The Case for Optimism
We left Part Three looking for a silver lining around the looming storm cloud of a materialistic Transhumanism that projects a future in which the artificial dominates the natural, including human life as we still know it. Unless one worships the abdication of personal responsibility, initiative and self-determination, the prospect of being controlled by forces outside oneself—divine, human or mechanical—is abhorrent.
And yet our predominant memes remain littered with ideas that demean our personal and collective power while exalting the annihilation of physicality, including humanity itself. Some world religions would hasten rather than delay doomsday. Their self-destructive beliefs absolve its adherents of responsibility for their own lives, the lives of others, and the physical environment. Their fatalism justifies behavior that threatens the entire race—for God’s sake, no less. They would leave the smoking remnants of this Dystopia for the robots and those“left behind” while they, the believers, are lifted up and away in rapture.
These potentially self-fulfilling prophecies must be actively countered with an optimistic vision more powerful than their pessimism, clad in glowing religious raiment though it might be. Optimism needs to turn up the volume. It must be bold, persistent, even flamboyant, as well as pleasing and artistic, if it is to outshout the hucksters of a Transhumanism that would enslave us to technologies aimed only to empty our pockets. To sell a Transhumanism that signifies “transformed humanity” requires a strong impact on the minds, hearts and wills of potential customers.
For every dystopian saga about humanity’s decline and fall, there must be a dozen countering epics about healing and resurrection. And these depictions, the Hero’s Journey, need no longer be disguised as gossamer fairy tales or sickly sweet hagiography. VF authors cannot be embarrassed to offer high-minded ideals and solutions presented in terms of a vibrant spirituality that is, well, quite sexy.
Effective optimism cannot be impossible fantasy. Realism is now pointing more positively than ever before. Modern science is well on its way to creating Teilhard de Chardin’s mystical noosphere with the worldwide web. Electronic media routinely provide experiences that once would have been called psychic or paranormal. With our wireless phones we can be telepathic. Watching a live event on the other side of the planet is effectively “remote viewing.” Technology already contributes in numerous ways to the extension of human ability, and further applications are multiplying exponentially.
If we envision ourselves not as the effect of scientific innovation–what it can do to/for us–but as creators of and catalysts for that progress, optimism seems natural, almost inevitable. Nothing flaky about it.
Developing that Bigger Brain
“I know, I know, I know. Sounds good, but this is Earth, so it also sounds too good to be true, and thinking about it makes my head hurt,” is a common response to such happy talk.
It’s supposed to make our heads hurt. That’s the heathy feel of growing pains as our brains expand. Lay off the pain pills and let it happen.
Sand does not turn into powerful computer chips without some manhandling. The fabulous instrument that was installed in our craniums during that distant singularity in our evolution needs to be jostled considerably before it functions at a potential worthy of Shakespeare’s description in Hamlet: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!”
How do we get from a present, which is not so bright, to such this lofty place? The song goes, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” As with peace, so also for optimism, growth in consciousness, and increasing intellectual capacity. The only fate we can control is our own.
All writers, but especially visionary fictionistas, already understand that the creative act begins with the author. There’s no such thing as automatic writing! (Not to deny the psychic phenomenon called automatic writing, but it is done by guys simply taking dictation from a real author who can’t use a pen or computer.)
Basic training as writers gives us a considerable advantage. We have learned that we alone can initiate the thinking/visualization process that results in words on the page. We know that only focus and sustained attention keeps those words flowing. But we don’t force it: we type furiously when inspiration is pouring down and edit meticulously to tidy up in the storm’s aftermath. We have the courage to expose our creations to others’ critique but retain the responsibility for final decisions. We observe ourselves to differentiate genuine progress from fooling around. We know the tools to get ourselves back on track even if we procrastinate in using them. We allow ourselves to make mistakes, try shortcuts, and use machines to make it easier, but ultimately we trust our intuition to certify the authenticity of our product. And, quite essentially, we are appreciative of the faculties endowed to us by the very patient designer of this “piece of work” that we are.
Such habits have already put us in touch with parts of the brain that most people are oblivious to. And they are prerequisite to more spectacular skills, such as psychic abilities, being brought on line.
The bigger brain, in most cases, responds best to a gentle touch and opens gradually. At first, we will be blind to these internal “instincts,” barely sensing them there as we feel our way forward. We eventually gain more certainty about what lies above and below the normal level of awareness—be it in the brain, mind, or wherever—and its various distinct effects. When faced with a challenge that requires something not readily known, we, deep brain divers, take a big breath and jump in. We let go of the comforts of normal thinking to dig out whatever missing pieces of the puzzle we can grasp and tow them back into waking consciousness. Those convincing narratives of gloom and doom send the true visionary alchemist into hitherto unexplored regions of the cerebrum to find the formula that will transform leaden threats into golden opportunities.
While it is beyond the scope of this series to cover all the ways to accomplish this penetration into the unknown regions of the brain (which, I believe, leads to the mystical realms of the mind and perhaps then to Consciousness Itself), there are many worthwhile books and articles about writing that include material about meditation, visualization, synchronicity, getting into the flow, letting go, increasing focus, paying attention to flybys, and igniting that spark of God within—all tools to get into “the zone” where everything is possible and where anyone can be Einstein or laugh like the Dalai Lama.
We can also be heartened that Lyall Watson’s explanation for the “the unsolicited gift” in human evolution lends a firm biological basis to our optimism. Dual in nature as we are, we can take comfort in understanding that our idealism, the product of Spirit, is grounded through the brain with which we direct our physical bodies to interact with the material world. Science cannot fully explain the nature of Consciousness, but now it need not contradict or oppose it.
Creating an Optimistic Future through VF
Science Fiction has rightly been credited with predicting and shaping the Modern and early Space Ages. It envisioned the intricate machines that a materialistic Transhumanism would now make our masters and potentially our destroyers. Visionary Fiction, mindful of our dual nature, now steps in, not to make a villain of technology, neutral by nature, but to transcend its current hegemony and restore it as the balanced and cooperative partner to our spiritual aspect.
For the excesses of the last several centuries, VF writers are proposing a more optimistic solution than Stephen Hawking’s mass exodus from a trashed planet. We would rather use the current threat of extinction to rally our kind to finally get down to the long overdue business of turning swords into plowshares. And, to paraphrase an old adage, we will catch more naysayers with a book of visionary fiction than with a barrage of bitter propaganda.
The ideas presented in this series have been intentionally and unavoidably incomplete. I’m playing agent provocateur, remember? I wanted to scatter enough hooks about that someone would step on one of them and yell, “Ouch,” and then be motivated to write a great novel that offers a visionary solution to some human situation that concerns us all. Viola, growth in Consciousness.
I’ve done my part for now. It took a lot of work—self-inflicted, so I can’t complain. Now for a favor from those so inclined. Please take a glance back through the four parts and summarize its general effect in your mind. Then briefly and frankly share your main impressions with the rest of us in the Comments section below. Too wordy, too complex? Points that stood out. Any new plots pop into your head? Something that altered your perspective? Have you sided with the Dalai Lama in believing that future computers might be conscious? This is not a test. Just have fun with it.