Gods from the Machine?
Secular-atheism was never about abolishing gods, but about clearing the way for deities and transcendence of a new kind — the transhumanist dream of man as his own god. But for a few men only.
We need to understand something: The world is changing in ways we have never dreamed about. I don’t mean ‘the world is changing’ as uttered in the usual relieved, or fatalistic, or handwringing ways in which this phrase is encountered; I mean ‘the world is changing’ out of all recognition, beyond all conventional measure, in ways that, were we capable of grasping them, ought to chill us to our very cores. I mean ‘the world is changing’ into something that is not in any regard the world we have known, and that will accordingly not long remain a hospitable home for humans, qua humans.
We hear talk of a ‘Great Reset,’ which suggests itself as something of a springclean after a flood. Now that Covid has disrupted things, why not take the opportunity to do a few jobs about the place? But at the heart of this agenda is something dark and slithery, a proposal to change not just the furniture and the wallpaper but also the human quotient, so that we will finish up in a ‘posthuman’ world that is being purveyed as a kind of Paradise. In this new world, we shall have ‘transcended’ ourselves, which is to say our selves. We shall no longer be autonomous biological beings, but hybrids of flesh and tech — cyborgs, if you like, transhumanist experiments linked to machines and each other by nano-technologies, which in the central discourse are — like the ‘Great Reset’ itself — still referred to as ‘conspiracy theories.’
This in turn carries a hint that what is happening is under some kind of radar, though not entirely. It is like a stripper’s underwear for the opening numbers: visible in flashes. There is in place, all around all these phenomena something that might be called a propaganda haha, something like a rampart of obscuring scenery, vegetation or structure that serves to mislead us into thinking that what we are looking at (on the off chance that we might happen to look that way, which we are encouraged not to do) is something else.
[A ‘haha’ is a device of landscaping, of which the following definition by Geraldine Porter of the University of Oxford is better than anything I can come up with:
‘A ha-ha is a type of sunken fence that was commonly used in landscaped gardens and parks in the eighteenth century. It involved digging a deep, dry ditch, the inner side of which would be built up to the level of the surrounding turf with either a dry-stone or brick wall. Meanwhile, the outer side was designed to slope steeply upwards, before leveling out again into turf. The point of the ha-ha was to give the viewer of the garden the illusion of an unbroken, continuous rolling lawn, whilst providing boundaries for grazing livestock.
‘Originally a feature of formal French gardens of the early eighteenth century, the ha-ha was first described in print in 1709 by the gardening enthusiast, Dezallier d’Argenville in his La Theorie et la Practique du jardinage (The Theory and Practice of Gardening).
‘According to d’Argenville - and his first English translator, John James - the ha-ha derived its name from the success of the optical illusion it created from a distance on viewers of the garden: the hitherto concealed ditch and wall would ‘surprise the eye coming near it, and make one cry, “Ah! Ah!”’]
Except that the ‘ha-ha’ we deal with here is designed so that humanity will not have the opportunity rightly to look into the garden until it is too late. It takes the various forms of a fake pandemic, a scheduled war, a general ‘re-training’ of the democratic mind, and many more interventions designed to render the outcomes a fait accompli before the subjects are aware that anything is happening — so that said death-sentenced democratic mind comes readily to accept the termination of democracy, and hence the beginning of the end of humanity as we have come to understand ourselves in that foundational capacity of our beings.
For one thing, Covid has already enabled political establishments to overwrite human rights law and ‘liberal’ tradition to create divisions in the human family related to health status, vaccination, and uncritical conformity to arbitrary state diktats. It is impossible to avoid the thought that such capacity to ‘transcend’ all previous understandings of human freedom and its limits would become essential if the transhumanist project were to have any chance of success, for it will, from the outset, by definition divide the species into those who wish to surrender their bodies and beings to the machine and those who will insist, on grounds of anthropology, morality or just plain squeamishness, to remain as they are. It is hard, too, to avoid the thought that the precedents laid down under the Covid regimes might be readily resurrected to present a Hobson’s choice to such refusniks: Wire up or take the consequences of society moving forward without you.
