Where The World Is Headed

"What, then, is the Singularity? It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed...There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality..."

-- Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near

"By shifting to a virtual world, we go beyond alienation, into a state of radical deprivation of the Other, or indeed of any otherness, alterity, or negativity. We move into a world where everything that exists only as idea, dream, fantasy, utopia will be eradicated, because it will immediately be realized, operationalized. Nothing will survive as an idea or a concept. You will not even have time enough to imagine. Events, real events, will not even have time to take place. Everything will be preceded by its virtual realization. We are dealing with an attempt to construct an entirely positive world, a perfect world, expurgated of every illusion, of every sort of evil and negativity, exempt from death itself. This pure, absolute reality, this unconditional realization of the world -- this is what I call the Perfect Crime."

-- Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion

On the Horizon:

People will soon upload their entire brain to computers

Clones of the future will experience not death, but cyberdeath

A new nihilism


Notes & References

People will soon upload their entire brain to computers

"What, then, is the Singularity? It's a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed...The Singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human but that transcends our biological roots. There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine or between physical and virtual reality...

“A more controversial application than the scanning-the-brain-to-understand-it scenario is scanning the brain to upload it. Uploading a human brain means scanning all of its salient details and then reinstantiating those details into a suitably powerful computational substrate. This process would capture a person’s entire personality, memory, skills, and history.

“If we are truly capturing a particular person’s mental processes, then the reinstantiated mind will need a body, since so much of our thinking is directed toward physical needs and desires…by the time we have the tools to capture and re-create a human brain with all of its subtleties, we will have plenty of options for twenty-first-century bodies for both non-biological humans and biological humans who will avail themselves of extensions to our intelligence. The human body version 2.0 will include virtual bodies in completely realistic virtual environments, nanotechnology-based physical bodies, and more.”

– Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near (New York: Viking, 2005), pp. 7, 9, 198-199. See also "Google’s Chief Engineer: People Will Soon Upload Their Entire Brains To Computers"

Clones of the future will experience not death, but cyberdeath

"There is, in effect, a liberation from death that parallels liberation from sex. As we have dissociated reproduction from sex, so we try to dissociate life from death. To save and promote life and life only, and to render death an obsolete function one can do without, as, in the case of artificial reproduction, we can do without sex.

"So death, as a fatal or symbolic event, must be erased. Death must be included only as virtual reality, as an option or changeable setting in the living being's operating system. This is a reprogramming that proceeds along the lines of the virtualization of sex, the 'cybersex' that waits for us in the future, as a sort of ontological 'attraction'. All these useless functions -- sex, thought, death -- will be redesigned, redesignated as leisure activities. And human beings, henceforth useless, might themselves be preserved as a kind of ontological 'attraction'. This could be another aspect of what Hegel has called the moving life of what is dead. Death, once a vital function, could thus become a luxury, a diversion. In future modes of civilization, from which death will have been eliminated, clones of the future may well pay for the luxury of dying and become mortal once again in simulation: cyberdeath."

-- Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), pp.11-12

A New Nihilism

In April 2009 we published the following in Excerpts & Passages:

Life Desacralized

"...once upon a time we felt a need to worship something which lay beyond the visible world. Beginning in the seventeenth century we tried to substitute a love of truth for a love of God, treating the world described by science as a quasi divinity. Beginning at the end of the eighteenth century we tried to substitute a love of ourselves for a love of scientific truth, a worship of our own deep spiritual or poetic nature, treated as one more quasi divinity...[perhaps we are getting to] the point where we no longer worship anything, where we treat nothing as a quasi divinity, where we treat everything -- our language, our conscience, our community -- as a product of time and chance."

-- Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

"There is no doubt, it seems to me, that there have been profound changes in the experience of man in the last thousand years. In some ways this is more evident than changes in the patterns of his behavior. There is everything to suggest that man experienced God. Faith was never a matter of believing. He existed, but of trusting, in the presence that was experienced and known to exist as a self-validating datum. It seems likely that far more people in our time experience neither the presence of God, nor the presence of his absence, but the absence of his presence."

-- R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience

"Can the stage of not seeing anything as a "quasi divinity" be itself substituted by a still less exalted stage? As Rorty suggests, there has been in modern times a sort of downgrading of the objects of our reverence: first there was God; then there was truth; then there were humanistic ideals; today many of us live in a state of agnostic apathy, perhaps a little too aware of the inadequateness of all belief systems, be they religious, political or philosophical. Perhaps there is very little vivacity in us, and we turn perpetually to the goings-on of culture to feel alive or a little less alone.

