On Media and Consciousness
Neil Postman, in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, puts forth the idea that different types of media are ideal for different types of knowledge. This is something of an expansion on Marshal McLuhan’s concept of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ types of media – that is, media which requires little participation (TV), and media which requires much participation (books, or even more, dialogue). This example of Postman’s idea I take from wikipedia—
“Only in the printed word, he states, could complicated truths be rationally conveyed. Postman gives a striking example: The first fifteen U.S. presidents could probably have walked down the street without being recognized by the average citizen, yet all these men would have been quickly known by their written words. However, the reverse is true today. The names of presidents or even famous preachers, lawyers, and scientists call up visual images, typically television images, but few, if any, of their words come to mind. The few that do almost exclusively consist of carefully chosen soundbytes.”
When comparing these ideas to the theories of occult and mystic traditions, an interesting new depth comes up, since occultists are more concerned with types of consciousness than they are with types of knowledge. We could say this: that particular forms of media offer a path of least resistance for corresponding types of consciousness. As such, the quality of expression that comes from its corresponding level of consciousness constitutes the majority of that type of media’s output (and influence).
In the diagram we have the basic constitution of man as taught in most occult systems. Here are the three ‘tiers’ or bodies for the three levels of consciousness, which make up the lower self or “personality”: the physical, emotional, and mental. Next up is the intuitive or causal, the beginning of soul consciousness. Psychological evolution would mean progressing from physical awareness and control, to emotional awareness and control, to mental, and on to the intuitive. These separate parts, which each flare up and take control of the personality at different times, eventually become (through meditation and service) integrated into a synthetic whole and something of a vertical channel for higher (spiritual) influence to ‘pour down.’
We are told in Alice A. Bailey’s books that the four main types of yoga are general to the development of the four parts of man: hathar yoga for the physical part, bakhti yoga for the emotional, and raja yoga for the mental body. Eventually agni yoga is said to work on the whole at once, from an intuitive vantage point. Gurdjief refered to this working on the whole as The Fourth Way.
I also recall in one of the Alice Bailey books the instruction that the more advanced way of development necessarily includes the lesser ways within it, in results if not in practices. This is interesting considering that the most advanced form of communication media includes all the other forms within it, though now in unspecialised forms. The Internet contains symbols, books, radio, television and film, though none of these take the stage as they did in their own times.
Another point made here on the diagram is that the evolution of media moves in the reverse direction of the evolution of the soul.
In occult literature the physical world is viewed as the plain of completed manifestation. If an idea, for example, is developed enough to qualify for existence it will manifest in the world as a symbol or movement or group, together with its consequences. The physical form of a thing is the tip of the iceberg but also the ‘capping off’ of a thing. The physical form is also something like a cup that contains all the subtler parts of a creation within it. A human’s body has its corresponding gestures, movements, and indications of the non-physical parts: emotion, intellect, and so forth. Books of poetry are physical things that yet contain emotions and abstract ideas.
Thinking of communication media as a parallel, we see that the Internet is the completed manifestation (or endpoint of evolution) of media – yet, since it seems ‘inverted,’ it is the least physical form of media. We buy and own E-books and MP3s where we used to buy paper and records, tapes and discs.
Nevertheless, we think of the Internet in physical terms. It has ‘sites’ with meeting places and ‘rooms’. When the military cuts off ways to meet, revolutionaries still ‘meet’ online. Facebook is essentially a solution to loneliness; we can get home and still be in the presence of friends.
Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms and virtual places encourage a more instinctual or physical awareness. Internet is impulsive, and we click on links out of impulse – like instinct or reflex – most of the time. We accept changes and we pass on sound bytes and chain mails all automatically rather than with discernment. Sometimes this behaviour opens us up to ‘viruses’.
Although the diagram here matches up types of consciousness neatly with types of media technology, the idea is more general: as media progresses and becomes more complex, its users become more automatic. Here are some points about specific types:
Television and radio are ideal for emotional consciousness. If we stop to ponder intellectual points, the radio does not wait but continues on whether we are paying attention or not. Because of this we can grasp impressions and moods better than intellectual points. Advertising flourishes here, speaking to the emotions and encouraging desire. Pop music and its emotional effects are ideal for these mediums.
