Our ancestors struggled to get enough calories just to stay alive. But as food supplies have become reliable and rich, people around the world face the opposite problem. Now, as we try to keep our weight in a healthy range, we look at all kinds of factors: diet, exercise, sleep, supplements, meditation, hypnosis, psychotherapy, prayer, or even surgery that might help us tip the scales a little less.
1. I think the central tenet of the “singularity” (that humanity and technology will merge) is based on a false separation of technology and humanity. I expect this is due to a limited definition of technology that relates primarily to mechanical and electrical computational systems. I think of technology as any artificial (constructed by us) cognitive extension. According to this definition, our relation to technology is much more complex and goes back much further, as things like fire, hunting methods and language are all examples of technologies, just very old ones. When technology is considered broadly, then we must accept that humanity and technology have always been integrated, and thus that the singularity is moot. We are now, just have we always have been, changing how we think and who we are through our artifacts. Yes, there may be some changes in the matter of degree and speed, but that is occurring in a very long and old context of guiding (misguiding?) our evolution.
2. Current cognitive and neuroscience begs us to consider whether our consciousness is “real” and not some illusion resulting from a flurry of cognitive operations happening without our will or even awareness. I think we should consider our individuality with a similar view. Just as what we think of as ourselves is a mere tip of the iceberg of what are minds are actually doing, we should consider whether our individuality is independent at all. It is highly shaped, constrained and manipulated by our culture via our social relations. I would not go so far to say that individuals do not exist, but I would say that “free-will” as classically defined does not exist. We consider our individual selves as much more simplistic than they actually are. Even our bodies are more “other” than “self” considering the genetic material of the bacteria that inhabits us.
Learning is a central aspect of our contemporary times, and can be considered the internalization of skills and ideas that can be unconsciously (skillfully) applied and form the basis of our choices and actions in the world. Our learning through institutions is an indoctrination of cultural knowledge, biases and ways of constructing the world, both through our constructive perception and our artifacts. Much of this learning gets buried under so many layers of abstraction that we have little awareness of them at all, they are simply the ground of “normality” in which we find comfort and link socially. Very few of us could survive without the artifacts constructed by our huge system of production. Hardly a single person knows how to build anything without the short-cut of the output of others’ production. Imagine building a radio where you not only have to build the radio, but build all the components, and all the components of components, doing the mining and smelting yourself, all using tools made by yourself. Even if you had all the knowledge of how to do this, it would still be extremely inefficient. Our survival is inherently social, and likely always has been. As individuals we are very little. Even when we speak of the huge contributions made by individuals (eg. Einstein), those very contributions are based on a huge history of work. When considered in relation to these histories of knowledge and artifacts we are dependent on, we individually contribute very little.
Perhaps an illusion of individuality is the very cause of our modern problems of exploitation and greed. If we don’t see ourselves in a network of dependence on others, then it is only logical to exploit others for our betterment. Perhaps we will not survive as a species if we don’t take our dependence on others, and our limited value as individuals, seriously.