Monday, January 23, 2006

And now for something completely different!

Bob has an interesting quote from UFO-nut/prophet Whitley Streiber in the comments section of the ID debate thread below, regarding Ray Kurweil's predictions:

As far as the close encounter experience is concerned, science is absolutely nowhere. Fantastically, the intellectuals, who so distrust the government in every other regard, swallow its lies about this without the least complaint. Perhaps it’s because the visitors completely shatter the secular view of the world. Or maybe they threaten the fragile ego of the educated human being, whose soul knows that all his fine knowledge is but an engine of forgetting. You cannot be with them without also being with your own truth. Then you see what you really are, a little fragment in a vastness so great, so various and so shockingly, unimaginably conscious that it completely swallows you. To enter the universe as it really is, you’ve got to leave your self-pride far behind, and that is a hard, hard thing to do.

Other worlds have faced these same problems. Understand, there are not all that many worlds with intelligent species on them that have survived very long. Often, they come to tragic ends, undone by chance or, more often, by aggression even more excessive than our own. In some places, though, there have been very remarkable solutions to the survival problem.

Some intelligent species have been able to see that their intelligence was a precious asset that could actually intensify itself. They have learned to increase the quantity of this valuable commodity by altering themselves, by creating machine intelligence, and by conferring it on other species on their planets. As if we'd hit upon the idea of genetically engineering brains to greater intelligence, and included not only ourselves but the animal world as well. In such places, life becomes very, very rich.

But mostly it doesn't happen that way. There are people who worry about the fate of consciousness across the universes. (And there is more than one, as we will soon discover.) They worry because so often intelligence--which is the single most important way station on the road to consciousness--fails. It's incredibly rare, and it fails. Thus the journey toward ecstasy is compromised.

The more consciousness, the more ecstasy, and consciousness cannot come about without intelligence. What is worse, until a species is conscious, intervention is very, very difficult. That's the problem that the visitors are having here. If they intervene openly, our culture totally refocuses itself toward them and all human innovation stops. We end up locked in a state of profound disempowerment that will take many generations to recover, and that will leave a permanent scar.

The visitors cannot reveal themselves to us. We must reveal ourselves to them.

Normally, I don't take much stock in Whitley Streiber's rantings, a mixture of psychism and science-fiction that is hard to take seriously. But in light of Kurzweil's analysis, these kinds of ideas are becoming less fiction and more reality. It sounds like a bad episode of Star Trek, but so has a lot of the last century. There's certainly plenty of reason to believe that we, as a species, are engaged in a battle with our own intelligence. We have developed the intelligence to create a fully conscious life, but we've also developed the intelligence to destroy ourselves many times over by all kinds of means: nuclear, environmental, biological weapons, war and terrorism, the list goes on. The new technologies we are developing that have such promise for creating a paradaisical world also have the potential to utterly destroy us. And at the forefront of our destructive impulse is our religious nature, which seems bent on forcing an armageddon showdown.

KurZweil's book also reminded me of that wonderful old drug-addled crackpot, Dolphin researcher and sensory-deprivation tank explorer of the universe John Lilly, who in the course of his many out-of-the-body experiences on Ketamine repeatedly reported coming across "silicone-based civilizations" floating through outer space in interstellar craft, whose entire populations had uploaded themselves onto computers and lived within virtual worlds onboard. Is that one possible future for us all?

Another poster, Mark Miller, brings up the news from Iran, where the new President is intent on both developing nuclear weapons and forcing a conflict with Israel that he believes will bring the Mahdi, the promised God-Man of his sect of Islam, onto the scene. He's Pat Robertson with nukes and oil. All of this makes Adidam seem like very small potatoes in the scheme of things.

And then of course there's this:

Fortunately, these are a minority of the world's people. One has to continue to have faith that they will not have their way with the rest of us.

