Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Specter of Jihad

“An army helicopter swooped low over us, tossing aside a women’s headscarves and whipping up lines of washing. Six policemen darted into the corner building and worked their way up through the flats. They emerged on the roof and advanced along it, guns drawn, receding down the block until they looked like ants on a tabletop. The explosion came not from the roof, but the avenue, a few yards from the chief of police and fifty feet from me. There was the same metallic bang, a blue flash, a billow of smoke and screams”.

- John Thorne

Calling all Cybernauts…

The world we live in today seems a little darker and a little scarier than it did yesterday. Seemingly over night our planet's socio-economic landscape has been re-arranged into a nightmarish mix of archaic tribalism and multi-nationalism. A "Jihad" or holy war has been declared against capitalism in general and the U.S. in particular. A “Crusade” of western interests has descended upon the Islamic world, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan. Terrorists… Crusaders… Fanatics… Infidels…

Terrorism and covert operations have replaced diplomacy as a political first option. Even as "terrorist cells" get their footing around the world, traditional global economic mechanisms are breaking apart. We now find ourselves living in a post spy-vs-spy world. A murky, slightly sinister haze obscures a clear view of our near future, making prediction difficult and more than a little fuzzy. Our traditional sources will be helpful, but perhaps are not as accurate as they once were. Just because Fox News, or for that matter MSNBC says it's so doesn't make it really so.

The question of sensational reporting for the sake of television ratings aside… once the practice of “embedding” network news correspondents into military units became a common occurrence… their impartiality has come into question. It is not necessarily a question of conscious biasness on their part. It is more a question of objectivity. It is completely understandable that a war correspondent would become close to the military outfit they were assigned to and begin to identify with said unit. At that point, it would be impossible to report events as they occurred without prejudice.

When the Scottish government released convicted Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi from prison, highly charged emotions attached to the tragedy of Pan Am flight 103 resurfaced dramatically in the hearts and minds of the “western world”. The speculation of Iranian nuclear proliferation, real or imagined, has many governments, both eastern and western, eyeing the middle-east with jittery anticipation. The prolonged and continued occupation of Baghdad, ancient capitol of the land said to be the cradle of civilization, can only be considered an invasion of infidel crusaders by its population.

The beliefs expressed in the above paragraph are also examples of prejudice… understandable… but prejudice none the less. In times of war, the ability to access unbiased data is critical in formulating valid understanding of any given situation. It has never been so vital that our information stream flow unimpeded.

So where does that leave us in these “world infotainment wars”? Where can we obtain accurate, unbiased intelligence on global events? What sources can we rely on to provide us with the truthful, compassionate information we so desperately need in this holy-jihad-crusade world we find ourselves living in?

Having spent years exploring and participating in this vast working model of global consciousness commonly known as the internet, the staff at Tek-Gnostics has great respect and faith in all of you intrepid cybernauts on the other end of this network. Please leave your thoughts, hyperlinks and/or resource suggestions on the comments section of this blog post. Your insights will be very appreciated by the Tek-Gnostics staff… and will be incredibly useful to our community.

Blessed be thy input…

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Approaching Singularity: The Matrix Meets the Eschaton

Originally conceived and presented by Vernor Vinge
Part 1 - The Concept Defined

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended. The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. We are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence. There are several means by which science may achieve this:

1) The development of computers that are "awake" and superhumanly intelligent. (To date, most controversy in the area of AI relates to whether we can create human equivalence in a machine. But if the answer is "yes, we can", then there is little doubt that beings more intelligent can be constructed shortly thereafter.

2) Large computer networks and their associated users (internet) may "wake up" as a superhumanly intelligent entity.

3) Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.

These possibilities depend in large part on improvements in computer hardware. Progress in computer hardware has followed an amazingly steady curve in the last few decades. Based largely on this trend, it is believed that the creation of greater than human intelligence will occur during the next thirty years. What are the consequences of this event? When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities… on a still-shorter time scale.

This event has been labeled the singularity. The singularity is a point where our old models of reality must be discarded as a new paradigm replaces them. From the human point of view this change will be a throwing away of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye… an exponential technological and philosophical runaway.

Perhaps it was the science-fiction writers who felt the first concrete impact. After all, the "hard" science-fiction writers are the ones who try to write specific stories about technology outpacing humanity. As the concept of super-human intelligence looms closer, the dilemma felt by science fiction writers will soon be perceived in other fields. We will see automation replacing higher and higher level jobs.

And what of the arrival of the Singularity itself? What can be said of its actual appearance? Since it involves an intellectual runaway, it will probably occur faster than any technical revolution seen so far. The precipitating event will likely be unexpected, perhaps even to the scientists and researchers involved. If networking is widespread enough into ubiquitous embedded systems, it may seem as if our artifacts as a whole had suddenly wakened. And what happens a month or two (or a day or two) after that? We will be in the Post-Human era…

The preceding ideas are a “cut and paste” (literally and figuratively) composition from the complete and original material that is… available here.

