It’s only the end of the world again, part the third.
I’m wired to the world
That’s how I know everything
That’s how they made me
Okay. So far we’ve had the catastrophic dissolution of society as we know it, followed by the dissipative reformation into a post gibsonian neo tribalist global garage sale.
This isn’t even science fiction, really. All you’re doing is playing out what’s already happened in places like the sudan or the former soviet union on a global scale.
All I’ve really added is the ( possibly baseless ) assumption that while many, perhaps even most, human beings are too fucking stupid to think their way out of a dead end of innovation such as our current society represents, quite a few are in fact smart enough. The whole anarcho primitivist position that we’re returning to the dark ages because of diminishing returns in social complexity only holds water if you presume that NOBODY on earth is able to come up with a working idea. Doubtful. We figured a way through the fucking ice age dude. Several of them actually. We bootstrapped our way up from flint cobbles to spaceflight. Take a chill pill and face facts. Humans are smart.
Which is really the point of our final installement. If you look at history, at least from a material standpoint, one thing is quite clear: we have been engaged in what mark pesce would call the progressive ingression of intelligence into matter. We have, essentially, been projecting our minds into the material strata of the word, with ever increasing scope and resolution, from bashing rocks to moving single atoms with lasers. The physical world becomes projection of the mind. And hence, when a new mind comes into this world, it is programmed by the assumptions that we have built into our environment from the ground on up. It’s mcluhan again. It’s all a medium, and it shapes us a surely as we shape it.
You could think of the first cities, or even the first cave art displays as a kind of virtual reality. An intentionally created environment that reflects the contents of mental perception. In spite of all that, our minds have remained more or less our minds as they’ve always been. We’ve completely reformatted the material backdrop, but our organic substrate is pretty much the same as it was when we were dragging an elk carcass over the hill from the paleolithic grassland where we brought it down with our spear.
And in some circles there seems to be the assumption that this is going to carry on right up until we gain complete control of our genetic code, followed shortly by our nanotechnological control of single atoms, until we have the power to turn the entire universe into a reflection of our same old paleolithic hunter gatherer brains.
And this is where transhumanists tend to gap out, because they have no answer to whether it’s a good thing to give million year old killer monkey brains unlimited power. To them, it’s all a question of processing speed, pattern recognition, bandwidth, and computational substrates. The ghost in the machine is a complete mystery.
From the mcluhan perspective, these technologies would be just like any other. Assimilated uncritically, they plunge us into the same unconscious relationship you have with your car or your television, only more pervasive and more utterly invisible to us.
And this is a huge issue, the issue of consciousness. We weren’t, by and large, aware of how language affected our minds, nor writing, nor printing, nor anything else for that matter. It’s our tragic blindspot. We just assume that the ghost in the machine does whatever it is that it’s been doing all along.
But of course that’s not true. When we check out, or at least allow ourselves to forget our awareness of things, we hand ourselves over to deeply ingrained patterns of unconscious habit. And as we’ve discussed elsewhere, these patterns that step in when we step out, are not always in our best individual interest. Further more, they are often much more complex than we would like to admit.
It’s the difference between superintelligence and superconsciousness. Between a technical genius and a zen master. One is an engine built for speed and power, and the other is built for internal transparency and reflective awareness. They are not the same thing and never have been. One does not lead to the other, necessarily. Actually, the tendency is for a real genius to have no idea how he or she does what they do. That’s the very definition of unconsciousness.
For example, you may have heard the adage about ‘it’s steam engines when it’s steam engine time’ ? A lot of major inventions have come about from multiple unconnected sources simultaneously. We have no explanation for that, except maybe that certain ideas emerge at the prompting of some higher order pattern in our collective unconscious. So, at the end of the day, the superbrains jump to the same tune as all the rest of us.
Which is all fine, if you don’t mind our species being steered by a self reinforcing swarm logic that spits out innovations on schedule. We become a howard bloom-esque global superorganism run by archetypal software, while any given one of us is a sleeping ant in the ant hill.
But I’m going to presume that ‘any given one of us’ is a bit of a issue, when that given one is you, or me.
Because that pattern protects itself fiercely. It operates on a time table of millenia, and a scale of billions. It doesn’t give a shit about who gets plugged into the swarm. Individual life is cheap and these archetypal cycles swap players in and out like disposable cogs. And any cog that threatens to wake up is a potential danger to the system.
You may be thinking my ‘future time line’ has jumped the fuckin’ tracks just now, but here’s the point: because we’re getting to that point where the end of our current cycle is about to come down on us like an axe. Our unconsciously constructed machine is about to fling itself over the cliff and take us all back to the middle ages till we get it together to try again.
