Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth

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Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth

Postby sgttomas on Wed Jan 04, 2017 11:17 am

Found a link into the 2014 conference held by the International Forum on Globalization on the topic: Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth. The talk I listened to was Future Shock by Douglas Rushkoff, but I see a lot of interesting stuff here!

Prophet Muhammad (God send peace and blessings upon him) is reported to have said, "God says 'I am as My servant thinks I am' " ~ Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 9 #502 (Chapter 93, "Oneness of God")
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Re: Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth

Postby met on Fri Jan 06, 2017 1:43 pm

I know! I will spin a couple of those.... But lawd! There's always so much to learn! :o
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Re: Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth

Postby sgttomas on Sat Jan 07, 2017 1:41 pm

Okay, here's a framework that I worked through with my brother over email (emanating from discussion of the Rushkoff video in the original post):

Wow, okay so this has been a very engaging conversation for me. I really didn't know where this was going to go and I don't have a predetermined outcome in mind. I have these intuitions that I was not understanding fully and couldn't describe well.

I guess....okay, here's maybe what I mean.

Stephen, in your last reply you said:
I guess where I'm currently at is not entirely convinced the world is really racing toward a level of totally-out-of-control and/or unprecedented complexity. Or that there was ever a time where we had top-down control on things. In lieu of needing to be convinced of both of those the concern over it is moot for me.

Okay, I'm fine with that. I suppose I was thinking about looking at it in a different way. The reason, or justification, for this is because I don't think one can actually answer the question sufficiently of whether or not the world is racing towards out-of-control complexity. But we may be able to ask: what properties of the system ought to be present in order for that NOT to occur, or, if it does indeed occur, what properties of society ought to be present so that we can quickly pick up the pieces and suffer minimal harm. It's not obvious to me that we are "out of control" but neither is it obvious to me what would - in principle - prevent it from happening, and it seems like we have no doubt whatsoever that on certain scales and in localities our inability to answer the question has indeed caused disaster. But, let me slightly change gears for a second.

Stephen, you said this:
I liked when he was discussing our almost spiritual craving for top-down control and how the people fantasizing about the singularity are pursuing this timeless pursuit. And how in reality everything is in fact harder and harder to control and that this point we seek will never happen. I dig that. Again, could have been expanded on. Funny enough, I recently watched a similarly presented documentary (i.e. racing around connecting dots that had a BIG IDEA that kind of makes sense) called "Hypernormalisation" which talked about this idea. I'll cautiously recommend it but I have similar misgivings.

Okay, so let's just take the presumptive BIG IDEA of the movie (I'm halfway through it) that certain powerful actors believe we really aren't capable of handling complexity AND society needs to be protected from chaos THEREFORE it's incumbent upon some stabilizing force or agents to predict and ward off anything sufficiently risky to cause generalized breakdown of our economy, polity, environment, or other simillar features of our society/world. Forget whether or not the facts of the movie add up to a convincing story. Rather, what would be the consequences if we ourselves believe that this is the case (or if significant numbers of our culture do)?

If we believe it's the case, what is the appropriate response? I saw in the movie that it is trying to address how people believe they need to respond to the perception of a world that is out of control. That is, I suppose, the original impetus behind me reaching out to you all. I'm inquiring about what public discourse is adequate to ward of the psychological and physical harms that may occur when / if reality does a course correction, or how we might talk ourselves away from this possible outcome and towards some more stable state, or balanced state of affairs. I chose a talk specifically geared towards technology because, I guess, I see this as the dominant public discourse of our time. It's science that gives us the means to understand the appropriate course of action and it's technology that gives us the means to achieve it.

I don't really buy into that. I think the definition of "rationality" attached to that discourse is incomplete and inadequate.

Stephen, originally you pointed out a few things you liked about Rushkoff's talk.
I liked him talking about how our usage of computers has shifted from a thing we used to spend time with to now a thing we always have with us. I remember talking about this with a friend when smartphones first started coming out. We thought about how computers had become almost too useful, too easy to get sucked into. We thought about making "dumb", single purpose terminals that you had to sit with to engage but could easily walk away from. A singular "email" terminal for example. Anyway... it's an interesting idea that could have been expanded on.

