Thursday, March 04, 2010

AstroGnostic: Machine Intelligence and the Holographic Universe

In between the BSG, Caprica, and Fringe the missus and I have been geeking out on the Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns on SyFy (I've actually been sneaking/geeking in some SG:A too).

Yes, we both hate adulthood. And consensus reality.

But the TNG reruns have been acting as a strange kind of oracle as well, often synching up with my various explorations in Synchronicity and whatnot. This episode (which aired Tuesday night), "Homeward," is a perfect example. It deals with hologram reality, something I've been puzzling over the past couple weeks, but not in the usual recreational holodeck way.

It's also one of countless ST eps that have not only an underlying AAT theme, but also are embedded with abductee/contactee themes as well.

The two often seem to go together, and have since "Who Mourns for Adonais", all the way back in 1967.

In "Homeward," Worf's adopted brother Nikolai is studying a primitive, pre-technological planet whose atmosphere is about to disintegrate. He sends a distress signal and the Enterprise respond. The plan is to rescue him and let the rest of the people die in order to maintain the Prime Directive (pre-warp cultures can't know that alien races exist, so just let them die when they're in trouble). But as usual the Prime Directive is more like the Prime Suggestive, seeing that it's flouted all the time.

But since Worf's stepbrother is a civilian and civilians are usually troublemakers in the Trek-o-Verse (or just plain trouble), he defies Starfleet's order to let the Boraalans die slowly and horribly while the gang all watch from orbit and feel sorry for them. But how does Nikolai ensure that the Boraalans won't be shocked by their first UFO encounter?

He beams them to a holographic simulation of their world aboard the Holodeck.

Both he and Worf then have themselves surgically altered to resemble the Boraalans (totally new forehead wrinkles!) and then tell them that the gods are sending them messages when the Holodeck keeps malfunctioning and revealing its gridlines.

But one of the primitives (the village chronicler, appropriately enough) escapes onto the ship and is so freaked out by these aliens and their giant flying saucer that he commits ritual suicide. Even more appropriately he's played by Brian Markinson, who plays Inspector Duram on Caprica (and also appeared on The X-Files in one of its many hallucination episodes).

And just to make the circle complete, Nikolai has looked upon one of the daughters of Boraala, saw that she was fair and created offspring with her (much to the chagrin of Lt. Worf). So in 45 short minutes, we have the following:
1. Alien intervention
2. Shape-shifting
3. Mass abduction
4. Alien-human hybrids
5. A holographic reality
6. Contact shock leading to ritual suicide
Granted, this is a sci-fi show and not Law & Order, but there's something very strange about how we are seeing themes taken from UFO literature and then flipped around. Meaning, all of this is told from the POV of the saucermen, who are us but not-us. Makes you wonder sometimes, doesn't it?

This makes me wonder as well: awhile back, I was puzzling over the machine-intelligence concept that visionaries like Philip K Dick (VALIS) and John Lilly (ECCO) wrote about (as did Andrija Puharich, who like Dick and Lilly was well-experienced with psychedelics), which make up the core of a number of posts in the queue that don't seem to want to be written yet. And then the missus and I watched this episode, which deals with Data (a machine intelligence, obviously) and his radio communications with an alien girl from yet another pre-warp planet in danger of imminent destruction. She too is abducted aboard the Enterprise, but her memory of the event is erased.

So, holographic reality* and orbital machine intelligence- two concepts taken from the deepest reaches of Esoterica, breezily inserted into two random Star Trek episodes that both portray a pre-spacefaring world on the verge of destruction. Both deal with abduction and memory-erasing as well, all in a way that calls no attention to itself. It's all simply another day on the Enterprise. La, la, la.

Maybe that's why all of the deep, deep, deep weirdness embedded into this series escapes a lot of people's attention...

*Note also that they recycled the holographic relocation bit for Star Trek: Insurrection as well, so something there obviously resonated.


  1. This holography business has come to my attention recently from 3 different references I dare say were unintentional. I've slowly started to realize that when a word or concept like that pops up in different places and it's distinct enough for me to notice, I should probably read up. I'm also trying to take a slow and careful approach to understanding the Genesis 6 account that is also written about in the pseudepigraphic book of Enoch. I don't think there will be any direct relationship to holography there, but for some reason I'm pretty sure it will tie into broader theories down the road.

    I enjoy your research, please keep it coming.

  2. the two brothers mythos.... hmmm.

  3. Robert Anton Wilson is a winner of the Philip K. Dick Award and the Hugo for his science fiction. In the early 90s, I read his book "The Harvest", and after that I read everything the man has written. As I recall, in "The Harvest" aliens come to earth, and offer humanity a chance at immortality, only catch is, the humans who accept the offer will spend immortality inside of some kind of computer program/holograph inside of the alien's spaceships. This presents a problem for some of the Earth folk. Here's the description from

    The first aliens to contact Earth, mysterious beings called the Travellers, bring the gift of immortality to those humans who choose to accept it--and the price it exacts. While most people leap at the chance to live forever, even at the cost of their humanity, a few hold on to their mortality and find themselves the inheritors of a strangely transformed future.

    I thought of this book immediately after reading your post. Argued for hours at a dinner party one evening with other friends I'd passed the book along to, about whether or not we'd accept the alien's deal for immortality and why or why not. ;-)

    If you haven't read his work, I'd highly recommend Wilson. His novel Mysterium is superb, with a strong gnostic undercurrent.

    I'm enjoying Caprica as well. Hope you will write more about your observations on it.

    Pax. Kimberly

  4. OH, my bad ...

    The author's name is Robert CHARLES Wilson.


