Is the Singularity Infinitely Near?!

Friends, there is little need to post with any haste to the interwebs to convince you, agree with you all in advance and retroactively, that the going has gotten very weird indeed. Should it perhaps be a new requirement to include the interrobang, mobiused1’s most favoritest punctuation mark, with any and all headline news eruptions?! Should it?!

Notice that I did not say that things had become very grim indeed, or very dire, or other such apocalyptic froth that might kindle or otherwise digitally inflame your darkest fears/desires. Nor are my half closed buddha eyes, transmitting a line of bliss stretching all the way back to Swami Blahblahananda’s exquisite discernment of the vanity of all things in the nanosecond before completing a perfect cannon ball into a sparkling alpine aquamarine pool of pure mirage, suggesting that everything is perfect. (Although it is, I just can’t really tell you about it, as you must perceive it with your own eyes, half open or closed as the case may be.) Instead I am suggesting that we all, individually and collectively, wherever those lines might be imaginatively drawn, be with the weirdness.

And if we dwell with the weirdness before opening our maws to either absorb or declare or opine concerning the latest outrage du jour – a coinage that itself seems remarkably out of synch with whatever this weirdness is – we may be able to feel through the characteristics of this whatever-it-is. We might comically and inadequately summarize them as follows.

  1. It is repetitious, and yet somehow shocking.
  2. We know exactly what is going to occur, and yet we are surprised.
  3. It refuses to be contained by any one narrative, no matter how sprawling and connected its dots seem to connect and sprawl.

Is this the holy trinity of the singularity of weirdness?! Number three would seem to be a corollary of the first two, which are corollaries of each other, or is it all the other way around? Whatever sequence, order and combination of traits you find yourself experimenting with, be with the weirdness, and see if it is not so. Informed cynics will throw concepts at this post, and nod knowingly, holding up placards that read “Dude, welcome to post modernity!” or “Infoquake Alert”, and that is well and good, but the difference here is that none of the concepts can do anything with this weirdness but concept it by putting labels on a placard. The weirdness that cannot be narrated is fundamentally experiential, and we don’t know who is even experiencing it?!

By this I am suggesting that human culture has broken the narrative barrier as change driven by technological transformation creates conditions that change faster than our ability to narrate them. While this has long been observed to be the case by careful observers such as poets, linguists, rhetoricians and philosophers – there is an essential mismatch between our stories about the world and the world, the ideas we have of ourselves and ourselves – this mismatch is now unavoidable. While prophets of the singularity such as Vernor Vinge have emphasized the emergence of a post human intelligence as the impetus for and hallmark of the singularity, it would be odd indeed if we were in any position whatsoever to predict the nature of a planetary event that by its very nature transcends any mode of description. And so while ethicists and others have warned us of the possible effects of a takeover by machine intelligence, AI or flesh covered robots indistinguishable from humans in Philip K. Dick novels, in fact are we witnessing the emergence of a transhuman stupidity unleashed 140 characters at a time?!

Note that I am not joining the chorus of folks claiming social media makes us dumber – but duh, it does – but am instead suggesting that the very capacity to narrate our reality in real time, all together now, creates a narrative dynamic that quite simply cannot keep up with itself. Weird.

Good News: This evolutionary shift will be easy to survive and flourish through. Quite simply, we must cease depending upon something that isn’t there: a coherent narrative that stitches together our social world. The very frequency of the desire by pundits and operatives to “control the narrative” or “change the narrative” shows that there isn’t One, but only the spectre of a narrative that is always about to implode. The present historical/technological moment offers the twin aspects of a desire for total certainty and radical volatility: liability limitation, ISIS, gun fanatics and identity politics are strange bedfellows, but they all share a desire for total certainty even as volatility and uncertainty spike towards infinity. This gradient between the desire for certainty and its ever increasing impossibility creates a narrative crisis in which quite simply, we do not know what is going on. The 14th century text The Cloud of Unknowing may seem a strange manual for our times, but this classic from the contemplative tradition teaches us how to get better and better at not-knowing. As we let go of our desire for and need for narrative certainty, we may laugh as we watch as the world whirls on its merry way, as it was never synched up with our narratives about it in the first place. Weird?!

For now we see through a broken narrative darkly, and so we must look within if we are to find any light. And when we do, we will laugh, and see just how epiphenomenal all this narrative hue and cry really is. The suffering of the world is actual, if wonderfully fleeting, but our concepts of it are major and certainly proximate causes of the suffering, as we narratively attempt, over and over again, to nail jello to the wall.

So, is the singularity infinitely near? We don’t know, and I would suggest that we get good with that. We have nothing to lose but our suffering.

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