Chapter 1 - Making of a Cyborg
Judgment Day: 1989 A.D.
The effects of shell-shock and how that got me started
The lightning took a photograph of me. It was an evening in June, of 1989. I sat at my desk, staring at the wall. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting about the wall, but I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate more complicated visual stimuli. My mind was preoccupied with something with enormous ramifications for me.
Earlier on that day, I had gone to the mailbox to retrieve the day’s mailings. There was the usual assortment of junk - with a few real letters interspersed in their midst - and among the conglomeration of paper, I found a letter from my university.
I tore open the envelope, and read its contents. Two sentences immediately stood out on the page. The first one reprimanded me on my pathetic academic standings for the past several years, but that was to be expected. I was not a good student. I didn’t finish assignments, didn’t participate in class discussions, and rarely even went to school. But in spite of all my wrongdoings, I was unprepared for the real purpose of that letter, and that was to inform me that for the next year, I was suspended from university!
I was shocked. For a moment, I refused to believe what the letter said. There was no way, in my mind, that I would be caught in such a mess, no way that I would fall to such a dismal low. I had always considered myself intelligent, and lucky. I treated school with a devil-may-care attitude. The thought of me being suspended was inconceivable.
But there it was, written in black on white. The irrefutable evidence of my failure burnt into the paper. As I stared at the wall, I thought back to what I had been doing up until that letter arrived. In retrospect, all the times I spend partying with my friends, instead of staying home and studying, seemed wasted periods in my life. Above all, my tuition fees felt miserably like money down the drains - hard-earned cash that my parents had hoped would allow me to earn a decent education, and find a decent job. As the dreadful reality of the situation sank in, I realised that youthful folly had, indeed, been folly.
I focused on a crack in the ceiling. I knew I didn’t want anyone - especially not my parents - to know what had happened. It seemed that my parents’ worst fears were realised, and they were justified after all, in nagging me to do my homework all those years. I was not only embarrassed, I was totally ashamed of myself. But in the end, the truth had to come out, and I confronted my parents. They listened intently, as I described what had happened, and they didn’t pressure me any further. I was prepared for the end of the world, but they saw how miserable I already was. My mother simply asked me what I was going to do for the next little while, and I told her I would find a job and keep busy.
The worst of it over, I began to feel better again after a few days, and my vivacious side kicked right back into high-gear. Soon, I found myself partying once more with my friends near-oblivious to what had happened. Then my luck ran out, and some company actually wanted to hire me. Without warning, I found myself in the same grim situation as millions of other people around the world: I was employed.
Things turned out to not be as horrible as I anticipated - my employer turned out to have remarkably authentic human characteristics after all. So I worked for most of the year, and while at it, earned quite a lot of money. The remarkable thing during my employment was that I learned how to work under enormous pressure. Our clients were extremely demanding, and I frequently worked overtime just to help the company meet deadlines. But the work was satisfying, and the boss always treated everyone well whenever we pulled through together. We even had a company boat party. I caught fish while my colleagues smoked up. It was a glorious time.
I stopped working near the end of summer the following year, needing to make preparations for returning to school. I was gearing myself for the big challenge that lay ahead. Not only did I have to do well in my classes this time around, but I had to pull my grade average up to a minimal level, otherwise they would kick me out again - this time for three years.
If there is one thing about a lack of alternatives, it’s that nothing else motivates a person quite like it. The horrible possibility of a three-year suspension loomed ominously, and I had difficulty telling the difference between it, and death.
I knew I had to do something about myself. I had to make it really big in school this time. It was boom or bust. Do or die. Like Captain Hernan Cortes, my ships were burnt, and there was no other way to go but forward, and in the final analysis whenever one is confounded by a problem, it always pays to ask an expert for advice.
Preliminary Reconnaissance - What’s the Secret?
