Yesterday, NASA announced the discovery of Earth 2.0, the Kepler space telescope’s latest revelation and the first Earth-like planet known to be orbiting a star similar to our own sun. A mere 1,400 light years away – just a trip down to the chemist in astronomical terms – it’s perfectly understandable that John Jenkins, data analysis lead at Nasa’s Ames Research Center, would be quoted as saying:
“It’s a real privilege to deliver this news to you today. There’s a new kid on the block that’s just moved in next door.”
The very fact we can refer to our new neighbour in these terms is a reflection of the time/space compression brought about by our technologies. Our ability to communicate at light speed, using the medium of light itself, has (as Marshall McLuhan observed decades ago) shrunk the planet to a Global Village. In the same manner, our technological ‘outerings’ have amplified and extended our senses, allowing us to penetrate further and further into outer space. At one and the same time, they have also enabled us to peer deeper and deeper into inner space – the mysterious world of the unconscious. As I wrote in Definition and Manifesto:
In his seminal work “The Gutenberg Galaxy”, Marshall McLuhan defined the unconscious as a “slagheap of rejected conscious”. In his view, what we call the ‘unconscious’ is a product of a ‘closing down’ of the senses, which is itself the result of the re-prioritising of the senses via technology.
The visual stress of the product of Gutenberg’s invention – the printed book – resulted in the deprioritisation of our other senses: oral, aural, olfactory and tactile. Unsuited to purely visual processing, the experiences engendered by these other senses became part of a repressed unconscious. Consequently, the unconscious became something dark and alien to us. Unlike tribal man, we literally lost touch with it as lived experience: as ‘walkabout’, as rite of passage, as a tribal dance based on a harmony of all the senses.
Associated with this transformation of the real world into science fiction is the reversal now proceeding apace, by which the Western world is going Eastern, even as the East goes Western. Joyce encoded this reciprocal reverse in his cryptic phrase: ‘The West shall shake the East awake/ While ye have night for morn.’ The title of his Finnegans Wake is a set of multi-leveled puns on the reversal by which Western man enters his tribal, or Finn, cycle once more, following the track of old Finn, but wide awake as we enter the tribal night — Marshall McLuhan
The electric and electronic revolutions changed all this. Our new technologies are not primarily visual mediums. We interact with them, we stroke and gesture with them – they have become extensions of our atrophied audile-tactile senses. The purely visual is losing its dominance as digital technologies usurp the role of the printed word. We are becoming tribal again. The environments created by these technologies are extensions of the unconscious itself. Hitherto, we could only access the unconscious through the dream, the ecstatic vision, the terrifying hallucination. Today we can interact with and explore it directly and consciously through mediums such as the internet. It is no coincidence that the term ‘medium’ is associated with the spiritual, the occult – the hidden.
Nor for that matter is it coincidental that on the same day NASA announces the discovery of Earth 2.0 news stories emerge to provide the first images of the Amazon’s last ‘lost’ tribe. The tribe in question has slept through the Renaissance and three entire revolutions: Industrial, Electric and Electronic. Only now has it fallen under the electric eye – the ‘squiddie’ – of digital technology.
For 600 years the Mashco Piro clan – also known as Cujareno people – have lived in the forest in Peru close to the border with Brazil and had no contact with the outside world.
The point I’m building up to here is best left unsaid, best stated symbolically instead.
Taken through a telescope, this is the tribe suspended in space as Planet Earth, looking and pointing back to us just as we gaze at it. It is a mirror image, and represents the reintegration, of the conscious and the unconscious, the tribal and non-tribal.
The visual stress of the printed word hypnotised us and put us to sleep: hypnosis is brought about by the focused attention of a single sense and the reduction of other sensory inputs to the periphery of consciousness. The transistor and the electronic reharmonises our senses and wakes us up again. The discovery of Earth 2.0 by the Kepler space telescope reflects this perfectly: its designation as Kepler 452 puts it exactly one degree above Farenheit 451 – the temperature at which paper autoignites.
Earth 2.0 isn’t ‘out there’ in space – it’s us in inner space reconnecting with the Lost World of the unconscious and becoming tribal again. And the startling synchronicity of these two seemingly disparate events is such that we have to wonder about the source of the messages…
Voices and other sounds. Can you hear me now? This is Planet Earth. You’re looking at Planet Earth. Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba…
The ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul was made up of five parts: the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib….The ‘Ba’ was everything that makes an individual unique, similar to the notion of ‘personality’. (In this sense, inanimate objects could also have a ‘Ba’, a unique character, and indeed Old Kingdom pyramids often were called the ‘Ba’ of their owner). The ‘Ba’ is an aspect of a person that the Egyptians believed would live after the body died, and it is sometimes depicted as a human-headed bird flying out of the tomb to join with the ‘Ka’ in the afterlife.
Look at Planet Earth. It’s the new Renaissance.