Some scientists think we are already in the midst of the singularity.
Humans have already relinquished many intelligent tasks, such as the ability to write, navigate, memorize facts or do calculations, Joan Slonczewski, a microbiologist at Kenyon college and the author of a science-fiction book called “The Highest Frontier,” (Tor Books, 2011). Since Gutenberg invented the printing press, humans have continuously redefined intelligence and transferred those tasks to machines. Now, even tasks considered at the core of humanity, such as caring for the elderly or the sick, are being outsourced to empathetic robots, she said.
“The question is, could we evolve ourselves out of existence, being gradually replaced by the machines?” Slonczewski said. “I think that’s an open question.”
In fact, the future of humanity may be similar to that of mitochondria, the energy powerhouses of cells. Mitochondria were once independent organisms, but at some point, an ancestral cell engulfed those primitive bacteria, and over evolutionary history, mitochondria let cells gradually take over all the functions they used to perform, until they only produced energy.
“We’re becoming like the mitochondria. We provide the energy — we turn on the machines,” Slonczewski told LiveScience. “But increasingly, they do everything else.”
That relinquishing of intelligent tasks is a definite trend, no? This also sounds a bit like The Matrix. :P However, the difference between the relationship of mitochondria/cells and humans/robots is that robots probably won’t need us to survive in the long run. We’re dispensable (we are not efficient batteries). :\
I am highly ambivalent when it comes to this topic of the ‘singularity’. I feel like I’m stuck in a space between the ‘artificial’ world of technology and the ‘natural’ physical world. I inhabit both easily, I think, when I’m in them. In my day job, I work outside in wild areas often, exposed to all of nature’s raw elements (aka wrath, hah). At night, I delve deeply into the world of the Internet in general and the highly abstract world of computer programming specifically. That dichotomy, when I ponder it, is jarring. So to see the world seemingly moving almost exclusively in one direction over the other—and the ramifications of that—is strangely disconcerting to me. Cuz I can’t see myself ever becoming divorced from the ‘earth’ so to speak. But I also recognize that distinction of artificial and natural probably isn’t ‘real’, anyway, and that any ‘artificial’ world can in theory be as real as the real one (eventually).
Glad I’m not the only one who thinks this about ‘sacred’ music. However I don’t think it’s always diminished in power by the listener not having a religious disposition. A lot of music appears to transcend that.
Though the point is possibly moot as I’ve never experienced it from the other side ;)
I thought about this some more, and I have concluded: words! Probably unclear words forged by fever, but words nonetheless.
The dynamics of knowing
I’ve been conscious of some strange dynamics lately. I commented on comedy the other night. Another one is knowledge. Generally we say knowledge is power, and you can’t have enough. But does there ever come a point where it becomes too much of a good thing (that’s a dynamic in itself—too much of something good becoming something bad)? I think so. It becomes a sort of “you can’t handle the truth” deal. Sometimes I find that when I learn more about some subject, I yearn to know less about it. There’s something within the mysteries of the world that give us the space of purpose (see this post as well). Lately, reading about how identity and self—and all that goes with those—how they may be more of a mechanical illusion than we realize makes me want to flip on the ignorance-is-bliss switch. If true, there might ultimately be a way to reconcile that beyond pretending or hoping it’s not true, but I don’t presently see it. Despite the best efforts and denials of some, the conclusions of science have historically reminded us of certain inconvenient truths…
Being a scientifically-minded person, there is within me that drive to know the world thoroughly and as objectively as possible. And I’m reminded of this quote attributed to the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, which states something like “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. This makes me think of how humans, in their steady march towards all-knowing, will be like gods to us in the future (if we prosper long enough). Extrapolating that bit further to some hypothetical supreme entity, something truly omniscient that like integrates itself with the very fabric of space and time, all I feel is emptiness and sadness: for if you know everything, and experience everything—you are everything—there is no wonder and mystery left. Would the only options left be to cosmically delude yourself, or to kill yourself in a big bang and start over? What happens to purpose then? However, the dynamics of such a state are beyond my comprehension, so it’s pretty useless to pass judgment on that, heh.
Similarly, does there ever come a point that progress must be tempered, diverted, or altogether halted to maintain our core humanity?
No man has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. What a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.