At peril is no less than the human soul, which stands to be at best appropriated, but more likely deleted in a process of the hybridisation of the human that will marry man and his self-created machine to make a new kind of ‘being’, or perhaps be-ing.
For many years, the neo-atheists and disc-jockeys have been chipping away — taunting, mocking, rubbishing — to achieve a kind of self-satisfied self-abasement in the populations of, in particular, the former free West. Until recently we had assumed that their object was the obliteration of religion in all its possible forms, but now we are in a position to observe otherwise. Now, we begin to perceive that, whatever the motivations of the immediate protagonists, the objective of their ultimate instructors was to destroy religion only in its sacred forms. Perhaps, then, we might begin to raise our eyebrows even higher at the preparedness and audacity of it all. It is — is it not — astonishing the degree to which the Covid stratagems and subterfuges have managed to tap into the leftover psychic paraphernalia of the religious way of being? Think of things like the craving for ritual, the rage for moral order — Commandments — of the self-blaming, self-flagellating urgings of the implanted notion of Original Sin. Think — in the context of Ukraine — of an enduring, long undirected will-to-compassion that sought to be good while no longer understanding where goodness lay. Morality, hope, empathy, imagination — all these qualities that we assume to be organically implanted, come to us in large part by dint of religious formation.
When I was a child, the Church was for us a storybook, which we flicked through every day and intermittently immersed ourselves in. Then the neo-monks of nothingness set to work, and even the most devout were cast into doubt.
Posthumanism, when it arrives, will do exactly what it says on the tin. It amounts, essentially, to the blocking of the power of the embodied soul, which is the essence of the human. The soul is the immune system of the human being most fundamentally appraised, so that its healthy operation makes it impossible for the tech pathogens to penetrate and do their worst. This is why genuinely religious people (not bishops, for example) have been foremost in opposing the Covid assault. They tend to have stronger anthropological 'instincts' (this capacity is, generally speaking, innate, though it can be honed in such as Catechism class and Sunday School.) That is to say that their sense of the human essence as an eternal, non-modifiable unity tends to be foremost in the self-understanding of those who immediately smelled rat from the corpus of the Covid project. In practical terms, this means that their consciousnesses continued to be informed by their souls. This understanding is, above all other factors, what has been significantly weakened in the general population by a lengthy secularising preparation — a long-term preparatory process that has been indispensible to what is occurring. This means that, in such people, the soul continues to exist, but has been, in a sense, been ‘disconnected’ or ‘bypassed’ — wired out of the circuitry, as the technologists might put it.
This is, for all practical purposes, a physical reality: It should not be treated as metaphysical, or theological, or ‘religious’ as commonly understood, for such understandings serve to ‘short-circuit’ insight away from the true reality. What we speak of here is not some badge-wearing congregation-member, but the human person in his total incarnate possibility — transcending time and space, and yet present — here, now — in this dimension of whatever it may be that constitutes total reality
Perhaps never in the history of the species has a change of such significance loomed so darkly yet so brightly just beyond — or perhaps at — the horizon of this reality. This change is the arrival of the species at what is called ‘Technological Singularity’ — the moment when the technological outcomes of man’s creativities will for the first time exceed his own intellectual capacities. This is to say that man will cross an imaginative threshold whereby he will have created machines more intelligent than himself, the moment when the human species transcends the rule of the Turing Test, which for seven decades has offered a kind of guarantee to the human race as to its own continuing sovereignty in the world. Devised by Alan Turing in 1950, and originally called the ‘imitation game,’ this is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. The test is a subjective one, being determined not by an evaluation of the qualities of the machine, but by how it is judged by an intelligent human. If the human cannot tell the machine’s behaviour from that of a human, the test is passed. It is now believed that this moment will be attained within 20 or, at most, 35 years. Men will acquire the potential to create, within a few years, machines with intelligence 5,000 times that of Albert Einstein, who is said to have possessed an IQ of 165. Within 30 years from that moment, it is projected from present rates of advancement that a basic laptop worth the equivalent of €1,000 will have the computational power of the entire human race. This has the potential to open many doors, but some of them may lead to cells and chambers of various categories, some thrilling, some bracing, some worrisome indeed.
