by Randall Auxier
I hear a new world is coming. I guess that’s always true, depending on the meaning of “new.” But this one is supposed to be, like, really really new –so different we can’t imagine it now. According to Ray Kurzweil, it’s about 29 years away, give or take a few months. He calls it the “Technological Singularity.” Given the exponential increase in technology (which he demonstrates mathematically), we will map, match, and quickly surpass human brain function.
We will become trans-biological and then post-biological, living on the interwebs. This includes our emotional intelligence, our compassion, our sympathy and empathy, our mutual understanding, Kurzweil predicts. We will all be able to know instantly whatever anyone has ever known. Ignorance will be gone, along with stupidity and needless fear (such as motivates racism and sexism and Trump voters). You’ll also be able to do calculus, finally. Not that you’ll need to.
Kurzweil says we are currently at the “event horizon” of the history of our ignorance. It’s an analogy from cosmology. The light that just barely fails to escape the gravitational pull of the collapsed star(s) at the center of a black hole forms a boundary, somehow. That light never “moves,” it supposedly just is. Must be blindingly bright “there” (although this isn’t a “place,” by definition, neither is it a “time”). I am not convinced gravitational black holes exist. The “scientists” who postulate them are highly ideological, anti-philosophical partisans of General Relativity. I will be glad when Kurzweil’s Singularity arrives, since it will expose the mathematico-mystical sham that just is our current model of gravitational cosmology. My guess about correcting the Gravitynuts is frozen light. The holes are black because they’re utterly rarified, not dense. This is my idea, not Lene Hau‘s, but at ;east she isn’t crazy, even if I am.
But this idea of the “event horizon” can be profitably borrowed. It means we pass from the way we currently are into something unimaginably different. Everything is altered. It would feel like being the light escaping from that eternal (and presumably solipsized) darkness. After the Singularity, we’ll supposedly know what it’s like to be any of us, more like a beam of light traveling the universe than like the poor isolated photons almost crushed and condemned to stasis, or (for us) to repetition, and wasted effort, ending in death and the loss of all we have attained. We won’t have to “die.”
Like travel agents, historians will be jobless. All history, including opinions about it, will be present to and in all of us. But we will still have philosophers. They won’t be the petty, lazy, academic type, nor will they suffer from science-envy. They’ll be less frightened and will finally know the whole of their own history, including the philosophies of the Eastern world. Currently most “philosophers” feel they are obliged to “specialize” because it takes years and effort to master one area of philosophical thought. (It’s an elaborate excuse for laziness.) What will these philosophers will think about? That’s for another time.
You may ask: “Auxier, do you believe this prediction about the Singularity?” Not the details. Never believe a computer scientist assessing human nature, and especially post-human human nature. Still, it won’t be long before you’ll have an implant with all the content of the Cloud at your instant command. You won’t need what we still (quaintly) call “a phone.”
Will we gain the compassion, empathy, even wisdom promised by Kurzweil? I doubt it. Maybe a bit. Brain science isn’t as advanced as he thinks, and we aren’t just brains. We will not easily be coaxed toward the angelic. Moral growth doesn’t come from knowledge alone, and mutual understanding breeds both hate and love. If people knew what you really think, would you have more friends or fewer? And transhumanism is absurd, as a philosophy. But yes, a huge change is coming. Chuck Klosterman is an insightful guide about what to expect.
Artists? We’ll definitely have artists. The alienated, misunderstood self-conscious geniuses among them will confront and struggle against the dehumanizing power of all this technology. But that is not the right track. Crispin Sartwell offers a better solution to the “problem” in the climax of The Art of Living: “There is no solution.” Because there is no special problem of technology. Technology is what we are, and it’s only a problem because we are a problem to ourselves. That one won’t be solved. To attack technology is to attack us, without wanting to admit it. If we don’t like us (and we don’t), why single out technology for peculiar abuse? Sartwell is correct.
Art is one way we address the problem of us. It creates meaning and criticizes unmeaning. That is what Justin Casquejo is doing with his crew and his selfie stick and his iPhone. Sartwell could not have foreseen this kind of art in 1994 when he was writing The Art of Living. But he made room for it. To embrace living as an art is to embrace “the problem of existing” as an aesthetic opportunity, and that includes our spiritual dimension.
Sartwell advocates wu wei, the Daoist notion of following only those ways that are harmonious with the universe, so that acting becomes not acting at all. I see unconscious moments of wu wei in Casquejo’s art. He has learned to “abide with satisfaction within technology itself.” (p. 139). That’s why he isn’t afraid. I see it in Brooke Shaden’s work too. That’s why she isn’t afraid. But good art is rare. Wu wei is easy in principle, but it eludes us.
I also see sometimes wu wei in Hip-Hop Culture, when its allows itself to become what it is. I especially like the graffiti. In rare cases, I see it in the Nashville music cult. Barack Obama has had a fair dose of wu wei. He was artful, if not quite an artist, in his handling of every problem that arose. Nothing fazed him. He made it look easy. We know it isn’t. That artfulness will be remembered, and the more fondly as we see the contrasting case on the horizon. I foresee a lot of Obama graffiti coming. Not many country songs, though.
Living is aesthetic to the core. It always has been, always will be. The open question is about learning to spiritualize that art. Sartwell takes a “less gets you more” view of the task. I think that’s wise.