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Nov 14 2012

The Great Consciousness Swindle: Why Philosophers Will Never Find Consciousness, And Why They Secretly Don’t Want To

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As someone who writes regularly on aspects of the brain and consciousness, I have recently received a large amount of correspondence from people wondering what I think about a news article linking consciousness to quantum gravity in cellular microtubules, and how this model could offer “proof” of the soul’s ability to survive outside the body through some kind of nonlocal quantum hocus-pocus.[1] Even though this theory is presented purely as an exercise in theoretical mathematics, because it was suggested by Roger Penrose, a lauded and respected mathematician and philosopher, many people have jumped to the conclusion that this theory is not only correct, but that it somehow “proves” that consciousness is eternal, immutable, and can travel in and out of the body like a soul. My personal take on the theory is that it is garbage disguised as science, and not only is it wrong, it perpetuates a myth of consciousness that philosophers have been using to mislead gullible believers for centuries.

What is the myth of consciousness that Penrose is perpetuating? The central myth of this theory is that consciousness is a “thing”, and that consciousness “exists” in some “place” that we can’t  see. I call this the “invisible mind” model of consciousness, and the invisible mind model basically says, “Consciousness is so ineffable and mysterious that no material description is sufficient to define its boundaries. Therefore, we must assume that consciousness is an immaterial or ‘phantom’ presence we can’t locate or measure, trapped somewhere inside the organic machinery of the body.” This model is also known as Dualism, which claims that in addition to the material body there is also an immaterial “mind”, “spirit”, or “soul” that inhabits the host. The greatest feature of Dualism, as far as I can tell, is that Dualism claims the mind and spirit are immaterial and invisible, and therefore can never be accurately measured or described. And here is where the great swindle takes place. If I can convince you that something invisible exists, like an “invisible mind”, but I also say it is immaterial and can never be measured, then I have just made myself an expert in something that does not actually exist, but also cannot be disproven. In academia this is called “philosophy”, but in laymans terms this is called “bullshit”. I do not have a degree in philosophy, but I have a PhD in bullshit, and I can always smell it a mile away, and this theory of consciousness smells like bullshit to me.

The great Consciousness swindle, and the myth that Penrose and his ilk keep perpetuating, is the assumption that “Consciousness,” with a capital C, is so complex and mysterious that stupid blind neuroscientists can never explain it all with their crude, classical, materialistic descriptions. This, of course, is a complete intellectual fallacy. Scientists who study the brain understand that “consciousness,” with a lowercase c, is not a “thing” with a “location”, but is instead the abstract process of being self-aware, or a relative measurement of general self-awareness. When you talk about consciousness with a lowercase c, then it becomes easy to see that consciousness is not mysterious at all, it is a description of our everyday waking life. For humans, consciousness comes online when we wake up and goes through peaks and valleys throughout the day. Consciousness gets hungry, tired, bored, excited, aroused, irritated, distracted, and so on, until we go back to sleep and consciousness disappears and we become “unconscious”. Then consciousness comes back online in a very limited “secure test environment” for a few seconds at a time while we dream, then it disappears again. And when we wake up the cycle resets and consciousness starts a new day. The system of consciousness is mediated by many areas and functions of the brain, and when one area of the brain is damaged the area of consciousness mediated by that area of the brain is also damaged. Consciousness is material, it is a material thing that relies on material neurons and material fuel and material stimulus to work correctly. We only think it is invisible because it is inside the head, but having looked in a few heads I can tell you for a fact it is not invisible in there. There is actual stuff happening in the brain as it twitches with activity, and that stuff is consciousness.

This materialistic description of consciousness simple, it is testable, you can see it in action. It is not mysterious and ineffable, it is functional and it works. How do we know this is the correct description of consciousness? When something goes wrong with your ability to think, do you go to a philosopher to tell you that your Consciousness is mysterious and invisible and cannot be measured? Does it help if he tells you that Consciousness is a function of quantum gravity in microtubules, or that your consciousness is a fundamental force of the universe that predates life? What if your doctor tells you that Consciousness flows through you like air or water, or that everything is Consciousness? Does that help you fix your brain to think better and manage your daily life? No, that doesn’t help at all, that is just some smoke blown up your ass by fake gurus who want to sell books. When you really have a problem with your consciousness you don’t go see a philosopher, you go see a neuroscientist who can diagnose you and fix the problem, because the neuroscientist generally understands how the brain works. The philosopher only understands bullshit about invisible minds, and that bullshit may be fascinating, but it will never fix your brain or help you understand how consciousness actually works.

So why the swindle? What is going on here? Why would someone want to convince you, me, and everyone in the world that an invisible mind exists? The obvious answer, to me, is that it is an easy way to sell books and publish papers without doing any actual research, because the thing that “Consciousness” researchers claim to be experts on is conveniently invisible. But beyond that, why would so many people willingly accept this non-description of invisible mind as “truth” when it is clearly a shell game far beyond the level of rational testability? I think the swindle reduces itself to the fact that humans have an inflated view of themselves, and also tend to invent invisible forces to explain things they don’t understand. Consciousness with a capital C is one of these mythical invisible forces that makes humans feel special about themselves, and if you claim to be an “expert” in this invisible force you never have to do any research or produce any results. But once Consciousness with a capital C is defined as a crude biological process that can be measured in waves of self-awareness that fluctuate throughout the day, all the philosophers who rely on Consciousness being a mystical primal force of the universe are out of work. They need to go back to talking about the soul or invent another invisible force to chase, because as of this article, the Big C Consciousness racket is officially over. I am calling bullshit on anyone who steps into this field from now on.

How do I know that the Consciousness swindle is a racket, for sure? What is my proof? In the logical deconstruction of the Dualistic definition of the variable [Consciousness] : “[Consciousness] is a mysterious metaphysical force that animates matter, and all animated matter is imbued with [Consciousness]”. Now take this same definition and substitute the words “God”, “demon”, “magic”, “spirit”, or “soul” in the place of Consciousness and see if the argument of the invisible mind changes. It does not. Let’s go back to the Penrose conjecture and say, “The mysterious force of [Consciousness] is mediated by quantum gravity in microtubules.” Now substitute the word Consciousness with the array of alternatives I described above. Does the argument change? No. Now substitute the words “hyperdimensional alien telepathy” or “quantum spirit beetles” or “psychoplasm” or “morphic field” or “subatomic pink elephant semen” for “Consciousness”. Now substitute all those words when talking about an invisible mind hidden in the body, or an invisible penetrating force that informs all organism-level intelligence. Does the Dualistic argument change one bit when we change the essential word of the argument to gibberish? The argument does not change. That is because if you are arguing for the existence of something immaterial that is invisible and cannot be measured, you have not really defined what you are looking for, and can insert literally any nonsense word or concept into the argument and it is the same fundamental argument. This is the core of the Consciousness swindle, and you can tell it is the same old swindle because the word  “consciousness” can be substituted for “God” or “soul” and it still means, “Something I claim is mysterious and invisible that cannot be measured that only I understand.” To me, this is the classical definition of bullshit.

