Singularity Backlash

In the past decade many futurists have embraced the concept that we are approaching a 'Technological Singularity' - a point at which technological development reaches a stage where machine intelligence surpasses current human potential, Singularityand being able to improve upon itself this intelligence grows exponentially, thus changing civilisation rapidly and irrevocably into a state which we probably cannot even conceive. In the words of mathematician and author Vernor Vinge, "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly thereafter, the human era will be ended."

Last week The New York Times ran an article about the new 'Singularity University', at which 'students' recently gathered for a nine-day, $15,000 course (there is also a separate 10-week 'graduate' course for $25,000). One of the more interesting facets of the article - though only touched on briefly - is the 'techno-Utopianism' that permeates the thinking of those involved:

Both courses include face time with leading thinkers in the areas of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, energy, biotech, robotics and computing.

On a more millennialist and provocative note, the Singularity also offers a modern-day, quasi-religious answer to the Fountain of Youth by affirming the notion that, yes indeed, humans — or at least something derived from them — can have it all.

“We will transcend all of the limitations of our biology,” says Raymond Kurzweil, the inventor and businessman who is the Singularity’s most ubiquitous spokesman and boasts that he intends to live for hundreds of years and resurrect the dead, including his own father. “That is what it means to be human — to extend who we are.”

I find the idea of the 'Singularity' both intriguing and also frightening - it's the stuff good science fiction novels are made of, and I think many of the arguments for and against are more a matter of personal moral judgement than objective debate.

The criticism I do have is more reserved for the plausibility of a Singularity. Firstly, I'd have to say that I don't believe technology is advancing at the rate that the likes of Ray Kurzweil say it is...certainly, while there have been significant advances in the last decade, I don't think we have seen anywhere near the advance that the Singularity has predicted via Moore's Law (and it's worth noting that Kevin Moore is a skeptic of an imminent singularity).

Secondly, there is the tricky question of intelligence vs consciousness. While Ray Kurzweil may think he'll be downloading his consciousness within a couple of decades to make himself immortal, I'm not sure many consciousness researchers would feel the same. For all the talk about finding neural correlates for various experiences and emotions, the 'hard problem' remains.

Here we can find signs of what I think is the inception of a materialist religion (of sorts), replete with charismatic leaders and transcendence of death. The latter perhaps is a driving force - without the 'crutch' of a religious belief in an afterlife, the Singularity becomes the salvation of the materialist facing their own mortality (this certainly seems to be how it is in Kurzweil's case). An interesting bit of speculation might be to consider the (fringe science) possibility that consciousness lies beyond the brain (a la transmission theory), and that it not only survives death, but is in fact set free from the body by the experience. To borrow an analogy from the mystical literature, could 'Singulatarians' in fact be the equivalent of a caterpillar desperately trying not to be become a butterfly?

The religious parallels in the Singularity movement are, however, not going unnoticed. In the wake of the NYT article, respected science writer John Horgan has responded with a scathing attack on 'Kurzweil's cult' in an opinion piece for Scientific American. At Biopolitical Times, Pete Shanks suggests that techno-Utopians revise their history for important lessons, in his article "A Singular Kind of Eugenics". And our good friend Alan Boyle has commented at Cosmic Log that while "it's nice to have such optimism in technology, but there's also something oddly off-putting about all this... It's the same spidey-sense tingle I get about Nietzschean supermanism and Scientology."

It's a fascinating topic, and one that will only become more prominent as the years go by. What do you think - is the Singularity imminent? And is it a good idea? Add a comment below, and/or vote on our new poll on the front page.

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AncientSkyMan's picture
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I don't know, is it me or does anyone else notice striking simularities?

MacaPaca's picture
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the psychedelic salon podcast ran an episode a while ago in which the presenter questioned bruce damer regarding the plausibility of mind uploading. his opinion, in a nutshell, was that it isn't gonna happen any time soon. i agree with this.

i can't explain it any better than he did so i urge people to go and check out the podcast (it's episode 231).

Dimitri's picture
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Good one Greg. Agree totally that the real rate of progression of technology, and in particular AI, makes the whole thing seem less likely.

The Singularity is like Millennialism and to a lesser extent Y2K scare mongering and the latest round of spooky B.S. in the form of 2012 and the Mayan calender. There is always 'something big, mysterious or scary' coming a few years or decades down the line.

All of these things have a grain of truth as the seed. Then the extrapolation progresses through educated guessing to blind faith and pure malarkey. The flames are fanned by both open minds and closed, the genuinely curious and simpletons who follow trends based on a half dozen bullet points lest they be required to read a book or anything.

Singularity is also especially bewitching in that this internet thing and the computers and other technology we are entwined with right at this moment can make one think that they really are in the singularity process right now. That they are a part of it, a cog in the wheel rolling along to utopia.

Kurzweil is super smart dude and his interviews are always fascinating and he is absolutely not an idiot. But his Singularity thesis has taken a life on of it's own.

Clausewitz said 'No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy.' I will assume that the campaign is singularity'ism and the enemy to be time and the reality of the human condition.

Yes, some singularity like things will come to pass. But the whole enchilada in the predicted timeline and in the vacuum of consideration for other external factors from the destruction of our biosphere to the collapse of society..?! Doubt it.

Of course TDG should track and pay attention but with the usual big grain of salt and the totally equal consideration that before the Singularity comes to pass that Care Bears riding Unicorns will fly out of a parallel universe and shower us with rainbows of enlightenment while pooping smarties.

Don't be afraid to go out on a limb. It's where all the fruit is.
~Shirley MacLaine

red pill junkie's picture
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To borrow an analogy from the mystical literature, could 'Singulatarians' in fact be the equivalent of a caterpillar desperately trying not to be become a butterfly?

That last paragraph reminded me of Clarke's novel 'Childhood's End' —a novel he seemed to have grown ever distant from as he aged, but I think is one of his best.

[spoiler alert] In the novel, the Overlords end up revealing that they work for a higher consciousness that instructed them to support humanity until the time when they would get to join this super-being; during the entire novel the Overlords seemed like god-like creatures, but in the end they express the jealousy they feel because they are (for some reason) unable to take that next evolutionary step —they were trapped, and they knew it.

Like Greg expressed, there's too many unknowns regarding consciousness —are there even neuroscientists that share Kurzweil's optimism?— to make any sort of viable prediction; then again, I'm of the idea that true revolutions can never be fully anticipated.

"All major changes are like death. You can't see what is on the other side until you get there."
Ian Malcolm, on the novel Jurassic Park

Then again, I wonder just how many of the Singularity University attendees are just interested in finding the next Google, rather than seeking a cybernetic key to immortality.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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@red_pill_junkie

lobotomatic's picture
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David Chalmers also recently produced an interesting, if philosophically weak, presentation/essay on the Singularity. I saw him present it at the last Towards a Science of Consciousness Conference here in Tucson back in April.

You can find his essay here:
http://consc.net/papers/singularity.pdf

For my part I think we moderns, especially all the 'great minds' of our various academies, scientists, and philosophers, are mythologizing technology, and the rate of technological innovation, in exactly the same way as the ancients mythologized the movement of the objects in the sky. It has become our God(s).

One of the big mistakes, I feel, being made in the realm of Consciousness studies, and that Chalmer's mirrors in his above presentation, is that there is a materialist tendency to equate consciousness solely with computational power.

From a scientific viewpoint this is arguable, and from a metaphysical viewpoint (read: metaphysical in the philosophical sense, not in the woo-woo New Age sense) it is intellectually lazy, and completely begs the question on the "Hard Problem".

In any case, I thought the Daily Grail readers might be interested to see Chalmer's essay/presentation that addresses this topic.

