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Daniel Rourke (M, 39)
London, UK
Immortal since Dec 18, 2007
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All things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.
- Georges Bataille
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    Manifesto for the Forthcoming: Part II
    A couple of days ago I laid out a handful of perspectives in Part I of a Manifesto for the Forthcoming.

    Here is the follow-up to my philosophical manifesto for Space Collective:

    Part II

    Mythologies are More Powerful Than 'Truths':

    The human brain is a narrative machine. We compose our story of selfhood from the insistent, subjective tirade of experience; we order the activities and moralities of our tribe, our nation, our creed within grand narratives we call Religions. We do not just tell stories, we are stories, myths of perception strung out by narrative arcs which dip and peak as the events of our lives dip and peak.

    The ability to find meaning in that which is abstract tends from a similar inherent capacity. For millennia humans projected the universe as one domineered by unseen agents, whether the ancestors who played tricks on the townsfolk, or the God Thor who cast thunder from the heavens. These myths came into existence because they were explanatory, and they persisted for so long because we used them to realise the world around us. At the base of every myth is a natural or moral agency, dictated by physical laws and evolutionary processes we were inherently incapable of understanding. Because myths are explanatory in the form of a story, a narrative, then we remember them, we use language to pass them on and distort them over time, our brains run the codes of myth like an ancient computer algorithm which helps a coherent universe pop up on the surface of our conscious minds.

    Science is new. It explains things by reason, by experiment and by trial and error (often subjectively governed) judgement. The enlightenment may very well have brought into being a manner of thought which comes closer to 'truth' than any before it, but the scientific rationalism which emerged does not come naturally to our intellects. To see the world rationally is to overcome the innate narrative drive of the human brain. It is not difficult to find examples of our egocentric, innate understanding of the world:

    • Newtonian physics sees all things as in motion until otherwise acted upon: human caprice sees stationary objects that need acting upon in order to achieve motion.

    • Einsteinian physics sees time and dimension as being relative to the position and motion of an object: human caprice sees time and space as precisely identical from all perspectives.

    • Darwinian biology sees all organic entities as emergent from a process of blind chance, overseen by NO agent and dependant on nothing more than the most basic laws of physics and chemistry: human caprice sees humanity as a domineering force which can control its universe - from the same reasoning it also posits a higher agency than itself to explain its own existence.

    One of the main problems facing the scientific community of today is that the general populous finds no 'meaning' in its enterprise. There is, and never has been, a drive from the rational community to order their percepts in terms of narratives or myths. In fact, according to what I have just said, it may very well be impossible to do such a thing - science is about truth, not about meaning and most especially not about narrative meaning. It might very well be against rational enterprise to compose myth and/or narrative from reason.

    The current stand-off in America between the religiously inclined and the scientifically enabled is a result of this contradiction. If science, rationalism and 'Utopian Singularity Thinking' is ever to make a mark on the masses it MUST reorder itself into narrative forms which innate human capacities can find palatable. The Grand Narratives of Religion, in all their dangerous naivety (see here for more on this), have hold over the populace because they work with the human faculties of narrative and mythology. Ironically it is because of our evolution that the Theory of Evolution is unacceptable to so many minds.

    This MUST change if rational science is to persist.

    In short, any Forthcoming movement to which Space Collective ascribes, needs to develop a new kind of forward-looking narrative shaped mythology.

    Language Enfolds All:

    (Please read Wildcat's thoughtful post on Language as a prelude to this section)

    The reality we live in is one of meaning and perception. Metaphor is the ever shrinking event horizon within which lies the blackness of human comprehension.

    The language you speak can greatly affect the kind of world you perceive. For instance...

