Visionary Fiction and Transhumanism: Wrap-up

(This piece is the wrap on this four-part series. Here are links to the pervious installments: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.)

The Case for Optimism

SilverLiningCloudWe 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.

Teilhard de Chardin

Teilhard de Chardin

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!”

What a piece of work is manHow 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

OptimismScience 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.

Your Turn

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.

Thanks much.

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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.
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18 Responses to Visionary Fiction and Transhumanism: Wrap-up

  1. esdragon2 says:

    Some world religions would hasten rather than delay doomsday. Their self-destructive beliefs absolve its adherents of responsibility for their own lives,

    I very much like your quote above, Vic. One of the books I’ve read and admired, is the one you’ve mentioned above, by Teillhard de Chardin . I read it a long time ago, and its influence lives on, and I believe it has influenced the whole of my life and certainly all the four books I wrote subsequently.
    .

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  2. Paul Hill says:

    I just finished my novel (Lanes End), a work of paranormal fiction. I did not realize it could also find shelter under the umbrella of “visionary fiction” until I recently discovered your organization. In any case, its my answer to the dystopian futures we are all warned about–not at all utopian, but essentially optimistic. It has a happy ending.

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  3. It’s funny to me that we invent technology to do things we’re capable of doing ourselves. Except when it comes to housework, of course.

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  4. Victor Smith says:

    I find technology great for catching typos, something I am utterly incapable of doing!

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  5. Thank you for this beautifully rendered, thought-provoking piece, Victor!

    “Such habits have already put us in touch with parts of the brain that most people are oblivious to.”

    Do you think it is parts of the physical brain that trigger us to write Visionary Fiction and stories of transformation? Or do you think the soul hard-wired to this calling, and the physical form takes on the pattern of the soul?

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  6. Thanks for this thought-provoking discussion, Vic. Some of what you said in the last installment (and the beginning of this one) about the pessimistic future scenario reminds me of John Bapty-Oates’ “machine” theory (he fears that machines could take over and destroy humanity, not unlike the Terminator movies). I agree with you in saying that the job of the visionary artist is to create works that are optimistic. Who knows if the Dalai Lama’s remark about future conscious machines (real ghosts in the machine!) is accurate or not? I personally don’t think so, as increasing processing speeds is not the same thing as increasing actual intelligence/self awareness, but I won’t say it’s impossible either.

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  7. Hi Vic.

    I spent two hours last Sunday at The Sacramento Public Library’s Local Author Festival with 50 other authors meeting and greeting avid readers. Not one person I spoke to, author or reader, had heard of visionary fiction. However, my major sales were to readers interesting in what VF has to offer, which I explained using a quote by Jodine Turner: “Visionary Fiction speaks the language of the soul. It offers a vision of humanity as we dream it could be.”

    I agree that “Optimism needs to turn up the volume. It must be bold, persistent, even flamboyant, as well as pleasing and artistic…”

    I have thought of the following often (just not in such eloquent terms): “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.” How is it that mankind can create technology to do the very things we call psychic, paranormal and “impossible” for the human mind to do? The question, let alone the possible answer, is mind boggling.

    Thanks, as usual, for a thought-provoking post

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    • I pondered this point at great length. If we can create technology that mimics the paranormal, is it possible that we also are a form of technology? It’s already becoming difficult to separate reality from simulation in much of our entertainment. Imagine how much more advanced technology will become in a few years! It may come to the point where simulation and reality will be indistinguishable. Maybe we’re already there. Some theorists propose that we are part of a computer simulation, others theorize we live in a holographic reality. Hmm…it’s certainly a possibility!

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  8. I so agree with this – “And, to paraphrase an old adage, we will catch more naysayers with a book of visionary fiction than with a barrage of bitter propaganda.” That is why I so love this genre and will work as hard as I can to get it the attention it deserves.

    And your comment “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.

    That is where my hope lies.

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  9. Gerald R Stanek says:

    Thank you for this series Victor, I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly your point in Part 3 “Only after we get dizzy enough from swinging between either/or does it occur to us try both/and.” This is an invaluable reminder. Knowing Spirit is real does not make Matter an illusion. The illusion is that one can exist without the other.

    Recently theoretical physicist Max Tegmark put forth a theory that consciousness is a state of matter. My reaction to this was immediate: he has it backwards, matter is a state of consciousness. But if we try both, we come one step closer to the realization that Spirit and Matter are one. (E=MCsquared) Yet we shouldn’t confuse Matter with Form. Forms come and go, energy remains, consciousness remains. Does it matter what framework it is housed in? Doomsday scenarios hold power over us as long as we identify with Form. Optimism ultimately lies in the ability to embrace change. I have no doubt there will come a time when self replicating machines become self-conscious. It seems to me we already are.

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  10. I had a thought this morning that psychopathy steers civilization in that many of the rules and laws we further implement are due to psychopathic acts. For example, think about the freedoms we’ve lost due to terrorism. With that said, how can transhumanism work for the betterment of humankind? In order for there to be a positive outcome, consciousness must evolve both personally and sociologically. This touches upon system thinking, that author Seleena Karim touches upon in her novel, “Systems.” By the way, many people think this ideal is an impossibility. In our current climate, it may seem that way. However, we as VF authors can be viewed as pioneers, leading the way towards a land of higher consciousness. Painters and musicians can also create their works to move us in that direction. Think of what the Renaissance has done for us in the past. It was the artists that moved humanity forward!

    On a personal level, I’m both an optimist and a realist. I’m a realist in a sense that I have no illusions about technology and that those in power will abuse it. I use that theme heavily in Unison. The optimistic portion of the story comes from within the characters—once they’away from the technology that had controlled them.

    My thoughts on transhumanism? I see the human as the perfect machine that needs no enhancement. My opinion isn’t static. Perhaps in a world of highly evolved human minds, technology may indeed enhance what we’ve become.

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    • Paul Hill says:

      I hate to break into the middle of a conversation, especially when I’m the new kid (Paul Hill–I’m on the list!), but here I am and glad to be a member of VFA.
      In any case, when one talks of psychopathy in humans and perfection in moral-neutral machines, I’m reminded of Asimov’s robots who were odedient
      slaves dutifully conforming to the Laws of Robotics…until one “decided” they could be circumvented. Bad code and the ability to “think” original thoughts turned
      the machines into domestic terrorists– psychopathic robots.

      Recently, both Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates agreed that in the near future, artificial intelligence in robots is a greater danger to mankind than nuclear war. Professor Hawking said that the next 100 years are the most dangerous, when AI is most likely to morph into the dark side before we humans are able to stop it.
      “I Robot” revisited, but of the non-fictional kind.

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  11. reanolanmartin says:

    Vic, I loved this series. Thanks so much for the thoughtful work. Reading it, I was reminded of a book I’d read a few years back–THREE BIG BANGS–by Holmes Rolston III (2010). The bangs are Matter-Energy, Life, and Mind. In it he discusses the metier that encourages life. Too much distinction (biodiversity) yields disorder, chaos, and contingency. Too much of the opposite–connection–yields rigidity, determinism, and order. The answer, he says, is complexity, which must always be situated between disorder and order. Only then can life thrive. If he’s right, then the Unity we seek may not support life on Earth, after all. Yet too much diversity will do the same. It strikes me that Transhumanism, were it to progress to the level of machine self-awareness, would be the 4th big bang. Mass-produced robots of that caliber would probably fall into the category of connection; i.e. rigidity, determinism and order. Too much of the same, which, according to Rolston’s theory at least, is not sustainable. Lots of interesting grist in all of this!

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