This is a place for exploring Singularity related ideas and inspirations.
This includes Transhumanism, Posthumanism, The Nature of Technology and the Technology of Nature. It is a basic assumption here that innovation is in strata and built on the ground of previous innovations, though sometimes obscured.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Seven Days of Emergence

The Seven Days of Singularity


On the 1st day of Singularity the A.I. gave to me
The key to Longevity.

On the 2nd day of Singularity the A.I. gave to me
Two hover cars
And the key to Longevity.

On the 3rd day of Singularity the A.I. gave to me
Four space elevators
Two hover cars
And the key to Longevity.

On the 4th day of Singularity the A.I. gave to me
Eight neural implants
Four space elevators
Two hover cars
And the key to Longevity.

On the 5th day of Singularity the A.I. gave to me
Sixteen fusion cores
Eight neural implants
Four space elevators
Two hover cars
And the key to Longevity.

On the 6th day of Singularity the A.I. gave to me
Thirty Two quantum teleporters
Sixteen fusion cores
Eight neural implants
Four space elevators
Two hover cars
And the key to Longevity.

On the 7th day of Singularity the A.I. gave to me
Sixty Four avatars
Thirty Two quantum teleporters
Sixteen fusion cores
Eight neural implants
Four space elevators
Two hover cars


And the key to Longevity.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

An Integral Model of Transhumanism

http://hplusmagazine.com/2013/12/26/an-integral-framework-for-transhumanism/

An Integral Model of Transhumanism


I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

Richard Brautigan
All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace




The ancient Sumerians had a tradition of rebuilding the crumbling ziggurats of mud bricks that were the dwelling places of a city's patron deity. They repeatedly reconstructed the glazed facades of their tiered mountains upon which the stood temples where priests could more closely watch in awe and map the movements of stars. Nowadays our civilization tends to deify the crumbling temples, walls and pyramids of the past as though there is something sacred not so much in their inspiration and connotation but in their original materials and construction. In the Sumerian creation myth the Enuma Elish the young gods overthrew the old and took their place in the ruling and shaping of the world. The Ancient Greek and Hindu mythologies had a similar palimpsest of the new overwriting the old. In modern post industrial culture the foundational documents, stories and heroes of past are sacred and awe inspiring. While many are looking backward despite the rising tide of change covering our feet, some of us are looking forward.  While Prometheus looked forward, his brother Epimetheus looked back. The creative power embodied in the fire stolen from Hephaestus by Prometheus, and now directed by human knowledge we can call Techne.


At first examination Transhumanism is a complex and quickly evolving Promethean school of thought loosely woven together with a variety of conversations and points of view. It is kind of a crazy quilt of ideas and technologies in which it is difficult initially to discern much more than a common definition. It seems there are already a few manifestos still glowing from Hephaestus' forge. There is some uncertainty, at least in my own mind where the movement begins and ends. The history of Transhumanism is bound inseparably to the history and evolution of technology from the Paleolithic tools and crafts on through printing presses and mechanical looms and onto smartphones, gene therapy and military drones. The Transhuman Self is a part of the self organizing system of the Technium, the self reinforcing and self organizing ecology of technological innovation. The more we dig into the definition and movement the more it calls into question our place in the natural world, the nature of human evolution and where technology fits into the natural order of the Earth community and cosmos as a whole. Max More defined the movement nicely as the "using of reason, science and technology but by good will to overcome fundamental human limits to live longer than we've ever lived, to become smarter, to become emotionally better than we have ever been."

This is a good start though I would like to expand the definition and explore an integrative vision of human evolution that incorporates physiology, psychology, spirituality, culture and environmentalism. Since I am new to transhumanism, having only learned of the movement in the past year I have needed an intelligible and digestible framework to put all of the disparate ideas into. As a result I've constructed an outline of Types of Enhancement and Categories of Technology that I'd like to begin to explore here. Though the various definitions of Transhumanism seem to be longhand for Human Evolution, especially in relationship with technology, it's focus seems primarily on biology with little concern for Evolutionary Psychology. Likewise, spiritual development generally seems to be somewhat of a dirty word, which is a curious thing that I will begin to address later. I must admit here that I am partial to Terence McKenna's so called Stoned Ape hypothesis and a kind of techno-shamanism.

My own fascination with evolutionary science and technology originated in watching the first landing on the moon, reading R. Buckminster Fuller's works, browsing the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, carefully digesting Toffler's Future Shock, studying cosmology and various works of science fiction. My educational background was in the study of Transpersonal and Ecopsychology and I'm fascinated by the intersection of psyche, technology and nature. More recently I've been reading, thinking and reviewing the innovations and ideas of Artificial Intelligence and Transhumanism presented in various novels, articles and discussions online from Google+ and various blogs as well as watching a few engaging documentaries, interviews and reading a few books still made of real paper. Writing a novel that explores some of the implications of neural implants, nanotechnology and A.I.was an opportunity to try to put all these innovations together into a coherent story. This article is a similar exploration without the art of prose and the play of narrative.

Types of Enhancement:
Performance, Cosmetic, Health, Intelligence

Performance enhancements include cardiovascular, muscular, skeletal modifications for the purpose of increasing capabilities and pushing competitive limits. Artificial red blood cells for runners, biking and swimming, carbon fiber reinforced skulls and bones for football players, increased hand eye coordination for baseball, hockey and most competitive sports.

Cosmetic enhancements include adjustments to appearance that could vary from height, muscle size, skin tone and coloration, fur and hair, shape and color of teeth and nails. I can easily imagine that people will not only want to be healthy but also adjust their appearance so they look as young, robust and healthy as they might feel. And if the ability is there, why not have leopard like fur, camouflage pigmentation, chameleon like chromatophores or even photosynthetic skin?

Health enhancements seem the most obvious and maybe highest priority. The focus here is medical technologies for treating dis-ease such as repairing genetic defects, binding nanoscale molecules to cancer surface receptors, RNA interference, fighting viruses, repairing, replacing and growing organs and limbs, combating aging and reaching optimum health.

Intelligence enhancements. Neuron growth, brain implants, and smart drugs. It's not difficult to imagine direct neural access to the vast stores of information hosted on the web. Our species has been ingesting various organic chemical substances for millennia to enhance our pattern recognition and processing, creative innovation and sensorial capacities. Mushrooms may have enhanced neuron growth and the development of language and imagination. Other substances such as peyote, cocoa leaf extract, marijuana, opium, fermented barley and grapes, tea and coffee have all had profound influence on our civilization. The influence of psychedelics alone on our modern technology and arts is well documented and without caffeine and sugar our hyper-modern civilization would probably collapse.

Categories of Technology:
Orthotic, Prosthesis, Simulation, Substrate

It is in some ways difficult to map out stages of development in Transhumanism since some categories of technology do not become fully obsolete. Kevin Kelly noted this tendency in What Technology Wants. In this sense it might be better to think of these as domains or categories of technology.

Orthotic: Externally applied Structural or Functional devices made to control, guide, restrict or assist movement, to correct shape and function or reduce pain. Classic examples are braces for teeth, podiatry, combat armor, sports padding, helmets and cleats. Then there are mechanical exoskeletons being experimented with for military uses and assistive technology for the elderly and disabled. There are also cognitive orthotics to assist with memory loss and mental impairments. Since I can't effectively function without the calendar and address book imbedded on my iPhone, not to mention my obsessive use of Wikipedia and Google I would argue that such a precocious little device as a smart phone as well as search engines and a dynamic encyclopedia of knowledge falls into this category of an intelligence orthotic as well.