It represents the most important question of our time. Our undying gratitude goes to Vernor Vinge for encapsulating and presenting this vital information to humanity.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fertility Festival at Canton Po – Ivory Coast

"All great things must wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity."

- Friedrich Nietzsche

African Harvest and Fertility festival

The African masks that inspired painters like Picasso in the early twentieth century were only a small part of a larger cultural context and spectacle. The festivals of Canton Bo, located in the dense forest region of Southwest Ivory Coast, centered on the spirit forms of ancient ancestors who appeared in post-harvest festivals wearing carved masks and full-body coverings of straw, animal hide, textiles, and paint. Until the 2002 Ivory Coast civil strife, the Bo people invited the spirits each year to protect their village against unknown threats and to stimulate fertility for both women and crops.

During the festival, masked dancer’s bodies host (are possessed by) the spirits of entities such as Gu, wife of Zambie, a supernatural being. According to the tradition of Ivory Coast's Guro people, the horns symbolize Gu's legendary elegance, serenity and beauty. They also symbolize her spiritual powers and they can hold magic potions or medicines to protect human lives. With such protection and fertility, the whole community would prosper.

Through rare drawings and photographs, along with masks from the Peabody Museum collections, the Masked Festivals exhibit explores the different kinds of masked spirits and their performances.

On exhibit at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University… through April, 2010. Founded in 1866, the Peabody Museum is one of the oldest museums in the world devoted to anthropology and houses one of the most comprehensive records of human cultural history in the Western Hemisphere.

More Information here

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Science Fiction as Sacred Text

Genre of the Sacred

To most of us, science fiction is a sub-genre of fiction. The specific scientific scenarios of a given Sci Fi tale are usually possible within scientifically-established protocol, though some elements may be imaginative and/or philosophic speculation. Science fiction has always provided humans with a glimpse of what might be. It is a contemporary “cautionary tale” that serves to warn humans about traveling the reckless road. Science fiction is at its best when it speculates on alternate possibilities that are contrary yet plausible to known reality.

Science Fiction is an exercise in the consideration of the imaginative potential in a given story’s premise. It modernizes and rationalizes the “tales of wonder” of old. Sci Fi returns the epic story to the realm of possibility in the minds of its audience. It is a contemporary retelling of the great mythic tales of humanity’s ancient past. The hero’s journey… the quest for the Holy Grail… chance meetings with the fairy folk… contact with the gods. The Science Fiction format revives a sense of relevance to this most important oral tradition.

In the telling of this modernized mythology, the hero traverses the heavens, not on the back of a winged horse, but in a starship. Demons of old become acid drooling alien creatures. The fairy folk become benevolent almond-eyed visitors from another star system. Camelot becomes “The Federation”. Never-Never land is accessed via a “wormhole” or “star-gate”. The very gods become ancient astronauts.

The medium through which our modernized myth is conveyed is a crucial component of the story’s telling. Traditionally, Sci Fi has been enjoyed and contemplated in text format. Reading a thought-provoking Sci Fi book is a wonderfully intimate experience that allows for meticulous philosophical contemplation. Certain tales that border on the fantastic are well suited for other types of media. Although acid drooling aliens may not seem believable upon calm reflection… safe and sound in one’s own living room… the suspension of belief is complete while at the cinema plex… bombarded by Dolby surround-sound and viewed in ultra-mega 3D. Media aside, the context of events placed in a technological near future are more compelling for a contemporary audience.

The magnitude of the Sci Fi tale tends to accommodate large, far reaching consequences if a given scenario is played out to its logical, if not inevitable conclusion. The scope of the dilemma often is global (if not galactic) and usually deals with catastrophic, civilization ending events. Popular forms include giant asteroids careening toward earth… exceptionally virulent strains of alien virus brought back inadvertently on a returning spacecraft, decimating earth’s population… and various forms of weird science, run amok. More often than not, these catastrophic consequences are a result of unwise choices made by humans or humanity.

Of all the Sci Fi scenarios that thrill, instruct and forewarn us, the most compelling, most self-evaluating one is that of “contact”. Close encounters with the “Other” has always captivated the imagination of humanity. Great earthling philosophers such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Jean-Paul Sartre have postulated that a person's cognition or definition of the 'Other' is paramont in defining one’s sense of self. When the “Other” is from a different star system, the philosophical consideration of self and self consciousness re-focuses to humanity as a galactic species. We are no longer alone in the vastness of universe but part of a larger community. The moral consideration given to other-worldly beings provides new insight into how we see ourselves.

