The Ghost in the Machine

February 24, 2011 § 9 Comments

By: Tai Carmen

“….Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold…”

W.B. Yeats, from  Sailing to Byzantium

Coined by British philosopher Gilbert Ryle to describe Rene Descartes‘ concept of mind-body dualism, the phrase “The ghost in the machine” was originally intended as a metaphor. These days it takes on a more literal meaning.

Author/inventor Raymond Kurzweil, for instance, postulates that by 2045 we will have incorporated our technology into our very selves. He predicts this will be out of necessity, to keep up with the super-intelligent machines we ourselves have created.

Not just that, but he suspects that within the next thirty years we will witness the uploading of the human consciousness or brain to computer systems, an ambition upon which  many are working to make reality as I write.

Coming from just anyone, these predictions would seem outlandish. But Kurzweil is a respected and accomplished inventor, holding 19 honorary doctorates, honored by American presidents for his contributions to the scientific community. Bill Gates has called him “the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence.”

In a recent Time magazine article on Kurzweil and his futurist ideas, author Lev Grossman encourages the reader to leave their gut reactions at the door:

“There’s an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it’s an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.”

According to Kurzweil, a technological singularity –– known more popularly as “The Singularity” — will occur in the foreseeable future, wherein rapidly accelerating knowledge about nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, computer science, biotechnology and genetics will combine to create the perfect storm wherein a paradigm shift will occur so profound that it will change “the world as we know it” in record time. After all,  technology is developing exponentially, each breakthrough generating a new constellation of breakthroughs.

There are already transhumanist clubs and conventions that attract thousands.

Transhumanism is a cultural/intellectual movement advocating human augmentation through technology. But we’re not just talking prosthetic arms here, we’re talking goals of human immortality through machines — scientists working quite seriously towards transferring human consciousness from its corporeal form into the body of a robot.

If this sounds like science fiction, keep in mind that science fiction has predicted nearly every technological advancement we now perceive as commonplace, from space travel to submarines.

In 1998, a British scientist and professor of cybernetics, Kevin Warwick, became the first human cyborg. Warwick had a small radio transmitter chip implanted under his skin, which could affect lights turning on and off, doors opening and closing, etc. (Hasn’t he ever heard of “clap on, clap off?”)

Encouraged by this success, in 2002 Warwick had a neural interface implanted in his nervous system. That too was successful. Later, a simpler array was implanted into Warwick’s wife. The aim was to create a form of telepathy or empathy using the Internet to communicate the signal from afar. Though significant telepathy was not achieved, some signals were exchanged, resulting in the first purely electronic communication between the nervous systems of two humans.

The transhumanist trend has been showing up more and more in pop culture as well…

It’s not a question of if our humanity will become augmented (and simultaneously, paradoxically, perhaps diminished) by technology, but when and how.

The potential for nightmare scenarios — the Darwinian error of creating entities more powerful than oneself with minds of their own — remains a realistic concern, but not a momentum-stopper, apparently. And perhaps reasonably so: if we let fear and paranoia rule our imaginations, after all, we repress our potential. On the other hand, brazen utopianism with hubristic disregard for basic intuitive reservation has gotten more than a few people in trouble. I suppose the phrase “proceed with caution” would be particularly meaningful here.

“We will transcend all of the limitations of our biology,” says Raymond Kurzweil. “That is what it means to be human — to extend who we are.”

A good argument. But many would argue that becoming machinelike is the exact opposite of what it means to be human. Without the prospect of death to motivate living each day to the fullest, without imperfection to give poignancy, what will we become? And what if we are the spiritual equivalent of caterpillars designing ways to remain caterpillars indefinitely, unwittingly thwarting our destiny as butterflies?

The Human Soul and The Floating Man

February 10, 2011 § 7 Comments

By: Tai Carmen

“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” ~ Bhagavad Gita (2.20)

From the dawn of time people have speculated about the existence of the soul. In ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the soul was demonstrated by a bird with a human head, the Ba; the essence of the individual, post-corporeal form.

