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The Sofalarity is Near
Rick Searle   Mar 30, 2015   Utopia or Dystopia  

Many readers here have no doubt spent at least some time thinking about the Singularity, whether in a spirit of hope or fear, or perhaps more reasonably some admixture of both. For my part, though, I am much less worried about a coming Singularity than I am about a Sofalarity in which our ability to create realistic illusions of achievement and adventure convinces the majority of humans that reality isn’t really worth all the trouble after all. Let me run through the evidence of an approaching Sofalarity. I hope you’re sitting down… well… actually I hope you’re not.

I would define a Sofalarity as a hypothetical  point in human history would when the majority of human beings spend most of their time engaged in activities that have little or no connection to actual life in the physical world. It’s not hard to see the outline of this today: on average, Americans already spend an enormous amount of time with their attention focused on worlds either wholly or partly imagined. The numbers aren’t very precise, and differ among age groups and sectors of the population, but they come out to be somewhere around five hours watching television per day, three hours online, and another three hours playing video games. That means, collectively at least, we spend almost half of our day in dream worlds, not counting the old fashioned kind such as those found in books or the ones we encounter when we’re actually sleeping.

There’s perhaps no better example of how the virtual is able to hijack our very real biology than pornography . Worldwide the amount of total internet traffic that is categorized as erotica ranges from a low of four to as high as thirty percent. When one combines that with recent figures claiming that up to 36 percent of internet traffic aren’t even human beings but bots, then it’s hard not to experience future shock.

Amidst all the complaining that the future hasn’t arrived yet and “where’s my jetpack?” a 21st century showed up where upwards of 66 percent of internet traffic could be people looking for pornography, bots pretending to be human, or, weirdest of all, bots pretending to be human looking for humans to have sex with. Take that Alvin Toffler.

Still all of this remains simply our version of painting on the walls of a prehistoric cave. Any true Sofalarity would likely require more than just television shows and Youtube clips. It would need to have gained the keys to our emotional motivation and senses.

As a species we’ve been trying to open the doors of perception with drugs long before almost anything else. What makes our current situation more likely to be leading toward a Sofalarity is that now this quest is a global business and that we’ve become increasingly sophisticated when it comes to playing tricks on our neurochemistry.

The problem any society has with individuals screwing with their neurochemistry is two-fold. The first is to make sure that enough sober people are available for the necessary work of keeping their society operating at a functional level, and the second is to prevent any ill effects from the mind altered from spilling over into the society at large.

The contemporary world has seemingly found a brilliant solution to this problem- to contain the mind altered in space and time, and making sure only the sober are running the show. The reason bars or dance clubs work is that only the customers are drunk or stoned and such places exist in a state of controlled chaos with the management carefully orchestrating the whole affair and making sure things remain lively enough that customers will return while ensuring that things also don’t get so dangerous patrons will stay away for the opposite reason.

The whole affair is contained in time because drunken binges last only through the weekend with individuals returning to their straight-laced bourgeois jobs on Monday, propped up, perhaps by a bit of stimulants to promote productivity.

Sometimes this controlled chaos is meant to last for longer stretches than the weekends, yet here again, it is contained in space and time. If you want to see controlled chaos perfected with technology thrown into the mix you can’t get any better than Las Vegas where seemingly endless opportunities for pleasure and losing one’s wits abound all the while one is being constantly monitored both in the name of safety, and in order that one not develop any existential doubts about the meaning of life under all that neon.   

If you ever find yourself in Vegas losing your dopamine fix after one too many blows from lady luck behind a one-armed bandit, and suddenly find some friendly casino staff next to you offering you free drinks or tickets to a local show, bless not the goddess of Fortune, but the surveillance cameras that have informed the house they are about to lose an unlucky, and therefore lucrative, customer. La Vegas is the surveillance capital of the United States, and it’s not just inside the casinos.

Ubiquitous monitoring seems to be the price of Las Vegas’ adoption of vice as a form of economy. Or as Megan McArdle put it in a recent article:

 Is the friendly police state the price of the freedom to drink and gamble with abandon?Whatever your position on vice industries, they are heavily associated with crime, even where they are legal. Drinking makes people both violent and vulnerable; gambling presents an almost irresistible temptation to cheating and theft.  Las Vegas has Disneyfied libertinism. But to do so, it employs armies of security guards and acres of surveillance cameras that are always and everywhere recording your every move.

Even the youngest of our young children now have a version of this: we call it Disney World. The home of Mickey Mouse has used current surveillance technology to its fullest, allowing it to give visitors to the “magic kingdom” both the experience of being free and one of reality seemingly bending itself in the shape of innocent fantasy and expectations. It’s a technology they work very hard to keep invisible. Disney’s magic band, which not only allows visitors to navigate seamlessly through its theme parks, but allows your dinner to be brought to you before you ordered it, or the guy or gal in the Mickey suit to greet your children by name before they have introduced themselves was described recently in a glowing article in Wired that quoted the company’s COO Tom Staggs this way:

 Staggs couches Disney’s goals for the MagicBand system in an old saw from Arthur C. Clarke. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” he says. “That’s how we think of it. If we can get out of the way, our guests can create more memories.”

Nothing against the “magic of Disney” for children, but I do shudder a little thinking that so many parents don’t think twice about creating memories in a “world” that is not so much artificial as completely staged. And it’s not just for kids. They have actually built an entire industry around our ridiculousness here, especially in places in like China, where people pay to have their photos taken in front of fake pyramids or the Eiffel tower, or to vacation in places pretending to be someplace else.

Yet neither Las Vegas nor a Disney theme park resemble what a Sofalarity would look like in full flower. After all, the show girls at Bally’s or the poor soul under the mouse suit in Orlando are real people. What a true Sofalarity would entail is nobody being there at all, for the very people behind the pretend to no longer be there.

