Douglas Rushkoff's top 10 books on designer reality

By Douglas Rushkoff. Published in The New York Times Syndicate/Guardian of London on 6 June 2001

“My favourite books remind us that reality can and should be hacked. We usually change the world using the rules that currently exist, but we can also raise ourselves above the playing field and change the rules themselves. They are all arbitrary, having been written by people just like us. How does one become conscious of the way in which our world has been modelled, and empowered enough to rewrite the rules? By reading books like these.”

1. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R Buckminster Fuller
Bucky Fuller’s most concise and compelling argument for how humankind might be able to survive and transcend its own compulsion for increased industrialisation and economic growth - through new, more consciously executed industrialisation and economic growth! His brief history of how the ‘great pirates’ dominated global politics and economics for centuries, installing puppet monarchs and harnessing the resources of entire nations goes a long way towards demonstrating the relationship between power and perception..

2. The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
Jaynes makes a good case for the theory that human beings, in an earlier state of brain evolution, used to ‘hear’ the voice of God. What makes this book so interesting to me is less the idea that two parts of the brain used to converse with one another in this fashion, but that real human beings experienced reality in such a fundamentally different way than we do - and that equally profound shifts in our perspective could be occurring right now. How can we tell if the ways in which we conceive of things differ from the conceptions of our parents, much less our ancestors? And is this just a change in perception??

3. Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson
Bob has been a friend and mentor of mine for 20 years. Longer, actually, because I experienced his extraordinarily-narrated journey into cosmic consciousness when I was just a kid. This book chronicles the great quest to find the underlying order of our reality - and the many perils along this path of inquiry. Cosmic Trigger is at once startling, terrifying, reassuring, and life-affirming. It is a guided tour through the regions of mind that most people never get to, told in a way that forces you to reconsider your relationship to, well, everything.

4. Chaos and Cyber Culture by Timothy Leary
This might not be Timothy’s very best book, but if you have to choose just one, Chaos and Cyber Culture sums up a whole lot of his thinking about technologies - chemical, digital, and intellectual. Leary, also a profound personal influence on me, believed that expanding consciousness required an almost revolutionary mindset. Getting smarter also means challenging stupidity by daring to question ‘authority.’ New tools, from psychedelics to computers, become consciousness weapons in the battle for a more cooperative global thought experiment.
5. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic by Bertolt Brecht**
Brecht was a German playwright who developed something called “the alienation effect”. His idea was that people shouldn’t be wrapped up in the plot of a play; rather, they should be made conscious of the fact that they are watching a play all the time. Only then will they have the presence of mind to consider actions to take in the real world. Although Brecht’s passions were largely political, his techniques were cosmic. His plays were ‘meta’-theatre, in which meaning was transmitted outside the rules of storytelling.

6. Mindstorms by Seymour Papert
Papert understands developing minds, and broke all models for how children should be introduced to computers and technology. His LOGOS computer language, developed for kids, is responsible for introducing thousands of today’s programmers to the freedom to create underlying software development. His explanations of how information can be transmitted to students in ways that allow them build concepts for themselves are invaluable to anyone in education.

7. Exodus in The Five Books of Moses (Fox translation)
Exodus is the story of how people break free of slavery. If we can understand this myth in the way it was most likely intended, it becomes a terrific allegory for the way we enslave ourselves through the worship of false gods. The ‘plagues’ are not attacks on a foreign people, but the desecration of Gods whom everyone worshipped. This is not the story of liberation from a place, but a state of mind: people who build pyramids are slaves.
8. The Turbulent Mirror by John Briggs and F David Peat**
This is my own personal favourite book explaining fractals and chaos. Because it’s easy. Anyone who missed the chaos craze or still wonders why ravers talk so much about fractals can read this short, illustrated text and then understand more about these subjects than most. This is the book I read before writing Cyberia, and it was what forced me to connect my observations of culture and consciousness with the insights of mathematicians.

9. The Invisibles by Grant Morrison et al
Grant’s work is about the ongoing battle between the forces of chaos and those of order. This comic book series is about a band of young, sexy chaos magicians who mean to overturn an oppressive consensus reality. Grant understands magic, for real, and uses this engaging comic book series to teach his more clever readers how to direct their energy towards whatever ends they choose. This comic changed the way millions of young people think about the rules.

10. Systems of Survival by Jane Jacobs
I don’t agree with everything this urban planner and social philosopher says, but she has helped me recognise the importance and impact of design on social and economic behaviour. She has a unique way of reversing cause and effect that I’ve found very useful in rethinking how things happen, and how they can be changed. Her work keeps me aware that great ideas mean very little if they don’t become integrated into the way we plan the physical landscape in which we live.