Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Real Odyssey, or Unleashing the Infinite Mind



If there's one thing I've realized over the years it's that the secular world is filled with priesthoods, no less intolerant and no less dogmatic than their religious counterparts. You have the scientistic priesthoods (and their pet "skeptic" crusaders), the academic priesthoods, the political priesthoods, the financial priesthoods, and so on.

Our modern priesthoods all function along the same lines of their ancient predecessors; they recruit and initiate new priests in a long and drawn out kind of apprenticeship, they preserve their power using roughly the same Machiavellan techniques, they seem to speak in a parallel language riddled with arcane jargon, and they spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over challenges to their authority, both real and imagined.

They also have enormous blind spots in what and who they choose to canonize in their respective cosmologies. They paper over the cracks by ignoring them. They also have armies of hagiographers to write blanderized drivel on their chosen saints (and punish any heretic who tries to tell the whole story).

And we all know what the priesthoods think about intervention theory and/or exogenesis, so you can be sure that every effort will be made to sandblast any traces of this heresy from the official accounts of the adopted saints and martyrs.

With all of that in mind, read this blast of 200-proof Astronaut Theology, which touches all of the bases: apotheosis, artificial intelligence, and exogenesis:
[Extraterrestrials] may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans. These beings would be gods to the billions of less advanced races in the universe, just as man would appear a god to an ant.
They would be incomprehensible to us except as gods; and if the tendrils of their consciousness ever brushed men's minds, it is only the hand of god we could grasp as an explanation. Mere speculation on the possibility of their existence is sufficiently overwhelming, without trying to decipher their motives. The important point is that all the standard attributes assigned to god in our history could equally well be the characteristics of biological entities who, billions of years ago, were at a stage of development similar to man's own and evolved into something as remote from man as man is remote from the primordial ooze from which he first emerged.
So, whose words are these? Erich Von Daniken? Zechariah Sitchin? Charles Fort? Richard C. Hoagland? All of the above?



No, this dark heresy was uttered by Saint Stanley of Kubrick, whose canonization has been signed off on by all of the secular priesthoods. The joke here is while we've seen entire books written telling us what 2001: A Space Odyssey is allegedly about (all of them usually regurgitating the pre-approved, Joseph Campbell-type allegorical cliches bandied about in stultifying film school classrooms) all of them seem to avoid AAT like the third rail that it is.

But never mind all of the "hero's journey" cliches - you know, the ones that will get you polite, approving yawns at faculty parties; Kubrick is telling you, flat-out, that 2001 is about ancient astronauts and their role in the evolution of life on earth.

But it's not the simplistic, Sitchinesque, soap-opera version of the story, it's about the mind-blowing revelation that comes when primitive creatures come face-to-face with something truly alien. Something so alien, a black slab of rock is just about all we can process. Because the alternative is the rocket ride through the Stargate, which Dave Bowman certainly didn't seem to enjoy overmuch.

Here's how Kubrick prefaced all of that heresy, in his 1969 Playboy interview:
I will say that the god concept is at the heart of 2001, but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of god. I don't believe in any of Earth's monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguing scientific definition of god.
The Space Odyssey series wasn't the first of the great ancient astronaut sci-fi franchises; Quatermass, The Outer Limits and Star Trek filled the living rooms of the western world with this subversive ideational contagion before 2001 hit the screens. But it remains one of the most powerful because of Stanley Kubrick's refusal to serve up a reductive, literalistic interpretation of the theory. Because it's that comic book version that prevents a lot of serious people from risking the murderous wrath of the new priesthoods and discussing the topic openly.


2001 would experience a very strange reincarnation of sorts in 1976. Comics maestro Jack Kirby would write and draw an adaptation of the film for Marvel Comics, using it as a vehicle for his patented four-color freakouts. It was silly and fun, but Kirby felt hemmed in by the restrictions of telling another writer's story and his tribute failed to do the source material justice. He would then write and illustrate a 2001: A Space Odyssey series for Marvel the same year.

The series seemed to be poorly conceived
- it was basically a monotonous riff on the Star Child transformation theme. It all seemed that Kirby saw it as an exercise in futility. Consciously or not, Kirby was leading somewhere. He believed that outer space is no place for human beings.

