-- / --
The checklist immediately below is an effort to identify factors inhibiting emergence of effective consensus in response to global crisis. Together the factors constitute a context within which many plans and initiatives will be proposed. Their proponents and supporters will solicit discussion, wider support and consensus on implementation. The context is such that the emergence of coherence is improbable.
The checklist follows from various earlier explorations (Considering All the Strategic Options: whilst ignoring alternatives and disclaiming cognitive protectionism, 2009; Engaging with Globality -- through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes, 2009; Coherent Policy-making Beyond the Information Barrier, 1999; Societal Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory: a critique of the Club of Rome Report: No Limits to Learning, 1980; Limits to Human Potential, 1976).
The elements of the checklist are seen in a subsequent section to be features of a singularity, understood in a variety of ways in the web resources cited. Such a singularity may also be understood in terms of a range of essential unrelated understandings of "end times" -- like the "end of history" or the "end of science" -- explored in another section. All these approaches are then explored metaphorically in terms of the "event horizon" characteristic of the astrophysical black hole which has a singularity at its centre -- and therefore implying a form of cognitive black hole and singularity.
What other trends does this set suggest and how would its completeness be recognized? With a population recognized to be "ageing", it might be asked whether the challenges of ageing, notably erosion of memory, are to be understood as increasingly reflected in collective memory. In the "blip culture" seen to characterize the future according to Alvin Toffler (The Third Wave, 1980), it is increasingly unlikely that trends of any kind will be collectively registered as meaningful (Societal Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory, 1980). Collective existence in a "blip" context already suggests one form of "singularity".
Technological singularity: There has been considerable discussion of technological singularity as a hypothesized future point that takes place during a period of accelerating change, sometime after the creation of autonomous intelligence or superintelligence -- estimated by some as 2035. Soon after that a "singularity" will be reached, when artificial intelligence will so far exceed the human brain that ordinary mortals will no longer be able to keep up.
Optimistic predictions regarding a technological singularity have been made by Ray Kurzweil (The Singularity Is Near: when humans transcend biology, 2005) and also presented as a documentary film (The Singularity is Near: a true story about the future, 2010). He predicts that with the ever-accelerating rate of technological change, humanity is fast approaching an era in which our intelligence will become trillions of times more powerful and increasingly merged with computers. This will be the dawning of a new civilization, enabling us to transcend our biological limitations.
Kurzweil has also recently created a Singularity University with Google sponsorship at NASA's Ames Research Center (David Gelles, A crash course in emerging technologies, Financial Times, 24 April 2009). It aims to assemble, educate and inspire a cadre of leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies and apply, focus and guide these tools to address humanity's grand challenges. This follows an earlier focus by the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. An early articulation of such techno-transcendentalism is that of Vernor Vinge on the Singularity (1993) which has evoked a set of useful comments. John Smart of Singularity Watch (aka Acceleration Watch) lists a "menagerie of singularities".
Of course it might be said that such a singularity is in fact the moment when humanity as a whole shifts over to dependence on a cognitive Zimmer Frame.
Cognitive singularity: Potentially more intriguing -- and relevant to the checklist above -- is what might be termed a "memetic singularity", a "semantic singularity" or possibly a "cognitive singularity" -- on which there has been less discussion. Previously with respect to the Emergence of a cognitive singularity ( 2008) it was stated that:.
The condition of such a singularity might be understood as intimately associated with a knowledge-information singularity at which the amount of knowledge-information generated -- of immediate relevance to viability -- exceeds the capacity of any (collective) human cognitive operation to process it. The dynamics of significance then constitute a form of standing wave of self-reflexivity. The points to a form of metasystem transition, namely the emergence of a higher level of organization or control... . Such a cognitive singularity is therefore distinct from that hypothesized as a future technological singularity of civilization, which might be understood as more probably related to that of societal collapse.
How does such a cognitive singularity relate to the collective quest for (strategic) wisdom at this time? Through what symbol could such a cognitive singularity be communicated for mnemonic purposes -- and how is this to be distinguished from many religious symbols? Why is the Black Swan... inadequate for this purpose? As an emblem of probable collapse and cognitive readiness, is it not an appropriate mnemonic for resilient response?
The technological singularity has however also been named as a cognitive singularity -- a characteristic of the semantic/memetic conflation that will increasingly occur (as implied by the above checklist), and irrespective of the effectiveness of any semantic web. But such a singularity may well occur prior to that anticipated from the technically perspective -- although potentially accelerated by any trend towards it.
Metasystem transition: From a generic cybernetic perspective on evolution, a Metasystem Transition Theory (MSTT) has been hypothesized. Its most salient concept is the Metasystem Transition (MST), the evolutionary process by which higher levels of complexity and control are generated. As such it includes the transition associated with understandings of the technological singularity. The concept of such a transition was introduced by the cybernetician Valentin Turchin (The Phenomenon of Science, 1977) and developed among others by Francis Heylighen through the Principia Cybernetica Project.
The technological focus emphasizes the integration of disparate systems, notably via computers, so that a new level of control emerges -- rssulting in the formation of a metasystem. This implies a form of order "above" that of the logic of the systems so integrated. For Heylighen the nature of such a transition reframes philosophical problems and predicts the possible future of mankind and life. In that sense it embodies an understanding of a cognitive singularity.
