Implosion

Today we have an interesting piece by Nick Land on John Smart’s novel approach to the Fermi Paradox (see here for more about the Fermi Paradox, if you aren’t familiar with the term): that advanced civilizations, rather than expanding into space, relentlessly turn inward.

We read:

John M. Smart’s solution to the Fermi Paradox is integral to his broader ‘Speculations on Cosmic Culture’ and emerges naturally from compressive development. Advanced intelligences do not expand into space, colonizing vast galactic tracts or dispersing self-replicating robot probes in a program of exploration. Instead, they implode, in a process of ‘transcension’ — resourcing themselves primarily through the hyper-exponential efficiency gains of extreme miniaturization (through micro- and nano- to femto-scale engineering, of subatomic functional components). Such cultures or civilizations, nucleated upon self-augmenting technological intelligence, emigrate from the extensive universe in the direction of abysmal intensity, crushing themselves to near-black-hole densities at the edge of physical possibility. Through transcension, they withdraw from extensive communication (whilst, perhaps, leaving ‘radio fossils’ behind, before these blink-out into the silence of cosmic escape).

If Smart’s speculations capture the basic outlines of a density-attracted developmental system, then cities should be expected to follow a comparable path, characterized by an escape into inwardness, an interior voyage, involution, or implosion. Approaching singularity on an accelerating trajectory, each city becomes increasingly inwardly directed, as it falls prey to the irresistible attraction of its own hyperbolic intensification, whilst the outside world fades to irrelevant static. Things disappear into cities, on a path of departure from the world. Their destination cannot be described within the dimensions of the known – and, indeed, tediously over-familiar – universe. Only in the deep exploratory interior is innovation still occurring, but there it takes place at an infernal, time-melting rate.

Read the rest here.

12 Comments

  1. Kevin Kim says

    I’ll have to read the rest of the article, which sounds fascinating, but my initial impression is that this assumes that aliens are imbued with an ego, an intellect, and a self-fascination equivalent to ours. What if it’s possible for a form of life to be conscious without having any subjectivity? Not like a philosophical zombie: such zombies aren’t even conscious. I’m talking about something that may be harder to imagine—something truly alien.

    Is it even possible to divorce consciousness from subjectivity? I’d say yes; we can arguably divorce intelligence from consciousness if, for example, we define intelligence narrowly as problem-solving ability, and consciousness as sentience, i.e., self-awareness, interiority, and intentionality. A chess program solves the problem of how to win a chess game; that makes it intelligent in one respect (if we take the narrow definition of intelligence, given above, seriously) but not conscious.

    So perhaps there exist creatures that are conscious but not sentient in any way we recognize. If they have no interiority, can they make an inward turn?

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
  2. JK says

    I’m talking about something that may be harder to imagine—something truly alien. … we can arguably divorce intelligence from consciousness if, for example, we define intelligence narrowly as problem-solving ability … So perhaps there exist creatures that are conscious but not sentient in any way we recognize.

    You don’t Kevin have to expend much imaginative effort at all.

    There are such creatures. They used to hold high office in Detroit.

    And yeppers – it imploded.

    Posted January 11, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  3. I would “read more”, sir, honestly I would but, alas, the first paragraph of Mr. Land’s dense prose caused, er, a hyper-intensive, compressive development in my will to live!

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink
  4. Kevin Kim says

    Mr. Duff,

    The prose is bit like delving into Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, isn’t it.

    Malcolm,

    I’m currently rereading The Last Dark, a fantasy novel by one of my favorite fantasy writers, Stephen R. Donaldson. In the magical realm Donaldson describes, there exist powerful beings called Elohim (yes, after one of the many Hebrew terms for God) who possess nearly godlike abilities. Because they can move themselves and/or their minds through time and space, because they can transmute into any form and exert enormous, world-splitting force, these beings are curious about nothing around them, and spend most of their time in self-contemplation. Their attitude toward the living earth and its creatures might best be described as near-indifference undergirded by hauteur. Donaldson uses the archaic word surquedry to describe their lofty attitude; I might call it arrogance or hubris.

    I wonder whether Donaldson’s Elohim might come close to Smart’s notion of “advanced intelligences”—beings so aware and so powerful that they’ve become bored with outer space and prefer to explore inner space instead. The problem with the Elohim, though, is that they’re really just People Writ Large. Arrogance and boredom are human traits; aliens, I think, would be truly alien, so I’m not sure that Smart’s “advanced intelligences” aren’t also People Writ Large.

