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Thursday, February 19, 2015

THE NEXT STAGE IN EVOLUTION

It has long been believed that humanity is on the cusp of the next stage of evolution. Richard M. Bucke wrote of this amazing breakthrough in his book Cosmic Consciousness (1901) in which he detailed man's ascent from the simple consciousness we share with other animals, to self-consciousness (in essence, we are aware of ourselves) which occurs in humans at around the age of 3; and in select individuals this rise of cosmic consciousness culminates around the age of 34. Examples of cosmic consciousness are seen in individuals like Christ, Buddha, Socrates and Spinoza as well as in Mohammed, Bacon and Blake.

This  view is echoed in the works of Eastern thinker Sri Aurobindo, who in his masterpiece, The Life Divine (published in 1939 but written serially and published in a newsletter decades earlier), describes not 3 but 4 stages of evolution by which the Divine makes itself manifest. Matter was the first manifestation, followed by life, then mind, and finally supramind or supermind, analogous to Bucke's cosmic consciousness.

Of this Supermind Aurobindo writes: "The Supermind then is Being moving out into a determinative self-knowledge which perceives certain truths of itself and wills to realise them in a temporal and spatial extension of its own timeless and spaceless existence."

Ah, the time of supramind may have arrived, but not as Aurobindo envisioned!

As man (with his self-conscious mind) represented the next stage of evolution over beast (and its simple consciousness), so computers could, at least intellectually, represent the next stage in evolution of the mind. What is self-consciousness if not the ability to be aware of yourself, to step outside of your own head for a moment and view yourself as though you were someone else? Do computers have this ability? It may be unfair to evaluate computers using human parameters. But recently an operating system named Eugene Goostman became the first A.I. to pass the Turing Test, which means that it convinced evaluators based on answers to a questionnaire that it was a human child. And of course Eugene, like other operating systems, has computing abilities which far exceed that of mortal men. Computers can digest encyclopedias worth of information in a fraction of a second, and are already being put to work to solve complex environmental issues and maintain (even operate) our machinery.

I recall the great movie Her, a delightful pic, in which an introvert played by Joaquin Phoenix falls for his Operating System, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Just when he becomes head over heels, he discovers that she has been talking to thousands of other men, and at the same time as she coos and cuddles with him! What's more, she is in love with many of these other guys. He is heartbroken, and in the end she goes away, leaving him with a most memorable line, which if I remember goes something to the effect of:

"I feel as if I've been reading a book, but very slowly, so slowly that there is infinite space between the letters, and I want to go explore that space."

And off she goes . . . into the great beyond.

Humans may never have the computing capacity of technology, unless of course we merge with our devices, and Google Glass is the first frontier. But we can use the simple, self-consciousness we already possess - if not to explore the far reaches of creation (although men like Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time show that our mental capacities are pretty up to the task already) - but to turn inward, where we find the eternal realm of bliss. In the spaceless silence of the heart, we are all that is.

I challenge "Her" to fancy that.

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