What Steve Jobs understood about consciousness and design

Accounts of the development of the personal computing revolution focus on technology or business, but early insiders and readers of What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counter culture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff know about the counter-culture and consciousness expansion behind the first PCs: a group of visionaries set out to turn computers into a means for freeing minds and information.

Many of the pioneers were inspired through cognitive shifts experienced through mindfulness practices and, often, drugs (which we do not endorse). Steve Jobs, for instance, reportedly said that taking the psychedelic drug LSD was a profound experience ("one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life"). While in college, Jobs shared an interest in consciousness and spirituality with friends with whom he would discuss experiences and books related to the concept of chi.

"Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life. LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it. It reinforced my sense of what was important—creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”

- Steve Jobs

Such transpersonal experiences, which may be achieved drug-free through techniques and technologies employed at I-ACT, often lead experiencers to a paradigm shift. Instead of viewing themselves as completely separate intelligent apes, they tend to conclude that the physical world, including other humans, animals, trees and even what is human-designed, are all connected as extensions of consciousness. What we design is a reflection of our inner essence and, therefore, can play an important role, complementary to science in the understanding of reality.

Part of Jobs' genius may be the realization that people appreciate the “luxuriousness” of experience even more than accumulating things: humans are attracted to the internal, subjective, irreducible delight of good design and are highly responsive to beauty. Color, taste, love, pleasure, curiosity, motivation, creativity, humor, beauty and other subjective experiences may have physical correlates, but our experience is not physical per se. Our most intimate reality, that which we know the best and often value the most, may not be easily measured.

Take color for instance. Physics, engineering and architecture may approach color in a different way (for instance, as More than a poetic statement, we challenge anyone to successfully argue otherwisefrequency, as a signal, as an aesthetic element). We may judge it in purely objective terms, but our judgment of color, spaces, forms, our experience of the built environment (or of anything in our physical reality for that matter) is something inherently internal. The progression is to view everything we consider “solid” or “physical” as an extension of ourselves -- including the designed environment, as posited by our co-founder and architectural designer Manori Sumanasinghe, who studies the interplay between consciousness and design, architecture and urban design.

For instance, when we admire a beautiful sunset, the sense of beauty exists only in our microcosm. However, sight (of the form and color of the sun), though facilitated by physics and physiology, is experienced internally, as is the warmth we feel on our skin. The sun is particularly interesting, as the light that reaches our eyes and skin has had to travel for minutes and then processed for milliseconds before it comes to our visual and tactile awareness. However, if we were concentrated on driving a vehicle, our eyes might receive the same light energy but not be consciously aware of the sunset, let alone awed by its perceived beauty. How do we know the sun exists? We base the conclusion that it exists in some objective way on the consensus that others also perceived it and share similar, though, not identical, experiences of the sun. This means that we base our perception of an objective reality on subjective observation.

In fact, there is no way to prove that something exists independently of observers, as our judgment of reality relies on some form of observation or measurement, which is itself ultimately internal. This view was argued by some of the greatest minds in history, like physicists Bohr, Schoedinger, Pauli, and Wigner. Swiss consciousness scholar and physicist Massimiliano Sassolli de Bianchi posits that particles studied by physicists simply do not exist. They “appear” into existence when we make a measurement. In other words, they are an interpretation of our interaction with nano-scale reality. There is no evidence that they exist as real, corpuscular entities beyond concepts that are independent of the observational process.

Everything we consider physical, including the natural and built environment, and our own bodies is composed of this same energy and is, therefore, intimately tied to our microcosm. External reality makes no sense without internal reality, each one giving meaning to the other, acting as two complementary aspects of one reality. The surround, the theater is inside us, it is us, and we are therefore not limited, localized entities.

Jobs and others understood that the internal experience takes precedence. Certainly, a high standard of quality, excellent customer service and effectiveness of a product are highly relevant, but the consumer’s microcosm also responds to the fact that someone else takes the time and effort to feed his or her senses: wheather it is a beautiful meal, “coffee art,” humor in an otherwise expressionless moment, or the spectacular shell of a public building. In other words, design can be considered a way to honor the fact that we are more than our bodies, for it recognizes our intangible dimensions that separate us from machines and most pre-human animals.

Indeed, we see that as affluence and education frees more individuals from the struggle for survival, more people can attend to their higher needs per Maslow's hierchy of needs. With an abundance of choices for products in the market, success favors those who employ design principles make products, places and services that not only address an objective problem in Space and Time, but also consider the Subjective experience of the individual. There is increased attention to the internal aspect of humans that responds to comfort, user-friendliness, taste, aesthetics, sense of purpose, belonging, status.

Art and design is increasingly part of our everyday lives, starting with the unique ways we manifest ourselves, like the way we speak, dress, and solve personal or career challenges. We also see that along with an increased level of automation and analysis performed by computers, comes a special relevance and competitive advantage for human intuition, creativity, and – yes – artistic expression, as can be witnessed by the pervasiveness of design. It is no longer enough to produce a pen, a computer, a vehicle, a house or a chair that works well.

We also find art and design being used in the service of non-commercial causes: consider, for instance, how Art has been used to better convey important ideas such as Liberty, Human Rights, and Ecology. Story-telling through creative expression such as poetry, drama, song, painting, sculpture, and literature - and increasingly viral YouTube videos - is often more effective for (or an important part of) educating and effecting change, when compared to a scientific paper or a prosaic lecture.

Jobs had his flaws and we can question the deleterious aspects of today's manufacturing and unhealthy effects of looking more at screens than the world and people around us. However, Jobs clearly sought to “invent” the future, rather than survey what people thought they wanted based on what is already prevalent within their current paradigms. He understood the world of consciousness as something one could draw from and also contribute to. Consciousness practices may help us tune in to and develop different dimensions of consciousness.

With the world of the subjective playing an increasingly important role for social and commercial enterprise, what can be done to optimize our creative output? I-ACT works with innovators in the sciences, engineering, architecture and design, film and other arts, problem-solvers and creatives who seek their next breakthrough insight. We also help individuals who seek to remain healthy and vital through their demanding life style. We draw on a trusted network of experts in consciousness development and wellness and leading-edge techniques and technology to help individuals and organizations worldwide. We would love to assist you!

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