Of course there are intellectual shows playing on these mediums, but these are not the ways of least resistance.
Books and especially the printing press in general are ideal for logic and reason, that is, concrete thought. This is because we can pause on a sentence, re-read and ponder until the point is grasped. And then, when ready, we read on. Because of this, books take more concentration than radio, movies and television – more mental effort. If the concentration is not there, the book stops. They do not pull the reader in as effectively as a television does, although some of the more modern books do a good job of imitating television (or cinema), which, in other words, speaks of aiming at the emotions. We call them ‘page-turners.’ Books are less accidental than movies or television shows, and discernment is a trait of concrete thought.
Again, I speak generally: tabloid papers and magazines are obviously printing’s step towards emotional consciousness. Their short lives and quick disposability speaks of this. So too are there radio and television shows, as well as movies, aimed at the intellect – though these are not the mainstream.
Earlier again we have the medium of spoken words and ceremony (or ritual). Although we could call mythology a medium in itself, it is also the major content of spoken word and religious ceremony as means of teaching. This is conducive of a more intuitive and creative consciousness. Mythology is not always consistent from source to source, though the key points or patterns are preserved. A case in point is Jesus and Hercules – both of whom had a god for a father and a mortal woman for a mother, placing the heroes as links between the divine and animal kingdoms. As long as that linking-idea was preserved, many details around that could change.
Spoken word teaching requires mutual interest, interaction and concentration from both the teller and receiver; it requires a subjectivity that books do not. Ceremony and ritual provide this inasmuch as ceremony is the acting out of mythology. The last supper is imitated in the first communion of the catholic tradition; the death of Hiram Abiff is imitated in a freemason’s third degree ritual; creation stories are imitated in aboriginal corroborees. And so invocation results.
It should be noted that meditation also serves this purpose, as meditation is the practice of traversing from instinct to intellect to intuition, and holding the consciousness in the ‘highest’ place achievable to the practitioner.
Aphorisms and sutras are similarly sparse, requiring intuitive participation. Soon we come to the sparsest of mediums: symbols and hieroglyphs. One symbol can provide a lifetime of meditation upon its meanings and applications. Thus we have the cross, the pentagram, the enneagram, and so on.
At first glance, the opposite directions of soul and technological progress might appear that a Luddite’s outlook is implied. However, this is not the message. As the spirit is said to fall unconscious when it descends into matter (i.e. manifests), giving birth to worldly life; so might a parallel development be taking place with technology. The Internet might be the completed manifestation of communications media in a similar way that the physical body is such to the “involution” of the soul. (The term ‘involution’ refers to the descent of soul into matter and thus birth, while evolution is the soul ‘awaking’ in its form and turning back towards spirit.) This would imply the need to awake in the metaphysical sense, in media as in body.
The problem then lies in sleep, or what Heidegger called “the forgetting of being,” and what Kundera called the “nonthought of received ideas.” Unconsciousness, in other words. Technology, and media in general, is like the Sabbath; when we are unconscious, we become servants – even “servo-mechanisms,” as McLuhan said – to our creations. The saying that the mind is a wonderful servant but a cruel master can be applied to media too; it is always master when we are in a state of unconsciousness. No sleepwalker can lead and direct. Sleepwalkers become mediums themselves. Hence the relevance of meditation and spiritual ceremony.
 For example: Theosophy, Alice Bailey, Gurdjief and Ouspensky. Alchemical and Golden Dawn traditions also agree though using different terminology (earth, water, wind, fire, etc.).
 See Helena Roerich’s Agni Yoga books.
 Incidentally, this polarity of directions may also be an indication of support for Poitr Ouspensky’s theory of evolution (see his book A New Model of The Universe) wherein he proposes that the human soul reincarnates backwards in time. Eventually all souls, each in turn, would sift through and relive the part of Christ on the cross and Buddha under the banyan tree.