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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Gathering Storms 5: Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil's Future is quite possible I think.  Certainly not to be dismissed or ridiculed.  It could be the next evolutionary step for our species.  But is it desirable?

Virtual immortality, transcendence, and cosmic unity sounds like heaven or paradise or nirvana--the ultimate goal of all religions.  But is heaven and its everlasting chorus with the angels, paradise with all its virgins, and nirvanic unity with the divine or universe a utopia or a dystopia.

For me it would be the latter.  I reject heaven, paradise, nirvana, and the post-biological Kurzweilian future and here is why. 

To be a body that has evolved with, not beyond, its "ultimate" limitation, vulnerability, and difference is the condition, the sine qua non, of personhood, of empathy, and of love--none of which do I want to give up for myself and my loved ones.

To be a person means to be limited, that is, not perfect, incomplete, finite.  To strive for perfection may be good, but to reach it would be bad.  To be a person also means that you are not totally transparent.  There is something there that is incommunicable even to yourself.  The scholastic definition of person contains the notion "incommunicabilis."  That's why I think gods, but not God, are persons--fictional though they may be.

To have empathy requires vulnerability and vulnerability to death--one's own and others'.  It is the sense of shared vulnerability (perhaps due to those mirror neurons in our brains that might be duplicated in machines) in a body that is sein zum tode or "being unto death" that now defines humanity and perhaps the best hope for humanity--which is a fragile empathic civilization. (I like Jeremy Rifkin's vision for Empathic Civilization much better than Kurzweil's Singularity prediction). 

And love in all its kinds demands relationships among limited, vulnerable, and diverse persons. Love, as personal or professional friendship, as intimacy and especially sexual intimacy, as responsiveness to family and clan, as communal solidarity, and even as universal communion implies differences, diversity, and yes death.  Love is relational, not identical. (I am tempted to say analogical, not digital.)

The future is now in our tension beyond ourselves, not in 2045 or any specific time to come and certainly not in the "end times," the "rapture,"  "heaven,"  or "the singularity."  If we choose immortality, I think we abandon eternity which is intentional existence, the now intending and in tension between past and future, self and other, inner and outer.

Transcendence is not in some other time or place when and where everything will be all in all, when there will be universal transparency and where we will be identified with divinity.  Transcendence is now in the experience of our transcending bodily-based existence accepting and using our limitations and vulnerabilities to envision and take the next steps beyond, but never totally beyond, ourselves.    No tension, no transcendence.

Finally complexity and chaos, not the simplicity of complete union or communication, are required for beauty which is the patterning that emerges, reforms, and reemerges fractal-like in our perception and symbolic and so bodily-based interaction with our environment and our universe.

Love, beauty, transcendence, empathy, personhood, and eternity is now in our fragile, limited, bodily, tensional, terminal existence.  Yes, I feel them now in the very writing of these passing words and limited communication I make for myself, you, and the world.  I do not wait for 2045.

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