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Fringes of the Future: Futurism and the New Pseudo-Religion

What will humanity’s future be like, and what sorts of technological innovations will it entail? While there are indeed many doomsday forecasts among the projections of leading futureologists today, there are also a host of radical offerings with regard to what future science will bring to mankind, many of which seem to blur the lines between science fiction and religion itself.

The concept of “technological singularity” is certainly something that fascinates me, and in previous posts at this blog, I’ve focused on how this concept may relate to the serious study of ufology; in fact, my upcoming book The UFO Singularity (New Page Books, New York) will also deal with how the study of future science and UFO phenomenon are interrelated. However, there are also aspects of the so-called “Singularitarian” ethos that do seem, as I suggested previously, to border on the spiritual and metaphysical.

Indeed, with the idea of technological singularity as proposed by the movement’s preeminent de facto leader, Ray Kurzweil, we see a revolutionary new kind of emergent interrelationship between man and machine, in which we are not only joined in this world by manufactured intelligence that will eventually surpass our own, but also by innovative systems that will enhance the human existence to a point that our species will become literally capable of super-human feats such as telepathic communication, shape-shifting, and of course, eternal life. The latter of these, rather obviously, entails the most overtly spiritual aspect of the entire quandary: if the technology we create doesn’t destroy humanity as we know it, then it will likely grant us life everlasting. In other words, with technological singularity humans are afforded many of the same offerings that Judeo-Christian teachings have instilled in Western society already… albeit in the absence of a divine creator who dictates such eventualities.

All this taken into consideration, it’s a bit strange how guarded the “Singularitarians” seem to remain when approached by those of us who study phenomenology and the unexplained (yes, the two areas do bear many similarities). Over at the Secret Sun blog, Christopher Knowles accurately noted this odd dichotomy, particularly among advocates of singularity and transhumanism, with regard to their futuristic beliefs, when compared alongside the unexplained and those things considered “fringe.”

I wrote to a Transhumanist blogger in hopes of getting an interview and he refused, claiming that The Secret Sun was “too fringe” for him. Because Transhumanism is so mainstream. Right.

What he really meant is that he didn’t want to risk a seat on the Kurzweil gravy train by being associated with anyone outside the faith who isn’t part of the officially sanctioned media.

Knowles hits the nail right on the head (albeit sarcastically, which in this case I think is warranted), in that here we see the pot calling the proverbial kettle black. With the exception of the very wise (and gracious) Ben Goertzel Ph.D., most of the scholarly Singularitarians (no wait… all of them, actually) that I have approached in recent months refused to be interviewed for The UFO Singularity, on the grounds that they wished not to engage in the debate over speculative subjects. As one budding young Singularitarian put it to me recently, “I do not wish to engage in speculative conversation when there are so many fruitful scientific pursuits within the Transhumanist realm.”

Ahem. No room for speculation, huh?

Good thing we have so much empirical data to support the emergence of artificial intelligence (or more importantly, how it will emerge) in the coming years, as well as the swarms of nanobots that will eventually comprise most of our bodies, and the functional telepathy humans will achieve utilizing future technology, and an entire host of other things that the hopeful Singularitarians hold true in their vision of a better future humanity. Indeed, in many ways, what we seem to be dealing with here is a new kind of “fringe” religion, of sorts… the majority of what Singularity entails, while backed by a few facts and promising trends, seems to be largely faith-based.

All that said, I don’t think that careful and reasoned speculation (yes, calling a spade a spade here) is such a bad thing. Perhaps we can actually learn from, or even stand to gain from the study of things like Singularity. But if that’s the case… couldn’t we also open our minds to the possibility that the same might hold true for reasoned, skeptical study of spirituality, metaphysical sciences, or even UFOs? Maybe in this case, the open-minded among us will get to have our cake, and eat it too.

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  • I think this is a typical case of how people are all too happy to focus their energies and endeavors according to socially-acceptable boundaries.

    It’s the same reason why you find such a reluctance to entertain the idea of ghostly apparitions or extraterrestrial entities among devout followers of a conservative organized religion. Since their leaders don’t pronounce themselves about such issues, why should they?

