Really Being There
Thursday, September 10, 1998 by Dave Winer.
So, according to my TV set, McGwire hit his 62nd home run on Tuesday night.
As Kurt Vonnegut might say, Ho hum!
Yes, I watched it, yes it was exciting, in a Hallmark sort of way.
Was I there? No way! I was in my living room. Playing a video game and watching the CRT out of the corner of my eye to see who was at bat. If it was McGwire, I watched the lights and sounds that the CRT was producing, if not, I was building a SimCity on a different CRT.
I am grateful to Mark McGwire for being such a warm and loving guy. He's a physically big man, as I am, and people often are scared of big male bodies, but he isn't afraid to open his heart and be vulnerable. For that, I am very grateful.
I want to see more symbols of big open-hearted men who love to hug and be hugged, who respect themselves and are willing to be public role models for others. He shows us that it's OK to love a big man, and it's also OK for a big man to share his love. Good deal. Thanks Mark!
While I was on vacation last week, a story went through many of the major news sites. Is the net depressing? A group of psychologists did a study and the answer they came up with was yes.
Some have suggested that I write about this. OK. Sometimes I find the net depressing. What else can I say? Did I hope it would be otherwise? Yes I did, and still do. That's all I have to say on the net causing depression, for now.
On a hike a couple of weeks ago, my mind was drifting, somewhere in the past, somewhat in the future, out in space, anywhere but where I was. My left foot slipped and I lost my balance. By the time I was consciously aware of the mis-step, my right arm had shot out, counterbalancing the weight that was headed down the hill. With the very next step my left foot was back on the trail. I took a deep breath and my mind went back into the past, to analyze what had just happened.
I like to think I have a quick mind, but my subconscious mind is *much* faster than my conscious mind. It doesn't have to ponder a response to a life-threatening event. Or if does any pondering, it's imperceptible to me in a conscious way. It's very very quick. Of course it has to be quick or I would be dead.
Every day my subconscious saves my life. It's a remarkable piece of machinery. And to some extent it's always in the moment, allowing my conscious mind to worry about all kinds of things. It seems to be saying "Go ahead and worry about your silly stuff, I'll keep you alive, just in case you ever want to be here."
Think about the human computer, the automatic, unconscious responses of a human being. The walking example above is a perfect illustration of its workings. It's as if I had a very powerful fast CPU on my shoulder monitoring all my muscles and senses, monitoring the balance indicators in my ears. An agent script that's always watching, ready to respond to any of thousands of different crises. A thousand different crisis-response programs. It's always running, always watching, always prepared to respond.
The Computer's job is to keep the body alive and unbroken. It's monitoring things that I am conscious of, but it's also controlling things, like my liver and spleen, that I am not conscious of. There are shared spaces and there are private spaces. I can control my breath, to some extent, but I have no conscious direct control over my heartbeat, that's behind an interface called "living".
But that's not all The Computer is doing. It's also involved in the unconscious functions of inter-human communication. For example, this email is largely, maybe entirely, being written by my internal computer, and the part of you that's reading it is part of your computer. If I had to stop and think consciously about where the T key is, then the H key, and then the E key, it would take many days to write a 20K email message. But over thirty years ago my computer learned how to flow words to a CRT screen by pressing keys, without involving my conscious mind, and it hasn't forgotten how to do this.
So instead of taking days, it takes hours to write the text of a longish email message. And your computer recognizes THE as a "word", not three letters. You don't have to think at a conscious level to understand what it means. You just get it. That's the subconscious, the computer, at work.
Remember Don's Amazing Puzzle?
It's worth repeating just to make this point.
How many F's are in this sentence?
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIF-
IC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.
Your computer probably only sees three but there are actually six.
I won't spoil the delicious frustration; the solution is at the bottom of this page.
The bottom line: the conscious mind doesn't control reading.
If it did you would see all six Fs.
So if there are lots of things that are done unconsciously by The Computer, now flip the question around, what if anything is *not* automatic, unprogrammed and spontaneous? Maybe not very much!
I already know that the computer is doing the typing, but who is doing the editing? Especially on a piece like this, my subconscious, my computer, is very much involved. It's telling me stories, about the past, imagining that I'm two years old and my mother has caught me saying these things. If I break any of the rules of my childhood, even those that I don't remember, my editor wants to delete what I've said. "That could be trouble," my subconscious reminds me, "it might be safer not to say that," it says in a threatening tone.