Consequently, Sci Fi can rise to status of parable in that it can provide contemplation on how to live one’s life. It ties in the ramifications associated with the decisions being pursued within the story by illuminating the moral and ethical considerations, as well as practical outcomes. In this way, Sci Fi becomes a forecasting instrument... a predictor of the near-future based upon current events… and a “moral compass” that allows for self-reflection and soul searching. Herein lays the value of the medium. It becomes a measuring rod whereby we gain perspective on our humanity. It becomes a lightning rod that conducts the power of universe and infuses us with renewed sense of wonder in experiencing universe.

Prophets of the Genre

The first prophet of Science Fiction has to be Philip K. Dick (12/16/28 to 3/2/82) whose published work during his lifetime was almost exclusively written in the Sci Fi genre. The predominant theme of Dick’s work is spirituality, as explored through several religions and philosophies, including Christianity, Taoism, Gnosticism and even Jungian psychoanalysis. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments, and altered states. In his later works, Dick's thematic focus revolved around his personal interest in metaphysics and theology.

This focus culminated in his masterpiece VALIS trilogy. The title is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, Dick's contemporary gnostic vision of God as information. In the first book of the trilogy, also titled VALIS, the metaphor for God takes the form of an intelligent satellite originating from the star Sirius in the Canis Major constellation, in orbit around our planet and in communication with the hero of the story, Horselover Fat. Blurring the distinction between fact and fiction, Dick himself recieves information from VALIS, which he chronicled in a gnostic journal he titled Exegesis.

Another prophet of Sci Fi is Frank Herbert (10/8/20 to 2/11/86). Herbert used his science fiction novels to explore complex ideas involving philosophy, religion, psychology, politics and ecology. The underlying thrust of his work was a fascination with the question of human survival and evolution. Herbert has attracted a sometimes fanatical fan base. Indeed such was the devotion of some of his readers that Herbert’s writing and concepts rose to cult status, something Herbert was very uncomfortable with.

Herbert’s masterpiece of Sci Fi was the Dune series. Dune chonicles the life and times of young Paul Atreides, aka: Maud’Dib as he and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the prescient awarness inducing spice… melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe. The story explores the complex and multilayered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology and human emotion, as factions of the Empire confront each other for control of Arrakis and its spice. The prophetic aspects of the series studies to destructive nature of fanaticism (jihad), and the adverse enviornmental impact of extractive economies (spice=oil). Herbert was one of the first authors of the genre to draw attention to enviornmental considerations.

Honorable mention goes to William Gibson (3/17/48) for his ground-breaking “Neuromancer” series. Gibson has been tagged the "noir prophet" of the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction for coining the term "cyberspace" in his short story "Burning Chrome" and later popularized the concept in his debut novel, Neuromancer… book one of the series. In the context of Sci Fi as sacred text, Gibson put a new spin on the journey of the hero monomyth: A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man (Joseph Campbell).

The above list only scratches the surface of the increadable wealth of authors who write in the Sci Fi genre. Dozens of names come to mind such as Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke… and that’s just the first 3 letters of the alphabet.

Sacred Text

The works of the great science fiction writers, such as Dick’s Exegesis, provide new perspective on the earth-bound myths and become a wellspring from which we draw fresh philosophic sustenance. The greater the insights, the more important and valuable the texts become. Sacred texts are texts that a culture considers to be of central importance to their religious tradition. Typically they pertain to religion, mythology, folklore and the esoteric. Many religions and spiritual movements believe that their sacred texts are divinely or supernaturally inspired. Again, Sci Fi reveals and examines new facets of these questions that allow us to ask… what is meant by supernatural… what is divinity?

The essential importance and value of Sci Fi as a medium of the sacred is its ability to examine the age old questions with new eyes and to consider new possibilities in relation to “the powers that be” in our phenomenal universe. The old myths and legends transform anew into contemporary relevance as our consciousness reaches out to the stars. As the newly recycled parables present themselves, the new perspective brings fresh insight. An example of looking at old wisdom with new eyes… specifically in reference to our experience of the “other-worldly other”… the ancient truth known as the golden rule becomes:

Treat alien entities as you would like to have alien entities treat you.

Are our contemporary Science Fiction tomes comparable to the sacred texts of Earth’s great religious and philosophic traditions? Is the comparison absurd? Do they have the richness of content… the density of information? Does Dick’s Exegesis have the philosophic legs to be able to stand next to the Essene fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls? Today… the answer is… probably not… with the following caveat:

What would future historians think of these works if they were recovered in some archaeological dig of the 23rd century? Would today’s Science Fiction be looked upon as entertainment, or would they be studied as the beginnings of a new philosophic amalgamation? Would they be looked upon as a bridge between archaic earth-centric traditions and a galactic worldview? What began in the last half of the twentieth century as UFO phenomena, evolved into a global expectation of “disclosure” in the first half of the twenty-first century. At this most interesting juncture in history, would the above authors be seen as obscure story tellers or something more?

At the end of the day… any literature (or science) is only as good as its ability to teach us something about ourselves. If it can do that, then its worth the paper (or parchment) it’s written on.