    Words in French, German and Spanish have a gender, that is they have either a male of female suffix. In English this seems peculiar, as all words appear to us neutral, but in words having a gender acute variations in the perceptions of native speakers of different languages emerge, thus:

    To test how this affects the way people think, she presented Spanish and German-speaking volunteers with nouns that happened to have opposite genders in their native tongues. "Key", for instance, is feminine in Spanish and masculine in German, and "bridge" is masculine in Spanish and feminine in German. Boroditsky asked the volunteers to come up with adjectives - in English - to describe these items. German speakers described keys as "awkward", "worn", "jagged" and "serrated", while Spanish speakers saw them as "little", "lovely", "magic" and "intricate". To Germans, bridges were "awesome", "beautiful", "fragile" and "elegant", whereas Spanish speakers considered them "big", "dangerous", "solid", "strong" and "sturdy"." - link

    Further still, the kind of language you speak can alter the very causality you perceive in the world around you, thus:

    ...the Algonquian family of languages.... have a wide variety of verb forms, while they lack the notion of dividing the world into categories of objects, such as "fish", "trees" or "birds".

    Take, for example, the phrase in the Montagnais language, Hipiskapigoka iagusit. In a 1729 dictionary, this was translated as "the magician/sorceror sings a sick man". According to Alan Ford, an expert in the Algonquian languages at the University of Montreal, Canada, this deeply distorts the nature of the thinking processes of the Montagnais people, for the translator had tried to transform a verb-based concept into a European language dominated by nouns and object categories. Rather than there being a medicine person who is doing something to a sick patient, there is an activity of singing, a process. In this world view, songs are alive, singing is going on, and within the process is a medicine person and a sick man.

    The world view of Algonquian speakers is of flux and change, of objects emerging and folding back into the flux of the world. There is not the same sense of fixed identity - even a person's name will change during their life. They believe that objects will vanish into this flux unless renewed by periodic rituals or the pipe smoked at sunrise in the sun dance ceremony of the Lakota and Blackfoot. - link

    It is as if different languages emerged from, or manifest, completely different realities. Could it be the case that in order to comprehend the universe better we must learn to accept all the realities these languages convey? Perhaps the ultimate language would be a conglomeration of all currently spoken (and even extinct) world languages - perspective is above perception...

    More on this Manifesto to come very soon....
    In the meantime, please click embedded links for more reading

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    meganmay     Tue, Jan 8, 2008  Permanent link
    There is not the same sense of fixed identity - even a person's name will change during their life.

    I think this type of fluidity is absolutely essential to mention in any kind of manifesto for Space Collective and/or the future in general. In a time when things are changing so rapidly, the idea that one would follow an absolutely linear path seems like a poorly conceived survival strategy concocted from an unreasonable fear of the unknown that's unfortunately programmed into our rationally minded western civilization. It would seem to me however, that this fear is in fact based on the very idea that man is in control of his world, and the tighter the grip the shakier the hand. Of course, the impulse to cling onto something solid is somewhat understandable. Here we are, walking around on this sphere floating in space trying to understand what the hell we're doing here. But it's absolutely fantastic and I see no reason why would we ever need to fully understand it. If we are going to revise the grand narrative I would hope that we can paint ourselves as inquiring minds built to be ready for anything, rather than slaves to some deity or absolute rulers of the planet, and I think Space Collective is helping to make this happen. Likewise...more on this to come.

    Rourke     Wed, Jan 9, 2008  Permanent link
    Your words about identity made me think of the work of Julian Jaynes, a name I have seen elsewhere in Space Collective. Did our ability to identify ourselves as independant entities with thoughts that we claim as 'ours' emerge from our ability to build metaphor? Simply put, is even human identity a consequence of language?

    Studies on people from Eastern and Western cultures show divergent ideas of identity. It's no surprise, as Eastern spiritual belief concentrates on the cycle of reality rather than its flow. To locate the self as existing at this point and project that feeling into the future is very much a Western tendency and explains a lot about the function our mythologies usually take.

    I like the idea you ponder of a more forward looking myth. We need to recognise that catastophy (such as unmetered climate change, or nuclear holocaust - all the cliches basically) is inherent in our idea of change. We see these things as ultimate conclusions, perhaps justifying our collective response to these problems as ultimate means would give us enough focus to move on together.