This isn't far-fetched. If you look at your own internal conversation I bet it works much the same for you. Some of us learned as children that it was OK to go ahead and say what you want (I'm obviously one of those people) and others learned it was better to be quiet, almost invisible, better to be seen and not heard. But maybe the pattern was set before we were children? Read onÖ
Some if not most psychologists believe that our attitudes and strategies are formed by the time we're four years old. Even worse, according to this school of thought, the most important experience was birth, all other influences pale in comparison. If this is true, then human relations is like typing and reading, automatic and deep, learned at an early age, hard to experience at a conscious level, and can only changed by carefully and patiently reprogramming the computer.
I see it in myself. My automatic response to an individual is to find a pattern he or she fits, and I respond to the pattern instead of responding to the person. Invariably the pattern is chosen from the few I knew when I was a helpless and dependent infant. I don't feel bad about this, for a couple of reasons. First, I have a lot of company, the world is filled with helpless four-year-olds in adult bodies. And second, as I've said before, if the strategies developed by my emotional computer hadn't been effective, I wouldn't have survived childhood, I wouldn't be here today.
But even if the strategies work, if they keep the body alive, is the body happy? Is the body here, in the moment? Not until it gets connected to time as it's really flowing. A big adult body with the responses of a helpless infant can't be happy, can't be present, and can't be in the moment. Think about it, it's true by definition. If you're responding as a child would, and you're an adult, you are not in the moment. It's mathematical.
Being in the moment isn't psychobabble, it's central to being powerful, being appropriate, responsive, and thriving. When we act like freaked-out children, we're deep in the past, far from the moment, far from power, far from happiness.
Breathing seems to be very important to deep relaxation, and relaxation is part of being in the moment (assuming there are no real threats to survival), possibly because it's one of the few activities that's shared between the conscious and subconscious. You can consciously hold your breath or accelerate it. But if you try to hold your breath too long, the subconscious takes over and forces you to breathe.
Breathing is a shared space. I think the act of breathing is almost like a programming platform, an interface, a way to directly communicate between the conscious and subconscious.
When I breathe deeply and consciously, my intellect sends a message to The Computer. Here's the message: "I am breathing on my own." In other words, I survived birth. By writing this I'm getting goosebumps. I see this as a confirmation, from my body to my mind that the message has been received at an even deeper level. I made it! I'm breathing on my own. Ye-hi! Glad that's over. (My birth, that is.)
I've done deep breathing, a kind of hypnosis, to travel to the core of my belief system, and even deeper, to learn that breathing is especially important for me because I had a unique challenge at birth, I was born with the umbilical chord around my neck. In my first moments of life, I had to solve a very big problem; I had to unwind the damned chord from around my neck, to keep it from strangling me!
So at my core, before I had even taken a first breath, my computer had to solve a serious real-world problem. This struggle made a big impression, in fact it set the theme for my entire life. If my life were a movie, it would be a constant stream of serious problems to solve. It isn't the solution that's important, very often I don't solve the problem, it's the problem itself, and my struggle, that makes me feel like I have a chance to survive. Look at my resume for a clue. I'm a hole digger, I take things seriously, I want to succeed.
But what I *really* want to do, at a deeper level, is to be born, so I can breathe.
There's the bug!
In this moment, in 1998, I'm a 6-foot-2, 43-year-old, healthy man. I'm breathing. It's a demonstrable fact. But if you were to look into my subconscious, it's very confused. Sometimes it understands that I'm thriving, and other times it thinks I'm still in the birth canal, chord wrapped around my neck, trying every trick it knows to get untangled.
It's a big bug!
The umbilical chord is the major symbol in my life. It shows up everywhere, usually tangled around something, and in my dreams, around my neck. A few weeks ago I noticed that I tend to leave a garden hose in my swimming pool. Wow. My first thought, every time I jump into the pool is that I might get tangled in the hose, I fear I might drown.
If I want I can pull the hose from the pool. It's my pool and my hose. My power. That would be an in-the-moment action. An adult thing, to make swimming safe, to balance the fear of strangling on the hose. I can just take it out. As an adult who has been born, the hose is no threat.
Now I'm in a position to write a much clearer and simpler autobiography. I was born with the umbilical chord around my neck. Therefore I am a do-er not a watcher. I don't expect anyone to do anything for me, they can't, I have to solve the problem on my own.