The things that make a nerd tick
The closest expert I know of in such matters was my sister. She was pretty much the super-achiever of the clan. Her grades were top-notch, and she had won many academic scholarships. The fact that I was her biological sibling was a scanty yet reassuring morsel of support in my now desperate struggle to find enlightenment. But when I asked her what the secret to success in school was, I obtained no satisfactory answer. She simply told me that she had never really thought about it, and studying just naturally seemed the thing to do. After all, wasn’t that was what every other student on this planet did?
Well, to me it didn’t seem natural at all. Unfortunately the more people I asked, the more their answers resembled my sister’s, and the more appalling the situation looked. Students were to follow the directions given by the teacher, read the books assigned, do the homework, and write the exams. They gave me a generic equation. It seemed simple enough. All one needed was discipline.
Aye, there’s the rub - discipline: The rarest commodity on this planet. And how was it obtained? All my life I was told that it was earned, cultivated, trained, whipped and bred into you. I felt like a race-horse. But somehow, logic saved the day: How can one create discipline in oneself, when the very process of this creation requires discipline itself?! It was a vicious circle. There had to be something I overlooked.
Resorting to drastic measures, I decided to seek my answer in - horror of all horrors - the library! The good news was that my university had an excellent library. There were books and magazines on almost any subject you could imagine, not to mention slides, videos, cassettes, and even compact-discs. Browsing around, my antiquated stereotype of a library being the most boring place on earth dissipated.
I spent a good amount of my spare time perusing the library’s contents. I checked indices and catalogues for any material there was on learning, on education, on memory, on reading skills and, of course, on discipline.
What I found was disappointing. Apart from some reasonably useful information on memory skills, the material I obtained was mostly common knowledge. The generic equation was repeated: Work hard! The situation seemed hopeless - was I really going to have to just sit down and force myself to study?
Then - while contemplating suicide by holding my breath underwater in the bathtub - it occurred to me: I already had discipline! I mean, going to the library and researching all that stuff did take discipline did it not? So what was the difference between the researching that I did, and the researching that I would have to do for a class assignment?
Passion - The Critical Difference
What’s your pleasure?
The difference was passion. I was driven by passion (and some fear) to do the research. I was curious, I was hungry for information, I was haunted day and night by the elusive solution to my dilemma. I figured that if I could only transfer that passion into my daily school life, I would have it made. I would have seized the very essence of learning - the very fuel of achievement. But intuitively I knew that was too simple an answer. If passion was so easily obtained and managed, why isn’t the world filled with successful students? Why the poor grades and high drop-out rates? In other words, how does one get passionate about school? It was damned near impossible to like school, much less feel passionate about it - except perhaps passionately hating it!
But passion is everywhere. The world is filled with people with passion about many things. From stamp-collectors to mountain-climbers, and book-lovers to video-game addicts, our planet is the home to legions of passionate people. The only problem was, most people were only passionate about certain areas of life, and were either indifferent towards or totally replused by other things.
Take baseball for instance. For those who are absolutely addicted to it, playing and watching this sport is the only important thing in life. Everything else is insignificant. ERAs and RBIs to these people are more important than why Freud thought that people were hung up about sex in their dismal childhoods. But there are people who are equally interested in both baseball and Freudian psychology, and perhaps in many other topics as well. How can they manage that? How can these people equally enjoy doing all these diverse and, apparently, conflicting things? How can I, as a student, learn to enjoy school in addition to my existing interests?
When I rephrased my question and asked the good students about why they were so passionate about studying - instead of asking them about discipline - all of the high-achievers told me that the reason they worked hard to get good grades was either because their parents would kill them if they didn’t - almost literally, in some cases! - or because they were so “naturally high” from the feeling of super-achievement that they would do anything to make the grade.
This meant that these people were either motivated by fear or by passion. It was a push, or a pull. The feeling was, however, so intimately bound within their psychology, they were never consciously aware of the motive force behind their endeavours. This was why my sister could not answer me when I first asked her about the subject: She was so bent on achieving, studying just seemed the “natural” thing to do, exactly as she said.
So, in order for me to be motivated to do well in school, I had to get passionate about it. But for that to happen, I had to find some way of thinking about school that made it interesting, that made every day in class seem like fun. But was there really a way that school could honestly be fun?!