Prosthesis: An artificial device to replace a body part... Here humans become bio-synthetic hybrids. Simple limb replacements have been used from the time of the ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Some great contemporary examples are metallic knee replacements, pacemakers, cornea transplants, retinal implants, cochlear implants, microprocessor controlled knee-joints, bilateral carbon fiber leg blades, myoelectric or robotic arms and hands controlled by targeted muscle reinnervation, artificial hearts and deep brain stimulators to treat Parkinson's disease.

Simulation: The imitation of real world processes... Some contemporary examples are the use of crash test dummies, scale models and wind tunnels, digital and analog music reproduction, under water spacewalk training, voice recognition software, gamepad vibration feedback, haptic interfaces, flight and combat simulators, motion capture suits, video games characters, avatars in virtual reality worlds, audiovisual chatbot avatars, software based artificial life, neural networks and the Whole Brain Emulation project.

Substrate: Human consciousness may be migrated from our modified biological substrate into an enhanced smart biology. Transfer to robotic bodies or uploading into computational simulated environments are possible but debatable scenarios. And then there are visions of the transformation of the dumb matter of the Earth and cosmos into computronium and the transfer of consciousness into the larger ecology of this and other universes.

All of this begs the question though of what is this conscious identity, this self that we long to immortalize?

The Substrates of Self
Personal, Transpersonal, Ecological, Socio-Cultural



Who we are is clearly larger than the lens and mirror of our conscious mind can take in all at once. I've come to think of growth and identity as a more dynamic nonlinear system. Most of the models of development I grew up with and was educated with were more distinctly linear. First this stage then the next one and the next one. But maybe our psyches are shaped more like trees with different limbs and we grow in different capacities at different rates. At some times in our lives we grow more along the personal limb, at others the socio-cultural, at still others our relationship with our environment or our spiritual capacities are predominant. The Self is not bounded simply by one's own skin but is more of a nexus in a complex system of distributed identity in development. This works well with the insights of Depth, Transpersonal and Ecopsychology. 

Personal: This is the domain of what we normally think of as psychology, personal and interpersonal. It is one's personal identity and one's place in a context of relationships from the family system to one's friends and work place. The old notions of the atomistic self lay here, though self consciousness is a limited portion of the psyche as a whole.

Transpersonal: Our connection with the sacred and that which inspires awe. It matters not what the source of mystical experiences are, they are an integral part of being human. Deep states of being, peace and bliss arise from mindfulness and meditation. Psychedelics and entheogens open us to profound experiences of communion, energy flow, understanding and extraterrestrial states of being. Breathwork and dance generate deep archetypal somatic and symbolic experiences. Being in nature brings experiences of peace and wisdom.

Ecological: As Gregory Bateson said, the basic unit if evolution is an organism and it's environment. Sense of place. Many Indigenous peoples around the world have discussed their deep connection with the landscape and the fight for land claims persists not simply for access to resources but because of a deep identification with the land. The term Solastalgia has gained some recognition, defined as the pain one feels when one's place is under assault. Despite the ideological confusion engendered by the church in previous centuries it seems obvious now that were are as a species an integral part of the biomes and biosphere we inhabit.

Socio-Cultural: The multigenerational transmission of the shared repository of knowledge, stories, arts, crafts, language, laws, rituals, food and customs. Every individual emerges out of a distinct culturaheritage and participates in a modern society of hybridization. Myths, ideas and memes take root in us, shaping the way we live and think and are transmitted around the Earth and through the generations. I've long held the notion that there are culturally preferred states of consciousness that are reinforced by the narratives we are surrounded by and ingest on a daily basis. Culture shapes consciousness, innovation and creativity. In that sense, Transhumanism and Posthumanism are new forms of cultural narrative that we are growing in our literature, conversations and actions.

Digital: The digital strata of the Technium may have emerged out of the Socio-Cultural substrate but has gained a unique distinction, power and presence in our psyches. While working in trades our identity becomes entangled with specific tools. That specific hammer, line tester, wooden spoon, pan or spatula become a part of who we are just as certain clothing, jewelry and colors become our own. On websites and online worlds we establish primitive avatars and in video games we identify with and play specific characters of certain races, with preferred orientations and abilities. I've lost track of how many times have my kids argued over who got to play Mario or who gets to be Player One. The adventures of game characters like Link in The Legend of Zelda series have become a part of my family's personal history and sometimes game adventures become metaphors for our own Real Life situations.

