It occurs to me that a software engineer who arrived on the scene when computers were already somewhat sophisticated would simply take their function for granted.
But for me, as someone who graduated college with a degree in English and a background in philosophy (and avoided those with pens and pencils in their breast pockets), the entire notion of how software operates is almost supernatural.
On the electronic level it is possible to contemplate how silicon could be used to create a circuit for complex calculations that run by electricity. And it may even be apparent that someone could write a set of commands that instructs those circuits’ activity.
But when one considers that those instructions can be written in the English language (IF/THEN) and then faithfully reflect the intentional directions of a human thinker — thereby essentially turning the computer temporarily into a surrogate brain — it begins to involve the function of mind.
And not only is the mind of the programmer intimately involved, that mind must anticipate and potentially respond to the mental gymnastics of an “end user.”
And so it seems that the computer, via software, simulates our own mental activity in a way that is less and less able to be differentiated from actual human communication — in the field of artificial intelligence.
But in the same way that the brain dies without oxygen and the computer stops running when unplugged, within each, when operational, there is an undeniable energetic “experience” as a result of the coded instructions — the mind stuff lives on in the computer, albeit already fully “programmed” (and therefore presumably not free as we commonly think of it — or “alive”).
I had my first experience with this when I worked at night in a law firm in L.A. and was given the job on my typing ability and English and grammatical skills.
I needed to learn the word processing machine and to do so I received 6 large IBM floppy disks; each one presented a set of tutorials.
Remember — at that time just seeing words appear on a screen that were typed by you was a strange experience. The only screens I was familiar with were showing Johnny Carson late night.
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And then the machine responded to my activity with appropriate encouragement and correction.
I did meet my first “bug.” I had the correct answer on the quiz at the end of one disk and it would not let me go on to the next one until the supervisor was able to reset the system for me the next day.
But I was fascinated that active mind-like activity could emerge from a set of coded instructions in English.
You can see similar computer code if you simply click View>Source in your web browser. You will see the clear English instructions (HTML) that inform your web browser how to display and configure the electronic information it has received (energetically) from the Internet.
Even now, when I experience the productivity and versatility of software I am amazed that within the electronics of the machine the mental efforts and judgments of a human programmer are being replicated as coded in essentially English.
When combined with the existence of WiFi this gets even stranger to me; because now there is no longer even a physical conduit for the flow of energy (and the information or “mind stuff” that it encodes).
What this suggests to me is that the actual stuff of software — namely the ideas that it represents — has its own reality, of a different dimension of our ordinary experience.
It is best described by the words of Eckhart Tolle in his talks on being or consciousness —mind is “no thing.”
I referred to it as mind “stuff” but actually it is anti-stuff — it is pure mental energy which we have been conditioned to believe must belong to “us” — an individual thinker who is presumably human.
But of course we know of other beings with great minds. It doesn’t take a lot of openness to grant the obvious fact that cetaceans, with their enormous brains and active sonar and even musical abilities, communicate their thoughts through a language, and perhaps “wirelessly.”
The problem is that we have no effective vocabulary for mind stuff.
We may refer to it as thought or ideas but the language around those words makes them seem as though they are “things.”
Going back to computers, I was able to become a trainer of software mainly because, once I understood it, I could explain it effectively.
One point I always made was the difference between files and programs.
Files are nouns – or things. They’re easy to comprehend and easy, by the way, to move from one computer or device to another.
Programs are entirely different. They represent the active encoded intelligence of the programmer and perform tasks according to their command sets.
They do stuff – they are not things but rather the verb – the being of the simulated life within the machine.
Interestingly, as software programs “evolved” they became impossible to simply move from machine to machine. You have probably had the experience of having to reinstall the “app” or application on a new device.
That’s because the fidelity of modern software to the human thought processes is so deep that it must “know” the world into which it has now been “installed” and it can’t take its previous world along.
The file/noun is its own self-contained object.
The verb/program operates energetically and only within a context or world — in relation to the “input,” for example, of an end user, or the “environment” created by hardware, operating system, and related programs.
In this way a software program is both intelligent and “epigenetic”; that is, it “operates” or “lives” to accomplish its designed tasks within a complete world.
Now comes the punch line. As you may know, modern genetics has shown that our DNA operates exactly like computer software. In fact they are using software programming to “reprogram” organisms by re-coding their genetic instructions.
But the scientists performing these functions, and the software engineers who take their work for granted, remain oblivious to the fact that when they are programming software they are using their own intelligent energy but it really isn’t “theirs.”
It belongs to Life. And we sometimes refer to it as consciousness.
So far this has been quite theoretical but I have found it amazingly helpful in my own life.
To the extent that I am now able to observe my apparent conscious functioning as different software “programs” that load and execute without attaching to them a “me” — I can begin to objectively discern what is serving me and what is not.
The trick is that “I” cannot load a new “master program” because as “me” the program would still be dependent on my own conditioned beliefs and perspectives.
Instead this enables me to “simulate” a “non-me” experience where rely I instead on the innate intelligent energy of Life and no longer judge the results of the programs (with other programs).
In fact when judgment itself is seen as its own often error prone program, and the results of judgment (shame, humiliation, etc.) are seen as unnecessary suffering resulting directly from the “me” thought, the attachment to judgment decreases and life eases.
This is why I believe that a deep appreciation of DNA as software — or the stuff of a much higher mind directing our own unconscious functions — can bring a connection that makes some of that mental and emotional resource (remember these are just words and labels) to bear in a living, direct, and active way.
As Buckminster Fuller famously said, “I seem to be a verb.”
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