Tag Archives: singularity

Beyond Singularity

“Jake Spoon is a mighty leaky vessel to put all your hopes in.” – Gus McCrae, “Lonesome Dove”, Larry McMurtry

In the most recent quovadisblog.net post, we explored however briefly the future according to futurist Ray Kurzweil: the era when man and machine will be inextricably fused into one creature, eternal, omniscient and beyond time and space. A blog post can cover barely a brush by analysis of the roots of this prophesy of the goal of human existence. “Singularity,” a beatific vision of the faith of scientism, is a mighty leaky vessel to put all your hopes in.

How we got here is complicated, but some understanding of the journey which discarded nearly two millennia of human wisdom is worth a word or two.

“This (the abandonment of much of Socratic/Aristotelian thought), though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated through the world.” W.T. Stace “Man against Darkness,” The Atlantic (Sept, 1948) as quoted in Leo Sweeney, S.J., “Authentic Metaphysics in an Age of Unreality,” as quoted in “The Last Superstition, A Refutation of the New Atheism,” Edward Feser, 2008

AristotleFor roughly eighteen centuries, the lodestone of Western thought was Aristotle. Before Christianity, before Mohammed, before the Roman Empire, Greek philosophy was true north for all else that was to follow. Until the “Enlightenment,” which wasn’t all light, metaphysics and the search for human wisdom and truth in Western culture relied on principles of natural law and some would say common sense well thought out. What we now deem “science,” and for many the only valid arbiter of truth, was an important, but contracted, aspect of man’s search for truth. All science is based on metaphysical assumptions and precepts. The metaphysical enclosed the hard sciences as a portion, but not the whole.

Aristotle posited that all things have four causes. The first is its material cause: the stuff out of which anything is made (be it wood, iron, chlorophyll, cells, etc.). The formal cause adds the form, structure or pattern which the material assumes and is of a kind that distinguishes it from other things made of the same stuff – be they humans and poodles or countertops and the Pieta. The formal cause exists outside of the thing, separate from it and is congruent with the same form that exists in our minds so that we recognize it. The third attribute is the efficient cause or that which brings a thing into being from exploding stars creating elements to a whittler’s knife carving images – it is what causes a thing to move from potentiality to actuality. Things must have the innate potential to become; and something must act upon them to realize that potential. Finally there is the final cause – that for which something exists, its purpose, its why.

Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas. “Lucky is he who has been able to understand the causes of things,” Virgil, Georgics, Book 2

For Thomas Aquinas, the human person’s formal cause is the soul, which exists beyond space and time; for Aristotle, mankind’s final cause as a “rational animal” is to know the truth, a truth both objective and within our mortal limits, attainable. Beginning slowly with Hume, Locke, Hobbes and the like, modern philosophy disavowed both formal and final causes. We find ourselves on the other side of Neitzsche, Sartre, and now Dawkins and Hitchens and are entangled in webs of relativism, skepticism and purposelessness. [i] Scientism offers us a “leaky vessel” way out, a “hope” rooted in hubris. A mutually exclusive dichotomy now assumed between science and religion was not always so, is erroneous and is not necessary.

Just as the eye was made to see colors, and the ear to hear sounds, so the human mind was made to understand. From “Astronomi Opera Omnia” Johannes Kepler

Science is not scientism; science is an objective search for a limited truth attainable by experimentation and careful observation. Science is agnostic to ultimate purpose or final causes. There is no inherent conflict with faith, but science cannot sound the depths of before time and space. First, science and modern philosophy do not recognize the existence of final causes; secondly they do not possess the means to evaluate them. It is not “faith or reason” that brings us to the fullness of understanding, but “faith and reason” – Fides et Ratio. Scientism is not science; scientism is a faith – a faith not in God, but in “not God.” As in all faiths, there are underlying tenets of that faith that can neither be proven absolutely or refuted absolutely. One can only judge the fruits of it.

Yet the positive results achieved (from pure reason and its handmaid, science) must not obscure the fact that reason, in its one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity, seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth which transcends them. Sundered from that truth, individuals are at the mercy of caprice, and their state as person ends up being judged by pragmatic criteria based essentially upon experimental data, in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all. It has happened therefore that reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being. Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned. Fides et Ratio, 1998 encyclical, Saint John Paul.

