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Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being. (Albert Camus)
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    Un-Sphering the Indefinite – The Polytopia Vision (Dec-2010)
    Project: Polytopia
    Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”

    William Butler Yeats

    1. As It is, As we are

    Here we are, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, and the world looks, well, not as bright as we would have expected or desired it to be.

    Are we to point to the quasi-infinite number of new technological breakthroughs that dazzle us day in and day out? To the innumerable quantity of scientific papers that came out and astonished us? To the very real and highly potent disasters and catastrophes that have plagued the world and continue to do so?

    Alternatively I could write of that which took the front line on the world media in 2010 (as reported by 25 billion tweets ), and show how the inherent dichotomy between that which attracts the masses and that which attracts a small yet significant number of readers is fundamentally different, so different in fact that for all relevant purposes there is no overlapping between the two.

    In fact it is a total fallacy to use that which most media outlets deem important as any relevant clue about the state of affairs of the world and us in it, as symbolic representations of that which apparently moves the world and thinks the future.

    The funny thing is, you see, that I have ready for publication a number of posts, presenting the technological breakthroughs and scientific discoveries and speculations on the future, ranging from the NASA-Funded Research that Discovered Life Built With Toxic Chemical and the following controversy (see Doubts Brew About NASA’s New Arsenic Life and Q&A: 'Science' Journal Official Talks Arsenic-Based Life), to the latest and most up to date Brain Machine interfaces presented just last week at Le-Web 2010 in Paris (see the well worth watching Thought Controlled Computing - Ariel Garten, CEO, Interaxon).

    Which Is the Robot?
    YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

    That dancer out front is actually a robot named HRP-4C, created by Japan's Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. HRP-4C and her steel legs of doom held their own during a choreographed dance early this year.
    (see The Most Amazing Science Images of 2010)


    I have made during the past year lists upon lists of the latest in robotics, the latest in cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, neuroscience, and linguistics, and lists that aggregate the top discoveries in Science and Technology as well as following minds that I met through the net and became friends with. Some of these have between them aggregated the top stories of the last year. For highlights see : futureseek, and XiXidu .

    And yet I cannot abide by the banality of our current civilization annoucing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg becoming Time Magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year in the same week that Voyager 1 Has Outdistanced the Solar Wind.



    Yes I could have written all those posts and yet I have decided not to, for though it is true that the interest in Voyager’s ‘voyaging’ for the past 33 years is of concern to a vanishing number of space enthusiasts and the immediate affectation of Facebook calls for mass attention (600 million users), it is concomitantly true that the Voyager epic may change our future completely whilst I doubt any one can claim the same about FB.
    I have decided not to write these posts in short because if anyone is really interested the findings are there, scattered endlessly on the electronic shores of our meshed virtualities.

    Of course some will claim that low hanging fruits are the masses choice by their very definition, and high brow discourse is and always was the domain of the select few and yet at this point of our evolution, a coherent and cohesive vision is to my eyes more pertinent and high in demand than all news combined.



    " The only interesting answers are those that destroy the questions. "

    Susan Sontag

    2. A Sample of One is insufficient

    Firstly let us dismiss at the onset the fallacy of anthropocentrism, a view that besides centering the worldview on the human is overtly chauvinistic, totally misguided and finally ill advised.

    On the question of why it is erroneous, at present, I shall only refer to the “one sample fallacy” in thought and analysis, itself a subcategory of the ‘Hasty Generalization’ (The fallacy is also known as: fallacy of insufficient statistics, fallacy of insufficient sample, fallacy of the lonely fact, generalization from the particular, leaping to a conclusion, hasty induction, law of small numbers, unrepresentative sample, and secundum quid. (hasty generalization.)

    I wish to draw your attention to this particular form of philosophical fallacy, because at the end of the day, however we turn our gaze, at present we still have only one sample of life to draw all of our conclusions from.
    We know at present, only one biosphere, this biosphere upon which we are living and with which we are entangled to the n’th degree. We know of no other form of life as of yet, we have no conclusive evidence that life in the universe is in any way determined or indeed similar to the one we are exploring and researching here on this planet at this time. Whether the forms of life on other planets, in other dimensions or possibly based on other kind of substrates (other than carbon based, or other than DNA induced) are at all possible is still a mystery. And though in the phase space of possible forms of life there are certain mathematical probabilities, defining certain vectors of existence that can be hypothesized, projected and as a consequence idealized, we have no proof whatsoever that these are anything but ephemeral constructions of our over worked imagination.

