Saturday, February 22, 2014

Lifelogging, singularity, and immortality

Flesh fades. We all know this. We are given our allotted three score and then some, and that's it. Who we were - our experiences, faults, failures, hopes and dreams, secret wishes and brightest hopes - Pfftt! Just like that. Gone.

Which is why we have religion, to give hope of an afterlife, to give meaning and poignancy to our current life, and to explain that existential and elusive question, "Why are we here?"

I blog, journal and write, and, partly, became a parent, in my own futile grab at immortality. Because I know, once the curtain falls, all this talk of heaven and God and an afterlife, is pure speculation. I'm living today as if it all I've got. For that may be true.

I am a monotheist and church member not because I have abiding faith in eternal salvation. Nah! Truth be told, I'm just as unsure about the afterlife as an agnostic. My main reason for attending church is: Belief in something greater (or, at least perceived to be greater) than oneself is a good thing; I like being held morally accountable to a greater good, and that I don't have the strength or will to proclaim absolute right or wrong, so I subscribe and hold fast to moral tenets that have worked in western civilization for a couple thousand years; Jesus is cool, humble and exalted, yet a bad boy, iconoclast, table flipper, a questioner of authority (God in human form? I don't know. But I'd follow him anywhere); and I come from a tradition of faith. My heritage is tied to it and I respect the faith of my forebears.

Making peace with one's mortality helps make embracing the now all that much easier. It brings the miracle of existence to the forefront. And life truly is a miracle. There is more life visually evident in a square foot of land right outside your window than in all the vast reaches of the cosmos. Statistically, given the billions and billions (don your turtlenecks and insert Carl Sagan voice here) of galaxies, life on other planets does exist. But we just don't know. We don't have conclusive evidence.


Now, more than ever, we have the ability to record our lives in ever more meaningful and complex ways. I use my smart phone to take pictures, record distance, time, and a map location of running, do Facebook and Twitter updates, and to get on the Internet to look up meaningful topics.

These types of activities are called Lifelogs. And with the advent of Google glass and other App-based technologies, lifelogging is reaching more and more activity-centered niches. I imagine that within the next 10 to 20 years, data storage capabilities and our understanding of how the brain operates, along with nano-technology that will allow us to ingest and integrate robotics into our lives, every small bit of data about our lives will be recorded. I hope to live long enough to download my brain into a more permanent hardware system. I've even written a couple story treatments about reverse discrimination, wherein this type of technology takes over and robot bodies, in all their perfection, discriminate against "organics."

Any sci-fi and futurist thinker know about the singularity event, that consequential tilt in time when artificial intelligence supersedes human intelligence. This will have either utopian and/or dystopian consequences, and in many ways is already profoundly influencing human thoughts and behavior. The pace and efficiency of our world economy is dependent on computers. But think about it on a personal level. Ten years ago I used to have all of my friends and family member's phone numbers memorized. Now I depend on my phone's database for those numbers. Rarely do I ever dial a number. The term "dial" is an anachronism, a reference to an outmoded technology as alien to today's generation as party lines are to mine.

Check out the works of Ray Kurzweil, Google's director of engineering. He's written many books about humanity's relationship to technology, most popularly, The Singularity is Near. Huge technology companies will influence and profit from these profound new technologies, but I believe the technologies themselves will be the greatest bringers of change in the years to come.

And to think, all of this will happen (is happening! Now!) in my lifetime. How we adapt and relate to these new technologies will define what we are as a species and will forever change what it means to be a human. And, as predicted in Star Wars, as the lines between human and machine become blurred, it will be as important as ever to get in touch with a spiritual center that is uncorrupted by the machine.

For now, I'm just trying to solve level 139 on Candy Crush Saga. Each affirmative "Divine!" goads me on to higher achievements. It validates and vindicates my very 21st century existence. Someday the quest will be complete. And then what. Candy Crush Heaven? That will be the ultimate singularity event!

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Appetites, habits, and nostalgia

Appetites, needs, compulsions, habits. The ways of the flesh. We are all caught up in the game. Some of us are less wise managers. The addicts, the lotus eaters waylaid from their voyage by the cravings of a singular desire. Their brains are rewired to serve a deeply channelled rut. Obsessive compulsive disorders work along similar synaptical channels.

Habits are just socially acceptable forms of compulsion. I am certainly a creature of habit. A habitué of home and hearth. A returner along well-laid paths. Return, again and again, to the same little plot of land. Drink my caffeine every day for fear of headache reprisal. Have to do my Midweek crossword puzzle every week to bolster the ego and stave off dementia. Habits of movement, reading, listening, playing with my son, sleeping with wife.

The only thing that differentiates me from the hustler is I don't wear my habits, my desires, on my sleeve. I'm a "responsible adult." I accept acceptable faiths, am prudent with finances, balanced of diet, non-smoker, moderate drinker. The things I crave are well within the realms of "normal." And maybe I'm all the more boring for my bland tastes. I can accept bland and boring. Leave me alone with my thoughts, my music, my writing, the simple pleasures of hearth and home. I had my excitement and am glad to have moved on. Never was a down on the luck Bukowski. Not likely to ever be one. That poetry eludes me.

Think of the séance, the sitting sessions, from Latin, sedere, to sit. Hands are laid on Ouija boards (another interesting etymology, "Ouija" is a combination of the French and German words for "Yes") to connect with lost loved ones and spirits who can seemingly foresee the future. The past and future. The wistful and the wishful.

Just think of the implications of ghosts. A confirmed, verified supernatural entity would validate that life, or at least consciousness, exists after death. Famed magician and escape artist Harry Houdini made a promise to return as a ghost. After he died, every Halloween since 1927 a séance has been performed to try and conjure Houdini's ghost, to no avail. His wife Bess died without ever re-connecting with her lost love. They had a secret code. He would share it if he could reach her.

The following is a link to a Houdini  séance  broadcast in 1936.


Rituals, habits, sittings sessions, are all attempts to reclaim some past glory, like the feeling I get singing an old hymn. Who, in generations long past, wearing fashions long forgotten, sang these same hymns? In some way, all of these hungers, nostalgia, and addictions are vain and fruitless attempts to connect with the timeless past, that first high, the hungerless umbilical connectivity of the womb.

Which is why desire is tinged with sadness and impermanency. It's all in vain. Nostalgia is regret. The ghost is unable to change in an ever-changing world. It is fixed.

I heard this radio piece about a man who died, but before he died, he wrote hundreds of letters to friends and family, and left them in the care of his slightly addled son, to be sent every year on the anniversary of his death.

At first, the recipients of these letters were surprised and pleased to receive these letters, but as time wore on, year after year, the letters got annoying. The dead man wrote about things no longer relevant to their lives. One person said they even stopped reading the letters. They had moved on. Let the dead keep their dead. The past belongs there. Regret is a waste of the present, which is all that matters.