The engagement in tasks pulls us into the "worldview" of the technology. Tool use requires our attention to the function of the tool. A tool of limited function captures a limited amount of us within that "worldview". But smartphones have no specific use. They are for almost anything and everything. That's originally a very exciting thing, but without some form of imposed discipline it can actually remove us from being *present* in our lives because we are completely mediating ourself through technology, and so that worldview of the technology co-opts us. <-- this is a fuzzy / not well defined notion, but I'm not going for specifics here and actually I'm trying to aim away from the first order level of analysis (what does technology do) or the second order (how is technology used) and look at the third or higher levels of abstraction and analysis: How do we perceive ourselves as users of technology and how do we understand the role that technology is and ought to play in our lives and in mediating our relationship with others.

I'm not claiming this is a startlingly novel question and neither am I so great for thinking of it. I'm merely asking....can we even access the cultural wisdom and public discourse to address this? I don't think it's a niche subject. I think it's pretty central to everyone's lives, yet we can't even speak meaningfully about this topic. That's bothering me.

It seems that we have created a highly abstracted world of technology that mediates most of our lives. Perhaps we aren't even aware of how many layers deep into technology we are. I don't just mean devices, but our systems of organization, our methods of inquiry....

The academic study of this may be described as, "attempts to increase understanding of the human-built world"[MIT]. The Harvard program in STS says, "the best known product of this interest was Thomas Kuhn’s classic 1962 study, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions." It continues by saying the kinds of questions this area of study pursues are, "how should states set priorities for research funding; who should participate, and how, in technological decision making; should life forms be patented; how should societies measure risks and set safety standards; and how should experts communicate the reasons for their judgments to the public?" And it continues to describe the importance and role of such inquiry as being due to, "a dawning recognition that specialization in today’s research universities does not fully prepare future citizens to respond knowledgeably and reflectively to the most important challenges of the contemporary world. Increasingly, the dilemmas that confront people, whether in government, industry, politics or daily life, cut across the conventional lines of academic training and thought. STS seeks to overcome the divisions, particularly between the two cultures of humanities (interpretive inquiry) and natural sciences (rational analysis)."

Stephen you asked a very salient set of questions:
On the too much technology - this maybe gets into a values proposition so hard to really form an argument over? But I would disagree that there's really a consensus that there is too much technology. To break it down further, technology of what form? What technology is too much? Disagreeing over that part it's hard for me to form an argument over the rest.

My response, you might be able to anticipate, is: EXACTLY

I never meant to imply that there *is* a consensus on how much technology we need. At the academic level these fields of STS are now present in all (most?) the most significant universities, but even then I don't know if they are able to truly pose the kinds of questions and seek answers that would provide society at large with the means to consciously navigate our complex, human built, cyberspace <-- which I'm implying is where we are effectively all living already (just assume I'm exaggerating if that's too much to swallow).

Whether or not our world really is too complex or spiraling towards disaster, there are signs in terms of our cultural products and our psychological, many people are not living in a way that affords them the luxury of living in *presence* (if you don't like the music in the background then you can go to the main talk and skip to here)

Perhaps this is a leap too far, but I'm worried that Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, and Schweitzer's insights may have substantial weight behind them and that we will welcome disaster upon ourselves because we do not have the collective spirit, nor the correct understanding of ourselves, and an insufficient appreciation for the meaning of life, to overcome the forces of chaos in the world (I have transcribed about 17 minutes of that talk I linked to above that addresses how we can talk about "the meaning of life" in broadly shared terms) ***next post***.

Whether or not that is "rationally" the case, if we believe it, or subconsciously understand it, then it will manifest. The market (economics) is not "rational", no matter what they teach in ECON 101. The market responds to and is constituted by people's perception of its worth and also highly skewed by technological systems that have unpredictable instabilities because of the way they are constructed. This is maybe the best metaphor for our society at large that I can think of.

So....I guess....if there's anything meaningful in the framework I've laid out here, maybe we can find something to say on the question of technology. Or maybe it's the culture of Canada that is a better place to begin? Or anything, really. Or nothing.

I don't quite know how to have such a conversation, and I do not have any expectations over what the outcome ought to be. Really. I'm in *present/future shock*. I'm fumbling about.


Prophet Muhammad (God send peace and blessings upon him) is reported to have said, "God says 'I am as My servant thinks I am' " ~ Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 9 #502 (Chapter 93, "Oneness of God")
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Re: Techno-Utopianism and the Fate of the Earth

Postby sgttomas on Sat Jan 07, 2017 1:49 pm

Meaning of Life: partial transcript from this discussion

[Time stamp]

[0:00:10] Moderator: What does the word “meaning” denote in the expression, “meaning of life”?