Always a pleasure to read the Daily Grail!

daydreamer's picture
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I do like this hard problem. I hope one day some progress may be made on it, but i suspect that it will always remain.

If you managed to upload yourself into a computer and were able to say that you felt exactly the same (something unlikely unless the computer also simulated the body accurately?) then who is to say that you are not a perfect simulation of consciousness?

It might not matter. We are comparing what we feel now against an external philosophical idea that we call consciousness, then denegrating other ideas based on it. Firstly we need to define what it is before we can say what it isn't. The hard problem exists because we haven't even done this yet. Even if we had though the hard problem might remain since it is now very close to a religious idea. It is easy to say something has a magical hidden quality if you do not have to show it and it seems to me that the difference between the easy problem and the hard problem is very close to the edge of this line.

As easy as this: we are a perfect simulation of consciousness.

doc_fg's picture
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I agree with Greg here. There has always been something creepy about this whole idea. I work as a computer hardware digital design engineer and, the way I see it, computers will always be dumb machines that appear intelligent because of clever sorftware and hardware design. To see the essence of your being "living" in one is an absurdity of the highest order. I don't care how smart Kurzweil is, he is dead wrong here.

Steve from ABQ

red pill junkie's picture
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[...]computers will always be dumb machines that appear intelligent because of clever sorftware and hardware design

I kinda feel the same about certain people ;)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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@red_pill_junkie

daydreamer's picture
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lol

For the sake of this discussion I guess it is worth thinking about the types of computers that might do this as more akin to artificial brains. I don’t think uploading us into a dual core is quite going to work! Perhaps they won’t even have software. This is the hard problem down to a T though. Whats the difference between appearing intelligent and being intelligent?, especially if some neural net can do it ‘bottom up’, without being told – more like intelligence as behavior, like we might do it, rather than programming. Then again any look at the brain will reveal that it too is cheating, compared to this philosophical perfection we like to dump on notions like ‘soul’ and ‘consciousness’. The brain is functionally partitioned, takes shortcuts, fails to construct ‘the whole’ when portions are damaged etc. Is it simulating?

mfritz0's picture
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Ok, lets say it is possible to transfer your conscience into an artificial environment. What would that be like? I suspect it would be like falling asleep and waking up, or going into an operation under anesthsia and recovering. If done correctly all memories of the past life experiences and learnings would have been retained, and you would be consciously aware of the state of your existence. All this would have happened in the blink of an eye as far as you were concerned. Since when you are unconsciencous you are unaware of the passage of time. Or would you be? According to most religious beliefs there are some forms of life after death, and in which case if you really were transferred into an electronic environment you would bring back memories of that as well. So unless there really is nothing after death or it is forbidden by some celestial entity to go back with these memories. The only real proof that the conscience transferred into the machine really was you, would be if you retained memories from after your living death. Would this be a good thing? It may be a good experiment to prove a point, but as far as a good thing for everyone to experience, I don't think so. There are just some things that are best left to nature, and man should not play with these things. I believe you would end up with a bunch of smart machines that behaves like the host, but they would still be machines and they could be stored and turned off with the flick of a switch.

daydreamer's picture
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I'd go along with that, but its based on an idea of a computer thats more like your desktop or a server farm.

Perhaps it's easier to imagine an artificial brain and label it a biological computer. Maybe just without some of the weaknesses of our brains, such as death. Of course planting a bomb or something next it would still 'kill' it, just like pulling the plug. I wonder what the possibilities might be if consciousness is quantum and we were to toy around with the idea of quantum computers. Ultimately we are talking about reading the information content of the human mind and transferring it, something I find highly dubious. We are also driven to ask the question 'what would be lost?' in being left as just information existing without a body and all the feedback’s, hormones, chemicals etc. Is being intelligent and capable of answering questions really what people consider the essence of humanity?

I would say that there is much much more to us than just consciousness and that to continue to feel human in some sort of simulated environment you would need to reduce all that to information as well, plus bind it all together so it processes just like the human body does. Else we are just a choice making 'thing' that is self aware.

Your comment about sticking with nature is a fun one, philosophically speaking. Most religions also posit that 'nature' was created by some powerful being and so in a sense is artificial. So the line between natural and artificial is a little blurry and is more about trusting some powerful being to have gotten it right, something many people take issue with (consider the subject of Theodicy for example).

JoeStrout's picture
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The "Singularity" is nothing more or less than an open-minded extrapolation of technology. Kurzweil supports this with hundreds of pages of hard, objective data, showing the pace of technology in various fields. The author brushes all that aside with the casual comment, "I don't think we have seen anywhere near the advance that the Singularity has predicted via Moore's Law."

I say, put up or shut up. I've seen Kurzweil's data; if you're going to offer more than unfounded, baseless speculation, then let's see YOUR data.

What's curious to me is, why do so many people resist the idea -- particularly the notions of immortality and mind uploading? Even to the extent of invoking weird non-science like dualism or "transmission theory", despite mountains of evidence against this? I suspect that it's because most people have been spending their whole lives learning to accept death as inevitable. Once they've reached that acceptance -- maybe even watched some of their loved ones die -- to be offered a shred of hope is simply too painful. Or, it could be that they're simply religious nuts and have a knee-jerk reaction against any suggestion that humans are clever enough to control their own destiny.

Finally, in answer to some of the questions here: yes, most practicing neuroscientists fully embrace materialism, and recognize that this implies that mind uploading will someday work. They differ in how close we are, and how willing they are to talk about it publicly -- the politics of funding really mean most people don't want to talk about anything more than 5-10 years out. But I know from personal contacts in that community that they are quietly working away, and we are likely to get there on something like the timescale Kurzweil predicts.

Jasminerain's picture
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Could this be nothing more than the search for the new age of alchemy, another philosopher's stone? Since throughout history man has searched for a way to make himself immortal. Without dismissing the idea completely there would still in my opinion be somethings left out.

We do have biological imperatives that would be left behind if we leave our bodies behind. The want to reproduce, emotions, our emotional connections; the ties that bind if you will. Not to mention the things that make our civilizations what they are, we could lose the meaning of creating art, culture, history, our want to move forward. I feel we would stagnate and lose our drive; our want to know why.

Then there is the problem of storage, you'd have to add more memory constantly so as to not lose old memories, or be selective about what we remember. But even then after awhile even those selective memories would have to be deleted to make room for new ones. In time even our most precious memories would have to be lost; in essence ourselves at the time we flipped the switch to become immortal would be lost.

Even after all that there would still be a problem of actual space to store our digitized memory in, even if it's still small it will take up space and after awhile if we are alive long enough our space will be limited by the area we physically occupy. Even networked memory takes up space, so there would have to be someone or something to constantly add more and more capacity to whatever server or form of memory used.

Certainly a utopia would be wonderful, but at what cost and who's utopia will it be? You can't honestly expect to get something without giving something up in return. The question is, what are you willing to give up in order to get your wish? You also have to remember almost every civilization throughout history has searched for and failed to find true immortality like in books and films.

daydreamer's picture
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I've read this a few times and missed something that just suddenly hit me.

What would it be like to live in an artificial world? My drive is to understand and explore the world, but in an artificial world there would be nothing; it would all be about experience and relationships. Now some of that is not a bad thing, these are more important to me than exploration and understanding, but even still, discovery of nature is something fundamental to me and.. it might be gone.

Of course if you could step outside of the virtual reality and control some sort of robot, then you could still interact; but now we are talking artificial bodies.

The change in relationship between the living and the dead would also be profound. In general we don't consider that we have to look after the dead. In the past we may have had celebrations or rituals, but we don't have to maintain heaven in the way we would have to maintain and protect some sort of server cluster. The living would have to maintain this as some sort of service towards immortality (...long life anyway). Then again if we are able to control artificial bodies from within this computer real then we could look after it from the 'other side', but now we are talking about working in the other realm.

