Perpetual Distraction and the Illusion of Progress

Mike Wuest (@mikeyw829) 8 years, 9 months ago

For the first time in human history, a huge percentage of human beings have the material means to live in a state of comfort and security that have never been seen before on this planet. We have technologies in fields such as medicine, entertainment, and architecture that seem to only add to this state of comfort and security and give us that ability to “eliminate” pain and suffering from our lives. And it only seems to be compounding on itself. To most people, this seems like a great thing. But is it? I think that the problem with modern life is that our technological progress, based on the fundamental idea that we can eliminate pain and suffering through it, has enabled us to live in a state of perpetual distraction from ourselves.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it seems it has always been our dissatisfaction with how things are in the present moment that has lead us to improve upon the conditions of our lives. For example, to prevent attacks from wild predators, we advanced from hunter gatherers and developed into groups to provide protection. To me, this seems like a logical and necessary step to perpetuate and advance the human species, and it seemed to work well when things were simpler.

Now, technological advancement has eliminated these basic survival issues in man, and has advanced beyond our ability to use it. It seems to me that we are stuck in this same primitive mindset of fear/threat elimination that we have been in for the past 200,000 years (or however long humans have been around). Technology has advanced to the point where it has enabled us to live lives of constant distraction and triviality. The result of this is the most pussified, cowardly, shallow and superficial bunch of human beings ever to step foot on this earth. We never have to feel the pain of hunger, the bone chilling cold, or the mental distress of social rejection (among countless other examples). Instead of having to “deal with it” and overcome these things on our own, we have developed so far technological these days that physical and mental pains can actually be numbed out of our awareness.

In previous times, when there were no anti-depressants, ibuprofen and other insanely sophisticated drugs, we had to feel these pains and sufferings and accept them. This led to human beings who had some sense of depth to them. Some sense of having “been to hell and back” that made them real to at least some extent.

Contrast this to nowadays, where we have endless entertainment, pain numbing medications, and ways of distracting ourselves endlessly. People get lost in reality television and run to a doctor to save them anytime they suffer a small mental or physical disturbance. Technological advancement, which seeks to simplify our lives and make us more comfortable, has in essence numbed humanity into a state of docility and complacency; where people consider pain “bad” and think that he or she does not or should not need to fully feel and experience it. It’s much easier to turn on Duck Dynasty and open up a container of ice cream then to confront pain head on.

And I think the problem is much more deeply ingrained than people realize. Because anything, even things that could potentially lead to the solutions to this problem (such as this website, and “mind expanding” drugs like marijuana and mushrooms, and the whole new age scene in general), can be so easily used as an escape instead of as fuel to break out of the rut of the conditioning of day to day living.

The thing is, the more this technology increases, the more averse people come to feeling any pain or discomfort whatsoever, the more technology attempts to take the pain away, the dumber and shallower humans get, the more they abuse technology, etc, etc, etc. It seems like a cycle leading to a final destruction of the premise our society is built on (the elimination of pain) and maybe even a dystopian future where technology advances to the point where it’s actually more intelligent and functional than a human being. It seems as technology exponentially increases, human being exponentially get shallower, dumber, and more distracted.

February 21, 2013 at 6:51 pm
Mike Wuest (510) (@mikeyw829) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

Anyone have any thoughts on this topic?

a Lotus Blossoms. (140) (@ancientmystic) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@mikeyw829, i agree on just about everything. although there is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with seeking to eliminate suffering, we each seek this daily. but i agree thay technology is not the answer, although it may be a pathway to walk while searching for the solution. it isn’t all bad.

Zykanthos (4,757)M (@chodebalm) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

What really racks your brain is to ask, “Has this happened before?”

What if this is the natural progression of a species? Or more intriguingly, what if we’re a computer simulation in an infinite sequence of computer simulations? What if this point in technology has already been reached many times before?

It sounds crazy, but just for the sake of the idea, let’s say a species evolves to the point of technological prowess enough to be able to run a computer simulation. And let’s say the point of this computer simulation is to find out if it’s possible to create a new “virtual species” and watch them evolve to see if they take the same path as us.

Obviously a computer simulation of this nature would require immense computing power if we want it to look and feel and seem as real as our world – probably quantum computations. But for the sake of the exercise, let’s say this species has that capability. So they run a very advanced computer simulation of this virtual species. Here’s the thing….the virtual species thinks its real. Let’s say the computer simulation is so advanced and so sophisticated that anything within it believes it is just as real as you and I believe our world is.

So the simulation continues until this virtual species evolved to the point where it has technological capabilities as powerful as the people who created the simulation. So then what happens? The virtual species creates a computer simulation for the same purpose they were created. This could go on infinitely, and you’d have an infinite number of computer simulations within computer simulations.