    People need purpose in their lives. There is so much we need to work on together, and so much that we can achieve as a collective that it seems strange that our more popular grand narratives don't already take the forward looking, positive approach on board.

    It's obvious that we talk about these collective objectives in such grand, narrative fashion, yet rationally/scientifically focussed communities rarely alter their language to do this consciously. I think of the grand drive that put men on the moon, or the collective identity which was engaged during World War II. Only by using the right language in the right way can we achieve the collective identity we need to strive onwards.
    Wildcat     Wed, Jan 9, 2008  Permanent link
    Obvious, first thank you for a very enlightening and inspiring post and then, are you aware of this:

    “Languages are very unevenly distributed among the countries of the world. The map tries to capture this fact by rendering each country in a size corresponding to the number of languages spoken in it. (Because of the inherent problems in accomplishing this, sizes are rather approximate). The ten shaded countries are those in which more than 200 languages are in use.”

    The Ethnologue, cited a bit further, only lists 9 countries with more than 200 languages, however. Here are the 12 top countries:

    Papua New Guinea 823 languages
    Indonesia 726
    Nigeria 505
    India 387
    Mexico 288
    Cameroon 279
    Australia 235
    DR Congo 218
    China 201
    Brazil 192
    United States 176
    Philippines 169

    It’s curious how the linguistically most diverse country in the world is Papua New Guinea – because it’s also the place with the biggest biodiversity anywhere, one of the last places in the world where new species get discovered regularly. I wonder whether there’s a single explanation for both phenomena.

    the rest is here

    Rourke     Thu, Jan 10, 2008  Permanent link
    Thanks Wildcat, that's a great link. Don't they also think that Papua New Guinea has the most 'uncontacted' tribes still left in the world? I remember watching a questionable documentary which followed an even more questionable 'explorer' into a deep, Papua New Guinean jungle in search of such a tribe. When they finally contacted the uncontactable tribe they noticed that they all sported plastic beads around their necks. On top of that, the tribe wouldn't allow them any closer to their camp, but hung around just long enough for the filmcrew to give them some more Western, mass-produced tit-bits.

    It was as if they had been playing the explorers for fools.

    Imagine if aliens landed on Earth and we hid all our cool technology, dressed in Pre-Victorian garb and denied we understood enough to see the significance of their arrival. The aliens would quickly get bored and fly off elsewhere, but not before they handed us primitives some cool, shiny toys to play with.

    The pollution of cultures happens at levels from language upwards, and it seems to work both ways. As Picasso said as he left the ancient, painted caves of Northern France, "We have learnt nothing."
    giulio     Fri, Aug 5, 2011  Permanent link
    Re "If science, rationalism and 'Utopian Singularity Thinking' is ever to make a mark on the masses it MUST reorder itself into narrative forms which innate human capacities can find palatable. The Grand Narratives of Religion, in all their dangerous naivety (see here for more on this), have hold over the populace because they work with the human faculties of narrative and mythology."

    Well said and very, very true. This is why some people try to develop interpretations of singularity thinking with narrative forms and mythologies more appealing to persons with "spiritual" sensibilities and needs. I have written frequently about this, see for example: 
    giulio     Fri, Aug 5, 2011  Permanent link
    This post was referenced in:
    Jason Silva Muses on Humans Turning Into Gods

    (that's how I found it)
    Rourke     Fri, Aug 5, 2011  Permanent link
    Thanks for your comments.

    Since I wrote this I've come to consider the singularity/transhuman question as more of a philosophical one than a practical or technical one.

    Jason SIlva's ideas are a little too anthropocentric for me. Rather, I'd like to ask the question what happens when we remove the human from the centre of the thesis? The very impossibility of that proposition (i.e. humans attempting to think beyond the human) outlines neatly why the transhuman conceit falls flat.

    When I wrote this I should have warned about scientific mythos from the past. Indeed, I would argue (and I am by nomeansalone) that Transhumanism is a continuation of the Positivist narrative. If we want to think past the human, we have to think post humanism without blindly accepting the biggest myth of them all: progress.