Social Networks and Mind Evolution

Real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf. Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction.


Photograph by Chris Jackson/Getty Images, taken from The Guardian

Photograph by Chris Jackson/Getty Images, from The Guardian

Several weeks ago there was a post in The Guardian UK titled “Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilising’ the human mind”. Gosh, I thought, not another one of those technophobic critics again! If the name of Susan Greenfield was not mentioned right at the beginning I probably would have just read a few lines and close my browser’s tab. So luckily Greenfield was mentioned, and when she is I know it’s going to be neuroscience, and it’s going to be not so much technophobic as exciting.

And I was right. Sure enough, there were technophobic tones here and there, but tones of fascination with the brain are more prevalent. It is particularly the paragraph quoted above that took my attention. Also, the conclusion of the article reads as such:

But Greenfield warned: “It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations. We know that the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world.”

This is an exciting fact. A critical theorist shouldn’t be tempted to look at this merely in the vein of some cheap “postmodern” attitude of criticizing the hegemony of mathematical neuroscience while it represses the contingency of the discourse of knowledge and therefore oppresses certain minority discourse about the brain and the spirit and such and such. Rather, one should ask what truth lie behind these claims and how they will effectively play out.

As for myself, I am highly pleased that we have such articles. At least I know that I am not the only person to make the claim that Web 2.0 is changing our minds much more radically than we may think. Of course I was never the only one, but it is disconcerting to note that most of those who think so belong to the school that call themselves “New Age”, with which I never want to be associated.

Greenfield does it in terms of neuroscientific psychology. Her points, I think, are correct. I also think they deserve much more elaboration from a proper psychoanalytic point of view. After all, psychoanalysis proper is psychology, so should it not make much more sense that they work together in criticisms? Perhaps the now fashionable divergence of the fields (one to neuroscience, another to a “materialist-transcendental” Deleuzian approach) should not be embraced so dearly, after all.

So what is my Lacanian take on this issue of what I call, for lack of a better name, a “mind evolution”? Social networks and Web 2.0, even the computer logic in general, play a world of difference in the subject’s relation to the big Other, the socio-Symbolic order, as well as his relation to his own object-production. In the social Web, we have fluid identities (we consciously construct online identities), confusion of time (we can undo many things we did not want, we can think about what we want to say in a chat before hitting Enter), and virtually eternal memory (objects of our production never disappear and can be reproduced endlessly), to name a few that I think are the major. Is this not proof that the basis of language and society itself (the notion of forgetting, of property, of not-knowing, of spatial interaction, of temporality, etc.) is changing?

My point in this post had been but one: something is happening in the human mind, and questions are popping up about this change. Analysis should not be given up to neuroscientists alone, but to critical theorists as well. We are in dire need of a coherent cognitive mapping, one that I believe psychoanalysis proper will help greatly.


7 Responses to “Social Networks and Mind Evolution”

  1. […] of the daily specials from the local restaurant being faxed to your office (I’m amazed a lot Social Networks and Mind Evolution – 03/07/2009 Real conversation in real time may eventually give way […]

