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Futurism, Time, Singularity and Consciousness
Sam Ghandchi
December 10, 2014

A Selection of interesting scientific topics:

Topics Index
Beginning of Time and Stephen Hawking
Worldview of a Smart Monkey
Two Paths beyond Singularity and Ray Kurzweil
Understanding Self-Consciousness and Ray Kurzweil


Beginning of Time and Stephen Hawking

For a longtime, we have been seeing the farthest point of the universe to be around 14 billion light years away from us. And all the talk about Big Bang and that point being the beginning of time and space, i.e. our universe! Stephen Hawking in a past phase in his "A Brief History of Time" used to say that to ask what was before that time is like asking what is North of the North Pole because he considered that point to be the beginning of time itself.

What if the reason we have not been able to see anything beyond that point is because that point of time and space is our horizon. I mean for millennia people saw the point of horizon on Earth whenever they looked at a ship in a distance in the sea but because of their pre-Copernican view of the Earth, did not realize that the point of horizon was not the end of the "flat" Earth and no ship would fall, and their observation only meant the Earth is not flat and is a sphere.

Maybe this is somewhat a similar situation about the universe and where we are. I mean, to be able to observe the universe from a point which would have a significant change of horizon for us, we would need to travel distances that will not be possible for our space travel capabilities for a very long time or we would need to communicate with some ET that would be far enough to have a significant different point of horizon from where we are located in the universe.

If the above is true, then all the talk about beginning of time and space around 14 billion years ago may just be because of our own kind of so-called pre-Copernican view of our universe. And thus believing in multiverse would not mean that other universes would be, beyond time and space, and would simply mean that they are beyond our horizon.


Worldview of a Smart Monkey

Bishop of Worcester’s wife is quoted as saying the following about Darwin's Theory of Evolution that ‘Let us hope it is not true. But if it is true, let us hope it does not become generally known.’

Basically she was ashamed of being related to the apes.

Today hardly anybody denies the relation of humans and apes nor would imagine the truth can be hidden. Thinking of ourselves as a smart monkey is not really too farfetched. We still look pretty much like the primitive humans. Maybe in the next 100 years various parts of our body and our brain will go through major changes and even be augmented by many artificial parts and artificial intelligence but for now we are still not much different from the humans of a million years ago.

Religious worldviews which date back to the birth of human civilizations are still with us. For some enlightened humans it has been hard to believe that one religion can have the sole ownership of the truth and thus mysticism has been around among adherents of all religions and in different parts of the world. Rumi's following poem gives the best description of it where he describes Moses and Pharaoh as two shades of the truth:

Since colorlessness became the captive of color, a
Moses went into battle with a Moses

Mysticism was surely less prone to having the illusion of having ownership of the truth than any particular religion. But as human knowledge expanded, it was obvious that believing in Earth and heavenly bodies having been built in 7 days could not be reconciled with our scientific discoveries even if many religions agreed on it. So science became a major challenge to mysticism although, similar to religions, it had more inclination to create the illusion of having the ownership of truth.

In the last five centuries of science and technology, it has become increasingly clear that as we get farther from our times and from the Earth, in time and space, our scientific views become as speculative as the religious views, although we still require scientific theories such as Big Bang theory to go through the rigorous experimental requirements and do not just accept them by faith no matter how much we revere a specific scientist or scientific discipline. Even Einstein's theories were put to rigorous tests long after his death.

Early scientific philosophies such as 18th century materialism assumed that extrapolation of our new science in time and space can be infinite. Cosmologists were more tilted towards Steady State theory of the universe. Einstein's Relativity, Quantum Theory and later the Big Bang theory were major blows to the pseudo-certitude of not only mechanistic materialism but they blew away the dialectical materialism of communists. Science does not accept any dogma as a matter of faith. This is why the attempts of Nazis and Communists to make an eternal dogma out of science failed.

We know that our universe is about 14 billion years old. But we hardly understand anything beyond that, in space or time, or if other dimensions and parallel universes are possible. We have no answers to these questions and human science may not have answers to them for a long time. In such areas, extrapolations of various scientific disciplines may be as good as speculations of various religions but scientific mind will not resort to any dogma like dialectical materialism to have pseudo-certitude.

Science of today is far from the materialist science of 18th century. Not only the phenomena like quarks of quantum theory are part of this science but it is open to investigate things beyond the dimensions that our human senses can detect and does not consider such speculations as unscientific hallucinations. This is not going back to the ideologies and religions of antiquity but it shows we are now ready to examine a bigger scope of phenomena by post-human science than it was possible with a science bound by materialism.


Two Paths beyond Singularity and Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil in his magnum opus entitled “The Singularity is Near” predicts that by 2045 humanity will pass a point of Singularity.

