Technologists of Attention at The Chapel of Sacred Mirrors

by Michael Garfield

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Delivered at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors (Wappingers Falls, New York) on 12 November 2016, this talk – my first at COSM – was truly epic (three hours, minus the half-hour of pauses and throat-clearing I edited out for your benefit). Based on the work of Penn State professor Richard Doyle – especially his book, Darwin's Pharmacy: Sex, Plants, and the Evolution of the Noösphere – this is a talk about art as magic, and awareness as the medium of all creative work.

It's about how we got here and what we're doing and how the cosmic table's tilted in favor of evermore creative and intelligent ideas and organisms. It's about your purpose in the world and where this ride is taking us and how you can embrace the change and chaos for a more creative and rewarding life...

--- Here are my ridiculously overdone notes from this talk:

“Being interested is the secret to technologizing attention. If you want to know how to get people to pay attention to something, the best way is to learn how to steer your own attention. Learn what catches your own.”

- Walking the Coastline of an Island of Ideas to Perform a Nonlinear Worldview
- Subjective & Objective, Experience & Description, Mind & Matter, Free Will & Determinism
- Embryogenesis & The Emergence of Self & Other in a Toroidal Topology

“There comes a point when the spherical self will no longer suffice and so we turn that body into a donut, basically.”

“The religions of the letter reinforced the magical potency of the image by rejecting it.”

- Embodied Metaphor & Our Linguistically Limited Subdomain of the Imagination
- Klein Bottles & Mobius Strips: Follow The Outside Long Enough & You End Up on The Inside
- Consciousness as Delay Space and the Minimum Now Moment

“If the function of the ego is actually like an auxiliary generator, to steer the organism into a best-case scenario during an emergency, that it’s not something that’s supposed to be operating on a normal basis, because it’s actually not all that accurate or effective to go through your entire life believing these very simple emergency-situation-style things – that I’m over here and everything else is over there – in that sense, it seems like the human species has had the fire alarm going for like fifty thousand years and we’ve just gotten used to the sound of it.”

“We’re all implicated in this vast creative conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy that folds awareness over on itself in as many ways as possible, to reflect on these things.”

- Deconstructing the Notion that We’re Merging With Machines
- Life Has Always Been A Network
- The Technology’s Already Inside of You, but You Don’t Know Where You End

“Big enough group of people, just enough moisture in the air, and you can dance down rain. That means that even without holding a device, we have technologized weather. And therefore the weather exists inside of us, in one respect… We have hampered ourselves with the mistaken assumption that I cannot impact something because I can’t reach it with my fingers, when in fact, I CAN still reach that thing with my body: the magnetic field generated by my heart and my brain.”

“Let’s not talk about merging with technology, because that does the opposite of what we actually want to achieve, if the goal is to get people to engage and embrace the change. Because even talking about merging with another human being is distinctly unsexy to me. I don’t know about you guys, but if somebody says to me, ‘Let’s merge,’ I’m like, ‘Let me see your credentials.’”

- Attention-Space Mapped Out as Something Like Einstein’s Convoluted Landscape of Space-Time

“Silly monkeys, the Earth isn’t round! It’s a fractal swiss cheese matrix of attention.”

“When you turn enough eyes on something, you can change the very fabric of reality…it’s always been the case that whomever has everyone’s attention determines the rules.”

“It will be our task to engineer the landscape of human attention in the world in such a way that it creates channels through which people’s needs are effortlessly satisfied. To make that slightly less esoteric, you can’t evolve everyone to the point where they automatically care about the health of our ecosystems, about the rights of every other person on the planet [but] if we can get the way that people automatically attempt to satisfy selfish concerns to ultimately benefit all beings – if we can get selfish consumer behavior to fuel and to participate in the self-organizing fulfillment of the whole – basically, if we can as wise leaders learn how to skillfully employ our own selfish desires in service of a greater more inclusive desire…THAT’S what it’s going to take.”

“We can only care about that which we can stretch ourselves to recognize.”

“We can create cultural systems that encourage the best possible application of selfishness at any given level of psychological development. So we can create a culture that encourages people to act responsibly for their own personal self interest, or for their ethnic group…we can do it in a way that benefits the whole.”

- How & Why Plants Hack an Animal’s Attention System

“Poetry, art, music – these things emerge out of an encounter with the ineffable, and it is through performing our awe, performing our encounter with the ineffable, this stream of poetry and visionary art and Tipper squishes and all this stuff that comes out of this infinitely dimensional object twisting in hyperspace that includes us as itself observing its own mystery shape pouring out over this horizon in all directions…there’s really nothing sexier than somebody who’s been broken open in that way, who is no longer performing in society this constructed boundary between ‘me’ and ‘you.’ The sexiest a person can get is remembering that they’re cracked open and inviting people into that, specifically by folding the attention onto that particular rift, that gap, and saying, like Leonard Cohen, may he rest in peace, ‘There’s a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.’ And how many times has THAT line been reproduced? Because it is ‘the difference that makes a difference.’ It is referencing itself as a linguistic fissure in this undivided experience of reality, and then you look into the fissure and it is reproduced again. It’s so generous! Just endlessly giving us opportunities to encounter and reflect upon this fact: that there isn’t a place where you can cut the universe without the whole thing coming undone.”