Because it’s an interesting paradox: the overall drift is towards higher consciousness, greater reflection, deeper insight. One need look no further than the works of ken wilber and spiral dynamics for an illustration of this phenomena. But there seems to be a safety mechanism to make sure the rousing monkeys don’t abort the biosphere with their crazy monkey tools. We walk this tightrope between the telos that drags us to a singularity of transcendant hyperconsciousness, and the failsafe that will cut our legs out if we aren’t quite ready to leave the nest. Kind of like a really tough parent confiscating your car keys. You have to prove you can stand on your own, and part of proving that is toppling the scary parent figure who keeps you down. They want you to succeed in the end but they have to make it hard enough that you will learn to survive. And if you can’t hack it, they beat you down, for your own good.
In a nutshell that’s the future; we’re stepping up to take a run at our species rite of passage. We may have already fucked this up and been beaten down before. So long ago we don’t remember, in fact. But here we are again, tools in hand, and brains frothing with millenia of yogic hypertech that we’re not quite sure we know how to use.
All the weird catastrophic fractal complexity up till this point is just the roiling surface of the ocean, as these archetypal leviathans heave themselves up into our view.
In more nuts and bolts human terms, this is what we mean when we talk about the counter initiation. It’s this ongoing backlash against our own process of waking up. It’s the dreaming machine with it’s boot on our necks, and this is when it will show it’s true face.
Most singularity theorists aim for the point when some kind of AI or machine human interface produces a kind of hyperintelligence that tips over the apple cart of human history. The more plausible figures place this event somewhere around the mid to late twenty-first century. But again they’re missing their own blind spot. Long before we have functional AI or universal assemblers or even physical immortality through genetics, we’ll have the capability to make permanent changes to that million year old monkey brain, and those changes will emanate through the material world in turn, and that reformatted world will shape the minds that exist in that medium. In short, the dynamic that has existed since the dawn of humanity will suddenly reverse. Instead of our minds shaping our tools and environment, the tools will now have the power to shape our minds, irrevocably and totally.
This is the real promise and the real danger. No matter how fucked up things have gotten here, our brains are still our brains and every human has essentially the same hardware, and the same potential.
But what happens when the counter initiation gets the ability to hardwire you into some permanent dead-end bliss state that you neither care to leave nor have the wiring to even do so anyway? Your fluid transcendent non material consciousness is untouchable, sure, but even the Buddha in a hopelessly hobbled brain can’t do much. If you’re too zonked by endorphins and frontal lobe reformatting to experience suffering, there’s not much chance you’ll give a damn about ‘enlightenment’ especially when the reality priesthood has told you you’re already enlightened anyway, just like everyone else.
But conversely, there is also the avenue to modify our brains to give us more flexibility, greater potential for consciousness, more room to move. There’s nothing written in stone that human brains have to be wired exactly the way they are. Suppose we had a corpus collosum three times the size of the one we have now? What would you do with that level of hemispheric integration? Or suppose you could shut your predatory lizard brain on and off at will?
And this is the rub. You have the tools to control everything you think and feel. Who holds the controls? I don’t mind modifying my own brain, but I sure as shit don’t want anyone else doing it. And I want the option to reverse it, obviously.
Long before the predicted takeoff point of singularity technology, this question will become the real issue. We’re talking fairly simple single gene manipulations and dead easy brain implants. This could probably, and is probably, being done now. But when it becomes a mass scale phenomena, you’ll have these two massive attractors coming into view; self modifying towards hyperconsciousness, and top down modification towards totally gridlocked hyperconditioning. Anyone subjected to the latter becomes an essentially permanent cog in the global hyperbrain as it spins out it’s archetypal program.
That’s the real singularity, the point beyond which no real prediction is possible, and it’s nature is much different than anyone is imagining. This battle has almost certainly happened before, in some form, on some smaller scale, but now the tools exist to make the victory for one or another all but permanent. Either the dragon devours us and casts us into permanent virtual la la land, a headfucked-drone borg swarm as we lift off into interstellar locust mode… or we unleash the holy guardian angel en masse. The inner genius in us all unchained forever, and set free to make art in this world and all the others, all the way up and down the spiral.
I doubt it will be all or nothing, only nearly so. In the former case it may be tens of thousands of years before one of those headfucked borg drones pulls a Gotama Siddharta and starts the whole thing over again. In the latter, there’s always the chance some new life that we create will take a wrong turn and kick off a new cycle of unconscious pathology, or maybe our transcendent hypercivilisation will fall into some kind of decline and ennui as we get too lazy to network our awakened consciousness efficiently enough to stave off the dragon’s resurgence.
I don’t think there is a final solution, in either case. Only the long game. The real story is always your own, and the ending is what you make it.