The Mandala Forest
When we think of mandalas, we usually think of spiritually oriented, wheel shaped artwork, or perhaps natural forms like snowflakes which approximate mandalas.  Few of us would consider actually living in a mandala like setting.  This is not the case for inventor, designer, and futurist, Jacque Fresco, whose concept known as the Venus Project incorporates cities that resemble the ancient circular art form.  The center of the Fresco mandala, however, is not a religious temple, but a computer automated control hub, and examining a layout of the city design, there is no mention of spiritual or religious spaces.  What we see instead is a dedication to science, nature, and the human being, through a very specific lens of how the future might look.  As such, one cannot help but ask what it would really mean to live in such a place.

The city itself is designed to maximize open space and eliminate the need for automobiles through a light rail system.  Energy and food are produced within the city in order to increase both its sustainability and its self sufficiency.  Fresco hopes to actually construct a working prototype city in the near future, though his vision is more of a holistic approach to human living, and will therefore rely on networked cities operating together on a resource based economy, in order to create a peaceful and equitable living system.  The notion of the eco-city itself is gaining steam.  In Tianjin, China, an eco-city is in the works for completion in 2020, though the design is much more irregular and organic than Fresco's symmetrical design. 

Because we do indeed need a new system for human living, Jacque Fresco's approach is attractive on a lot of levels.  But it's requirement for a full system makeover is both appealing, as well as a potential stumbling block.  What might seem like a utopia to some, to others may appear to be a sort of totalitarian encroachment.   The way it apparently elevates humanity, science, and nature above religion, will mean that his city isn't going to sit well with religious fundamentalists, and if you listen to him speak, that becomes even more apparent.  I don't think he should compromise his beliefs in the matter, but he's not going to get anything close to a global consensus. 

In order for Fresco's computerized and secular mandala city model to take shape, there will be several necessary components.  One is the healing of individual trauma, alluded to in the Zeitgeist: Moving Forward film which also features Fresco's work, and which I first encountered on the Transangeles blog.   This will be especially true amongst those who actually support the Venus project, because those who oppose it will not get on board, and often will see no need to heal their own trauma.

The second necessity that I see is the city must live up to its promise being able to produce a surplus of both free time for the individual and then also a surplus of material products, whether they be food, energy, or technology, that can be used to finance and create the next city.  In this way, the system could become self replicating, which will be an important part in realizing this dream that clearly flies in the face of vested power structures and religious extremists.  The Venus project can't just be a really good idea only if everyone would just get on board.  It has to be viable as a single city, even when most people won't know what to make of it.  It will have to prove that it truly is something people will want to organically join, with the knowledge that in doing so there will be tangible benefits from the very beginning, even before the first ground is broken.

Because of this, it also needs to either be scalable or have a degree of functionality at various levels of development.  The project will have to provide for its members along the way, and not be seen as a sort of all or nothing undertaking, because what Fresco is talking about isn't simply the construction of a city, but the transformation of a culture, which is not something you can engineer the way you engineer a vertical farm.  Cultures change of their own accord over time. The process is not predictable or controllable like a light rail train schedule, and those who attempt to make it so are doomed to fail either outright, or through the realization of a totalitarian process rather than a beneficial vision.  This is the major challenge that Fresco faces: having people voluntarily assuming a cultural modality in which this city could both exist and be genuinely welcomed.  Issues around freedom and individuality will certainly come to play, but if the city were to arise in a truly organic fashion, rather than handed down by a lone visionary on high, then perhaps  some day we really will be living inside a mandala.

In today's fast paced advanced societies, we are constantly faced with a myriad of stressors that in moderation can help us gain a sense of strength and accomplishment, and in large quantities can make us constantly anxious, overwhelm us, and cause us to feel that our lives are spinning out of control.  Playing out in real time in the background of this high speed modern stage of ups and downs are the harsh realities of war, widespread poverty, and environmental devastation.  For the minority of the world's population that live within the neat confines of the suburbanized and walled off wealthy Western nations, the chaos and destruction of the world at large exists in a sort of cultural subconscious.  It is through this lens that I touch on the mandala and address one of the technological approaches to the challenges we face. 

Searching the internet for interesting articles about mandalas, I came across a video that demonstrates the integration of technology and human brainwaves.  I had first encountered a similar biofeedback program when a friend of mine lent me a copy of the  new age themed video game Wild Divine.  Using a pulse and skin conductivity sensor that clips to the fingers and plugs into the computer, the game teaches the player to modulate mental states and achieve relaxed focus.  Today, personalized and integrated brainwave sensors, pioneered by NeuroSky (SkyNet anyone?) and Emotiv, are on the cutting edge of high tech self monitoring, which groups like Quantified Self take very seriously.

A man by the name Beer van Geer recently developed the Dagaz app for use with NeuroSky's hardware.  The program, as demonstrated in the video, teaches viewers to enter into a meditative state through the interactive biofeedback based process of creating mandalas with one's mind.  A fascinating goal put forth by van Geer is to eventually refine the Dagaz application so that "players" across the world can co‐create mandalas in cyberspace, and perhaps even develop a sort of technologically mediated "telepathy."

Certainly we can see the potential benefits of biofeedback in general, whether they be overcoming addictions and phobias ,to improving focus in the classroom, to deepening our meditative practice.  Yet as programs like Wild Divine and Dagaz and the Dalai Lama's virtual tour of a three dimensional virtual mandala illustrate, technology and spirituality are openly fusing.  This is not entirely problematic, in the sense that through technology we are able to transmit significant or spiritual matters to wider audiences.  Yet through technology, the very landscape of human experience and what it means to be human, is changing.

And this is where we should be asking difficult questions, because things are getting a bit strange.  At some point we may very well come to regret the actualization of technological forces which, through a convergence of advanced self monitoring and biofeedback, genetic manipulation, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, computer mediated communication interfaces, high tech security monitoring, augmented reality, facial recognition tech, 3D geometry video scanning, state of the art rendering, digitized monetary transactions, RFID chips, cybernetic implantation and transhumanism, and virtual lives created through online worlds like Second Life, we become fully integrated into a global technology net, a complex quasi living electrical grid.  At a time of great turmoil and environmental degradation, we are fast approaching the merging of man and machine. Even today, this sentiment may sound a bit sci‐fi, but the rapid pace of innovation has set the stage for such a convergence, barely noticeable to those of us in the advanced cultures who take these high speed transitions as the norm with little consideration of long term systemic effects.  

As we ponder these seemingly inevitable crossroads, it would be good to ask ourselves a question that echoes the words of Terence McKenna: is it humanity, nature, or technology (0r some combination of the three) which we put in the center of our mandala? To what ends?  It is interesting to note the interconnections between the advent of the world wide web, open source code, wikis (and wikiLeaks), social networking, and the like, alongside the notions of technological singularity,  environmental systems awareness, and the "oneness" spiritual movements we see emerging in the West.  Perhaps we can see some trends coming to the fore, but it remains to be seen what the ramifications in human consciousness will be if increasing numbers of the historically unprecedented human populace are further separated from the natural life sustaining processes of planet earth.  Perhaps there is a way to balance our newly developed, technologically mediated lives with the necessary natural processes that sustain us.  And perhaps our increased interconnection through the internet will function to create a more integrated collective human conciousness.   It is up to us to decide what is valuable, what content we will emphasize, and how we apply it to our 3d lives.