January 20, 2008

The User Illusion, part one

The User Illusion , by Tor Norretranders, is a book that tries to explain consciousness, and does so with the idea of the user illusion. This refers to the illusion of clarity and simplicity computer users get when they interact with the mysterious 1000001101111110101… of their machines, and on to the overall illusion of reality and control that our brains conjure up so that we think there is an ‘I’ that is continuous, in control and experiencing things. Just as the user interface in a computer only gives a superficial and misleading idea of what is going on behind the Windows, our sense of self has little to do with the reality of what goes on in our heads.

The one line summary is that we spend most of our time, and the best of our time, nonconscious, with no sense of self. The postscript is that we have increasingly tailored our experiences to cater to our tiny conscious attention, neglecting the importance of all the information that our nonconscious discards before presenting the illusion. Case in point: starting at a computer screen to take in a few words a second rather than walking in a forest and our senses being assailed. We are making life less rich by becoming more focused on what our consciousness can process.

When I was younger I used to cling to a strong sense of self, to the teen-angst existentialism of man vs world, but that point of view – which at the time felt like a real expression of a real personality - was not very in any sense rewarding. A strong sense of self demands a strong ego, while the jujitsu of mental health and / or spiritual practice requires a deliberate undermining of the same. There are easy and hard ways to undertake this, and the difference between them is not always clear, the choice between excess and self-discipline.

At some point taking the easy way out becomes too hard, and vice versa.

The road of excess leads to the palace of excess. Mark E. Smith

No comments: