Abrahamic Faiths, AI, algorithms, Bacteria To Bach and Back, Dennet, Driverless cars, Evolution, From Bacteria To Bach and Back, Gaultier, gods, Greek Theatre, Hamlet, Hawking, i-phone X, Junior Gaultier, Mahabharata, Metaphysics, Omnipotence, Perseus, Physics, Shakespeare, Singularity, Software, supernatural, Zeus
There is an air of disappointment curling around the head of our new god.
Our all-consuming belief in Technology and the algorithmic inevitability of its ascent into one-ness with us renders it a form of deity to many. In its wake we see theological and philosophical texts bursting forth from every quarter, trying to both project its arc through our existence and predict its inevitable impact upon it.
But there is an increasingly vociferous movement rising up alongside it. One that sees fundamental flaws in its omnipotent possibilities and bumpy times ahead rooted in our blind allegiance to it.
Some of these voices come from mildly surprising places. Stephen Hawking, once a believer in a universal singularity – a theory of everything – has shifted the axis of his belief of what we will ultimately know:
“Some people will be very disappointed if there is not an ultimate theory, that can be formulated as a finite number of principles. I used to belong to that camp, but I have changed my mind”
And in turn, he sees bad times ahead for a world where A.I. exists unfettered and beyond regulation. In the great Singularity lies something against nature for humankind that troubles him.
Even Daniel C Dennet in his book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, is also positing signs of cracks and flaws in the godhead:
‘There are some unsettling signs that we are becoming over-civilised. And are entering the age of post intelligent design. Using our brains to understand our brains.’
He goes on to venture that our willingness to subsume and subjugate ourselves to technology and the escalating potency of Artificial Intelligences in advance of their ability to actual fulfil on our wildest expectations and aspirations is a misguided one.
In the untrammelled and exponentially-increasing expectations of technological revolution and artificial, algorithmically-induced intelligence lies the possibility of ever-increasing disappointment.
There is an inevitability about this that is unsurprising and yet quietly reassuring.
For a god awe is critical. As is adulation. And fear. But no god is complete without disappointment. So the whiff of it at the edges of the newly-accelerating godhead of Artificial Intelligence and a creeping hybrid humanity is actually appropriate. For some perhaps it will be proof of its god-like status.
As with all of the gods we’ve conjured or revealed to ourselves, A.I. and its role in the Singularity is perhaps simply a reflection of our nature, need and desire.
Perhaps we design them that way. For a reason. We need to be disappointed by gods.
Creating them in our image requires disappointment as the proof of our need for fallibility or flaw in any creature, organism or being regardless of whether they are of an abstract celestial, actual mortal or organic technological kind. There’s no such thing as perfection.
Disappointment seems not only to fulfil a functional role in regards to the nature of the entity. It also creates a signpost to the divine obsolescence in the model – the milestone of inevitable descent, dilapidation, degradation and decline that will lead to the next in the cycle.
Disappointment teaches us that we can fiercely believe, up to a point – but that we must prepare for the downside. It compels us have scenario-planned for the possibility that the deity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
But that is also part of the package. The scale of reverence, adulation and awe creates a blinding spotlight to throw on the smallest flaw.
Technology is a powerful and omnipotent thing. It has created a new skin of human consciousness – an algorithmic shellac around our previous model of consciousness. Everything is elevated. Everything is illuminated. Everything is accelerated. But in becoming more through it, we become more vulnerable, more fragile because of it.
In knowing more and experiencing more, in reaching further, we expose ourselves. And our flaws are amplified. (Surely the model applied to Zeus – for all of his divine greatness and powers, the formicating, fractious, scheming, self-interested, betraying, vain, capricious, petulant Zeus was simply an extrapolation of our flawed humanity to divine proportion.)
For the Greeks, in their gods much like their theatre, we find a learning module for humanity – where theatre taught us empathy and the potential of feeling – gods taught us humility and the danger of hubris.
Great lessons in life and the universe can be better observed and learned when set apart from our everyday realities. A masterplan. It only falls apart when we confuse ourselves with the gods we create – and choose to ordain ourselves as such.
Pick a culture any culture: Persians, Romans, Egyptians, Franks, Stuarts – we can never quite allow the gods we create to exist wholly apart from us. And those that seized the divine mantle could never help but eventually reign down on those beneath them in some delusional purge of divinity and dreadful ire – a self-fulfilling prophecy repeated countless times throughout human history.
Nonetheless, for all of this – for all their flaws and our flawed misuse and mimicry of them, gods have taught us to reach beyond the normal: beyond what is. They have raised us up towards them.
Simply to envisage them we had to ‘place’ them – and that required a feat of imagination. They are an exercise in imagination as much as they are an exercise in reverence and humility. You have to ‘place’ a god in a world apart from the one in which we exist – a different plane or celestial firmament. You also need to design some form of context and divine order for them. So our imagination, one of the most powerful things at work in us versus any other species on the planet, went to work. And its productivity in that order was staggering. Simply put, seeking divine revelation has powered our multiple ages of renaissance and enlightenment.
Through gaining a greater vantage and framing of the gods we shape, we can seek to understand them and perhaps become a little closer to them – to being in their image – like them.
And the most powerful part of all of that reaching? We evolve. Transgressing the given, the immediate and the fixed is how we evolve. And in doing so we explore the flaws in ourselves at a distance.
One of the most powerful things about reaching beyond ourselves, to a place so exposed, so raw, is that by transgressing where we are in the known universe, we step into the unknown. And the unknown is dangerous; it involves risk. And in a state of risk or threat we evolve.
Gods are an evolutionary mechanism in us – forcing us to exercise our intellect, imagination, intuition and connectivity in search of their existence and their seeming capabilities and gifts. And subsequently, in managing their presence and mitigating their excesses in relation to us, we expand our consciousness of our own existence, and the methods by which to improve it.
Through this mechanism we manage the tension between what we do and don’t know.
In writing a manuscript for a book recently I alluded to us being at a tipping point: where the new-future believers see us merging with machines in some orgy of singularity. We will become dispossessed of our mortal bindings – free to skip the light fantastic. We will have become the ultimate software. Ultimately we will be able to upload ourselves into any and every compatible device, receptacle or host. We can copy ourselves quadrillions of times over.
Surely this is a step into the divine? In becoming a wholly transferable entity capable of occupying millions of receptacles or hosts simultaneously, we become no different to the God of the Abrahamic faiths or the multiple gods of Grecian Olympus or the pantheon of the Mahabarata of Indian myth. We can become the thing that acts within everything if we so choose.
In the draft I also point to the possibility of a more balanced relationship between the science and spirituality of us as being the source of our greatest trajectory – a state of being I refer to as the Human Hammock. The Human Hammock provides us with the ability to sling ourselves between the boughs of science and spirituality – to offer a more immediate ability to exist profitably between both the known and the unknown at one and the same time: mentally, materially, physically and metaphysically.
In the draft I point to the possibility that we need to keep both aspects firmly engaged in us, calibrating the degree to which they feature according to need and desire.
I believe there is a benefit to us of keeping a clear hand and cold eye on the Unknown, as it is those things beyond our comprehension, and our hunger to understand and know them better that compels our evolution as a species.
To be clear when I say unknown I do not mean it within the ladder of human consciousness. I am referring to what exists beyond human comprehension, not beyond current scientific knowledge (which exists solely inside human comprehension and consciousness)..
We can ensure that we fix the Human Hammock theory clearly and as absolutely as possible by priming the forthcoming Singularity to abide by biological evolutionary rules.
Though Singularity might lead us towards a more divine state of elevated and liberated consciousness and ubiquity, we should ensure that it remains rooted in the ladder of our pre-existing evolutionary logic until such a time as a new logic supercedes it.
Eventually, in multiplying ourselves to that degree and with that expansiveness, we would indeed become gods in our own image of them.
The circle will have been squared, shifting us through the millennia from Man shaped in the image of gods to gods shaped in the image of Man.
When talking of gods, it’s worth being clear on what we mean by that and the slide ruler of how they represent and improve us and their relationship to us.
Gods or deities are supernatural beings that exist in a place above or outside of that of a normal being. They are divine – revered as sacred – and invocation is an inextricable part of our relationship with them. We invoke them – call upon, summon up, reference, or seek them out as part of the reciprocal contract of their and our existence.