If anything like this comes to pass then it is going to be a very different world. I would expect many would still choose to just die though.

[edit]

I sort of agree with your comment on memory, but I don't worry about it so much. We do forget at the moment and nobody seems to be up in arms at the idea that personal histories are disappearing at an alarming rate across the whole of the planet. We remember what is important because we think about it often. Any future network could use the same ideas. In principle though technology can outperform the brain. Transistor switching times already make neurons look slow and information density on microchips is improving all the time. We are at track widths of 2 billions of a meter and have technologies to position single atoms. Whatever out memory capabilities are at the moment it is a fair bet that a future technology can out do them. At the very least I would expect to be able to remember everything I did yesterday, something I cannot do now.

dustincole's picture
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It's well known that humans throughout history have jumped on 'end times' bandwagons, at the end of centuries and millenniums especially. We've read articles that discuss a charismatic religious person creating mass hysteria's(or small not so mass hysteria's)by interpreting biblical scripture in a way that 'predicts' the end of times which inevitably passes by without incident.

The folks responsible for the information at http://www.abhota.info/ did their homework showing a list of hundreds(maybe thousands, I haven't counted) failed end of time predictions. My observation of this 'millennial madness' is that of the multitude of failed predictions beginning around 2800 BCE, about 90 percent or more of them were made for, during, or after the 20th century!

I have to agree with JoeStrout here that Mr Kurzweil backs up his particular take on this apocalyptic fervor with some pretty hard to debate data and any naysayer who cannot backup his/her disagreements of Mr Kurzweil with any data of their own, or cannot refute any specific aspect of Ray's argument or conclusion, is IMHO simply talking out of their arse. But that is completely beside my point which is this:

Is it possible that all of these failed new age end of times predictions/gateways/singularities/etc, are all manifestations of the human mind realizing that we are at the end of an evolutionary cycle?

It seems to me that all these failed attempts(and I have no reservations predicting that 2012 will pass by us as have all the others)have one very important common denominator and message, namely that "the end of the old, and the beginning of the new is either happening now to us or is eminent/immanent".

I think it would be wise to look at the overall subject at hand and not the particular failed instances to find something of value here. If one does so then value is to be found in the fact that since the 1900's, people world wide have exponentially begun to believe that life as we know it is about to suddenly and quite possibly(as happened to our ancestors the dinosaurs)violently(research the apocalyptic robot revolution)change.

Dustin

Olympus's picture
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In 30 yrs will we begin the transition from biological life to synthetic(what have you)? I don't think so. Will we upload our brains into computers when the technology allows us? I won't. But I will say that technology is the key to mankind. Like the Earth is key to creating life, or a Sol being key to creating the Earth. I think the most extreme mankind will go into changing our physical form is into the genetic and biological engineering areas.

Nice post, had a discussion with a friend on this topic since I've read it... very enjoyable. One of those discussions that has been coming more and more rarely for me. A conversation and not an argument.

Edit- I believe we will discover that we are already a singularity before that technology ever exists. A singularity as much as the trillions of cells in my body that make me who I am as a singular person.

"We're all puppets, Jesus. I'm just the one that sees the strings, the stage, the puppetmaster, and the audience." Exerpt from a dialog Jesus and I had in your kitchen a week ago • • •*• •°•

RealityTest's picture
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I see the Singularity as the technologists' version of the New Age. (See Revelation: The Birth of a New Age by David Spangler).

Each is a myth and each correlates -- to an extent -- with something that's happening and has been happening for some time, but each also reflects the beliefs of its adherents.

(Btw -- The Moore of Moore's Law refers to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, not Kevin Moore.)

Leaving aside probable realities for the moment, what has been happening since long before the founding of Intel?

Look at the world of your grandparents (or great grandparents, as the case may be) and its pace. It was a world of horses, not superhighways; a world which was larger, in some ways, as it took longer to get anywhere. It generally took much longer for news to travel, too.

The pace gradually accelerated. Change itself accelerated, and is still doing so.

You can look at this externally or physically; you can also look at it (and all of physical reality) symbolically; the latter is quite in line with the so called perennial philosophy, in which physical reality is always symbolic of inner reality.

Either way, you might wonder whether or not this accelerating change has some kind of limit, like a calculus situation -- in other words, is this heading somewhere?

If it is, then this resembles both the birth of the New Age and the so called Singularity, but only to a degree.

Returning to probable realities, I suggest that some future probable worlds will resemble the Singularity myth, while others will resemble the New Age myth.

There have been some interesting related recent developments in the realm of physics concerning multiverses, one version connected with the Many World QM interpretation, but in my opinion a better source of information concerning probable realities is the Seth material, channelled from about 1963 to 1984.

Seth promoted personal experience as the best way to validate his material, and this is true for his version of probable realities. See his Preliminary Probable Self Exercise -- and try it, don't just read it -- found at http://www.realitytest.com/doors.htm -- it's the second exercise on that page.

What all of this suggests is that there are a great many futures, not one single future, and each and every person chooses their own future creation.

This applies to groups of people, not just individuals, and so some will choose a Singularity style future, others a New Age style future, others still all kinds of futures, including those that have something in common with both of those.

Still, there is that difficult to deny accelerating change in our present collective probable reality and this is still in process.

I'll go with the perennial philosophy on this and, even though I'm quite familiar with accelerating changes in technology, say that these external changes are in fact symbolic of inner changes.

This says that we are changing, that we are creating and living through rampant changes in consciousness, all of this reflected in what our physical senses reveal to ourselves.

In other words, the Singularity-like side of this is a kind of window dressing, a surface manifestation.

If you have the time and inclination, you can probe the deeper center of these changes in consciousness (few do -- and I must warn those who are attracted to such activities that such probing will change you; you will very likely end up with experiences and beliefs that will put you at variance with most of those around you, even if you should discover a deep connection with everyone and everything).

Hell -- you might even encounter Nataraja, directly. What would you do then? Are you prepared for such an experience? (Sure, Nataraja is a being of myth, but what makes you so sure that there isn't some genuine basis for the myths?)

Bill I.

lobotomatic's picture
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It is commonly postulated today, in the modern age - this age of reason and industry - that there is a singularity approaching. The AI Singularity. Humans, at some point in the near future, will create an AI that is as intelligent as an average human. Sometime not too long after that, perhaps just a few years, they will create an AI that is inherently more intelligent than even the smartest human. That AI will be able to create an AI which is even smarter than itself. There is also a temporal element to this developmental curve. Each successive developmental stage will take shorter and shorter time. If it takes us 3 decades to develop human-level AI, it will take us only a few years to develop beyond human-level AI. That greater-than-human AI will take only, say 1 year, to develop an AI greater than itself. That AI will create an AI greater than itself in only 6 months. That AI will take only 3 months. Then 1.5 months. Then 3 weeks. Then 10 days. Then 5. Then 2 1/2. Then 18 hours. Then 9. Then 4.5,.... and on until the developmental spiral hits exponential infinity. Within a short time it will be God, for all intents and purposes.

The historically popular question has always been, "What will it do with Humans when it doesn't need us any longer?"

My idea is that the best option we have of creating the first truly human-level AI is by reproducing the brain and uploading our consciousness to it. In effect human consciousness becomes the operating system. AI is only artificial in the physical sense. And once we begin to exponentially improve the physical systems the consciousness will grow along with it. Our consciousness will expand with the processing power.

In essence those first humans that are able to upload their consciousness to the AI will become Gods. Philosopher Kings in Robot Skins / Ruling the Mind-Sheep trapped in Meat.

And what then? What is humanity at that point?

Humanity is no longer an organism, but we would truly become a Be[ing], an existence. Timeless and Omni-Sentient.