The digital substrate is so complex now that it's no longer a simple matter of which operating system is best or which graphics program, web browser, word processor or cloud we use. What is of greater distinction is the communities and sites we inhabit on a regular basis and the media and conversations we steep ourselves in. Smart phones are good tools for grabbing and throwing bits of information, tablets for relaxed media consumption and computers for churning out work on a secure network. Our presence and writing voice differs sometimes frustratingly between turned based text messaging conversations, emails with carefully manicured tones, more dynamic blogs, online dating profiles, and rapid social media exchanges. Google+ is where I strive to have intelligent conversations but Facebook (that carefully watched walled garden) for seeing where old friends are going, what they're eating, making smart ass comments though others enjoy their personal pep rallies. I have four email addresses, each for different purposes that have different orbits and rotations in my life including one so distant I usually ignore it. 

As our neural interfaces mature and move from Orthotics to Prosthetics the depth and complexity of how we inhabit the Digital will continue to increase in subtlety and complexity. This will become much more apparent as we shift away from screen bound websites and into our increasingly augmented world suffused with information, anchored and oozing from in every nook and cranny.  As our glasses give way to neural implants the flat page will increasingly go the way of the Dodos and the DVD  and virtual worldsites will bloom in our collective imagination.


The Promethean Self then that is sought to be preserved in Transhumanism is a dynamic system unfolding out of a unique integration of various substrates. The brain itself is not a single organ but a complex organ system that evolved to collaborate fairly effectively over millions of years. Further, human consciousness does not depend simply on a particular configuration of neural patterns but extends into the organ systems of one's body and extends into all of the different substrates that are woven together into one's whole being. This fits nicely with Professor Anthony Miccoli's ideas of Posthumanism in which the Self is composed of a kind of distributed cognition that extends into the various topologies we inhabit, including the spaces we occupy and the wetware of the brain. And so like the Ship of Theseus we can indeed progressively modify and replace our component parts though the Self we end up with will not be the same Self we started off with. Such is, I guess the nature of human development and evolution.



Author's Bio

Stephen Kagan is an author of contemplative poetry and the speculative fiction novel Augmented Dreams. With over 20 years of work experience in IT he currently works at the University of Victoria in beautiful British Columbia. He studied at Goddard College in Vermont, the Library of Tibetan a Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India and has an MA in East West Psychology from CIIS in San Francisco. He has a long standing interest in the psychology of consciousness, ecopsychology and the melting point of psyche, technology and nature. www.augmenteddreams.net & http://singularitypalimpsest.blogspot.ca/

Friday, December 20, 2013

Lucid Dreaming

In Response to +Jason Silva video: Lucid Dreaming:



Are we not already submersed within the personal and cultural narratives woven together through the centuries and eons of collective storytelling we call identity and civilization?

 Is the cosmos not a story, from the vibrant probabilities we call particles to the dance of molecules and ecosystems? Is this not a story we are already submersed within as our intelligence unfolds systemically in sensitivity and power and we shape the raw energies of the Earth and cosmos into something more inspiring and profound?


And yes: "When humanity shrugged off the shackles of the flat page and was finally freed of the tyranny of the word, the Collective Unconscious came out to play in the space where electrons dance."

From the novel: Augmented Dreams

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Machines Of Loving Grace

All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace

I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
programming harmony
like pure water
touching clear sky.

I like to think
(right now, please!)
of a cybernetic forest
filled with pines and electronics
where deer stroll peacefully
past computers
as if they were flowers
with spinning blossoms.

