When I was five, I played with my first toy robot. It was my favorite at the time, with flashing lights on its chest. It could travel straight or in circles, was powered by batteries, and made quite a lot of interesting sounds. This incredible range of activities that fascinated me could be switched off at the click of a button. The robot would then stand still, inactive. A moment ago, it was going around flashing its lights, making noises, and fascinating my imagination. The very next moment, it was still when switched off.
Was my robot dead ? But my supposed common sense dictated that it was a machine and it is not “dead” and did not come “alive” when switched on. It was merely doing what it is meant to do when you switch it on. As a child, I could always convince myself that my robot toy could come alive at the click of a button and vaporize imagined villains. However as an adult, the distinction of consciousness between my toy robot and myself often baffles me! So, who am I or rather, who are we?
We are an amazing amalgamation. Beginning from the atom, we go to the molecule and then up to the cell. Many cells form tissues which in turn form organs. Organs, together with a myriad of regulatory networks and systems form an organism. Thus, we have become Homo sapiens. We have over the centuries as various civilizations, colonized along fertile valleys and perennial rivers. We have developed social structures, hierarchies, by means of politics and religion.
Incredibly, we have also learned to utilize the resources available to us for our activities. Once we have come to terms with ourselves in ways that transcend our religious and cultural upbringing, we will come to understand and accept our “species” status. No matter how much we believe ourselves to be distinctly intelligent or unique, we are really no different from the multitude of other living organisms that occupy this planet, all competing for survival.
We may pride ourselves to think we discovered architecture, engineering, central heating, agriculture, and huge economies from division of labour amongst specialists, but we did not. Termites discovered all these things an exceedingly long time before our species evolved.
If we are to seek a destiny beyond our own bodies and our home planet, we must also be prepared to transcend. At the outset, such transcendence may be immensely glorified by our own cultural memes as being done for superhuman feats and power. However, there is a much deeper and more practical form and reason to our transcendence. It is our basic instinct to survive. Although there may not be an immediate predator or an incredible threat, we as an intelligent species must evolve in order to exist.
We have become capable of traveling vast distances with our tools of transportation even though we do not share the anatomy of the birds that adorn our skies. We have managed to speak and amplify our immense array of vocal communication beyond the vibrations of our throats, across the entire planet and even out to outer space. We can sense and perceive global events as information while physically remaining in one place.
Just about 10,000 years ago, we were hunters and gatherers who knew no agriculture. And yet today, we are contemplating global implementation of genetically modified food to overcome our food crisis. Cockroaches and Locusts have always foraged for food in different locations for all these centuries. However, we have managed to move on from foraging for food to our current status of agriculture.
If the human species survives for another 10,000 years, one is only left to wonder whether glycolytic or other metabolic pathways of obtaining that precious adenosine triphosphate from food would be required at all. We might directly generate energy much like the current autotrophs or even better, become energy itself! We are now contemplating the next stages of our evolution as a species to ensure survival, both on this planet and into the known and unknown parts of the universe. As we contemplate our destiny amongst the stars, we must also observe what we really are. In the movie The Matrix, there is a very chilling dialogue between the human, Morpheus and Agent Smith the artificial intelligence:
I'd like to share a revelation I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with their surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to another area, and you multiply, and you multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we are the cure.
So, are we a disease ? There are a lot of reasons to claim such a state and a lot of reasons to claim otherwise. Our rapid disintegration of the natural environment around us to create “new” environments of our own making such as elaborate cities, the siphoning of earth’s natural resources, and the resultant increase in our population are all reasons. This really is no different from what a cockroach or a locust does in this very same planet. We may just be doing it a bit better. There are not many of us who are quite friendly with a cockroach or a locust.