Kurzweil suggests that by 2027 computers will work at the speed of 10 CPS, bypassing the speed of the human brain, and by 2045 humans that are not augmented by artificial intelligence will not be able to compete. He further shows that human progress in the 21st century will be equal to 20,000 years, meaning that the 100 years of this century, that we are now living in, are equal to moving forward 10 times all the 2000 years of the history of the past. In other words, if it took 10,000 years for carriages and horse roads to expand over the Earth, and 100 years for automobiles and highways, for computers and the Internet just a decade was enough to connect the Earth.

Beyond the upcoming singularity, there are at least two paths for humanity to advance:
First is the path of what has hitherto been referred to as “work” in all human civilizations. This role can better be fulfilled by a non-biological intelligent tool. Already, products like vision systems simulating the work related to our sense perceptions, expert systems simulating work related to our knowledge and expertise, and language translators are examples of such devices. We could get to a point of downloading our brain onto these artificial devices soon.

Second is the path of modifying genes and biological structures of our body even to the point of using nanobots, as Kurzweil notes, not only to overcome diseases but also to make us resistant to radiation or to live without oxygen.

Why should this path of a new biological variant be pursued? Biological entities are much more capable than non-biological intelligent tools in their self-learning of the external world. If we were to use Kant’s terminology, the former is better at *synthetic * truth whereas the latter is better at *analytic * truth. The above fact is not going to be any different even when we pass the human CPS speed. Even right now, less advanced biological entities, which have lower CPS speed than their non-biological counterparts, are better at the former.

Thus it seems that both paths of human advancement will be important in the post-singularity world, and we should not drop one in favor of the other.

Kurzweil's Comment: I agree that hardware alone is not sufficient but my key point is that we are making exponential gains in mastering the software of life and intelligence as well. I disagree that biological intelligence will be better than nonbiological intelligence at anything come the 2030s.


Understanding Self-Consciousness and Ray Kurzweil

New research shows rhesus monkeys are able to recognize themselves in the mirror. In spite of this discovery, the power of self-awareness is an important distinction of human mental powers from those of other intelligent beings. We do not know about the power of self-awareness in the common ancestor of humans and rhesus monkeys, but there is no doubt that our self-consciousness is way beyond that of primitive humans.

For example, while rereading an article which we have written years ago, we can recall ourselves at a different time and space. Tool-making, language and writing have played a role in development of human self-consciousness throughout history. With the start of modern times and growth of individuality, self-consciousness has developed further. The brief statement of Descartes “I think therefore I am” is a good description of the importance of self-consciousness for the modern human. Surely, the modern human acting with higher self-awareness in society thinks more independently than those humans who were a part of a “mass” in the Middle Ages.

More than ten years ago Ray Kurzweil made a robot called Ramona that was supposed to help his website readers in his place. It is interesting that the robot was made as a woman to simulate Mr. Kurzweil. Kurzweil narrates that in this experience he noticed how much people identify with the visual appearance. He continues that real identity is not equal to visual appearance and thus we need deeper mirrors.

What we have written in a book, when rereading at a different time and place, is an identity of ours that has nothing to do with our visual appearance. If we have written a music piece, even at its time of composition, we have used our auditory system to create it, and later, to listen to it, without using our sense of sight.

This is why in meditation all our senses and thought are used to bring us a deeper understanding of ourselves. It is interesting that Descartes founded the scientific method itself as a form of self-consciousness. He narrates it in Discourse on Method as days of meditation as if it were some kind of self-awakening.

In fact, writing, composing music and drawing paintings have made deeper kinds of self-awareness possible. But today, thanks to new technologies, there is the possibility for newer evolvement of self-awareness. Self-consciousness perhaps has a genetic foundation, but these environmental factors likely contribute to its growth. And it can grow in AI by self-learning algorithms.

When a person calls someone on the phone or sends an email and receives a response, without the sender or receiver ever seeing each other, self-awareness is developing separate from visual appearance; contrary to the delayed experience of books, here the immediacy of everyday conversation is possible. With the growth of smart phones, this strength in the means of communications is reaching the dimensions of face to face conversation.

Can’t we expect the human self-consciousness to develop like a geometric series? Hasn’t the Internet turned into something like a deeper mirror that Kurzweil is talking about? If modern democracy evolved with independent, individual thinking in the West, can't we hope that cyberspace lets humans globally develop a deeper view of themselves beyond visual appearance?

Kurzweil's Comment: Dear Sam, It is remarkable how much people identify with their visual appearance. When I changed myself into Ramona for my 2001 TED presentation, even though the technology was fairly crude by today’s standards, it did give me the idea that my true identity is not my visual appearance, that we can and will change that. We need deeper mirrors.
All the best, Ray


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