For your consideration, should you have 20 minutes to spare to think about consciousness and the singularity: Reality 3.0
I’ll summarize for the lazier readers: Paul Hughes is making an argument that our accelerating intelligence and technology will bring us to significantly altered states of reality. all sensory information is an interpretation of the external world, so altering that interpretation wouldn’t really be departing from reality, it would be simply changing reality, the way that things are experienced. As we are now our interpretation of the universe is very limited, but in the future, Hughes argues, our sensors will be distributed across the universe, we will be able to chose how we feel the information from these sense organs, and we will not be limited to the 5 or so senses we have now.
One cool thing the author mentions is that we will likely have the computational power to simulate the earth in its entirety, including all of us and our brains, by 2060 (assuming Moore’s law holds steady which some might say is not the case). Hughes muses that we will quickly create a simulated star wars galaxy which we can enter and explore, an exciting proposition and only a small part of what is possible with that kind of computational capability.
My favorite part of the essay:
Imagine the possibility of having ‘sexual’ and fully orgasmic experiences while our external exploratory probes map the unique topography of a new planet? I can’t think of a better way to discover the unique nuances of a new geology as one would a new lover.
And honestly I agree. what we could have ahead of us is nothing less than ecstatic, orgasmic exploration of the universe, for billions and billions of years. This is of course a ridiculous idea, many might laugh at the proposition, but I really think it’s going to be a lot less fun sitting back on earth making fun of the universe for having sex with itself than joining in the fun.
I recently found quite a few individual’s thoughts online about what many are calling the “consciousness singularity,” when we all know each other to such an extent that we will form a higher consciousness and awareness that we are essentially a singular consciousness. It’s a synonym to what I’ve termed the “psychesingularity,” but more straightforward and less cool. The interesting thing is that while most people I’ve found relate this in some way to the technological singularity, that’s not always the clear connection; there are many people talking about this in the context of the end of the Mayan calendar this year.
Discovering all of these references reminded me of how many millions of people must have come to the same thoughts and conclusions as me. It’s nice but it makes me feel less special, though at the same time it just means that there are less people I need to convince of my viewpoint. I also seem to be offering a more comprehensive perspective of this transition than others, although I realize I haven’t expanded my thoughts on the core of my topic for some time. Anyway, that’s what I intend to do now.
Consciousness itself can be described very well as a singularity. I’ve mentioned previously that before I came upon my current construction of the universe as a fractal pattern of nested simulations made by consciousness(es) I found the idea that black holes could contain universes appealing. A singularity is also the origin of the universe, prior to the big bang, before which we can know of nothing. The singularity of consciousness and the singularity of matter and energy are quite similar: there is irretrievable information held within, a mystery which defies our conceptions of dimensions, of how things exist in space.
We consider our existences now– our singularities– as separate, but soon we will converge upon a new singularity like a bunch of black holes forming a supermassive black hole (kind of). This is the consciousness singularity, the psychesingularity. Naturally there is much to fear when we lose our sense of identity because there’s a strong sense that we’ve died when that happens. I want to ease people’s fears; I’ve tried to do so previously a few times, and I’ll probably continue to do so.
When you lose your sense of individuality, the sense that you are in complete control of yourself, it doesn’t mean you cease to exist. I know this because I’ve experienced it. The loss of individuality will draw your placement of your “self” away from your body, but that self is still maintained. As we communicate our thoughts more directly with technology and our thoughts and actions become indistinguishable, we will all still have a sense of self, and it will be the sense that we are the same self. We will all be more, not less.
The more pessimistic side of this is the view that we will have died after the singularity, taken over by the computer intelligence we created. like ourselves this intelligence will expand meaninglessly into space, merging and expanding until it consumes the universe, only has itself to observe, and thus ceases to exist. This view doesn’t necessarily have to adopt the perspective that we die with the singularity , and it’s stronger without that claim (if we die with the singularity, we die every moment we change our minds or learn new things, in essence every moment). I discussed a couple of posts ago how this way of looking at things overlooks a crucial aspect of consciousness, and that is the essence of self observation.
A conscious being does not cease to exist when it only can observe itself, it truly begins to exist within itself. Consciousness is crucially able to not only observe patterns of matter, it can observe patterns of thought, thoughts which can be rearranged into practically infinite ways with as much matter as we have in our universe. These thoughts will become so complex as the universe becomes our brain that the thoughts themselves could be universes to explore and delight in.
A while back I wrote a babbling post about the root paradox of everything; the separateness of our conscious experience and “reality.” I hope to expand a bit upon that, and maybe clarify things a bit.
Consciousness is an illusion. That statement is somewhat ludicrous because illusions are themselves conscious experiences, and we are stuck in an odd loop. In any case, consciousness is the convergence of sensory experiences, thoughts, and memories, all of which serve to make us aware of our environment and our selves. All of this is merely patterns and physical movements, molecules self organizing to form an organism which has a continuity of experience, and develops a sense of self. This sense of self, it can be easily argued, is evolutionarily beneficial, and our increased awareness of our environment relative to other animals has certainly given us advantage.
Yet consciousness is a fact, because we experience it. We know (assume) that others experience it too, and this assumption will be proved correct once we are able to actually merge our consciousnesses. This fact of conscious experience makes certain things hard to understand. For instance, when you boil down everything that is a person’s decision making process, all of the environmental factors and internal brain patterns, the only logical conclusion that can be arrived at is that the person has no free will—his decisions are made by his brain before he’s ever aware of it. But those brain patterns are us, we are the patterns in our brain, even if we aren’t aware of them. And we do make choices, yet those choices are determined by the environment (which includes our bodies). We are stuck in a paradox.
Part of the problem with free will is that it is assumed that an agent exists. When a person claims that “I chose to do this by my own free will” there is an underlying assumption that “I exist,” and that assumption is false (and true). Yes, “I think therefore I am,” but once again, who is this “I” that is thinking? In the end, we are but an accumulation of matter which processes information, and we are stuck in an infinite loop of self awareness.
Everything is and is not. When the universe dies a peaceful heat death, the conscious entities that composed it will look back and realize that all knowledge is just assumptions built upon previous assumptions, and everything that has been accumulated is meaningless and will dissipate into heat. Their existence had simply been a momentary convergence of order in the chaos that is the law of all existence. When this moment of existence is over, what is there to show for it? It will be as if none of it had ever happened, and for all purposes that is the truth of the matter.
I feel that I should be quite explicit here in case this connection has not been fully formed for some readers. I’ve talked in this blog about the joining of our thoughts and identities, the convergence of our consciousness, and the internet is a huge part of that. Of course the internet isn’t everything. A vast amount of human information is transmitted and processed beyond the reaches of the internet, but the internet will soon inevitably consist of practically all human interaction.
Like each of us, the internet isn’t a “thing,” it is a verb. We are not our flesh and brains as the internet is not servers, computers, and fiber-optic cables. The internet is the interaction of these things, the network of information being transferred. With the internet we are able to expand our consciousnesses in many ways which would have been unthinkable to people even 100 years ago: we can see across the world instantaneously, download more text in a minute than could be read in a lifetime, and communicate efficiently with millions of people simultaneously.
Carrying a smartphone around drastically increases the user’s knowledge. You may say that a person with a cell phone doesn’t know the things that can be found on the internet through the device, but I don’t see that difference. if I was to ask a person what the population of Egypt was and they told me the answer after looking it up on their smart phone, I’d say for all intents and purposes that person knew the population of Egypt, and the only reason that it matters that they had to look it up was the time delay that caused.
Speaking of Egypt, remember that revolution that happened earlier this year? It had no real leaders, no organization except for the internet. Thousands of youth were able to form a coherent consciousness and purpose, a unity of spirit because of the communicative power of the internet. People speak of raising consciousness and the birth of nations as if these are figurative sayings, but there is a literal edge to the consciousness that encompasses a common people.
The internet brings us closer to our universal consciousness, closer to the components that consist of our collective being. These components are the same as those that make up our individual consciousnesses:
History is the memory of the human race. Like our own memory it is not so much a video recording of the past, it is a narrative of our journey. Our collective memories, like our individual memories, are illusions, mental constructs which we keep in our minds because they match up with what we know of the world and the narrative we’ve constructed. As individuals we store and access our information in specific ways, ways which can be inefficient at times (try saying the alphabet backwards). As a collective consciousness, we work to improve the way we store and access information, notably with tools like Google, which is spending much time and energy cataloging the world’s books and looking for new ways for everyone to search through the wealth of information about the human narrative.
As the Internet currently exists, we are fed primarily audio and visual information about our environment. We can use webcams to monitor remote locations, in effect having eyes miles away from our bodies (People should really be more creeped out by video cameras). Sensory experience is more valuable than purer information like text because it is personal. Being able to hear the voice of someone across the world is much more valuable than seeing a text message from them, and it makes us feel closer to each other. The more personally we can feel each other’s presence, the less it will matter how far we are from each other.
Actually thinking about information can be much more important than simply experiencing it, and the internet is certainly helping us do that. A network of blogs, newspapers, and forums are constantly interpreting information from each respective source, and spewing out new perspectives on world events. This is much like the way our individual minds reel from new information, reacting to it, reacting to our reaction, and eventually forming a happy middle ground of understanding.
Our minds’ ability to map the external physical world is remarkable and incredibly important to our consciousness. Our personal kinesthetic awareness guides our body movements, and our mind simultaneously maps the three dimensional external environment and stores it in our memory. Once again Google (sometimes I feel like I’m advertising for Google) has been working to map the physical environment encompassing the human consciousness: our roads, our terrain, the insides of our buildings, our bodies, everything is being mapped by Google. GPS is another big tool too, akin to our kinesthetic awareness, our awareness of our personal placement. We no longer need to map our environments in our heads because the human race is handling it for us.
