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latest (master)

on reality: the sage, the cyborg & the cosmic symphony

Image:  Charis Tsevis

One of my favourite subjects, both to write about and ponder, is other dimensions. The idea that there are other realities is something that has always fascinated me. It is one of the (many) reasons for my past drug pursuits, my on-going captivation with the mercurial world of sleep and dreaming, and my interest in space & time in general. I personally feel that each of us, as humans, are familiar with a number of different dimensions — though they may not be labelled as such — as we travel through our lives here. Our journey out of the rich, irrational worlds of imagination and feeling that we occupy as children, slowly condensing into the realm of thought and reason that we find ourselves in as adults are inter-dimensional, I think. Music, as well — in certain rare instances — has always been representative to me of other-dimensional realities, holding the ability to give us a taste of the unique flavour of those other worlds, if not carry us to them directly.

As far as the scientific veracity of other dimensions goes, however, the terminology is much more straight-forward. Everything I just described doesn’t count at all. Physics is concerned solely with the hard evidence, and the hard evidence doesn’t include any psychological realities, however other-dimensional they may seem. This doesn’t mean its theories aren’t just as mind-blowing. Most of us are under the impression that everything we experience in this reality takes place in 4 dimensions: 3 spatial and one made of time. String theory, instead, tells us that there are actually 11 dimensions: 10 spatial and 1 made of time. So basically, add 7 other dimensions to the 3-dimensional reality we think we live in everyday and you might be able to get an idea of the kind of angles that elude us. If not, take a look at this picture, or any of Escher’s work, for that matter. Mind-bending, to say the least.

Yet there is another dimension that is often completely overlooked, and it will prove, in time, to be no less bizarre than any of those mentioned thus far. It is climbing, silently, out of the everyday spaces that used to find us waiting; arriving, at an exponentially increasing rate, in front of our eyes at nearly every turn, seducing our easily distracted minds with an infinite palette of sights designed, at the very least, to provide us with some good distractions, and, at the most, to delight. The technology we hold in our hands and stare at on our screens everyday is another world. The games we play — some of them now minus any controller besides our very voice and body — are each their own world, and for many, far more interesting than this one. All of it, it seems, is more interesting to most of us than the external world we occupy. This is because, as I recently touched on, it’s a choice. The majority of people on this planet are trapped in their daily routines, feeling they have very little to no choice. Not so with computer technology. It holds the same appeal as the blank page does for a hungry writer, as the sea — open, endless and fathoms deep — does for an avid diver. You can go anywhere you want. You can be anyone you want. You can learn about the things that pop into your head in nearly the same instant they appear. You can spend hours traversing exotic landscapes and exploring hidden realms, in ever-growing detail.  

Not only that, but this new dimension is beginning to talk back to us, and it is leaking into objects that have always, heretofore, been totally inanimate. The “smart-home” is predicted to begin its first noticeable drop-in on 1st world society by 2018, providing us with devices that know much of what we do before we do it, and then instead do it for us. (Think ‘sensor detects home-owner is awake, starts brewing coffee’.) Everything from our freezer to our bathtub are not only going to be predicting the future, but providing us access to the web (everything will be connected to the net) and answering our spoken questions with real-time verifiable data almost instantly. Our house will know we have a cold before we do. Our fridge will automatically generate a list of items we currently need (based on what we normally stock) and continuously update our phone, so we never have to forget that pesky paper list ever again (let’s face it — no one’s forgetting their phones, and if they do, they’re probably turning around). 

If you had mentioned this to someone ten years ago, it was most likely mind-blowing, if not at least super-cool. Now it’s more of a ‘yeah, tell me something I don’t know’ vibe. The leap is completely foreseeable from our current vantage point. Yet what about the things that are not? The internet may be the beginning of the new world, yes, but it is also it’s own world — a world that we will one day not only be able to step into and possibly live in, but one that will also be alive and living in ours. And it will probably be hyper-intelligent. And organic. 

Marshal McLuhan once said “We are the genitals of our technology. We exist only to improve next year's model.” Along the same lines, Joe Rogan has likened our technology to a species unto itself, for which we are merely the worker bees, furiously and unconsciously pollinating as iteration after iteration continues to flower, flowing ever forward at a pace set to move beyond our current comprehension — the technological singularity — in our lifetimes. Not unless we are willing to up-grade our minds, and bodies, will we be able to keep pace with it.

Feeling weirded-out yet? 

This is a subject that tends to polarize. Too much, too fast. It’s why the unibomber did what he did (along with the possibility of a little mind-control) and why many think that the neo-luddite movement is only going to grow. Yes, we have a pretty checkered history with technology, to put it mildly, so these fears (not the violent activism) are understandable. Nothing with implications this profound has ever happened before. We are pulling another dimension into this world at the same time that we are stepping into it. This is the stuff science-fiction is made of. That it is unsettling is an extremely natural reaction. If you could see the progression, it would appear as a slowly advancing curve, increasing in steepness at an understandable, yet very gradual rate as we lumbered our way from sea to tree, from field to house, where it would suddenly spike off of the chart and… into another dimension.

These are strange times. And they’re only getting stranger. Sound far fetched? Look it up. Look around. When was the last time you saw more people talking with each other than staring into screens at a coffee shop? When was the last time you settled an argument without consulting the internet?  Entertainment is so streamlined now that people will spend 3 days watching a Netflix marathon, barely stopping for food; weeks, months and even years-long stretches are spent inside certain fantasy games and online environments while ‘real’ life is only a type of fuzzy background noise, begrudgingly partaken in when necessary. 

But that’s the thing. The further down the rabbit hole we go, the further from any solid definition of ‘reality’ we get. This is where the worlds of psychology and string theory come together. If, as it has been predicted, we end up in an existenZ kind of reality, in which differentiating between this world and the ‘other’ becomes impossible, what we will find is that nothing has changed. We will still carry our psychological selves — our identities and memories — with us wherever we go (although, in the case of gaming these may be interrupted or interspersed with that of our ‘character’ — but what else are we in this life if not just that: our own 'character' ) and the reality that we find ourselves in — in terms of how it’s perceived by our five senses — will be indistinguishable from this one, remaining inescapably bound to the same cosmic symphony (string theory) that holds time and space together. 

So in the end, I suppose, there is no ultimate reality. The most interesting thing about the theorized 11 dimensions is that only one of them is made of time. Just one. That seems telling to me. No matter what dimension we come to find ourselves in, there is only one place any of it can take place, and that’s right now. So the vessel is forever subject to the content, no matter what the external conditions, and it is the content that serves as the filter, determining our perception of whatever is taking place. 

Talk about a spiritual epiphany. Perspective is all that exists. Whether you’re a sage fasting in a desert in 2000 BC or a cyborgian version of some long-distant millennial monkey-self, tripping balls on an extremely advanced virtual-reality-drug, all we have is this moment, and the subjective content that’s creating it. 

This is it, folks. Right now. Nothing happens next.