How would any of these simulations know they are simulations?

I’ve always loved this idea.

a Lotus Blossoms. (140) (@ancientmystic) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@chodebalm, how would a simulation be capable of thought with intention, even creativity?

love the abstract nature of.the idea, but it seems farfetched.

Anonymous (512) (@) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@mikeyw829, Love this post, man.

“Efficiency is not effectiveness. Whereas efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things.”

Few understand or even acknowledge the difference.

Zykanthos (4,757)M (@chodebalm) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@ancientmystic, Lol, it’s just theoretical bro.

a Lotus Blossoms. (140) (@ancientmystic) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@chodebalm, lol, i know, was just voicing thoughts about it.

DANM!! (107) (@deej) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@mikeyw829, I was thinking on the bus yesterday about lions after reading your OP. I have been watching documentaries on lions and now I have this deep respect for the way that they live. They remind me of maybe the way people probably were when they only fared in Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago. They live by their fierceness and honor. They drive for the best and love each other and their families. They love to play and socialize and love to fucking hunt, to my observation. Several times I’ve seen (in the documentaries), lions die, fight and get maimed so that they were either rejected or just died. Social rejection exists among lions, they don’t approve of weakness among their pride so sometimes one will be left to its death if too sick. There is the relations with all of the other species surrounding it and it all seems real. Your point is pretty accurate, and super relevant. I wonder if people can ever be happy in a world the way it is now. We’ve adapted to ourselves, how odd. But how “wrong” is our current situation? We’ve reached this point of advancement and immaturity, now its time to consciously letting go of our attachments and LIVE life. We can understand what is holding us back but it means nothing until we go into the fray. I think we would really love it if we weren’t so concerned with safty.

owenkellogg (34) (@owenkellogg) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than
society gathers wisdom.” – Isaac Asimov

I agree, Mikey. For me personally, a Stoic/Cynic lifestyle is the best way I’ve found to live. It really helps one understand what’s really important in life.

Zykanthos (4,757)M (@chodebalm) 8 years, 9 months ago ago
Jonathan Toniolo (486)M (@toniolo) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

Agree 100%. Most people are slaves to technology. It should be merely a resource/luxury to a better quality of life, not life itself. As with most things in life, balance is key, and the dominant way of living right now is wayyy outta balance. But I hope that the overwhelming prevalence of technology will eventually lead people to question, and if enough courage is present-discover what really matters in this world- it’s done so for me….

Anonymous (328) (@) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@mikeyw829, It is evolution, no matter how materialistic and destructive it is. A convenient lifestyle puts away a whole set of problems, being so making a person worry about bigger, more diverse problems.(In a perspective of a 3rd world citizen, 1st world folks are pussies.)

But I think it can only be progressive if the whole world was at the same pace. Picture this: the richest countries as wormholes around the world.

Maxwell B (24) (@spadoincle) 8 years, 9 months ago ago


I think you answered your own question right here:
“It seems like a cycle leading to a final destruction of THE PREMISE OUR SOCIETY IS BUILT ON (the elimination of pain) and maybe even a dystopian future where technology advances to the point where it’s actually more intelligent and functional than a human being.”

We are talking about values here. I think it is only human to make advancements based on what we observe. It is very human to want to problem solve. I have absolutely no problem with the advancement of technology. It frees man from tasks we previously had to consume much of our time and mental space to accomplishing.
What I do have a problem with (and what you explain incredibly well) is the way we choose to apply such technology. You make the statement, “technological advancement, which seeks to simplify our lives and make us more comfortable, has in essence numbed humanity into a state of docility and complacency.” I think you are making an assumption by connecting technological advancement with docility and complacency. One is not a causation of the other. Humans make that choice; This is a value system disorder. And in our hierarchical society we have today, those values which the elite want to perpetuate is what dominates the mindsets of those who are obedient to their power. Who would choose that? Nobody… except the elites who benefit from those values and those who are not educated enough if the right areas to understand this toxic power structure we live under. I say “uneducated in the right areas” because there are literally geniuses out there making incredible technological advancements. Yet they are choosing to make those advancements in weaponry or some other negative, non-sustainable bull shit.
It is a value system disorder. Sure drugs can be used to awaken an individual to a completely separate set of values (almost always positive). But this means NOTHING if they do not use that particular information to create something, i.e. create technology.
Technology can empower us all, connect us all, and restore abundance to the world, but we have to consciously want it and only then will we make better choices about what we choose to do to the world.