Communication singularity: One understanding of the technological singularity (or "AI singularity") sees it in terms of a communication singularity as expressed by Brad Johnson (Making a case for the communication singularity, 29 September 2008) from a transhumanist perspective:
In this perspective augmented intelligence could reap its very own communication singularity. A prevalence of instant thought communication would stifle the chaos of argument that plagues our society right now. Millions of minds augmented by the cool logic of computer enhanced human rationale would cut through years of debate and hot emotional wasted time and effort.
The hive mind will be augmented by A.I. and transhumanity will no longer experience the sting of fear we now feel when considering the possibility of being 'left out' of the singularity and being completely replaced by big hard A.I. machines. Evolution leads us to what we have been heading towards all along: The marriage of humanity with communication itself. We are building our way to A.I. just as we build A.I. itself. In this fine respect we are not building our own demise but rather a method of success and long term survival.
In my humble opinion the communication singularity is one of the most prevalent scenarios that draw us to the approach of transhumanism but it is not the only one. Another of the most likely candidates is the fascinating emergent anotechnological singularity. If the possibility of having our mentality stored permanently on computer hardware leading us to our destined immortality is not a human enough transhumanism for your taste, then nanotechnologically enhanced physicality should be. In either regard the marriage of technology and humanity itself occurs on the front of communication. Nanotechnology will be an A.I. driven technology which will lead us down the omnipotent road of godhood itself.
A valuable contrast to this large scale view is that with respect to artistic and intellectual community as denoted by the tusovka ( translated as 'incrowd' or 'scene', namely the specific form of non-committal sociality that dominated the small intellectual-artistic community during the post-Perestroika period). Oxana Timofeeva (From the 'Inoperative Community' to the 'Workgroup', Documenta, 15 April 2007) comments critically on it:
The phenomenon of the tusovka as a local form of being for the artistic and intellectual community may seem unique, but it appears exceptionally limited in the context of its epoch, especially if one understands 'epoch' as the specific disposition of significance or significances whose sharing makes A and B into contemporaries. In reality, each 'epoch' gives rise to its own models of communication, its own models for socializing creative labor, using the failures that discredit the experiences of the past as its point of departure....
The singularity that composes the 'inoperative community' only exists together (and is hardly primary in relation to this 'togetherness), in its display of the being-with that expresses an event in common. The tusovka, however, consists of individualities that avoid contact, for which the event does not yet exist. For something to happen, it is not enough for atoms simply to drop into space. 'One needs a clinamen'...
The tusovka is based upon the following axiom: first, there are individuals with their own individual interests. With their own talents. With their own creative solutions. Basically, with their own authentic and priceless property. And these individuals step into some relation, but in a way that they themselves (self-ness as (a) property) do not touch upon one another. Only their interests touch upon one another (yet another definition of alienation).
Globality as singularity: Various arguments have been put forward for globality as constiting a form of singularity, most notably through the emerging pattern of instantaneous global communications, preceded by a pattern of global trade and now sustained by it. Most evident have been the pattern of global financial transactions -- the financial system -- whose vulnerability as a whole has been demonstrated by the crisis of 2008. It might be argued that the illusory global financial bubble on which it had been based itself constituted a form of emergent singularity. The circulating content of the global communication system, esdpecially given the worldwide focus it enables on music, sport and other mega-events, offers another sense of what has been described as a global brain (Peter Russell. The Awakening Earth: the global brain, 1982).
As with the recognition of the degree of global integration of the financial and communication systems, an associated understanding of globality is to be recognized through the integration of the global environment, most notably through its challenges as with global warming. This global vulnerability had been especially implicit in the past in connection with the destruction of the planet associated with the possibility of nuclear warfare. This points to the sense in which the potential of any global collapse would in itself constitute a form of singularity. At the time of writing Felicity Lawrence (The Pigs' Revenge, The Guardian, 2 May 2009) points out that just as an unsustainable financial system caused the current banking crisis, the intensive farming of animals is at the heart of the swine flu pandemic. Such crises highlight the systemic nature of globality (Systemic Crises as Keys to Systemic Remedies: a metaphorical Rosetta Stone for future strategy?, 2008). This is acknowledged from a particular perspective by the World Syntegrity Project.
Curiously recognition of the constraints and vulnerability of globality is already associated with a global pattern of denial consistent with elements of the above checklist, most evidently in the case of population overshoot (Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation: challenge incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008). Symbolically this is also strikingly evident in proposals to design a "solar umbrella" of some kind to reduce the incidence of sunlight -- a global analogue to the enduring myth that the ostrich hides its head in the sand when in danger.
Symmetry group singularity: In mathematics a symmetry group encodes symmetry features of a geometrical object. Iit consists of the set of transformations that leave the object unchanged, and the operation of combining two such transformations by performing one after the other. Such groups play an important role in many academic disciplines. Whilst a mathematical singularity is a point at which a given mathematical object is not defined, given the importance claimed for certain symmetry groups of great complexity, it is appropriate to ask to what extent these effectively constitute a form of singularity as an underlying pattern of order (islands of order) determining what is more readily comprehensible (Dynamics of Symmetry Group Theorizing: comprehension of psycho-social implication, 2008; Potential Psychosocial Significance of Monstrous Moonshine: an exceptional form of symmetry as a Rosetta stone for cognitive frameworks, 2007; Polyhedral Empowerment of Networks through Symmetry: psycho-social implications for organization and global governance, 2008).
