Cognisphere Current Affairs

googled brains

As Jeff notes, many will write about Nick Carr’s Atlantic Monthly piece. The article’s title suggested more trolling than actually goes on, which is good (that said, it’s a little sad that so many "respectable" publications feel like they need to troll to get attention). Then again, maybe I’m missing something.

Carr makes some cogent observations: "We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net
will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other
printed works." He also notes, "Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little
consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s
intellectual ethic remains obscure."

So, yes, I agree the network shapes our cognition. I share Carr’s concern that we ought to be mindful of our thoughts. However, I don’t think the need for mindfulness comes from the development of internet technologies. I view mindfulness as a more basic virtue. Maybe it is harder to be mindful today, maybe not. I’m not sure how to measure the task of mindfulness.

I would say that as significant as the effect of networks might be on our brains, there has also been a significant impact on how we understand our brains. Carr mentions this, speaking about the shifting metaphors we apply to the brain. I suppose one might say all understandings are metaphors, inasmuch as one is willing to state "my love is a red rose" and "the speed of light is 180,000 miles per second" are both metaphorical statements. I don’t think that’s super-useful most of the time. So let’s say that we understand our brains in a new way as well.

As I’m writing this, I came across Jon Udell’s response
to Carr as well. I think we are coming from largely the same

perspective. We are seeing change. Yes, we should give thought to that
change. No, we should not simply assume that change is bad (nor do I
think Carr means to suggest that). Finally we can remember that when we
think about "our brains on books" or "on writing," we can recall that
those were not natural states either. We know all this business from
Ong and so on.

In the end, the Atlantic piece is some typical mainstream magazine writing with a slightly provocative and misleading title that reminds us that we need to continue to be mindful of how we spend our time and our thoughts.


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