Wednesday, November 30, 2011

we have never been material

In the article, "Scientists striving to put a human face on the robot generation" we read that,

The CONCEPT project monitors how people engage with and react to the ‘LightFace’ when given the task of teaching it the meaning of words and concepts, just as they might a young child.
The robot is capable of producing a range of subtle and naturalistic expressions thanks to its computer generated responses which are projected onto its ‘face’. 

And in the related article, "The Coming Artilect War" we read that,

Moore's Law states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 months. This trend has been valid for over 40 years and is likely to continue until around 2020, by which time we will be able to place one bit of information on a single atom. These atom-bits will be able to switch their state (a 0 or a 1) in femtoseconds, which are quadrillionths (1015) times of a second. There are a trillion, trillion (1024) atoms in a handheld object, such as an apple, so potentially, the information processing capacity of such an object would be about 1040 bits per second. Compare this number with the estimated equivalent of the human brain, which is about 1016 bits per second, or a trillion, trillion times smaller. You'll begin to see why I believe that the rise of the artilect, a godlike intelligent machine, will be so disruptive later this century.
You may object that a massive bit-processing rate is only a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for generating hyper-intelligence. Agreed. What is also needed is the appropriate human brain-like neural circuitry, but this is coming too. Nanotechnology, or molecular scale engineering, is increasingly supplying the tools to decipher the secrets of human brain function. Today, thanks to Henri Markram's work in Switzerland, every neural connection is known in a single cortical column of a rat brain's cortex. (A rat has about a thousand such columns, each consisting of about 10,000 highly interconnected neurons, and the human brain contains about a million.)
This detailed connectivity knowledge has been put into supercomputers, so that computer-savvy neuroscientists can perform experiments in a computer, that is, conduct "e-neuroscience." So a supercomputer will be able to perform the same functions as a rat's cortical column, but a million times faster--at electronic speeds compared to the rat's chemical speeds. Following Moore's Law, the whole rat brain will be thus simulated within a decade, and the human brain a decade or two later...Imagine a world in which the cyborgs become increasingly prevalent....[for example] A young mother who has just given birth may choose to add a grain of artilectual sand to her newly born baby's brain, converting it into an artilect. There is so much computing capacity in that grain of sand that she has effectively "killed" her baby. It is no longer human, but an artilect in human disguise. Imagine older parents watching their adult children becoming cyborgs, so that their children are no longer human. 
I've often wondered about this theory: if the super-human intelligences were powerful enough, could they, through the direct manipulation and control of atoms via quantum computing, copy, determine and control reality itself (the physical workings of the universe on the subatomic level, this including the flow of "time" as constituted by the position of physical particles in space-time) - and, if the same super-human intelligences were benevolent enough, then could it be a possibility that they may travel back in time and "digitally copy" bit by bit each and every single experience that ever occurred responsible for human "history," making an exact duplicate reality - an effective "copy" universe - available to be replayed again and again for the enjoyment of the very experiencers copied?  Every life that ever lived would be replicated.  Every event duplicated - all experiences ever known to exist would be digitally scanned as an electronic current replicate, available in storage for "replay."  (The thesis being that "to be" is better than to "never have been at all.")

Moreover, could these intelligences "upload" the copied experiences of any human being - any thing - that ever "lived" (now transferred as 0's and 1's into the realm of the circuit) to be replayed again and again, in effect eliminating "death" (life being the experience of virtual experience in eternal recurrence)?  How, being played on a loop that copy of one's so-called and merely apparent chemical life, might one be able to tell the difference between material physical atoms switching on and off in their chemical circuits and the now digitally playing 0's and 1's switching on and off as electronic currents in that super-intelligent "brain"?  

Could it be that we are all electronic agents of current running in a program, housed in some supercomputer on a ship out in space, aeons in the "future," light-years away from the now dead earth, we 0's and 1's virtually subsisting?  Were our material bodies rescued and converted up into the eternity of silicon and electricity so that we may forever cherish the very life of organic experience that we once had, with the fear of death being only a virtual possibility - one which serves only to provide the illusion that there is an end, this in order to give a required contrast so that we value "life" as we live it?

"4.3 Simulation in Virtual Reality. We exist merely or marginally in someone’s or something’s simulation, in an artificial sensory construction that is an imitation of what reality might be but is not; for example, a Matrix-like world in which all perceptions are fed directly into the human nervous system (“brains in vats”) or into our disembodied consciousness. Alternatively, we exist as processes generated by pure software running  inside cosmic quantum supercomputers." SKEPTIC Vol 13. No. 2 (2007): 37.

Thus, we never have been material ... 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Caputo on Meillassoux Reading Group - Post 7

  Audio HERE.  Apologies to those looking for my realism and nominalism post.  I have a bad habit of pressing the 'publish' button when I should be pressing the 'save' one instead. I have been working on that post for two or three days and just can't get a version of it that I like enough to keep online for very long.  Have been tweaking things here and there, experimenting and so forth.

metaphysics of the infinite

Speculum Criticum has an interesting post up HERE concerning Badiou's mathematization of nature.  Meillassoux in similar vein states that the mathematizable properties or powers of a thing is the thing essentially and as it is "most real" apart from the human.  The criticism is that this is a "Pythagoric snare" - that one makes a mistake when

contingent aspects of mathematical models are used to reach cosmological or ontological conclusions.