Of particular relevance to any understanding of metasystem transition is the extent to which higher order systems are necessarily based on higher orders of symmetry. Indications of this are to be seen in the organization of computer memory, whether as hardwired or asmanaged through software protocols. This is also true of the organization of distributed computing facilities. The question is whether the kinds of breakthrough envisaged with respect to any technologucal singularity and the associated organization of artificial intelligence neceesarily require ever more complex orders of symmetry. Somewhat analogous is the extent to which encryption is dependent on ever more "remote" prime numbers.
Subjective singularity: As part of a discussion thread on the topic, and in contrast to his understanding of the "tech singularity", Ben Goertzel (Consciousness Singularity, BrainMeta.com, 4 March 2003) complements that with a posited subjective singularity:
In a broader sense, I think of a "subjective Singularity" as involving either: Drastic alteration in human subjective experience. Technologies like virtual reality, genetic engineering, neuromodification, and uploading have the potential to drastically change the experience of being human. Once these technologies have transformed the subjective experience of a moderately large percentage of humans, in a highly significant way, then we will have reached a "subjective Singularity": a replacement of human mind with something different.
The creation of nonhuman intelligences that are tremendously smarter than us, and most of whose activities are as opaque to us as our activities are to a dog.
In principle, either variety of subjective Singularity could occur without a tech Singularity; but I think the two are likely to come together.... It is the combination that I refer to generically as "The Singularity."
As for what life or mind will be like after the Singularity, I think this is something we can not know. The most important aspects of post-Singularity reality and mind will likely be as opaque to an unimproved human as advanced mathematics is to a dog.
In the same thread a form of psychological singularity is distinguished by Hitthelimit (Consciousness Singularity, BrainMeta.com, 16 November 2008) with respect to the the evolution of the natural intellect:
There is the limit for the evolution of systems that can reflect reality the way human mind does. There is a moment in evolution of the mind after which it becomes incompatible with essential requirements of existence. The reason for psychological singularity is peculiarity of the auto-reflection process in mind which leads to creating an insoluble and irreplaceable strategic motivation. The core moment of it is the ultimate understanding of total absence of "free will".
Spiritual singularity: Peter Russell (Singularities: the shape of the future, 1998) distinguishes a spiritual singularity from the technological variant -- transcending the considerations of any cognitive singularity:
... there is good reason to believe that before we arrive at some such technological singularity we will have already moved into the next phase of evolution, the development of human consciousness. Once it takes hold inner development is likely to progress even more rapidly than technological development. We could arrive at a spiritual singularity -- a moment of unimaginably rapid inner awakening -- before we reached any technological singularity.
One articulation of this possibility is provided by Authentic Grokking: emergence of Homo conjugens (2003). Another is provided by Engaging with Globality through Knowing Thyself: embodying engagement with otherness (2009) which notably refers to the generic cognitive implication of the mirror recognition test (Self-reflective Embodiment of Transdisciplinary Integration (SETI): the universal criterion of species maturity? 2008). The issue of self-awareness has been raised with respect to the internet itself in interviews with Francis Heylighen and Ben Goertzel by Michael Brooks (Could the net become self-aware? New Scientist, 30 April 2009).
Personal development and spiritual practice, may result in individual experience of singularity -- possibly through a series of stages, initiations and awakenings (Varieties of Rebirth: distinguishing ways of being born again, 2004). These might be understood as cognitive "metasystem transitions" in their own right.
Such individual experiences of forms of singularity in "internal" transformation of consciousness, may be understood as associated with (or even engendering) a form of "external" transformation of the world as experienced and understood. In this sense any spiritual singularity may take the form of a transformation of any sense of bounding identity in relation to the world as previously explored (Being the Universe: a Metaphoric Frontier -- co-existent immanence of evolutionary phases, 1999; My Reflecting Mirror World: making my World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002) worthwhile; Stepping into, or through, the Mirror: embodying alternative scenario patterns, 2009).
Such mirroring might itself be understood as a metaphorical singularity suggesting that the hypothesized technological singularity is more fruitfully to be comprehended as a metaphor (Robert D Romanyshyn, Technology as Symptom and Dream, 1989; Mirror and Metaphor: Images and Stories of Psychological Life, 2001). The metaphorical nature of singularity is discussed in commentary on KurzweilAI.net of the study by George Gilder Jay W. Richards (Are We Spiritual Machines? Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong AI, 2002).
Metaphorical singularity: Further to the comment above in relation to metaphorical mirroring, Brad Templeton (We need a better word than "Singularity", 20 September 2004) criticizes the original use of singularity by Vernor Vinge in relation to technological singularity:
This is an important concept, one that plays out in his novels and the writings of many others, and it needs a term. But this term has ended up not being ideal. Scientists already have a meaning for the word of course, but it is more specific [see mathematical singularity]. It refers to a point where a function is undefined.... These concepts of rapid acceleration, and the inability to extrapolate past a singularity inspired the metaphor Vinge was trying to convey.
Other forms of singularity can include any sharp corner in a function (where the derivative is undefined) and in areas within a black hole (where normal equations of physics are undefined). However, the non-scientific public does not understand these mathematical meanings, and thus don't quickly grasp even the metaphor. An example of such a metaphorical singularity would be the creation of language. Pre-verbal proto-humans simply can't understand the beauty of poetry at all, no matter how much time you would have to explain it.
This last remark highlights the probability that many of the forms of singularity identified above (and in the "endings" which follow) may indeed be in process at this time -- whether or not they anticipate some more dramatic form of singularity.
