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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gathering Storms/Macro Trends 6--Entropy

Students of Humanity have often noted the 'drive' in us not merely to survive, but to thrive.

Augustine, in a neo-Platonic language system, called this tendency a divine spark trying to return to its source.  Thomas saw this inclination it as an attraction to the final cause and neo-Thomists took up the case for intelligence as the capax infiniti or the unlimited desire to know.  Bergson discovered the "elan vital."  Heideggar identified this predisposition as temporality--the tension between past and future.  Phenomenologists uncovered intentionality-- the propensity out to the environment and onward in time.  Merleau-Ponty revealed transcendence in the very human act of encountering others in the world through symbols.  Teilard de Chardin described our human drive as evolution become conscious of itself and so to further itself.

What is this mysterious penchant of humans to reinvent themselves, to idealize the future, to act to make ourselves and our world better wshich seems to be the fundmental principle of moral behavior and the standard of any universal ethics?

Like Bergson, Chardin, and evolutionary psychologists, we might attribute this dynamism in human nature to evolution.   Natural selection has produced a brain that is genetically constructed to be fruitful and multiply like all self-organizing, i.e. living, beings, but also, through the ability for creative imagination, to consciously and deliberately project ourselves into everything everywhere.  But the question is how and why natural selection did this (unless you simply stop inquiry by attributing some divine purpose to natural selection.)

So what is this transcending drive in us, the experience we encounter in peak moments, the eureka experience of the scientist, the sacred experience of the arist, the experience at the root of every authentic religious founder and tradition, and the experience of ourselves in connection to the all in all?

Then I discovered the writings of Rod Swenson and the "law of maximum entropy product,"   the link between physics and biology, and how human evolution is indeed the universe gong its way.

Next time:  Entropy and the capacity for the infinite:  why the human mind is a manifestation of universal entropy.  And what all that means.

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.

Gathering Storms 4: Virtualization

I identified six gathering storms.  The first (that I want to discuss) is Global Virtualization.  This encompasses 1) the geometric growth of information technology and 2) the blurring lines between human and technological evolution.

My guide to the first is Adam Brate who in Technomanifestos presents the thoughts of the founders and developers of the infotech revolution.  The progression in capacity in hardware (processing and storage) and in software (computation and programming) is not linear, but geometric and on a curve towards infinity.  Current practitioners of information science and technology are providing both visions and warnings and advocating ways to both promote and intervene in the progress.

My guide to the second is Joel Garreau who in Radical Evolution presents the thought and experiments of those who are linking mind and machine.  He offers four scenarios for the human/computer world: 1) heaven--the utopia of Artificial Intelligence engineer and entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil, The Singlularity is Near, where there is co-evolution of human and machine beyond biological base and limits, the ability of humanity to live almost forever through machines, and so humanize the universe; 2) hell--the Matrix where humans are actually controlled and undone by the monsters they have created; 3) prevail--a condition of peaceful co-existence where we slow the curve and keep control of our tools, but remain biologically based and limited; 4) transcend--a condition in which humanity achieves ever increasing union and knowledge but maintains its physical and biological base.

Ray Kurzweil is getting lots of press right now because of his book The Singularity in Near which I have read and his new movie Transcendent Man which I haven't yet seen.  Recent article in the Economist and this week's Cover article of Time feature him. 

Reflections on Kurzweil to follow.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Liberation Day 4

I am begging all my friends, partners, fellow sojouners to listen to Chris Hedges on his latest book Death of the Liberal Class.  Please listen to http://castroller.com/Podcasts/BigIdeas/2134418

This is a remarkable lecture at the U of Toronto that is a recall to vocation for me.  Here is an analysis of the American cultural, economic, political reality and the failure of our liberal institutions: university, church, unions, nonprofits to acknowledge and address it.  Please listen all the way through the Q & A. 

I would love to discuss this--the diagnosis and the prescription, and the values that shape both.

This frames my work and I hope our work towards liberation day in America.