A Short, Possible Future-History: Part 1


08:31:47 AEDT
February 23rd, 2041
Victoria, Australia

A ding derails a young man’s train of thought; the electrochemical carriages of that exact conscious experience careen off their neurological tracks, evaporating into the ether of his cranium. Forever lost. Never to be perfectly replicated again.

The sound that caused such carnage came from a Gen 10 SmartWatch. The SmartWatch belongs to Looke, though he vehemently despises the noise it makes. To Looke, the notification sound is sickly sweet; the audio equivalent of the taste of honey laced with aspartame. Admittedly, it only lasts for a fraction of a second but, through conditioning, Looke has come to recoil at the noise — to the point of feeling physically ill for a period of time afterwards. “If only Pavlov’s dogs and Skinner’s pigeons could see me now,” Looke often chuckles to himself when the nausea arises.

Looke’s distaste for the notification noise stems from his awareness of the cognitive neuroscience relating to technology. In this way, Looke’s knowledge schemas are no different from any other kind of ill and subsequent stimuli arising from the external environment. Just like if Looke were to be slapped in the face after he heard the notification ding, he would begin to have a negative response due to the noise itself, he now suffers that same effect; only the cause is a slapping hand attached to an internal arm.

The fact that Looke can be tortured by his own knowledge, and not only an external adversary or object, is not surprising. Anxiety, grief and depression have excelled at this since the dawn of human-kind. Actually, earlier; adverse emotions have been detected in many organisms that are from earlier branches of the evolutionary tree. Ultimately, all emotions are neurophysiological phenomena. It doesn’t matter whether the information is created by an external or internal force. The sensation is still transmitted using excited nerve cells — or lack thereof.

Looke remembers reading about a similar idea in The Sciences of the Artificial, by the polymath Herbert A. Simon. In that book — which blew Looke’s mind, many times over –Simon detailed how an organism makes a decision, or reacts, based on the environmental stimuli that confront it. Even though Looke knew the book was first written 50 years before he was born, he recognised it as an important piece of intellectual documentation. Simon’s ideas have been a subtle, but unmistakeable, force on the modern world. As such, he wanted to read Simon’s words for himself.

In doing so, Looke discovered one of Simon’s ingenious ideas. Simon argued that the organism’s memory should also be considered as part of the environment in its entirety. The brain is not an isolated instrument, operating within the environment, but instead, is part of it. Looke was fascinated by this idea the very moment that he encountered it. Immediately he saw the valence of non-duality that it carried; by no means is the idea a large step from various Buddhist and Hindu concepts. This is a hobby-horse for Looke. He enjoys the convergence of omnipresent and omnitemporal knowledge sources, and gets a substantial hit of dopamine anytime he finds the essence of an old (possibly spiritual) idea hiding inside a modern (scientific) one.

All this aside, though, this linking of notification ding to unpleasantness now means that the ding of his SmartWatch is a direct cause of pain for Looke; rather than just a signal that pain exists in his near future. This is because, as mentioned, Looke is intensely aware of the neuro- and cognitive science relating to the use of digital (entertainment) devices. Particularly, how they leave their own serial-number-specific footprint on an individual’s neocortex.

While this research began a few decades ago, it really only started to make an impact on the mainstream within the last 10 years. However, since that point, it has become blatantly clear — to some — that there is a tremendous cost to consistent thought-interruption and attention-fragmentation. Looke’s intimate familiarity with this research, and its implications, is the fundamental cause of the displeasure he experiences when his time-keeping device notifies him of something. Anything!

He recognises that his response is atypical, but this alone is not strong enough evidence to make Looke believe it is wrong. The wisdom of crowds has made many a fatal decision across the course of history. Looke views it like this: If knowledge of how to behave was accumulative — rather than averaged — across individuals, he would take a lot more notice of what people around him did, thought or said.

For now, though, Looke mostly trusts books — supplemented by a few living sources — as the purveyors of wisdom.

I am fascinated by the power of knowledge; in particular, how through its implementation we can build a better life for ourselves and others. Most specifically, I am interested in ideas related to rationality and morality. I believe we can all be benefited by having a concern for both probability as well as people. As a student, I am studying Artificial Intelligence. As a professional, I work in mental health case management. When I am not doing one of these things, I am very likely writing for my blog, recording an episode for the "PhilosophyAu" podcast, hanging out with my nan, reading a book or, occasionally, attending a rave. A previous version of myself obtained a bachelors and a masters degree in sport science and was the Manager of Educational Services for a leading health and fitness company.

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