Here is an example that may help clarify how it works. Many years ago the Jesuits at Boston College tried to teach me logic, epistemology and other arcane subjects that at the time seemed completely irrelevant to the real world. Pearls cast to swine (or sophomores), I suppose. Of course what they were trying to do was teach me to think; they tried with limited success to inculcate into me a disciplined mind. Perhaps these many decades later to their credit, a few lessons stuck. Among the many examples of logical fallacy we learned was circular reasoning, wherein the preordained conclusion of an argument is baked into the premises to deliver stillborn real debate and analysis.

One such banal argument from the atheist goes like this: Since you benighted theists insist that your God is all good and all powerful and all loving, why is there still evil in the world? Hah! Take that! There is no God! Christian theology replies with an eternal Love, a Person, whose “ways are not our ways”, and of the free will inherent to the human person, free even to choose evil, but free will necessary to the nature of the dignity and worth of a free person. It also teaches of the mystery of suffering and redemptive suffering revealed by God as also necessary to the human person in some way not fully fathomable within our mortal coil, but exemplified and made of inestimable value by Jesus. These and other aspects of this most difficult subject require not only a lifetime of study and understanding, but more importantly prayer, reflection and relationship with God through Jesus. [ii]

But if the discussion is shut down with a trite aphorism with the unstated premise that there is not really any God that can shed light on darkness, but if there was, He could not be all powerful and all good and all knowing and permit evil, therefore He doesn’t exist, the argument reveals itself to be, “there is no God, therefore, there is no God.”

When the true believers of scientism draw their conclusions, they mask as scientific, rational and objective that which was preordained in its premises.

Perhaps there is no God; perhaps God is a Divine Watchmaker who set in motion the laws of the universe and left the premises; perhaps the “Irreducible complexity” debate of the Intelligent Design advocates is really another “god of the gaps” syllogism in a new guise. But perhaps, just perhaps, that as the Jesuits taught me our souls are eternal, as is God, and that we exist on this beleaguered planet, which rides within our solar system, our galaxy and our universe with all of them constantly and intimately enfolded within the Mind of God, utterly dependent for each moment on that Loving Mind.

“I assure you, my brothers, that even to this day it is clear to some that the words which Jesus speaks are spirit and life, and for this reason they follow Him. To others these words seem hard, and so they look elsewhere for some pathetic consolation.” St. Bernard, abbot

[i] For a good analysis of the etiology of the current brand of popular atheism and its convoluted path from the Enlightenment to modernity, try “The Last Superstition, A Refutation of the New Atheism,” Edward Feser, 2008 St. Augustine’s Press.

[ii] See C.S. Lewis “The Problem of Pain”


Filed under Background Perspective, Culture views


“Ray Kurzweil is the best person I know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence. His intriguing new book envisions a future in which information technologies have advanced so far and fast that they enable humanity to transcend its biological limitations – transforming our lives in ways we can’t imagine yet.” Bill Gates

Every week it seems business and culture news emerges about the “internet of things.” Our daily lives produce data, and these metadata are tracked, compiled and used to predict, make more comfortable, market to us and filter what we see, hear and experience on the web. Not just tailoring our internet searches to what the search engine “thinks” we want to know, but analyzing key words in our emails and where we linger on the web to “ascertain” through artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms what interests us. Then putting us in touch with our patterns, selling us stuff and fashioning the right box into which we fit – a Procrustean bed. Software is being generated to enhance the sluggish “key words” analysis and advance to concepts and thoughts, something in which computers have not yet surpassed us in ability. They have long since passed us in sheer computing power, speed and memory. Next generation AI software brings intuition and those types of “thinking without thinking” formerly uniquely human judgments written about in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink.” Computers are learning to learn and replicate on their own. We are evermore typecast and channeled, aided and abetted into what is profitable financially or politically for someone.

Our smart phones, tablets, computers are joined by our medical records, cars, alarm systems, baby monitors, refrigerators, dish washers, furniture and soon our carpets, toothbrushes, and for all we know toilet seats will feed the maw of data about us. The cloud will know all.