In conversations that I had awhile back with a colleague of mine - his name was Keith and he was a pretty fervent atheist - but he was also a mathematician from whom I learned much - he would always question my own "Pythagoric snare" in the sense that I read Deleuze, but also Peirce, in order to mathematically reach cosmological and ontological conclusions regarding God.  The center of my mathematical considerations was and still is to this today the metaphysics of infinity, especially as one might take deity to be of an infinite nature, eternal or without limit, and so forth.  Being an atheist Keith was always skeptical of this, but I always did enjoy our conversations.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

black bear

Late evening hike in Cherry Valley, PA - right before we saw a bear in this swamp.


Wastelands of Iowa en route to Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin.

Monday, November 21, 2011

upcoming talks and other information

I am currently preparing my paper, "Speculating God: On Whitehead and Meillassoux" to be read at EN 2012.

My second major paper of the year (thinking 2012 already!) considers ecology and empathy - and that will be read in Thailand at Assumption University, Bangkok. [Update: this talk was postponed until summer of 2013.]

I have one book review coming out in May, and then during January I plan to write another review that should hopefully be out sometime over the summer. Also in January (or May) there will be a review of my Peirce book coming out in American Journal of Theology and Philosophy.

At EN 2012 there will be a book discussion panel dedicated to my Charles Sanders Peirce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature (the other half of the panel will go to Nam Nguyen's excellent Nature's Primal Self).  

Sunday, November 20, 2011

SIU talk round-up

My SIU paper went well.  Thanks especially to Charles for putting me up for two days, to Bruce, Myron, and Rebecca for the fantastic conversation, and to the doctoral students for their great questions.

By talking with Bruce for awhile I was so happy to engage in productive conversation.  In a matter of a few hours and over two dinners, Bruce, Charles and I hammered out some great ideas.  My own "speculative naturalism" took shape in ways that I was hoping it would, chiseled out by Bruce's great questions and comments. 

By the end of the evening we felt like we all accomplished something, and for that I am so grateful to Bruce and Charles both.   

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

why Brassier is both right and wrong

After re-reading some of Nihil Unbound, I began to ask myself if perhaps Brassier may be mistaken concerning he notion of a "dead" form of Being which can, one day in the distant future, take on a finalized state "at the close of the universe," what is called "Being with zero degree" (a main thesis of his book).  

When it comes to some of Brassier's more critical comments concerning the majority of the "speculative realist" blogosphere I think he is generally correct.  But I think he might be incorrect on the topic of Being with zero degree as a final state or ultimate end in death of sorts.

To hit just one high point.  Being with zero degree, to my mind, cannot be a state where reality dies to the extent that Brassier says it would.  If I take our (physical) universe to be the only reality, then that spells the sort of trouble and doom that Brassier says, true.  However, it occurred to me that 1.) a multiverse theory, if true (and according to contemporary physics it likely is) would prove Brassier's cosmological thesis of being with zero degree as a dead state to be incorrect  and 2.) being with zero degree, rather than a dead state, could be a generative state of "bare nothingness," to use the phrase from both Peirce and Schelling.

In fact, Peirce even speaks of the "logic" of zero Being as a creative state, not a cold and dead one that admits of no furtherance ontologically or cosmologically (see CP IV and V).  And, along with Whitehead, if there are cosmic epochs, then wouldn't it be too "optimistic" to try to claim that our physical universe is the one that happens to get the honor of getting darkened out of existence forever with no others to arise from it?  In short, does the death of the universe presuppose and absolute end?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Caputo on Meillassoux Reading Group - Post 6

Final lecture on AF.  A good discussion about  justice, especially in light of radical contingency.  Speculative thinking and the virtual God play a major role here.  Audio for download is HERE.

Assignment for next week is to read "Spectral Dilemma," followed by the essay "Potentiality and Virtuality," and then finally, "Immanence of the World Beyond."  See reading pack for details.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Unity of Being - another forthcoming Hartshorne book

And another forthcoming Hartshorne title - The Unity of Being, this time a re-constructed and edited version of his doctoral dissertation.  Copying the description below.

The Unity of Being - Charles Hartshorne 

Edited by Randall E. Auxier and Hyatt Carter

Charles Hartshorne was the most influential proponent of the process conception of God. While often seen as a disciple of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Sanders Peirce, Hartshorne's ideas are in many ways original and often depart significantly from those of Whitehead and Peirce. The Unity of Being is the only major work written by Hartshorne before coming under the influence of Whitehead and Peirce and has never been accessible to the public until now.

Born in rural Pennsylvania in 1897, Charles Hartshorne became a world-class philosopher of religion whose ideas about the nature of God are still being examined and debated today. He was an especially prolific writer in his eighth and ninth decades and was even active as a centenarian. Having published 22 books between 1922 and 1997, and in the wake of his death in 2000, Hartshorne is now becoming understood as one of the few philosophers whose work bridges theology and academic philosophy.