[1:24:55] Jordan Peterson: Okay, so that’s two meanings: meaning of “order” - stable / security - it can tilt towards tyranny if it get’s too much. And then there’s the meaning of “chaos”, which can be horrifying at high levels of abstraction and interesting at lower levels. And then there’s one other meaning, which is the third class. And the third class is the meaning that you experience when you’re mediating *between* order and Chaos. And that’s the heroic meaning. It’s, you’ve got one foot in order, so maybe you’ve got your scientific theory, and you’re out on the edge of that; you’re out on the frontier, the scientific frontier. And you’re poking your beek out into the unknown and when you’re doing that you’re seeing new patterns and you’re incorporating them. And you’re dissolving and reconstituting the whole structure of the “known” that is ordered. And that’s meaningful delight. That’s, when you’re doing that you know you’re in the place. And you say well, “what’s the meaning of life”? It’s that; we have three.

It’s the meaning of chaos; *look out!* It’s promise and catastrophy. We have the meaning of order; that’s security and tyranny. And then we have the meaning of exploration, and that’s the Hero myth. And it’s not a false thing. It’s not self-deception. It’s like you’re out there conforming chaos into order and that’s habitable territory for everyone else. Otherwise it’s bloody freezing to death and chewing on bones with the dogs. It’s like, we don’t want to do that. So, it’s not, it’s not non-real. And we also don’t know how far we can push it. It’s like, if you all stayed properly on the border between order and chaos and were attempting to rectify in your environment everything you could in a meaningful way, it’s like - God only knows how much better you could make the world. And like, I would say there’s an *ultimateness* about that. And the ancient Egyptians had figured this out a very long time ago and it’s partially for that reason they worshipped the god called Horus, who was the *eye*. Everybody knows the Egyptian Eye.

And both the Egyptians and the Mesopotamians had figured out that the fundamental attribute of the heroic spirit isn’t rationality, it’s the capacity to pay attention. And what’s so cool about it, that’s the Cartesian issue, right? Consciousness is the capacity to pay attention. And attention looks beyond the pyramid of the known, it’s the little eye at the top. It’s looking beyond and it’s extending the pyramid and it’s transforming the pyramid when it needs to be transformed. And everybody can stay safely and nicely ensconced inside of that and it stays dynamic. So that’s really the redemptive meaning, because you can’t be secure, you can’t.

[1:27:30] You’re too fragile and things are too complicated, so you can’t put your faith in ultimate security. That’s what totalitarians do and that doesn’t work, it just turns genocidal. So what can you put your faith in? Well you can put your faith - and it’s not even faith, it’s an observable phenomenon. Concentrate on doing things *that* are meaningful *that* you can do. They’ll announce themselves to you; it’s like something’s bugging you, it’s like *fit it*, you’ll find that’s quite “meaningful”. And that meaning redeems you right in that moment, because if it’s meaningful enough you’re not: self conscious and anxious and hurt and suffering and devastated, you’re like, on top of the game.

And so then you might say, well what if you just stayed *there* all the time? Well then, problem solved! S0, and you might say, “well, no!”
That’s fine, but you can try it. That’s the thing that’s so cool about this is, this is kind of an existenatial argument in some sense. You can run the experiment. I tell my students all the time: watch your life, see what you’re doing that’s really low quality and meaningless that you could just stop doing. So you don’t have to answer ultimate questions to do that. It’s not “what is truth”, it’s “what is falsehood”? And it’s way easier to figure out what is falsehood than what is truth. So if you’re doing stupid, moronic things that hurt you and your family, and you *know it*, AND you could stop and you think you might stop (which is quite a set of constraints) then STOP! And then see what happens and the first thing that happens is that things will tilt a bit. A little less chaos, a little more order, a little more freedom for you.

Sometimes it’s the opposite. You’ve got your family around the neck. It’s like, “don’t you do anything I don’t want you to do”. It’s like; tyrant. You know? So then the trick is to loosen up the ole tyrant a bit and get more chaos in there and that will optimize the meaning again.
And so, you said right at the beginning of the discussion that meaning wasn’t a proposition [ed. We don’t *propose* that there is meaning]. And I would say; well, one form of meaning *is* “propositional”; that’s the orderly meaning [ed. Categorizing]. But the transcendent form of meaning, upon which even order depends, is the dynamic meaning-making.

John Vervaeke: But that’s what I meant

P: Yeah, I know! I understand that.

[1:30:00] V: That’s what I was trying to convey with this notion that I think is completely accessible to current cognitive science, of…{struggling for words}. One of the key ideas of the Darwinian model, is you play; you integrate; you have the chaos; you have the opening up of the variations, often due to mutation, random events.