Mike Wuest (510) (@mikeyw829) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@ancientmystic, Nothing wrong with eliminating suffering, I agree. But our current paradigm doesn’t seek to eliminate suffering. That’s the harder, yet more fulfilling way. What it aims to do is numb suffering out of awareness. I’m talking about psychological suffering. So for instance, say you get stabbed or something. On one level, tending to the stab wound and stitching it up is eliminating suffering. But it does nothing for the psychological side of it. If that same person were to get stabbed again in the future, they would react with the same amount of terror and same amount of thinking that what happened is bad, even though it is already the case. Anything that is already the case cannot be bad. That’s the deeper level of suffering I’m talking about. Right now, our society is still preoccupied with relieving the symptoms.And if you just relieve the symptoms, the suffering is still there under the surface of numbness.

@chodebalm, That’s an interesting idea. But there are so many things like that that COULD be the case, so I don’t really want to go into it too much. I’m more concerned with what one can see is ACTUALLY happening right now on the planet. Not hypotheticals, but actualities. But that is an interesting idea nonetheless.

And as for artificial realities go, the vast majority of people (presumably including all of us on this website) live in one in one way or another. We all deny reality by distraction and denial in subtle ways.

@optimystic, Right. Drones can be efficient. “Smart” people who play by the rules and do what they are told are efficient. I think only a free thinking, unhabituated human being can be effective though.

@deej, Yeah I basically agree with all of that. Accepting the current situation, whether it’s an external condition or a condition of the mind, does not mean we can’t do something to fix it. It just means observing the situation without the filter of “bad” or “good” over it, and then making decisions from there. The easier it is to numb ourselves, the more strongly we feel that “negative” states (such as negative feelings or physical pain) are “bad,” and the more we try to run away. But it’s fruitless.

For instance, if you got a cut on your arm, you’d do everything in your power to help the arm heal as efficiently as possible. The thoughts of “This is bad, I want to run away” does not help anything. And that’s where most people are stuck, and where technology is making it easier to stay. In past times, there was no running away. Now it’s so easy. And the vast majority of people are taking the bait. It’s a big fucking trap though. Because sooner or later, you forget the arm is cut in the first place, and it festers and becomes infected. So you take more drugs to numb yourself from it because you’re too afraid to deal with it. And pretty soon you die of the infection that you forgot existed in the first place.

@owenkellogg, If it works for you good. However, I try to just observe myself and the world and go from there. No philosophy per se. I think working from a conceptual framework tends to narrow my view.

@toniolo, Yeah I mean technology can be used for very good purposes. I think it has had the same effect on me as it has had on you. Most people don’t use it that way though.

@motorik, not sure I understand the wormhole analogy. Can you explain further?

Anonymous (149) (@) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@mikeyw829, Pretty much that we have forgotten our true nature. We need to ‘AWAKEN’.

Mike Wuest (510) (@mikeyw829) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@spadoincle, Well I wasn’t really asking a question in the first place haha. I was just describing something that I am noticing at the current moment.

” I have absolutely no problem with the advancement of technology. It frees man from tasks we previously had to consume much of our time and mental space to accomplishing. What I do have a problem with (and what you explain incredibly well) is the way we choose to apply such technology. ”
– Yes I agree 100%. I wasn’t trying to say technology is a bad thing. Technology can be used for very high purposes if the people using it are not insane and deluded. Take Facebook for example. It could be used to bring people together, to connect them in positive ways. But most people use it for mere entertainment value and as a time waster.

I think Eckhart Tolle says something about what you’re saying to the effect of we live in a society where technology is used in the service of madness.

@smokeup1, I mean yeah I guess that’s what it comes down to. I was trying to give a specific example (there are thousands of other aspects you could look at) because when you just say “Wake up!!” to people it doesn’t really work.

Nick (554) (@splashartist) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

Yes we need to wake up, we are on the cusp of an important evolutionary step. If we continue in the ego dominate world we will destroy ourselves. We must begin to realize our true nature, which of course is already starting to happen around the world.
Eckhart Tolle speaks about this as well if you can find his words on it somewhere.

Anonymous (328) (@) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@mikeyw829, Sure. The more advanced and industrial a place is, the more resources it needs to take in. So it kind of sucks up other countries, because poorer countries emulate the same mindset, abolishing individual growth of each country. The idea that being westernized/capitalistic is the right way to go about it is the illusion of progress.

And so people move to 1st world countries to work, meaning progress goes to the same countries. Forcing a quick surge in technology and advancement. Just like what you said about drugs, we took the drugs and this stupidness and dissatisfaction is just the side effect.

Check out the book Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord, his works are very leftist but it’s very relevant to this post if you’re interested.