Our rugs will inform us (and the cloud) how often we walk across them, whether we have fallen down and can’t get up, if an unknown walker treads softly upon them or perhaps if we get romantic in front of our fireplace and how long we persist at it. We will go from our smart home to our driverless car, and it will take us door to door.

If we thought the NSA was intrusive, we are desperately naïve. And this is just getting started.

“I would say humans are not purely biological. We’ve already expanded humanity with our technology, and the technology is part of humanity; we are the technology.” Ray Kurzweil

Dr. Kurzweil reflects the hopes of many of those whose belief system is exclusively “scientism,” which holds that science, the scientific method and mathematical reasoning is the only true arbiter of truth and in which we will find humankind’s salvation. The irony of this worldview is while such true scientism believers deride metaphysics, the concepts upon which all of science rests are metaphysical in nature. [i] Scientism is an alternate religion.

He envisions nanobots in our brain, hooked up directly into the cloud. No more fingers on keyboards and mouse to search the internet for knowledge. Our thoughts and memories will access the cloud immediately; we will be one with the cloud, and the cloud will be one with us. He coined the term “Singularity” for this, and his eponymous book ten years ago predicted this state of oneness with computers is not three, two or even one hundred years ahead in science fiction. 2045 is his date for “achieving” singularity. [ii]

Our children and grandchildren will see this, according to the futurist, perhaps even ourselves if we stay healthy and achieve the second aspect of his prediction. All human body parts will be repairable or replaceable with genetic manipulation and perfectly cloned parts from our own DNA, so our brains will become part of the cloud, and our bodies will take on immortality. Millions of car recalls, the roll out of the Affordable Care Act, just my recent experience in figuring out how our new dishwasher worked come to mind. Singularity? What could go wrong?

“And what would they be scared of? There’s nothing to fear in a perfect world, is there?” Catherine Fisher (Welsh author and poet)

Much dystopian science fiction has described computers and robots gradually assuming more and more of our daily lives, then assuming everything. From 2001’s nemesis computer HAL killing the astronauts to Isaac Asimov’s super central computer controlling all in “I Robot” it gets worse. The three rules proscribing that a robot may not harm and must protect any human being broke down. In the Terminator movies, Skybot makes the decision that human kind is a virus on the planet and unleashes genocidal warfare upon us.

I have no mouth and I must screamPerhaps the most awful end for us “hairless apes” is found in Harlan Ellison’s short story from the sixties, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.” The world’s computers hook up into one all encompassing web, wipe out all humans, but keep four around to torture. “AM” reads their thoughts and intention, controls not only their environment, but their biology – AM can keep them alive for its amusement with freshly minted organs virtually forever. After the protagonist, Ted, carefully avoids actively thinking of his “solution,” in a lightning strike frees his companions by killing them. AM transforms him into a limbless blob with no mouth and no ability for even suicide. The final line of the story is its title.

“Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made?” St. Peter Chrysologus

The modest objective of the self congratulatory and elated “Singularity” variety of science and technology is to supplant completely what was formerly reserved to religion and understood through the study of metaphysics. The technocrats will define and implement our happiness, immortality, omnipotence and fulfillment through becoming one with our machines.

How we got here is a topic which will require more than a few blog posts to begin to explore, and perhaps we shall root around a bit. The history extends back not just into the technology of the late nineteenth century through today, but to late medieval philosophers like William of Ockham, then on through Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and all the rest. To understand even peripherally what ideas have these consequences is not a trivial pursuit.

John Hammond, “All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked.”

Ian Malcolm, Yeah, but, John, if The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”  Jurrasic Park

[i] The concepts undergirding science are the stuff of philosophy.  A physical world exists outside our mind; that there are patterns which can be recognized by our senses reliably as sources of information; that we can form concepts and reason from premises to conclusion.  That causation and result are valid methods of understanding.  All of these and more are metaphysical concepts and provable through metaphysics and logic, not the scientific method.

[ii] Curiously, “singularity” is the scientific term for a single point in space-time of no dimensions, but infinite mass, which current hypothesis holds was blown up by a “quantum fluctuation” to trigger the Big Bang resulting in a inflating universe bubble in an infinite cosmos of other universe bubbles that has no beginning and no end.





Filed under Background Perspective, Culture views