    The ‘fallacy of one sample’ is compounded and expanded when focusing on the particular form of life that we assume we know, namely the form of life known in these parts as the human being. I use the term assume, for though we have had a few millennia of research, properly speaking we have only relatively recently started to compound our knowledge and understanding of what we are, how we are constructed and how we operate. Moreover only in the last decades did we start to have some ‘real’ data that can corroborate or dismiss certain ideas we have implied about the way the world works, with us, ‘homo sapiens’ at the center of research. The staggering amount of information we are collecting upon ourselves, in the hope of making sense of our lives and more particularly making sense of our minds, will take years to collate and analyze (the exponential growth of computing power notwithstanding).

    And yet we use this puny amount of knowledge to draw broad conclusions on life the universe and everything in between.
    That in very short is the fallacy of a sample of one, we have in fact no way to compare life in the broad sense to any other form of life (not originating in the same life soup), we have no way to evaluate our minds, and weight it or measure it in relation to any other kind of mind, not yet at least. (It is a working assumption of mine that if and when a mind other than ours, be it an AI of similar or greater intelligence than ours will be available for study, this situation will change.)

    Apply a skeptical humility filter

    Why is the above important? Well fundamentally it is important because we need a certain very special ingredient when implying from the little we know about the great unknown, it is called humility, or humbleness if you prefer. We need be humble for the simple reason that we simply do not have enough data, and the small amount of data that we do have is simply not adequate enough to infer from upon life in general in the universe.
    Hence when we speak about intelligence, mind, complex systems, cybernetics, the web and finally consciousness we must bear in mind that we have at present one sample, and one sample only.
    It is more than fair enough to draw plausible and possible scenarios of past, present and future from the life that we know, this one sample, but the skeptical humility filter we need apply is a necessary instrument of clear thought, knowing full well that assumptions about life in general are limited in scope and potentiality.

    The discourse if so need deal with sentiency, but in no fashion should the terminology of sentiency refer to the human base line, or indeed the biosphere we are living in alone.

    “The long-standing view, as summarized by the philosopher Immanuel Kant, that “without man … the whole of creation would be a mere wilderness, a thing in vain, and have no final end” is revealed to be self-indulgent folly. A Principle of Mediocrity seems to apply to all our circumstances. We could have known beforehand that the evidence would be, so repeatedly and thoroughly, incompatible with the proposition that human beings are at center stage in the Universe. But most of the debates have now been settled decisively in favor of a position that, however painful, can be encapsulated in a single sentence : We have not been given the lead in the cosmic drama.
    Perhaps someone else has. Perhaps no one else has. In either case, we have good reason for humility.”


    Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot (Chapter 3 : The Great Demotions)

    3. Untangling the present knowledge

    Eternal wisdom’ is context dependent and thus anything but ‘eternal’

    It used to be the case that wisdom was propagated via a simple maxim: “to know is not to know, not to know is to know”, this apparently simple advice came to us via the original writings in the ‘Kena Upanishad’ probably some of the oldest ‘wise’ teachings of the old schools and vehicles of thought.
    There are many modern versions of this particular insight, the best well known of which might be the famous Thoreau quote:” It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.”
    And before I go on, let it be said that I am duly respectful of the great teachings of the ancients, some of which have been great and important companions in my own ascendency of thought and clarity of sense. However like all ‘eternal wisdom’ it is the term ‘eternal’ that makes it context sensitive, time in the sense of period and epoch when the writings made sense and where indeed deemed ‘eternal’. Of course there is no such thing as ‘eternal’ in wisdom, unless of course you believe in a static version of reality, which then makes the very terminology of wisdom meaningless.

    My point if so is that we need overcome our culturally innate urge to follow ‘old’ knowledge as more ‘wise’ and more ‘pure’ than the ‘new’ knowledge that seems, it goes without saying, fresh and therefore lacks the luster and patina of well worn and comprehensible ‘wisdom’.
    The new wisdom overturns age-old conceptual undertakings that used to be the very backbone from which we took our cues of behavior and attitude; this indeed is no longer the case.
    We have at our disposal today tools of thought and mechanism of comprehension that irreverently destroy that which we took for granted, be it the fact that our brains are the bottleneck that actually stops us (and thus needs tweaking) or the fact that the universe is much bigger that we thought (see: Space is getting bigger and its getting bigger faster) and probably much bigger and more complex than that.