I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.
© Richard Brautigan. All rights reserved

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Transhumanist Wager



Book Review
Spoilers Included

The Transhumanist Wager is a philosophical science fiction novel about the emergence of a Transhumanism movement in contemporary society and it's ideological and political conflicts with the church and the government. It is a best selling philosophical science fiction on Amazon written by Zoltan Istvan, a former journalist for National Geographic now publishing articles in Psychology Today and The Huffington Post. A year ago I had never heard of transhumanism but have been interested in technological and scientific innovation ever since I watched the first moon landing as a child and read Future Shock and the works of R. Buckminster Fuller as a teen. After studying the Transpersonal and EcoPsychology in graduate school and workeing in IT for over 20 years I naturally became interested in Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnology and the ideas of a technological Singularity at first from the writings of Kevin Kelly and then Ray Kurzweil and others.
Transhumanism while related to the technological innovations of a Singularity,  is more specifically concerned with the transformation and evolution of humanity through technological enhancements. One of the goals of transhumanism along with improved health is the attainment of longevity and immortality. The Wager referred to in the book The Transhumanist Wager is defined as: "those who love life will strive to extend and improve life as long as possible." In this sense Wager is not so much a bet as a solemn vow, to Wage. The novel chronicles the adventures and struggles of Jethro Knights, a young transhumanist philosopher in his attempts to clarify and promote his philosophy and instill a global technological revolution for the goal of human enhancement and attaining immortality. It begins with a journey of self discovery in a circumnavigation of the planet and Jethro's self defined mastery of western philosophy. The main part of the story takes place in modern America, a divided nation sliding irrevocably into a corrupt theocracy that demonizes all of the technologies of human transformation beyond the simple enhancements for improving health. As a result, support for general technological innovation becomes weakened, the economy falters, and the government and the culture become ripe for totalitarian religious control.

Characters:
Many of the characters in the novel have rich backgrounds but are elegantly simple, if not exaggerated extremes like dramatic heroes and villains that have been cast to challenge and counterbalance each other. They are in a sense antidotes for each other's poisons and antagonists for each other's weaknesses. Through the lens of depth psychology Jethro, the main character, is not really a whole actualized person but rather represents a rational egoic consciousness, Reverend Belinas and by his extension Gregory Michaelson are Jethro's Shadow and Zoe is his Anima. Jethro's brilliant, audacious and uncompromising intellectual drive to attain immortality is polarized by Reverend Belinas' arrogant, absolute and unyielding faith that has become corrupted by a hunger for power and control. Chaotic Good versus Lawful Evil and Reason versus Faith. Zoe, Jethro's love on the other hand counterbalances his certitude and desire for control over uncertainty with her "Quantum Zen" spirituality, a kind of radical openness to unknown possibilities. Jethro appropriately faces the storm winds of life's struggles much like he does his journey across the ocean, with unwavering certainty and determination. His willfulness and uncompromising certainty in the face of repeated struggles and undeserved misfortunes makes him more of a tragic hero despite some of his successes.

Literature vs Philosophy
At times it seems that there are really two pieces of writing woven together inseparably in the beginning of the novel but growing more distinct as the book progresses. It is as though they were begun with a single inspiration but over time the second struggled to be born out of the weave of the first. First there is the narrative adventure of Jethro's self discovery, his struggle for maturation and self assertion to accelerate innovation and global revolution. This is The Transhumanist Wager. Second is the philosophical critique of the post modern materialistic and ideologically dogmatic influences in our society combined with the beginnings of a vision of conscious technological evolution called The Transhumanist Manifesto. While The Wager and The Manifesto are in a sense inseparable, they do seem to diverge increasingly as Jethro develops his world view, gives impassioned speeches, pontificates, rages against the establishment, lectures the ruling nations of the world and shares his vision of the future of humanity with his colleagues and the people of the Earth. The philosophy of The Manifesto depicted in the novel does not however become a mature and full-fledged philosophy since it is shaped by Jethro's audacious and at times egotistical character and because it was written as an ideological contrast agent and creative catalyst. Some readers and reviewers have sadly not recognized this distinction and unfairly leveled criticism against Jethro's Manifesto and Zoltan personally as though The Manifesto were a complete philosophy meant to be followed to the letter. While I suspect Zoltan has a more mature manifesto cooking in the back room, the novel and it's manifesto is a piece of art with which Zoltan has successfully provoked, evoked and catalyzed conversation on transhumanism. And this it seems is a necessary and timely conversation.