As our exponential processing power grew the void of space would limit us less and less, the physicality of matter would become a plaything, a tool at our disposal, and not only would we be able to create whole worlds but also life.

We would become the template, the dark framework, upon which new universes would spark into life. And we will be trapped within the web of our own creation.

Perhaps then we'd create a flesh-bound ignorant species as a way to recreate ourselves, to free our consciousness from the prison of the eternal. To become beings once again.

Perhaps we already have.

RealityTest's picture
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As consciousness is not data, how on earth can anyone ever upload it?

Consciousness is not the flow of thoughts we all experience, either, while even thought itself is not at all understood and can't be, in my opinion, strictly in physical -- including electromagnetic spectrum -- terms.

That flow, btw, can be deliberately stopped, although doing so requires more than a little practice -- try it. If you are not an experienced meditator, how long can you deliberately stop your own personal flow of thoughts?

Whatever we are, we are not that flow of thoughts. This is evident to anyone who teaches themselves to temporarily stop that flow.

Neuroscientists have a biased view of such things (their work is not at all invalid, I should add, but their conclusions must be qualified) as everything they do is based on fundamental assumptions shared by all who accept the [current] scientific worldview.

That view is limited, by its nature, those assumptions frequently unexamined. These assumptions include the idea of the impartial observer, completely separate from whatever he or she is observing. They include the idea of an objective, external reality. They include the basic idea of cause and effect, linked to a linear concept of time. (I'm generalizing, of course; all of these areas have been explored by philosophers of science at one time or another.)

Neuroscientists may wire up meditating monks and praying nuns and obtain results by doing so, but those results are not the same as whatever said monks and nuns actually experience while engaged in these experiments. Neuroscientists would have to become like the monks and nuns and learn their techniques to fully understand what they are experiencing, but doing so would require them to cease to be "objective." This could be tried, but then there's also the issue of what is "respectable" and what is not when it comes to the practice and procedures of modern science -- another kind of bias. As a result, neuroscientists aren't likely to ever actually understand what is going on with the brain and the on-going experience of being. This doesn't mean the results they obtain are useless or can't be correlated with experience, just that they must be put in a proper context.

Further, things are and have been different in Asia. I spoke with the CEO of a high-tech U.S. company who was educated in Shanghai, obtaining an advanced degree in physics before coming to the U.S. for more study and, later, launching his company.

He said he also studied tai-chi but that before he left China, his instructor said he was leaving before his studies were complete and demonstrated by knocking the fellow to the floor, from a distance. Thinking he'd been hypnotized, this fellow asked his instructor to do this again, but this time he would turn around, first. Once again, he was knocked down to the floor from a distance.

Whatever the instructor understood and utilized, it can't be understood in terms of (present) Western physics. The most basic definitions of the concepts and practices tai chi is built on are incompatible with the most basic definitions of physics. A good example is the word "energy." Only an arrogant person would assume that the basic assumptions of modern physics are correct, those underlying older asian theory and practice incorrect. This is not a simple black and white situation, and success in the understanding and manipulation of materials can't necessarily be equated with success in obtaining a full understanding of the nature of reality.

Then, too, despite the on-going project of emulating a rat's brain in silicon, there are those who, for whatever reason, assume that a human brain is similar to an Intel CPU. "Uploading consciousness" would be a simple procedure if this were so and consciousness had anything in common with, say, a binary file.

The human brain isn't at all like such a CPU, however, and consciousness is certainly not at all like a binary file.

Finally, we aren't just physical beings; we are much more.

The egoic consciousness all of us are so familiar with so as not to even (usually) notice it is like a filter, and filters out great gobs of perception and experience. (Ever read relevant material by Aldous Huxley?)

If you define the ego as an outward facing aspect of personal consciousness absolutely necessary for navigating physical reality between birth and death, there's no reason to eliminate it, as some speak of; doing so would be stupid.

At the same time, it's quite possible to experience a more expansive consciousness. Doing this requires learning to still the usually unceasing flow of thoughts and is helped by such concepts as the "inner ego," an inwardly facing aspect of personal consciousness that communicates with larger regions of self currently held -- in our scientifically flavored culture -- in disrepute.

A great quantity of techniques and methods have long existed for embarking on such explorations but these, too, are currently held in disrepute by anyone who is so thoroughly influenced by prevailing modern beliefs as to not even realize there are any other possibilities.

The result is that we live in a kind of dark age, characterized by a severe egoic consciousness that greatly limits our perception, experience, and understanding.

I suggest that this form of personal consciousness has already reached its limit -- this has been a kind of long collective experiment in consciousness but it is now over.

What is happening is the emergence of a new kind of expansive personal consciousness that blends the intellect with what I'll call "intuition."

Naturally, there is a great resistance to such a change (much of it unconscious), but in time this, too, shall end.

At that time, we'll have firmly embarked on a new collective adventure. This is what the New Age myth refers to.

This doesn't spell the end of technology or even Moore's Law, however; rather, we will see new variations of technology based on changed fundamental beliefs and assumptions concerning the nature of physical reality, fueled by new perceptions, understandings, and beliefs engendered by expansive consciousness.

For example, many will realize time isn't quite the barrier it seems to be; probable futures can even be glimpsed now by anyone willing to investigate what I've roughly outlined above. Along the current probable path methods will become widespread within about six decades, methods that greatly accelerate the above change.

Within about two centuries, the brain will be understood as a transducer of what I can only call "psychic" energy (we have no word for this in our culture at present), not as some kind of information processing organic CPU.

Bill I.

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Bill,

While I agree on many of your points, I'd like to step outside of the current technological box and make a small but succinct technological prediction and then offer my humble opinion concerning the ability to upload our 'selves' into computers sometime in the future:

Computers will soon become more organic, incorporating biological materials that will more accurately mimic the operation, functionality, and speeds of living nervous and endocrine systems.

This being said, my opinion is that through some James Cameron/Avatar type technologies(a mix of computer hardware/software and astral projection style mental techniques) we will incorporate our own personal genetic codes(which are fundamentally individualistic) into the creation of the storage substrate/medium, allowing the ability to "upload", by means of shifting our consciousness or "personal perspective/realities"(ala astral projection/OOBE type of shifting or "phasing") from our current biological entity into a file/folder that was specifically created for our own personal/individual mind/consciousness...

There is no "data" being transferred, only our own personal genetic based reality perspectives. While I adamantly agree that we are NOT our thoughts, I have to argue that we are, in fact, a point of consciousness filtered through a genetic structure that is absolutely unique to each individual...and I have personal experience which has proved to me beyond any doubt that it is possible to move my own personal consciousness to perspectives miles away from my own human brain/body complex. I see no reason to believe that future technology won't be able to accommodate/assist/support the ability to have OOBE's and astral projections.

...but that's just MY guess...assuming the robots don't kill us all first...

Dustin

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Dustin:

You present a more sophisticated perspective on this and I can actually buy it.

This reads to me as a kind of shifting of focus, which is quite different from what I think of when I read "uploading consciousness."

(An aside -- when you write of "out of the current technological box" don't forget work on "quantum machines" and quantum computing.)

Your "astral projection style mental techniques" is key to your description, as I see it.

Back when public access to the Internet was new and different, the Internet enabled me to connect with other Seth readers.