@chodebalm, I posted this on a different thread, but if you haven’t seen it:

DareBob (1) (@smaug) 8 years, 9 months ago ago

@mikeyw829, Yep. I have had those exact thoughts many times. Good topic/post. I will not add my thoughts to it at this time, but it is nice to see others thinking/talking about it. I’ll add my thoughts when I have a couple hours time and an idea for a solution or small step. :)

Mike Wuest (510) (@mikeyw829) 8 years, 4 months ago ago

I’d like to add a couple more thoughts I’ve been having about this topic:

I think for the most part, our culture has just become very good at numbing the symptoms of illnesses. As for treating the actual causes themselves, we’ve made very little progress (if any) in the last few thousand years.

As our technology increases, all we’re doing is getting REALLY good at masking the symptoms of the problems we face. That sets you up for a collapse.

The less advanced technology is, the more palpable and transparent the problems are. As we advance our technology, the problems become so much less clear and more ambiguous. Since we confuse our ability to relieve symptoms as some sort of cure. We can’t even see the roots of the problem anymore, or we don’t even look.

A perfect example of this is our seemingly miraculous ability to heal trauma such as gunshot wounds. Even in this case, the fact that we are saving someone’s life (not a bad thing) is still not traeting the underlying causes of the gunshot wound in the first place (the reason the person got shot), but just the resultant symptoms (the gunshot wound).

And the sad part of all this is we think we are so smart because we’re developing all these advanced ways to mask symtpoms and confusing it with a real solution. What this effectively does is it pushes the roots of problems deeper under the surface, and allows them to fester and grow.

We live in an illusion of progress, and this sets you up for an eventual collapse. It’s interesting how people’s individual lives mirror this societal phenomenon: They live their lives in all sorts of unhealthy ways, disregarding everything that is in harmony and natural to their bodies, and then just rely on self medication, such as TV, sugar, drugs, etc. to deaden their physical and mental pain.

And they continue to live the SAME EXACT WAY, as long as they don;t have to feel the pain of their actions. And then one day, they get cancer or their organs fail, or they suffer a nervous breakdown, or they turn into immobile, lifeless, bitter gray things that have to rely on 30 medications just so they can sit in a chair and watch television for 10-20 years.

Just as this happens to the individual, it would be foolish not to think this happens on the macrocosmic level in a parallel fashion.

I feel as though were on a sinking ship

YHVH (462) (@spaceghost) 8 years, 4 months ago ago

@chodebalm, I think I heard David Icke talk about that idea. Talk about mind fuck.

James (121) (@alljuicedup) 8 years, 4 months ago ago

@mikeyw829, I think you’re simplifying everything far too much.

Yes, the vast majority of people are “sheep” who live lives similar to what you are describing. But then again, I’d say the vast majority of people at any given time in human history would fall under this category of the uninspired.

Simply put, the masses do not march progress forward. You think back in the days of peasants living their “meaningless” lives, working from sun up to sun down, they were constantly pushing the human spirit forward? Continually evolving our sense of direction and “advancing the human species” as you put it? Nope! Sure, the people eventually revolted, and we advanced past the days of monarchs and peasants, etc (to a degree). But it takes generations upon generations before much of anything happened.

For the most part, the human condition today is no different than it was then. The average person will always be the average person, they should not be your gauge for what we are capable of, or the direction we are headed. Yes, the masses can burn a forest when put in motion, but they are not the spark that starts the fire.

I think you are dramatizing our current situation far too much. Everyone that’s ever lived wants to think that their time is different than all that came before. That their generation is special. Because the truth is far too boring… that we’re really no different than anyone else. We’re not better off, we’re not worse off, we’re not progressing any slower or faster.

I’m not saying situations don’t change, don’t get me wrong. Every generation is unique in that the details change. But the grand story remains the same.

Think about your own logic… In the OP, you state, “From an evolutionary standpoint, it seems it has always been our dissatisfaction with how things are in the present moment that has lead us to improve upon the conditions of our lives.”… then, in your latest post you end with, “I feel as though were on a sinking ship”…

To that I say, GREAT! If we truly are on a sinking ship, than sooner or later we will become dissatisfied, and by your own account, we will “evolve”. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say we are heading somewhere dark, and say we aren’t making progress. By your own account they go hand in hand.

And let’s face it, you are correct, dissatisfaction causes change. It is our desire for something better that pushes us forward. We strive for more than we currently have because that is how we as a species are wired. It is the human condition. There are a million sayings that make this point. And that hasn’t changed… what we are striving for may change, but the overall desire to push forward won’t.

