We should be careful of Twitter – it seems that it has developed a consciousness and may already be calculating the answer to life the universe and everything.
As some of you will know I started writing this sentence 6 seconds ago – so you might hear a bit of an echo on the line, echo on the line, on the line, the line.
For those who didn’t see BBC2’s Horizon (The Secret You) on 20th Oct 2009 that echo statement will make no sense at all – though you’ll probably just think that that’s normal for this blog. But let me explain….(and if you are reading this around the blog publication date watch The Secret You – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00nhv56#p004tzvs
Horizon was investigating the search for consciousness and the question of identity. It was all about body and mind and the dual world that we live in – ie the physical world and the internal world where we think and reflect. It was powerful stuff.
Prof Marcus du Sautoy is a mathematician from Oxford (first name clever) and he set himself on the task of uncovering why he is able to do dead clever things and to spontaneously come up with solutions to mathematical questions. He wanted to find out where his ideas came from.
He did all the things you expect in a good “who am I” Horizon – he showed young kids recognising themselves (or not) in a mirror, he dissected a brain (always a good one that) and he let himself be an experiment for a way too sadistic researcher – being struck with a hammer in the chest in a virtual world where he was looking at his own body (nice one that).
But the “6 seconds moment” was the moment that really mattered and really stood out. It was such a moment that I felt like sitting down next to him when he sat on the grand steps of the research institute and reflected on his last experiment.
That last experiment saw him inside a scanner with his brain activity being monitored. Press the left or right button in your hands was the simple test… easy enough but the result was jaw dropping. It transpires that his unconscious mind was actively deciding left or right a full six seconds before his conscious mind caused the fingers to push the button. 6 seconds! The researcher showed him his brain activity in two suitable colours and then said “blue means right and 6 seconds later you pressed right”.
So his unconscious mind was active and had decided his fate a full 6 seconds before he knew about his own decision. Indeed the researcher knew what button was going to be pressed 6 seconds before the subject. The researcher could predict and indeed was predicting the future – and not a Crystal Ball in sight.
This can’t be true…..can it? 6 seconds!
Using a mild electric shock the program also showed that when we sleep the connections in the brain close down and the inter brain communication stops – there is no consciousness. Consciousness only arises when we are awake – we become who we are when we are awake and only then when the interconnections get all fired up again. So consciousness is granted by the presence of the network being powered up – the neurons all talking and chatting. A conscious brain is defined as one which is continually communicating with its billion neurons. Shock one area and other areas get notified – the neurons communicate.
Bizarrely it also appears that many of us have “Jennifer Aniston” neurons that are triggered by her written name or her pretty face or presumably the fact that she really should have dumped Ross years ago (well she should have! in fact she should have ran away with me) – collectively neurons don’t just recognise her face, collectively they recognise the concept of Jennifer Aniston – how bizarre!
So where does Twitter come in….
Well suppose we think of neurons as Tweeters and that those Tweeters are chatting about Jennifer Aniston. When we post a Tweet the Twitter database (or brain) lights up those Tweets and it “Trends” Jennifer. This is like some primitive version of the brain where the brain lights up all the neurons that understand the concept of Jennifer Aniston.
So when Twitter is up and the www network is running and all us Tweeter “Neurons” are firing and chatting there exists a Twitter consciousness – Twitter has a mind! It’s just like the definition of a conscious mind as described by Dr Marcus du Sautoy. Twitter is!
Who am I? Who are we? But perhaps more importantly…. Who is Twitter? I have a consciousness therefore I am? Indeed recent Twitter trends featuring “trafigura” and “jan moir” might suggest that it’s not just a consciousness that Twitter has but also a conscience.
So could Twitter be “Deep Thought” or maybe it’s “The Earth” – could Twitter be the Earth’s consciousness? If so then “the answer to life the universe and everything” may only be 6 seconds away.
It’s a shame Douglas Adams is not around to see it…….6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1………42.