|The following piece is FRActal MEtafiction (FRAME); a Futurist Arts & Culture paradigm which draws upon the concepts of Culture Mining and Gamification, and is inspired by artists such as William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Joseph Cornell, Andy Warhol, and Marcel Duchamp, in addition to Postmodern theorists such as Jean Baudrillard.|
[13 3509] Simulated Addition, and Other Oxymorons
[from “Permutation City” by Greg Egan]
Opponents replied that when you modeled a hurricane, nobody got wet. When you modeled a fusion power plant, no energy was produced. When you modeled digestion and metabolism, no nutrients were consumed – no real digestion took place. So, when you modeled the human brain, why should you expect real thought to occur?
A computer model which manipulated data about itself and its “surroundings” in essentially the same way as an organic brain would have to possess essentially the same mental states. “Simulated consciousness” was as oxymoronic as “simulated addition.”
Opponents of the Uploading (Whole Brain Emulation) idea only have two essential arguments to fall back on: Either that consciousness and cognition are not matters of information processing, or that in developing AI we are modelling the wrong information, in the wrong way. One of these claims is falsifiable, and the other can be remedied.
[14 9554] The Cave
[from “The Republic” by Plato]
“Next, then,” I said, “make an image of our nature in its education and want of education, likening it to a condition of the following kind. See human beings as though they were in an underground cavelike dwelling with its entrance, a long one, open to the light across the whole width of the cave. They are in it from childhood with their legs and necks in bonds so that they are fixed, seeing only in front of them, unable because of the bond to turn their heads all the way around. Their light is from a fire burning far above and behind them. Between the fire and the prisoners there is a road above, along which see a wall, built like the partitions puppet-handlers set in front of the human beings and over which they show the puppets.”
“I see,” he said. “Then also see along this wall human beings carrying all sorts of artifacts, which project above the wall, and statues of men and other animals wrought from stone, wood, and every kind of material; as is to be expected, some of the carriers utter sounds while others are silent.” “It’s a strange image,” he said, “and strange prisoners you’re telling of.” “They’re like us,” I said. “For in the first place, do you suppose such men would have seen anything of themselves and one another other than the shadows cast by the fire on the side of the cave facing them?”
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is composed of elements which illuminate any discussion of simulated worlds and the predicament of minds trapped within them. For example, in the allegory the slaves could in principle escape toward the light, understanding that what they’d thought of as primary phenomena are in fact shadows or simulations of something else, something more “real”. What would such a process of escape and/or realization require within a Matrix-like virtual world?
[15 8222] NASA are Idiots
[from “Accelerando” by Charles Stross]
NASA are idiots. “They want to send canned primates to Mars!” Manfred swallows a mouthful of beer, aggressively plonks his glass on the table: “Mars is just dumb mass at the bottom of a gravity well; there isn’t even a biosphere there. They should be working on uploading and solving the nanoassembly conformational problem instead. Then we could turn all the available dumb matter into computronium and use it for processing our thoughts. Long-term, it’s the only way to go. The solar system is a dead loss right now – dumb all over! Just measure the MIPS per milligram. If it isn’t thinking, it isn’t working. We need to start with the low-mass bodies, reconfigure them for our own use. Dismantle the moon! Dismantle Mars! Build masses of free-flying nanocomputing processor nodes exchanging data via laser link, each layer running off the waste heat of the next one in. Matrioshka brains, Russian doll Dyson spheres the size of solar systems. Teach dumb matter to do the Turing boogie!
If abandonment of the human form is necessary for serious colonization of space, then is it still humanity which has conquered the stars?
[16 2201] Sects and The City
[from “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs]
All streets of the City slope down between deepening canyons to a vast, kidney-shaped plaza full of darkness. Walls of street and plaza are perforated by dwelling cubicles and cafes, some a few feet deep, others extending out of sight in a network of rooms and corridors.
At all levels cross-cross of bridges, cat walks, cable cars. Catatonic youths dressed as women in gowns of burlap and rotten rags, faces heavily and crudely painted in bright colors over a strata of beatings, arabesques of broken, suppurating scars to the pearly bone, push against the passer-by in silent clinging insistence.