"How then is this "movement toward the less exalted" continued? Or to put it in Laingian terms, is there an absence even starker than the "absence of God's presence"? Has the nihilism Nietzsche wrote about passed on its genes -- is there a nihilism on the horizon that will make the earlier forms seem charming by comparison?"

-- Tim Ruggiero, 4/1/2009

Consider again the question above: How is the “movement toward the less exalted” continued? What are the growth prospects for an ontology of absence?

Perhaps in the years ahead, the utensils of the technological imagination would have wiped out reflective cerebration altogether and substituted it with total passivity and a giddy nod to all things new. Perhaps technology will arrive at the point where the non-existence of God will be seen and felt universally as self-evident, in much the same way that the roundness of earth is accepted today. [1] This certitude might be accompanied by the “discovery” that there is no ultimate ground of truth and morality, that human existence in the cosmic sense is ultimately meaningless. These conclusions will not arrive by way of scientific research but by some ensemble of technological contraptions pointing the way to a new nihilism.

Nobody will be around to ask, “What is the meaning and point of human life?” For there will not be one, except of course to upload one’s brain to computers, to download the millionth app, to explore even further the frontier of techno-nihilism. The operative question in society will be “how” rather than “why”: how to render death obsolete, how to market one’s clone in virtual dimensions, etc., not “Why is this necessary?”

The triumph, then, of the mundane over the sublime, of the machine over the soul, or as the writer William Buckley once put it, a finality in which “the eschaton is immanentized.”

Life as axiological void. Existence without a contemplative, affective dimension, without a dissenting intelligence, without poet or philosopher; teeming, nevertheless, with possibilities, such as the 3D (and 4D) printing and assembly of everything, bodies and minds engineered in cyber environments, surveillance systems which can not only read and decode minds but forecast the future as well.

The crowning glory of humanity has always been the capacity to pass judgment on the forces of society and nature, to challenge Power rather than to prostrate oneself before it. [2] But it is this very capacity which is threatened in the complete technologizing of life, in the exodus to a virtual realm and to a realm beyond.


In August 1945, the novelist Elias Canetti wrote the following in his diary:

"A tormenting thought: as of a certain point, history was no longer real. Without noticing it, all mankind suddenly left reality; everything happening since then was supposedly not true, but we supposedly didn't notice. Our task would now be to find that point, and as long as we didn't have it, we would be forced to abide in our present destruction." [3]

Commenting on the passage above, Jean Baudrillard writes:

"What could be said about this blind point of reversal, where nothing is either true or false any longer and everything is drifting indifferently between cause and effect, between origin and finality? Is it reversible or irreversible? Can we return to the point where the line of history was broken and we were projected to the other side of the mirror? Can we survive the Metastases of the Real as we survived the Death of God? Are we dedicated to survival, or to revival?" [4]

Looking at the world today, is there anything to suggest a yearning on the part of humanity to return to a pre-simulated, pre-virtualized existence? Is there even nostalgia for the modus vivendi and axiologies of old? Is it still too early to answer Baudrillard’s third question in the negative, to say that no point of return to the “historical real” is possible and that the road ahead lies in what Nietzsche once described as an “infinite nothingness”?

That our collective technophilia might be called to account in some public arena, that it might be interrogated by reflective thought and made to justify itself – such a prospect, if once expected of an enlightened society, would now be seen at the very least as chimerical. There is no public anymore, and there are relatively few citizens left who attach any value at all to the examined life. Enough time has passed that only a paucity would even know what Canetti and Baudrillard had in mind by the “disappearance of the real.” An ever-growing population of the young has only ever known the “real” as virtual reality, as the sum of so many screen effects, neural spikes, online experiences, and fragmented and fleeting social encounters.

Can anything stall or interrupt the technological march to the unknown? Might there be a moment or fortuitous event which conjures the human mind back to its beginnings and re-acquaints it with its finitude, re-acquaints it with the basic moral and metaphysical questions of life? Or is the verdict already in? The verdict being that technology exerts an almost hypnotizing spell on people, as seen in the lure of a shiny new phone or tablet, the tactile thrill of sticking something into one’s ears or holding something in one’s palm, the apparent frisson that a certain segment of the population derives from text-messaging, etc. The verdict being that technologists, not poets or artists, are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

Where is the resistance now to technics, and if none is detectable, why would anyone think there would be any opposition to the next wave of high-tech gadgetry and experimentation?

