Who are we?
We are living with a fundamental contradiction. Voices tell us advances in science and technology are helping humanity and making the world a better place. Yet, access to them is restricted as power and money concentrate ever more in the hands of the few, at greater expense to larger and larger swathes of humanity. Meanwhile, those advances precipitate the pace of the degradation of the global environment. This contradiction saps our humanity from us. One of the objectives of this article is to explore this.
We know that today´s technology, with the science that drives it, draws on the use of raw materials, requires industrial activity involving manufacturing processes, all of which leave waste and devastation in their train, and that attempts to recycle waste and mitigate environmental damage merely involve more extensive technological activity. There is no application of such technology to which this does not apply. This has to date brought about a tremendously sophisticated state of affairs in which the human presence is apart from and alien to Life. We have fabricated a `world´ and a state of affairs that is at variance with the natural world, antipathetic to Life in being opposed to its ways of being and doing.
From mind/brain research we conclusively know that the larger part of human potential is dormant, unused, has no place within the parameters of our lives in today´s world. 80% of the time we function on this fraction of our potential, they say. If there is any argument it is purely about a few %age points, either way. When such a huge proportion of human potential is an untapped mystery, focus on the illusion of artificial intelligence merely saps our own intelligence that much more!
It is worth a moment to reflect on this.
For scientific purposes, if light moves at, say 186,000 miles/second, distances photon activity travels out in the cosmos are measured in light years. At the other extreme, in biological organisms it is measured in microseconds (millionths of a second) and in fibre optics this is in nanoseconds (1,000th of a microsecond, or billionths of a second). Since distance is irrelevant to the way data travels in a chip, the pace of connectivity is enormous. So, if information shifts a thousand times faster in cyber devices than it moves in our central nervous system, when the point of singularity entrepreneurs are racing artificial intelligence towards arrives, the matter will be out of our hands. Cyber-connectivity will have taken the matter across the threshold into self-organisation, which is what singularity refers to, artificial intelligence doing its own thing. Though mimicking neural networking, cyber networking´s sustaining, maintaining, developing and replicating itself will be unfathomable. The implications are beyond imagining, for what goes on will exist within a domain that is not only independent of us, but running rings around any human effort to direct or even contain it. At a ratio of 1,000 to 1, neural connectivity can be no match for cyber connectivity. Happening a thousand times faster and, therefore, processing a thousand times more data, we are looking at cyber-activity´s accelerating away from us when the moment arrives. (In the context of the accelerating pace of the application of artificial intelligence, this is perhaps no further away than some freak operation by a hacker or whiz-kid being enough to cross the bridge, leap barriers and breach firewalls for cyber-connectivity to spread like wildfire through the everyday life of us all across the planet.)
You see, the intellectual pursuit of evidence-based knowledge is incremental. This means that, though science can speculate all it likes, it does not know where such pursuits lead it. In this, science is blind for it does not know what is at the end of the tunnels it and the technology that enables it, race along. Such tunnels become obstacle courses of issues that come at one. To deal with these issues involves yet more technology, with its attendant complications. The unrestrained connivance between business, science and technology driving this is a game. The bigger it gets, the more money is at play. That it will benefit humanity, make life easier for any of us, or whatever, is no more than the blanket they pull over their own eyes to justify it and the smoke-screen that blinds the rest of us.
In this respect, there is, unfortunately, a sinister dimension to the allure of artificial intelligence. Warring interests, structured inequality, civil discontent, conflict between different segments of society, human duplicity and rogue activity mess with the kind of connectivity amongst humans that is to be found in the natural world. As our brain-child, the pursuit or artificial intelligence is shaped by the nastier, more brutish nature of the humanity whose self-serving conduct has brought the state both of human affairs and of the planet to the present pass. What is sinister about this is, that as an autonomous entity (which is what reaching singularity means), it will be as self-serving as we are! So, wherever it actually happens, when the moment comes, would what achieving singularity be that, doing its own thing, artificial intelligence will become a presence that establishes its own agenda, as it operates in cyber-space, freely tapping into cyber systems; accessing and using their information, in the process, to form who-knows-what policy; re-directing energy and information however it decides; diverting, re-structuring and creating new industrial and manufacturing activity for purposes of its choosing, and subverting the likes of all smart device performance to serve its ends? If so, it would have become a global presence that shuts us out, an order behind all the piecemeal governmental, national, international and other agendas, having taken them over lock stock and barrel. Hacker of all hackers, info tech would no longer be available for us to counter its machinations. With our slower mental processing we would have no hold on the god in this machine, for it would have us in its hold. Is this what the unthinking pursuit of artificial intelligence´s achieving singularity is having us stumbling towards, what the illusion is blinding us to?