When it comes to “consciousness” there is a lot of bullshit out there, and when bullshit comes from a respected scientist or MD and is picked up by the media, it is sometimes hard to tell how badly the bullshit smells. But when it comes to “theories of consciousness,” the proof is in the neuroscience. Modern neuroscience has neatly defined all the major brain functions and primary locations of the functions that mediate consciousness. Most of the “mystery” of consciousness has been taken out of the “consciousness is mysterious” argument. So if any argument begins with the presumption that consciousness is “mysterious” or that consciousness “has not been properly located or defined,” then that is immediately a bullshit theory. Any theory of consciousness that begins with the “mystery” assumption is not really looking for “consciousness”, it is looking for the invisible mind, or a God, or a soul, or is looking for a way to sell books to people who do not understand the brain. Philosophers would rather believe “consciousness” is a “mysterious animating force” because it sounds cooler that way and it gives them something interesting to bullshit about. And for the people who buy into these theories of invisible mind, they are always happy to believe in mysterious invisible forces until something goes wrong with their own mind, and then they go running to a psychotherapist or a neurosurgeon like Sanjay Gupta fix their “consciousness” like it was a car engine to be tweaked and tuned. That’s because consciousness is like the humming of a car engine, and a good neuroscientist can diagnose operational issues of the mind just by testing and measuring. Neuroscience can’t fix all problems with consciousness, but it can fix many of them, and it can measure and diagnose almost all of them, which is way more than any trendy quantum theory of consciousness can ever hope to achieve. Because this is the simple truth: Any theory that purports to understand consciousness, but does not support the crude operational model of self-awareness built on a substrate of neural spikes in a synaptic neural network, is bullshit. Because the consciousness built on neural spikes in a synaptic network is our everyday consciousness. It can be modeled, measured, diagnosed, operated on, tested, damaged, and corrected. The other definition of Consciousness, with a big C, does not meet these tests, and does not help anybody understand anything at all. And what does that smell like to me? You guessed it.

[1] http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/quantum-scientists-offer-proof-soul-exists/story-fneszs56-1226507452687

James Kent is the author of Psychedelic Information Theory: Shamanism in the Age of Reason

Nov 11 2012

Encouraging Developments In Quadcopters (w. Lots Of Video)

As I was doing my daily random browsing of interesting links, I came across a very interesting article by Mark Bruce, one of my regular readers and commenters, which had a huge list of links related to quadcopters and other “drones” that covered a very broad range of advances over the last couple of years. I was pleasantly surprised by several that I found to be very encouraging towards the development of many of the predictions I have made about quadcopters and drones in the past.

The first is this video showing the test flight of a “drone” capable of carrying the full weight of a man run by electric motors:

While this is very primitive, it does show that drones can be built at nearly any scale. Anyone thinking that size is an obstacle to using drones for such things as freight moving or heavy construction should realize that it is not an issue. In addition to autonomous drones being used to carry materials, this also illustrates another possibility, the long sought after “flying car”. A properly programmed drone could be made that could revolutionize the Taxi industry as easily as it could the delivery business. Even fixed wing planes are proving the usefulness of “Drone Delivery”:

Yes, that is a small plane flying to a programmed location and dropping a payload. Now, imagine how much more versatile a quadrotor would be in the same application. Imagine a large Drone delivering a tank to a remote location.  Oh, and if you think something like the load swinging around under a Drone might be a problem, think again:

Nor has the weapon’s platform concept gone unnoticed:

Yes, that’s right. That is the COD: Black Ops 2 Quadrotor… in real life, filmed PRIOR to the game’s release.  While some people claim the video is a fake, the technical ability to build one exists.

Then of course we have such useful, non-military applications, such as the ability to track and follow an individual: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4x4d8IX_0kI

Okay, so it could be used in a military capacity, but the ability of the drone to follow a specific individual has enormous potential in every day life as well, some of which I pointed out in my fictional “Interview” article. Imagine a device that can follow you around automatically. Now, think Big Brother, Amazing Race, and Survivor, without the presence of cameramen. Imagine the next Big Movie created by a director able to record dozens of angles simultaneously. Imagine news reporters followed around by an automated camera.

Autodesk certainly hasn’t missed the possibilities. They used a quad to capture still images for their 123D Catch software, which then rendered it into a 3D model:

As one poster astutely commented, “this is 2 steps away from “videogame maps made dirt cheap”.”

Now, take that same software and add in autonomous mapping abilities like this:

And then think about the mapping drones used in “Prometheus”… oh wait, they already did:

And:

Very interesting stuff, no? And if you think that only universities, corporations and the military could play around with things like this, this video should burst that bubble:

So, tell me, do any of you still think that quadcopter drones won’t have a very large impact on the future? From Remote Telepresence Units to Delivery Drones to Construction Drones to Making the Mirrorworld, and even potential uses as a “Personal Assistant”, it would seem to me that things are proceeding exactly as I predicted.

And thank you to Mark Bruce for the links!

 

Nov 09 2012

First Glimpse Of MONDO 2000 History Project Archives: Complete Issue #1 Of High Frontiers (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #39)

The following is a rough draft excerpt from Chapter Six — titled “Funky Punky Acid Rag” of the book in progress, Use Your Hallucinations: MONDO 2000 In Late 20th Century Cyberculture along with a link to the first glimpse of the MONDO 2000 History Project archives, being organized by the Internet Archive.

We did a really ratty first issue of High Frontiers… with a lot of different type sizes.  A very funky on-the-cheap layout. There was a lot of text, because I had transcribed these long interviews with psychedelics heroes, so some of it wound up being in absurdly tiny type that made the New York Times look like a children’s book by comparison.

For visuals, we started clipping these old black and white pictures that looked like they were ads out of the 1950’s Reader’s Digest or Life Magazine. I think that was Mau Mau’s move.  We did it entirely because it made us giggle. I was also aware that these sort of recontextualizations of corny 1950s/60s graphics had been used in beneath-the-underground publishing. I’m sure Mau Mau had seen that in places also.  I particularly associated it with the dadaists. So we used these silly images in ways that almost mocked the subjects that we actually respected, which I thought was an acceptable way to carry on amongst the hip.

On one inside page, we advertised ourselves as running for President (me) and Vice President (Mau Mau) in the 1984 election under the moniker of the NeoPsychedelic Pop Party. Unlike my eventual 2000 candidacy, there was no plan for any follow through — it was a total put on as compared to mostly a put on.  Mau Mau came up with the best slogan:  “Somerset Mau Mau: The Peace Candidate. ‘Vote for me and nobody gets hurt.’”  I’ve wanted to steal that line ever since.

Perhaps the most outrageous and dangerous aspect of that page and, in fact, the entire edition — dangerous at least to my future career amongst counterculture celebrities — came about as the result of something Lisa, the girl I moved to California with, had done.  One day I’d brought home an edition of a free local paper called Poetry Flash that had this smallish photo of William Burroughs on one of the pages.  Lisa cut out the photo and drew an apple on Burroughs’ head… which I thought was just hilarious.  (Lisa had been famous as the fiery campus feminist… but this was done more in humor than anger.)  Anyway, I had that and we added it to the  NeoPsychedelic Pop Party collage.

Looking back, I was very naïve about how irreverent you could be towards irreverent countercultural celebrities who were themselves irreverent.  There’s a certain inevitable degree of dishing it out but not taking it in that game. Not that I ever got into trouble with the Burroughs camp over it.  I don’t think they ever saw that first issue.  But it’s definitely something I would have thought twice about a few years later.  I’m sure James Grauerholtz (Burroughs’ personal assistant and watchdog) would have freaked.

We finished the issue. I really didn’t give much thought to the visual aesthetics, other than knowing that it was raw and punk.  I just thought we were issuing forth a new revolutionary sensibility…  that the combination of ideas was so amazing and stunning and timely that it would set the world on fire, starting in the Bay Area.

We’d barely talked about the money we needed to publish the thing.  We took it to a local printing press… the Pacific Sun actually ran a printing business… and I think the guy gave us a good price.  I still remember him being amused by our enthusiasm and total lack of a business plan.  I remember getting money from Terence McKenna and that Mau Mau borrowed money from an uncle.  I don’t even remember if I put in any money.  I probably put in my $400.

https://archive.org/details/highfrontiers00rusi

Nov 07 2012

Why Am I Here? Notes On Getting A Second Life

“Why am I here?” I asked myself for the twentieth time in the last hour.

I felt like a fool.  Why had I allowed Shasta to talk me into this?  An idle fantasy?  A chance to escape the humdrum daily grind and allow myself the freedom of just being myself?  This was crazy.  It was going to be just like all the other times.  Disappointing.

