Founder of Brockman, Inc., a literary and software agency, President of Edge Foundation


In their classic book The Mathematical Theory of Communication, Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver stated: "The word communication will be used here in a very broad sense to include all of the procedures by which one mind may affect another. This, of course, involves not only written and oral speech, but also music, the pictorial arts, the theater, the ballet, and in fact all human behavior."

Marshall McLuhan pointed out that by inventing electric technology, we had externalized our central nervous systems; that is, our minds. We had gone beyond Freud's invention of the unconscious, and, for the first time, had rendered visible the conscious.

Composer John Cage went further to say that we now had to presume that "there's only one mind, the one we all share." Cage pointed out that we had to go beyond private and personal mind-sets and understand how radically things had changed. Mind had become socialized. "We can't change our minds without changing the world," he said. Mind as an extension became our environment, which he characterized as "the collective consciousness," which we could tap into by creating "a global utilities network."

We create tools and then mold ourselves in their image. Seventeenth-century clockworks inspired mechanistic metaphors ("the heart is a pump") just as mid-twentieth-century developments in self-regulating engineering devices resulted in the cybernetic image ("the brain is computer").

Although you don't hear much about cybernetics today in the scientific arena, its impact is profound. "The cybernetic idea" stated anthropologist Gregory Bateson, "is the most important abstraction since the invention of Jesus Christ." He went on to note that we were now living in " a world of pattern, of order, of resonances in which the individual mind is a subsystem of a larger order. Mind is intrinsic to the messages carried by the pathways within the larger system and intrinsic also in the pathways themselves."

In this new epistemology Ockham's Razor meets Gödel's Proof and the fabric of our habitual thinking is torn apart. Subject and object fuse. The individual self decreates. (See By The Late John Brockman). Reality passes into description and thus becomes invention. Such ideas, which appear destructive, liberate, allowing us to lay waste to the generalizations of previous epochs which we decreate by getting through the history of our words. As Wallace Stevens wrote: "The words of the world are the life of the world. It is the speech of truth in its true solitude: a nature that is created in what it says."*

Key to this radical rebooting of our mindsets is the terminformation, which, in this scheme, refers to regulation and control and has nothing to do with meaning, ideas, or data. Bateson pointed out that "information is a difference that makes a difference." The raindrop that hits the ground behind you contains no information. The raindrop that hits you on the nose has information. Information is a measure of effect. Systems of control utilize information if and when they react to change to maintain continuity.

If Newtonian physics taught us that it is the parts that matter, we now inhabit a universe that interacts infinitely with itself, where importance lies in the patterns that connect the parts. This becomes problematic because how can a system describe itself without generating a spiralling ladder of recursive mirrors?

The answer?

Nobody knows, and you can't find out.

The description of the plane of language is the plane that holds our descriptions. Language becomes a commission, a dance, a play, a song.

With the Internet we are creating a new extension of ourselves in much the same way as Mary Shelley's Dr. Frankenstein pieced together his creation. Only this creation is not an anthropomorphic being that moves through accretive portions of space in time. It is instead, an emergent electronic beast of such proportions that we can only imagine its qualities, its dimensions.

Can it be ourselves?

I propose as the most important invention of the past two thousand years: Distributed Networked Intelligence (DNI). DNI is the collective externalized mind, the mind we all share, the infinite oscillation of our collective consciousness interacting with itself, adding a fuller, richer dimension to what it means to be human.