Humanity is very likely headed toward what Kurzweil calls the Singularity and Baudrillard describes as the Final Solution. A caesura in this process will probably not arise as the result of moral protest or from a sudden shift in the global zeitgeist. Something entirely unforeseen will have to happen – a scientific discovery out of the blue, perhaps, or a botched undertaking that leads to a re-examination of certain prevailing assumptions.

Consider, for instance, that after so many aeons of studying the smallest constituents of matter, scientists did not finally endorse a Democritean-materialist world-view; in fact, quantum theory led them away from it. As Werner Heisenberg observed, modern physics is closer to Plato in world-view than to Democritus:

For the smallest units of matter are, in fact, not physical objects in the ordinary sense of the word; they are forms, structures or – in Plato’s sense – Ideas, which can be unambiguously spoken of only in the language of mathematics…If we wish to approach the ‘one’ in the terms of a precise scientific language, we must turn out attention to that center of science described by Plato, in which the fundamental mathematical symmetries are to be found. In the concepts of this language we must be content with the statement that ‘God is a mathematician’; for we have freely chosen to confine our vision to that realm of being which can be understood in the mathematical sense of the word ‘understanding,’ which can be described in rational terms. [5]

What naturalist, materialist, atheist is not the least bit chagrined to be reminded by someone of the stature of Heisenberg that underneath the tiniest particles there lie not Democritean atoms but Platonic ideas? Not matter but transcendent non-matter?

Nor is Heisenberg’s interpretation idiosyncratic. This is what the physicist Peter Gorham recently concluded about the nature of subatomic particles:

The universe can’t exist the way it is without the neutrinos, but they seem to be in their own separate universe, and we’re trying to actually make contact with that otherworldly universe of neutrinos. And as a physicist, even though I understand it mathematically and I understand it intellectually, it still hits me in the gut that there is something here around surrounding me almost like some kind of spirit or god that I can’t touch, but I can measure it. I can make a measurement. It’s like measuring the spirit world or something like that. [6]

What are the chances that physicists will one day be able to make “contact” with these neutrinos – that is, do more than merely measure them? Could such a meeting somehow disrupt or throw into question the Singularity? Or might the Singularity itself be merely the prelude to the re-divinization of humanity? A movement toward an unknown destination, disturbing from a moral or philosophical perspective, but essential to a degree that we at present cannot understand; the triumph of technics, of machine values, and also of virtual reality might somehow be necessary in the long run for the effecting of some consummation or entelechy. Perhaps a century from now philosophers will conclude that rumors of God’s demise were greatly exaggerated, and that the Spirit was really hiding in “that otherworldly universe of neutrinos.” Who knows, who can say right now?

Notes & References

1. Cf. George Steiner on this point:

"It is only when the question of the existence or non-existence of God will have lost all actuality, it is only when, as logical positivism teaches, it will have been recognized and felt to be strictly nonsensical, that we shall inhabit a scientific-secular world…It may well be that the forgetting of the question of God will be the nub of cultures now nascent. It may be that the verticalities of reference to ‘higher things,’ to the impalpable and mythical which are still incised in our grammars, which are still the ontological guarantors of the arcs of metaphor, will drain from speech (consider the ‘languages’ of the computer and the codes in artificial intelligence). Should these mutations of consciousness and expression come into force, the forms of aesthetic making as we have known them will no longer be productive…Philology will no longer know a Logos for its love. I have adverted to the fact that so large a measure of contemporary musical performance and audition, of what is seen in the museum, of what is canonic in textuality, already looks to the past."

The passage above can be found in Real Presences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 230-231.

2. For more on this idea, see Tim Ruggiero, “The Baudrillardian Strategy – Looking into the Killer’s Eyes,” International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, October 2007.

3. Elias Canetti, The Human Province (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), pp.69-70.

4. Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion, pp.62-63.

5. Heisenberg, quoted in Ken Wilber, Quantum Questions (Boston: Shambhala, 1984), pp.45-55.

6. See “The Most Ridiculous Particle,” Philosophical, April 3, 2012.