This is not a singularity you find in black holes or at the origin of the universe - this is a metaphorical singularity entailing the breakthrough of artificial intelligence (AI) to transcend humanity. And prophecy is an apt term, because there are people who believe in this with near-religious conviction. As Wilson da Silva says, in reference to its most ambitious interpretation as a complete subjugation of humanity by machine, 'It's been called the 'geek rapture' [see Richard Dooling, Rapture for the Geeks: When AI Outsmarts IQ, 2008].
Intriguing, but challenging to comprehension in its own right, is a study of Jacques Derrida's educational texts by Peter Trifonas (The Ethics of Writing, 2000) referring to metaphorical singularity, which might imply its relevance to the "education" of humanity beyond childishness:
The exteriorization of memory, its removal from the interiority of self-absorbing thought, "stays with traces, in order to 'preserve'[ them, but traces of a past that has never been present, traces which in themselves never occupy the form of presence and always remain, as it were, to come -- come from the future, from the to come". And the signature of the proper name of Hegel as a s life-writing of "the Self", in this sense of the auto-genetic reproduction of the metaphorical singularity of subjective identity, is an attempt to secure control over the hermenutic effects of the aftermath of the ends of inscription by concretizing in the otherwise plain and customary mark of referential authority the pedagogical truth of the figure of the child prior to the experience of philosophy and the difficulty of thinking (pp. 177-8)
In contrast to any emphases on new beginning through transcendence of some kind, different flavours of singularity are either deplored in isolation (as with the items of the checklist above) or associated with understandings of "end times" (possibly as precursor to such beginnings). The following raise the interesting question as to the manner in which the metasystem transition associated with some form of singularity above (especially the technological) would be capable of "recognizing" content that is more subjective than objective, or more qualitative than quantitative:
End of history: Understood as the advent of a particular political and economic system signalling the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government, notably as articulated by Francis Fukuyama (The End of History and the Last Man, 1992).
2012: There is widespread discussion of a Doomsday in 2012 on the basis of various predictions of cataclysmic and apocalyptic events, notably in terms of what is claimed to be the end-date of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. One interpretation of this singularity is as a collective positive physical or spiritual transformation -- effectively rendering superfluous the preoccupation with current global challenges (that may even be essential to triggering it).
Timewave theory: Associated with understanding of 2012 is a singularity in the emergence of novelty, as hypothesized by timewave theory.
Eschatological scenarios: The above considerations overlap with the eschatological writings of the three Abrahamic religions and in doomsday ("end times") scenarios in various other non-Abrahamic religions.
End of science: This singularity is especially relevant in relation to the above checklist. It has been given notable focus by John Horgan (The End of Science: facing the limits of knowledge in the twilight of the scientific age, 1997; Looking Back at the End of Science, Search, March/April 2008). A subsequent interpretation focuses on the increasing inability of science to handle differences of methodology challenging its orthodoxy, following the pattern of religion it claimed to displace (End of Science: the death knell as sounded by the Royal Society, 2008). A related concern has been articulated in terms of theory by Chris Anderson (The End of Theory: the data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete, Wired, 16.7, 23 June 2008). One understanding has been explored by Paul Feyerabend (Against Method: outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge, 1975).
End of culture: This singularity has been articulated from an anthrological perspective by Eric Gans (The End of Culture: toward a generative anthropology, 1985) and by Scott Michaelsen and David E. Johnson (Anthropology's Wake: attending to the End of Culture, 2008). From a theological perspective, R. Re Manning (Theology at the End of Culture: Paul Tillich's theology of culture and art, 2005) argues for the possibility of a 'Tillichian postmodern theology of culture' able to engage with the spiritual situation 'at the end of culture.'. With respect to identity the case has been argued by Thomas Blaser (The End of Culture? H-SAfrica, January, 2007)
End of religion: Understanding of this form of singularity, notably following the rise of science, continues to be explored (Wilfred Cantwell Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion, 1962; Nicholas Lash, The Beginning and the End of 'Religion', 1996)
End of civilization: In addition to any particular Doomsday scenario, there are a wider range of approaches to the risks to civilization, humans and planet Earth threatening humankind as a whole -- notably leading to the collapse of civilization (Jared M. Diamond, Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005).
End of security: The war on terror, or rather the insecurity that it has engendered in countries and neighbourhoods, together with the widespread possession of small arms, all contribute to a sense that previous eras of security have ended and are unlikely to be repeated. The social unrest and criminality associated with the economic consequences of the financial crisis are also likely to exacerbate the sense of personal insecurity (Barry Buzan, Ole Wæver, and Jaap de Wilde, Security: a new framework for analysis, 1998).
End of privacy: Whether through choices made in divulging personal data, through burgeoning systems of electronic surveillance, or through the invasiveness of parties seeking to exploit personal information, considerable doubt has been raised regarding the future possibility of any degree of privacy (Daniel J. Solove, Do Social Networks Bring the End of Privacy? Scientific American, September 2008; Reg Whitaker, The End of Privacy: how total surveillance is becoming a reality, 2000; Charles J. Sykes, The End of Privacy: the attack on personal rights at home, at work, on-line, and in court, 1999).