Socrates (via amslupski)
The poeisis of physicality. There’s a certain abstract ecstasy there. I become conscious of this fact sometimes. The other day, whilst surveying out the woods, I had to get across a creek. It was really cold, so obviously you gotta avoid getting wet. What better way than to take the most immediate route of tight-rope walking across a well-placed and narrow fallen tree suspended an appreciable distance above the surface? There’s a joy in being present and utilizing innate abilities to fight the natural forces that discourage such precarious positioning of physical bodies. There’s a certain expression and validation of the self to the self, and to the universe.
Poïesis (Ancient Greek: ποίησις) is etymologically derived from the ancient term ποιέω, which means “to make”. This word, the root of our modern “poetry”, was first a verb, an action that transforms and continues the world. Neither technical production nor creation in the romantic sense, poïetic work reconciles thought with matter and time, and person with the world. It is often used as a suffix, as in the biological term hematopoiesis, the formation of blood cells.
There are two forms of poiesis: Autopoiesis and Allopoiesis
In the Symposium (a Socratic dialogue written by Plato), Diotima describes how mortals strive for immortality in relation to poieses. In all begetting and bringing forth upon the beautiful there is a kind of making/creating or poiesis. In this genesis there is a movement beyond the temporal cycle of birth and decay. “Such a movement can occur in three kinds of poiesis: (1) Natural poiesis through sexual procreation, (2) poiesis in the city through the attainment of heroic fame, and, finally, (3) poiesis in the soul through the cultivation of virtue and knowledge.”
Martin Heidegger refers to it as a ‘bringing-forth’, using this term in its widest sense. He explained poiesis as the blooming of the blossom, the coming-out of a butterfly from a cocoon, the plummeting of a waterfall when the snow begins to melt. The last two analogies underline Heidegger’s example of a threshold occasion: a moment of ecstasis when something moves away from its standing as one thing to become another.
In literary studies, at least two fields draw on the etymology of poiesis: ecopoetics and zoopoetics. As “eco” derives from the root “oikos” meaning “house, home, or hearth,” then ecopoetics explores how language can help cultivate (or make) a sense of dwelling on the earth. Zoopoetics explores how animals (zoo) shape the making of a text.
After reading that, I feel like there is at least two more poieses in the soul: ecstatic love and resonance with another ‘soul’, and ecstatic love and resonance with Nature/The Universe holistically.
I think one of the implicit criticisms many non-scientists have of science is the seemingly transient nature of certain knowledge and concepts. When these become outmoded or redundant—a natural process, which also seems to be misunderstood—they generalize that to the more fundamental areas of science out of mistrust, calling into question the validity of low-level, foundational conclusions that have held up for many years, even centuries. And then there are the scientists themselves who disagree with each other about whether or not the models and theories they have devised truly describe ‘real’ things, or they’re just useful abstractions that will probably change over time and never truly describe the indirect reality we cannot concretely perceive with our senses or with experiments. Are there such things as ‘electrons’, or ‘strings’? Those characterize the opposing positions of scientific realism and anti-realism, respectively, and if I had to guess, scientists take a case-by-case approach regarding which viewpoint they hold.
So, how do you bridge that divide for scientists and the non-scientist skeptics alike? Perhaps with the concept of structural realism.
In 1989, John Worrall, a philosopher of science at the London School of Economics, published the paper “Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds?” in the journal Dialectica. In it, he outlined structural realism, an approach he traced back to French mathematician Henri Poincaré, among others. For Worrall, what survives when scientific theories change is not so much the content (entities) as the underlying mathematical structure (form).
Worrall used examples from 19th-century optical theories to support this view. For example, in 1812 the French engineer Augustin-Jean Fresnel developed a theory about the nature of light, from which successful predictions were made. Fresnel believed that light waves were a disturbance in an all-pervading mechanical medium. But this theory was overtaken by James Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetic radiation, in which light was seen as a disturbance in an electromagnetic field.
Despite the defeat, Worrall and others argue Fresnel had the correct structure of light, if not the correct entity, since some of his equations were successfully carried over into Maxwell’s theory, and the behaviour of light in Maxwell’s theory obeys similar laws to Fresnel’s theory.
This seems right (math to the rescue). I learned about this from a recent New Scientist article. If you’re interested, I posted the entire article on Pastebin.