P: Yup

V: And then you have natural selection that is the ordering, that’s a selection process. And then what evolution means is exactly this constant interplay between them. And what’s what I meant when I said that cognition is *not* a set of beliefs in our head, it is the brain’s ongoing, evolved “fittedness” to the world. And I do think I agree with you that, learning to - part of what it means to be a wise person is to learn to situate yourself in such a way that that relationship becomes very attune, self-propelling. It’s that, um…I think it’s what Socrates meant when he said wisdom begins in wonder. Because when we’re in a state of wonder and Descartes, contrary to what a lot of people thought about Descartes, said that we’re different from the other animals because we’re not motivated just by fear and desire, we’re also motivated by wonder. And that’s what makes us unique. Because *wonder* is about being on that horizon of intelligibility. That moving horizon, which behind, right, is what has been confirmed, but what’s in front of us is what has not been explored.

P: Yes, that’s the Daoist’s symbol [ed. Ying-Yang]

V: Yes, that’s the Daoist’s symbol. I’m a Daoist too, as you know. I practice tai-chi. But, I do challenge the idea (well maybe you use the term a little bit different), I do challenge the idea that that is not a rational state. I think we have reduced the notion of rationality too much to “logical argumentation”. So, for example I would say the Buddhist notion of “mindfulness”, of reflecting on how we pay attention so that we make it more reliably capable of putting us on *that* [ed. The horizon of wonder]. So that we more reliably flourish and achieve our goals *is* as much a cognitive style of rationality as good argumentation is. Precisely because by being - learning how to structure your attention so it reliably keeps you on the horizon of wonder is precisely to place yourself in the optimal place for flourishing as a human being. That constitutes I think, for me, a *fundamental* kind of rationality. And we’re again giving in to the Romantic notion [ed. The Romantic era of Western civilization] that there’s this deep dichotomy between, you know: attention and experience / logic and rationality. We should abandon that dichotomy, and we should see that there is as much rationality, right, going on in the training of mindfulness as there is in the rationality of any logical argumentation.

P: Okay, so let’s {struggling for words}. I appreciate what you’re saying…

V: Well let me just say…

P: Okay

V: …rationality ultimately comes from “ratio”, it’s rationing fundamentally about the logistical distribution of your resources for success, right, as a human being. It’s not primarily about the logical ordering of your inferences. That’s just *one* way that we ration *one* type of our cognitive resource, but it is not our most fundamental resource. Look, our behavior is not ultimately and primarily driven by our beliefs. Beliefs *matter*, they affect our behavior, but there’s all this stuff outside and below our beliefs that is driving our behavior. And what gets most access to that is not our beliefs, but what we find salient, what we find relevant (to bring it back to what I was saying before).

P: Okay, so…yes. But!

V: Okay

P: This is what I want to make this…{struggling for words}. We’re circulating around the same set of ideas, but there’s an important point of clarification here, I think.

V: Okay

P: So one of the things that you probably all know is that the Catholic church was very skeptical about rationality, right? And modern people are not very happy about that because they think of that as “anti-science” in a sense, and the sign of a, like…what, uh…a ”degenerate” institution. And yeah, yeah you can understand that. But they had a reason and I figured out this reason when I was studying Paradise Lost, right, and the reason is this:
The book Paradise Lost, it’s the great book by John Milton, came out, roughly speaking, when the nation states of Europe were really beginning to get going, and political ideologies were really trying to / starting to structure themselves (so they were like secular belief systems). And the way I read Milton is that, so Lucifer (Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost) is, he’s Lucifer, so he’s the highest spirit in God’s “heavenly hierarchy” so to speak, and he’s the bringer of light. And Satan, like - satanic arrogance is *rational arrogance*. Okay, so what does that mean exactly?

Well let’s look at the Soviet Union. What happened in the Soviet Union with the communists was that they set up a system of axioms such as, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, which sound lovely. Axiomatically true! So they’re fundamental beliefs. And they erected a rational system on the basis of those axiomatic beliefs that was completely coherent, and closed. And they worshiped that ability to make that absolutely coherent and not to have any necessity for stepping outside of it. In fact, if you stepped outside of it with your own *suffering*, instead of taking into account for the fact that you’re suffering meant that the totalitarian viewpoint was incomplete, they just killed you! That was a lot easier than fixing the damn thing.

