Excerpts from the Introduction: The Retina
The eye does not see the shape of the world.
I look and it is not there. Across the fencerow the field is level. Beyond are slopes of grass and bramble, and on the far hillside an army of standing timber. The horizon covers half the universe. Overhead the sky arcs with the curvature of the Earth, but I do not see it. Lines are straight in all directions and the Earth looks flat.
Yet I hold in the palm of my hand a small square of visual consciousness with eyes not my own that curves over the horizon to any place on Earth, from any place on Earth or sky, connecting to anyone, anywhere. Untethered by distant hills, beyond the merely visual, I have seen in this little place the world as a whole. I have seen in one place the fullness of Earth.
We hold in our hands a small tool with global reach: the pixel screen, with the world of electronic circuitry that supports it. It is at our side, on our desks, and in our living rooms; its eyes are in telephones, TV cameras, film studios, wilderness areas, bodycams, and satellites circling the Earth. It is a tool and more than a tool; it is the consciousness of humanity. It sees with a collective eye.
At the very moment – the very moment – that we are imperiled by overpopulation, war, and climate chaos – imperiled by ourselves – we have a tool; we are a tool, that empowers humankind for the first time to see over the horizon, to see the entirety of itself, and the entirety of the Earth. We have in our hands what is needed to adapt, to evolve, to survive and to flourish. A struggle lies ahead – there is no guarantee of success – but there is a chance, a better than even chance, a chance unseen with the naked eye. The screen does not extend who we are; it changes who we are to something we have never been. Suddenly, from nowhere, an electronic retina appears in our midst and creates of us a composite consciousness. Suddenly, we are evolving sense organs outside of our bodies that show us the world beyond where our bodies are. We are evolving machinery outside of our minds that remembers what we said, where we were, and what we saw. Consciousness leaps from synapse to silicon. Humanity evolves not as an organism but as an organization; we adapt to the new global environment not by getting bigger or stronger or growing new body parts, but by expansion of conscious experience. We see ourselves from the sky. Technology extends consciousness and shapes the universe to a new organic form. Technology is biology.
This book is not about how technology transforms our lives, or about how electronics will “solve” problems we face. It’s about us – about how we now have, with the help of technology, the capacity to grow into an entirely new and different form of life: a form of life with a chance to survive. We cannot survive as we are now.
What will be the shape of the Earth when we have harnessed the full power of the pixel screen? Life has opened a new dimension of evolutionary growth because that is what life does. That is what evolution is.
Overpopulation, nuclear war, and climate change are not built in to who we are, they are built in to how we are organized, into how we relate to each other and to the natural world. It is here, in our awareness of ourselves – our collective selves – that we will evolve. It is in the evolutionary process of human unity that we will look over the edge of the distant hills, feel the curvature of the Earth, and connect the fields and oceans into a single surface. Consciousness will cover the Earth.
Whole chapters of this book will be devoted to straight-line trends toward extinction: nuclear war, climate chaos, and overpopulation. We will dwell on the dark side in these pages long enough to feel the strength of darkness and know its continuing presence in our lives. We may feel at times the helpless despair of looming disaster. This is as it should be. We cannot know the urgency of the answers without knowing the gravity of the questions.
Do we have the will – the political, electronic, and spiritual will – to act as a world? If we choose unity, we must know why it has not happened before now. Unity is obvious. Why, then, do we not choose it by the simple logic of survival? What powerful, unconscious mindset keeps us trapped in sub-global worldviews that deny the unbounded surface of the Earth?
The naked eye cannot see the shape of the world.
Standing on the surface, lines are straight in all directions. Fields lie flat and the Earth is level. Time leads through the day – from where we have been to where we are going – straight into tomorrow, without heed to the lives that we live. The sky extends without bending. The retina of the eye sees no further. Everywhere you look paths lead straight to a crash.
Walking over a curve of the larger world, love of Earth shapes a path to the contour of survival.