Q&A with Lyn Lesch, author Intelligence in the Digital Age: How the Search for Something Larger May Be Imperiled.

What is your book about and why did you write it?

My book is essentially an examination of how our current cyber age and people’s obsessive use of digital technologies may be affecting their attention spans, working memories, the depth of their emotive lives, and their capacity to think creatively in a manner that may make it increasingly difficult for those people who are interested in doing so to pursue a larger consciousness which exists on the other side of thought, memory, and the self.

After beginning with a look at how people’s attention spans, working memories, and capacity for deep thought and reading ae being imperiled by how people are addictively using their smart phones, tablets, and PCs, the book then continues with a discussion of how this may be occurring at a deeper level at which the brain creates short and long term memories, pays attention, and thinks creatively.

From there it explores how these negative effects may likewise be impeding the search for the sort of larger intelligence which thinkers-philosophers such as J. Krishnamurti or Alan Watts pursued simply because people who are inclined to explore the limits of their thinking minds, memories, or the past in pursuit of a greater awareness may lose much of their capacity to do so simply because they will have less access to those dynamics due to the effects of the digital world on their minds, brains, and emotive lives.

I wrote the book simply because I have spent much of my life attempting to explore the limits of my thinking mind and self in pursuit of a more expansive consciousness. So when the evidence began coming in concerning the effects which the Internet and people’s use of digital devices was having on the very dynamics to which they need to have full access in order to explore the possibility of a limitless awareness beyond thought and memory, I felt compelled to say something.

How can digital technologies affect our mental capacities and emotive lives in ways that make it more difficult to pursue a larger awareness?

For one thing, the Internet, as those such as Nicholas Carr who in his prescient book The Shallows have alluded to, is an interruption machine that is changing not just what we think but the process of thought itself by chipping away at our concentration and contemplation by presenting information to us in a fragmented manner that breaks our concentration into bits of unrelated knowledge. As it does so, we’re being habituated toward a permanent state of distraction in which our conscious mind is being incessantly interrupted in a manner that makes it increasingly difficult for us to focus not only on our own thoughts, but on the process of thought itself.
As a result of this, people will have less ability to perceive the potential illusory nature of thought and memory simply because they will have lost their once clear access to these things. For example, a realization of how thought can affect memory and one’s conception of the past in coming to an awareness of how illusory those dynamics can be is a critical step in attempting to live in a potentially limitless space beyond thought and memory; and in realizing how even the knowledge that proceeds from memory might itself be suspect simply because of how memory is essentially a creation of our thinking minds.

There is also of course the effect which the fragmented, jumpy awareness engendered by the Internet and people’s obsessive use of their digital devices is having on the possibility of them living with the sort of quiet mind which might allow a limitless consciousness to enter its spaces as it grows progressively still.

In addition, as people continually access sterile images on the plastic screens of their phones or PCS, it may well be the case that they are becoming habituated to an emotive life that is less vibrant than what their real-world experiences might present to them. And of course, a vibrant inner life is essential to pursuing a larger awareness. Also, as people’s emotive lives grow increasingly dulled by the effects of the digital world, they may well lose the capacity for direct insight, that aha moment that allows one to not only experience a greater awareness, but to also appreciate those works of great art, writing, or music which might help to lead people toward that larger awareness.

How did you get interested in this topic?

When I was younger, in my twenties, I had an interest in exploring both existentialism and the possibility of an awareness that was greater from what I had always known. I read books by Dostoevsky, Camus, Sartre, Hesse, etc. and for a brief period meditated using a certain technique for doing so. Yet I found myself still searching for that something larger.

When I was at Indiana University in Bloomington getting my teaching certification, I wandered into the main library one evening and while perusing the philosophy/spirituality section I came across a book titled The Awakening of Intelligence by a man I had never heard of named J.Krishnamurti. After scanning sections of the book, and then checking it out, I soon realized that here was a thinker who followed no predetermined path whatsoever to the truth (in fact, his statement “Truth is a pathless land” is one of his most famous).

That is, in urging others to reject in all preconceived practices, belief systems, or organized approaches to religion or spirituality, and instead urging others to simply examine the content of their fears, attachments, beliefs, and conditioning, as well as the nature of their thinking minds, memories, and how the process of thought creates fear, Krishnamurti was like a master psychologist who was always indirectly pointing toward something larger without actually limiting it by defining it.