End of intelligence: Notably with the explosive development of the internet and the facilities that it offers, questions have been raised as to how it might constitute an end to intelligence (Ross Geraghty, The Internet: The End of Intelligence? TopMBA, 4 April 2008). The phrase has also obeen applied to dysfunctionalities in the strategic use of intelligence services (Porter J. Goss, The End of Intelligence: security before politics, Giovanni's World, 27 April 2009). In that context it is recognized, as may have been illustrated by WMD, that failures occur more often at the consuming than the producing end of intelligence (Richard Betts, Enemies of Intelligence: knowledge and power in American national security intelligence in recent public literature, 2007). In a critique of Kurzweil's approach to intelligence, Roy Wasse suggests that the moment we are however able to define intelligence in every aspect, it will probably be possible to program a computer to imitate all human brain processes -- possibly the moment intelligence doesn't exist any longer. This might prove to be consistent with a view of Hegel on the end of intelligence (Robert R. Williams, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit 1827-8, 2007). James Berger (After the end: representations of post-apocalypse, 1999) associates an apocalyptic end of history and of end the world with an end of intelligence and representation.
End of ignorance: This has long been widely recognized as a goal of development (John Mighton, The End of Ignorance: multiplying our human potential, 2007). There is however a paradox to such understanding given that the rising birth rate, and the existence of those uneducated to any appropriate level, implies ignorance. With the explosion in the advancement of knowledge, this effectively engenders ignorance at the same rate -- if not at an even faster rate. With the postulated development of artificial intelligence superior to that of humans, it could be argued that ignorance will be effectively "wired in", at least to the many whatever the advantages to the few.
End of knowing: Fred Newman (The End of Knowing: a new developmental way of learning, 1997) argues that only by moving beyond the constraints of the process of knowing into "performed activity" is it possible for people to develop and add meaning to their lives. His introduction is relevant to this section in being entitled "when will all these endings stop" and starting:
Postmodernism sometimes looks to be one "end" after another (the beginning of the end!): the end of history; the end of truth; the end of philosophy; the end opf science; the end of reason; the end of capitalism (if not the transition to socialism). At other times it appears to be a series of potential beginnings....What postmodernism becomes remina to be lived (not seen).
End of abundance: Steven M. Rosen (Dimensions of Apeiron: a topological phenomenology of space, time, and individuation, Value Inquiry Book Series, 2004) highlights the manner in which the richness of psychosocial engagement with the world has been completely undermined by formal discourse -- an "eclipse of the lifeworld" in his terms that might be understood as a form of singularity. Ironically, in a period of sensitivity to the challenges of "resources" and "energy", this view is echoed by other authors with respect to a lost sense of "abundance". Others concerned with this topic include:
End of confidence: The financial crisis of 2008 has offered a worldwide lesson in misplaced confidence and trust -- if only in institutional and academic authorities previously defined as essentially trustworthy (Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: "credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset, 2008). This had been preceded by the extreme erosion of confidence in political authorities in relation to "intelligence failures" with respect to the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The same period saw the erosion of confidence in the clergy in relation to sexual abuse.
End of hope: The election campaign of Barack Obama (The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, 2006) have provided a focus for hope, already called into question as misplaced by some (Naomi Klein, Hopebroken and hopesick, Obama fans need a new start, The Guardian, 17 April 2009). The consequences of the financial crisis, and the hopeless economic conditions in which many find themselves, are increasingly a reality that may be ultimately destabilizing for society. Already such hopelessness drivbes many to suicide (Arthur L. Kobler and Ezra Stotland, The End of Hope: a social-clinical study of suicide, 1964).
End of truth: Many have explored this theme. In an influental study by F.A. Hayek (The Road to Serfdom, 1944) a focus was given to forms of wordplay described as the "end of truth" (Chapter 11). As noted by John Bowman (The End of Truth, The Oregonian, 15 December 2007), Hayek claimed that the ultimate socialist goal in altering the language is to persuade people that socialist values are their values by convincing them they never really understood the true meaning of the words they have been using. The consequence is a complete perversion of the language and the end of truth. It is a formula for confusion and a barrier to any rational discussion of any topic. It is a process where "...language becomes despoiled, and words become empty shells deprived of any definite meaning, as capable of denoting one thing as its opposite and used solely for the emotional associations which still adhere to them." Such arguments can of course be applied to news management (namely spin). The influential study by Hans-Georg Gadamer (Truth and Method, 1960) argues that "truth" and "method" are at odds with one another and has as its major theme that truth cannot be adequately explained by scientific method. The "end of truth" is heralded by Richard Rorty (Richard Rorty and Pascal Engel, What's the Use of Truth? 2007). He argues that personal ideals of perfection and standards of truth are no more needed in politics than a state religion.
End of faith: This is a theme developed by Sam Harris (The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, (2004) as a wide-ranging criticism of all styles of religious belief and a focus for much commentary. From a Christian religious perspective, however, James C. Goodloe IV (The End of Faith) argues that the end of faith is, or at least should be, the glory of God. But for religion, when mission becomes the content instead of the consequence of the gospel, then mission becomes the end of faith in both senses: its goal and its demise -- and therin lies its problem. From a Catholic perspective, the proper end of faith is the union of the human mind with Divine truth.
End of logic: This is a theme explored by Keith Devlin (Goodbye, Descartes: the end of logic and the search for a new cosmology of the mind, 1998) in a wide-ranging exploration of the limits of scientific and mathematical thought, notably with respect to any capacity for artificial intelligence to match the capacities of the human mind.