“In that space between the pattern and the noise is all of it, what seems to be really driving the evolutionary process, at least among animals, which is: choosing mates…to fold in on something that shows just the right blend of symmetry and freaky individual flair. And that gorgeous creature that is just the right blend of noise and signal, of pattern and novelty – that’s the invitation through which we engage in the combinatorial exercise of creating another generation of kids. And so in the syntax of human bodies that is spoken by a city as an evolutionary adaptation to a complex environment that requires differentiated labor and social roles in order to dissipate the available energy that’s stored in these petroleum deposits and this old-growth forest…it’s important for people to understand that all of the things that we hate about ourselves as ecologically conscious late-capitalist mammals, all of these things are in-differentiable from our blessing and unique gift as a species. Our unique role on this planet appears to be, to play the part, that has been played routinely over Earth’s history by one lineage or another…which is, again, go back two billion years to those first photosynthesizing algaes, and they polluted the entire planet. They killed half the life on Earth. But inso doing, they created this extraordinary opportunity for new forms to emerge through the chaos of that extinction. And every extinction creates this ‘offer that life could not refuse.’ To repopulate all of those empty niches, and even more new niches that have been created through the decay of these legacy structures in the ecosystem balance. And so here we are, and A) we’re getting down on ourselves because we think that we’re separate from nature, and B) we pair that with a thought that would not make sense if it were held rigorously with this other thought, which is that we are somehow nature gone wrong. We can’t really be both. Something that nature is doing – part of this unified, perfect thing – and then also ‘God’s Bad Idea.’ That’s just more of this presumptuous, dissociative nonsense that is automatically writing the end of this self-fulfilling prophecy.”

- Technologizing Attention: A How To Guide
Rhythmicity, Disjunction, Narrative

“Attention and awareness is made out of difference. And the longer you try to focus your attention on something, the more likely you are to recognize that the sameness or the continuity of our experience is a virtual reality created out of all of these discrete states, and that nothing is the same thing if you look at it, look away from it, look at it…it’s not the same thing that you just observed twice.”

“Sex exists because it accelerates the evolutionary process. It increases the number of recombinatory outcomes. And anything that does that seems to get favored in this self-unweaving cascade.”

- The Definition of Evil as a Function of Creative Intelligence

“I would argue that if you regard art as inherently, intrinsically psychedelic, in the sense that it’s the manifestation of the imagination into an instantiated physical reality, then there is no activity, there is no behavior, that cannot be entered into and experienced as art, and that will not be transformed by that shift in perspective.”

“Joseph Campbell said that you make something sacred by drawing a red ring around it. And Ken Wilber said that you make something art by putting a frame around it. So in that sense there’s really only a pedantic distinction between that which [sacred and that which] is art – in the sense that we have blessed something with our awareness and then framed it in such a way as to draw it out of the background environment, and present it to the attention of an audience. We have created a figure out of the ground. We have accelerated the entropic decay of the universe by sorting something over here, making it one way and not another. There’s really no distinction between that and blessing something, acknowledging it as sacred. We get into this: created or discovered?”

“Created or discovered? Made or born? Sacred or secular? Mundane or transcendental? All of these are not objective qualities of anything. They are lenses through which we can approach this infinitely rich and complex undivided reality that our minds appear to be tools to…carve swans out of, or whatever. So if I’m tying a bow on these ideas, you’ve got Science, and Religion, and Art, and they all wind up together at the place where the search for knowledge reveals itself as a bait and switch, and we realize that the ultimate goal of any inquiry that may have started, however earnestly, as an attempt to acquire mastery or control over the world, ends up – if we stick with it long enough – confronting us with the sort of inconvenient discovery that there is no such thing as ultimate control. That we’re creating new questions and new ignorance exponentially faster than we’re creating new knowledge or the ability to explain or manipulate the world. And so they all bottom out in the ineffable. But once you tie up the present, that’s not the end. That’s only half way. And so you’ve got to give it to somebody. And they’ve got to open it.”

“Sri Aurobindo said that starting from enlightenment was the correct path, not this defining one’s self as a seeker and then spending your entire life pursuing an asymptote. We draw the exponential curve that goes up to vertical – you see that in all this talk of Singularity – but that curve never touches the Y axis. This attempt to get ever closer to whatever it is, our Godhead, it never gets there. And so we can define ourselves by what we perceive ourselves to lack – and therefore continue chipping away at this impossible problem forever – OR we can start by acknowledging that we are already awake and from that point, proceed to excavate our true Self as the jewel that is constantly rewarding our inquiry, no matter where we attend to it. And then everything you encounter is you revealing your Self to you, constantly. Then you are at the base camp – you’re not at the top of the mountain – that’s where it STARTS for us now, because we’re out of that axial age of messianic sages, and we’re moving into an age where individual awakening exists within the empowering planetary matrix of support within this culture that has served all of the world’s wisdom traditions to us on a platter.”

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Michael Garfield Austin, Texas

Free-roaming talks on evolution, mind, technology, and soul that show the islands of experience to be the underwater continent they are – reminding us that everything is equally art, science, and spiritual practice.

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