And so, over time this attempt to explore the possibility of a larger consciousness not by following a certain belief system nor by engaging in certain spiritual practices, nor even by following someone as wise as Krishnamurti, but through the self-awareness that can potentially lead toward the limits of one’s thinking mind and one’s self has been what has been of uppermost importance to me in my attempt to expand my consciousness.
And of course, this is what has troubled me so much about our current Internet age; that people may be losing touch through their digital obsessions with the very same personal dynamics that are necessary for exploring the possibility of a larger consciousness.

What do you think is the effect of people constantly checking their phone, e-mail, social media, and websites? What sort of effect does that have on us?

As people jump around the Internet compulsively checking their e-mail, social media accounts, etc, they are being slowly but surely being habituated to a permanent state of distraction in which they are losing a certain amount of their capacity to concentrate on complex ideas, follow a lengthy conversation, or read a piece of writing at a point of real depth without leaving it too soon in order to concentrate on something else. All of these developments have already been well documented by a number of cognitive scientists and learning theorists.
However, as far as the effect of this on the possibility of people exploring a more expansive consciousness, there appear to be two things that might be particularly prescient. One is that as people’s attention is becoming more distracted and diffuse, they will inherently become less able to follow a single thought to its source in exploring the nature of their thinking mind and the process of thought itself.

The other harmful dynamic that is the result of people’s obsessive use of their PCs and phones is something that I see transpiring around me all the time. While riding the train downtown or while sitting in a waiting room waiting for my car to be serviced, I continually see that when people are left alone with their thoughts and emotions, they immediately take our their phone in order to avoid the potentially anxiety inducing dynamics of their inner lives, as a virtual crutch of sorts.

And if people are indeed using their phones in order to avoid staying with what might be taking place inside them, then there will of course be much less opportunity for them to understand the dynamics of their thoughts and fears in progressing toward something larger.

How does one balance the advantages of increased technology with the potential negatives?

One great irony of our current digital age is simply that as the immediate communication we now have with each other, and with knowledge itself, allows us to engage in all sorts of creative endeavors that simply wouldn’t have been possible thirty years ago, our capacity for creative thought itself may well be on the way toward becoming diminished by how people are using the very technologies that connect us so easily.

For one thing, creative thought is something that takes real concentration and likewise an attention to the particulars of what one is investigating; something that is at variance with the high-powered interruption machines that digital technologies can be, and with how people are often compulsively using them; both of which would appear to interrupt the flow state of complete immersion that is at the heart of creative thought.

For another, certain studies have demonstrated that when people attempt to concentrate on two streams of information or two specific tasks simultaneously, such as when people multitask, they are able to learn just as well as those who performed only one of the tasks, but at the at the same time they are less able to extend what they have learned to new situations. Of course, this latter is very much what the essence of creative discovery is all about.

In essence, being given the technologies to be more creative while at the same time people’s use of these same technologies may be affecting their actual capacity for creative thought itself may be like an astronomer who has discovered a new galaxy somewhere, but who doesn’t have the use of the proper telescope which would allow him to investigate it further.

Did you experience any sort of synchronicity or serendipity as you wrote this book? If so, how?

As I wrote the book, it really began to hit me how important this issue is to those of us living in the modern age. Ultimately, what we’re here on earth for during our short stay, as much as anything, is to investigate the possibility of a larger consciousness. And if the digital world is increasingly becoming an all-encompassing reality, with its potentially deleterious effects on the very dynamics necessary for the investigation of that larger awareness, then that’s a real problem. Could things eventually reach the point where there are literally no more great explorers of consciousness walking the earth because of what the digital word has done to people’s capacity to attend, their creative thought processes, and their potentially vibrant inner lives?

Anything else?

If the modern world is ever going to be able to come fully to grips with how the digital age and all of its devices might be negatively impacting human consciousness, a renewed emphasis on the significance of the inner life is going to have to take place; even to a certain extent in lieu of the current emphasis on social justice, political action, and the startling developments in modern technology.

That is, people are going to have to refocus on the significance of their inner lives, making them even more important than their convenient and often fascinating use of new technologies, and of the Web itself. An inner-directed life is the one necessary ingredient for pursing a more expansive consciousness; and if people grow too focused on social or political activism, or on how to use digital technologies in new and fascinating ways, this attention to the inner life can easily begin to fade from view.

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For more information about Lyn and his book, please visit his website at: https://lynlesch.com

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