    The tools we have developed and the discoveries ensuing, the innovations, which we are busy creating have changed forever the very meaning of that which previously was assumed to be eternal, why, even the basic physical laws of the universe may be evolving. (see : Do Physical Laws Vary From Place to Place?
 and Quasar Study Suggests a Physics Constant Isn’t so Constant )

    4. Our future is probably one of Exaptation

    "Exaptation is described in biology as an example of “lateral adaptation,” which consists in a cooption of a feature for its present role from some other origin. It happens when a particular trait evolves to serve one particular function, but subsequently comes to serve another. A good example from biology would be bird feathers: originally employed for the regulation of body temperature, they came to be adapted for flight. Exaptations are useful structures by virtue of their having been coopted—that is the ex-apt part of the term: they are apt for what they are for other reasons than their original use; they were not built by natural selection for their current role. Exaptation is not the opposite of adaptation; neither is it merely an accident, a human error or lack of scientific data that would in the end support the concept of adaptation. Exaptation questions the very process of assigning meaning and function in hindsight, the process of assigning the prefix “post” and thus containing a complex phenomenon within the grid of familiar interpretation"

    Svetlana Boym- The Off-Modern Mirror

    The Polytopia vision version as of December 2010 may be described as an Exaptation course of action in which concepts, terminologies, technologies indeed minds, that evolved via natural selection for certain purposes, are co-opted for purposes that are not originally embedded as such.
    Taking the not often acknowledged reality of our aesthetic cognition as one in which ideas and expressions, words and concepts, models and metaphors are being re-purposed to meet new demands, modern pressures and surprise situations such as the serendipity machine the web has become, allows, the Polytopia Project exapts our natural tendency to converge into a new form of wisdom.

    Being rhizomatic by nature, the Polytopia vision sees itself as a liberating environment in which Liberation itself is reformulated to mean amongst others getting rid of anthropomorphism, in the process creating a new vehicle of thought potentially able to bridge the apparent insuperable state of change between goal orientations to environments of goals.

    In our on going discourses we have developed the Polytopia project in the last few years to become an open-ended ground for engagement, a grand vision for the future of human civilization, a vision that will permit us a new form of allowance to change, indeed to transform, into a new kind of being, a Polytopian.

    Indeed the Polytopian future we envision is not spherical, in the sense that it does not expand simultaneously to all directions from a central core (hence the title of this essay Un-sphering), it is also not definite and in this sense the infocology of the Polytopia is friendly to ambiguity and uncertainty.

    We take our minds to be a dazzling torrent of occurrences, always in flux and always merging, mutating and reiterating itself, the process motivated by the beauty and thrill of the unknown, the apparent impossible, and the budding probabilities of latent freedoms.

    By Un-sphering the indefinite we wish to open new vistas, of hybrid realities, meshed virtualities, and serendipitous interests, for the banality embedded in simple empathy need give way to the greatness and beauty of a sympathetic future, a future where fluid affinities replace nucleic identities.

    We shall take the love disturbance to generate unpredictable and exponential arcs of variations, nested flows of mutability, hyperconnected infocologies of many kinds of posthuman choices of expression to soar into an aesthetic experience of beingness, getting our minds to function differently than was pre-ordained by the genetic and cultural imperatives with which we were born but which we did not choose.

    It was an interesting year,Next year we shall explore the Adjacent Possible



    "It just may be the case that biospheres on average keep expanding into the adjacent possible. By doing so they increase the diversity of what can happen next."

    THE ADJACENT POSSIBLE" A Talk with Stuart Kauffman


    Thank You

    W.


    Endnotes:

    A few of the books I have read this year but not necessarily published in 2010 and made an important impact on my thought
    Therefore here are Reading suggestions for the new decade:

    1. What shall we do with our brains? By Catherine Malabou
    2. The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self by Thomas Metzinger
    3. A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manuel De Landa
    4. Good and real: demystifying paradoxes from physics to ethics By Gary L. Drescher

    And the best science-fiction book I have read in 2010:

    5.The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi





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    PARADOX     Sun, Dec 19, 2010  Permanent link
    upon the my oh my (r.i.p. captain beefheart) seas of infinity…let humility and patience be your sails…
    rene     Sun, Dec 19, 2010  Permanent link
    Thanks Wildcat, great summing up of where things seem to be at right now and your Polytopian vision for the future.
     
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