The word soul is derived from the Old English sáwol, the etymology of which is suspected to relate with the sea… Scholars speculate that the crossover from sea to soul comes from the early Germanic people’s belief that the souls of the dead existed at the bottom of the sea…a kind of mermaid afterlife.

Drawing on the works of his teacher Socrates, Plato considered the human soul to be the eternal essence of our temporary form. Plato believed that after each body died, the soul returned to subsequent bodies.

The 11th century Persian philosopher Avicenna devised The Floating Man thought experiment to demonstrate human self-awareness and the substantiality of the soul: he directed readers to imagine themselves suspended in mid air, isolated from all sensation. One would still have self-awareness in this scenario, he argues, and thus concludes that the idea of the soul is not logically dependent on any physical thing.

In 1907, the ambitious Dr. Duncan Macdougall undertook an experiment designed to prove the existence of the soul, weighing patients before and after death. His results (though never replicated, and held in debate due to their anecdotal nature,) indicated that moments after death the patient lost a relatively consistent amount of weight. From his research Dr. Macdougall concluded that generally the human soul weighs around 21 grams.

We are all in a way floating, suspended between belief and non-belief. Some of us may be further towards one end of the spectrum, but in the end, both uncertainty and hope are universal. Certainly there is more to us than meets the eye, each person, like a geode rock with a unique and unexpected inner world.

Existence is a thrilling mystery.

If the cosmos is any indicator, we should remain open minded: worlds beyond our imagination surely exist. And we are only able to see so much with the naked eye.

Spaceships over Jerusalem

February 1, 2011 § 4 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational.” ~ Stephen Hawking

Although NASA’s recent discovery of a new kind of life (a bacteria that survives in conditions previously thought uninhabitable) was somewhat less “alien-life-y” than the rumors prefacing the announcement, talk of UFOs has been in the news lately, to an almost eerie degree, starting with Stephen Hawking’s recent announcement that we should not go looking for (or trying to contact) alien races, because:

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach. If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”

By: Liza Phoenix, site credit: http://the-mound-of-sound.blogspot.com/2010/04/stephen-hawking-stay-away-from-aliens.html

Then, this January 28th [2011], some remarkable footage emerged — extremely convincing, if you ask me, and yet to be debunked — videotaped by four separate witnesses.

The footage captures a light hovering oddly for some minutes over Jerusalem’s sacred Mount Zion & The Dome of the Rock, then quickly descending in a vertical drop, disappearing from sight & exiting in a shock of light. (In watching the video, the action starts after the first 55 seconds, so watch it for at least a minute plus, it’s worth it, I promise; very odd.)

According to RevelationMount Zion is where, at the end of time, the Second Coming of Jesus begins —and where the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be established as “The New Jerusalem” comes down out of the heavens onto the earth.

The Dome of the Rock is an ancient Islamic shrine, the significance of which stems from The Foundation Stone within its walls.

Also known as the “Pierced Stone,” this ancient enshrined rock has a small hole on the Southeastern corner that enters a cavern beneath the rock, known as the Well of Souls.

It is believed by some to have been the location of the Holy of Holies in the Temple, and is the holiest site in Judaism. Jewish tradition views it as the spiritual centerpoint of heaven and earth, and Jews, currently and historically, traditionally face the stone while praying.

Islamic tradition holds that Muhammad ascended heavenward from the Foundation Stone, and Jewish legends has it that the Ark of the Covenant is being stored there.

A veritable feast of conspiracy material! Substantive of theories connecting yesterday’s religious gods with today’s UFO sightings.

The place is charged & significant for the world’s most dominant religions. Quite a fancy place to make a show. And the question arises, since the place is so steeped in spiritual/paranormal legend: is it the first time?

“…As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, and like the appearance of lamps: it went up and down among the living creatures; and the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning.” Ezekiel 1:4 – 1:24

In a weird twist, Chinese National television Xinhua reported on January 4th 2011 that the Obama administration may be preparing to disclose government contact with extraterrestrials, on the eve of China President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the United States.

Online sources speculate that a cold war may be developing between leading nations in regards to who will disclose alien contact first, detailing that, while no leader wants to admit ET knowledge, they also may not want another nation to beat them to the punch.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Technology of the Gods!

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