End of rationality: The recent role of rationality has been the subject of criticism by John Ralston Saul (Voltaire's Bastards: the dictatorship of reason in the West, 1992). The pragmatism promoted by Richard Rorty has been presented as an acceptable criticism of the platonic heritage (Jürgen Habermas, Richard Rorty, and Leszek Kolakowski, Debating the State of Philosophy, 1996). This is held to mean the end of rationality as a regulative ideal of the human universe. Rorty recommends putting a full stop at the end of a narrative which was useful in pursuit of past purposes but is no longer useful for the future. Imre Lakatos (The Popperian versus the Kuhnian Research Programme, 1970) scathingly summarizes Thomas Kuhn's view as understanding scientific revolution to be irrational, even a matter for mob psychology. He notes that an earlier wave of "psychologism" followed a breakdown of justificationism held by many to represent the only possible form of rationality. The end of justificationism therefore represented the end of rationality.
End of modernism: This has long been a trend discussed in the arts (William Collins Donahue, The End of Modernism: Elias Canetti's Auto-da-Fé, 2001), especially with respect to the shift, variously dated, from modernism to postmodernism. With respect to any memetic singularity or in anticipation of a metasystem transition to such a singularity, the modernist quest for meaning in a chaotic world is eschewed by postmodern authors, even to the point of framing that quest in parody. In that sense postmodernism, to the extent that it offers any coherent perspective, may be considered as a critique of the totalizing mechanisms associated with some understandings of singularity -- especially to the extent that they are in some way "univocal". However, to the extent that postmodernism cultivates, metafiction to undermine such perspectives, this may be understood as a form of metasystem transition.
Ironically postmodern cultural understanding was itself parodied in a major hoax perpetrated by the mathematician Alan Sokal in 1996 (the Sokal Affair). The further irony however is that "modern" mathematics and physics might themselves be said to be "wormholed" by paradoxes. In an award-winng clarification of the challenges of science, Etienne Klein (Conversations with the Sphinx: paradoxes in physics, 1996) notes how the cognitive challenges of physics apply beyond the sciences. The foundations of mathematics have been brought into question by the work of Kurt Gödel on incompleteness theorems. They are recognized as no longer providing a "safe harbour" (John Woods, Paradox and Paraconsistency: conflcit resolution in the abstract sciences, 2003).
End of wisdom: This is noted by Archibald Edward Gough (The Philosophy of the Upanishads and Ancient Indian Metaphysics, 2000) in a quotation from the Upanishads:
Therefore let a Brahman learn wisdom, and stand fast in the power of wisdom; and having made an end to wisdom and the power of wisdom, let him become a quietist; and when he has made an end of quietism and non-quietism, he shall become a Brahman, a Brahman indeed
The theme has been explored by Martin A. Shields, The End of Wisdom: a reappraisal of the historical and canonical function of Ecclesiastes, 2006). William Faulkner offers the insight that: The end of wisdom is to dream high enough to lose the dream in the seeking.
End of tolerance: This is a continuing focus, notably with respect to cultural differences, religion and racism (The End of Tolerance: engaging cultural differences, Daedalus, Fall 2000; Arun Kundnani, The End of Tolerance: racism in 21st Century Britain, 2007; The Alfred Herrhausen Society for International Dialogue, The End of Tolerance?, 2002)
End of nature: Bill McKibben, The End of Nature, 1990; Michael Nordquist, The End of Nature and Society?: Bruno Latour and the Nonhuman in Politics, 2006; S. Ali, The End of Nature and the Emergence of Disease in the Risk Society, 2004). Resources on this theme also focus on the death of nature (Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution, 1990). James John Bell (Technotopia and the Death of Nature, Earth Island Journal, 2001) argues that there is something missing in the discussion of the technological singularity, namely that the true cost of progress will mean the unprecedented decline of the planet's inhabitants -- an ever-increasing rate of global extinction.
Black holes: Understanding of the attributes of a singularity has been associated with development of understanding by astrophysics of the phenomena associated with a black hole. At the center of a black hole there is a zero-volume, infinitely dense region termed a gravitational singularity, where matter is crushed to infinite density, the pull of gravity is infinitely strong, and spacetime has infinite curvature.The black hole's mass becomes entirely compressed into a region with zero volume.
Given the complex relationship between matter; energy and information, the question is whether there are processes associated with comprehension that might fruitfully be described as analogous to such a black hole and the singularity within it. Aspects of this question have been explored in Towards an Astrophysics of the Knowledge Universe: from astronautics to noonautics? (2006). Curiously information which appears to travel widely and rapidly throughout the knowledge universe can be usefully compared to the sudden visibility of a supernova. As with fashion-of-the month media wonders, their visibility is of short duration.
Financial black holes: However, in the light of the current global financial crisis and the coupling of energy and confidence with finance, it has become evident that there is considered to be a sense of what might be termed a "financial black hole" (Cramer: Lehman's a 'Lurking Black Hole', 21 August 2008; Hadron Collider's Inter-dimensional Financial Black Hole Blamed For Lehman Brothers Collapse And Coming Depression, 15 September 2008; Fooling Around a Financial Black Hole, 28 September 2008; Bailout Creating a Financial Black Hole to Suck Us All In, 4: October 2008). It might be argued that there is indeed a pattern of thinking capable of engendering or experiencing "black holes" of some kind. The question might then be whether a "financial" black hole is merely a particular manifestation of the manner in which confidence, credibility and knowledge may interrelate.