Traffickers in the Black Meat, flesh of the giant aquatic black centipede – sometimes attaining a length of six feet – found in a lane of black rocks and iridescent, brown lagoons, exhibit paralyzed crustaceans in camouflage pockets of the Plaza visible only to the Meat Eaters.
Followers of obsolete unthinkable trades, doodling in Etruscan, addicts of drugs not yet synthesized, black marketers of World War III, excisors of telepathic sensitivity, osteopaths of the spirit, investigators of infractions denounced by bland paranoid chess players, servers of fragmentary warrants taken down in hebephrenic shorthand charging unspeakable mutilations of the spirit, officials of unconstituted police states, brokers of exquisite dreams and nostalgias tested on the sensitized cells of junk sickness and bartered for raw materials of the will, drinkers of thee Heavy Fluid sealed in translucent amber of dreams.
The Meet Café occupies one side of the Plaza, a maze of kitchens, restaurants, sleeping cubicles, perilous iron balconies and basements opening into the underground baths. On stools covered in white satin sit naked Mugwumps sucking translucent, colored syrups through alabaster straws…
In the City Market is the Meet Café. Followers of obsolete, unthinkable trades doodling in Etruscan, addicts of drugs not yet synthesized, pushers of souped-up harmine, junk reduced to pure habit offering precarious vegetable serenity, liquids to induce Latah, Tithonian longevity serums, black marketeers of World War III, excusers of telepathic sensitivity, osteopaths of the spirit, investigators of infractions denounced by bland paranoid chess players, servers of fragmentary warrants taken down in hebephrenic shorthand charging unspeakable mutilations of the spirit, bureaucrats of spectral departments, officials of unconstituted police states, a Lesbian dwarf who has perfected operation Bang-utot, the lung erection that strangles a sleeping enemy, sellers of orgone tanks and relaxing machines, brokers of exquisite dreams and memories tested on the sensitized cells of junk sickness and bartered for raw materials of the will, doctors skilled in the treatment of diseases dormant in the black dust of ruined cities, gathering virulence in the white blood of eyeless worms feeling slowly to the surface and the human host, maladies of the ocean floor and the stratosphere, maladies of the laboratory and atomic war… A place where the unknown past and the emergent future meet in a vibrating soundless hum… Larval entities waiting for a Live One…
Also in Naked Lunch, Burroughs said “The study of thinking machines teaches us more about the brain than we can learn by introspective methods. Western man is externalizing himself in the form of gadgets.” Do you agree? To your ear, does his statement sound critical, neutral, or celebratory?
[13 3509] A World of Stories
[from “Open Source Democracy” by Douglas Rushkoff]
We are living in a world of stories. We can’t help but use narratives to understand the events that occur around us. The unpredictability of nature, emotions, social interactions and power relationships led human beings from prehistoric times to develop narratives that described the patterns underlying the movements of these forces. Although we like to believe that primitive people actually believed the myths they created about everything, from the weather to the afterlife, a growing camp of religious historians are concluding that early religions were understood much more metaphorically than we understand religion today. As Karen Armstrong explains in A History of God, and countless other religious historians and philosophers from Maimonides to Freud have begged us to understand, the ancients didn’t believe that the wind or rain were gods. They invented characters whose personalities reflected the properties of these elements. The characters and their stories served more as ways of remembering that it would be cold for four months before spring returns than as genuinely accepted explanations for nature’s changes. The people were actively, and quite self-consciously, anthropomorphizing the forces of nature.
Let us assume for a moment that (as is highly likely if you’re reading this) you are critical of religion, both in theory and practice. As long noted by philosophers and other observers, you cannot be consistently critical of a thing without having a consistent understanding of its nature, and thus partially incorporating it into your own identity. In other words, if you know it well enough to oppose it, then it is part of you and your world. If you do oppose religion in this way, you probably think of yourself as a rationalist or empiricist of some sort.
Isn’t it an interesting irony, then, that part of your worldview is caught up with arguing against a naiive, and indeed increasingly infantile notion of what “gods” are. Once they were commonly understood as metaphors, symbols, or representations, but now both the defenders and antagonists of religion spend their time arguing over straw men, or fictional superhumans. Don’t waste your time on such primitivism. Instead, enjoy the fact that you live in a time when ideals which the ancients could only portray as allegorical superhumans can now be realized through technology. Now, we can be the gods, if only we can remember what that means.
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