So now I come to the phenomenon of consciousness. I call "consciousness" a phenomenon because a phenomenon is defined as:
a fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen, especially one
whose cause or explanation is in question. (New Oxford American Dictionary)
And the reality of consciousness is a question. At least, so it seems in the present moment when much of what goes on in our world strikes me as existing on the "slim-to-none" end of any measuring stick for consciousness. Of course, these are not the best of times. We continue to cope with a pandemic that has killed more than 5,000,000 people world-wide. And our means of coping served to protect us physically—for the most part—while at the same time isolating us behind our masks and social distances. Meanwhile, we watch the fires burn our forests, habitats disappear, and the traumas of racist violence and political stagnation sap our resilience and hope.
Better not to be conscious, some may think. Better to lose ourselves in the distractions of games, and political posturing that seeks to find bogeymen in other lost, isolated souls. In addition, some among us find comfort and hope by escaping into a "metaverse."
This "metaverse" promises to help us connect and further our personal evolution, even as the "metaverse" itself evolves. So what is the "metaverse?"
The metaverse is the hypothetical next iteration of the internet,
supporting decentralized, persistent online 3-D virtual environments
through virtual headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphones,
PCs, and game consoles. (Wikipedia)
With your electronic device, you may leave this present world of traumatic ugliness and enter the virtual world engineered by programmers of artificial intelligence and electronic design. This is a world of human avatars, guided by software scientists who create a virtual space in which human imagination engages virtual adventures with themes from the collective unconscious that have brought us to our contemporary moment of consciousness.
Herein is the promise and the threat to human consciousness. For example, where is the moral code located within the metaverse? Who creates beauty, wonder, awe, curiosity, guilt, shame, art, poetry, music, architecture, education, law, responses to suffering, love, falling in love, conflict, the resolution of conflict, justice, despair, life, death, mercy, grace? Who shapes the evolution of consciousness itself, as mysterious as it is?
In short, is the metaverse a world of artificial intelligence which might easily become an "artificial unintelligence?" If consciousness is "an awareness by the mind of itself and the world" (New Oxford American Dictionary), whose mind is minding itself within the
metaverse of artificial intelligence? At what point is the human neural network "engineered" to make social networking, business decisions, war games, and geographical reshaping serve the values and aims of a rogue individual, group, or perhaps a machine?
Even as I ask this question, I depend upon GOOGLE to provide information that might assist me in considering the relationship between artificial intelligence and the metaverse. Here is the interdependence of humankind and machine, homo-sapien brain and artificial intelligence, human consciousness and virtual technology.
How strange it is, then, that at this signal moment in time, we face the possible collapse of our democratic world and the defacing of our planet earth, while also glimpsing the potential of virtual reality that offers an advancing step in human consciousness. Perhaps it has always been so in the evolution of our species, although the possible extremes—advancement or catastrophe—appear to me so much greater.
In any case, I am reminded of another time when civilization faced a collapse at the hands of dictators and war machines that led to World War II. As Jung reflected upon the crisis of his time in 1934, he said:
What else is the meaning of the frightful regressions of our time?
The tempo of the development of consciousness through science
and technology was too rapid and left the unconscious, which
could no longer keep up with it, far behind, thereby forcing it into
a delusional position which expresses itself in a universal will to
distraction. The political and social isms of our day preach every
conceivable ideal, but, under this mask, they pursued the goal of
lowering the level of our culture by restricting or altogether inhibiting
the possibility of individual development. They do this partly by
creating a chaos controlled by terrorism, a primitive state of affairs
that affords only the barest necessities of life and surpasses in horror
the worst times of the so-called "Dark" Ages. It remains to be seen
whether this experience of degradation and slavery will once more
raise a cry for greater spiritual freedom. (C.G.Jung, The Archetypes
and the Collective Unconscious, Collected Works, Vol. 9i, para.617)