“Come to Second Life,” Shasta had said in the IM.  “You can work for me at the bar I’m partners in.  You’ll love it here.”

I trusted her, I really did.  Despite the fact that we had never once met IRL, Shasta has always been a friend and mentor and confidant.  She has always been one of the real believers in my artistic talents, even though I have never really been a successful artist.  I had known her for ten years, and tonight I was going to meet her “face to face” for the first time.  Despite the fact we had been out of touch for two years, when she had found a link to my new internet account, and contacted me, it had been like we had talked only yesterday.

She had begged me to come; to see her new club and to just hang out.  I had been dubious, but let her talk me into it.  I had downloaded the program, set up an account, and signed into the virtual world of Second Life.

I had been in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games before, and while I liked a few, like Ragnarok and Lineage 2, I wasn’t expecting much from Second Life.  It seemed kind of tame actually, a world with no story line, no monsters, no combat outside of a few arenas.  I expected it to be rather boring.  Indeed, just figuring out the basic interface had been confusing, and seemed rather poorly laid out compared to several other MMORPGs I had played recently.  Just figuring out how to make the Avatar of myself had taken most of the hour, it had so many customization options. It took a while, and some aspects of the Avatar really were not well done, particularly hair, but finally, here I stood on the entry platform, a tall white haired bombshell in a tight red top and black mini.

No, I didn’t look anywhere near my IRL appearance, but that was the point, no?  I was here not as the person I was stuck being in RL, but as Valkyrie Ice, Succubus.  For nearly 20 years, from the days of BBS’s and my first appearance in one of the innumerable Red Dragon Inns, Valkyrie Ice has been my online persona and more me than the person I have to pretend to be from day to day.  In “real” life, I have to spend too much of my time being what other people want me to be, from the good little drone work wants to behaving the way people expect me to just to keep the guys in white coats from coming to take me away.  Additionally, as a Transsexual, only online am I free to just be myself; free of the expectations of my RL physical appearance, social status, and gender.

But I didn’t feel right.  Sure I was roughly looking like I should, at least insofar as my human form went, but that has always been the problem with MMORPGs.  I could never get an avatar that was really “ME.”  Call it delusion, past life experience, wishful thinking, whatever, I have always had dreams of being a succubus, a real cloven hoofed, bat winged, spade tailed, and rams-horned demoness with a mischievous and flirtatious streak a mile wide, but not a real gram of evil intent in my body.  SL’s Avatar could be made to match the overall form of face and body, but I was still all too human, and once more feeling like I was wearing yet another mask over my real self. I was half expecting this to be yet another teaser that ended up just being more frustration than fun in the end despite Shasta’s assurances.

And to top it off, I was a human about to walk into a virtual furry strip club.

Yeah, you heard right.  In my daily life, I am L. S. McGill, furry pinup artist without a following, once published in the American Journal of Anthropomorphics. For those of you who have no clue what Anthropomorphism is; it means giving human characteristics to nonhuman things, such as animating a toaster.  Generally though, it is commonly used as a classification for the millions of people like me who feel that they are not “human” at heart, and are instead part animal.  Be it anime cat girls, werewolves, humans with animal ears and tails, right down to full animal forms with human intelligence and speech capabilities, Anthros, or “Furries” make up a significant portion of the online community, and can be found almost everywhere.  Go to almost any fan convention, and you will undoubtedly find some furry costumes, furry merchandise, and of course, Furry fans.  I’ve been drawing furry art most of my life, and despite various attempts to break into the market, I’m still a failure with talent, and a life plagued with bad luck, poverty, and one setback after another.  I am a very good artist, but have difficulty getting my work out where it can be seen and sold.  Basically, I am creative, bright, intelligent, and cursed with an inability to ever get anyone to actually notice any of those things since all anyone ever seems to see is the fact that I am built like a linebacker for the NFL.

Obviously, in the “real” world, if you’re a giant, the only thing you could ever possibly be good at is sports or physical labor.  God forbid you ever want to actually use your brain to make a living.  Being an artist is even worse, since no one who is 6’5” could possibly do anything other than smash things into the ground.  My talents and my A+ certification seem to mean less to employers than my size, so I’ve been forced to make my living most of my life as a bouncer.  My hesitation at the moment wasn’t about walking into a strip club, since I’d worked those for years, it was the fact that for the first time, I wasn’t going into a club as security.

For the first time in my life, even though it was virtual, I was going to leave the shadows at the edges of the bar and step on the stage as one of the dancers.

“This is stupid.  I’m going to make a fool of myself,” I muttered to myself as my fingers hovered over the keyboard and mouse.

Part of my hesitation was the fact that it had been obvious that the furry avatars in Second Life had been little more than an afterthought.  The stock AV was a fox-like head that looked horrible.  It was too big for the body, and looked like a cheap mascot head from Disney world, little more than a sphere with eyes included as part of its texture, and ears and a muzzle tacked on.  The human Avatars were far more complex, with moving eyes and mouths, and extremely customizable, but I had been a furry artist for too many years to think that most furries would settle for a human face, or really want to see a dancer who looked “too human”.  If I had my wings and tail and horns, I might have been a little more confidant, but I had known too many furries to who even my drawings of myself in full succubus form had been “too human.”  Now, as succubae are shape shifters, I could get around that by simply altering my appearance, and had for several years described myself as a white unicorn anthro with sapphire blue hair and mirror polished hooves, horn, and nails, named China Blue.  But I had gotten as tired of those masks as all the others and I was going to be making a real attempt to simply be myself… my real self… instead of yet another mask.  Don’t get me wrong, I like being a shapeshifter, but I was hoping for once to be able to be the me I usually hid away from everybody.

I sighed, then finally stepped off the platform and made my way down the path to the novice island.

 

* * * * *

If you’ve ever played any MMORPG than you should be familiar with the concept of a Novice area.  It’s were newbies to the game can familiarize themselves with the basics without annoying the experienced players.  Second Life was no different.  I ran through the tutorials about movement, camera controls, and how to move and use objects, taking my time and trying to memorize enough to avoid making a complete fool of myself.  By the time I was done, I had mixed impressions about the interface.  For one thing, it was complex.  I had controls for camera movements, self movement, and object use, which was pretty standard, but I also had a dozen options I could see no real use for yet.  I gave up after learning the basics, figuring I’d be unlikely to use the object creation menus, or any of the editing features anytime soon.  Once I was confident I could navigate around, I decided to look up Shasta and find out how to get to where she was.

“Hi Val,” came the return IM a few minutes later.  “I’m a little busy at the moment, but I can send you a TP.”

Yeah, I was dumb.  “Um, what’s a TP?”

“A teleport request.  It’s the most common way to get around.”

A second later, a blue sign popped up on my screen saying Shasta had asked me to join her in Hydrangea, the name of the area where she currently was in the virtual world of SL.  I clicked on the yes button and suddenly found myself falling through a grey void.

Okay, okay, so it wasn’t quite that instantaneous.  I had to wait a few seconds while a load screen appeared and so on, but my arrival in mid air was a bit of a shock.  Before I could hit the page up button to fly though, I landed, and the grey void started filling in around me.

And I suddenly started seeing what made Second Life so attractive.

Shasta filled in at first, and in a few seconds, she had gone from grey to the familiar form I had seen described, and even sketched a few times, but this wasn’t the typical furry cartoon art, this was a 3D person standing before me, with a raccoons head that looked far more realistic than the default furry AV had, a full body fur pattern with a creamy colored belly fur, dark brown main coat, and black “socks” on her hands and feet, and, of course, the obligatory banded tail.