  2. Who in today’s world actually practices psychoanalysis proper? The only therapists I’ve run into are pill pushers. They claim everyone they see in their office is bipolar whether or not the individual actually exhibits more than one polar phase. Then, they suggest every patient they see has a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, no one has ever done a scientific study to indicate exactly what the correct and natural chemical balance is. Furthermore, these physicians (and I use the term loosely in this instance) do not do a chemical analysis of the brain of the patient in question to determine what the chemical makeup of that individual is. Even if they did, it would only exhibit the chemical makeup of that moment, and depending on the mood of the patient in that moment, the chemical findings would not be indicative of anything. There is no scientific method involved in the practice of psychology any longer. Let’s face it, it was just 10 years ago when Elizabeth Gould and Charles Gross discovered neurogenesis in the primate brain, completely overturning every notion science possessed on brains to that time. Elizabeth Gould’s latest research has led her to discover that stress inhibits neurogenesis. Stress in the womb, as well as stress during the first 5 years of life will lead to a lifetime of inhibited neurogenesis. Reduced neurogenesis means reduced brain function. In this sense, every child born in the ghetto is almost automatically relegated to a life of poverty because the conditions in the ghetto impair and impede natural brain growth from birth throughout the child’s lifetime. In this manner, capitalists maintain their positions of dominance, because their children are brought into nurturing worlds. The distribution of wealth (and lack of same) perpetuates the current class system as well as those living within the classes as they are presently constituted through neurogenetic development of the brain and its relationship to cognitive functioning thereafter. Gould forthrightly denies the conventional wisdom that poverty is a character issue. She correlates poverty with neurogenetic inhibition due to stress, whether prenatal, during infancy, or later. Furthermore, the discovery of neurogenesis is beginning to lead some rebel researchers to question the long held notion that memories are stored in brain tissue. Your fundamental question, are developments in the world wide web, in concert with a continuing and exponentially expanding human interaction with the world wide web (and I would even add texting and the rise of cellphone use), fundamentally altering human consciousness (I use this term instead of either brain or mind, because we cannot adequately address which or in what degrees both inform and interface with consciousness), is not really a quention neuroscience is capable of addressing at this time. The most advanced of neuroscientists, those conducting the cutting edge research into the relationships between brain, mind and consciousness, are just not able to get a handle on how brain functioning correlates with mind. The more they learn, the more questions arise. One of the great problems with today’s neuropsychologic community is that because they can manipulate a few humans with certain drugs, they want to jump to universal conclusions even in the absence of any real foundation in traditional scientific method. Or, as Woody Allen’s character in Sleeper once said, “I don’t let anyone fool around with my brain, it’s my second favorite organ.”

  3. I’d like to offer a link to an essay I wrote reflecting the reseaqrch I compiled on the nature of consciousness conveniently titled On the Nature of Consciousness: Consciousness” Relationship to Living a Life with Meaning. Here’s the link if you choose to include it.

  4. Bonni Rambatan Says:

    Excellent comment. We are indeed very far away from discovering the nature of consciousness, and we have very few, if any, dedicated psychoanalysts willing to look into this matter. Neuroscience cannot address that, but neither can psychoanalysts on their own, I would say. The psychoanalytic scene today, and yes there are still those who do not push pills, I’m glad to say, still has an inner conflict of their own. Most have been referring far too much to Deleuze, resulting in an abstract notion of consciousness which may explain virtual worlds but cannot ground it in a solid neurophysiological basis.

    We have a long journey ahead of us, one that can only, I think, be solved once we look at things differently, i.e. when neuroscientists adopt a psychoanalytic model of the mind (using mathematics, topology, and linguistics before going right down to A effects in B) and vice versa. Otherwise each would be chasing the stag while the other enjoys his rabbit, as Rosseau would put it. What we have now are each enjoying their rabbits and giving up the stag because they don’t see a possibility of working together.

    I’m reading your essay as I type. Thanks for the link.

  5. I wont comment on the above post, classifying psychoanalysts as “pill pushers” is just too general..

    “Most have been referring far too much to Deleuze, resulting in an abstract notion of consciousness which may explain virtual worlds but cannot ground it in a solid neurophysiological basis.” I’m not sure if most of the practicing psychoanalysts refer to Deleuze, but maybe more Klein and Bion?

    A good, interdisciplinary approach (combining psychoanalysis and neuroscience) is held by Mark Solms. I recommend his book “Neuropsychoanalysis”, or for a start this video:

  6. sorry, by “above psot”, I meant the first post.

  7. Bonni Rambatan Says:

    It is too general indeed to even say most psychoanalysts are pill-pushers. All of the practicing psychoanalysts I know never push any kind of pill at all.

    And no, very few practicing psychoanalysts actually do refer to Deleuze. Yes, Klein, Bion, Jung, and of course good old Freud and Lacan are to whom they refer. What I meant was the theoretical psychoanalytic scene that attempts for a serious analysis of the virtual worlds. Now I like Deleuze very much, don’t get me wrong here, but it’s the tricky merging of the Deleuze-Lacan-neuroscience frameworks that I think should be done instead of each going with their own frameworks.

    Mark Solms did a very good job, I should say. I’m waiting for what he and his peers has to say on the Freudin death drive, or, better yet, on how to map Lacanian graphs into neurological processes! :) Thanks for bringing this into my attention!

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