledge; for enlightenment, is as old as humanity. Yet in the current phase of human history, when we are touching the limits of our collective presence on the planet, the search for self knowledge is uniquely bound with an urgent need to understand each of our essential roles within the global human family, and within the global ecosystem. We cannot require that everyone become enlightened for a sustainable human culture to emerge, because that may never happen. However throughout history, limits to human behavior and human potential have been set by social systems created by a human beings. Therefore as we create the next social system, may our mindset be enlightened, so that the system we create is a natural one.
Ben Werner is an electrical engineer and independent researcher focused on systems change and sustainability.