Turn on, tune in, and...... 'like' on Facebook
Over time, we create a mental model of the real world that is strongly influenced by our beliefs, prejudices and experiences, and our model will differ from that of other people in far greater ways than is usually accepted. The world that we consciously inhabit increasingly resembles our own 'world view'. Should an optimistic person walk down a street, for example, they would be inclined to register happy couples, pleasant weather or playing children. A cynical person walking down exactly the same street might completely miss those details, and see instead the homeless population and the graffiti. Of course, the street itself hasn't changed between the two observations, but this is almost irrelevant, as no one is aware of the 'true' street in its entirety. The same principle applies to every aspect of life, from the mechanism that decides which news stories grab your attention, to the personal qualities in others that you respond to or overlook. The result of this is that the 'world' in which we live is not an objective, distinct environment, but a model constructed in our own image. In the words of Alan Watts, the influential writer on Eastern religions, 'Reality is only a Rorsach ink-blot'. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, 'People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is a confession of character'.That account of Timothy Leary's foretelling of social media with its reality tunnels, filter bubbles, selective algorithms and multiple realities comes from I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary by John Higgs. Leary, who immortalised the phrase 'Turn on, tune in, drop out', went on to write Chaos and Cyberculture which predicted that 'The PC is the LSD of the Nineties'. Many of us who came of age in the 1960s were influenced by the Moody Blues' In Search of the Lost Chord album with its track Legend of a Mind eulogising Timothy Leary. In 1972 Leary recorded the space rock album Seven Up with 'krautrock' band Ash Ra Tempel and also discussed working with the Moody Blues. But extradition back to America and a subsequent jail term intervened. In his biography John Higgs recounts how, while Leary was in solitary confinement in Sandstone Federal prison in Minnesota, he could hear someone walking up and down outside his window all night repeatedly singing Legend of a Mind with its refrain 'Timothy Leary's dead/No, no, no, no, He's outside looking in'.
[Timothy] Leary called these personal mental models 'reality tunnels'. Each person lives in a different reality tunnel from everyone else, and is personally responsible for constructing their own existential reality. To be truly 'free' it is necessary to recognise this for, in the words of the Discordians, 'Whatever you believe imprisons you. Convictions create convicts'. This is a difficult concept to grasp, but it is profoundly important in understanding both Leary and his influence. It is the concept that explains the post-modern move away from the eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment, which viewed reality as an absolute that could be understood through rational inquiry. Enlightenment thinkers assumed that everyone operates in the same reality, but that, Leary believed, was just not true on a practical level. Concepts, relationships and events were now relative, and could only really be understood when analyzed alongside the reality tunnels that created them.
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