Singularity is forever, but it’s not for everybody?

A rather provocative article by Ashlee Vance in the New York Times, Merely Human? That’s So Yesterday, raised a host of intriguing questions.  Essentially the article is about the idea of technological “singularity” where humans and machines will, according to some, meld and then immortality (or at least dramatically extended lives) will be possible.

These ideas, being explored by the best and the brightest (at least in the realm of computer science and bio-technology), distill down, in the end, to incredibly un-modern, rather more of the same, ends:  an elite “school” in which elite connections are made to further capital ventures in a rarefied grab for power, money, control and the hubristic cockeyed quest to become God and live forever (how old school is that?  Think conquistadors, explorers and myriad seekers of fountains of youth, treasure and the like who basically annihilated native peoples everywhere they went).

Yes, technology is zooming forward but no, it will not allow us to live “forever.”  Firstly, “forever,” is a concept that rests upon the notion of its opposite—time.  Once we get past time, then there is no “forever,” there just is.  Secondly, being rather restless and childlike, I’m not sure what these boys would do with themselves if they had forever on their hands.  In fact it’s those inevitably idle robotic avatar hands that might likely become the devils playthings after all—out of sheer boredom and the angst resultant from the ego elevated above the Self (like a child who kills his parents and then panics at being an orphan).  Given how bored many people are with their short span of days, what would people actually do with immortality?  They would probably eventually meditate and learn non-action and transcend the illusion of matter altogether—yet one could do that without actually making the forever machine since… we’re already soaking in it.

These scientists are materialists (not true visionaries) who are taking materialism to the exponential level, but like a calculus that infinitely approaches a line but never touches it, the line itself is the veil between being and non-being.  The only way to transcend death is via altered consciousness, one in which we realize that we are already both dead an alive.  These robot boys are so concrete that they remind me of greedy alchemists who give up on alchemy as soon as they realize that you can’t actually make lead into gold—it was just a metaphor.

These guys are very smart and very rich humans dying of mental lead poisoning, much like their debauched and over-extended Roman predecessors.

What strikes me about the things these science boys (as they are rather in the grip of the Puer, and virtually none of them are women, not even girls) say, is how much it reveals of their lack of true individuation.  For example, the ubiquitous spokesman for the singularity movement, Raymond Kurzweil, says, “Ultimately, the entire universe will become saturated with our intelligence,” he continues. “This is the destiny of the universe.”

No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  I think that we can just about plug this in to stand for the definition of hubris in the dictionary.  This sort of cosmic-centric ego talk is the ugly by-product of our culture, which reinforces outrageousness at every turn with attention and money, and thus propagates it (like bad reality TV… as if there was “good” reality TV).

The “intelligence” of the universe might be better conceptualized as the ultimate mystery, which allows for our very being, and our own limited concept of intelligence (which requires the concept of stupidity to make any relative sense to us).  The notion that we are going to “saturate the universe with our intelligence” is rather like my kids at four putting on their Power Ranger suits and imagining that they are masters of the universe.  Being devalued as little super heroes hurts some kids and that makes them into Hollywood producers (ever blowing up things in “big” summer movies).  I suspect that a man like Raymond Kurzweil is an opposite example of a high-IQ kid who has been over-indulged and mistakenly lead to believe that his brain is the master of the universe.

Is it just me, or would Stanley Kubrick have had a field day with this stuff?  (“You can’t fight in here, this is the war room!”)?

It’s like these guys are trying to build Atlantis while truly believing that no one has ever had the sorts of thoughts that they are having.  These new pioneers of “I’m going to live forever” are missing the central point of what is actually happening to us and our evolving consciousness.  Alchemy is an esoteric idea in which the alchemist is transformed by the process of meditation.  The brave new world is already upon us, and it is rife with Jules Verne thinking:  fun, but it’s not really going to move the needle on the zeitgeist, it rather reflects the zeitgeist and the big war:  that between ego and collective consciousness.

These techies with their belief that evolution is going to allow mastery of the universe by human beings, would naturally see themselves as being in counterpoint to the fundamentalists who think the world is 5,000 years old.  Yet they are both exactly on the same page:  literalism.  In one case it’s the literal belief in a story, in the other it’s the literal belief that we can make life out of machines and then live richly inside those machines.  Haven’t we made enough of a mess of the world out of our materialism to at least factor in quality of life in addition to “life” as a virus in a beaker?

And, as long as we’re writing science fiction, at least we can throw in another story and ask, where’s Buddha in this debate?  Where is the enlightened understanding that the world is illusion?  Wisdom texts are poetry, they seek to explain things that cannot be truly explained, and they are thus the tools of spirit.  We do not capture spirit and use it for our purposes, rather spirit, muses, even the dead perhaps, they make us and they make us serve their purpose.  This might be wrong, but the idea of the world as perfect and we as challenged to see how this is so suits me better than the world as cesspool from which the lucky few are going to escape via fancy technology.

It does not seem to occur to the cutting edge thinkers that they’ve been had—that the animating spirit within them has already made them as robots to play with in this world as virtual classroom.  Perhaps allowing humans to try to think their way out of their situation, which is in and of itself a condensation of “thought” emanating from higher consciousness, could be quite hilarious (or even rife with pathos) to more evolved non-beings.

It does not seem to cross the radar of the founders of Google and other beneficiaries of Silicon Valley cash cows that “singularity” is not a new concept.  The torah’s essential central wisdom is that God is One (singularity, ceeeello!).  Now if there is any poetic truth in any of this, then we, with all our diverse opinions, joys, sorrows, dreams and failures are all part of the singularity.  The brainiacs, yes; but also those who merely find it interesting but go right on living life as it actually is right now.

