Visionary Fiction and Transhumanism, Part 3

Part 2 ended with this burning question: If Man’s destiny is to mirror Consciousness, its Creator, would not the Creator then have built the capacity to achieve that sublime state into the human form? Theologians and metaphysicians have wrangled ad nauseam over this supposition for eons, and quantum physicists with their quarks, strings and god particles have recently joined the discussion.

As a visionary fiction writer, I was merely looking for something that related the two aspects of our nature well enough that I could use it as a base to create novels that promote human growth in consciousness. Too much abstract theory fills my head with fuzzy cotton candy and turns a story into a tedious lecture—not good on either count. Desperate for something tangible, I turned to empirical science for a model that might shed light on this mysterious organism, composed of a physical body and spiritual intelligence, which I and every other human find ourselves saddled with.

Well, seeing that we are living organisms led me to biology and, specifically, to the group of “new age” biologists who seek to make sense of natural and supernatural phenomena in biological terms. Among then was a South African, Lyall Watson (1939-2008), who wrote, among other things—no visionary fiction unfortunately—the best seller Supernature (1973) and its sequel, Beyond Supernature: A New Natural History of the Supernatural (1986).

The Paradox of the Unsolicited Gift

Beyond SupernatureAnd it is in Beyond Supernature that Watson ponders an abnormality in human evolution that made me, the VF writer, sit up and pay attention. It’s worth quoting a chunk of it:

Animals normally make good use of all the equipment they possess…[they] exploit their capacities to the full, leaving little scope for further learning. We, on the other hand, seem to have been provided by evolution with an organ we still haven’t discovered how to use.

Some time in the early Pleistocene, something happened which began the most explosive growth in evolutionary history. Starting about a million years ago, but picking up speed a little later, our brains blew out like balloons, growing in size and complexity at a rate never matched in any other animal. The enlarged human cortex now sits astride the rest of the old mammalian brain, bristling with potential we have only just begun to apprehend. For some reason, which remains far from clear, the evolution of our brains wildly overshot our needs, producing a bulge so unbalanced that it has been compared to a tumorous growth, but it is apparently not in itself pathological.

As far as we can tell, the whole thing works amazingly well. The growth of art and literature, science and philosophy, are just the first fruits of an early attempt to gauge its prowess and capacity. All of which is awesome and wonderful, but the fact remains that the human brain is a novelty. There has never been anything quite like it before, at least on this planet, and it cannot be explained in terms of natural selection. Nothing in our environment or evolution demanded such a radical solution, but we seem nevertheless to have been saddled with what Arthur Koestler [20th century polymath in his book, The Ghost in the Machine] called “the paradox of the unsolicited gift.”

Such blatant excess needs explanation. And as none is available in orthodox natural history, it seems necessary to look in unorthodox directions. Perhaps the stimulus which gave rise to such a luxurious overabundance was not one confined to any mutating individual or population, but came instead from a need to cope and deal with a supersensitivity enjoyed by the biggest crowd in history—by pressure on the species as a whole, all at the same time.
Beyond Supernature, Lyall Watson, pp. 141-2

An Ancient Singularity

The Cerebrum

The Cerebrum

After dropping the bomb that something truly unique happened at one point about a millions years ago that affected everyone at the same time and left behind this inexplicable super-organ, I sensed that Watson, the scientist, then pulled back.

Renowned and controversial inventor, Ray Kurzweil, the Transhumanist icon, has predicted a technological singularity, a theoretical point of unlimited recursive expansion due to occur in the near future. In the above piece, Lyall Watson proposes that the human brain is the product of a singularity of the same magnitude as Kurzweil’s, but one that happened in the past, sometime during the last great geological epoch. He goes on to hint that it had to do with “direct extrasensory contact between human brains.” And from the bolded sentence above, it seems fair to deduce that this singularity featured an instance where every budding intelligence was connected to every other budding intelligence, if not to Consciousness itself. This mass hookup triggered a swelling of some portion of the primordial brain, thus forming the cerebrum, following the blueprint of the singularity where everything was connected with everything else and interchanges occurred at warp speed. The Super-Internet.

(And what happened to bring that crashing down? you have to ask. Well, you see, there was this garden in which this human couple, now with very big heads, were told they could enjoy everything except the apples on this one tree…and the rest is history. Dalia Lama laughs.)

But Technology can be Dangerous!

Albert Einstein, a man who could use a large part of  his super-brain, came up with some brilliant formulas about nuclear energy that some other lesser brains turned into a bomb that blew Hiroshima and Nagasaki to smithereens. Powerful toys in the hands of the wrong boys (and they usually are boys) can make big trouble.

Science and technology, neutral in themselves, demonstrate what can be done. Free will, in all its glory and with all the consequences, determines if doing it is a good idea or not. Sure, we can default to watching football while bad boys build toys that threaten the planet’s future, but those who default can’t complain when renegades blow things up around them.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

Here we enter the matrix where the technology game gets very serious.  In January 2016, The Guardian reported Stephen Hawking as saying that the human race faces one of its most dangerous centuries yet as progress in science and technology becomes an ever greater threat to our existence. The chances of disaster on planet Earth will rise to a near certainty in the next one to ten thousand years, he says; our best chance to survive as a species is to invest immediately in ways to colonize outer space. That’s pretty damn dire, and Hawking can’t be called Chicken Little.

