Cosmic Anthropology 101

Journal of a Cosmic Anthropologist

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Accelerating along the road ahead, from 2015 to 2020, with one eye always on 2200. OK. Let’s go!

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It is, I am reliably informed, 2015 now. This year so far has been off to a slow start for me, mostly due to reasons. But there is a great weight to my plans. Moving them forwards, accelerating the mass of what-is-to-come towards escape velocity, will take some time still, but things are, be assured, in motion.

Establishing the path going forwards was the subject of my first post of the year at Daily Grail. Modestly titled “Uplifting Civilisation into the 22nd Century…and Beyond!“, it deals with issues like personhood for the machines and their companions in posthumanism, the coming, uplifted, cyborg animals. The kind of crew Spaceship Earth desperately needs.

We’re talking total cyborg ecology here, in space, no less.

The other thread of the zeitgeist, the true ghost of our times, is the ever worsening extinction crisis, ecological collapse and climate chaos. The horrible legacy of the Anthropocene – the price of us being here with this technology, able to have this very conversation – and the thing we really need to correct before we go infecting other worlds with our presence. This planet has born the cost of the development of our human-centric civilisation; thinking about things like machines as people and other species too, extending empathy towards them for that matter, might be how we build a bridge through the looming Collapse. I have a feeling this is a mission that will call for all available hands on deck.

And that is the tone I’d like to have set for the immediate future. Adjust our scope to always have 2200 in our vision and it’s easy to see what we have to do between now and 2020. When you’re already extending your thinking to giving AIs the vote, gay marriage takes less than a nanosecond to compute. When your idea of the world to come has celebrity cyborg animals in space being verified on Twitter, having compassion for those unlucky humans fleeing states collapsing from internal wars or externally generated heavy weather events (or both) is a trivial act.

This is continuing the theme I have established with my posts at Daily Grail. From small posts on the excellent Wanderers short film and the trailer for Chappie, the new film from Neil Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium). Space, robots, cyborgs and us. All very Extropian. I’m bringing that word back, watch me go.

Because the Singularity is a tainted vision. Something I took pains to examine by way of the film that is basically Humanity+ propaganda lite, Transcendence…or is it? (Read on to find out!)

And in that essay also began to examine some of the “nightmares of the Anthropocene”:

The Anthropocene is the idea that the planet we inhabit has been completely reshaped by the activities of human civilisation. That no part of our world has been left unchanged. Most obviously, this is climate change; but it’s more than just a change in weather patterns. It’s things like the concentration of CO2 in sea ice we’ve never set foot on and the addition of “plastiglomerate” to geology – rocks made from plastic melted in fires.

Awesome, right? We changed the world. Humans rule! But what if it went all horribly wrong and completely out of control? (You know, worse than climate chaos even.) Overt and undeniable.

That’s the Gray Goo scenario – nanotechnology unleashed on the world, out-competing natural systems

There will be more of these examinations of what keeps a young species, haunted by the damage and cost of its technological achievements, up at night. Screaming. Inside. While the dark ambient music plays on. (Is this too obviously autobiographical? Ignore me…)

If 2014 had a textual soundtrack, for me it was these two books: The Peripheral by William Gibson and In The Dust Of This Planet by Eugene Thacker. And that was exactly how I bookended my essay riffing off the trailer for the new Mad Mad film, Fury Road. Continuing to dismantle the dominant myth of the inevitability of the Singularity, in favour of Gibson’s term for a more complex, feedback heavy, multi-causal, slow apocalypse: The Jackpot Years:

Thinking about this as “the pre Jackpot Years” helps us reframe the narrative. Something better can come out of all this. This doesn’t have to be the prelude to a future high-speed, nightmarish post-apocalypse, worse than the slow motion one we’re in now. We don’t have to wait for it to accelerate into an unavoidable crash and collapse. There is no techomagical Singularity that will save us. We must wake up behind the wheel and plot a new path on the map of the possible. Our civilisation survived the twentieth century and everyday Fear of the Bomb. We can make it through this too, and build something better. All the pieces are here already, waiting to be recombined. From advances in automated factories and 3D Printing to basic science and amazing speculations on the origins of life.

What comes next is up to us. In many ways we’re limited only by our imagination. Why books from In The Dust Of This Planet to The Blood Of The Earth argue strongly for a change in consciousness in how we view both the world now and to come. What we make out of the building blocks we already have is for us to choose. Buckminster Fuller once said: “whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment.” We just have to decide how to build a future worth living for all of us, correct our direction away from Oblivion and towards whatever version of Utopia we can agree upon. Or plan for life amidst the chaos and barbarity of Bartertown.

So we have “the ever worsening extinction crisis, ecological collapse and climate chaos” defining the landscape ahead. Something I’ve been continuing in my attempts to map out in the (De)Extinction Club newsletter. The plans for that are many, and include folding it in to a certain degree with my podcast, when I figure out how that will best work. More interviews seems logical. What this space for that particular piece of reality to materialise.

OK my fellow baseline humans and future posthuman audience, that concludes our update. The sun is setting soon here, and it’s time to take Shiva out for her evening walk. And mine too.

Tomorrow a new day dawns. We may look back and say “yes, that was the first true day the Great Extropian Adventure began. When we choose hope over fear. Said no to those that would have us be nothing but a Caretaker Generation. Or worse, have us be the last generation.”

Why can’t that be tomorrow?

reviewing THE PERIPHERAL by William Gibson at DAILY GRAIL

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My review of The Peripheral by William Gibson is up at Daily Grail. Here’s a sample:

Most notable to me, apart from the foreground of economical collapse and subsequent radical transformation, is the thread of extinction woven into the world view. One of the characters is in permanent mourning for the species being killed by the ecological collapse under way right now. Another keeps simulacra of animals long vanished from our world as household pets, resurrected to act as perhaps no more than a status object. As Gibson is wont to do, this is an emergent part of the zeitgeist that is being tapped into. The question it leaves me with most of all is, as consciousness of this is raised, what is to be done?

All of which makes The Peripheral more than just a tightly constructed, fascinating piece of story-telling. It makes it an important element in a cultural conversation that desperately needs to be more visibly taking place.

Read the whole thing.

Filed under reviews, william gibson

a short review of AUTÓMATA

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Above are the opening titles that introduce Autómata and its setting of #neartermhumanextinction, #heavyspaceweather and #atemporality.

This movie is an instant classic that belongs on the shelf right between Bladerunner and Hardware; and just in case you’re not sure it’s full of explicit spot-the-Bladerunner-bingo references, and features Dylan McDermott in a role that could make you think he’s always been a gritty sf actor, and never some forgettable tv star (sorry guy).

Add in a simplified version of the Three Laws of Robotics for good measure and plot engineering…

It takes a while to build (/wade through the slow-fire execution of said plot engine), but where the film gets amazing is as an exploration of the robot-as-posthuman-as-humankind’s child species and the slow boot-up of a machine civilisation.

With dialog like:

“Where’s your boss?
“Boss’ is a human thought structure.

and

“We do not obey orders from humans. Not any more.”
“Kneel down. Why is it so difficult for you to accept my orders, if you’re just a machine?”
“Just a machine? That’s like saying you’re just an ape. Just a violent ape.

Who does the scorched earth belong to? Who is the fittest species now? Who is shedding all masks and earnestly marching into the future (desert of the real) to make their fate?

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