    JK,

    Well! Mystery solved, then.

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink
  5. JK says

    AnonymousJanuary 12, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    I considered doing such on the current post possibly sullying (Diplomad’s got a post bidding Sharon proper regards).
    ____________________________

    (Diplomad, Malcolm, David, fellow Readers, shall have free use):

    On my oath I’ve never seen the term in print nor, have I heard the word uttered. I hereby declare authorship and claim all rights (NYT, WSJ? etc, that includes monies but does not exclude anything other of value) to the following

    ChrispyGate™, Chrispygate™, ChrispyGate©, Chrispygate©

    and any variations thereof derived from as of the above timestamp.

    Arkie, JK, & other actual full names.

    Gatesgate is fair-game.

    http://thediplomad.blogspot.com/2014/01/rino-hunting-on-meadowlands.html

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink
  6. JK says

    January 12, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    (I was composing a post on this past week’s goings-on and “Chrispygate™” slammed into what passes for my mind.

    I’d ask fellow Readers – but none necessarily of any of the three blog authors – to, immediately after the ‘e’ above, enter the alt-code for denoting the trademark. Just press and hold the ‘alt’ key, tap the numerical keys in this order, 0153 – release the alt key.

    If any of the regulars [provided there’s an earlier comment posted] on the three sites notices a proceeding use of the term anywhere else, lemme know – I’d love to sue the NYT. We’ll share the spoils.

    Arkie)

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Kevin,

    What if it’s possible for a form of life to be conscious without having any subjectivity? Not like a philosophical zombie: such zombies aren’t even conscious. I’m talking about something that may be harder to imagine—something truly alien.

    That is harder to imagine — in fact, I can’t seem to manage it. How would you parse the difference between consciousness and subjective awareness? In what sense is an awareness without subjectivity any different from a mechanical sensor?

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Their attitude toward the living earth and its creatures might best be described as near-indifference undergirded by hauteur.

    Aren’t these the same people that are running the E.U.?

    Speaking of sci-fi, did you ever read any of Michael Moorcock’s Dancers At The End of Time books? (I believe the first was called An Alien Heat.) They had a cast of godlike humans at the very terminus of history: with unlimited powers, and utterly bored.

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 5:27 pm | Permalink
  9. Kevin Kim says

    “In what sense is an awareness without subjectivity any different from a mechanical sensor?

    Assuming awareness implies consciousness, I’d say a mechanical sensor isn’t conscious, and thus not properly aware of anything. True, this probably depends on one’s definition of awareness; if awareness is predicated upon photosensitivity, then perhaps the sensor is aware in the same way that a chess program has a specific, limited intelligence inasmuch as it possesses problem-solving ability. Dunno.

    “How would you parse the difference between consciousness and subjective awareness?”

    I had trouble imagining this, too, but I tried, by analogy, to show that, if we can divorce (if only by definition) intelligence from consciousness, it may be possible to divorce subjectivity/sentience from consciousness. Then again, it may not.

    But I’ve heard some folks talk about dogs this way: a dog is sentient if we define sentience as ability to feel. Dogs clearly emote, and they feel pleasure and pain. But it’s not obvious a dog is sentient if we define sentience as self-aware or possessing a sense of self (I assume that’s what “subjective awareness” means). Do dogs have a first-person subjectivity? When a dog yelps in pain, is there a sense in which the dog is thinking, “I’m in pain?” Or is its brain simply flaring, “PAIN!” ?

    I’d say that, if it’s possible that a dog can be conscious of pain without thinking of itself being in pain, then that may lead us to the alien way of thinking.

    Then again, if dogs can serve as a handy analogy for my truly alien aliens, perhaps my aliens aren’t so alien after all. Far from being People Writ Large, they may just be Pets Writ Large. Mundane as that.

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  10. JK says

    I had trouble imagining this, too, but I tried, by analogy, to show that, if we can divorce (if only by definition) intelligence from consciousness, it may be possible to divorce subjectivity/sentience from consciousness.

    A starting point Kevin.

    http://www.consciousentities.com/?p=648

    Posted January 12, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  11. JK says

    How indeed.

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-04/cp-hto041306.php

    Posted January 13, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink
  12. JK says

    I know. Off-topic, but …

    http://www.wired.com/opinion/2014/01/theres-no-good-way-to-patch-the-internet-of-things-and-thats-a-huge-problem/

    Posted January 13, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

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