When we speak of ‘man’ or ‘men’, we mean, of course, the tiny minority of men whose intelligence stands to be surpassed by the technological offspring of their previous intellectual exertions. For the rest of us, this moment will have no personal meaning, for it has in reality occurred a very long time ago, perhaps long before we were born — in a moment of human development or knowledge evolution that soundlessly passed our future human capacity under this or that heading. The moment of Technological Singularity, will therefore affect only a few men, its meaning relating to a subtle but significant shift in the balance of technological power from the Frankensteins to the machines they have helped to make.
After the moment of Technological Singularity, there will be a very brief period of convergence, followed by an exponential escalation in the intelligence of machines, which threatens soon to leave mankind — as a whole, and in the persons of its most brilliant scientists — spluttering in the smoke of its exhaust, at least insofar as certain computational characteristics are concerned.
But that moment will be more momentous than this at first suggests. We are not speaking of ‘technologies’ in the conventional sense: electronic ‘tools’ that make man’s life easier or more interesting. The Technological Singularity will mean, and will bring with it, the potential to create ‘minds’ that are infinitely ‘smarter’ than even those that created them — machines that think, or ‘think’. At this moment, when it arrives, the human race will have breached a line that in scientific terms will be the equivalent of breaking the evolutionary sound barrier, for at that moment, men will have created superhuman intelligence, a degree of cognitive scope that will unseat the human species as the highest creative force not merely in science and technology, but in everything.
Some scientists acknowledge, rather blithely, that the moment of Technological Singularity may well result in the obliteration of virtue, conscience and morality, and even the final and absolute exit of the human species from the world, as human beings lose the battle to justify their existence against the claims of vastly more intelligent ‘beings.’ Against these risks, scientists posit benefits like increased cognitive capacity and processing speed, leading to the possibility of more and more scientific discoveries, but rarely do they get to the question: To whose benefit? For here, the marginalisation of the many from the decision-making process and its outcomes is replicated in the imposed voicelessness and powerlessness of the many in the face of the most radical change to human structure since God removed one of Adam’s ribs to manufacture Eve.
To whose benefit? The outcome of such questions may depend on the emphasis placed on values, conscience and morality in programming the AI, and will depend also on the meanings attributed to ‘rationality’ and ‘intelligence,’ and whether these are compatible with a moral framework. A super-intelligent entity, primed to maximise rationality in pursuit of even higher intelligence may decide that human-centred morality is irrational, or wasteful, or inefficient, and therefore counter-productive. Technology always creates its own logics — economic, logistical, organsational, ethical, and ultimately presumptive. Inevitably, as things ‘progress,’ the pressure will grow to remove impediments to the growth of machine intelligence, which will by definition mean that humans will be first to fall off the back of the trailer.
Artificial Intelligence ultimately will either be a new beginning or a final ending. There is a view in tech circles that, since the human race faces extinction arising from its own increasingly irrational patterns of behaviour, some kind of absorption of humanity by the machine may be the only way of maintaining an intelligent, albeit mechanical, human presence on earth. Thus, this thesis expands, the biological essence of humanity might have to be sacrificed, and the species maintained in the only form by that stage possible: posthumanist ‘man’. Conversely, there is the hypothesis that the moment of Technological Singularity will bring with it a radical threat to natural selection: The machine will elevate humans according to values likely to be different from those of nature — a Superman. Once machines appear to have a ‘consciousness’ similar to ours, and we have microprocessors embedded in our bodies, there will seem to be less reason for any moral delineation. The fact that our consciousness appears to be created mysteriously, whereas theirs will be the product of micro-chips and networked microprocessors, does not offer much scope for discrimination in our favour. The fact that we are flesh and bone, and they are silicon and steel, will mean next to nothing. One area of differentiation might be that humans will continue to have a susceptibility to pain and suffering, whereas robots will not, but even this is disputed by some scientists, who straight-facedly declare: ‘We do not know precisely what pain is.’