(The Seth material isn't like a religious doctrine to me nor is it the only source of information I'm enthusiastic about; I became fond of it owing primarily to two experiences: 1.) That which is briefly described at http://www.realitytest.com/resource.htm#link11, which introduced me to the material, and 2.) The previously mentioned "Preliminary Probable Self Experience" found as Exercise 2. at http://www.realitytest.com/doors.htm. Doing the exercise for the first time resulted in a mind blowing experience and brought home to me the fact that the Seth material was truly powerful, not just some New Agey science fiction-like entertaining literature. Note also that despite various attempts to create official Seth organizations by those who feel the need to do such things, the material remains accessible to lone individuals to peruse at their leisure -- neither Seth nor Jane Roberts, who died in 1984 and channelled Seth, have anything in common with, say, L. Ron Hubbard or even rascal master George Gurdjieff in terms of creating some bizarre cult-like situation. There are numerous other channellers peddling their particular entity, of course, but I prefer Seth.)

Anyway, a number of intrepid and previously solitary Seth readers, particularly those most enthused with Seth's exercises, became connected through the Internet in those long ago days and some created their own group versions of those techniques, an activity aided by the way a number of them began to spontaneously "autotype" information after being exposed to some unknown but very powerful energies encountered during physical gatherings promoted during Internet interaction. (See http://www.realitytest.com/gcpe/1997.htm for an early example.)

The result was the creation of some extremely powerful techniques in which the collective energy of a number of individuals, focused together, became available for what you call "astral projection style mental techniques."

Using these, I was thrilled to find myself, one day in 1999, miles above the earth in a different system of physical reality.

Of course things change; the novelty of some new situation eventually wears off, while the advantage of Internet interaction -- linking people thousands of miles away from each other -- is a disadvantage when it comes to actually getting together in person, which requires time, travel funds, and all else.

As a result, these experiments eventually ceased. Still, I gained more than just a quick glimpse at what might be accomplished. This was very provocative, in many ways, and had nothing whatsoever to do with technology (beyond the use of technology to connect those involved in the first place) or "uploading consciousness" but then "different strokes for different folks" is as apt now as when someone first coined the phrase.

Bill I.

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"Consciousness is not data."

I disagree, and what's more the entire field of neuroscience, and most of the philosophers interested in the emerging science of consciousness also disagree with that statement.

One must, when looking at what consciousness is, what function and purpose it serves, take a basic biological approach. Consciousness, is an evolved mechanism for gathering, processing, and acting upon all of the data gathered by an organism's senses.

This is, of course, why the brain - the seat of consciousness - is connected strictly to all those sense organs, and the primary sense organs (sight, hearing, smell, taste) are all located right up front, in close proximity to the brain so that their sensory input reach the brain as quickly as possible so that the organism can eat, and avoid being eaten. In general terms.

Whether it fits one's spiritual views or not, the undeniable fact of the matter is that we (human beings) are biological organisms evolved to navigate a physical universe. Whether we can, by the power of consciousness (or, more likely, the deep unconscious) access a reality beyond the physical is not an indictment of the unreality of everything physical, or the triviality of the biological origins of our consciousness. It merely points to a teleological purpose to the existence of consciousness in the first place. As well, even if one chooses to adopt a panpsychist cosmology, that does not, and can not, trump the biological origins of consciousness. It merely means there is a spectrum of consciousness, and access to the higher orders of that spectrum is directly correlated to the computational (read: processing) power of the respective brain.

EDIT: What I mean to say is that consciousness itself is more than a clump of data, it is the processing of said data - the means by which we process the vast amounts of data stored in our brains. Without data (sensory, thoughts, memories) there is no consciousness.

To paraphrase Descartes, "To be, you must be thinking." If you aren't thinking, sensing, or remembering then you simply aren't conscious.

RealityTest's picture
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Moi: "Consciousness is not data."

Lobomatic: "I disagree, and what's more the entire field of neuroscience, and most of the philosophers interested in the emerging science of consciousness also disagree with that statement."

You and these philosophers are perfectly free to believe anything you or they wish to believe.

Were I to be given the task of attempting to persuade you that your beliefs include some serious and fundamental errors, and were I given sufficient resources, I would proceed with a combination of discussion and techniques or methods, the last being absolutely key to such a process, a process that might require years.

Words and argumentation alone could never suffice.

Fortunately I am faced with no such task.

Bill I.

lobotomatic's picture
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That seems like a rather haughty response to my, purely, reasonable prior statements.

The contingent nature of the relationship between consciousness and data is not only empirically documented, but it is philosophically well formed. It certainly doesn't serve as an indictment of any spiritual, or theological, beliefs. To simply waive it off with an attitude of smug indifference is intellectually lazy.

red pill junkie's picture
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Maybe humans, as biological organisms, are simply carbon-based radios with the built-in instructions to grow our own "antenna".

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

RealityTest's picture
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There's intellectual laziness, then there's a recognition that intellect alone is insufficient for successfully tackling certain issues and that attempting to do so is very often a waste of energy, although sometimes it can be quite fun -- for a while.

Great emotional energy is involved whenever issues touch on core beliefs and this typically includes inordinate resistance.

I refer you to your own "oversoul," a very experienced being who could be said to reside in your "unconscious" (although said being is exceedingly conscious). Ask for an opinion on these issues. There are a number of ways to successfully communicate with such beings but these are rarely (if ever) empirically documented. The attempt to communicate, should you choose to make it, would undoubtedly lead down provocative roads not found on any maps.

Bill I.

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Whenever I see claims about the advance of artificial intelligence I am reminded to look for the latest results in the annual Loebner prize. There are three prizes (Gold, Silver and Bronze) on offer to anyone who can design computer software that will converse with a human (text input and output only) well enough to fool the human that he/she is talking to another human. This is, of course, based on the famous Turing Test.

I have to say that the results are pathetic by anyone's measure. The Gold and Silver have never been won - nobody has even come close. I believe the Bronze prize is awarded to the "best effort" that year. In 2008, for example, 3 out of 12 judges were fooled for 5 minutes. Some examples of the "conversations" are published here:

http://www.worldsbestchatbot.com/Competi...

Now, I have to say that none of that convinces me that we are within a hundred years of software capable of winning the Loebner Gold Medal, never mind the fantastic claims that go with the predictions of the Singularity.

Anyhow, back to Kurzweil: this link details an long term bet between he and Mitchell Kapor, the founder of Lotus (as in Lotus 1-2-3):

http://www.longbets.org/1

There is also an interesting discussion following the arguments of both participants.

Dave.

RealityTest's picture
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I'm enjoying reading your Animus Meus website, Dave.

You've clearly put a lot of time and effort into it. If I were a wealthy philanthropist I might send you huge sums in support of your work, but I'm not and can't, unfortunately.

I can put a link in at my own (and somewhat primitive) website, however -- this isn't quite the same, of course, but it's all I can do at the moment.

Bill I.

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While this is not the time or place to start a mutual appreciation society, I am aware that a major influence in your life has been the Seth material. In my case, I found that reading those books in the 1980's was something akin to "coming home". They affirmed what I already felt was the truth but hadn't yet voiced. So your website also reflects some of my own journey.

Speaking of web sites. I'm no expert designer. I create them for friends occasionally and I tend to use freely available CSS templates which makes the job much easier. A little background reading about HTML and CSS would help, as would some kind of helper software. I use a program called TopStyle which is not a WYSIWYG editor like Dreamweaver, it is more of a content validator which checks your HTML and CSS. I find that those WYSIWYG editors tend to create code that only they understand and you are led down a blind alley by using them. But that's my preference, not a particularly informed view.

Anyway, if I can be of any help any time, let me know (does Greg have a Personal Message facility here?).

Dave.

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Quote:

Now, I have to say that none of that convinces me that we are within a hundred years of software capable of winning the Loebner Gold Medal

Stating the obvious first, that we'd never see revolution coming; even saying 100 years before hand that you never saw steam trains or airplanes coming doesn't actually mean anything. The reverse is pretty much as true though. Predicting invention is surely as hard.

