Where is the life we have lost in living? – T. S. Elliot
With outsourcing our cognitive capabilities to Robots, this eternal question has taken a new significance in the 21st century. When we ask Google to show us the directions or request Alexa to play our favorite songs, we use Robots to manage our needs externally. Internally, we are using a similar system, though inadvertently.
Every time we run on our routines, when we drive the vehicles through congested streets without thinking, or when our fingers know where the alphabet is on the keyboard when we type, our inner robotic system is in charge. This improves our life quality as we don't need to think or feel during mundane tasks. However, this inner Robot also can make even the creative tasks mundane and take away our capacity to think or feel. Colin Wilson, a prolific writer, jokingly said that he had caught Robot making love to his wife! Imagine coming back home from work after a tiring driving, giving a peck on the cheek to your children, and going to bed after changing the clothes.
Who is in charge in such situations? If the sight of children does not awake a moment of wonder and if the touch of new clothes does not connect with the freshness of the change, then most probably the Robot has taken over that work. The inner Robot (just like the outer) takes up the cognitively challenging tasks and performs them more efficiently. Taking up a new sport, engaging with an unknown artwork, or listening first time to a rhythm does provide a new challenge to the Robots who, after decoding the pattern, would try to replicate it again more efficiently. It is competent for complex multitasking works. Alfred N. Whitehead wrote, "Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them." So what's the problem then?
Life is not only about efficiency. A Robot is an excellent fellow to have; however, it tends to become our master if we are not careful. It will stay with us all the time in the forms of plans, to-do's, fears, risks, and getting out of it even might seem meaningless. In some cases, this mechanized connection might alienate the world and lead to depression and even suicide. Sometimes, we resort to alcohol or drugs to calm down the Robot and connect to the real self. External substance overuse might create a continuous craving for chemicals or experiences, leading to potential overuse or overdose. How can we calm this Robot whenever we want? By harnessing "Out of Robot" moments.
1. What are "Out of Robot" moments?
In the moments of soaking of the spring sun on the face, drenching in the rain in a tropical forest, or suddenly feeling the essence of air around us, we connect to the "Out of Robot" moments unexpectedly. At such moments a personal, intimate relationship is developed between us and the surroundings. It seems that life probably has a meaning even though we would be unaware of its significance. Such short profound (and probably joyful) moments take us out of our inner Robot, give us a transient glimpse of our feelings, and allows us new freedom of being.
The occurrence of such moments is natural. Abraham Maslow studied such experiences and called the more profound version of such moments "peak experiences" in his classics "Religion, Values, and Peak Experience." He described it using a situation, "a mother sitting quietly looking, by the hour, at her baby playing and marveling, wondering, philosophizing, not quite believing. She can experience this as a very pleasant, continuing, contemplative experience." Such experiences are mostly emotional (serene and calm) rather than spiritual or life-altering. It is the personal ability to allow and connect to such experiences that define their impact.
These pre-peak "out of Robot" moments in our daily lives regenerate our capacity to wonder and awe. When we come out of our standard set cognitive processes, such moments remind us of our humanness and connect to something at an intimate and experientially meaningful level. At their peak, they might provide, according to Maslow, "ultimate satisfaction of vague unsatisfied yearnings."
2. What causes such moments? Can they be induced?
In a classic 1818 painting, "Wanderer above the sea of fog," Casper Freidrich captured a man on the top of the mountain looking at the fog above the sea. This masterpiece became an emblem of the philosophical movement of "Romanticism" showcasing the values of emotions and experiences. The protagonist of the painting was probably having an "out of Robot" experience amidst the beauty of nature, and the beauty of painting allowed us to feel the same experience.
Nature, art, music, poetry, sex, love, or relations are but few triggers of emotional moments where we intimately connect to something more profound than our inner Robot. A spring walk in a forest, "the Starry Night" by Van Gogh, the symphony of Mozart, "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver, the ecstasy of sex, the longing of Rumi, or the touch of a mother, is where the inner Robot agrees to go down and create space for celebratory moments.