So, what Milton intuited was that the rational spirit, which is the intelligence of human beings - the rational and propositional based intelligence that wants coherence and rigor - could be stretched to such a degree that it became a replacement for the appreciation of the transcendent, which would be the thing outside the known. It just replaces that, and that’s the satanic appropriation of the highest heaven in God’s heavenly kingdom. And Milton’s prediction about that is, that turned the rational mind into something that would inevitably rule over hell. Well that’s what happened in the twentieth century.

[1:36:16] Now, I don’t think “rationality” is the right term, exactly. And I think “attention” isn’t the right term either, although I think it’s closer. I think the right term is “logos” and logos, of course, is the root of “logic”, but it’s also the idea (it’s a Christian idea, fundamentally, although it’s expressed in many other religious beliefs) of the creative capacity of the investigative, creative spirit. So it’s investigation and it’s the transformation as a result of investigation into wholly articulated representation, and then it’s the sharing of that.

So what we’re doing right now, it’s logos-based conversation, because you’re not trying to impose your propositions on me and I’m not trying to impose my propositions on you. What we’re trying to do is use the structures that we both have - the propositional structures - to dance with them. And out of the dance to produce something that emerging and that’s dynamic and that’s living - it’s the living spirit, actually; it’s living, it’s *(historically grounded and precisely appropriate to this time and place*. And that’s the “Logos”.

And so that why in complex - especially complex Western systems, although not only in them - the logos is the thing that’s not only at the top of the hierarchy of values, but it’s also the thing that brings order out of chaos at the beginning of time.

[1:37:40] V: Okay, I would agree with you. You’d be please to know that when I talk about this level of the brain and the mind in my courses I use the term “logos” to label it. And so, my students can vouch for me on that. I do agree, but I would also point out that logos is the basis of the word “logistical”, which again is about the distribution of resources.

P: Right, right. Absolutely.

V: So what I was proposing to you is that, um, a Socratic - I mean, whatever else Socrates was, he was open to the transcendent in a very important way. But he was also, you know…

P: That why he knew that his *not-knowing* was the most important thing he knew!

V:…But he also did know - see, people forget that although Socrates said he *didn’t know* in that sense (he said that he knew he did not know) that doesn’t mean that he was just ignorant. He meant he had what Nicolas of Cusa called “learned ignorance”. He had inside knowledge of the way in which, an inside awareness of the way in which he was limited and faulted. But Socrates *did* claim to know some things. He claimed to know “erotica” (which didn’t mean he was some sexual master). He knew what to care about. He knew what to find significant. He *knew* that unexamined life was not worth living. And he knew it to such a degree that he was willing to die for that.

So there was a kind of knowing that he talked about. But again, it’s this knowing about, again, what to care about what to find relevant, what you should direct it towards. And he saw argumentation not as something antithetical to that process, but as something that could deeply support it. The Socratic process of elenchus and argumentation was not antithetical to that logos (the Deo-logos), but exactly mean to be constitutive - an enhancement; enhancing of that very transformation of what we fundamentally care about and what we find most significant.
And I think it’s been a mistake - again due to the Romantics, because most of our mistakes are due to them, right?…

P: Don’t forget the Post-modernists!

V: …fine, okay. But what I’m - this putting on one side of *argumentation* and then putting on the other side *caring and emotion*. I mean what is going on in cognitive science right now is exactly - I mean, neuroscientists like Damasio, right, or Marcador, are saying this is a FALSE dichotomy that we have saddled ourselves with too long. You cannot be a rational being if you’re not also a deeply emotional being. And you can’t be an emotion being if you’re not a being that is (in some sense) doing relevance realization [ed. a concept he describes at length earlier in the discussion] and rationing it’s resources. They are interdependent and equally inter-defining. And I think that again, ultimately goes to that relevant realization is not cold calculation it is ultimately also deeply affective, arousing, it’s salient. And again, this is what we’re trying to do when we talk about the meaning in life. We’re trying to find those ways of behaving and seeing and paying attention that are rational in the Socratic sense, of affording that interrelationship between argumentation and caring that, again, puts us on the horizon of intelligibility; puts us in that place where wonder and a flow on insight becomes a primary way in which we try to adaptively respond to a world that will always be beyond our cognitive - our complete cognitive grasp.

P: Put ‘er there! {shakes hand} That was great. That’s good, eh!?

[1:41:27] Moderator: So, that seems to be a good end to the debate.
Prophet Muhammad (God send peace and blessings upon him) is reported to have said, "God says 'I am as My servant thinks I am' " ~ Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol 9 #502 (Chapter 93, "Oneness of God")
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