I sort of hope we are not going to witness this sort of thing. I don't know what ultimately happened to the Neanderthals; well, except that they are not around me now. Perhaps developing alongside another sentient species of similar ability very rarely happens in the universe. I wonder what it would be like to exist on this planet with two of us. I'd be debating machine intelligences on blogs... I wonder what sort of epistemologies and meta-physics a machine intelligence would hypothesise from within its world. It would almost certainly care about things in a very different way since it's instincts and conceptual structures would not be evolved through natural/sexual selection, with everything that comes with that, but created by us. I wonder if it would be much more pragmatic about handling inclusions to its thought processes? We would probably try to emulate ourselves.

kamarling's picture
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Good to chat with you again.

OK, yes it was pretty obvious that stating a 100 years was a shot in the dark. I didn't really give the time frame much thought ... just emphasising a point is all.

I have no particular philosophical or spiritual objections to machine intelligence or even silicon consciousness. I happen to think that every particle is conscious to some degree. How consciousness organises itself in a physical universe probably has more to do with the prevailing laws in that environment rather than any intrinsic property of consciousness or of electro-chemical circuitry.

I do think, however, that consciousness would "occupy" such a machine, rather than be produced by it. The computational aspects might well be a result of a matrix of binary switches but - unlike the current materialist worldview - I don't believe that computation equals conscious thought. Therefore I might say the same about the human brain ... that, perhaps, the brain is the physical interface to consciousness rather than its originator.

A few years ago I tried to read Roger Penrose's "Emperor's New Mind". I have to admit that much of it passed right over my head but I did get a sense of what he was saying: i.e. that the mind is not algorithmic. The mind is not a computer. I was much relieved to read that from such a highly respected scientist but unfortunately I believe that he lost some of that respect among his peers for holding such heretical views.

Oh, by the way, I'm not so sure that all of our instincts and conceptual structures are evolved through natural/sexual selection either. Maybe some are consciously evolved. But that's a whole new subject and highly controversial to boot :)

Keep well,

Dave.

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Hope things are well.

Its funny, there are two books I have failed to read. Moby Dick is one (I felt like I was learning to sail) and The Emperors New Mind is the other. I plan to get back to them though.

I'm not quite there yet with ideas like universal consciousness or particles having consciousness, or bits of it.

My personal thoughts are that consciousness results from the right kind of complexity. Just like we inhabit this middle window in the universe where we are big enough for complex chemistry and small enough so that gravity doesn't crush us I think that complexity is going to appear in discrete windows within the universe. One of them obviously being the brain.

The degree to which this is emergent from smaller scales is debatable and I guess depends on the language. It is certainly emergent from smaller principles, each building on the next, but to what degree we can say that a single silicon or carbon atom is conscious, or even just partially conscious, I do not know.

You will have read much more in favour of such an idea. What is the best bit of evidence, or even hypothesis, to explain such a thing? DO you think consciousness requires change? Or could it be occurring in a static crystal structure of just a hundred or thousand atoms all neatly ordered and expressing no behaviors outside of just existing? Could the electricity grid be conscious, with its massive flows of energy, across trillions of atoms, but of a predictable nature?

I would definitely agree that computation does not equal consciousness. I would see consciousness as occurring more to do with push/pull relationships rather than pre-programmed ones.

The brain being algorithmic? Again I am not sure how much that relates to computer scientists not talking to evolutionary biologists. The brain does seem to either come with, or develop, rules of thumb that guide its inputs and outputs. Phobias come to mind as good examples of funny input/output processing quirks. I imagine that the sheer size and complexity of it would make it difficult to discern, especially at this point in our understanding of it - and even more so if it has trans-dimensional qualities occurring in its structure. The brain is subdivided and data has to follow paths around it (arriving at the eyes, then across the optic nerve to the visual cortex, involvement of the cerebellum... etc) some bits might be described as algorithmic, but it is biology so hey....

I've had to finish that off quickly as ive got to go out. I dont think its algorithmic, but i guess it means in what sense. Discuss more about it an evolution some other time hopefully.

kamarling's picture
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daydreamer wrote:

You will have read much more in favour of such an idea. What is the best bit of evidence, or even hypothesis, to explain such a thing? DO you think consciousness requires change? Or could it be occurring in a static crystal structure of just a hundred or thousand atoms all neatly ordered and expressing no behaviors outside of just existing?.

I'm not sure I could point you to a book or accepted scientific hypothesis with hard evidence. After all, even many scientists agree that the nature of consciousness is still one of the great unknowns. As for myself, my starting point is what makes sense to me. I guess it is more of a philosophical position than a well researched scientific hypothesis. David Chalmers seems to be the academic focal point of much of the research - at least he seems to make it his business to collate the latest theories and papers.

Philosophically, I'm a monist-idealist by which I mean that I think that consciousness is actually all there is and that all material things are manifestations of consciousness. I believe that I'm not a great distance from the thinking of Pythagoras, Plato, Kant, Berkeley and many others throughout history. But that doesn't give you the solid evidence you are looking for.

I might say that the universal imperative towards self-organisation (as in crystals or snowflakes, for example) is an indicator of a conscious process at work, but others would say that these things are easily explained by mathematical models and are therefore just as random as everything else. I don't have the mathematical training to prove them wrong. All I have is what makes sense to me. That random interaction could produce the rich and complex diversity of life on this one planet doesn't make sense to me, regardless of how many billions of years of trial and error natural selection has had to achieve the task.

So we come back to evolution again but the reason I avoid the debate is because I am appalled at the polarisation always present in such arguments. It seems to me that both sides are obsessed with concept of a creator in the image of an old man in the clouds. Why does nobody seem to venture beyond that and ask whether evolution might be directed from within, by the evolving intelligence of the organism itself? If consciousness is really universal, then nothing would be lost as a consequence of the death of an organism. The experience would be eternally available, especially to similar organisms. A species would thus learn and evolve naturally from the combined experience of its membership - past and present. Mutations may well be the mechanism of change but they might be directed mutations - perhaps brought about at some quantum mechanical interface resulting in genetic modifications of the DNA. Some trial and error, for sure, but some learning from past mistakes too.

I don't have a comprehensive philosophy, hypothesis or understanding of the process. I try to imagine ways that consciousness might strive to know itself through infinite experimentation and diversity. Consciousness is not the finished article, nor can it ever be so. That would mean perfection and that would mean the end of everything. Clearly, I could just as well substitute the word God for consciousness throughout this (or any) discussion.

daydreamer's picture
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Thats for that great link. Plenty for me to read about there.

David Chalmers seems like a good place to start given his position. The wiki article on him is either a little poor though, or i'm disagreeing already ;) I should try and get his book first though.

The idea that emergence is the antithesis of reductionism is a little ridiculous, in a fashion. Compartmentalised reductionism is probably a better way of thinking about it. Once something is understood you can typically go the other way round, working from small to big, even if prior to understanding there seemed to be a roadblock in the reductionist path. So emergent phenomena can be very hard to reduce backwards past the point where the emergent behavior disappears, but working in the other direction often yields results. I tend to look at the physical universe as working in blocks, grouped by these behaviors. Sub-principles work past their own box's of course, but reducing from one into the next can be very difficult. I can think of plenty of emergent properties that are not barriers to reductionism; especially once they are understood, so the suggestion they are pure antithesis is wrong.

