de-emphasizing your physical existence and your physical position in the universe, as well as communication and all sorts of sensory inputs and outputs. Then, by contrast, it emphasizes whatever is left. A lot of people might think, “Well there’s nothing left.” But that’s not the case. As I said, the human mind is primarily based on projection, and so once you get over the idea that you’re not supposed to be experiencing anything because nothing’s happening, that ability to project becomes free, and when it’s not coupled to any sensory motor input/output, it is very close to the ability to imagine. So it’s basically a creative idea. But what do you find then, and what kind of world develops under these conditions? Well, the physical world has a certain logic to it that has to do with the sensory motor system, and most of the ideas that circulate among humans have to do with that kind of activity in interaction with physical objects.
Of course, there are ideas that have to do with dreams and things that are a little different. But everyday, real-world ideas, whether they’re just common sense or the most sophisticated science, have to do with properties of the physical world. And there you have mores that have to do with identifying bodies and objects. Basically, there’s a concept of boundaries, and there’s a logic and a whole mind-set that comes out of this. This is the logic of the physical world, where you say that it’s A or it’s B. If a certain area of space and time is included in phenomenon A, then it’s probably not included in phenomenon B. Because these phenomena are defined by their boundaries, it belongs to one or the other, unless they’re certain kinds of weird phenomena, like waves or something, where they’re allowed to overlap and intersect.
So you get the idea that most of the time what you yourself are is defined by your boundaries. You have a pretty good idea that you’re somebody in a particular body in a particular place. Now, when you go far enough into the isolation mind-set, that begins to break down, and you start to see that, if you are anything, you’re probably patterns of communication, which are all tangled up with other patterns of communication in the outside world. So then you have a model of what you are that isn’t based on boundaries anymore, but on loops that are tied in with other loops. It’s an alternative to being this physical being. You have these overlapping entities that are defined by interacting loops of communication, and everything interpenetrates everything else. Well, you know, the Buddhists said that a long time ago. I called these patterns, “Bateson loops,” after a communication theorist I once knew. The “spiritual” entities, defined by boundaries that overlap rather than by inside/outside distinctions that exclude one another, are called “Booles,” after the nineteenth-century logician George Booles, who instigated Boolean algebra. So you might say, “Booles rush in … ”
David Tell me about Elfnet.
Francis: Elfnet is an idea that I’ve been pushing on everyone since about 1980, and it’s based on a Santa’s workshop paradigm. See, you have Santa and his elves, and all the elves are busy making toys for all the children. Imagine all the elves in some kind of benevolent organization at the North Pole. Now apply this to the information sphere. It’s a collaborative model of information sharing. Everyone is contributing by providing information that might be useful to other people and taking out whatever information they can use that other people provided. This doesn’t exclude that there could be some payoffs made for information within the system, but it has to be reasonable. The key thing is that the information is nonexploitive. That means the information you get is relevant to your own needs and interests. It’s not someone trying to sell you something with irrational persuasion, which is what the whole commercial marketing system that dominates our media is about.
David So it would make information available to people in a more accessible format, and allow everybody to contribute and interact in a community-like way.
Francis: Yeah, that’s right. It’s a global community based on communication rather than physical presence and physical work. So, first of all, you don’t want this to be chaos. Because right now you have chaos. This is the paradox. You can pick up a phone, and theoretically you can dial anyone in the world–I mean, if you know their number or even if you just start dialing numbers at random. I don’t know, maybe you should try this as an experiment. Spend the entire day doing this and see what you come up with. But there’s no guarantee that by following such a procedure, or even if you have some published directory of people that are supposed to be helpful resources of information, that you’re going to find anyone who either has the answer to your question, or has the capacity and willingness to help you with whatever your problem is, or even wants to hear about it.
Henry David Thoreau said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” So there’s tremendous isolation and alienation, and most people live every day in this little doggy run of their habitual activities, where they’re isolated from everything else that’s going on. They’ re mostly on the receiving end of information. So they get the news. Today we have an unparalleled ability to not only get news, but to see what’s going on all over the place. 0. J. Simpson is running down the highway in his white Bronco, and everybody’s there with him seeing it, but it’s a big “so what?” as far as everybody else is concerned.
You ought to have a two-way system that somehow breaks down the wall of isolation, so you’re not just the person who is receiving what somebody else considers to be news or information, which is basically what you are now. There’s somebody out there calculating what you should consider to be news or information. It’s being fed to you, unless you work very hard going through libraries and computer databases. You have to work extremely hard to get a little bit of information on your own. It’s a very biased, commercial-marketing, advertising system. So we thought maybe there are better solutions then this. But most of the systems that exist are fairly intractable, hard to work with. So what do you do if you want information? Where do you go? You go to your various experts–a doctor or someone–and ask them.
When you do that, you find out that most of those people are really technicians. They’re experts at performing certain procedures, and if you happen to be somebody who can benefit from the particular procedure they’re running, then it might be good for you to see them. You could go to a library or do the electronic equivalent–go digging through this stuff–or you could participate in one of these bulletin boards or electronic mail systems, which are really pretty chaotic. Everyone’s talking about the Internet, which is terrific. I use it all the time. But try to find anything on it. It’s pretty intractable, even for experts, because it’s really just an agreement to forward messages. So you’re back to the same basic problem as the telephone call.
You find that the really organized systems of information are primarily commercial exploitation, or noncommercial exploitation, based on irrational persuasion. I’m not saying anything that isn’t obvious. But in a sense, to focus on and harp on these issues is heretical, because we’re supposed to be living in an age of “markets” and so forth. And because of the way things are, that implies constant exploitation, whether it’s commercial exploitation, political exploitation, or religious exploitation. So how do you set up a system that’s nonexploitive that gives you access to information? How do you do it technically? How do you give people access to this?
Things like CompuServe and so on, which are designed for this fragment of the population that is so-called “computer literate,” are definitely growing. Your computer can log on with a modem to some network, and you can go in there and hunt for information or exchange messages. Those things are growing rapidly, but it’s still a minority phenomenon, and it has some very serious limitations, as anyone who has tried to use it knows. So that medium is maturing now, but at the same time there are other media coming along, and they’re eventually going to collide and converge. That would be the so-called interactive television, where you’ll be online all the time. You just turn the thing on, and there you are. You’re using the higher transfer rates and capacity of cable and fiber optic networks to allow a greater sensory richness of information. But still, the same basic problem is there. Even if you had that national information interstate right now, so that you could turn on your interactive television with the little remote control unit, you could only do what your son or daughter in the next room is doing right now with a PC on CompuServe.
See, you’re still basically limited to what they do on CompuServe, but with a little more sensory richness. So you could see what these two things are converging into during the next few years. By the year 2000 they probably will have merged, and there won’t be a lot of difference between using a utility like CompuServe and using an interactive television system. But there’s really nothing new in any of that, because we’ve had these computer bulletin board systems and searchable libraries on a large scale for at least thirty years. What’s changed is they’ve become a little bit easier to use, but just in a very minor way, by being sensorially richer.
David And Elfnet would do what to make the information more easily accessible to more