Another way we connect to "out of Robot" moments is through perpetual tasks. According to William James, the father of psychology, after the simple receptive tasks or the sustained acts of concentration, a "second wind" arrives where gradually or suddenly the fatigue disappears, and new fresh energy comes. Colin Wilson also talked about an episode when after spending few hours focusing on keeping his car away from the ditch on a snowy road, he started seeing things with greater clarity.
The "out of Robot" moments can be induced wilfully also. The researches have indicated various methods, e.g.:
Connecting or pushing the body through, e.g., adventure sports like surfing or climbing, extreme sports like racing, or practices of relaxation like yoga or spas.
Going deeper into our psyche, e.g., through a modality called active imagination developed by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist. In this approach, people imagine a particular situation and actively participates in its design. This helps in connection with deeper parts of our psyche which Jung called as unconscious.
Working with mind, e.g., calming the mind through profound practices of mindfulness or stimulating mind with intellectually satisfying inspirational discussions
Acknowledging the meta-perspective by linking the current situation with, e.g., metaphors or just noticing silence.
Engaging senses by, e.g., conscious touching, connecting with sounds, breath-work, or having ecstatic sexual experiences
Some people tend to use alcohol or drugs to calm down the Robot, which could be addictive, dissociative, dangerous, and sometimes even fatal. Our body, psyche, mind, and senses are within our limits to experience the wonder of nature; we need to connect with them and consciously use them.
3. How are these experiences helpful?
Out of Robot experiences shows us that we humans are more than just Robots. However, the constant seeking of such experiences without integrating them with robotic cognition can also develop into an addiction or bypassing. The balancing of individual experiences with rational, psychological, or philosophical concepts makes a more healthy mindset. The balance enables us to have profound experiences in the future for longer durations. Maslow called the integration of subjective experiences with objective outlook as "experientially based concepts." This integrated approach can help in:
a) Positive Reinforcement: When we disconnect with our habitual set patterns and genuinely enjoy the intimate moments, we find uplifting, positive moments where we reconnect with life and find our own personal meaning
b) Personal awareness, e.g., of individual values: The exhilarating moments of experience are brilliant teachers. In every moment is the answer embedded of our deeper self. What makes us happy? What are the values we strive for? The conscious awareness and engagement with the chosen values provide a north star for our future actions.
c) Imagination, e.g., of future choices: Steven Covey wrote, "To be successful we must live from our imaginations, not from history." The robotic world can create new patterns based on old designs. To live the lives we would like to live; we need to imagine the life that makes us happy. Otherwise, as T.S. Elliot said, we would lose the life in living to the Robot.
The more integrated the out of Robot experiences are, the more personal meaning we can find in the world around us.
As the discussion on external Robot taking up our jobs is gaining traction, we also need to look inside ourselves to check whether our inner Robot has taken up our life?
The relevant question in both situations would be "what is being human?". If we consider ourselves a set of habitually created patterns whose workings can be decoded and outsourced, then the threat of robotic takeover is real. However, simple "out of Robot" moments in our lives take us beyond the constraints of patterned minds and open us to exhilaration, joy, or peace.
Maslow wrote, "The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively,.., with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy." The intimate appreciation and conscious understanding of simple moments can provide a personal meaning to strive for.
MQ Learning provides workshops to connect with and leverage "out of Robot" moments to define our individual values and reimagine our future. Check out our trainings at: https://www.mq-learning.com/trainings
a) Gary Lachmann; Beyond the Robot (Book), A Day on Meaning (Talk)
b) Abraham Maslow; Religion, Values, and Peak Experiences (Book)
c) Colin Wilson; The Outsiders (Book), Super Consciousness (Book)
d) Carl Jung, Joan Chodorow; Jung on Active Imagination (Book)