Few questions have endured longer or traversed a more perplexing history than this, the problem of consciousness and its place in nature. Despite centuries of pondering and experiment, of trying to get together two supposed entities called mind and matter in one age, subject and object in another, or soul and body in still others, despite endless discoursing on the streams, states, or contents of consciousness, of distinguishing terms like intuitions, sense data, the given, raw feels, the sensa, presentations and representations, the sensations, images, and affections of structuralist introspections, the evidential data of the scientific positivist, phenomenological fields, the apparitions of Hobbes, the phenomena of Kant, the appearances of the idealist, the elements of Mach, the phanera of Peirce, the category errors of Ryle, in spite of all these, the problem of consciousness is still with us. Something about it keeps returning, not taking a solution.
Julian Jaynes, from his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
I have not read nor studied that much philosophy on the whole, and this is quite deliberate; for some reason, it’s the kind of perfect subject to me to reinvent the wheel with because it is inherently slippery. Sure, I know of a few concepts and thinkers, but there is so much I am not cognizant of. I have no particular desire (or the energy, and thus the ability) to ‘seriously contribute’ to the discipline as it were, so reinventing or rediscovering the wheel—i.e. occasionally arriving at conclusions that you eventually find out that thinkers throughout history had arrived at—is a rewarding process in itself. It speaks to a personally appealing universality—which is itself, ironically, a philosophical concept—to arrive at things independently. The established line of reasoning in just about any discipline says that you learn what’s out there and build knowledge on top of knowledge. But there is something to be said for approaching things blissfully unaware of what’s been recorded: ignorance as virtue. The inertia of assumptions and structured knowledge can become so great that important, surrounding details become an indistinct and inconsequential blur. Of all disciplines, it can pay off, in philosophy, to assume the wheel is incomplete or wrong, or disregard it even exists to begin with, to situate yourself somewhere within the strata of layered knowledge and discern a new throughline leading to personally satisfying and potentially novel insights on the surface of some undiscovered inner land above.
Science and industry, and their progress, might turn out to be the most enduring thing in the modern world. Perhaps any speculation about a coming collapse of science and industry is, for the present and for a long time to come, nothing but a dream; perhaps science and industry, having caused infinite misery in the process, will unite the world - I mean condense it into a single unit. though one in which peace is the last thing that will find a home.
Wittgenstein, Culture And Value (63e, 1947)
the narrative pulse of the universe did not escape Wittgenstein
New Scientist special issue: What is reality?
Can we explain reality purely in terms of matter and energy? Is matter even real? Does pure mathematics lie at the absolute bottom layer of reality? Is reality the output of a universe-sized quantum computer? Does reality exist without regard to us or because of us? Will our ancestors live in a purely simulated reality, an Internet of the real? Or do we already live in something like that?
Those are some of the topics covered in this issue. They are available for the next 10 days with a free, registered account. Not sure about the overall, relative quality of them (still reading), but New Scientist articles are usually decent enough to pique your interests and lead you to do some further reading if nothing else.
Bahaha, this is brilliant.
I love how this goes from hating Kindles to an inspirational message for all humankind.
Haha, yes. I call this… QUASI-SOCIO-GENERATIVE RETROGRADE PHILOSOPHY… or somethin’. Also, I like how this trolls the ludicrous ‘kindles are stupid’ argument. Besides, the e-reader paradigm allows for a massively shared meta-reading experience, connected directly to other domains of knowledge as well. Physical books? Not so much. But that’s really beside the point, because, at the end of the day, knowledge is knowledge, and stories are stories.
Hoke: He hates you worse’an poison.
Witt: I never felt he hated me, cuz I don’t hate him.
The essence of Witt (from The Thin Red Line, 1998). Of anything he says in that film, that line stands out the most to me for some reason. It says a lot in so few words. And I feel the same way.
Speaking of Terrence Malick—who likes to heavily weave the natural world into his films—I think TTRL is my favorite because nature fits so organically in it. It’s part of the philosophical dialogue being enacted: ‘What is this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself—the land contend with the sea?’ In other words, why does there have to be conflict, fundamentally, at all scales of existence?
From death comes life; destruction, creation. But it’s a process of diminishing returns. The war in nature perhaps was necessary to derive us, to allow consciousness to emerge—a construct destined to grow and conquer conflict?—like fire fighting fire. Maybe the universe knows it needs saving, and so it is looking within itself—that’s us—for the answer to its woes. Are we the answer to the cascading chaos? Is the fundamental fate of the universe dilute darkness, or something more?