Saturday, November 21, 2015

Solipsism, Micromanaging the Minds & The Necessary Compromise; A Personal Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Solipsism, Micromanaging the Minds & The Necessary Compromise
A Personal Essay in Three Parts by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Part I: Solipsism in Our Time (Draft 2)
(*) Part I was published first on June 12th, 2015, at Facebook.com/PAComposer, revised under Thinking Today: Solipsism in Our Time.

Solipsism goes beyond purely intellectual pursuits as a primarily epistemological concern when one rethinks a fully "personalized" world, i.e. the increasing possibility of "invisible virtual prisons." If so, progress is stifled, as the dispersion of knowledge in respect to information, itself deemed as property, will depend less on meritorious authority and natural curiosity than on the whims and interests of real or virtual entities in control. Hence, a most crucial element of true knowledge, the humbling awareness of the unknown, can be lost to the delusional mask of absolute certainty of our knowledge. As a poet said, "Not to know, and not to know that we don't know." Contained curiosity is led to play within a predefined field, to assure safe action in a blissful state of self-satisfaction. Knowledge confined and fully individualized, renders breakthrough imagination and independent creativity some rather dim and remote possibilities.
(Revised; Original via TXT.)

Part II: Micromanaging the Minds (Draft 1)
(*) Part II was first published on June 20th, 2015, at Facebook.com/PAComposer, under Reflections on Life: Micromanaging the Minds.

I step back and feel excited again to be living in the digital age, a time of flowing information, an age that promises every individual in principle to learn what they can, and express themselves for their voice to be heard. I also pause and contemplate the dangerous possibility of the illusion of an independent mind when in fact it's been guided deliberately to conform with ideas otherwise alien to its natural life, innate interests, private processes, and reasonable conclusions.

Even as enormous amounts of data are being collected on individuals based on their online and offline activity, personal and professional, we may expect to see "prediction, projection, and suggestion" to step over into "guided, defined and predetermined destinies" to an unprecedented degree. At its absolute form, for any given person around the globe, the Web, and by extension, the World, may become as large or small as what say a robotic software would permit it to be for that person. I am reminded of the excellent "Minority Report", in which among many futuristic visions, billboards change as the character of Tom Cruise approaches them in order to fit his profile. That remote possibility is now a plausible reality. Basic filters on your digital devices or on virtual accounts, or a given tag on your physical identity, could largely open, modify, or block the total information that can reach you, thus artificially defining your environment, or rather, the extent of your knowable world. Thence, it's only natural to presume that your reflections, conclusions, and emotions, could as equally be controlled by such basic and seemingly negligible means.

I am no fool to assume myself the first person to ponder this possibility. Long before, Orwell explored a form of totalitarian manipulation of personalities in "1984". More recently, filmmakers went as far as depicting a means to control audiences literally by radiation in one Batman episode. But what I am surprised  to see is how probable such sci-fi nightmares have become, and how ironic is the situation. One aims for "independence" and "individuality" by avoiding non-selective and conformist forms of mass communication, only to become a ready candidate for a fully targeted even if well-meant stream of information. Furthermore, as I "shop", or as I "meet someone finally in person", that is, as I translate a virtual entity into a corporeal reality, the distinction between the virtual and the real begins to erode. At the end, as the data is accumulated and put to use, "happenstance" becomes less of an "accident", even if the casual chain with a "consciousness" may remain hidden to us.

Increasingly, people relate to each other via virtual means. One funny image is the sight of children and parents reaching each other at the dinner table via their smart phones. At its most extreme, it's plausible to imagine us communicate to ourselves via some digital medium, a phenomenon that shares in essence with the historic pen and paper, but differs radically in its wider degree of mediation. This alone opens the possibility to intercept the very thought process as it's taking place, and hence, to guide it by manipulating its environment to arrive at desired conclusions. It also allows for a channel to direct passive thoughts, shape interests, trigger emotions, and generate behavior otherwise alien to the gestalt of the person. It would have been comforting if scientists, philosophers, journalists, and other intellectuals, were immune to such interfering influences; but I doubt if even the most intelligent of people could be fully aware of such bias when alone in the company of their laptops.

Influence and confluence are necessity components of collective progress. The present state at its best could continue to be a unique opportunity for "synergy" among the best. Yet if it loses its liberal character, if it's guided by some "intention", the outcome would be far from what those members intended.

I began this note with an appreciation of the medium, and I end it on the same point. I only remind myself that as it was the case with any new invention, we had to learn to distinguish between its uses and abuses, and we learned to choose to benefit from its gifts rather than be harmed by its damaging consequences.

Part III: The Necessary Compromise 
(*) Part III was published first on September 28th, 2015, at Facebook.com/PAComposer, revised under A Page From My Life: The Necessary Compromise.

I was kept off of the Web for a few days too many due to technical issues. Tedious details aside, the message was clear: without the digital connection, at least in principle, I could be fully cut off from the world. Someone with just enough knowledge and access could easily detach, isolate, and demobilize me, if temporarily, but just enough to inflict potentially lasting damage. I could be rendered silent in the blink of an eye. And I live at the middle of a big city.

It is not a joke. I think of all the people scattered in the small towns and laid-out villages. How easily their environments could be shut down by accidents, if not manipulated by the most absurd of beings. One gets a new appreciation of the lives of the pioneers and frontier men and women, with their big hearts and wills. How did they keep up with the world remains a mystery. I remain aware of the potential for a "virtual cage", but I am also alarmed of the "merciless cage", beyond and in the absence of the virtual. Last window closed. Good luck Mr. Crusoe.

For now, I think I have failed badly in providing myself with general buffers and parallel solutions. That wouldn't necessarily mean more high-tech equipment. Maybe it's about time to invest in a few pigeons, a portable smoking furnace, a few loud and clear Shofars, some papyrus and clay plates, and definitely a mule, in case some day my car won't oblige, too.

(*) The above compilation in whole and in parts was an original Note.
(*) The author is a musician by inclination and education.
© 2015, Parts I, II, III, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.