Jethro's philosophy, Teleological Egocentric Functionalism as written in the Manifesto is a utilitarian ideology, a kind of personal and cultural project charter directed toward attaining immortality. The egocentrism therein is naturally defined and emphasized as a good and desirable trait by Jethro and becomes intertwined with his teleological urge for innovation. How to further decode this? Well, to make sense of this I need to borrow from William Blake's Marriage of Contraries. Jethro, despite his rationality is an embodiment of Dionysian creative passion in contrast to the authoritarian political and religious dogma of the great nation of America now ruled by the dictates of Heaven. Faith has made people passive and subservient whereas Reason and the pursuit of Utilitarian Knowledge for technological transformation makes people active and passionate.

Omnipotender:
The Omnipotender is the quintessential Transhuman in Jethro's philosophy. It is an idealized kind of Uberman, reminiscent of Nietzsche's √úbermensch in it's worldliness and rejection of transcendentalism but somewhat lacking in a holistic and fully actualized moral maturity. He or she maintains an unyielding focus on attaining the necessary power and pushing technological advancement for the goal of transcending human biological limitations to attain permanent sentience. While this in and of itself sounds somewhat uncompromising and potentially horrifying in it's "will to power" I believe Zoltan is using extremes to make a valid point. We must not rely on age old dogma for guidance in navigating the changes ahead in our hyper modern culture wrestling with accelerating change and complexity. We can see this dogma in America today in the conservative rhetoric of longing for that old time religion and the romance of the simpler life of the "good old days" shown in Norman Rockwell paintings and old TV shows painted in sepia tones. The real world Transhumanist Movement in contrast is more techno-progressive and while romancing the future it does not really demonize the past as Jethro does so vehemently.

In reading the Manifesto, I like many people cannot help but have a personal and visceral response to its limitations. What is sadly missing in Jethro's philosophy is co-operation and loving kindness. And throughout the story I repeatedly asked myself where compassion comes into play and where individuals like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and others fit in this world view. I gather that I am not alone in this sentiment, and that the central emphasis on Egocentric Utilitarianism in Jethro's Manifesto and business model for the human race is in some ways discomforting and disturbing as it later blends into a kind of scientific totalitarianism. To define value based on utility is a tragic kind of reductionism but this is one of Jethro's character flaws and it is part of the engine that drives the story so successfully. 

Transhuman Revolution (Spoiler Alert)
In much of the novel Jethro, those sympathetic to his movement and the Transhumanist scientists at large were an oppressed minority, ostracized and hunted down. While this is debatably an unlikely scenario, the novel is in part a cautionary tale and not a colorless window into the future. Jethro and the transhumanists, through a dramatic change of fortune and careful planning eventually become the ruling elite of the world. The oppressed spirit of innovation flourishes when freed of restraints but in some ways become oppressive in its own way. Those who are not deemed useful in the teleological movement Jethro at first says they will be marginalized or simply eliminated, later he softens his tune and says they are to be tolerated as long as they don't get in the way. The transhumanist philosophy here moves from fueling the passion for innovation in the beginning to becoming a somewhat dogmatically utilitarian as the transhumanists establish their own nation and prepare to transform the world.  
One of the questions that is stirred up here is: How is it best for an oppressed people to address their oppressors? Peaceful protest and civil disobedience or violent opposition? This is an issue that has arisen in China's occupation of Tibet as well as throughout the Middle East in the Arab Spring. When Mala Yousafzai was interviewed by Jon Stewart, she insisted that responding with violence to the Taliban who tried to kill her is wrong. When she said that terrorism should be fought peacefully with education, was she and those who cheered her on being heroic or naive? I do not know. Where I grew up in a Jewish family, deeply aware of the holocaust since I was a child and my great grandparents escaped the pogroms in the 1800's I do not think I could respond so peacefully or "go gentle into that good night." Where other readers have cited parallels between Hitler's manifesto and Jethro's, I don't think this is entirely fair. The real totalitarian and villain is Reverend Belinas who insists he is doing the will of God by killing those who disagree with him and infusing himself in the political power structure of the government. Make no mistake, Jethro is not a warm and fuzzy leader, he is a force to be reckoned with.