I blinked.  “Oh My God…”

“Welcome to Second Life, Val,” she said, a small text balloon forming over her head as my chat box duplicated her text.  Then a small blue box popped up asking me if it was okay if Shas hugged me.  Still kinda in a daze I clicked yes, and found myself suddenly animated, stepping forward to embrace Shas in a virtual hug so much more real than the typical *hug* of IMs.  “We’re setting up a stage at the moment, but if you’ll hang out for a few, we’ll take you out shopping to get your AV all spruced up.”

Without thinking, I nodded, then smiled at myself as I typed, “Sure.”  I looked around and found a stool nearby, with a funny little pink ball hovering over it.  I had learned how to use objects on the newbie island, so I tried right-clicking, and sure enough, a menu with the option to sit popped up, and my AV jumped over to the chair and sat down facing the “stage” in front of me.

That right there made me stop and think.  It’s a virtual world, my AV doesn’t get tired of standing, but I had automatically taken a seat through an unconscious reflex.  I had reacted exactly like I would have had I been there in the flesh.

Now, go to most MMORPG’s and sitting is a function often used to speed up your recovery of hit points and so on, but what I had just done hadn’t been anything like that, I had simply taken a seat out of the natural human response to seek comfort.

Immersion is a word often bandied about in video game circles, but if you really look at most games, this immersion is almost always limited.  It basically is how much the player feels like they are actually in the game, and it is the little details that truly accomplish this.  In most first person shooters, especially the Id series such as Doom and Quake, they sacrifice realism in level design for various traps, puzzles, and cubbyholes that give cover for player verses player combat.  This means that often times my feeling of immersion is disrupted by a sudden nonsensical obstacle, or by illogical architecture created simply to make it hard to go from A to B.  My favorite games have always been those where the environment around me made SENSE from a real world standpoint.

I had been in numerous bars and clubs, and their virtual counterpoints, and in most of the virtual ones, chairs might have been part of the décor, but to have a completely customized animation solely for sitting in one?  For the next few minutes I bounced around from the stool to a couple of nearby couches, smiling.  It seemed a lot of thought had gone into designing the animations used to make them as realistic and natural as possible.

Then I actually paid attention to what Shas and another employee were doing, and had to giggle.  They were fine tuning a dance ball, basically an object that contains an animation routine that can be used by anyone, much like the pink ball that hovered over the stool I was sitting on.  She and the other person were hovering in mid air, being moved back and forth as Shas adjusted their relative positions, making sure they actually looked like they were touching, but not overlapping too much, and making sure they weren’t in the floor but on it.  During this process they were frozen like mannequins, but when Shas closed the edit menu, suddenly they were doing a swing dance.

I watched, amazed as their AVs swirled and embraced, circled and swung, and began to get a glimmer of what was in store for me as a dancer at the club.  I started looking around and clicking on various items around the room I was in, noticing for the first time that many had Dance! as an option, and suddenly a lot of my nervousness eased up.  I really would be able to dance here, the way I had always dreamed of.

Except… well… I still looked a bit too much like a Barbie doll.  This being a strip club, I knew getting naked was part of the fun.  “So does this game blur out the naked AV like The Sims does?”  I asked.

I heard a laugh over the speakers as Shasta replied.  “Nope.”  Then her clothes vanished, and I discovered another thing that the default AVs lacked that could be supplied by the customizations… Anatomical correctness.  I was grinning like an idiot now.

“Oh my.  I really do hope we can find the things I need to make myself look right.”

I’ll be honest.  As a succubus, I am vain.  I knew how I wanted to look, how I had looked in my dreams for so many years, and I didn’t want to settle for good enough.  I wanted to be the star attraction, the “ZOMG she’s fucking gorgeous” babe that made tongues roll out like cartoon animations, and for once, I was starting to think that here in SL it might be possible.  It wasn’t going to be enough to just have horns and hooves and wings – I wanted to have some that looked damn good.

Shas kept reassuring me that we could probably find everything I needed someplace or another.  I heard about Skins, which are the graphics covering the 3d Avatar model, Prims, which is short for primitives – basically an item made out of simple shapes that is built up like legos into whatever the creator wants, such as Shasta’s raccoon head and tail – and clothing, which went over the basic shape and skin.

Following her adjustments to the dance ball, she showed me how to run a search and we headed to a mall, which in Second Life is pretty much the same as in Real Life, a building containing lots of smaller stores.

After 2 hours teleporting from one mall to another, I had begun to despair.  Oh there were horns, and tails, and wings and hooves galore, but nothing that really matched my desires.  I had settled for the moment for a set of wings and a tail bought from a store called appropriately enough “Devil Girls”, as well as new hair, new clothes, new shoes, and some other oddments, like a walk animation override that changed the default quick step walk into a more sexy hip swaying stride, but it was becoming obvious that I might have to find other options to match my self-image exactly.

So we teleported back to the club, along with a couple of new friends I had made when Shasta had invited them to join us shopping, Jo and Greytail.  Shas had to go, but GT and Jo stayed behind to help me get everything I had just bought fitted and adjusted.  You see, having the ability to adjust almost every aspect of your avatar also means that not everything bought off the rack fits just right, so you do have to tweak the spatial relationships relative to yourself when you wear objects.  It didn’t really take me long to figure out the controls for xyz coordinates and xyz rotations, nor did stretching objects, but had Jo and GT not shown me how to be able to adjust not only objects, but sub-objects within a larger object, I might have been screaming in frustration soon. Then GT showed me how to make objects, and in just a few minutes I had ditched the rather cheesy horns that I had bought as part of the devil girls set for a pair that actually looked like I thought they should that GT made for me on the spot.

And that’s how I learned about the uses for the object creation menu, and started realizing something vitally important about SL that made it completely unique from every other game I had ever played, and made me begin to look at it in an entirely new light.

Second Life isn’t a game in the usual sense.  It’s a simulation, an emulation of the real world, but unlike any other, it’s a simulation that is not 90% developer based.

Unlike The Sims, or all the virtual IM chat programs, or any other program I had seen in years, Second Life is almost entirely the creation of its players.

That’s right, it’s Players.  Its end users.  Not Linden Labs, the developers of Second Life, not the programmers who know how to hack and hexadecimal edit game files, not the few, the select, the elite.  Those people were all in SL to be sure, but they weren’t the people who had made SL what it was.  Linden Labs had created a framework, but even they weren’t responsible for what SL was.

No, SL was something completely new in my experience, and quite possibly everyone else’s as well.  It was a world created by the people who lived in it.  It was a reflection of their hopes, dreams and desires.  It wasn’t a product of a singular vision, or a unified set of ideas, this world was a hodgepodge collection of everything.

In the mall I had been shopping in, not only were there wings and hooves and tails, but they also had X-wing fighters, Stargates, and teleporters.  Amazon fantasy armor sold right next to the full body powered armor Hardsuits from Bubblegum Crisis.  Besides the various furry AVs for sale, there were Demons and Goths and Dark Elves.  Cyborgs-ranging from such simplicities as wrist claws and armored exoskeletons to things as intricate as the full Terminator T101 series endoskeleton-could be found for sale next to Japanese schoolgirl outfits and fairy tale princess dresses.  Be it Anime, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or just everyday, it all had equal space.  I could have dressed in jeans by Bugleboy, or a Gorean slave girl outfit, or Stormtrooper armor, and walked through that mall and no-one would have batted an eye.  I had the absolute freedom to be exactly who I wanted to be, and the only real restrictions were social, so I would want to wear an outfit that hid the appropriate spots if I traveled to a PG rated zone, or if I was just wandering around, but I would have done that anyway.  The point wasn’t the clothes, it was my freedom to be myself that mattered.  And all around me were things that told me that that exact freedom was what mattered to everyone else as well.

Second Life was the world its residents wanted.  Not a world that they had to cope with, or survive in, it was the world they desired.  From sex animations to Space Stations to Angel wings, everything around me was something someone had made simply because they wanted too, and had decided to share with everyone else for a minimal recompense.  Regardless of status, race, social position, or interests, everyone was free to create, to dream, and to make into a kind of reality.  Everybody had an equal footing.

