Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The International Cultural Foundation At The Tel Aviv Shopping Center



"The religious man wants to get his head into heaven, the madman wants to get heaven into his head and it breaks."

- What do you have to lose?
- My sanity.
- Maybe he'll do what he says, maybe he won't.
- Did you hear what he said? About Revital?
- He'd hire her too if he had the budget.
- And "crazy people have good minds." He was thinking of himself.
- He's only a little crazy.
- I told you about the internet sending me to different people to stay with every night, every couple of days someone new.  Last night I was with a computer programmer.
- Was he alright?
- Sure. They always are. They're trying to cure themselves of selfishness. The programmer was convinced the day was not long in coming when computers became conscious, and humans, hooked up with computers, became able to communicate with each other for the first time, efficiently as computers communicate with each other.
- It's not far off.
- You think so too? He talked about  "singularity": when the complexity of computers suddenly brought on consciousness, when humans hooked up to computers could communicate their thoughts directly with each other.
- Yes, I've heard about it.
- And you believe it?
- You don't?
- How much time do you have? I know, you have all day, like me. How much philosophy can you take?
- I like philosophy.
- Ok. What do we know about this so-called singularity? It is a relation between something we do not understand - consciousness, communication of thought to thought - to what we do understand. Do you follow?
- Not really.
- To get an idea of the likeliness of the singularity happening we can look at things of the same form and see what their origins are.
- What things of the same form?
- Religious things.
- Religion has overstayed its welcome. We're in another age.
- The programmer said the same. But in the search for singularity religion is way ahead. Thousands of years ahead.
- How?
- Religion establishes a relation between rules of action, and sight of the world; between strict obedience to the rules, and sight of an unlimited world which is called beauty, good, true, or god.  It is a relation between technology of action, and unlimited thought.
- Like the singularity is a relation between computer technology and consciousness. I never thought of it that way.
- You are used to thinking of religion as stories and ritual, beautiful ideas and rules. Considered separate from each other rules of action and pictures of the world are reasonably rejected as arbitrary.
- And you say they have to be considered together.
- Yes. As a technology in itself, the right rules, leading to the right sight.
- What is the right sight?
- God. Or consciousness. Or truth, beauty, goodness, love.
- Ok.
- Revital watching the same Madonna concert movie over and over...
- Last night she was here shouting and dancing with her computer. She's getting worse.
- I know. And the Professor, your and my employer in his new international cultural foundation, wandering around the shopping center when he forgets his house keys and doesn't seem to remember to do anything about it, - they're escaping into rituals.
- Yes.
- The rituals are a primitive technology.
- You lost me.
- We're in Israel, a religious state. Even at the airport in Budapest on the way here I was deep in religion. Two women from the Jewish Agency who had arranged my trip were there escorting me, and waiting to check in an Israeli with beard and wide brim hat made me a slight bow and said, "Shalom". Do you know him?, one of my escort asked. "A Jew can greet a Jew", he answered.
- Cool.
- I was in a secret society I'd forgotten I'd joined. When I got to Israel this happened over and over. Strangers I'd stop to ask directions, or passing by on the street, a beach bum Yoga practitioner using the computer next to mine at the Apple store, would say to me out of nowhere, "you are a good man".
- You also forgot you were a holy man?
- I guess so. But do you what they all had in common?
- What?
- Burning eyes. The fanatic's glare. Maybe I have it too.
- Sometimes.
- That explains why I'm here at the shopping center with you guys. A fanatic knows the way, the rules, the rituals that get him out of the world, into the world without limit.
- Like you say Revital and the Professor do.
- Yes. The "unlimited" world is in the control of, is managed by the limited.
- I don't understand.
- When we talk about a singularity, computers becoming conscious, we imagine in some way escaping from reasoning, getting past it to something better. But if rules lead us out to our escape, we are still tied to our reasoning selves.
- What other way is there?
- When the rules are improvised, conditional. In conversation, no matter how much we enjoy it, how much we get out of it, we don't want to repeat it word for word, even though that might work to get us out of ourselves. The conversation has its time and place. If we learn something we'll use it in another, different conversation.
- You're saying the fanatic's "singularity" is not real because it is tied to rituals?
- It's one model of the relation of consciousness to technology.
- What are the others?
- The example we just used: conversation. Where the "consciousness" reached, the new knowledge, is not encompassed by rules of ritual application, actually invalidates them for future use.
- How invalidates?
- Let's go back to computers and singularity. Somebody programs the computer. If it achieves consciousness, consciousness still would have its origin in, be tied to its programming. In conversation, there are no fixed rules. It would be as if the computer were programming itself.
- But that is what the programmers expect to happen, isn't it?
- Yes, they do. The problem is, the computer can never get beyond the stage of the fanatic. It's always dragging its rules behind it. In conversation, the rules are invented as you go along.
- Couldn't a computer do that too?
- Yes and no. In every word we speak, sentence we put together, we are already making use of the "singularity": that is what it means to create something from nothing, a new word, new idea, new technique.
- You're saying that for a computer to create its own rules as it went along it would already have to have consciousness.
- Yes. That's right.
- So when computers get sophisticated enough, and people attach themselves to them, we'll have a singularity, an interconnected world of fanatics. Of crazy people and their international cultural foundations. I hope you're wrong.

 from The Future (a comic book)