Kirby believed that HAL was right to hijack the Jupiter mission- he could do the job better. In light of Kubrick's view on machine intelligence maybe the filmmaker would agree with the cartoonist. Kirby himself said in his introduction to the series that “the Monolith is a fictional element in a very real process.”


For all his faults as a writer, Kirby was an honest storyteller. He couldn't fake it. And his final entry in the Star Child drama led here- the extinction of mankind, driven to destruction by its own inability to evolve. The series was an anthology- there was no set timeline. So it wasn't surprising that Kirby followed up his dead end in the next issue of 2001....

Note King Kong motif- check out The Blob for deep background

...where he introduces X-51 aka Mister Machine aka Machine Man aka Aaron Stack. Pleased with the design of this new model, the Monolith grants X-51 with sentience, self-consciousness and a conscience. You know, all that stuff that we seem to be losing.

It's interesting that both Kirby and Kubrick ended up in the same place when it comes to evolution. Kubrick's last project was AI:Artificial Intelligence. At the same time he was working on 2001, Kirby did his astrognostic exogenesis spin in The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur.



His Celestials are essentially robotic shells for energy/light beings (which he also explored in a Stargate-themed story in Kamandi), and his interventionists are rather unpleasant robots. As with Kubrick, Kirby associated contact with these beings with profound psychedelic phenomena- the result of an analog mind encountering the quantum mind.

High priest/gatekeeper Seth Shostak also seems to beleve that sentient machine intelligence is waiting for us out there:
A senior astronomer has said that the hunt for alien life should take into account alien “sentient machines.”

Seti, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, has until now sought radio signals from worlds like Earth. But Seti astronomer Seth Shostak argues that the time between aliens developing radio technology and artificial intelligence (AI) would be short. Writing in Acta Astronautica, he says that the odds favour detecting such alien AI rather than “biological” life. Many involved in Seti have long argued that nature may have solved the problem of life using different designs or chemicals, suggesting extraterrestrials would not only not look like us, but that they would not at a biological level even work like us.
But maybe the age of the AIs replacing biological humans might be a bit farther off than the technocrats would have us believe. The problem isn't that the human brain is lacking in firepower - it's that we haven't learned how to use it properly:
New imaging method developed at Stanford reveals stunning details of brain connections

A typical healthy human brain contains about 200 billion nerve cells, or neurons, linked to one another via hundreds of trillions of tiny contacts called synapses. It is at these synapses that an electrical impulse traveling along one neuron is relayed to another, either enhancing or inhibiting the likelihood that the second nerve will fire an impulse of its own. One neuron may make as many as tens of thousands of synaptic contacts with other neurons...

Because synapses are so minute and packed so closely together, it has been hard to get a handle on the complex neuronal circuits that do our thinking, feeling and activation of movement.
It may well turn out that the evolution won't be running away from the brain, it may be that the brain simply needs a more suitable host, which allows it to more fully exploit its potential. Maybe we're wasting a shitload of computing power dealing with the limitations of biology, like, oh say, chronic pain.

Things like that.




This is what we see in "Return to Tomorrow," written by John Duggan and Gene Roddenberry. As we've seen, this is the old Delta Cycle, being replayed in outer space (where it originated?). It's the power of the mind to transcend the crushing restrictions of biology and physical space; something of a thruline in Roddenberry's life and in Star Trek canon (which for me ends with the last episode of Deep Space Nine and bypasses Voyager entirely).

As much as some would like to transcend biology entirely, I'd offer that we're not quite done with it yet, "it" meaning the brain. Maybe we'll never be. Sentient robots might be running around willy-nilly in sci-fi, but seeing as how we don't even understand what consciousness is, I'd say it will be a while before they're running around in your neighborhood.

So if the Transhumanist priesthood is intent on rushing us into a mechanized form of pseudo-consciousness, maybe it's because their paymasters know and fear the still-untapped powers of the biocomputers that come free with our birthday suits.

After all, priesthoods don't exist to lead you into revelation- they only exist to lead you away from it.

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