I'm also reminded of a wonderfully titled book "Mass Dreams of the Future", in which a group of psychologists studying breathwork-induced past-life memories began asking their subjects to project into the future for the next century or so. The "dreams" or reveries they came up with seemed to fit into three major camps. One was a post-apocalyptic world of dreary survivalism. Another was a new-agey world of touchy-feely paradise. Another was a high-tech world of deadening sterility. The funny thing was that this was about it: no other possibilities seemed to be hidden in anyone's unconscious. And all three of these themes are found in popular fiction and movies. Are people just that unimaginative, or is the future just that boring? One longs for a Monty Python future: and now for something completely different!


Goldeneye said...

There is nothing substantial enough about Whitley Streiber's experiences regarding "the visitors" that would warrent mass attention. We, as yet, do not need to reveal ourselves to these visitors (who well may be just a manifestation of the spirit world) so much as they have the responsibility of revealing a more in-depth and believable reason for contacting us in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Hi Conrad!

Speaking of the future and imaginative projections, there has been an interesting series running on one of the Science-type tee vee channels, done by the same folks who produced the wonderful "Walking with Dinosaurs". It is called, "The Future Is Wild", and starts with the assumption that humans have either left the planet somehow, or become extinct, based on earth long-term changes.
Then it projects what kinds of critters would end up walking around on the planet, 5 million years from now, then 50 million, then 200 million, and it is really quite fascinating to see the imaginative blend of special effects and evolutionary theory they use to paint their picture of the far distant times on earth. Worth checking out if you see it come up in the media.


Anonymous said...

PS: here's a url to the show I mentioned:

The Future is Wild

JB said...

That Mass Dreams Of The Future book sounds great. I've been thinking about whether there isn't something more creative than the three possibilities that the dreamers envisioned. There are some great end-of-world scenarios on, btw, a site I think you'll dig a lot if you haven't dug it already.

Anyway, let's think in Wilberian quadrant-y terms and say, for sake of argument, that these dream-visions represent extrapolations of the human impulses of religion and science. The post-apocolyptic survival thing is pretty clearly a result of both science and religion gone mad (blowing stuff up for God). Techno-hell is science, maxed out in a bad way, minus the religion. And New Age paradise is religion, maxed out in a good but rather lame way, prolly without a whole lot of science.

This is where Kurzweil's evolution-y cybog stuff comes in. Why not be scientifically smart AND religiously excellent? You know, a Star Trek/Star Wars kinda deal, meets kick-ass jungle doctor, virus-fighting stuff? Why not? That's a whole lot more interesting than the Mass Dreams scenarios, which basically envision a collapse of both or either of the "head" and "heart" faculties, with the one left standing running amok.

I think these impulses are also what lies behind the appeal of the Burning Man festival, basically a big freaky arts festival "happening" out in the Nevada desert, because that's a scene where people willingly make the best of all three of those Mass Dreams scenarios. They're out in the middle of the desert, trying to rock out for a few days and leave no trace, so they've gotta deal with some survivalistic stuff (admittedly with no small overhead going in). They're harnessing technology to explore Kurzweilian, psychedelic, technological type themes. And the ethos's of the participants are diverse, but with some common idealistic and communitarian themes, grounded by the practicality of trying to make it happen and keep it together out in the middle of nowhere.

In other words, why not do some art (a/o religion, depending on your taste) and some science together, and incubate them voluntarily, and maybe some of the things that develop can seed some good ideas: genuinely positive one, but also interesting and intellectually bracing? I can get into dreaming those kinds of futures, and they sure do seem more interesting than New Age banality, and a lot less crappy than the other two hellacious options. Really, the key thing is to envision and do SOMETHING that contributes along those lines, and not be paralyzed or intimidated by all the doofi doing nothing, or doing stupid things. Which is pretty much what most of my friends are doing, in one way or another, and to varying degrees.

This all reminds me of a saying a friend of mine heard at work:

"Our purpose on earth is do make life better for others.
What the others are here for, I don't know!"

We'll have to come up with something. Our species didn't get smart by being coddled by mother nature. At this point, absent an asteroid or something, we've got to avoid screwing ourselves, and evolve past the point where that's an overwhelming risk. Whatever happens, I suspect our creativity will keep things going somehow, even if it's not as lovey-dovey as we'd like. To close with another quote, this time from Ween. the greatest band on the planet:

"though love has its place in the sun
It's only man's fear that carries him on..."