And that is also why I constantly use Second Life and my experiences there as examples in my writing – because Second Life is a model, a prototype if you will, for our world in twenty to thirty years.  It’s the future that we would make if there were no limits to the possible, if our every fantasy and wish could be made real, and as such, despite furries and demons and aliens everywhere, it offers an insight into the very things that make us human, stripped away of the extraneous deadweight of prejudice and preconception.  Like a non-stop fan convention, all of us in SL were role-playing characters, but unlike a fan con, the majority weren’t playing someone else’s creation, we were playing the person we really felt we were.

It took awhile, and I had to learn how to make objects on my own before I was satisfied, but I am myself in SL now.  I have the body that has been part of my dreams for all of my life, and I have the freedom to go anywhere I choose without having to hide who I am.  Unlike the “real” world, I was not forced to be someone I did not feel comfortable as simply because my genetics had dictated I look a certain way, or because society demanded I act a certain way due to that genetic accident. I could simply be myself.

And that made me think.  Based on some of the proposed technological advancements of the near future, there is an extremely high likelihood of medical technology being able to make such changes outside of a virtual world.  As a trans-sexual, I know that we can currently make a male such as myself into a passable female, but there are limitations that I find unacceptable personally.  Yet those limitations grow fewer every year, and the cost of performing such surgery has dropped as they become more commonplace.

When I look at Second Life, and how the people who populate it express their “inner selves”, I am struck by the fact that a desire to change how we look is one of the most commonplace urges shared by the majority of the human race.  Be it as simple as dieting to lose weight to the extremes of sex reassignment surgery, we all have a desire to make our outer self match our mental self image, and before much longer, we will have the technology to do so at a cost that many will be able to afford.

There are numerous possible methods through which such radical reconstruction might be achieved, such as nanotech, biotech, or cybernetics, but the simple fact that such desires exist is almost a guarantee that some sort of method for achieving such radical alterations in human form will come into being.  Like the evolution of the modern cell phone from the appeal of the concept of communicators in the original Star Trek series, Second Life is a showcase of concepts, expressing the desires of its inhabitants and allowing a virtual test drive of them, so that we can see what concepts work, and which don’t.  From such things as virtual land baronies to virtual banks to the legality and acceptability an adult playing a child like avatar while engaging in adult activities, SL is likely to set the course and policies that will eventually govern the development of “Cyberspace”, the term coined by William Gibson for the virtual reality world which co-exists and interacts with the real word in his “cyberpunk” novels.  Like the communicator/cell phone example above, I believe the simple existence of Second Life will create a demand in real life for the kind of things available in virtuality

It’s simple supply and demand philosophy.  Demands were made that lead to the development of the supplies needed to meet the demand.  Every item made in SL by a player was created to supply a demand, be it as simple as better looking hair to such complex items as large scale virtual space craft.  Using myself as an example, my demand to look exactly as I had envisioned in my dreams lead to my creating a completely custom avatar, in which every item that I wear is my own creation.  I own the intellectual property rights for all of it, and having now met my own demand, I have a supply available to meet the demands of others who wish to look like me, or just like a particular aspect.  In a similar fashion, by the demands being met in SL, I see a demand being created in the real world for what’s available in the virtual, and that means that someone is going to be finding a way to meet that demand.

And it was this realization that first led me to begin formalizing the various observations I have been making for decades into written form. My experiences in Second Life made me begin to look far more closely and deeply into the way in which technological advance actually affect our social and political realities. Having the freedom to actually be myself showed me just how fundamentally different the world would be as that continuing advance forced us to adapt.

And that is why I am sharing that initial experience with you. Whatever you think of me, my desires to be a succubus, or my views about the radical changes we are about to undergo, I’m just a human, like you. It’s just as novel, hard to conceptualize, and even a little unnerving for me too. But I’m willing to face it without fear, and use logic, reason, and an open mind to analyze it,

Nov 04 2012

Upcoming Humanity Plus Conference On Writing — An Interview With Natasha Vita-More

Humanity Plus is sponsoring a conference on “Writing The Future” in San Francisco on December 1 – 2.  Among those presenting are Aubrey de Grey, Natasha Vita-More, Jamais Casio, Ben Goertzel, Max More, Sonia Arrison and David Brin.  Oh, and me.  I’m looking forward to it.

I interviewed Natasha Vita-More, Chairman of Humanity Plus, about the upcoming event and about the topic of writing

R.U. Sirius: What inspired you (and H+)  to  choose Writing The Future as this year’s theme?

Natasha Vita-More:I started thinking about the abbreviations of language and how human language grew out of symbols and how our cognitive abilities to imagine, problem-solve, and innovate has advanced. Yet, somehow we have reverted back to simple marks. This is easy and quick, and can be a lot of fun. It is also indicative of a tendency to quick-fix explanations and directions. Even though this can marvelously suffice for more lengthy bits of information, often they do not. A distinct amount of misinformation can be cut and paste into a new documents without references and often without contextualization, leaving readers to assume one thing or another, rather than the original meaning of the information, or the author’s original intend, and from which the knowledge sprung. Sometimes writers get it right – like Kevin Kelly, and sometimes they lead us off into the wilds of hyperbole, or second and third hand reporting. Having spent 20+ years writing about future-oriented ideas, I can identify my own lack of in-depth reporting. And having been interviewed for major publications for the same amount of time, I recognize how others misquoted me and even put words in my mouth. Fact checkers often avoid the obvious mistakes, even if you spell them out very clearly to them, if the article’s keywords beckon a high price from the publisher. This past year, I was hired by MIT Publishing to review another writer’s book on the future, and which covered transhumanist ideas. I noticed an excessive amount of mistakes in content and referential information. I also read a number of books and articles that were beautifully written and where the authors had taken the time to actually interview the people whose ideas they were covering.  This type of first hand reporting is valuable and we need more of it, rather than second hand—where a writer reads someone else’s book and then borrows the ideas into a new narrative, and then a third writer comes along and does the same, until it become a game of telephone-tag and we all know what happens to the content of sentence structure.

Several years ago, I started working on my own book where I am a co-editor and a contributing author. The book is titled The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology and Philosophy of the Human Future (Wiley-Blackwell 2013) and has 40+ essays by seminal thinkers. Our aim was to produce a book that does its best to get it right — to provide a reliable source of information for students, teachers, and the public who want learn about transhumanist ideas from the lips of those who either initiated a concept or formally contributed to the development of a concept.

The Humanity+ @ San Francisco was discussed by members of Humanity+. I pitched the idea of “writing” because I thought it would tie into the brain trust of San Francisco, our h+ Magazine, and the many transhumanists who are published authors — from science fiction, journalism, blogging, fiction, non-fiction, scriptwriting, comics, etc. et al.  The quality and scope of transhumanist writers is amazing!

RUS: How would you compare the power of the written word to create the future to the power of visual medias?

NVM:  I would compare them equally. Images are powerful influencers: what we see has a profound effect on what we do. Psychologists suggest that around 93% of our ability to communicate is based on nonverbal signifiers, such as visual images, and that our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than written words. Historically, the human brain favors images and we identify with certain shapes, such as the circle or the monolith or arrow. Environments that have wide-open vistas make us feel inspired and often shapes that are juxtaposed closely together make us feel anxious. Since human communication has evolved over some 30,000 years or so, and most of this was not verbal or written language, a visual is often easier to comprehend than a sentence or paragraph, not to mention James Joyce’s Ulysses.

But if we talk about the power of words, they can far exceed the implications of an image. How could I have drawn the paragraph I just wrote? It would have to look like a Hieronymus Bosch painting or series of Kandinsky symbols, or a swirling impression of Pollack.  Images influence who we are, how we behave, and what we do; but the written word takes us inside and often equally as deeply and passionately, and sometimes more so.

