Introduction – Our Hyper-Connected World

Beyond the Rest of Us is described as a magical, mysterious and fast-paced action thriller with some real Science and a lot of fiction. Some book reviews and several readers have asked me to explain the science which appears in the final book, so what better place to start than with the Introduction.
The story starts at a Geneva hotel where our hero meets his friend and a discussion starts about the dangers of our modern World Internet from both hackers and geopolitical risks from terrorist groups. Some of this research can be found on the website of the World Economic Forum – Global Risk landscape 2013.
“The global risk of massive digital misinformation sits at the centre of a constellation of technological and geopolitical risks ranging from terrorism to cyber-attacks and the failure of global governance. This risk case examines how hyper-connectivity could enable “digital wildfires” to wreak havoc in the real world. It considers the challenge presented by the misuse of an open and easily accessible system and the greater danger of misguided attempts to prevent such outcomes.”
I leave it up to the reader to decide how much of a risk this is in the World today as Governments battle computer hackers across the World. The story line moves from Internet technology, to the current concerns of our hyper-connected world and onto integrated information systems and the possibility of different forms of consciousness. The Introduction therefore sets the scene for a book about different dimensions of time and reality as seen in our everyday lives. However what really interested me was a radical report of how complex networks like the Internet, may become conscious entities in their development. It’s a question that’s perplexed philosophers for centuries and scientists for decades: Where does consciousness come from? We know it exists, at least in ourselves. But how it arises from chemistry and electricity in our brains is an unsolved mystery. Neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, thinks he might know the answer. According to Koch, consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. All animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious; even the internet could be. That’s just the way the universe works.
As James learns in the Introduction “…our brains are connected all the time but on the Internet, computers are packet-switching. They’re not permanently connected, always switching from one to another. To me, I think the internet does feel like something real maybe like being in a deep, dreamless sleep!”
What Koch proposes is a scientifically refined version of an ancient philosophical doctrine called panpsychism — and, coming from someone else, it might sound more like spirituality than science. But Koch has devoted the last three decades to studying the neurological basis of consciousness. His work at the Allen Institute now puts him at the forefront of the BRAIN Initiative, the massive new effort to understand how brains work, which will begin next year.
We will look at this in more detail in the next post about Chapter one and answer more questions from readers.