Social Media strategists and developers Maf Lewis and Rome Viharo discuss Google Consciousness at TEDxCARDIFF conference. Below is the full transcript. This event happened on June 9, 2011.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Google consciousness by Maf Lewis and Rome Viharo at TEDxCardiff
Maf Lewis: Greetings, TedxCardiff. I’m Maf Lewis. This is Rome Viharo. Rome and I are often requested to create memes and viral campaigns in social media. This talk is — thank you, Rome –this talk is a viral. This is a great story, the story of the meme Google Consciousness and where it might lead us in the near future, potentially, starting today, with this very talk.
Rome Viharo: Our meme, our story, begins where many great stories have begun, deep in the heart of the Amazon jungle. According to Harvard professor, Richard Schultes, the father of ethnobotany, 25% of all western pharmacological knowledge comes from healing plants cultivated by indigenous peoples.
This man’s name is Guillermo Arévalo, or as he is known in his native language, Kestenbetsa, ‘the echo of the universe’. He is the chief of his community amongst the Shipibo-Conibo people, and a master ayahuascero curandero, or medicine man. Guillermo spent years in isolation in the jungle, learning how to obtain knowledge from plants, and says that to obtain knowledge from plants you have to be able to speak to them correctly, and I did say, “Speak to the plants.” Yes.
The Shipibo people believe that some, but not all, plants in the Amazon are actually conscious and intelligent, and if you speak to them the right way, you can gain access to their consciousness and their knowledge. The Shipibo use a psychoactive medicinal tea called ayahuasca to journey into this world of master plants and claim to be able to understand this plant language.
Now, I know Guillermo through a friend, anthropologist Francois Demange. He is one of Guillermo’s main apprentices, now an ayahuascero in his own right. He sort of acts like a bridge between this indigenous knowledge and the West. And I was intrigued by Francois’ descriptions and presentations of all this, and I was just really curious.
OK, how do you obtain knowledge from plants? So, just like we type a search phrase into Google and Google returns the results from various websites, it is the same with ayahuasca, you could say. The curandero, the doctor, simply drinks Ayahuasca, asks a question or makes a request in the form of a song called an icaro. An icaro is like a keyword that is used to obtain knowledge, not from websites, but from various plants found in the Amazon jungle.
Like typing a search term onto a keyboard on a computer, the icaro is sung to the intelligence and consciousness of the plant. Ayahuasca then delivers the knowledge from the plant teachers to the world of the curandero shaman. Now as a social media person, I was just amused by the fact that Ayahuasca could be called ‘the Google of the Amazon jungle’.
The very idea, though, that plants have intelligence, or mind, is a very challenging thing to relate to or accept, of course, here in the West, especially by philosophers, biologists, and neural scientists. The theory that there is the world of the brain and matter and then this other world of spirit or soul is often called dualism, and this view was, of course, was held by one of the founders of modern rational thought, René Descartes. And dualism has, of course, been discredited in the 20th century. Western philosophy, of course, now favors a purely materialistic model of consciousness. Spirits are not accepted, of course, in Western science, and the mind simply is what the brain is doing and nothing more.
So I became a little more curious then. So, if this is true, how can the brain produce an experience of talking to intelligent plants that provide knowledge about specific medicinal herbs? Are spirits just metaphors for memes? One such person, who would completely block any notion whatsoever of plant spirits communicating knowledge would certainly be Daniel C. Dennett, co-director for Center of Cognitive Studies and Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Daniel Dennett, of course, claims to be able to completely explain consciousness, as you see in the title of his book, Consciousness Explained.
So, I was exploring Dan’s model, and it’s curious to see how he looked at the brain and consciousness, how that would be able to account for someone like Guillermo Arévalo. And I don’t want to butcher Dan’s model by explaining how he explains consciousness. So I want us to take a moment and just listen to how Daniel Dennett explains consciousness being a function of the brain.
[Daniel Dennett: My favorite metaphor these days is the fame in the brain, or cerebral celebrity theory. It’s, that is, that what consciousness is is the relative political influence, or fame, of structures in the brain that win out in competition against rival structures for domination of the brain’s activities in various ways. That’s putting it very programmatically, but basically it’s saying that in your head there’s a sort of turmoil going on, the pandemonium. And there’s many different contentful events vying for King of the Mountain, vying for control. And the ones that win, by default something always wins when you’re awake, and that’s what your conscious of. And it’s not that when it wins then the consciousness happens where it kindles some further thing that’s conscious, that’s just what consciousness is. It’s not as if an extra process has to happen. Winning, that’s it. And then the next one that wins, then it’s conscious. So, for instance, a robot that instantiated this sort of competition in its brain would be conscious.]
Maf Lewis: Remember, Rome and I are hired to game such things as Google algorithm, and we have done this for worldwide brands, celebrities, musicians, and so forth. We have been in some very unique situations with extraordinary budgets, observing behaviors of the web that few academics ever would see.
Rome Viharo: So right now I just request that every — that everybody listen, Maf is actually going to explain now how to game Google, how search engine optimization works.
Maf Lewis: Definitively.
Rome Viharo: Definitively. But keep in mind Daniel Dennett’s explanation of consciousness when you hear how Maf explains how search engine optimization works.
Maf Lewis: So, my favorite metaphor these days is the viral phenomenon or internet celebrity. Google SEO is the relative social influence of fame on websites on the internet that win out in competition with rival websites for domination of search return activities in various ways. On the internet there is a certain turmoil going on — the pandemonium — and many different contentful websites vying for King of the Mountain, vying for first place on Google. And the ones that win, and by definition something always wins while you search, that is what you discover on Google. Therefore, is Google conscious?
Rome Viharo: And if Google was conscious of this, what would we be to Google? Would we become, then, spirits to Google? Some of us look like gods and elves and Elvises, and all these kinds of odd-looking things that have crept up into our collective human psyche. So at first, I looked at this idea of Google consciousness as really a snarky rebuttal to Daniel Dennett’s idea. And I put the hypothesis out on social networks that catered to these sorts of parties. And I, almost as a tease or taunt, I just kind of put the question right to them. If Daniel Dennett is correct about the brain producing consciousness, then ha ha ha ha, could we not expect the first result on Google to also be consciousness. And I didn’t expect anybody to take the idea seriously, and I was immediately surprised by the response. These academics and believers in what Daniel Dennett and a few others are saying, actually agreed. They were like, “Oh! Yes! We actually can start considering Google being conscious.”
So, apparently Google consciousness, the idea, the meme Google consciousness, already began to take life because these very discussions that we were having online began to go viral on sites, such as StumbleUpon and Reddit.