Be that as it may, we must acknowledge that no matter what we throw at them, they keep coming back. Their resilience is almost a parallel to our own in terms of survival. We must understand that a cockroach or a locust is not trying to destroy the world. It is only trying to survive in order to procreate and carry on with its existence. This is what we do as well. We have always tried to continue our existence, in different forms. But, there is a very fine line defining our status as a species or as a parasite from the planet’s perspective. James Lovelock defined Gaia in his Gaia Hypothesis as "a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere, atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet."
Lovelock’s hypothesis also considers that the organism most likely to spread the seeds of Gaia across the universe as evidenced by our pursuits in space exploration. If evolution were to be accepted, then we can comfortably state that we have achieved a good position as a "species" on this planet. Thus, if we are the most favored organism on the planet, then surely we will accept such a destiny. This destiny is also a responsibility and we must undertake it with surgical precision and a new mindset.
Such a frame of mind definitely calls for a huge change in our collective consciousness. By change, I do not mean a sudden uniformity in consciousness. I would rather call for a gradual sustainable change with long term realizable visions based on current speculations and aspirations. The former president of India, Dr.Abdul Kalam, gave India its most formidable vision to become a developed country by the year 2020. He named it Vision 2020.
The most formidable part of his vision is to change the consciousness of people right from the home. He states that a noble citizen is created from a home and goes on to form a noble society and eventually a noble, or in this case, a “conscious” country. It is actually a very cellular approach which merits more attention. It really is the individual who goes on to form an entire system and not the other way around. Every individual brings in his/her survival skills into the system and the system improves or rather evolves as a result of this collective skills. Therefore, we can find very interesting relationships with our own behavior and that of the computer! Aurobindo and the Mother from India have always called for an Integral Yoga which calls for a integration of work and the pursuit of a higher consciousness for a great transformation.
It is therefore most important that we change the way we think and perceive things around us. The phenomena of globalization has taught us a great deal of how much influence culture and economy can have on totally unrelated communities. Wikipedia defines globalization as "…the increasing interconnectedness of people and places as a result of advances in transport, communication, and information technologies that cause political, economic, and cultural convergence." Convergence is most definitely going to be the catalyst towards a rapid acceleration of human progress. When the human species as a whole progresses, it shall help us maintain our presumed position in the ecological hierarchy within this planet and our survival in the vast universe.
Progress of the Homo sapiens is to be made simultaneously from several angles. If the concept of the singularity were to be embraced with abandon, then it can be said that such a progress would have a tremendous acceleration. I as a human being am worried about one aspect of the singularity. Increasingly, the singularity is being interpreted more from the side of computer science and its technologies than other disciplines. In reality, it would be an integration of several disciplines that can bring about this state of singularity. Otherwise, there would be progress but with a slant towards only one prespective.
This could cause the collapse our entire system. Any tall building needs a strong foundation. For the tallest endeavour of the human species hailed as the singularity, the foundation of the exponential curve, the "S" curve, should have a proper foundation. Only then can the graphical acceleration be foreseen in the concrete world. It is extremely important for responsible futurists to not get deluded or fantasize about any one state where a collective effort is required.
The purpose and importance of such a precaution is extremely obvious. It is for our very survival. The fruits of transcendent technology may not be seen in our lifetime, however the work done today is the reason for the emergence of a glorious future. In the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred holy book for Hinduism, one of the most famous lines from the second chapter is: "Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana, Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani" which basically means "You have a right to perform your prescribed action, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be associated with not doing your duty."
This is a good and rather useful saying for the aspiring futurists and visionaries. One can not predict whether the current efforts at cryonics would successfully enable people to wake up in a distant future. However, such obstacles should not stop us from working towards viable suspended animation of a live human being for extended space travel, medical resuscitation and for other reasons. We have come a long way from the humble ice box to virtrification. Likewise for our visions of the cryogenic suspension and space elevators. Therefore, much like an adult worker ant works tirelessly to feed its colony, so too must we continuously develop technologies for the continued survival of our species.
Read Part II of Manoj's Transcendent Consciousness for Transcendent Technologies.