The Binary System - Intrinsic / Extrinsic Motivation
Carrot or stick, or neither?
I found out that it can be. School, taken as a whole, can be regarded as a game - just as life can often be regarded as a game too - a game that you can win. Now, the meaning of “winning” in school, or in life, is not necessarily judged in the same way as winning a game of cards, or a baseball game. There is no scoreboard and no referee. But if you play a baseball game, and your team loses, is that the last time you’re ever going to play baseball in your life? No, of course not. You play again and again. If you win, great. If not, then what the hell. You enjoyed yourself anyway. And that’s the key. Playing the game has merits all of its own, regardless of the score, regardless of whether you’re winning or “losing.”
Psychologists refer to this as Intrinsic Motivation - you are motivated internally by your own desire to play. Extrinsic Motivation would be likened to playing the game because you want to show-off to your friends, or because you can’t allow yourself to lose because have such a fragile ego. The problem with extrinsic motivation is that once the “goal” or the reason behind the action is satisfied, the motivation disappears. If during the game you felt that you had achieved your goal of showing-off, or your ego didn’t need any more nursing, the central motivation to play the game ceases to exist. You now have less certainty why you are playing the game. Of course, you could go on and finish the game all the way to the bottom of the ninth inning, but once the extrinsic motivation vanishes, your mind stops giving it all you’ve got, because the situation isn’t that important to you anymore. In other words, you stop peak performance and simply go through the motions.
With regards to school, a student driven to study because her parents want her to, or are forcing her to, is driven by extrinsic motivation. The same goes for a person who is working simply to earn money, and not because he or she totally loves the job. On the other hand, the student staying up all night reading a textbook on astronomy, or the fall of the Roman civilization, and doing so because he or she finds the material fascinating and interesting (or simply loves learning anything new) is propelled forward by intrinsic motive forces. Even though being interested in the material that one is studying is a better situation than studying hard (even if one finds the material boring) because one is driven towards constantly experiencing the “natural high” from excellent grades, both these situations are far superior to the students doing homework only because they’ll get into trouble if they don’t. The superior student is driven by passion. Unfortunately, most people in the world are solely driven by extrinsic demands. Money is the obvious example. Everyone works and earns money to some extent, but only the intrinsically motivated people are honestly happy with what they’re doing.
A lot of times, people don’t properly differentiate between these two motive forces. They might think that they are intrinsically motivated, when it’s really extrinsic. For example, if a person told me that he was driven to work because he has a passion for money, I would challenge that and ask him whether or not winning the lottery would have any effect on how hard he would continue working! If suddenly, he found himself with an additional five million dollars (or even ten million dollars), would he continue waking up early every day, driving to work, staying there for eight to ten hours, and drive back home through rush hour traffic? Most people would quit the job the next day! Only those who are driven to work regardless of the money, or fringe benefits, or anything else except the job itself, would excel above and beyond anyone else driven by a lesser power. Sir Edmund Hillary wasn’t driven to climb Mount Everest because he wanted to get into the front pages of the newspapers. That was a by-product of his endeavour (as earning money is, from a job). He wanted to climb the mountain “because it’s there.” He climbed it - and risked his life - because he wanted to.
A third aspect of this concept of motivation is that of Affective Reward. This is the emotional experience enjoyed as a result of success. For simplicity’s sake, affective reward can be tied together with intrinsic motivation. Both are founded within the person, and do not depend on variable and temporary external conditions for inspiration and encouragement. Appendix A discusses this, and other psychological concepts, in greater detail. Suffice to say now that we must realise that long-lasting motivation in any human endevaour is intrinsically-driven, not extrinsically.
There are companies that try to create intrinsic motivation and loyalty in their employees through programmes that reinforce the “esprit de corps” or the company spirit, and make employees feel like working for the company, and with each other, are the best things in the world. Japanese firms are famous for instilling a sense of “family” into their workers, with daily programmes such as morning exercises, and other such activities. It seems artificial, but it works. To take their lead, we must try to establish intrinsic motivation in our situation in school, but how do we accomplish that? The answer lies within our minds.