They are supposed to raise our consciousness above the banal and that which exists in our everyday being – to improve us. We can invoke them outside of any chronological or spatial context in the pursuit of something.
There are different bridges that exist between us and them – prayer is the easiest example. But also extreme physical duress or testing is a much-used way to elevate us into a higher consciousness and bring us closer to our gods and one-ness wth the universe. (Shamanism is a great exponent of this.) Extreme physicality is powerful in god world. Add some purpose or cause to that physicality and you are getting even closer.
There is a direct line to the gods through heroic action, where humans show superhuman willing, guile, leadership, courage, spirit or strength in pursuit of a good or ‘heroic’ cause. As the old saying goes, when someone is ‘touched by the gods’ it means the reflections or shadows of the greater faculties of the gods reside within them.
In referencing the relationship between us and them in this way we bring them closer to us. Greater proximity to gods is part of the self-defence mechanism innate in the god model and its culture.
Some classical and ancient texts imbued their god tales with Demi-gods – half human half god – whose heroic undertakings created a picture of greatness that was more accessible to the everyday human being.
This is the default zone between us and the distant realm of gods as we’ve created them. Demi-gods are very very important to keep people engaged and evolving.
Why? Because human nature predicts that if something is wholly out of reach – fully blown bells and whistles gods for instance – we don’t rise to the occasion. In the case of lofty, dislocated gods we just sublimate ourselves to them. We don’t desire to be more like them – we just cower, and we give up and go do something else. Because it is beyond us. Out of sight is out of mind unless they might choose to come down and walk amongst us.
But Demi-gods, now they are far closer to home. If the gods are Gaultier; Demi-gods are Junior Gaultier: the access point for us mere mortals.
The universal love for Wonder Woman (a Demi Demi, given that she is the daughter of the Demi-god queen, Hippolyta, daughter of Ares, the Greek god of War) is proof of our need for our god-like creations to walk amongst us sometimes. It makes their greatness accessible and mimicry of it possible.
I can’t be Zeus but I might take a run at being Perseus or even Wonder Woman – ish.
So gods do not need to always be the pure, super-duper theological or mythological gods of classicism or faith far beyond our ken. We have the Demi-god to help us move things along. There is little question that we have believed for a long time that there is indeed a ladder to god-like greatness for us.
What a piece of work is man, How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, In form and moving how express and admirable, In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god, The beauty of the world,
So when I speak of gods I refer to anyone perceived as god-like and heroic to us. Someone revered beyond simple explanation, and someone whose words or deeds are invoked by us as succour and guidance.
In that framework, gods with a small ‘g’ come in many shapes and forms.
Starting with our parents.
Our most adored friends can also achieve god-like status for a while.
Then the broader adulations of our youth: Sports people. Celebrities. Music stars. Movie stars. Writers. Artists. Scientists.
We even have the passing phase of god-like stature in the first flushes of human love. The phase in which we are fiercely revered, adored and invoked.
Each of these gods, as with every other, are destined to go on a journey through Awe. Adulation. Reverence. Fear. But each is also destined to disappoint in some way eventually.
As disappointment is an inextricable part of the human journey so it has also become an innate aspect of the gods we shape . In some ways being disappointed by gods perhaps prepares us for disappointment with ourselves. If the gods can be disappointing; flawed, capricious, found wanting, then so can we be – and that is alright.
Disappointment in our gods lessens or softens the disappointment in ourselves.
In that way, gods that disappoint are an evolutionary mechanism that stop us giving up and turning away – defeated by what we aren’t or cannot do. We learn that though disappointment may strike, that’s alright. It was always thus. You can’t get it right all the time and no one is perfect – not even our gods. So keep carrying on.
As for Artificial Intelligence, well, perhaps it has to have a Zeus moment. It has to go and sleep with someone inappropriate, sire a child, create a technological Demi-god (and in the absence of any others I would like to venture R2D2 as that Demi-god) who will eventually challenge the god that helped sire it and lay it low.
Then we can all relax. Go back to ogling i-phone Xs and googling driverless cars, with a quiet knowledge that when they come of the rails, everything is alright. It’s not the end of the world.
Well, not this one anyway.
Disappointed By Gods FOOTNOTE: This topic will one day become a book – of what length I do not know. But somehow somewhere it will. So if anyone’s got any ideas on a publisher – shout!