Well, back to the plot!
Where we have contrived a world-wide web, shamanic people have the web of life that our internet mimics, artificially. For them everything is connected in this web. Something is done. Something happens. Those make differences. They tweak the web, which has effects somewhere else. There is no delay. It is instantaneous. Just by living, this is occurring everywhere, all the time. This is Life.
We know these peoples of other traditions understood things not known to us, such as who they were, their place in the scheme of things and how everything is of one weave in the fabric of life. These matters were depicted, symbolised and enshrined in their mythologies, legends and tales, that being the way such knowledge was stored as a whole; had integrity, and was, therefore, instantly available for reference in their day-to-day lives. Amongst such pictures were some containing specific, sophisticated and precise information ranging from the binary nature of the star Sirius out in the Cosmos, for example, to accurately detailed representations of DNA replication within a cell´s nucleus, at the microscopic level, simply because such matters pertained to their way of life and the view of the world that embraced and kept them on course as a people.
We do not seem to understand any of this. We are unable to imagine things being other than how we see them. We do not know how to conduct ourselves otherwise. So we just say, “yes, yes, but, ...!” and go on in the same vein. Our belief in science and technology is to blame for this, which is how we have got into the present predicament, in the first place. The assumption that science can solve anything has it being used to develop technologies of scale whose sophistication and cost impose yet grosser abuses.
So, how did we get here?
A stark version of it goes like this! In Europe in Medieval times, deforestation for ship-building and iron-smelting in forest clearings waxed. The subsequent use of coal as a better substitute fuelled the industrial revolution with its `black landscape´ footmark. It was not enough. Recourse to petroleum led to oil-based technologies, whose environmental havoc we seek to escape from through the use of energy derived from sun, water and wind. So here we are where the vision of them as natural, clean and renewable distracts us from recognising the detrimental nature of the technologies necessary and the scale of industry involved to employ them.
Technology´s undermining Life is something with which we never really get to grips. “Yes, yes, I understand that the life style we have is defined by the technology that sustains it.” Yet, seeking solutions to the damage it does, from within its embrace, have us shying away from ever confronting the real issue in any meaningful way.
In the circumstances, our contemporary mismanagement of our lives, affairs and the well-being of the planet is part and parcel of the poverty of our view of life, ignorance of who we are and cluelessness as to why we are here. Correcting this has nothing to do with making better, greener, more effective, more comprehensive technological fixes, for today´s grand technological projects are but an illustration of earlier projects having not only failed in fulfilling those very objectives then, but of having created additional problems, in the meantime. Their goals merely take the problem of the overloaded use of the fraction of our potential to the `nth´ degree, increasing stresses and strains that none of us are managing anyway.
Take the use of the gas Sulphur hexafluoride (Sf6) with regard to the industries promoting renewable energy, as an example! This gas´s excellent electric insulating and arc-quenching capacities have led to its use in the electrical industry for high voltage circuit-breakers and switch gears, thereby providing for the safer transmission of electric power.
However, it has a high global warming potential (GWP), 23,900 times greater than CO2, with an atmospheric life of 3,200 years. Back in the year 2002, 600 metric tons of it escaped, due to accidents, leaking and wastage. That is the equivalent of 3,103,898 cars driven for a year, or the burning of 72,865 railcars of coal. That was then! In an industry where the variety and number of additional sources of electric power being fed into grids is surging, the release of Sf6 is waxing.
The clean energy industry already has dirty secrets, such as the need for rare earths (also vital to other technologies like consumer electronics, computers and networks, communications, advanced transport, health care, environmental mitigation and national defence) that it is looking to deep sea mining´s providing for, at additional environmental cost to that of the construction industry´s already stripping the sea-floor for sand and gravel. In this context, the production and use of Sulphur hexafluoride gas is but another of the clean energy industry´s dirty secrets, another instance of how a downside to the supposedly beneficial use of technology further complicates the dynamics between nature and the artificial world that technology has carved out of the natural world, superimposed upon life on Earth and is continually elaborating .
