Trial & Errors by Jonah Lehrer
Oh we're a tragically short sighted species. We invent meaning and dwell on facts while the Truth is all around us. Our fictions have served us well, landing us on the moon, splitting atoms, harnessing electricity, but the vast majority of us believe in these things rather than recognizing our limited understanding of them; precious few recognize the huge distance between whatever reality may be and our crude thoughts on it.
We are like moles, blind to what is around us, feeling our way along with our weak senses, trying to make sense of the phenomena we bump into. We crudely describe the book in our hands because we perceive photons bouncing off it, giving it shape and colour in our eyes. We think the seeing and touching of the book is the book itself, it isn't. On a fundamental level our intelligence is removed from the reality in which it is suspended. This offers us a wonderful imaginative freedom, but also creates a perilous relationship between our being and what we perceive as our place in the universe.
When the stories we invent about the world around us roughly approximate Truth, we are able to stumble forward, creating light in the dark. Unfortunately these successes feed our egos, provoking us into believing that our understandings are Truth. Our rough approximations have allowed us to advance in technology, but the vast majority of us use it in ignorance, not even understanding the rough approximations, let alone the galactic distances between our minds and the Truth they inhabit.
One of the most cunning stories we tell ourselves is that of causality. The result of anecdote, and such an old habit that most of us only see it as truth. Like other fictions of science, this one often approximates the unknowable, and regularly gives useful results. Conditioned to recognize this as Truth, we take it in as such; happy fictions for our distant minds.
We use technology to further remove us from this Truth, taking us into invented worlds and created moments, free of the complexity of the alien Truth we ourselves are a part of. Perhaps one day we will harness technology to allow us to comprehend Truth on its own terms, but it seems unlikely. We'd rather harness atoms and photons to move ourselves away from Truth and create more fictions. The majority treats technology as a distraction when it might be the key to realizing our place in the cosmos.
Science, like religion, creates stories to justify our sense of self-importance; invented meanings to make our mental isolation bearable. And like religion, science can be a powerful means of directing and empowering us in our mental confines. We are free to be assholes of universal proportions, to abuse reality and each other, to embrace lies and greed, and invent self importance. Systems of thought like science and religion can offer us a way of structuring our minds in potentially virtuous, more universally harmonious ways, but they only work if the user is honestly and truly humble.
Humility is the key to any genuine understanding, be it scientific or spiritual. We only recognize our blindness to the phenomenal world around us when we view it through the prism of sincere humility. The nature and complexity of the universe operates on so many more dimensions than we can sense or even comprehend, and until we recognize that, our theories and ideas won't come close to assuming their true (and humble) place in the scheme of things. Humility recognizes our limitations and allows us perhaps to evolve beyond them without fiction taking over. It recognizes the limited scope of our perspective and allows us to authentically extend our thinking beyond the confines of our experience.
The moment any human endeavor gains a profit motive, it is no longer humble before creation. If greed invents short shortsighted economic motives, or competition drives research and ignores evidence, or political power is the reason for analysis, we fall back into the realm of human affairs. We might become successful in those terms, but only at the expense of distancing ourselves from universal Truth.
We're in such a dead end that most people now believe that profit produces happiness and greed is a virtue. We think that offloading physical effort to mechanization and thinking to digitization makes us better. We use technology as an excuse to make ourselves less, not more conversant with nature.
A world ballooning with over seven billion human beings, the vast majority of whom are happy to make use of science and technology without realizing that its fictions are trapping us in a dead end. On top of that, many of that majority still cling to older ideas of species divinity based on the last round of wrong headed human self-aggrandizement. Humility is about as far from religion, science, economics or education as we can possibly place it.
Yet Truth surrounds us intimately and continuously, if only we'd quiet our thoughts and feel it.
Kant's noumena & phenomena
Plato's allegory of the cave
Causality gives us the appearance of intimate knowledge, it's the source of arrogance.
"Every story is a slippery conjecture, a catchy conjecture..."
Perception is the greatest prejudice of all.
There isn't a test for any disease, there are correlated results. Correlation in statistics is a purely abstract means of understanding reality.
Does teaching an idea based on the fact that it's our best way of explaining of explaining it make the knowing less valuable?
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Sunday, December 4, 2011
The idea of an imminent technological singularity that will result in an intelligence greater than current human limits posses some interesting questions. It's called a singularity because we are mentally incapable of understanding how this greater intelligence will work because it will operate on levels of efficiency, understanding and meaning that exceed what we can conceive. The singularity is that point through which human society will begin to be driven by a collectively developed intelligence greater than any one human mind.
This is why the whole Terminator/Matrix/war-with-technology fear is an entirely human emotional response to the unknown; the actual emergence of a greater intelligence (there is nothing artificial about it) will not appear as a comprehensible entity because we will not be able to conceive of its whole. If you want a better grasp of the ineffable quality (and scale) of this evolution, Asimov's Foundation series might get you closer than current tech-fear mongering.
It's tempting to get theological about this, but that would be yet another attempt to dress something greater than we can conceive in a simplistic human understanding, something I'd argue humans have been doing with God forever. I'm going to try and stay away from that. I've always preferred Lao Tsu's approach anyway ("The name that can be named is not the enduring andunchanging name.")
If we're unable to conceive of how this greater intelligence will manifest itself, perhaps it's already here and we're not able to perceive it. I suspect it already exists (and always has) and, at its best, technology will allow us to access this universal awareness by allowing us to interact with reality in greater and more meaningful ways.
A greater intelligence would also exercise a finer, more expansive relationship with reality, something that technology is allowing us to do in an ever increasing manner. At some point, if technology is progressing as it should, it will allow human beings to sense and interact with reality in minuscule, massive and fully comprehending ways.
In our technological adolescence, we stumble around, amplifying our ignorance with new technology, using it to distract and isolate ourselves from the world around us, rather than as a tool for understanding, enhancing and interacting with reality. It's a dreamtime of technology use when a minority of people are harnessing technology as a means of amplifying themselves, while the vast majority use it as a narcissistic distraction. Then there are the Luddites who fear technology change to such a degree that they actively work to sabotage it.
Until technology gets to the point that it obviously and directly improves everyone's awareness of and participation in reality, it will not even begin to approach a meaningful increase in efficiency. If technology empowers people to destroy their environment, become obese, physically useless, less productive and/or merely dumbs them down into digital sheep, then it is not going to survive because, ultimately, it will end us too.
If there really is a universal Tao or God, then technology that amplifies our ability to learn, create, remember, relate, comprehend, conceive, feel and physically relate with reality should bring us closer to creation. If this is what transhumanism or the singularity will bring, then it means we'll all be continually challenged to be our maximal selves (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically), anything less would not be optimal from even our own limited awareness. If people are becoming a part of a greater intelligence, then they need to be the most educated, engaged, self-aware, empowered people they can be; anything less is... less.
I'm still playing with the idea at: