Jun 24, 2023
Consciousness extended: Bridging the gap between ourselves and our environment
Two paradigms of perception
A fundamental existential debate revolves around two contrasting paradigms of perception. The first frames humans as entities distinct from their environments; we exist, we have a world around us, and these are two separate entities. We influence our outer world, but the division remains.
In stark contrast, the second perspective posits that we are one with the external world. We are but a continuation of a soup of atoms. In this view, our actions aren't isolated occurrences but rather, changes in the configuration of atoms within a dynamic universe. It's akin to observing ink swirling in a jar of water, continuously shifting, morphing, and exerting influence over the other particles it encounters.
Consciousness: A byproduct of interaction
These perspectives shape our understanding of consciousness. The first paints consciousness as something we possess, controlling our interactions and changes within the world. The world, in this perception, is a passive entity, an inanimate object yielding to our influence.
The second perspective, however challenging to conceive, encourages us to consider the world as an extension of our consciousness. This means the world around us doesn't merely react to our actions; rather, our actions and the world are inextricably interwoven. In this view, the river that we step in is part of our reality, just as we are part of the river's reality. We are not only observers but also participants in the ongoing, dynamic interactions of life.
Extended consciousness: Beyond the brain
By using this perspective, we can view our interactions with the external world as an extension of our consciousness. Take, for instance, how we organize our rooms or offices. The placement of a calendar, a post-it note, a cherished gift, or an object symbolizing an idea extends our consciousness into our physical environment. Our interactions with the world become a tool for cognitive expansion, aiding us in remembering concepts, forming habits, or creating certain behavioral patterns.
This expanded understanding of consciousness, known as "Extended Consciousness", has profound implications on how we interact with our world. If our consciousness extends beyond the physical confines of our bodies, it means that our actions, thoughts, and perceptions are deeply intertwined with our environment. The divide between "self" and "other" blurs, paving the way for a more holistic understanding of existence.
Digitizing consciousness: User interfaces as extensions
The digitization of consciousness is exemplified in the design of FileMap's user interface. Not only is it flexible and immersive, but it also projects everything onto a dynamic 2D surface that uses primitive yet powerful iconography and storytelling principles.
In this system, size and proximity are fundamental tools for communication: the size of an object can be manipulated to signify its importance, ensuring it's frequently seen, while objects placed near each other imply association due to their proximity. These intuitive techniques facilitate quick comprehension and interaction.
The interface is open to continuous modification, embodying the fluidity and adaptability of our consciousness. The configuration of this digital environment forms a frictionless feedback loop, allowing for an immediate reflection of ideas from us to the medium and vice versa. This mirrors the continuous learning process in our brain – the things we learn fundamentally alter how we approach future learning. Similarly, in FileMap, how we configure our environment shapes how we interpret it.
Yet the interface extends beyond individual usage. Its collaborative framework allows multiple users to interact and learn together, thereby serving as a cognitive extension for a larger group. In this communal digital space, the shared organization and learning processes reinforce the sense of collective consciousness.
Conclusion: Interconnected consciousness and future directions
Understanding ourselves as a continuum of our surroundings, where our consciousness is not separate but an interconnected extension of our environment, offers a helpful and profound perspective. It brings us closer to comprehending the actual operating system of the physical world and how our minds interact with it. As we expand our knowledge on these subjects, we uncover new ways to better orchestrate this interconnectedness, optimizing our interactions with the world.
Our endeavor with FileMap has been to create a platform that encapsulates this perspective. We have designed it to be flexible and moldable, a tool that can be shaped by users to better reflect their consciousness. As users deepen their understanding of their own thought processes and ideas, they are able to represent these more effectively within the FileMap interface.
However, our ambition extends beyond creating a tool for users. We aimed to develop a platform that can grow and evolve alongside our expanding knowledge of cognitive science, creativity, and human behavior. FileMap, in its flexibility, serves as an evolving canvas where our growing understanding of the human mind can be tested, implemented, and shared. This integration of cutting-edge cognitive science with a user-friendly digital interface represents a step forward in harnessing our interconnected consciousness for more efficient and enriched learning and collaboration.
Dichotomy of Self and Environment: This concept explores the perceived separation between an individual and their surrounding environment. It is fundamentally linked to the first perspective discussed in the text, where humans are seen as entities distinct from their environments .
Interconnectedness and Oneness: This theory promotes the idea that all things in the universe, including humans, are interconnected. The concept strongly aligns with the second perspective in the text, which suggests we are a continuation of our external world, essentially one with it .
Cognitive Extension Theory: This theory suggests that our minds—our cognitive processes and resulting knowledge—extend beyond our brains and can include our bodies, physical environments, and tools. The text explores this idea extensively, suggesting that by organizing our physical environment or using a digital tool like FileMap, we are extending our consciousness .
Distributed Cognition: This concept argues that cognitive processes aren't confined to an individual but can be distributed across groups of individuals and tools. This is demonstrated in the text by FileMap's collaborative feature, allowing it to serve as a cognitive extension for a larger group, thereby promoting a sense of collective consciousness .
Particle Physics: The discussion around the universe and our position within it as a "soup of atoms" relies on concepts from particle physics, which studies the nature and interactions of particles that constitute matter and radiation .
Memory and Cognitive Systems: The text makes several references to how we learn and form memories, associating new information with previously stored data. This is a fundamental concept in cognitive psychology and neuroscience .
The Act of Creativity: The text describes creativity as connecting different parts of your brain and finding unique patterns. This is a broad definition and aligns with various theories on creativity in psychology .
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Kaufman, J.C., & Sternberg, R.J. (2019). The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge University Press.
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