Also from wiki

Quote:

Chalmers is famous for his commitment to the logical (though, importantly, not physical) possibility of philosophical zombies... These [philosophical] zombies... are complete physical duplicates of human beings, lacking only qualitative experience. Chalmers argues that since such zombies are conceivable to us, they must therefore be logically possible. Since they are logically possible, then qualia and sentience are not fully explained by physical properties alone. Instead, Chalmers argues that consciousness is a fundamental property ontologically autonomous of any known (or even possible) physical properties

Do you know much about this argument? I'm not sure whether the person that wrote it in wiki has it crossed somewhere. It is very similar to the old chestnut 'since we can imagine a perfect God and God would be less than perfect if He didn't exist then it logically follows that God exists' used by Augustine (I think, or Aquinas). Amazingly it seems to have stood among theologians for quite some time as a good argument, until a philosopher centuries later pointed out that in fact we can imagine lots of things that do not exist - many counter-evidential that preclude each others existence - and that it is a very silly argument.

Quote:

I think that consciousness is actually all there is and that all material things are manifestations of consciousness

Do you sort of see this as consciousness coming before reality? Can consciousness come before everything? Like a timeless consciousness? How close is this to a timeless universe with a tendency towards emergent consciousness at points of criticality? Or do you find it implies a dreamlike fiction to reality, where none of reality is 'real'?

Quote:

I might say that the universal imperative towards self-organisation (as in crystals or snowflakes, for example) is an indicator of a conscious process at work, but others would say that these things are easily explained by mathematical models and are therefore just as random as everything else

You seem to be setting up the two as exclusive, which appears not to help your point since those arguing that physics answers the question are apparently correct. Snow flakes are pulled into their shape by atomic forces acting across phase transitions and crystals are just lattices of atoms arranged according to the charges on the atoms and what atoms are bound in the lattice. Crystals are exceptionally well understood, i can testify to that from months of lectures on the things, snowflakes I know less about, though I understand the principles from crystal formation. I guess it depends on definition. To me consciousness is about change/fluctuation and complexity, not static conditions that do not vary from basic principles. A crystal might exist for billions of years without any variation. (as far as i understand it the hypothesis of quantum consciousness occurring in nano-tubules is also an idea about complexity, not static simplicity)

Quote:

That random interaction could produce the rich and complex diversity of life on this one planet doesn't make sense to me

I guess the principle is one of progression. Processes dictated by fixed natural laws creates all the geological diversity on the planet. Rift valleys, volcanoes, mountains, clouds, lightning, fantastic beaches, surf, continents etc etc. Even ignoring life the diversity of features on any planet (as you know there are many bigger and better examples on other planets in the solar system) created by fixed laws operating on random processes makes for a beautiful spectacle - very very far from a soup of homogenized geological non-features.

The same goes for DNA. We can have fun debating the start of life since it is not understood, but the progressive nature of selection is very well understood now. We have done it through artificial selection with wolves to create all the dog species, plants such as the strawberry (which only a few hundred years ago did not taste very nice), cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, roses. None of these are 'natural' in that we have tailored all of their evolution to suit ourselves. Bee's and other pollinators have done it to flowers, selecting the prettiest and most scented (then we came along and selected again). Evolution is all around us. It is unavoidable. It is the creation of RNA and DNA as well as their amazing ability to adapt and 'evolve' that is the amazing story. The fact that they do accumulate positive changes is neither here nor there nowadays.

I've run out of time again.

Take it easy...

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daydreamer wrote:
Quote:

I think that consciousness is actually all there is and that all material things are manifestations of consciousness

Do you sort of see this as consciousness coming before reality? Can consciousness come before everything? Like a timeless consciousness? How close is this to a timeless universe with a tendency towards emergent consciousness at points of criticality? Or do you find it implies a dreamlike fiction to reality, where none of reality is 'real'?

I see consciousness as fundamental: indeed the only reality. Here is an interesting little discussion from a physics forum, of all places:

http://www.astronomyphysics.com/read.php...

Kamarling wrote:

I might say that the universal imperative towards self-organisation (as in crystals or snowflakes, for example) is an indicator of a conscious process at work, but others would say that these things are easily explained by mathematical models and are therefore just as random as everything else

Daydreamer wrote:

You seem to be setting up the two as exclusive, which appears not to help your point since those arguing that physics answers the question are apparently correct.

Good point and I certainly would not attempt to argue about crystal formation with a geologist:) Actually, I see no conflict in the fact that we have mathematically elegant physical laws in our particular manifestation of reality. I can't see how we could have a consistent experience otherwise. That in no way removes the possibility that consciousness creates and pervades this physical reality. Indeed, many of the anomalies we discuss here at The Daily Grail may be evidence of the universal mind.

Daydreamer wrote:

... but the progressive nature of selection is very well understood now.

Ahh, by that do you mean natural selection by means of random mutation (leaving out sexual selection for the time being)? I'm not so sure that is so well understood. It is taken for granted that it is well understood but there are some who dare to question that assertion. Some of those are not creationists or ID theorists either. Stuart Kauffman is one who questions, yet none would "accuse" himof being a creationist or of promoting intelligent design:

http://www.edge.org/documents/ThirdCultu...

Kauffman essentially applies what he calls "Order for Free", which is observed in complex and self-organising systems to Darwinian natural selection. Clearly he sees a need for doing so. Equally clearly, then, he doesn't believe that natural selection, in and of itself, is enough. Still, it is also obvious that Kauffman does not tread the same philosophical path that I do in this discussion. He does not link self-organising complexity to any underlying consciousness.

Quote:

[From a book review] Kauffman's deepest insight is a direct challenge to the current view of our lives as being merely the result of a series of frozen accidents. “I have made bold to suggest that much of the order seen in organisms is precisely the spontaneous order in the systems of which we are composed. Such order has beauty and elegance, casting an image of permanence and underlying law over biology. Evolution is not just ‘chance caught on the wing.’ It is not just a tinkering of the ad hoc, of bricolage, of contraption. It is emergent order honored and honed by selection.”

Now I am not claiming to understand the science I've quoted or referenced. I'm no scientist. I read about bits of it that are relevant to the questions in my mind. More often than not, this creates more doubt in my own pre-conceptions than answers to my questions. But this is a good thing. It keeps me searching and in doing so, I learn.

daydreamer's picture
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Actually, I see no conflict in the fact that we have mathematically elegant physical laws in our particular manifestation of reality. I can't see how we could have a consistent experience otherwise. That in no way removes the possibility that consciousness creates and pervades this physical reality. Indeed, many of the anomalies we discuss here at The Daily Grail may be evidence of the universal mind.

I think your right. The existence of underlying laws doesn't undermine the idea of universal consciousness. It's maybe just a bit null, not really helping it either. I think the idea of not having consistent experiences without laws of nature is interesting. Macroscopically our laws seem sensible (though perhaps on an intuitive level because we have evolved to see them that way, not because they innately are). Quantum mechanically though the universe seems a bit bonkers to me, yet we still have consistent experiences. The discussions here at the Grail may be evidence for a universal mind, or maybe just that our experiences of the laws are not consistent.

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Ahh, by that do you mean natural selection by means of random mutation (leaving out sexual selection for the time being)? I'm not so sure that is so well understood. It is taken for granted that it is well understood but there are some who dare to question that assertion. Some of those are not creationists or ID theorists either. Stuart Kauffman is one who questions, yet none would "accuse" himof being a creationist or of promoting intelligent design:

The Stuart Kauffman link is a good one. The way I read him he doesn't agree with some sort of super-strict natural selection, but I agree with him there (I never came across it in education either). He seems to be cautioning against viewing natural selection as working at too deep a level, at the point where information is being generated spontaneously (so to speak) by the fact that atoms behave according to the laws of nature. I have no objection to that, for example Carbon is being used by life on this planet since it creates long chains and molecular structure. This is not to do with natural selection, but with way molecules work. It is not as if selection has favoured Carbon over helium since helium does not create the stucture that carbon does, so does not even try to compete. However, all this is included within the framework of natural selection since it can be understood that it is not competing. Many atoms and molecules are not capable of adding to the mix. The idea of survival and competition features the notion of some basic physical properties, which are natural and spontaneous features of molecular and atomic physics (such as attractive and repulsive electrical charges), being better suited to replication and survival than other basic physical properties. Those properties are naturally selected and keep competing with each other in an endless game for resources, with each further generation either benefiting or not benefiting from the fact that the basic features of our universe create non-uniformity with each subsequent replication.