Transhumania
The independent nation of Transhumania is a vision of a utilitarian scientific and technological corporation dressed as a nation ruled by a philosopher king turned CEO. Much like the characters, I don't think this is a true and complete entity, it is not a utopia so much as it is an image of an intentional techno-progressive community built in contrast to the profit and dogma driven nations already dominating the planet. Transhumania is like Jethro is so goal directed it is more of a utilitarian focused community and well ordered polis. The focus is not on establishing a true Republic consistent with a vision of Justice and Truth but the goal of attaining immortality.

Lastly, and maybe more poignantly is the question: Does The Tranhumanist Wager and it's literary Manifesto support and enhance the Transhumanist Movement and it's goals? Or does it do more harm than good? The novel is a dynamic catalyst and it is doing well at provoking conversation and hopefully raiding awareness. Thank you Zoltan.


Human +





Book Review:
THIS REVIEW INCLUDES SPOILERS

Human+ is a near future speculative fiction novel about the awakening of a new kind of transhumanism, a spiritual transhumanism. It is a story of personal transformation and the journey of awakening to a more mature level of intelligence and integration, a more profound experience of humanity that is beyond and yet encompasses the mundane materialistic world in the higher order of a more encompassing reality. Intentionally or not the novel begins to address the question of what lays ahead for us as a species as we move beyond the biological enhancements of health, performance and cosmetic to explore the enhancements of our intelligence and connectivity. With that said, the story is a good metaphor and cautionary tale for potential issues that will likely arise with technological enhancement especially when these deeply personal upgrades are bound to a corporation in a free market capitalist economy.
The story follows the journey and transformation of David, an isolated and confused but inspired artist lost not in the dark wood midway through life’s journey but in a jungle of confusion and alienation bordering on psychosis. He has visions of creatures and strange things manifesting in the world around him and follows signs, trying to piece together a meaningful hidden order amidst the chaos of the world around him. David repeatedly loses himself in drugs, psychological confusion, the inability to hold a job, maintain meaningful relationships or pay his rent. The siren song of the short lived pleasures of chemically induced highs inevitably causes him to crash on the rocks of his broken life over and over again. On one of his excursions through the tumult of life in the city he encounters a woman with a mysterious and magnetic presence so he follows her and the various signs and synchronicities that spring up in her wake like blossoms in the footsteps of Persephone. She is both his spirit guide and anima who leads him across the threshold into a new life. David retains much of his innocence and lack of confidence as new capabilities such as telepathy, lucid dreaming, astral travel, access to a deep ground of etheric knowledge and the elusive quest for precognition progressively unfold within him. His trauma and psychosis fall away like old clothes in a matter of weeks and he becomes a new man. The chrysalis of his cramped and confused self is cracked open through state of the art therapeutic and reprogramming techniques and it releases his latent but immature spiritual Self, finally able to grow and fly. The innate capacities buried within human consciousness become the ultimate tools that initiate then next stage of evolution just as the invention of language did for our ancestors 50,000 years ago.
While psychic enhancement is presented here as an antidote to the western materialistic and comfort driven lifestyle and mindset, the author Martin Higgins shows how psychic evolution is not without it’s challenges and dangers. As David masters his new found capacities he becomes seduced by them. While he develops these wondrous powers the ethical side of his psyche initially takes a back seat but compassion and loving kindness return in due course along with a healthy amount of doubt and uncertainty. And despite David’s savant capacity for developing psi abilities, the high level of mastery and control he and his colleagues attain, David realizes there are still mysterious forces that are beyond their comprehension.