Painting, graphic design, architecture, and sculpture whisper in our ears certain sentiments that are unique to us as the viewer or observer. But reading a passage is heard in our own heads through our own voices, and intimately so.

One thing to consider though is a person’s sensorial abilities. For example, someone who is dyslexic cannot always see the words clearly and an image is more convenient and familiar. Likewise, a person who is visually inept often prefers the articulation of words as not symbolic representations of reality, but actually factual meanings.

RUS:  Same question: How would you compare the role of the writer in making the future to that of the scientist and/or technologist?

NVM:  The writer has an advantage because s/he is writing for an audience and the scientist is usually tucked away in a lab.  The writer, like everyone else, has an agenda:  to report, explain, remark, critique, praise, politicize, and/or exaggerate, for example. If a reader is smart, s/he can recognize a writer’s style and reputation and objectify the content for what they write and how they write it. But sometimes writers are crafty and the readers are naïve. This is where things can heat up!

RUS:  Who is your favorite novelist and why?

NVM: Jane Austin is my favorite novelist because she is compelling. The characters are timeless. Even though you didn’t ask, I’d like to add my second favorite novelist:  Herman Hesse.  He was a major influence on my life. I started reading him when I was a teenager and absorbed each book hungrily.  I read every single book and some many times. Each story is a journey about self-discovery. Siddhartha, Journey to the East, The Glass Bead Game, Steppenwolf —each one in my mind, is a wide-open vista to reflect on life and journey.

RUS:  Who is your favorite nonfiction writer and why?

NVM:  I think that my favorite nonfiction writer changes at each stage in my life, depending on what I want to learn. Many years ago it was Pearl S. Buck, and later it was Nietzsche. Over the past many years it has been Kevin Kelly because he is an insightful investigator, a reliable reporter, and his writing always seems to stem from his first hand experiences.

Nov 02 2012

Your Friday MONDO: Brain Nuggets from Reality Hackers #5 –1988 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #37)

Pull quotes from Reality Hackers #5 (the follow up to High Frontiers #4)

 

…a vast molten core of the phantastical and absurd, an Agartha or never-neverland of the imagination where oxymorons walk hand in glove with palpable metaphors.  R.U. Sirius & Queen Mu

 

…cut the shit. Listen, if there’s a breakthrough in the grey room, you guys are leading the charge.  Letters to the Editor, Art Wand

 

Repeated experiments… have proven that stimulation can actually cause the brain to physically grow  Jay Cornell

Influencing the brain with chemicals is a tricky business… Chemicals are hard to synthesize, hard to control, have unwanted side effects… and are mostly illegal…  Jay Cornell



…in computer-generated artificial realities… their rules of operation — the laws governing change through time… are as mutable as their immediate form.  Timothy Leary & Eric Gullichsen



The yuppies at surrounding tables look on with strained nonchalance as Hitler lubes his distended engine of procreation.  Morgan Russell



…the 1990s is going to be the decade of psychoactive soft drinks. Durk Pearson


The neuropeptide system and the as-yet-inactive genomes that can release new neuropeptides are the key to future evolution.  Charles Musaios



Any kid on a caper could blow up the whole thing. It's too late!  Andrija Puharich


To picture Gödel’s solution, imagine an infinite universe lightly sprinkled with a fog of matter.  Nick Herbert

Oct 31 2012

Dementing Augmented Reality: How Future Activists Will Break People Out Of Their Digital Trances

It’s less than two months prior to the “End of the World” on December 21, 2012. Terence McKenna predicted that we would see a spike of “infinite novelty” at the end of the year, when the ambient strangeness in the world hit the point of no return, the Omega Point beyond which we entered post-historical hyperspace.

With not much longer to go, it’s clear to me that he was right, but that he probably “confused the planes,” as it were. The model applies perfectly to the world of information and data: just check Facebook and Twitter and you’ll see what he meant. Meanwhile, down here in the physical world, it’s the same haves-and-have-nots, except there’s a lot less rainforest and everybody’s glued to screens checking f*king Facebook, lost in the infinite hallucinatory kaleidoscope.

“This is the generation who grew up and forgot to lead their lives,” caws Borgia Ginz in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee. “They were so busy watching my endless movie… I sucked and sucked and sucked. The media became their only reality. And I owned their world of flickering shadows.” Of course, the greatest triumph of social media is that now the “powers that be” have tricked us into hypnotizing each other for them, and volunteering all of our data in the meantime.

Over the next ten years I can imagine this trend only increasing. As physical reality becomes grimmer, our endless virtual realities will only become more and more complex and enticing. As we will likely face increasingly vicious oil wars in the countdown to Peak Oil — and, towards the middle of the century, water wars—those who are privileged enough to do so will become more and more disassociated from the physical world, vanishing into the comforting data ether, in which the illusion of participation takes primacy over actual contact with the world.

Soon we will have augmented reality, and behind our glasses or held-up phones we will move through the reality tunnels that Google, Facebook and their successors will lay out for us, all with ads targeted to our increasingly focused consumer desires. Why bother dealing with reality when you can walk through a personally tailored data tunnel instead? Now this is worrying, because as if people weren’t drugged and hypnotized enough, now we’re going to have this level of immersive corporate hallucination to deal with.

So without further ado, and as a gift to the poor bastards of the future, I present four ways to troll augmented reality.

  1. 1. Tunnel Swapping. No, this is not a sexual fetish. It’s a great opportunity for applying the old Gurdjieffian shock: taking people’s data feeds and simply swap them with those of others. Imagine the augmented reality feed of an investment banker swapped with that of a drug dealer. A Republican demagogue’s switched with a welfare mother’s. The endless possibilities for the bridging of social opposites and antimonies should be more than apparent.

 

  1. 2. Dataleaks. While we currently live in the world of Wikileaks and the celebrity sex tape, when augmented reality rolls out it’s inevitable that we’re going to see leaks from people’s personal feeds. The unfairly panned 1996 movie Strange Days has this concept at the center of its plot, and is worth a repeat viewing in the context of new augmented reality technologies.

 

  1. 3. Détournement. Old tactics never die, they just get refreshed for new technology. Détournement is the Situationist practice of changing the words in advertisements and other media to show what they “really” mean. Imagine having your data feed compromised and suddenly seeing the physical world relabeled. Instead of seeing prices and buy links on those Nike shoes you just walked by, you’re shown the wages and life expectancy of the sweatshop children who made them. Taglines on billboard supermodels are replaced with text reading YOU’RE TOO UGLY TO GET TO HEAVEN. Candidates in political debates and advertisements are suddenly shown wearing not suits but racecar driver-style jumpsuits bearing the logos of all of their corporate sponsors.

 

  1. 4. Reclaiming the Physical. Faced with a totally controlled, monitored and owned online world, in which every utterance is immediately scanned and filed away, many have yet to make the connection that the best solution may not be running Tor and eighteen proxies, but writing things down on paper and talking face-to-face. Remember the mail? Remember conversations? Yeah, those still exist. Want to shake somebody out of their online trance? Send them a letter. Send them art. Want to record something that will last longer than a few seconds on Facebook or Twitter? Write a book. The physical world didn’t go anywhere. In fact, physical artifacts and experiences have only grown in totemic power the more we’ve pushed them away.

Further ideas will undoubtably present themselves in spades to the creative reader. Under the datafeed, the beach!

 

Jason Louv is the author of Queen Valentine

and editor of Thee Psychick Bible, Ultraculture Journal and Generation Hex. He currently helms the group futurist blog Ultraculture . @jasonlouv ( https://twitter.com/jasonlouv )

Oct 29 2012

Butterfly Dreams — Everything Connects

When I was young, I heard an old Chinese proverb that told about a man who dreamed he was a butterfly, and when he awoke, he could not say if he was a man who dreamed of being a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man.