I think what you have identified is a gradual shift in our direction as a species. For a long long time now, we have sought to improve our happiness through “superficial” means. Some may not see that as progress, but I do. And we are finally beginning to see that come to fruition. People have more “stuff” than ever before… What we are also seeing, is more people are depressed than ever before too. Now, part of that is certainly an over diagnosing. The numbers go up simply because the spectrum for depression is broadened and we are more aware of it now. But some of the increase is more systemic. It is because of the way we live… and while drugs may mask some people and make them “lifeless” or whatever you want to call it, not everyone is this way. And as the numbers grow, more and more people are beginning to seek out a spiritual connection, which is a different form of evolving.

More people today are meditating and seeking to improve their spiritual life than at anytime in recent generations. And that is LARGELY due to improvements in technology and comfort items. 1) Many people are realizing that material items are not “soothing their soul”. A revelation we could not make unless we first gained those comforting material items… and 2) Technology, like the internet, provides an oasis of information we would otherwise NEVER have access to. I have more knowledge at my fingertips than people of prior generations could come across in a lifetime.

The details may have changed, but the big picture is still the same… We have not stopped progressing forward, we are just doing it differently. And despite what we’d like to believe, real progress is a slow process. It does not happen quickly, it builds and slowly pushes forward over time. In that regard, nothing has changed, things are much the same as ever.

James (121) (@alljuicedup) 8 years, 4 months ago ago

@chodebalm, as for your simulation hypothetical, its actually a pretty common subject.

The logic goes, that we will
A) Either never develop to the point of being able to create a simulation of our universe… or…
B) That if one day we as a species develop enough to create a simulation of our universe, than it is a virtual mathematical guarantee that we ourselves are living in a computer simulation. As you say, one day our simulation would develop enough to create a simulation themselves, and so on and so forth creating an infinite number of simulations. The creation of one simulation necessitates the existence of an infinite number… and if there are an infinite number of simulations, than the odds we are at the “top level” (that is, the one original universe), is virtually zero. Rather, we can all but guarantee we would find ourselves at some random point on the infinite chain of simulated universes.

Mike Wuest (510) (@mikeyw829) 8 years, 4 months ago ago

@alljuicedup, You make some good points, James.

-I could not agree more, humans have always been and still are largely products of the environment into which they were born. Unfortunately, over the years we have moved farther and farther away from the “natural” state of mankind, into a state of existence more divorced from nature than ever. And people being a product of their environment was not a problem in past times. In fact, it was an advantage in many cases because it kept the group intact and kept up the status quo to ensure order.

But as technological “progress” (I don’t think that is actually progress, something you may have misunderstood) develops, this becomes more and more dangerous. Because now you have the ability to have a much larger impact on the world than in previous times (both good and bad). Technology doesn’t make anything worse or better, it just amplifies what a human is capable of. That’s what most people don’t understand.

Also, since, as we both agree, the vast majority have always been “sheep,” or incapable of creative and spontaneous thought, all we’ve done over the past 10,000 years or so is recreate the same situations on more complex levels. The technology we’ve created hasn’t served to improve our lot in more than a superficial sense.

I think I may have said this earlier, but Eckhart Tolle makes a great observation. He says something along the lines of, “10000 years ago, a single human could kill 10 or 20 with a spear. Now a single human can kill a million with the push of a button. Is that real change?” No, it’s not real change. It’s only real change if you’re looking at the surface layer, at the technological “advancement.”

So you’re wrong in asserting that I believe our time is different or more special than any other time. I believe it’s exactly the same. And I never said a collapse was imminent or that it would happen in our time. The evidence is mounting that the system in which we live WILL collapse eventually, though (I happen to think that is relatively soon… by relative I mean within 100 years).

“Think about your own logic… In the OP, you state, “From an evolutionary standpoint, it seems it has always been our dissatisfaction with how things are in the present moment that has lead us to improve upon the conditions of our lives.”… then, in your latest post you end with, “I feel as though were on a sinking ship”…”

-I was pointing out an overriding viewpoint. I never said that was my viewpoint (it’s not). A main part of my argument is that the future will NEVER be better than the present, that’s the fallacy. That’s what creates this idealisitc utopian visions. The future is only a culmination of present moments, and only exists as the present moment.

You say “we have not stopped progressing forward.” And what I’m saying is that we have never progressed in the first place. Human happiness has not increased with the more “stuff” we have. That’s the superficial definition of progress I’ve been talking about, only looking at the surface layer of things and not the deeper issues.

And of course not everyone is the way I described. That should go without saying.

emptyminded (68) (@thoughtless) 8 years, 4 months ago ago

@mikeyw829, I feel as though were on a sinking ship

yes we are, but luckily you and i will be dead before the ship sinks

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