Matter-focused Transhumanism, which views artificial intelligence as ultimately superior to the human mind, is a misnomer. It is better labelled sub-humanism, for it has never achieved genuine humanism (any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate) to begin with. It even diminishes the human programmer, who has to think to write the code that the AI computer runs; corporations, not humans, usually get the byline for software.

Technology as a Teaching/Learning Tool

With the singularity, the hardware was formed and installed and has been part of our bodies ever since. After the singularity, the bulk of the brain fell idle except for the rare genius who wandered into one of the otherwise dormant areas. (This stuff ought to be stimulating VF scenarios in your mind faster than weeds grow in a sewer runoff.) Given that our bare survival needs require little more than fingers and toes for counting, most humans ignore this fabulous organ inside their heads with processing power exponentially superior to IBM’s fastest super-computer. No wonder most of us feel under-utilized—we are vastly so!

To paraphrase Joni Mitchell’s lyrics in “Woodstock,” if we are indeed stardust and golden, we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. When faced with paradox, which our condition inherently is, we humans tend to jump from one extreme to the other: all is material, this spiritual stuff is illusion. Or, there is only Spirit; matter is delusion. Only after we get dizzy enough from swinging between either/or does it occur to us try both/and.

For a moment, let’s give materialistic Transhumanism a full twist. Turn it upside down. (Ouch!) Reflect on some of the devices we are sold. What if technology is, in fact, meant to demonstrate not that machines can think and do more efficiently than humans but that humans can think and do more effectively than they are doing now, and this with only the preinstalled hardware and software already in our heads. The machines and computers designed by our fellow humans are merely tools/toys to goad us to use more of our innate potential. The electronic calculator is not meant to do our math for us so we can sit and watch more TV. It is trying to show us how fast a finely-tuned brain might calculate. Come on, it says, if some metal and plastic juiced with a little electricity can crunch numbers this easily, fire up that super-computer above your shoulders and show me up. (I witnessed someone who could multiply a 10-digit number by another 10-digit number faster than I could put the numbers into a computer.)

Transhumanism for Optimists

This simple transposition proposes a Transhumanism that is built upon a true humanism. It has a teacher (the programmers), a medium (the machine), and students (the rest of us). It brings optimism, a vital ingredient for visionary fiction, into play. The more our best minds program computers to do, the more those computers can teach the rest of us, including how to better program computers. Think about the VF plots and sub-plots that can be derived from this single about-face.

CLICK TO CONTINUE TO PART 4. Also see related interview with John Nelson, visionary fiction pioneer, whose novels focus on the phenomenon of Transhumanism, featured on March 7.

0

About Victor Smith

Victor E. Smith, a lifelong generalist with a diverse resume, sees himself as a scribe of the realm “in-between.” Writing largely visionary and historical fiction, he seeks to observe, absorb, and express those close encounters between the spiritual and material universes that form the unique adventure called human life. Vic is the author of The Anathemas: A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution (2010) and Channel of the Grail (May 2016). He is a core team member of the Visionary Fiction Alliance. For further information, visit his website, victoresmith.com.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Visionary Fiction and Transhumanism, Part 3

  1. reanolanmartin says:

    Love this, Vic! More grist for the mill!

    0
  2. You’ve presented quite an interesting correlation between Transhumanism and VF. Lots to ponder here. I am eager to see the practical application in author John Nelson’s upcoming interview on the VFA blog.

    0
  3. I love this “visionary” thought/conclusion, Vic. “The machines and computers designed by our fellow humans are merely tools/toys to goad us to use more of our innate potential.”

    And: “Come on, it says, if some metal and plastic juiced with a little electricity can crunch numbers this easily, fire up that super-computer above your shoulders and show me up.”

    “It brings optimism, a vital ingredient for visionary fiction, into play.” Yes!

    0
  4. D. Thrush says:

    Great food for thought, Victor! It inspires me to use my own computer.

    0
  5. What a fascinating article, Victor! I wonder what you think of the work of Joseph Chilton Pearce (Evolution’s End, The Biology of Transcendence, The Heart-Mind Matrix etc.) Like Joe, I’m concerned with how divisive intellectual mindsets bully the intelligence of the soul, which operates in relation to the whole. Western culture especially has found ways to control everything from the birth process to the weather. Our children are geniuses with cell phones, remote controls, and laptops. They are processing massive amounts of information every day, and yet how many are actually learning how to operate the most powerful instrument there is: their own mind? I do believe the whole of humanity is gradually rising (like it or not) into higher consciousness. This question needs to be asked: who or what exactly is directing the brilliant inventions, interventions, and conventions–the “neo-cortex” or the subliminal, unawakened, “reptilian” aspect of intelligence, that is programmed for self-preservation and not evolution?

    0
  6. Vic, I read this whole series with great interest and the last installment provides much food for thought. The discussion of the technological singularity reminds me of both the movie the Terminator and an obscure writer/thinker by the name of John Bapty Oates. The Terminator of course gives us a nightmarish vision of what could happen if a technological singularity occurs (the technological singularity is an idea I don’t agree with, btw, but this doesn’t stop the Terminator from being one of my favourite movies). Oates is shaken by the idea but suggests a theory that machines, themselves ultimately being composed of natural materials, would be incapable of choosing anything but Natural Law, and so might be nature’s way of turning against an unjust human race. That all said, I’m intrigued by and much appreciate your optimistic take on transhumanism. Thanks for delving into this difficult and somewhat controversial subject.

    0

Leave a Reply