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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.
Digital Existentialism or "Human" Existentialism?
I have not sacrificed my privacy for “never ending company” and I have not become “the flickering screen that never shuts off.”
In his recent Integral World essay Digital Existentialism , David Lane conveys to us how the overwhelmingly rapid and formidable development of computer technology is changing the very fabric of what it means to be a human being, and how the future prospects of this continued accelerated development will result in the following scenario:
No longer will we have to pretend to be the avatars we project. We may be bodily separated in the here and now but in cyberspace we will be the fused generation, where every desire and every whim is met instantly with its twin counterpart: absolute fulfillment. But therein lies the great transformation we cannot portend, sacrificing the limits of our humanity and what made us who we are for a future where nothing is breakable and vulnerable remains since we have replaced our mortality and its fragileness for a photonic wonderland where space and time and their separation no longer have any meaning.
Lane continues by ending his essay with a description of what he refers to as “digital existentialism”:
The forbidden fruit is electronic and we have already eaten it. The future will not so much shock as absorb us. We, the last remnants of a nature without intention, are becoming aware of a wholly new terrain which also brings with it a terror of its own: digital existentialism, where meaning and purpose are without direction and where we are never alone. We sacrificed our privacy for never ending company and in return we became the flickering screen hat never shuts off.
Now I believe I understand the thrust of Lane's impetus in describing the staggering changes that the digital world is fermenting in our lives. However, I must say that I take exception with Lane's choice of the term “digital existentialism” as I believe this is in actuality an oxymoron that in effect has no meaning. Existentialism was a philosophical movement that began in the 19th century with the writings of European philosophers such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, focusing upon the very meaning of what it means to be a mortal human being who knows he or she is destined to die, with pronounced experiences of solitude and related anxiety described as “angst” . Subsequent developments in the world of psychology included the will and freedom aspects of existentialism as a basis to formulate the currently active disciplines of humanistic and existential psychology . Thus I believe the use of the term “existentialism” means that we are talking about the essence of the deepest experiences of what it means to be human. The challenging question that Lane poses for us is: in the accelerated computer technology age that we are all immersed in, does it make sense to conceptualize our existential experiences in digital form? I contend that it does not.
In another recent Integral World essay, which is the prologue to the author's book of the same name, Advanced Spiritual Intimacy, Stuart Sovatsky  described a lifelong yogic developmental path known as urdhvaretas, which he described as:
The complete blossoming (urdhva, up-growing) of all human seed potentials (retas)— an ancient yogic tradition with abundant offerings that speak to many aspects of our modern distress, especially in the realm of our most important relationships.
Sovatsky goes on to describe a sublime path of spiritual intimacy that assimilates sexuality, and that I believe is a wonderful and much-needed antidote to all the instant sex-related chat and porno internet material that is readily available to all of us. Now perhaps in some future time, which I understand may not be as much in the future as I would hope it is, all of our physiological feelings and experiences could be “digitalized” to the extent that having intimate sexual relations would be equivalent to pressing some buttons on your “future cell phone.” And if we believe what some of the transhuman proponents tell us, perhaps in some future time we may be able to digitalize our broken body parts to such an extensive degree that we could actually “live forever” . Thus we may want to ask ourselves in these kind of science fiction scenarios in which we hear more and more about the blurring of the lines between science fiction and possible science in the future, would there by any meaning left to the term “existentialism”?
David Lane, frequently with his wife Andrea Diem Lane, describes our deepest experiences in physical terms, and this has included yoga meditation, as in their Integral World essay The Science of Going Within: Part 1: Exploring the Neurobiological Basis of Shabd Yoga Meditation . I have much respect for both Lanes in their Integral World writings; however, as I described in my recent Integral World essay The Remainder Conjecture vs. The Critical-Skeptical-Agnostic Perspective , I advocate for keeping an open mind to possible “non-physical” explanations, i.e. “non-physical” in regard to our current scientific knowledge, for various kinds of human experiences that extensive sophisticated scientific experiments indicate there are statistically significant results that we are currently at a loss to explain . These kind of human experiences, and I think the “advanced spiritual intimacy” experiences Sovatsky describes may include aspects of these kind of experiences as well, are to my mind at the essence of being “human.” I believe what Lane is describing is essentially our capabilities of utilizing the digital age to instantaneously access “information” and engage in “interactions” with people all over the world, and yes this is undoubtedly an awesomely impressive capability that scientific technology has given us. But is it “existential”? Does it replace “angst”? Does it replace “love”? I don't think so. Well at least it doesn't for me.
I have not sacrificed my privacy for “never ending company” and I have not become “the flickering screen that never shuts off.” Admittedly I sometimes get too immersed in my computer, like everyone else, but I also have retained my almost daily disciplines of mathematics and piano that I wrote about a number of years ago in one of my first Integral World essays, entitled My Conception of Integral . My psyche and physiology tells me point blank if I am delving too far from my “inner worlds” and then I know it is time for me to go inward again. And when it is time for me to go inward, all the instantaneous abilities of the digital age that Lane has described in his essay become meaningless to me. And if our science ever develops to a point where I don't need to go ”inward” anymore because I can just check out my inner state on my “modern cell phone,” well at that point I would have to agree with Lane that I have become “digitalized.” But at that point I must also say that I would no longer consider myself to be “me,” and whatever I would be would not be “existential.”
I realize that perhaps I am not “with it” in this whole new digitalized age, and that perhaps I have an old-fashioned mentality about things like existentialism and love. But Lane's essay did stimulate me, and made me want to share my thoughts about “digital existentialism.” To sum up my thoughts, “digital existentialism” does not exist, as “existentialism” is by its very nature a “human” enterprise involving deep inner feelings about death and anxiety, experienced in utter solitude.
1) See David Lane (2015), Digital Existentialism: In the Future U.R.A.I . Retrieved from www.integralworld.net
2) See for example Soren Kierkegaard (1954), The Sickness Unto Death (W. Lowrie, Trans.). New York: Doubleday. (Original work published 1849); and Frederich Niezsche (1968), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (W. Kaufmann, Trans.). New York: Viking. (Original work published 1892)
3) See for example Carl Rogers (1961), On Becoming a Person. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin; Rollo May (1981), Freedom and Destiny. New York: W.W. Norton; Kirk Schneider (2004), Rediscovery of Awe. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.
4) See Stuart Sovatsky (2015), Advanced Spiritual Intimacy: Prologue: Urdhavaretas—Yoga's Path of Complete Maturation of Ensouled, Engendered Bodies. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net
5) See http:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanism
6) See Andrea Diem Lane & David Lane (2013), The Science of Going With: Part 1: Exploring the Neurobiological Basis of Shabd Yoga Meditation. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net
7) See Elliot Benjamin (2015), The Remainder Conjecture vs. The Critical-Skeptical-Agnostic Perspective. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net
8) See Elliot Benjamin (2006), My Conception of Integral. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net