It never really registers how technology gives us the ability to harness wind, water and sun, but with consequences – additional needs for raw materials, the industrial activity necessary and ever greater demands for energy to manufacture the equipment and get matters up and running. Then there are additional needs and increasing demand, tweak, tweak, and complications in the network, tweak, tweak. So that, in the instance of the arcing that causes breaks in the delivery of power to the grid, we have the vast improvement of Sf6 gas, with its hugely toxic impact, as a consequence. So it goes.
Ah, yes, go on, then! I know you want to say, “yes, but, ...!” That is the crux of the matter, is it not?, shying away from the real issue, avoiding the urgency of what ecology tells us about being embedded in life on Earth. For what we do in the least way is done to the whole. In harming it we harm ourselves. In going on being harmful, we escalate the damage. Inexorably rending the web of life, we are pulling the world down about our ears!
So what is this other science?
Other states of awareness and untapped capacities reside, dormant within human potential, a veritable iceberg beneath the surface levels of consciousness and activity within which contemporary humanity is trapped, but of which other traditions are cognizant. So it is that they are able to attune themselves to life, to nature, to their environment; to commune with other forms of life, and the Absolute, itself. This is another sort of science, one with which people access information and receive messages through other states of awareness, both in their everyday lives and for key issues, such as healing, divination, death and rebirth, metamorphosis, spirit journeying and renewal in the face of catastrophes that beset their communities. Such matters cannot be dissociated from their lives, for this science includes ways of entering other states of awareness on cue and processes, rites and ceremonies that give them access to those sources of information, locking their community within the embrace of all that is central to their lives and well-being.
Now, one could say that such a way of life is flawed, since it cannot stand up to the onslaught from ours, their cultures simply crumbling in the encounter. But this is because, living according to everything in Life that we are apart from, as they do, does not equip them to counter the aggression of how `our civilisation´ actively discredits their culture, fragments their societies, seduces them personally and devastates the environments that are the heart of their world. The onslaught changes the game. Their world destroyed, their cultures eroded, their lives in tatters, undermined, they succumb.
Then, in another respect, one could say their way of life is no valid option, as far as we might be concerned, because the circumstances are so different. However, regardless of the circumstances you and I find ourselves in, their approach is what could assure our living with due respect for others, life and for Earth itself. This is also something this article is exploring.
There is another dimension to the matter.
Life forms are communities of innumerable microbes, parasites and bacteria, whose existence is essential to their lives and well-being. The environment itself is a sea of life. The exudates of a healthy plant, for instance, feed a million, million bacteria/ teaspoon of soil and there are miles of micorrhyza around a single tree. In a good unit of soil (football-size, let´s say!) there are 50,000 protozoa each eating 10,000 bacteria/day towards building the working fertility of the soil. Similar activity in the oceans and atmosphere of Earth, parallel this, in their own way.
DNA is the crux of the matter, for each form of life is an expression of DNA, with its distinctive configuration of that DNA material. This is so for each microbe, each cell of every tissue and organ of every form of life. The photon emissions of their DNA signal messages encoding information that other creatures discern. This is Life. DNA is its vehicle.
There is nothing random to it. If the cell´s DNA determines who it is, its photon emissions characterise that, for they are its signature. Each cell, said to be firing at something like 1,000 times/second, is transmitting a steady stream of information about itself and its condition; signals conveying messages to other locations; holding patterns it shares collectively with the other cells with which it groups, concerning what it is, where it is in the part of the body to which it belongs, and more, to whoever is attuned to that for whatever about it that pertains to them. This activity is broadcast throughout the organism and out into its surroundings, as part of the complex interchange DNA is conducting at the planet-wide level we call Life. One could say that this DNA-base is a search engine beyond compare!
In this, forms of life in their milieu are as words in a phrase. So, a word out of place, the phrase loses its clarity and the language falters, the environment in this case, no longer able to express what it did. So, as the atmosphere, different regions of this planet and its seas are devastated, they lose integrity. Their support for the creatures in them diminishes. So is it that our own lives are endangered. This disintegration is what we have brought about. We also denigrate ourselves thus, a rogue species run amok in the field of Life on Earth. Indigenous folk recognise such matters, understand them and pursue their lives, accordingly.