Paradigms - Changing the World View
Trying on a new pair of glasses
In science, there is a term called a paradigm. It basically is another word for the way one looks at the world - one’s perspective, one’s point of view. Take the example of Plato, for instance. He was a Greek philosopher who lived around 300 B.C. and he believed that the entire universe revolved around our planet Earth. To the people of his time, it was the only reasonable explanation - people are important, people live on this Earth, the gods created Earth, and so the universe revolves around us. No questions asked. Later scientists such as Ptolemy even backed up his idea with scientific calculations!
Then came along a fellow by the name of Copernicus. His ideas were even stranger than his name. He thought that everyone was wrong, that the Earth revolved around the sun. Now that was a really revolutionary idea, but nobody took him seriously for a long time and even made him look like a fool. That was, until about half a decade later when the marvelous Johannes Kepler arrived. He made new astronomical calculations and proved to the world that indeed, we revolved around the sun. The dramatic paradigm shift was to change forever the manner of thinking of everyone in the world. No longer were humans to be regarded as the greatest thing to happen in evolution since nature invented food, and everyone ate humble pie for a few centuries.
Then, just when the people thought it was OK to start feeling arrogant again, a guy by the name of Charles Darwin came along, with his leaky old ship, the H.M.S. Beagle. Darwin told us that, hey folks, guess what, our ancestors ate bananas, climbed trees, and looked a hell of a lot like apes. What a riot.
So you see, history is filled with paradigm shifts. In truth, there is no “reality” out there. Nobody knows for sure what “reality,” really is. Science is continually coming up with new theories about the universe. Nothing is permanent or set in stone. That is why scientific theories are called theories. They are liable to change. Even if a statement is referred to as a “law” - such as, the first law of motion by Isaac Newton - that “law” is itself part of the bigger theory - the first law of motion in the theory of Newtonian physics. When that theory is challenged - by Einstein’s theory of relativity, for instance - then those “laws” may have to be revised or discarded altogether.
Let’s take a look at a more apt example of how paradigm shifts can affect us in the world, and let me tell you a story from my own life. In the summer of 1985, my brother, my sister and I were staying over at our friends’ place in the suburbs. We had a lot of fun that day, then it was time to sleep. I shared the guest room with my brother, and my sister shared a room with our friends. Around 4 am in the morning, I woke to the sound of glass shattering, and smelt something strange in the air. Instantly I knew something was wrong. In fact, I heard the parents of our friends yell from outside the room, there’s a fire, there’s a fire!
My brother and I instantly reacted to the situation and, to cut a long story short, we both got out of the house safely. My sister, however, having woken up because of all the shouting, went to the window and looked out. Our friends asked her what she was doing, and she said that she was trying to see where the fire was. “Right here!” they told her, “Let’s go!” Can you imagine the dramatic paradigm shift she must have experienced?! The whole situation was changed. Her life was in danger! Anyway, the story had a happy ending, because everyone managed to get out of the house. It’s funny now, to talk about my sister’s absolutely idiocy but without the proper perspective, without placing herself squarely into the reality of the circumstances, she would not have known the enormity of the situation.
Thus, life is full of paradigm shifts. All the time. There’s nothing strange or weird about this. You experience them everyday, in varying degrees. In fact, everything in the universe, in life, in school, is simply a matter of perspective - of paradigms - and the key to changing yourself, the key to turning yourself from a lazy bum staring at the wall, into a person who is totally passionate and excited about excelling in school, and getting onto the honour roll, is a matter of shifting your own paradigms about who you are, and what you’re doing.
And the end of my quest for enlightenment thus became the beginning of a new one: In order to succeed I needed a paradigm shift. A big shift. I needed to view myself as in charge of the situation, in control, and in the game. I needed to feel like school was the most interesting thing that can happen to me, and to have the perspective of mind to be eager to meet the challenges that presented themselves each day.