Intelligence black holes: Given the resources allocated and planned to the collection of information on every facet of society and individual activity by the intelligence services, it might be asked whether the "sucking in" of information in this way, and the processing challenge it implies, will not in itself constitute some form of uncontrollable black hole -- especially in relation to the global society on which it "feeds".
White holes: In contrast with the conventional focus on a black hole singularity, the focus above of Peter Russell on a spiritual singularity is part of his wider exploration of a "white hole" (Waking Up in Time: finding inner peace in times of accelerating change; previously titled The White Hole in Time, 1992).
Event horizons: Is it possible that, irrespective of any technological singularity, society may anticipate the emergence of other forms of black hole each with their characteristic event horizon? This would then be understood as a boundary in knowledge spacetime (or communication spacetime) beyond which events cannot affect an external observer. Information, insight or knowledge emitted from beyond that horizon can never reach that observer. Any information from outside the event horizon would be distorted in particular ways as it entered within it.
Curiously it might be argued that despite arguments to the effect that globalization has "flattened" the earth (Thomas L. Friedman's The World Is Flat, 2005), the manner in which significance fails to flow between sectors of knowledge space, across disciplinary and methodological boundaries, is an indication that the local curvature of knowledge space already introduces what are effectively event horizons (Irresponsible Dependence on a Flat Earth Mentality -- in response to global governance challenges, 2008).
One of the understandings of singularity is as a "predictive singularity", notably understood as following from the technological acceleration (but presumably equally problable in the case of social collapse). As formulated on the Conscious Singularity thread by Shawn, Consciousness Singularity, BrainMeta.com, 4 March 2003):
This Singularity includes the notion of a "wall" or "prediction horizon" -- a time horizon beyond which we can no longer say anything useful about the future. The pace of change is so rapid and deep that our human minds cannot sensibly conceive of life post-Singularity. Many regard this as a specific point in time in the future, sometimes estimated at around 2035 when AI and nanotechnology are projected to be in full force. However, the prediction-horizon definition does not require such an assumption. The more that progress accelerates, the shorter the distance measured in years that we may see ahead. But as we progress, the prediction horizon, while probably shortening in time, will also move further out. So this definition could be broken into two, one of which insists on a particular date for a prediction horizon, while the other acknowledges a moving horizon. One argument for assigning a point in time is based on the view that the emergence of super-intelligence will be a singular advance, an instantaneous break with all the rules of the past.
Exactly how any such future event horizon, black hole or singularity would be experienced is a matter of speculation. However both black hole and event horizon have been widely used as metaphors -- most notably in relation to psychological depression.
Experiential black holes: The checklist above focuses more on the cognitive processes indicative of emergence of a collective form of singularity, however this is experienced by individuals -- who may effectively experience themselves as singularities in their own right, at the centre of a black hole in knowledge/communication space (Peter Collins, Black Holes - Physical and Psychological; Imaginary Worlds: Virtual Development). The sense of personal identity may itself be framed as a psychological singularity in various ways -- including that associated with extreme isolation and alienation. There may even be a case for then understanding individuals as each effectively being the endpoint of a form of wormhole in that space, as speculatively explored (People as Stargates: an alternative perspective on human relationships in space-time, 1996). This may be especially the case to the extent that their individual websites are themselves to be understood metaphorically as black holes (around which it may be wise to skirt, perhaps by using an analogue to the gravitational slingshot maneuver well-known in astronautics, namely a gravity-assisted swing-by orbit).
"Centre cannot hold": It is in this sense that the cognitive "centre" of any collectivity may not "hold" -- the subject of much commentary in the light of the following much-quoted poem.
|The Second Coming (William Butler Yeats, 1921)|
|Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The poem has been interpreted with respect to the experience of a black hole, as by Margaret Mills Harper (Yeats and the Occult, In: The Cambridge Companion to W.B. Yeats, 2006):
For a poetic illustration of the energy that causes this black-hole-like effect, note how the two parts of The Second Coming... come together violently.
Whether the "centre" is that of a global collectivity, that of a movement of faith or opinion, that of a local community, that of a family, or that of an individual, may depend on circumstances. Aspects of this phenomenon have been previously described (Dynamically Gated Conceptual Communities: emergent patterns of isolation within knowledge society, 2004). Other forms of singularity are suggested by the various "peaks" by which humanity is challenged (Checklist of Peak Experiences Challenging Humanity, 2008), especially if they combine in any way to constitute a "crisis of crises" as first envisaged by John R. Platt:
What finally makes all of our crises still more dangerous is that they are now coming on top of each other. Most administrations...are not prepared to deal with...multiple crises, a crisis of crises all at one time...Every problem may escalate because those involved no longer have time to think straight. (What we must do. Science, 28 November 1969, pp. 1115-1121).
With respect to the many examples of "end times" phenomena, any "crisis of crises" might also then be understood as the condition under which the "ends meet".
The question is what kind of "memetic singularity" the context of the checklist will engender -- one in which each has a view of the whole and what should be done, but one in which there are radical differences ensuring a high degree of global incoherence? The "menagerie" of understandings of singularity -- each with its enthusiastic adherents -- is indeed an indication of this.