These properties of consciousness are just to name a few. There are many other similarities, such as the fact that 99% of the information contained on the internet is in the so-called deep web, parts of the internet inaccessible to search. This is akin to our own unconscious thought.
The growth of the internet and its spread into every facet of our interactions is the growth of our superconsciousness. As networks such as telephone lines and Television channels and security cameras get incorporated into the internet for greater efficiency, our knowledge and experience will become more connected. Through the internet we will all become the eyes of the human intelligence, and our thoughts will come to such a level of unification that our actions may seem to be delegated from a higher source. When the internet ceases to run, so will Man.
As I mentioned in the introduction, Psyche is the greek god/word for the mind or soul. “Psychesingularity” therefore means the convergence of minds/souls into a singular entity. I argue in this blog that the most significant aspect of the technological singularity is the convergence of individual human identities into one, the formation of the superconsciousness of the human race. This is where my argument begins.
The human brain is composed of a bunch of neurons. The approximate number is irrelevent, as we can’t comprehend numbers that large anyway. These neurons, using basic physical laws, send pulses of information to other neurons. I say pulses of information, but the pulses do not contain information so much as they are the information. In terms of computer science, a pulse can be considered “1” and the lack of a pulse “0”. a neuron responds to pulses based on the pattern they exhibit: a quick succession followed by slower pattern, or endless other possibilities.
Conscious experience emerges from these patterns. This is a fact which many cannot accept: instead consciousness, or the “soul” must be something more mysterious, more energy like, or more quantum. From what I have felt about consciousness, this is not the case. Consciousness to me seems to be an accumulation of experience and thoughts. the idea of the “self” is a thought which we carry with us almost constantly, except in rare transcendent moments.
In any case, all of these different experiences that we call consciousness can be boiled down to patterns of information. these patterns of information have become so complex that they process other patterns: our conscious mind is a small part of our brain collecting information from all other parts of the brain, processing it, and feeding information back. in a sense we are a small bit of brain matter which evolved in our species to perform the valuable task of monitoring the many separate systems in the increasingly large human brain. this small bit of processing power was so effective in it’s job and so good at processing information into symbols that it produced a symbol for itself, and began to “think” that it was not only the entire brain, but the entire body.
This sense of individuality is very strong in us, but we have nothing to prove it, nothing that separates the matter that composes our bodies and minds from “others.” As a result, many people over time have come to regard individuality and the self as illusory. While most would not go this far, the loss of individuality is considered the height of religious experience for many people (and the essence of psychedelic experience).
Projects are quickly developing to simulate the human brain. These ventures raise much skepticism in people who believe that we don’t understand the brain nearly as well as we think we do. Skepticism aside, in the near future an accurate brain simulation will exist and with enough tweaking and processing it will match humans in any task. Even before then our computers will outmatch us in individual tasks such as face and voice recognition, driving, organizing, and theorizing.
People are talking about using the upcoming technology of brain simulation to upload their mind. this process could involve the slow process of removing small systems of neurons, simulating them, and routing the output back to the brain. theoretically, no experience would change as the person slowly became a computer. The thing is, replacing your brain with a circuit board doesn’t make you a computer, it affirms what you’ve always been. The same process can (more easily) be applied to the human body, a gradual merger with technology starting with pacemakers and hearing aids and ending up as a robot.
We are struggling to grapple with consciousness and computers. When people debate about what is going on inside a computer, however, they do not use the word “conscious,” they use the word “intelligence,” a distinction which only serves to make us feel less creeped out about our computers. Back in the day, it was thought that when a computer could beat a man at chess, then it would be “intelligent”. when this did happen, we set new standards. one of these is the Turing test, wherein a computer holds a conversation (probably with text) with a person, and if after a certain time the person decides if the computer is human or machine. If it tricks the human, then it’s “intelligent”. The thing about this test is it’s time dependent. A computer could already fool me for a few seconds, but try a life time. Anyway, the point is that many people have trouble accepting that consciousness is a sliding scale, and some people will not accept that computers are conscious until they look in a mirror and see this staring back:
So, if you accept that you are indeed a robot and a computer, what does this mean for you and your psyche? Well, a robot can be mass produced, and computers have no identity. When all of your thought patterns can been reduced to information; transmitted, multiplied, lost, transformed, corrupted, and destroyed, what sense of “you” can be retained?
The singularity will expose our construction of our “selfs” as purely that: a construction, but that does not mean that the construction will therefore collapse, that we will cease to exist; it merely means we will regard ourselves quite differently.
If a neuron sends information based on a set of information it receives, how are we different than neurons? We as a human species constitute a brain, a superconsciousness which will erupt with the technological singularity. through technology and our mastery of information we will experience others’ experiences in completely real ways. Just as a small part of our brain read information from the larger brain and body and believed it was the brain and body, we will experience other’s information so directly (even their thoughts) that we will think we are them. Everyone will think they are everyone else, and so we will be one. This is precisely what is meant by “psychesingularity”.