The Ray Kurzweil Effect

Most everyone is familiar with the term: meme.  It is a kind of concept or idea that becomes common in social intercourse, one definition is: an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.  He wrote a book: “The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology”, which, according to Wikipedia: “predicts an exponential increase in technologies like computers, genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence. He says this will lead to a technological singularity in the year 2045, a point where progress is so rapid it outstrips humans’ ability to comprehend it.”

Wikipedia also writes: “Kurzweil predicts the technological advances will irreversibly transform people as they augment their minds and bodies with genetic alterations, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. Once the Singularity has been reached, Kurzweil says that machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined. Afterwards he predicts intelligence will radiate outward from the planet until it saturates the universe.”

Other thinkers consider, some less kindly, that this event is not very likely to happen.  All the same his name is often mentioned, and besides his name the idea of a “singularity event” of this kind is also popular.  Thus the meme, I am calling the Kurzweil Effect.

I brought this meme/effect forward to illustrate these next comments concerning human thinking, especially the “spiritual” aspects.  Rudolf Steiner writes, in the last sentence of the original preface to his book The Philosophy of Freedom: “One must be able to confront an idea and experience it, otherwise we will fall into its bondage”.

Plato was of the view that ideas, or the ideos, were Beings - invisible spiritual beings.  They inhabited what might be called the “world of forms”, from which all that ultimately manifests in sense reality was sourced.  These Beings occupied a realm of the uncreated and the unformed, and then through their activity the material world appears.  One of the forms of these Beings, that we could more closely observe, is the “idea”, or ideos.  In our minds, with our spiritual eye, we could experience these Beings.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave was an attempt to approach this idea of the ideos imaginatively.  We sit in a Cave and see shadows on a wall.  The source/light for the shadows is behind us.  The shadows themselves are the objects of the sense world we daily experience.  If we can wake up from our sleep before the shadows, and metaphorically turn around, we can then directly experience these Beings, who nature is the light that casts the shadow. 

Rudolf Steiner’s book The Philosophy of Freedom was in effect an attempt to teach the reader how to “wake up”, and be “spiritually” free by acquiring the capacity to experience the idea/ideos, and not find ourselves in bondage to it.  That’s what is at issue.  Can we stand in a free relationship to a profound idea, an example of which is the meme of the singularity.

That meme is not the only meme dominating modern human cultures all over the world - ideas which hold us spiritually in bondage.  Big bang cosmology is one such widely accepted idea/meme, which is not as commonly believed by all thinkers as many might assume.   Another is macro-Darwinian evolution, in the form of such concepts as speciation - i.e. all species are evolved from each other, an assumption that has little evidence in even the geographical record.  A third is the common meme today in the study of the brain, that this material organ is the seat/cause of consciousness, so powerful that it perhaps causes us to believe all manner of false ideas, such as that we are, or have, a self, and that that self has free will.

With this last (or third meme/ideos) we can see that a crucial set of questions are being decided that have a huge potential significance for the future of human existence.   Let us return to the Kurzweil effect/meme to narrow the scope of this inquiry. 

A prediction is made about the future of computer technology, which will involve some form of intercourse with human biology, shaping ultimately a new type of human being - part biological/part machine.  The cyborg - which in the Star Trek television series was depicted as a means by which human individuality would disappear, and a hive mind arise - a dangerous apparently superior race The Borg, whose tag line is: “resistance is futile”.

What is fundamentally at issue in modern culture, and on the cusp of the Third Millennium, is what image of the human being will we admire and pursue.  Do you want to be part machine, and a member of a hive mind, or do you want to be free to engage the ideos of the Borg, and defeat it before it drives from our understanding minds all possibilities of any future spiritual wonders yet latent in human potential.

To answer that question you have to seriously care about the truth.  Fun speculation is just that.  It sells books.   It grabs the attention.  But does it move human beings forward in understanding themselves and their lives?  Which star do you, dear reader, want to follow.  Make money, get everyone's attention.  Or find the truth.  The latter is probably a lot harder.  In my experience, it is certainly more worthwhile.  You will like yourself better seeking the truth, although that won't make your life easier.  Truth seekers sometimes have shorter lives, although others get old and die before they are recognized.

At the same time, even those who fail at seeking the truth, can inspire.  Kurzweil provoked some very interesting arguments, and that itself is worth a lot.  Except for the fact that he is quite wrong, so if that makes a difference, then there it is.


Because he has not studied his own mind, and as a consequence has no real idea of what "mind" in fact is.  If he did, he would know directly, from his own experience (just as the reader of this can come to know), that mind is spiritual in nature - that is, not material.  Mind has no kinship with a computer, which at best will only ever be able to pretend to imitate having an inwardness.  Non-biological (inert) matter cannot have an inside, while biological (alert) matter does have an "inside".  Kick a rock and it doesn't flinch.  Poke your lover too hard and whoops!

Here is: An article on why the math shows that thought cannot be encoded in a computer.

Here is a link to some articles on a completely different way of understanding thinking and thought: Sacramental Thinking.