There is an interesting degree of ambiguity about how any understanding of "memetic singularity" might relate to any form of "global coherence". It might be construed as implying extreme consensus, possibly at some meta level. This opens the possibility of considering it in terms of some form of closure -- potentially of higher order (as implied by symmetry group considerations). If only as an entailment mesh into which curvature could be later introduced to offer a "singular" focus, this would be effectively an appropriate configuration of "where the ends meet". As proposed by Hilary Lawson (Closure: a story of everything, 2001), this would respond to the inherent challenges of self-reference that he has also articulated (Reflexivity: the post-modern predicament, 1985).
As the collapse of differentiated meaning, however -- effectively the collapse of culture -- such a singularity has been described in terms of nihilism and total apathy -- presumably a characteristic of cultural collapse (Frank Furedi, Invitation to Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown, 2007). It might possibly be better understood as a complete loss of ability to configure the array of meanings appropriate to engagement wih global challenges, as previously explored (Engaging with Globality -- through cognitive lines, circlets, crowns or holes, 2009).
Within the astrophysical metaphor allowing for black holes, there is then a case for considering the possible implications of a "special theory of relativity". The incoherent relationship between the various understandings of singularity suggests that greater attention should be devoted to the implications of that theory's understanding of the relationship between frames of references as constituting a form of intellectual property or territory (Einstein's Implicit Theory of Relativity -- of Cognitive Property? Unexamined influence of patenting procedures, 2007).
A bizarre feature of an astrophysical black hole is the conversion of matter into energy. As a metaphor, given the recognized increaing "dematerialization" of transactions in society, it is appropriate to ask whether a black hole in knowledge space in some way ensures that nothing "matters" any more -- as many already sense (Where There is No Time and Nothing Matters: cognitive challenges at the Edge of the World, 2008).
There is a strange irony associated with descriptions of the physical experience of being "sucked into" any black hole -- as one of being stretched "linearly" by the increasing gravitational force. It might be argued that being "sucked into" a cognitive black hole results in analogous one-dimensional stretching -- perhaps to be described as becoming extremely "righteous".
A striking example at this point in time is the range of geoengineering proposals. It might be predicted that these will result in agreement amongst a small group -- totally confident that they have taken all relevant factors into consideration. It will be implemented unilaterally without worldwide consensus -- justified as an emergency response in the absence of anything better. The result will be a "titanic" task with the probability of consequences reminiscent of the technical arrogance associated with the RMS Titanic, as previously discussed (Geo-engineering Oversight Agency for Thermal Stabilization (GOATS) 2008).
It is not consensus that is needed but the ability to design structures based on different perspectives in the light of problematic mixes of knowledge and ignorance (Unknown Undoing: challenge of incomprehensibility of systemic neglect, 2008). There is currently no investment in such skills, their possibility, or understanding the paradoxes they imply -- or any comprehension of why this might be appropriate. Despite the track record, the hope is still upheld of Getting to Yes (1961) -- a form of singularity in its own right? Coherence is becoming a victim of hope-mongering (Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering: "credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous mindset, 2008).
The IMF has just discovered that its members disagree on the significant details of how to implement what had been urgently agreed at a meeting of the G20 Group earlier in the month. Any strategic decisions, to the extent that some form of agreement is achieved, typically then involves "more of the same". This implies that the situation had been inadequately evaluated on previous occasions (namely at the G20 Summit) -- despite recognition of fundamental "intelligence failures" and "lack of imagination". The pattern must therefore be set against the assessments of:
Albert Einstein: To repeat the same thing over and over again, and yet to expect a different result, this is a form of insanity.
George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,
As an early manifestation of memetic singularity, the evident emergence of global misleadership suggests that global governance will not sustain the requisite stability for any technological singularity (Emergence of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future? 2007). A spiritual singularity may indeed then pass via a variously envisaged collapse of global civilization (Spontaneous Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence, 2004). More intriguing is that control in the cybernetic sense would then revert to Gaia as the "governor of last resort" through failure to acquire the resilience to navigate the adaptive cycle as warned by Thomas Homer-Dixon (The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization, 2006).
The focus of Jared M. Diamond (Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005) on material resources, and that of Thomas Homer-Dixon on energy, could be usefully reframed in terms of information and knowledge -- perhaps even memes. For it is likely that, just as globalization was undermined by loss of confidence in the financial system, global civilization may implode into a black hole of meaninglessness.
Karen A. Cerulo. Never Saw It Coming: cultural challenges to envisioning the worst. University of Chicago Press, 2006
Jared M. Diamond. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed. Penguin, 2005
Thomas Homer-Dixon. The Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization. Island Press, 2006
Ray Kurzweil. The Singularity Is Near: when humans transcend biology. 2005 [text]
Donald N. Michael. On Learning to Plan - And Planning to Learn. Miles River Press, 1997
Paul Ormerod. Why Most Things Fail: evolution, extinction and economics. Wiley; 2005 [extracts].
Joshua Cooper Ramo. The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It. Little, Brown and Company, 2009
Peter Russell. The Awakening Earth: the global brain. 1982
Xavier Sallantin. La singularité finale. Groupe Béna, 6 septembre 2010
John Ralston Saul. The Unconscious Civilization. Free Press, 1995
Clay Shirky. Cognitive Surplus: creativity and generosity in a connected age. Penguin, 2010
John M. Smart. The Transcension Hypothesis: sufficiently advanced civilizations invariably leave our Universe, and implications for METI and SETI. Acta Astronautica, 2011 [text]
Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable. Random House, 2007 [contents]
Geoffrey Vickers. Freedom in a rocking boat: changing values in an unstable society, 1972
For further updates on this site, subscribe here