Hartshorne’s distinctive contribution was to combine Whitehead’s process metaphysics with theology, resulting in a conception of God not as a static entity but as a dynamic process. Traditionally, God is seen as an unchanging, perfect being. But Hartshorne showed that God can be understood better as always becoming, changing, and growing in ways that can be rationally understood.

Hartshorne’s distinctive work has also been credited with recovering and improving St. Anselm’s traditional ‘ontological argument’ and for reviving a version of natural theology in which God’s nature and existence cannot be understood apart from the world of nature.

Randall Auxier and Hyatt Carter have carefully edited and Hartshorne’s Harvard Ph.D. dissertation of the same title. The Unity of Being will add an important piece to Hartshorne’s intellectual legacy. The Unity of Being will provide historians with insight into the origin of Hartshorne’s ideas and the trajectory of his career, and help better illuminate Hartshorne’s relationships to Whitehead and other important influences in his career, notably the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Meillassoux and Whitehead

Two great posts on speculative philosophy and incarnationalism via Meillassoux and Whitehead (note: the topic of my paper for EN 2012) and another on Whitehead and the divine function.  Matt always has something productive to say in his mini-treatises.  I appreciate that.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Object and divine function

I have recently come across a good blog post on 13.7 about evolution, novelty, and emergence that reminds me of Meillassoux's Hyperchaos; in the sense that the Hyperchaos, being necessarily radically contingent, may serve as a mode of *empowerment* for objects within an ecological nexus by permitting the forming of "adjacent possible empty niches"(and so the Hyperchaos thus becomes another element in my system, possibly the third and final along with object and function).  

In the context of the article, which I copy in part below, ecology and theology continue to intertwine more tightly, as I see it.  The best line, I think, is this:  "We are enabled, but do not know what we enable."  It really captures that sense of Meillassouxian radical contingency, as it does that sense of Whiteheadian creative advance and novelty, both applicable to ecology and theology.  Note too in the post a link to another good 13.7 post on "enablement and radical emergence."

"The Worlds We Mutually Make"

Credit: 13.7, link HERE

Is all that happens in the universe logically entailed by means of Newton's mode of reason? Do differential equations of motion, initial conditions, boundary conditions, followed by integration — that is deduction, entailment — define our lives? ...

Darwin had part of the answer in his theory of evolution by natural selection. The winners will win. But selection acts at the level of the "whole" organism. Recall Kant said, roughly, that "In an Organized being the parts exist for and by means of the whole and the whole for and by means of the parts." Organisms, cells and us, are Kantian wholes. Selection operates at the level of the Kantian wholes.
Then the question is this: How do we Kantian wholes make — co-create — our worlds together? Stunningly, the evolving biosphere, without any selection at all, makes new "adjacent possible empty niches" — such as the swim bladder, evolved by Darwinian pre-adaptation from the lungs of lung fish. The swim bladders can become a new niche, a new possible direction of evolution. Worms may evolve to live in them. But, no selection acted to create these new niches. Stunningly, the biosphere actually creates its own future possibilities of becoming! This "enablement and radical emergence" is our co-creation of our worlds.
We live far from pure entailment. Because we cannot know even what can happen in the evolution of the biosphere, economy and cultural evolution, we live beyond command and control of nature and ourselves. We are enabled, but do not know what we enable.
What will we wisely do with this empowerment that knows not its consequences?

Can Our Brains Tell Us What Is Real?

"Can Our Brains Tell Us What Is Real?"
Credit: 13.7, link HERE;  See also: Singularity.

Our senses only capture a sliver of what truly goes on around us. Trillions of neutrinos racing all the way from the heart of the Sun zip across our bodies each second; electromagnetic waves of all sorts, microwaves, radio waves, infrared, carry information we don't capture with our eyes; sounds beyond the range of our ears go unheard; dust and bacteria go unseen. Our instruments and tools greatly extend our view, whether of the very small or of the very large.

Still, any technology has limits, even if these limits change in time. As a consequence, large portions of the world will always remain unseen. What we know depends on what we can measure and detect. Who, then, can legitimately claim to have a true sense of reality? The individual who perceives reality only through his/her senses? Or the one who amplifies his/her perception through the use of instrumentation?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Caputo on Meillassoux Reading Group - Post 5

Interlude - as we finish Chpt 4: Hume's Problem and Chpt 5: Ptolemy's Revenge in AF, let's take a listen to John Caputo's *final lecture* before his retirement.  In this lecture Caputo discusses the future of Continental philosophy:  Audio HERE

Next week we'll begin looking at Meillassoux and (process) theism, continuing to listen to Caputo's lectures on the subject.  And so we'll begin with our reading pack next week by taking a look at Meillassoux's "Spectral Dilemma," followed by his essay on potentiality and virtuality, and then finally, "Immanence of the World Beyond."

More next week, so stay tuned.

on suffering and the culture of death

“To be placed on the cross in Christ, to be lifted up on the cross in Christ, is to be set at the pinnacle of human possibilities.”