I always liked that story because it illustrated for me the uncertain nature of reality. No matter how much we learn about our world, no matter how certain some things seem, no one can ever really know what the future will bring, if the butterfly will ever awaken.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m trapped inside a dream, just on the verge of waking to a world I’m not certain I can understand.  My writing is, in part, my way of trying to create a lens to see into that world outside of sleep.  We are at the verge of a future that has undreamed of possibilities, and there is truly no way to say for certain what it will be.  All we can do is use our knowledge of the past and the present to make our best guesses as to the future

Many writers have attempted to envision the future, and over the years, some of their visions have emerged as reality, some haven’t.  Heinlein saw a future where massive clunky analog computers drove ships across the stars, and people traveled across the country on slideways.  Asimov saw a world where robots were often more human than their makers.  Clarke envisioned an elevator to the stars.  For their time, these were plausible futures, and as the future has taken more definite shape, some of these futures have come closer to reality and some have fallen by the wayside.

Obviously, future forecasting is never going to be 100% accurate, but many of our best minds have spent considerable thought on how it might develop; numerous books have been written on the subject and many stories told about Futures Past.  I’ve read so many that at times my head spun. But I gradually realized that there was something that bothered me about them all.

Every book that attempted to predict the future always seemed to be more of the same old same old.  Yes, there were a few new items, a few strange quirks, some new technologies that had revolutionized something… but it was all very hit and miss.  A few elements might be touched on while others might be completely ignored; or some mumbo jumbo would tell about such and such being a pivotal technology that changed this and this, but everything else would be alone.  Serious books on the future were even worse at being single minded.  They all seemed to miss three things that historical perspective shows are some of the most important things that should be considered for any real concept of the shape of things to come.

The first thing that gets missed is the fact that Everything Connects.  It’s actually a very simple concept, but it’s one many futurists have utterly failed to take into account.  We’ve divided knowledge into so many separate categories for so long that very few people look outside their field of specialization to see what else is out there.  Physicists see a future that’s all about quarks and nuclear forces, biologists see a world of biotech, Engineers see cybersystems.  They’re all possible futures, but none of them really take into account the concept of Everything Connects.   No science is truly separate from any other science, and every advance is tied to a score of prior advances, and can lead to a score more.  Technology begets technology.  And with every advance there is a social impact and an adjustment to the new technology.  Everything ties together.  Some of these can be so small that they are never noticed while others are so overwhelming that they warp our entire concepts of who and what we are.  Case in point… take the Apollo program.  The goal was to create a rocket that could go to the Moon, but what we got was far more.  From the Apollo program, we got miniaturized electronics. This led — small step by small step — to improvements in medicine, engineering, biology, physics, and so many other sciences that I could write a book just on the fallout developments from this one advance.

This leads to another concept that many writers overlook: The Law of Unintended Consequences .  It’s an economic principle that when applied to technology essentially states that every invention will have uses and effects unforeseen by their creator.  I seriously doubt Alexander Graham Bell ever envisioned cell phones or the World Wide Web.  Many writers out there quite accurately show what some technologies can do, then fail utterly to go beyond that first bright idea to extrapolate what other uses might develop.  Star Trek is a prime example. The show tosses in such technologies as teleporters, replicators, and nanites and then ignores all of the implications of these very same technologies.  Face it, for every technology, there is a use, and there are abuses, and only time will tell which is which.

This leads us to the last element that often gets forgotten — One Man’s Evil is another Man’s Good.  So many writers seem to possess a skewed vision of the future that completely ignores human nature.  Cynical as it sounds, you have to anticipate that people are going to misuse, abuse, and destroy with any technology, no matter how beneficial it may seem.  For everyone who drives according to the speed limit, how many others break it?  For every person who drives a stock model, how many customize?  Any true picture of the future can’t ignore the fact that not everyone will follow the most conservative path; the most minimalist uses of new technologies.  The bad has to be observed side by side with the good, and until we look back with hindsight, no one will truly know which is which.

Three ideas that sound simple, yes?  But put them together, and you can make a lens to see, however dimly, into the possible futures that await humanity.  It may not be pretty; it may not be nice; it may even scare some people half to death. But I think it results in a clearer prediction of what may come than the sterilized visions so common in other books on the future.

Because, it’s time for the butterfly to wake up.

Oct 26 2012

Your Friday MONDO: Brain Nuggets From High Frontiers #4 – 1988 (MONDO 2000 History Project Entry #36)

And more pull quotes, from High Frontiers   issue #4.

 

The biggest threat to the status quo worldwide is that the new species will recognize itself.  R.U. Sirius

 

…is anyone currently trying to duplicate those now lost, but now forgotten, experiments from the 1950s that gave the world that marvelous substance, FLUBBER?   Letters to the Editor

 

We are discovering that there is an angel within the monkey.   Terence McKenna

 

It seems unintelligent to base the important question of whether a machine is conscious or not on human gullibility.   Nick Herbert

 

…it was a holistic blender drink, a Synaesthetic Slurpee…   Morgan Russell

What a set of frontal lobes!  I’d like to slide between those hemispheres.   Morgan Russell

…satin-trousered temptresses lazing on divans, wearing dark glasses, sipping hummingbird nectar from diamond demitasses.  Morgan Russell

 

I would operate under about 30 different names. I’d try to maneuver people into calling me by name so I’d know who I was.   Captain Clearlight

I was thinking, “…if they’ve got uniforms, they’ve probably got guns.  They’re just waiting to have me on toast.”   Captain Clearlight

 

The CIA was like an unwitting midwife in the birth of the acid generation.  Martin Lee

…everyone knows the Nazis were into the occult. There are rumors that Hitler experimented with peyote.    Martin Lee

When you come right down to it, the CIA is a secret society.   Martin Lee

 

The future according to rock and roll is a no-tilt, ten-ball, bumper-pounding orgasm.   Alex Cain

 

I feel as though I’m sort of a graduate of my own elevator in my own mind hotel.  Mike D

 

 

 

People will vote with their money for the kind of personal quantum “knowledge appliances” they want.  Timothy Leary

 

Oct 23 2012

Not Sci Fi. Sci NOW!

As the walrus said to the Carpenter, the time has come to talk of many things.

To understand why I hold the views I do, you must first understand that my choices and views are shaped by the future that I see is coming, and without understanding that future, it is impossible to truly see why I support some issues on the right, some on the left, some in the middle, etc. So, this article is an attempt to explain, in a brief overview fashion, what I see coming down the road, and which I think far too many people are completely unaware of.

To begin, I am not a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian, a communist, a socialist, or any other political leaning. If I must be labeled, I would say I am a Humanitarian first, and a Transhumanist second.

Humanitarianism: In its most general form, humanitarianism is an ethic of kindness, benevolence and sympathy extended universally and impartially to all human beings. Humanitarianism has been an evolving concept historically but universality is a common element in its evolution. No distinction is to be made in the face of human suffering or abuse on grounds of tribal, caste, religious or national divisions.

Transhumanism: An international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes. Dangers, as well as benefits, are also of concern to the transhumanist movement.

As such I would have to say I am a Transhumanist because I am a Humanitarian.

So, what precisely does that have to so with the future? It means I take the long view of most everything, because I believe there is a significant probability that I will be around to face the consequences of short sighted actions in the present. But it also means that I can look at some problems which are long term and see that the solutions to them are not yet available, but have a high likelihood of existing before the problem becomes a crisis. This includes such “catastrophic” issues as “Global Warming”, “Overpopulation” and in fact, most “Crisis” politics. Many of these issues are almost impossible to address with current technological capabilities, but will be much easier to address with technologies that are currently “in the lab”.

However, it also means I spend a lot of time researching exactly what the future is likely to bring, so that I can make determinations on which problems are immediate, short term or long term, and whether or not practical solutions exist now, or must wait until we have developed a little further.