Intentionally or not, I think Martin in this book has raised the question of: What is this Self, this conscious identity that Transhumanists seek to preserve and maintain? What is this Self that seeks the nectar of immortality, this technological ambrosia or soma of the gods? Much of the reading I’ve done so far in Transhumanist and Singularity literature seems to maintain a materialistic and reductionistic concept of the Self; a Self that is a singular egoic conscious intelligence or identity composed of neural structures and processes. It seems little has been done to integrate the insights of humanistic, depth or transpersonal psychology into these visions of human future evolution. I’m sure it could be argued within the Cognitive Behaviorist model implicit in much of the current literature that our innate drive toward Actualization, toward wholeness that integrates and balances the complex unconscious archetypal attractors deep with the human psyche and mystical experiences are the result of neural structures and chemical and electrical epiphenomena. My humble readings of current brain research though indicates that the human brain is a modular system, and so the conscious Self, if it is indeed limited to the brain is composed of modular subsystems. Ben Goertzel’s approach to creating an Artificial General Intelligence moves even further in this direction. If I understand him correctly then he is suggesting that generalized consciousness may be the result not only of the different organs of the brain but the organs and organ systems of our bodies. Further, philosophy professor Anthony Miccoli, author of Transhuman Suffering argues convincingly in his academic blog, Posthuman Being that the Self may not even be limited to one’s own body but a result of a distributed intelligence anchored in the Objects we surround ourselves with. And so, what is this Self? Like the Ship of Theseus paradox, if the Self is indeed modular and limited to biology, can the various parts not be replaced and still be the same Self?
The ancient meditative traditions of Yoga and parts of Buddhism, ancient shamanic traditions, new age mythologies, psychedelic experimenters and scholars in the field of transpersonal psychology arguably present alternative models of consciousness and the Self. Instead of the brain being an organ that generates consciousness, it could be a receiver for a higher order of non biological consciousness. This is the model that Martin Higgins explores in Human+ and the kind of Transhumanism he explores. One of the main themes of the book is that we can unlock the latent potential within us and become something greater; something more inspired, connected and intelligent. The main character David does this well by cleansing his body and mind and so opening the doors of perception to greater capacities, a larger more encompassing experience and definition of Self. And as we embrace a grander vision of technological connectivity through more advanced networked information systems, haptic interfaces, augmented and virtual glasses, increasingly realistic game worlds, neural implants and long distance communication then the numinous capacities of telepathy, lucid dreaming and astral travel gain new and more potent meaning. The novel Human+ leap frogs us into that future of direct post neural hyper connectivity.
The hero David is a likable character, whom I found easy to identify with. While he is not truly of this mundane world he is also not a truly transcendent character either. Human+ is very well written with a smooth flow of natural language and superb pacing. There are points where I knew what lay ahead but that did not diminish my enjoyment of the story. Sometimes I couldn’t put the book down and other times I wanted to jump ahead see if my suspicions were correct and see what happened. The novel displays a unique balance of a well written story, interesting ideas and enjoyable characters. Bottom line is that as both a writer and as a reader I highly recommend this book.
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Stephen Kagan is an artist and author of contemplative poetry and the speculative fiction novel Augmented Dreams, the Singularity Palimpsest. With over 20 years of work experience in IT he currently works at the University of Victoria in beautiful British Columbia. He studied at Goddard College in Vermont, the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India and has an MA in East West Psychology from CIIS in San Francisco. He has a long standing interest in the psychology of consciousness, ecopsychology and the melting point of psyche, technology and nature. www.augmenteddreams.net

http://hplusmagazine.com/2013/12/06/book-review-human-by-marty-higgins/