The problem I would have with the modern singularity folks is not that their vision is too “out there” but that it’s not really “out there enough.”  If the wisdom of Jesus suggesting that we love our neighbors as our selves is deeper than a moral teaching, if it truly is a wisdom idea, then it is consistent with the enlightened self interest of loving the world as a way of awakening to our singularity with it, and with whatever its first agency might be (which I feel strongly intuitively certain is not the fast talking fast thinks brains of these men behind the curtain who would just as likely sell us super-vitamins as trips to outer-space).

If we are the world, then we live forever (or even for a long, long time) only so long as the “world” endures (and I don’t mean the mere earth, that will blow up when the sun goes red giant).  If we are our individual singular ego selves, then we must try to dominate the world and use it like an object; this blocks the sacred and dooms us to spiritual and even material failure.  If we widen our consciousness to see that the totality is the SELF then we live widely, richly and in a time-extended way through our affinity and identification with the group.  There is no leaving others behind in a true singularity.  What we currently have is a Midas curse of imprisoned materialism that puts us in a hyper-competitive state of alienation, fear and individual singularity—the metaphysical equivalent of going out for Chinese food and not sharing.

It is for these, admittedly esoteric, reasons that I argue that parenting (as an attitude) is a path to enlightenment; in teaching us to love beyond ourselves, in wishing for our children to outlive us, we align with the singularity that does not need to be invented, it has invented us.  Our free will is to either try to outsmart the universe (and we’ve seen what the smartest guys in the room can do for companies like Enron and its formerly ignorant “investors”/ hoodwinked “gamblers.”), or respect what is (including inventors and inventions) as part of a singular intelligence that has a much better sense of humor and creativity than even it’s best avatar sci-fi dreamers trying to bring us cloned steak.

My vote is to try and appreciate the poetry in all the myriad ideas, but try to aim for singularity of consciousness.  This means loving and recognizing as Self the tech-guys, the religious extremists, the terrorists, the poor, the sick, the strong and the rich, the living and the dead, time and no-time, yesterday, tomorrow and right now.  Nothing is not included in any actual singularity, including evil.

This is not easy, and thus I also vote for a dash of colony consciousness, in which we come to trust that in aggregate, with the cosmos, we may personally be in joy or anguish, but we are not alone, we cannot be alone, because at our highest Truth we just are—together, forever.

I have no wish to make a social movement, or to live in my current body forever, or in a machine-body forever.  I simply am who I am and write down what the muses whisper into my heart.  I trust that the few who read these words are the part of me I’m most directly writing to, and that you connect with me as the part of your expanding self that, in concert with each other, can help us be more alive, more loving, more aligned with our place in our singularity.

More technology is certainly coming.  We make use of it to reach each other with these words (but spirit makes use of us to make and use this technology—it is a mirror of the fact that we’re already connected, NOT that we have invented connecting).  We may be waking up, but the NY Times article puts it well in paraphrasing the singularity movement as envisioning, “a time, possibly just a couple decades from now, when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state” (italics mine, point collectively ours).

Raymond Kurzweil hopes not only to live forever, but also to resurrect his dead father using technology.  This made me think of Freud (and the notion of reaction formation—a son so guilty about his own success and grandiosity he must atone by undoing father’s death?)  It also made me think of Alfred Hitchcock and Psycho’s Master Bates and his odd relationship with his mother (she was a little “stuffy”).

To me the world is some sort of infinitely jesting puzzle, and the name “Kurzweil” made me think of both Colonel Kurtz in Heart of Darkness (“the horror, the horror…”) and it made me think of another Jewish visionary, Kurt Weill, who along with Brecht wrote The Threepenny Opera (a rather different psychology concerned with the well-being of the group and not so much in exploiting the group while kidding oneself about who and what is served); Weill was an artist truly interested in the people, despite the roiling zeitgeist in which his ideas fermented such as rising Nazism (which had its own grandiose notions for a thousand-year-Reich that lasted a bit less than that).

Kurzweil is planning to live forever, while Kurt Weill died shortly after his fiftieth birthday and left the words of Bede on his tombstone:

This is the life of men on earth:

Out of darkness we come at birth

Into a lamplit room, and then –

Go forward into dark again.

All I really know is that today I live and write, and you who read these words live and read (and often write as well), and together it might just be true that we love our collective children as a way of affirming the singularity—that we are each others’ parents and children—that with all our wackiness, and grandiosity, and schemes, and misfires we are, in aggregate with what just is, an incomprehensible singularity.

Namaste, Bruce


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4 Responses to “Singularity is forever, but it’s not for everybody?”

  1. Amber Says:

    Yes, yes, yes, and yes. I think this idea of “living forever” comes from the fear of aging. Not, as many suppose, the fear of death. I believe that most people realize that they will eventually die. That is the cycle. But aging? That is something we are constantly fighting against.

    For what? I ask. At one point, wrinkles meant wisdom and elderly were looked to for advice. Now? Aging is the equivalent to fashion suicide and wisdom is seen as frivolous.

    One of my greatest life ambitions is to teach my children to be great global citizens. Truly, my legacy (if it is good) will live through them. That is sufficient for me.

  2. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Who are these weirdos? I suggest that any one of them who suggests that we ARE the world, that humans will master the world, be sent photos of Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in/around Indonesia, the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Nothing like Mother Nature’s power to squelch our hubris.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      I just like to re-imagine these guys as preschoolers in their fantasy play—which is all well and good until snack time. Then you must take turns and the ethic is “you get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

      And then everybody has to sing the “now it’s time to pick up and put away” song, from the scientists to the oil companies.

      At least we’re lucky enough to realize that we may fire up the grill, but not the volcano, much less the sun. Namaste

      p.s. Where was Icharus’ mother?

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