But primarily, what those researches have shown me is that most people are utterly unaware of just what the future is going to bring. Most people see a future just like today, with differences only of degrees. They see the future of Star Trek, or of too many other tv shows, where humanity still has to face the exact same problems as they do today on a social level, with fancier trimmings.

Yet such a future is utter fantasy.  Our future is going to change things on a scale undreamt of by most humans, because it is a change not of scale, but of kind.

Humanity, as we know it, is going to cease to exist.

If you are unfamiliar with the concepts of Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnolgy, Quantum Computing, Cybernetics, and Bioengineering, you need to educate yourself in them, and soon, because they will have a much larger impact on us than who is president, whether or not global warming is happening, or even whether or not Healthcare reform is passed.

And before you dismiss any of those topics as flights of fantasy, you should be aware of the truth. If you want a quick brief overview, check out Next Big Future, Acceler8or, Gizmag, IO9, IEET, or Wired and spend a few hours reading through the various links and stories. This is not Sci-Fi, it is Sci-now.

Within the next twenty to fifty years, and possibly even within the next decade, humanity is going to face the largest identity crisis ever known.  We are going to find that things we have always taken for granted as unchangeable are indeed matters of choice. It’s already started.

As of this exact moment in time, you are reading this on the internet.  As such you have already entered into the realm of Transhumanism. You are free to choose what sex you wish to present yourself as, free to be which ever race you want to be, free to even choose what species you wish to present yourself as. You could be a Vulcan, an Orc, even a cartoon character from South Park. Every aspect of who you are comes down to your personal choice. You may choose to present yourself as you are, or you may present yourself as something else entirely.

That same choice is going to be coming to humanity outside the internet as well. Our medical technology, understanding of our biology, and ability to manipulate the body on finer and finer scales is advancing at an exponential rate. It will not be much longer before everyone has the ability to change everything about their physical body to match their idealized selves.

How will racists be able to cope with the concept that race is a choice? Or sexists deal with people switching genders on a whim? How will people feel when in vitro fertilization and an artificial womb can allow two genetic males to have a child, or for one to become female and have one via old fashioned pregnancy?

And yet that is just the barest tip of the iceberg, for not only will we be able to reshape ourselves into our idealized human form, we will also eventually have the ability to add and subtract other creatures as well. Not everyone will choose to be “human”.  There will be elves, and aliens, cat girls and lion men. We are already on the verge of nearly perfect human limb replacement, within a decade it is highly likely that we will be able to replace damaged nerves with electronic equivalents to control artificial limbs that mimic not only the full range of human motions, but with the creation of artificial muscles, do so in a completely natural manner.  It is but one step from creating an artificial replacement to making an artificial addition.

And there will be those who choose such additions, or who may even choose to replace their natural parts with enhanced cybernetic parts. We will have to face the very real fact of humans with far greater than current human physical ability, and even those with abilities no current human has, such as flight using their own wings.

Imagine a football game with someone who can leap the distance of the field, or throw a hail mary a mile. Is that someone we would call “human” today? Yet they will be the human of tomorrow.

But even that is just the barest hint of the future, because there is so much more that is happening as well. Since you are sitting here, reading this, I know you are already participating in another tenet of Transhumanism, mental augmentation. You use your computer to collect knowledge, to research and educate yourself, to improve your personal knowledge base by using it as an extended intelligence tool. I know quite well that most of you also use it for your primary news source, your main way of keeping yourself aware of what is happening in the world.

You also use it for entertainment, to watch videos, to game, to read, to discuss, and even to keep in touch with your friends and families.

It already is a mental augmentation device. And that function will only grow.  Your cell phone is becoming more and more of an accessory to your computer everyday. In less than ten years it is likely to become your primary computer, with your desktop communicating with it, and making it simply an extension. There is already an advanced cellphone in labs that is subdermal, meaning it is implanted into your skin, is powered by your own body sugars, and is invisible when not in use. Contact lenses with computer displays that use body heat for power are also in prototype stage. Eventually you will be connected to your computer every second of the day, and using it to augment your life in ways I doubt most people will even be able to imagine. And once the ability to connect the human mind directly to this intelligence augmentation device allows us to use it with a mere thought, can you really call such a person “human” as we currently define it?

And yet again, that is simply the merest hint of the possibilities, because in addition to all this computerization and cybernetics, you have to face the reality that we will soon be able to control matter at the atomic scale. And that is something that very very few people have any real grasp of.

Nanotechnology is not a pipedream. Anyone who tells you it is, is either indulging in denial, or is sadly misinformed. You want proof nanoscale machinery is possible, simply look in a mirror.  You are the finest proof that nanotechnology works. DNA is the most versatile molecular machine in existence that we are aware of, and it is with DNA that we are developing the earliest stages of true Molecular Engineering.

And with Molecular Engineering, almost everything we take for granted right now is going to change. I won’t go into the pages and pages of description of what complete control of matter on the molecular scale can do, but suffice it to say that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with this ability. We will be able to make food on your kitchen counter, make a car that is indestructible, but can fold into a handy briefcase, and just about everything you have seen in any scifi show ever. With nanotechnology we can permanently end hunger, poverty, and even clean up the environment.

If you truly wish to get a bare minimal grasp of the scope of the possible read Engines of Creation by K. Eric Drexler. While his vision of nanotech’s foundation is based on pure mechanical engineering, it is nonetheless one of the best introductions to the subject I know. We are developing this ability as we speak, as any of you who bothered to check out the recommended reading list would be able to see.

And that brings us to the next topic, Artificial Intelligence. I am not speaking here of the kind of AI that you are familiar with from Hollywood, but with something called Artificial General Intelligence. This is something far different.  AGI is the kind of program that can drive your car, cook your food, clean your house, diagnose your illnesses, operate on your brain, and yes, even do your job better, faster, and more reliably than you can. AGI is that AI which has absolutely no need to be self aware, conscious, or even thinking. AGI is what runs Chess computers. Any Skill that can be taught can be accomplished by AGI. IBM’s Watson is an example of this future, a machine able to learn to become an expert on any given subject and enable non-experts to have that expertise available on demand.

So be prepared people.  You will be replaced by a machine eventually.

And yet with Nanotechnology capable of ensuring our every physical need is met, Cybertechnology giving us superhuman abilities, and Bioengineering enabling us to be exactly who and what we want to be, is that really such a bad thing?

So I will at last come to the final technology which will make our future far different than what has come before. Indefinite Life Extension.

If you are alive today, you need to seriously contemplate that fact that you may not merely have a long life, but that your life may not even have a definite end. You may be alive, healthy, and in the best physical shape possible a thousand years from now. The younger you are, the greater the possibility.

You may have to face the very real likelihood that aging, death by natural causes, and every disease that currently afflicts mankind may be overcome within the next 30 to 60 years. It might even happen as soon as tomorrow. You may never die unless you have an accident, or commit suicide. And even that is just the simplest scenario. With the possibility of up to the nanosecond backups of your brain’s synaptic patterns and electrical impulses, dying might simply become as permanent as it is in a video game.

Humanity, as we currently know it, is going to cease to exist.

And most of us will not even notice it happening until it’s already occurring, indeed, most people are unaware of the fact that it is happening RIGHT NOW.

And this is the future, in the tiniest snippets of hints of what I truly foresee, that guides my thoughts and actions. A future which is so very, radically, unimaginably different that no-one can even truly begin to envision it. It becomes a blank wall beyond which we cannot see, because we do not even have the concepts to understand what is beyond the wall.

So think about these questions. Think about the reality we will have to face, and understand, you will have to come to terms with this. You can’t keep your head in the sand forever and you can’t comfort yourself by thinking it is decades down the road. It’s here, it’s now, and it’s in your face.

And if anything is certain, it is this: You are not prepared.