The world-wide web has been conceptualized as a global brain for humanity due to its neural network-like organization. To determine whether this global brain could exhibit features associated with consciousness, we review three neuroscientific theories of consciousness: information integration, adaptive resonance and global workspace. These theories propose that conscious states are characterized by a globally circulating, resonant pattern of activity that is sufficiently coherent to be examined and reflected upon. We then propose a correspondence between this notion and Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the noosphere as a forum for collective thinking, and explore some implications of this self-organizing dynamics for the evolution of shared, global understanding.
The Global Brain as a New Utopia
The global brain can be conceived most fundamentally as a higher level of evolution, the way humans form a higher level of organization that evolved out of the animals. Although the analogy between an organism and a society can be applied even to primitive societies, it becomes clearly more applicable as technology develops. As transport and communication become more efficient, different parts of global society become more interdependent. At the same time, the variety of ideas, specializations, and subcultures increases. This simultaneous integration and differentiation creates an increasingly coherent system, functioning at a much higher level of complexity.
The Global Superorganism
The organismic view of society is updated by incorporating concepts from cybernetics, evolutionary theory, and complex adaptive systems. Global society can be seen as an autopoietic network of self-producing components, and therefore as a living system or “superorganism”.
The Vision of a Better World
Two visionaries, Tom Munnecke and Barbara Marx Hubbard, engage in an uplifting dialogue exploring the emergence of human creativity and consciousness. They trace inspirations from mentors like Jonas Salk, who recognized futuristic possibilities in Hubbard, and Buckminster Fuller, who affirmed humanity's potential. Together they shine light on the crisis of our times as the birth pangs of a new civilization, calling us to connect with the creativity arising globally. Their exchange weaves threads of hope and positivity, envisioning a future where all people actualize their gifts in service of our world.
The World-Wide Web as a Super-Brain
If society is viewed as a superorganism, communication networks play the role of its brain. This metaphor is developed into a model for the design of a more intelligent global network. The World Wide Web, through its distributed hypermedia architecture, functions as an “associative memory”, which may “learn” by the strengthening of frequently used links. Software agents, exploring the Web through spreading activation, function as problem-solving “thoughts”. Users are integrated into this “super-brain” through direct machine interfaces and the reciprocal exchange of knowledge between individual and Web. (Published in Cybernetics and Systems ’96, p. 917–922.)