Saturday, September 12, 2015

close encounters of the sundry kind

Look at a ruler scaled in millimeters (or think of one). Millimeters are relatively tiny. You can vaguely imagine a kilometer (or a mile, which is 1.6+ kilometers), maybe knowing something in your environs that’s exactly a kilometer away (more or less). But can you represent to yourself a million millimeters? You could have a nebulous visual notion of a lot of millimeters. (Have I done this routine?) But you won’t have an exact representation in mind of a million of them (unless you’re highly autistic). You might be adept at scaling such that you imagine mapping powers of 10 that gives you a feel for the million.

But anyway, a million of those little intervals is visually unimaginable for most persons. Maybe genetic engineering of intelligence will allow a person capacity to literally represent a million millimeters, such that one could look at an alleged kilometer of them (with a sweeping telescopic lens, let’s imagine) within several seconds and say how many millimeters are missing or are in excess. Would one want such a capacity for mental representation? I’ve known persons with so-called “photographic memory,” and I’m told that it’s largely a burden.

So, let’s pretend that we understand what a million millimeters is. I suppose that you have a decent sense of a kilometer. What about 100 kilometers? That’s 62.14 miles, approximately the distance from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, as a straight line. That’s 100 million millimeters. Times 10 now: the distance from San Francisco to the Nevada/Utah border: 1 billion millimeters. Only one billion, San Francisco to Utah.

The evolution of Homo sapiens diverged from hominid/ape evolution approximately 3 million years ago. Mediterranean civilization was flourishing 3000 years ago (Bronze Age), not primitive at all (but low technology). Their brains had the same capacity as we do. The “ancient” Greeks (of their “Golden Age”) were imagining divinities and human perfectibility yesterday, gods created in their Image brought to Earth.

But they couldn’t imagine that by “tomorrow,” We would be worrying about The Singularity We create gaining freedom we can’t control, because fear of gods turning against us is in the bones of many.

Evolution of mind has shaped elaborate mental landscapes of Just-So stories about the coherence of The World—and incoherence of “the” universe—imagining so many magical realms which have been placeholder Sources for what we can’t yet explain—retrojected promissory places that our evolving will bring to Earth. “The” “Soul,” for example, has been the magical place of mentality’s origin. Now, cognitive computing is an available college major.

We are such a species of Origins. We’ll never capture real ontogeny of minds, but we’ll outstrip biogeny with autogenic creations by such un-retraceable minds. We will to hold good our pretenses of Causality that will become Ours, for we are the species of Why? whose ultimate answer is: Because we are.

I have these passing thoughts while I’m standing by a creek in some woods on campus today. Like so many Saturday afternoons during this time of year, I notice at some distance lines of odd beings stringing densely through campus walkways like lemmings (fat, old, young—animated Duane Hanson sculptures), struggling up the gentle slope toward Memorial Stadium, to be fans of “college football” (not soccer, folks). Off campus, the jocks stuff the front yards of their fraternities with throbbing “music” and screaming partyers (including as many minimally-dressed trophy girlfriends as possible) before The Game. Horrible “food” is hawked everywhere.

Local TV tonight is broadcasting “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Though I haven’t seen it for many years, I’ve seen it often. It's so silly. But I especially recall professor Lacombe, played by François Truffaut, asking Richard Dreyfus at the space ship Event (in strong French accent) “What do you want?”

A few hundred meters above where I live, there’s a place on a Berkeley hill with a clear view of the San Francisco Bay region. I go up there at night often. The metropolitan region hosts several airports, so there’s always four or so airliners whose distant lights silently move around the regional blackness like the preliminary space ships appearing atop Devil’s Tower. I, puer aeternus, commonly hope that the Mother Ship is near.

Did you know that ‘metropolis’ is derived from Latin for “mother city”? And the nightime lattice of electrified metropoles is the lace of Mother Earth shining for the gods.

“Tomorrow,” a species that doesn’t need to trace its roots to us because It knows the entire way in incomprehensible detail will have as little need to re-live our millimeters as we dwell little in details of Our own multiple streams of having evolved—slower there, quicker here; strains flaming out, strains glad to flourish unseen.