Look at it this way!
A single plant takes Carbon from the CO2 it breathes in from the atmosphere and makes carbohydrates that feed the host of fungi, bacteria, microbes and other organisms around its roots, stem, leaves, flowers, and fruit, building a presence that protects it from the ravages of other, pathogenic forms of life. In providing for those whose company is beneficial, the soil around it becomes a living thing, an eco-system, in which this microbial life feeds larger predatory organisms, like protozoa, that, in their turn, release nutrients such as the Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, Zinc and Copper which that very plant requires. At the level of eco-systems, plants performing like this, in community, foster the fields of such activity we know as forest, prairie, mountain, wetland, riverine and other environments that, in larger cycles of time, have fleshed themselves out as the organs of Gaia, the Earth planet system. This kind of self-organisation, self-development and self-regulation is going on in Earth´s seas and its atmosphere as well, and between them, as an integrated entity. Indigenous peoples have been entrained to and cohering with eco-systems in this way for tens of thousands years, whilst the rising and falling of the succession of civilisations that are our pedigree has hardly been around for 5,000 (maybe 7,000!) years.
So, let me pose the following questions!
Do you not think that what plants do is intelligent? Though each of us has such a microbial eco-system upon which, not just our survival, but our very existence depends, do you or I consciously have anything resembling that involvement with others in the world around us? Do our societies reflect such a degree of entrainment? Apart from indigenous cultures, does the rest of humanity demonstrate anything approximating such a level of coherence? When intelligences up and down the scale of creation are enmeshed like this and cohere as one, how on earth does what we are up to make any sense?
Our place in Life, then, is as a field of energy and consciousness in a larger field that is also energetic and sentient, the field that is our home environment. Our venture now as global citizens is the pan-cultural effort of the whole human being to draw such matters back into our lives and functioning. It is not better communication infrastructures, information processing and technology that we need, for more of them, merely aggravates the absence of our unused potential, fragmenting society to an ever greater extent and having us more and more at loggerheads with one another. What we lack is the functioning of the larger part of ourselves, for we cannot really experience and live properly within the field of life, otherwise.
There is nothing extraordinary here. What is out of the ordinary though is the average person´s inability to use this sense that the commonality of DNA gives us. No other form of life has become handicapped as we have. It is as if we were to stubbornly ignore the auditory and visual information our ears and eyes give us.
The Danish children´s story-teller, Hans Christian Andersen, had a tale about a duckling, awkward, too big and different-looking from the others. Miserable and out of place, it discovers its true identity as a swan. As a children´s story, The Ugly Duckling is the innocent tale of a misfit growing up and finding its place in life. But if one thinks in detail, of the over-sized inhabitant of a cramped nest, clamouring for more than its share of the food on hand, squabbling with its baffled siblings, and so on, one could take it as an adult account of the human race´s being the ugly duckling in the nest of life on Planet Earth.
In the case of our contemporary human predicament, unaware of who we are, we are clumsy, inconsiderate and purely self-seeking. Lacking feeling for this ignorant behaviour, our stubbornness in the face of what we suppose ourselves to be up against blights life. Having no sense for our place within the scheme of things, we are self-serving, have absurd expectations, overload Planet Earth with all sorts of false demands, the wastefulness of our excesses fouling the nest of Life.
Yet, for all that we have to say about human activity and what is happening to Earth, matters are no different than they ever have been. As ever, chaos is `the order´ as all sorts of factors, forces and powers are at play at every level, at every moment, according to which living things and Life itself are ever adjusting, organising, regulating themselves and developing, as entities provoked by the circumstances of their individual lives transcend chaos, themselves belonging to communities that are also passing through their own processes of transformation and metamorphosis, at the hands of that very chaos.
As for whatever may prove sinister about artificial intelligence as the brain-child of our jaundiced outlook and dystopian ways, it is far from the reality of the human intelligence that indigenous folk channel. Everything speaks for realising who we really are, as happened with the ugly duckling´s finding it was not a duckling but a swan. With this in mind, the following image/text series is to take a stab at a better appreciation of who we are and our place in life on Planet Earth, for there is nothing to stop us realising who we are, as did the ugly duckling, and conducting ourselves accordingly, as would the swan!
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