The Internet as the globe’s psyche

The invention of the internet is something as profound for humanity as Prometheus’ discovery of fire, and over time will be just as transformative. It’s a worldwide neural network, a communal brain for the globe, and more importantly a psyche for the entire globe.

What is that? what exactly is a “psyche” and how could it be one for the entire globe?

In medical school we learn Neuroanatomy, and learn that the lumpy brain (see above) ( has dedicated areas for every last neural function we creatures have got. There’s a dedicated area for every function except one: the psyche. There’s no anatomic place for it. That thing exists in a neural cloud spreading across the surface of the brain: it’s everywhere and nowhere at once.

One could argue that the psyche is sourced out of the amygdala (a limbic system structure deep in the central brain mediating emotion and memory), but others might argue it’s somewhere in the frontal lobes (that moderate and govern mood, behavior, and social judgment). But no one –unless I am much mistaken and please comment if I am– has ever identified or proven the psyche has an actual, discreet, single locus within the human brain. Yet, metaphysical as it is, the psyche undeniably exists and exerts tremendous influence –or, rather than merely influence, it may be the deep source of who we really are… (whatever that means, “who we are”) and perhaps all that we ever do is really an expression of that psyche.

Anatomic events, such as strokes, dementia, tumors, and trauma (bifrontal hematomas, for example, after a bike crash with no helmet) can change a person’s psyche. Life events, such as loneliness, bereavement, changes in wealth (for better or worse) do the same. The psyche can be built up, and the psyche can break. But it’s not something you can physically touch. Nor can you view or image the psyche directly, not with CT, MRI, or even SPECT scanners. You cannot operate on a psyche the way you can with a rupturing appendix or a meningioma. But it’s there and it matters, nevertheless.

And if all the world is one collective organism, and if the universities and theaters and city halls and financial institutions, for example, constitute its neural network, then the internet is its psyche.

(1) Individual psyche: If you’re religious you might refer to a “psyche” as a manifestation of your “soul;” if you’re secular, you might say it’s your “mind.” If you look up the definition it will refer you first to Sigmund Freud (Id, Ego, and Superego) and next to ancient Greece (Psyche marries Eros). In other words, for something as central to our existences as whatever it is that constitutes the essence of our very selves, there’s not a whole hell of a lot to either localize or define it, clinically speaking.

Personally, I don’t go with the religious or the secular definitions. As for the religious, I believe a soul is more than a psyche: it existed before “me” and will exist after my body is dead, and if I develop schizophrenia for example and my psyche becomes deranged, does that similarly impugn my soul? Of course not. And as for the secular, I think the psyche is more than a clearing-house for the collective impulses of the human mind and body; it’s not some higher-level algorithm who’s function it is to assimilate dis-cohesive data and produce survival benefit for the species. It’s not simply a computer.

I take a more mystical view. The psyche is some magical thing: it’s an entity, all right, but not one like the others. Maybe it’s the interface between soul and mind? It’s fluid, and its boundaries are not distinct (my wife’s psyche and my own, for example, intersect like two colors in a rainbow), but it’s got a center and it’s got a periphery, it exerts influence in everything I do, and it’s likewise affected by everything i do. I have some element of control regarding what goes into it, but not complete.

(2) Collective psyche: We as individuals are separate creatures than we are in groups; so separate, it seems, as to be completely different organisms (ref: Lives of a Cell, by Lewis Thomas). A single bacterium will operate and behave along a completely different set of rules and objectives than it will follow when in a group or colony; a domesticated dog will be equally different than the same dog in a pack; humans in one-on-one can be unrecognizable in comparison to their public manifestations or mob mentalities. The group “psyche” is a different psyche. The internet psyche is a different psyche.

So here’s my final point, and there main point of the whole post: just as a individual brain has a gyri, sulci and corpus callosum (the corpus callosum is a large bundle of more than 200 million myelinated nerve fibers that connect the two brain hemispheres, permitting communication between the right and left sides of the brain), and these impact and govern the human being, and just as the human brain has this metaphysical “psyche” existing above and beyond all that, which, you might say, comprises “the real me”… collectively we’ve got the same thing: a metaphysical psyche spanning across all the members of the human species; and now that nearly every human on the planet is connected more or less directly to every other human on the planet through the internet, we’ve got a collective psyche like it or not, and that point is critically important to understand if we’re to make sense of its influence upon us, and if we’re to influence it back.