The Google-ization of Our Minds is Just Part of Evolution
There is nothing qualitatively different about the way the Internet is changing our human experience now than the way the invention of writing did some thousands of years ago.
Alva Noë is a writer and a philosopher who lives in New York City and Berkeley. His work focuses on the nature of mind and human experience. He is the author of Action in Perception (The MIT Press, 2004), Out of Our Heads (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009), Varieties of Presence (Harvard University Press, 2012), and Strange Tools (2015). Noë, who received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1995, is Professor of Philosophy at the University of California in Berkeley, where he is also a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Center for New Media. He has been Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has been philosopher-in-residence with The Forsythe Company and has recently begun a performative-lecture collaboration with Deborah Hay. Noë is a 2012 recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and a weekly contributor to National Public Radio's science blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture.
I think that human beings are tool users by nature. We’re designers by nature and that is really born out in archeological record. For millions of years our ancestors used the simplest blunt instruments. Then suddenly about 50,000 years ago we find this explosion of technological innovation.
We next see tools with different specialties. We see tools for making tools and the first evidence of clothing. And you have the discovery of visual art and the cave paintings of France and Spain and Southern Africa. And this is probably also when language first emerged.
I don't think it's an accident that the first place where human beings in the modern sense -- cognitively, psychologically, behaviorally -- show up in history is when technology shows up in history.
The interesting thing about tools is that they change us. They transform us. They both enable us to do things that we can already do better like beat something with a stick or beat something with a hand, they also enable me to do something I couldn’t do without the tool like drill a hole or screw in a screw.
This is one of the agents of our own evolution and you can see it in so many different ways. Consider the fact that a few thousand years ago most human beings couldn’t digest milk and then the domestication of animals happened and milk became available. Milk became available as a ready source of energy and nutrition and people adapted to this technological innovation biologically, that is, increasingly throughout the population there spread the gene that would enable us to digest lactose.
I think people are very caught up and anxious about the Goolgle-ization of our minds and short attention spans and the Internet and all of that, but I think this is really a case of where the more things change the more they stay the same. There is nothing qualitatively different about the way the Internet is changing our human experience now than the way the invention of writing did some thousands of years ago.
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