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
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