    Likewise with all these techno-gnostic fanboys of Kurzweill, who are so close-minded as to blindly entertain the possibility of a ‘future’ technological Singularity, while oblivious of their quaint Newtonian bias which considers a strictly linear arrow of time –“You’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally Marty!” 😉

    My advice would be to try to find the chance of asking Kurzweill himself during a live radio show or something. And if that fails, there’s always the Michio Man 😉

  • Transhumanism is just a name. A Transhumanist, in my view, is someone who believes that technology is able to improve the lives of many, rather than follow the old cry of how “machines are stealing our jobs”. Transhumanists are trying to incorporate technology in creative and sometimes disruptive ways trying to break old habits.And, that UFO question you pose to transhumanists sounds kinda off topic…You know, like this: “What do you think of UFO””I don’t think about it.” For which the author seems pissed of at, and calls a transhumanism – a religion. I mean asking questions is a good thing. But let’s concentrate on finding answers instead of trying to score popularity points for asking questions for which no one really’s got an answer to. Well, unless you’ve been abducted and are absolutely certain it was not a DMT pill that little green man from outer space have engineered and slipped to you during your dinner. Phenomenology is a worthwhile subject to consider, especially since it hasn’t got as much of attention as other things, and it also completely turns everything on it’s head.The thing with AI research, Ben Goertzel and the others is that they are trying to do exactly that by creating a smart system, which might be able to make better judgements on subjects of religion, phenomenology and philosophy.Using humans for that sort of is ultimately inefficient and sometimes does more harm than good, creating a personality following and concentrating on what someone wears instead of how that person is using logic to construct their way of thinking. The next thing you know the idea is ignored and society does not benefit… or it does, eventually, when someone else is born who is able to vocalize it to the public, which might not even be ready to receive such information or deal with “mad” sort of concepts.I’m not sure if that made any sense, its more of a rant.Live long and prosper.

  • Gia

    We are a product of beings who are transhuman.They made us.

  • J.Griffin

    the thing is that faith in the goodness of man and his wisdom (or lack thereof)
    in exercising his technological resources has been,
    historically speaking…

    Typically the people in power over the military/industrial complex did not get there by being “nice guys”(or girls).

    scientists&intellectuals have almost NO final say in how new discoveries or technologies are actually applied….
    or shelved and forgotten.

    “Ethics” are not part of the curriculum at Quantico or Langley,either.

    In the words of Albert Einstein:
    “It has become painfully obvious to me that man has entirely too much power…
    To make matters worse,
    he wants even more-
    and he can’t can’t even properly handle what he already has!”

    He and Bertrand Russell (a famous/infamous atheist) tried to lobby the world’s scientists to halt further nuclear development and other reckless destructive abuses of science but they were unsuccessful.

    once again,
    if people’s confidence is blindly put in something as historically questionable as
    “the goodness of man”,especially people with too much power
    (all ego and NO conscience)…
    we will get burned.

    If man wants to create his own god,
    made in his own image,
    through science-
    he should really ask himself if he is prepared to pay the price for failure.

    It’s all well&good to wax eloquent on the benefits of AI and blending man&machine
    but we should be more honest about the potential consequences.

    Who decides what’s normal…
    and what’s right&wrong?

    I have seen that the same kind of people that abuse science are the same kind of people that abused religion.

    It all just serves to pragmatically further their own agendas.

    Just like Hitler-
    he shamelessly used the German Lutheran church…
    ’til they were no longer necessary.

    In conclusion,
    please remember:
    the early adherents of modern Science,
    in their zeal to dominate& replace “religion”,
    somehow forgot to give man any central moral guidance.

    The closest that trickled down was “kill or be killed” but even Darwin never intended that to become a social policy.

    It was just a biological observation-
    the Law of the Jungle.

    As that has become the prevailing undercurrent of this era,
    our cities have increasingly become asphalt Jungles….
    for “Kill or be Killed” is not the Law of Civilization.