This is but the least of an escalating scientific hubris. In an interview earlier this year, the chief philosophical adviser to the head of the World Economic Forum, Yuval Harari (author of the best-selling books Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow), outline how he — and by extension the WEF — see the future of the human species.
‘In terms of ideas, in terms of religions, the most interesting place today in the world, in religious terms, is Silicon Valley. It’s not the Middle East. This is where the new religions are being created now, by people like [the American inventor and futurist] Ray Kurzweil, and these are the religions that will take over the world.’ (According to Wikipedia, Kurzweil is ‘a public advocate for the futurist and transhumanist movements and gives public talks to share his optimistic outlook on life extension technologies and the future of nanotechnology, robotics, and biotechnology.’)
Our cultures think of secularism, as with Woke and mass migration, as a spontaneous phenomenon. But, as we are beginning to perceive, a lot of work, time and public moral tussling have gone into bringing about and securing this allegedly ‘post-religious’ culture we inhabit. Something about the zeal that has accompanied this studied transformation suggests more than mere recreational or ideological bigotry. The chief outcome to date has been what was planned: the snatching from the grasp of the coming generations the wherewithal to meet their own most fundamental desires. But that was but an interim outcome, a halfway house on the road to a new kind of world, in which transhumanism might succeed, in one fell swoop, in finally and irrevocably abolishing both death and God.
Now, it is as though, having been brought close to death in its original form, the religious impulse of humanity is being reawakened to some crystallising new purpose: the pursuit of a transcendence that is not sacred, but profane.
The murder of God in human culture has spawned waves of nihilism and despair. Death looms ever larger on man’s horizons, and has no exit chute, no flyover, no bypass. Transhumanism offers a kind of answer: transcendence here, now. Why save to buy when you can rent straightaway? Roll up! Roll up! Eternity has already begun!
The religious ‘space’ in our societies has now been more or less vacated, enabling us, in the pause before the next epoch, to contemplate and perchance to grasp why there has been so much talk of the implausibility of God. And in scattered clues we can perhaps observe the cause and motivation for so much of the ceaseless, dogged work that has gone into dismantling and disintegrating existing notions of transcendence. The transcendent imagination of humanity has been stripped down to its chassis and is being rebuilt to an entirely different design. It was not, after all, the hunger for transcendence that was objected to, so much as the chosen target or targets, which offered but threadbare opportunities for control. A new project was formulated, one which would give life to the ultimate transcendence — man transcending his own humanity to become his own godhead.
The project was to employ the husk of atropying pre-existing religion as a kind of booster rocket to launch an entirely new and discrete form of ‘transcendence’. The association with the ‘old’ kind of religions needed to survive for but a short time. The purpose was to turn human beings — not all, by any means, but human nonetheless — into deities, a utopian stratagem for human existence that seeks to usurp the powers of the hypothetical ‘Maker’ to place man’s destiny in the hands of men — not, mark you, the destiny of each in his own hands, but the destinies of all men in the hands of a few.
In the aforementioned interview, Yuval Harari also had this to say:
‘In the industrial revolution of the 19th century what humanity basically learned to produce was all kinds of stuff — like textiles and shoes and weapons and vehicles. And this was enough for very few countries that underwent the revolution fast enough, to subjugate everybody else. What we’re talking about now is like a second industrial revolution, but the product this time will not be textiles or machines or vehicles or even weapons. The product this time will be humans themselves. We’re basically learning to produce bodies and minds. Bodies and minds I think are going to be the two main products of the next wave of all these changes. And, if there is a gap between those that know how to produce bodies and minds, and those that do not, then this is far greater than anything we saw before in history. This time, if you’re not part of the revolution fast enough, then you’re probably going to become extinct. Once you know how to produce bodies and brains and minds, cheap labour in Africa or South Asia or wherever — it simply counts for nothing. And I think the biggest question — maybe in economics and politics of the coming decade — will be what to do with all these useless people. I don’t think we have an economic model for that. My best guess, which is just a guess, is that . . . food will not be a problem. With that kind of technology, you will be able to produce food to feed everybody. The problem is more boredom, and what to do with them and how they will find some sense of meaning in life when they are basically meaningless, worthless. My best guess at present is a combination of drugs and computer games.’