  5. Chris, it's really synchy that you brought this holograph stuff up. Lately I've been meditating on Light references in the Bible, since laser light is required to make interference patterns come to holographic "life." "Let there be Light" and "If your eye is single your body will be filled with Light" make me shudder.

    Could Light = animating force of God and interference patterns = the soul?

    Maybe we live, move, and have our being in a virtual reality holographic matrix. It's a really weird feeling to consider this. I'm starting to feel a little claustrophobic!

  6. @oyin:
    Those are interesting thoughts you mention and I do think holography as a means of understanding some deeper concepts adds an intriguing new toolset to work with. If I may offer a thought on the verses you mention from the Bible, bear in mind that whether it's the Bible or any texts, ancient or modern, context is crucial. In understanding the "eye" as the lamp of the body context, check out what some commentaries have to say such as in this link:, or just do a search with 'commentary' added as a keyword with the verse.

    I do think it is significant to have God described in terms of light. Especially in such passages as 1 John 5-6:

    "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth."

    I have no intention of sparking any religious debates here. Please understand that, everyone. I do want to share this insight that is interesting to me personally though. In terms of what oyin is thinking on in terms of light and existence, that idea sheds interesting "light" on Jesus as the son of God and yet him being equal to God. That issue has always been difficult for both Christians and non-believers. If one is willing to think in terms of holography and quantum reality, though, things start to make a bit more sense perhaps... I've got plenty of thinking to do.

  7. Warren Ellis uses the idea of a holographic universe in his comic book series Planetary. In fact, he was halfway through the series when he came across the concept (much more recent than Talbot, though) from theoretical physics. The idea derived from the study of theoretical black holes and how the "information" of what they absorbed could be expressed through the surface area rather than the volume of the black hole. Essentially, the theory proposed that the "substance" of the universe was two-dimensional, but appeared to be "played" in 3D. Ellis compared this to a threedimensional video game that actually was playing on a flat drive.

    Of course, the problem here is similar to the deceitful turkey of String Theory as described by Robert Laughlin in his great book A Different Universe. "a textbook case of a Deceitful Turkey, a beautiful set of ideas that will always remain just out of reach. Far from a wonderful technological hope for tomorrow, it is instead the tragic consequence of an obsolete belief system..."

    It's not like these people actually studied a real black hole. Instead, it was entirely modeled in theory, i.e. the imagination, with nothing but mathematics to guide it. As Einstein said, "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."

    At least when he came up with the theory of relativity, he was actually referring to the results of an actual experiment on the speed of light as the basis for it.

    With scientific ideas like String Theory and this holographic universe, they are not actually based on any specific observations, but are more tasks attempting to find some kind of equation "an inch long" as Michio Kaku likes to say, to explain the fundamental nature of everything. However, when observations do conflict with the predictions of their models, we end up with odd things like Dark Matter and Dark Energy which apparently permeates every square inch of the universe except here.

    Machine intelligence is a very interesting concept because, again, it may simply be impossible. Dick's idea was that Zebra was the demiurge, a vast computer that is the creator and supreme being of the material universe but is actually a device created by the true god to build the universe. Once it is a perfect universe, this god steps in to take over and Zebra is discarded as if it never existed.

    The Turing test is the idea that if a computer appears to be intelligent to the extent that an intelligent conscious person cannot tell the difference between it and another person, then it must be intelligent - actually self-aware.

    However, that is a very flawed test as the "chinese box" example describes. Take a person who does not read Chinese and put him in a box. People who do write Chinese insert questions into the box. The person looks at the question, finds the characters in a large log book he's given. In the book, there is a chinese written answer for all possible permutations of questions. The person then presents that through the slot. The person in the box doesn't need to understand the symbology, he only needs the ability to quickly recognize the system and refer to a stored database of responses, but it would "appear" that he did read and write Chinese.

    Since a machine could theoretically have the ability to mimic intelligence and self-awareness to a level to fool any interrogator, the Turing test fails to truly define artificial intelligence.

    In the same sense, this is Dick's explanation for evil and suffering in the world. Zebra is simply an act, review, respond mechanism constantly upgrading the universe to the model for God, but it does not really understand what it is doing.

  8. Chris,
    This may be off topic for this specific post, but I just wanted to thank you for putting up that Adam Gorightly link on the twitter feed. I spent last night reading over his stuff and it's well-written even-handed work that ties directly into a bunch of things I've been looking at lately.

    Thanks for all you do - Keep going strong brother!

  9. Hi Chris,

    About those Star Trek holograms and Worf "disguising" himself... The lead story on CBS Evening News is the new full body scanners to be installed at airports all over the US now. It just occurred to me that maybe they're looking for something other than terrorists. Maybe a system to detect "aliens" under disguise?

    I'm not really being tongue in cheek. I mean, how will full body scanners stop a true terrorist? It's more like an invasion on the regular population to me.

    Thanks, Chris!

  10. Just had to share with you:

    Buzz Aldrin to "Dance With the Stars" at age 80! Wow!

    How many times do you think we'll hear the crowd ask him to Moonwalk?


  11. This post has given lucid form to thoughts that have often percolated in the back of my mind as I've watched Star Trek, but never quite elucidated.

    I've watched Next Generation episodes countless times, and very rarely have I ever been "weirded out", so to speak, by any of the stories, which is quite weird in itself when you consider the kind of themes outlined in this post.

    It's a really fascinating point you've brought up, Chris. If these stories were written from the more traditional "human" perspective (I.E being the technological inferior to the aliens), then they would probably involve psychedelic-esque trip-outs and Phil Dickian mind-bending weirdness. But when seen from the opposite perspective, conducted by good natured human beings who come from a rational human culture we can all relate to, a shining utopia no less, these things seem perfectly within the frame of comprehensible reality, and no blasting of the "higher circuits" of consciousness is required.