Norbert Wiener invented the field of cybernetics. He defined it as the study of feedback loops and control systems. In other words, cybernetics dealt with systems, whether mechanical or organic, with internal structures that allowed for self-regulation. An air-conditioning system with a thermostat is one such example. However, cybernetic systems include combined organic and mechanical systems. For instance, unlike other flying-machine experimenters, the Wright brothers built airplanes that were flown by human pilots. The movement of the ailerons, and thus the movement of the plane, was controlled via the feedback loop between the plane’s actual position in the sky and the pilot’s perception of how it should be flown. Therefore, the entire pilot-plane system was self-regulating.
Nowaways, the term “cybernetics” has taken on new meaning. It describes the interaction between humans and machines. In fact, the “cybernetic relationship” requires that there be little distinction between the component organic and mechanical parts. A person with a surgically-implanted device, such as a pace-maker, is a prime example. The key to the use of the word “cybernetics” in the context of this book is to realise that cybernetic devices enhance organic functions. I will discuss not only cybernetic hardware, but cybernetic principles as well. In the competitive world of the urban jungle, it takes more than animal instinct and brute force to survive. Indeed, these two traits, so vital once long ago, may even be counter-productive in this day and age. Because of our biological limitations, and because of the modern demands placed on every person to perform at higher levels, it is foolhardy not to take advantage of advanced technology to assist us in our endeavours. It is this cybernetic assistance that I will show you.
Unfortunately, as encountered by most cutting-edge technologies, there is a tendency for people to meet the new frontier with skepticism and fear. In fact, what they fear most is change. There is an inborn predisposition for humans not to change. It is as if we were psychologically imprinted with that infamous phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That is a handicapping piece of advice, if I ever heard one. Yet when it comes to new technologies, people are usually reluctant to accept them in their lives. This happens whether in business, school, or everyday living. Even if people do decide to “jump off the deep end” and give the new technology a try, they are hard pressed to let other people know for fear of being labelled “weird.” Apparently, there is a subconscious limit on the social acceptability of certain new ideas. More important, there is a social stigma of the person who tries “too hard,” the person who is a “wannabe.” Let me tell you, right off the bat, that it is only those who try hardest who are winners. Remember, there have been a lot of technologies that were looked down upon, or even made fun of, that have become household words. When the very first executives brought along their portable computers to work, were they applauded for their pioneering spirit and visioneering ability? I doubt very much. More likely, they were regarded with a jaundiced eye, because they did not conform. The same probably went for the first C.E.O.s who took up jogging every morning before work, while their competitors were still in bed. Now, even the President of the United States jogs - traffic jams notwithstanding! Companies that take extreme meaures, such as enlisting their employees in survival courses such as those offered by Outward Bound, are initially regarded with disapproval, but later on are followed and credited. When gauging the worth of new technologies, the determinant is, of course, ultimate success. Remember, ordinary methods get ordinary results. The average executive will earn the average pay, and the average student will get an average grade (which, by definition, is just a C). In other words, it is my belief that to be extraordinary, you have to do extraordinary things.
When I realised this, I concluded that the “usual” methods of success didn’t work for me. I needed to find other methods. I had to take “extraordinary measures.” I would not care if anyone thought I was trying too hard, or acting strangely unconformist. My grades would prove the value of my techniques. So I shifted my paradigms, and decided that the situation had turned into war. The college campus had become a battlefield, and the enemy was anything that stood in my way of success. I could not afford to fail in my task. I had to seek out the enemy and destroy it - no prisoners taken. I had to be stronger and more powerful than ever before. I needed total guarantee of success. Even before I started partying too much, and consequently do badly in school, I had a lot of personal interest in computers and telecommunications. I just never knew how extensively I would soon make use of them. On the other hand, I was sorely lacking in other information, so I read a myriad of literature on personal power, success, accelerated learning, and enhancing the human potential. I read with a fervour, because I needed find the secrets. I needed to become supercharged, fully-loaded with all options, and totally invincible. I had to become a cyborg…