It could be that my personality was formed by the birth experience, or it could be that I had this nature before birth. According to this logic, you will never meet a lazy baby who was born with the umbilical chord around his or her neck. It would be a mathematical contradiction, because lazy people born with a strangling chord die in birth. You have to be highly motivated to overcome this particular obstacle! You have to be solution-oriented.
Some functions of the computer are fully present, the parts that save your life, keep your system in balance. But other parts, the ones that pay the bills, cook the food, relate to friends, hit home runs, drive your car, are probably living in the past, using old strategies, sometimes very old strategies.
Nothing but patient retraining of the computer can allow that part of me to understand that the battle to be born is over. I can't get there by frightening the computer, or arguing with it. The only way to get there is thru understanding and care and patience, listening to the computer as you would a small child, with love and compassion and understanding.
My belief, if you do enough of that, consistently, you come into the present. You don't need to jump out of an airplane or ride a rollercoaster or see McGwire hit #63. Just do sensible things in the moment, always checking it out with the computer, and eventually you're there, tracking real-time, not living in the past; living in the present, in the moment.
Psychologists debate nurture versus nature. They find that the net is depressing. I think they miss the point. Nurture and nature and the net are irrelevant to those of us, who, at a basic programming level still believe we're struggling to be born.
Our parents are not that important either, as some experimental psychologists are now finding. Whether we got enough love or attention as children, or if our siblings were nice to us; none of this really matters because it is history, all that happened many years ago. Some psychologists now postulate that it's who we choose as friends that determine how we turn out, but I think the friends we choose are a function of our birth struggle, they reflect who we are, but they don't determine who we are.
Having survived my birth, what matters most is waking up from the dream, realizing that I'm a powerful independent and strong adult, living as an adult, not an infant struggling to survive being born.
I'm definitely in an inflection-point. Trained as a mathematician and computer scientist, and with experience as a commercial software developer, manager and promoter, I'm drawn more and more to what makes us tick as human beings. I'm more interested in growth and evolution and friendship. That's primarily where my interest in communication systems, the Internet, comes from, and where my interest in outliners and programming systems came from. And of course the love of a juicy deep problem I can solve on my own. ;->
I believe that all this stuff is integrated into a whole, that the stronger and deeper our computer systems are, the more growing and evolving we can do as a species. Very few people write about this stuff, and I feel this is where I can make the greatest contribution.
I have been outrageously lucky to have friends, notably Richard Dorin and Bernd Steffan, people with powerful intellects, huge integrity, patience and generous spirits to talk about this stuff with me, to teach, to share what they know. They are now discovering the power of electronic communication systems, with my help and a generous donation of hardware from Apple founder Steve Wozniak. I feel like we're climbing the same mountain from two sides, on one side the exploration of our true nature as human beings, and on the other side, developing external models of our intelligence and ideas, to create new flows, new potential, new discoveries.
Believe it or not, all this started for me when I wrote a couple of essays four years ago about the Internet and Apple, platforms, Chinese households and Bill Gates. My computer was struggling to be heard. It had a story to tell, the story had to get out of my body, others had to react, a drama had to result, so I could see for myself that my body is powerful and adult, and no one can stop me from saying what I wanted to say. It really is that simple. It didn't matter what my computer wanted to say, it just had to find out that it could speak and be heard. Voila! The door opens for the next level of growth.
So for the last four years I've been chipping away at the edges. Part of me was scared to tell the full story, and part didn't know the full story, at least not at a conscious level. All along I expected that at some time I'd be able to bring the whole thing together, explaining how computers and people are relevant to each other. Now I think I'm ready to do that, or at least I can take the process to the next level.
So here's how it comes together. The computer networks we build are very simple models of the operating systems running in our own bodies. The Internet is a way of externalizing who we are, a great way to look at what's inside. We're learning machines, evolution machines, possibly the top of the evolution tree on this planet. The computers made of silicon and plastic are very simple models of the ones we have inside. The silicon computers are mere projections of what's inside of us, very powerful projections, so powerful that they are capable of modifying what it means to be human.
Now that the wires are linking our desktops, new models of communication are possible that have never been possible before on such a large scale. The depression we see on the Internet, I believe, is a result of not yet knowing how to use the power. A bit of trial and error. I'm sure that the net can help bring us into the moment. If this piece helps me get there, that's all the proof I need.
Now the path is a lot clearer for me. There are two sides to the mountain, and I want to go up both. Exploring humanity and fitting the new technologies to enhance that. More trial and error, one step at a time. It's great to be alive, breathing and creating! As usual...
Let's have fun!
That's really what it's all about.