Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Closely connected experiences

Imagine your hand is connected wirelessly to another hand in another body, perhaps your partner or best friend. You unconsciously decide to point your index finger. Two fingers point, yours and theirs.

Then, without warning your hand makes a "V for victory" sign or gives a "thumbs up", without receiving a command from your brain. Two hands separated in space perform the same command in unison. Great for synchronized swimming, amazing ballroom dancing or singing in perfect harmony with others.

To you it seems like your unconscious left frontal lobes have taken control. It's like those involuntary movements you sometimes make without planning to. But the controller is outside your body.

It could become a huge problem. A mess of conflicting activities, a tragedy of the commons, where no one takes responsibility and soon the resources of the commons are depleted, damaged or destroyed.

In some ways, it's a bit like connecting multiple keyboards to a computer with a Microsoft operating system and every keyboard is able to type letters. Each of us has some control, but because control is shared, what you get is gobbledegook, unless you decide upon a protocol, that allows turn taking or you each have your own space on the screen and can do your own thing within the group context.

Seem far fetched? Not at all. A UK husband and wife scientific team have already connected their arms to each other in a kind of soma-kinetic experiment.

Perhaps sometime during the 21st century you will be able to choose whether to be alone with your own thoughts or allow others to invade your brain and play synaptic pinball with your neurons. And you with theirs. Perhaps physical sex will be a thing of the past and be replaced with synaptic sex. You might even be able to host a party in your head.

It is these kinds of "behind the eyelids", closely connected experiences, that human must now be prepared for.

Some of us have already learned how to simulate this kind of world, because we are able to empathise with others. We have learned to imagine and often correctly guess what they are thinking in response to what we are saying and doing. Even without the wireless implants.

Here's one way to practise this skill.

We use an Improv routine called The Mirror to perform this joint activity, and afterwards share our cognitive experiences with each other so we have a better understanding of the connections between our inner and outer worlds:

1. Working with a partner, one person moves their hand and the other follows as if one hand is the mirror image of the other. Do this for 30-60 seconds. Then ask each other what did you see, hear and feel as we did that together? Record what you each learned.

2. Reverse roles. The other person moves their hand and the other person follows, as if their hand is a mirror image. Do this for 30-60 seconds. Then ask each other what did you see, hear and feel as we did that together? Record what you each learned.

3. Working with a partner, imagine yourselves performing a task together, such as writing a book, climbing a hill, shopping. Ask the other person: What did you see, hear or feel? Record what your learned from each other.

4. What happens when we ask people about their internal experiences of the world, rather than just respond to what they say or do?

5. What new rules of etiquette might we need to put in place to ensure we care for each other in these kinds of interactions?

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