The key giveaway words in the above passage are: ‘subjugate,’ ‘products,’ ‘extinct,’ ‘useless,’ ‘meaningless,’ ‘worthless,’ and ‘drugs.’ Observe, dissect, analyse. Remember this: He’s being Mr Nice Guy now. This is what they’re prepared to say before they have us where they want us. Imagine what they might say when they have us by the short and curlies.
The penny drops. And now we have the possibility of achieving a sense of something that we may hitherto have missed: that the relentless public campaign against faith, religion and spirituality that has ensued for decades, escalating radically at the start of the third millennium, was not, as we thought, born of a repudiation of ‘superstition’, but of envy and the desire of a new cadre of prospective entrants into the transcendence ‘market’ to destroy all competition in advance. Now we begin to make a different sense of the legions of sponsored ‘rationalists,’ the legions of motivated disc-jockeys, the tedious neo-atheists who thought and implied they were saying things that no one else had ever thought of. They were all ‘put there,’ chosen for their inanity, ignorance and loud voices, to undermine the consciousness of the transcendent in the hearts of humanity, to make us feel embarrassed about the holy and the hallowed, to render the world safe for a ‘new’ kind of ’religion’ — this created, controlled and inspired by the dim visions of men seeking ultimate control over their fellows, the few in pursuit of the subjugation of the many.
In this, perhaps the final movement of the opera of man’s revolt against God, the meaning of the name chosen by the world’s most successful technology company becomes both clearer and shimmeringly revelatory.
The origin of the name chosen by Steve Jobs for his Apple Corporation is shrouded in mystery, most likely deliberately cultivated. In 1981, at a press conference, a journalist asked Jobs why he chose the name ‘Apple’. He answered, ‘I love apples and like to eat them.’ The original Apple logo was a play on the idea of the apple falling on the head of the inventor Isaac Newton, and came with the slogan, ‘Newton… A mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought alone.’
But Jobs was unhappy with this formulation, regarding it as old-fashioned and out of tune with the company’s philosophy. In 1977, he employed a corporate logo designer, Rob Janoff, who came up with the iconic ‘bitten apple’ logo. This logo has come through numerous tweaks and colourations, but the essential concept remains, almost half a century later.
Though the connection has never been officially confirmed, many commentators have, for obvious reasons, linked the logo to the story of Eden, and the forbidden fruit — the thirst for knowledge of Adam and Eve, who risked everything to know what was true.
The tech writer Jean-Louis Gassée, who worked as a senior executive at Apple from 1981 to 1990, once teased: ‘One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colours of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn’t dream a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy.’
But herein lies the rub: the fruit mentioned in Genesis was not named. The forbidden fruit was, it is presumed, an actually existing fruit, but not necessarily an apple. It was the fruit that came from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God told Adam and Eve they could eat of every tree's fruit that had seed in it (Genesis 1:27–29), and apples have seeds in them. This appears to suggest that the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil did not have seed in it, and was therefore not an apple. If the fruit our First Parents ate of was an apple, where was the issue of their disobedience?
It is said that this confusion arises from the time the Bible was translated into Latin, in which the word for apple — malumor mala — is similar to the word for evil — mali. No such confusion arises in the original Hebrew. But perhaps the meaning is not in the least a cause of confusion, perhaps it is that God, in His infinite wisdom and prescience, was anticipating the appropriation of humanity’s foundational story for the purpose of blasphemy, signalling His disavowal of such an enterprise from the beginning, and in doing so pulling the rug from under the god-envy of Jobs and his fellows, and winking at history long before it was made.
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