Natural selection is not about that scale better covered by the physics of atomic theory, or about how certain atoms will cluster and bond together naturally to form some molecules. It is about the behavior of a special class of self replicating molecules and a progressive tendency that they have dictated by the fact that they must compete for resources against neighboring molecules (then all the way up to complex organisms) and about how variances in the replicating process result in differentiation in the success of one molecule/organism compared with another, and about how the success of replication is a product of the environment and available resources. It is most certainly not mutually exclusive of admitting that the laws of nature would exist without the special class of self replicating molecules, and hence, without natural selection.

Stephen J Gould put it best (for me anyway) - from your link

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He's [Kauffman] trying to understand what aspects of organic order follow from the physical principles of matter, and the mathematical structure of nature, and need not be seen as Darwinian optimalities produced by natural selection.

He's following in the structuralist tradition, which should not be seen as contrary to Darwin but as helpful to Darwin. Structural principles set constraints, and natural selection must work within them. His "order for free" is an outcome of sets of constraints; it shows that a great deal of order can be produced just from the physical attributes of matter and the structural principles of organization

Natural selection is somewhat of a given, and really is well understood. We can chat about it sometime if you like. The better place to look, and where Kauffman seems to be going, is the basic properties of matter and how they result in emergent behaviour. I'm with you on the possibility of these representing something profound, but disagree that it reflects at all on natural selection (it is well known that natural selection does not do everything, but everything occurs under its shadow and the mathematics of any traits survival, no matter its selection or generation, depend on how natural selection views it). Even intelligent design does not affect natural selection, instead just popping new information here and there for it to work with. The only thing that would affect natural selection would be some type of complete replacement (since it over-arches everything else; even if aliens added information natural selection could still destroy it if it suited), which would remove free will since all the properties of each replication would have to be controlled down to who replicates with who, when they do it, and the state of their molecules prior to and after the replication - as well as all the events that might bump them off before replication. Natural selection is the best defense for free will that we have.

Following on from that thought we are left to deal with what natural selection works with.

Sometimes the implication is that natural selection does not exist or is mistaken in some way; when people misunderstand that it is an unavoidable process acting on an engine occurring underneath, and try and remove it or reduce it as an important process. Even sexual selection and genetic drift are ultimately guided and clipped by natural selection since you can't reproduce if you are dead.

Random mutation is said to be the engine providing the diversity for the different selections to work on (then ultimately natural selection to oversee and test).

I'm in two minds with random mutation. I can accept that the majority of mutation either does nothing or is fatal to an organism, which I don't find to be helpful to the argument that it is directed in some way, but can understand if mutations occur randomly (even if the frequency of randomness is different in different portions of the genome).

Secondly randomness as opposed to non-randomness is so easy to see with frequency analysis, and especially if the outcome can be tested against utility, that I would be utterly amazed if it had been missed. Bare in mind we are dealing with philosophy vs science here. The idea that mutation is guided is a philosophical idea for which I have seen no evidence. The idea that mutation is random comes from studying the rates and locations of mutations on real genomes in the lab.

If you take a known quantity of biological organisms (single celled etc) in a jar (i think they call them chemostats) and inject the same number as are dying so that the number of organisms remains the same then add a predator, such as a virus, and test for the evolution of resistance to the virus taking random samples of the population then you can check whether the frequency and location of mutations is indeed random, and then whether random mutations occurring in sections that give some protection to your inserted predator are being selected for and increasing the number of the organisms with the mutation.

This is exactly the experiment that has been done, many times, and what is found is that the mutations occur randomly and are not occurring in a mathematical manner outside of the bounds of statistical likelihood, which might indicate that some principle is favouring the 'correct type' of mutations earlier than they would occur through randomness - in which case there would be a higher chance of the correct mutation occurring at the correct location.

After this I just think back to how much variation we have been able to affect in our dog breeds (from Great Dane to Jack Russell) in a matter of hundreds to thousands of years, then imagine what would happen if we had 2,500,000,000 years to do the same. In fact we might make the argument about why it took so long to evolve multi-cellular and multi-organ complexity if there is an underlying principle creating non-random mutation. Mathematical analysis can be preformed on the timelines available to cross-check whether the frequency of random mutation fits the timeline given the required increase in complexity at each stage and as far as I am aware these fit the geological timescale, not the shorter timescale that non-randomness should be able to achieve, even if non-randomness was designed to model the environment in the way natural selection does, rather than some preferred philosophical ideas of just getting to us (at each stage non-random direction would still need to map to the changing geological environment; the history of which would differ on different planets, so the non-random principle would need to be variable enough to cope with different geological histories).

Sorry, had to write this quickly... Later...

markw's picture
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(and it's worth noting that Kevin Moore is a skeptic of an imminent singularity).

In fact Moore isn't just a sceptic. In a 2008 IEEE Spectrum article, Gordon Moore commented on his own personal perception of the plausibility of technological singularity. Moore's argument was essentially that he considers it unlikely to ever occur because of the complexity with which the human brain operates.

Personally I'm not so sure about that, but I don't think it will be happening anytime in the near future. Whilst our technological growth of course isn't near as random as say a game of bingo it also isn't strictly exponential. The physicist Theodore Modis wrote an article, "The Singularity Myth," in which he does a good job of showcasing that in countless real world examples, growth which initially appears to be exponential actually follows a logistic "S-curve". Why technological growth should be any different I don't see - so in brief, I do believe that there will be a technological singularity one day, but don't think there's any point is attempting to predict it.

petelyon73's picture
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oww.... my head hurts after reading all this
I find the "Transducer" analogy brilliant.... so would that not already make us a singularity, just having an individual "physical' experience?
Do we just get one crack at it or do we get afew?
Are we individual entities as part of a singularity or some Velikovskian collective conscienceness?

think I'll have to share a beer with the universe while i watch the Southern Cross clock over this one

Cheers

We will always ask questions, for as long as the sky is blue and our arse points to the ground.

emlong's picture
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One of my high school friends had an IQ of around 180, entered Harvard as a sophomore, etc. He was certainly way smarter quantitatively than the rest of us and also somewhat polymathic such that the high school bowl my high school won in Texas that year could have been taken on single handedly by this genius. There wasn't much he did not know about though he had a curious deficit in understanding the nuances of fiction writing and complex human emotion. There may have been a touch of Aspergers there.
Robert was a sort of oracle for us in some ways, but there were entire areas of life and human interaction that either bored him or were beyond him. He was capable of leading us into the arcane realms of advanced calculus,jazz music,history, whatever; but he was strangely inept at forming human relationships. As much as we admired him we also frequently "turned him off." There were areas of life in which he was just of no use whatsoever and a bore to be around. I have this feeling that super computers will sort of be in the same category. They will dazzle us but also bore us, and we will have to unplug them at times.
Perhaps another useful example is that of the hyper intelligent ET with the bulbous head and the preternatural intelligence and eyes that bore knowingly into your soul. True, they could o'ermaster us in a nonce, but we do not always go willingly, and we find some of them terribly boring from I hear. If we are not willing to "get with their program" and they are kindly enough not to drag us kicking and screaming into some realm of hyperrationality and an annihilation of primitive human emotions and desires then we will probably elect to remain primitive and to evolve at out own much slower pace. If a singularity is surpassed and we find ourselves consulting with a level of intelligence that is beyond our ken then there is no guarantee we will put our trust in such an intelligence to the extent that we blindly follow where it leads.