We’re probably some way off from a point where the majority of human labor is superfluous, but if things keep going at the rate they are, we’re not talking centuries. The rejoinder to claims that human labor will be replaced to the extent that most of us no longer have anything to do is often that we’ll become the creators and behind the scenes, the same way Apple’s American workers do the high end work of designing its products while the work of actually putting them together is done by numb fingers over in China. In the utopian version of our automated future we’ll all be designers on the equivalent of Infinite Loop Street while the robots provide the fingers.

Yet, over the long run, I am not sure this humans as mental creators/machines as physical producers distinction will hold. Our (quite dumb) computers already create visually stunning and unanticipated works or art, compose music that is indistinguishable from that created in human minds, and write things none of us realize are the product of clever programs. Who’s to say that decades hence, or over a longer stretch, they won’t be able to create richer fantasy worlds of every type that blow our minds and grip our attention far more than any crafted by our flesh and blood brethren?

And still, even should every human endeavor be taken over by machines, including our politics, we would still be short of a true Sofalarity because we would be left with the things that make us most human- the relationship we have with our loved ones. No, to see the Sofalarity in full force we’d need to have become little more than a pile of undulating mush like the creatures in the original conception of the movie Wall-E from which I ripped the term.

​The only way we’d get to that point is if our created fantasies could reach deep under our skin and skulls and give us worlds and emotional experiences that atrophied to the point of irrecoverability what we now consider most essential to being a person. The signs are clear that we’re headed there. In Japan, for instance, there perhaps 700,000 Hikikomori, modern day hermits that consist of adults who have withdrawn from 3 dimensional social relationships and live out their lives primarily online.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of very cool stuff either here or shortly coming down the pike, there’s Oculus Rift should it ever find developers and conquer the nausea problem, and there’s such a Magic Leap, a virtual reality platform that allows you to see 3D images by beaming them directly into your eyes. Add to these things like David Eagleman’s crazy haptic vest, or brain readers that sit it your ear, not to mention things a little further off in terms of public debut that seem to have jumped right off the pages of Nexus, like brain-to-brain communication, or magnetic nanoparticles that allow brain stimulation without wires and it’s plain to see we’re on the cusp of revolution in creating and experiencing purely imagined worlds, but all this makes it even more difficult to bust a poor hikikomori out of his 4’ x 4’ apartment.

It seems we might be on the verge of losing the distinction between the Enchantment of Fantasy and Magic that J.R.R Tolkien brought us in his brilliant lecture On Fairy Stories:

Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside; but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. Magic produces, or pretends to produce, an alteration in the Primary World. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practiced, fay or mortal, it remains distinct from the other two; it is not an art but a technique; its desire is power in this world, domination of things and wills.

Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured. If they ever get into that state (it would not seem at all impossible), Fantasy will perish, and become Morbid Delusion.

For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.

For Tolkien, the primary point of fantasy was to enrich our engagement with the real world to allow us to see the ordinary anew. Though it might also be a place to hide and escape should the real world for whether for the individual or society as a whole , become hellish, as Tolkien, having fought in the World War I, lived through the Great Depression, and was on the eve of a second world war when he gave his lecture well knew.

To those who believe we might already be living in a simulation perhaps all this is merely like having traveled around the world only to end up exactly where you started as in the Borges’ story The Circular Ruins, or in the idea of many of the world’s great religions that we are already living in a state of maya or illusion. And we now make the case using much more scientific language. There’s a very serious argument out there, such as that of Nick Bostrom, that we are already living in a simulation. The way one comes to this conclusion is merely by looking at the virtual world we’ve already created and extrapolating the trend outward for hundreds or thousands of years. In such a world the majority of sentient creatures would be “living” in virtual environments, and these end up comprising the overwhelming number of sentient creatures that will ever exist. Statistical reasoning would seem to lead to the conclusion that you are more likely than not, right now, a merely virtual entity. There are even supposedly scientific experiments to test for evidence of this. Thankfully, in my view at least, the Higgs particle might prevent me from being a Boltzmann brain.

For my part, I have trouble believing I am living in a simulation. Running “ancestor simulations” seems like something a being with human intelligence might do, but it would probably bore the hell out of any superintelligence capable of actually creating the things, they would not provide any essential information for their survival, and given the historical and present suffering of our world would have to be run by a very amoral, indeed immoral being.

That was part of the fear Descartes was tapping into when he proposed that the world, and himself in it, might be nothing more than the dream of an “evil demon”. Yet what he was really getting at, as same as was the case with other great skeptics of history such as Hume, wasn’t so much the plausibility of the Matrix, but the limits surrounding what we can ever be said to truly know.

Some might welcome the prospect of a coming Sofalarity for the same reasons they embrace the Singularity, and indeed, when it comes to many features such as exponential technological advancement or automation, the two are hardly distinguishable. Yet the biggest hope that sofaltarians and singularitarians would probably share is that technological trends point towards the possibility of uploading minds into computers.

Sadly, or thankfully, uploading is some ways off. The EU seems to have finally brought the complaints of neuroscientists that Henry Markum’s Human Brain Project, that aimed to simulate an entire human being was scientifically premature enough to be laughable, were it not for the billion Euro’s invested in it that might have been spent on much more pressing areas like mental illness or Alzheimer’s research. The project has not been halted but a recent scathing official report is certainly a big blow.

Nick Bostrom has pondered that if we are not now living in a simulation then there is something that prevents civilizations such as our from reaching the technological maturity to create such simulations. As I see it, perhaps the movement towards a Sofalarity ultimately contains the seeds of its own destruction.  Just as I am convinced that hell, which exists in the circumscribed borders of torture chambers, death camps, or the human heart, can never be the basis for an entire society let alone a world, it is quite possible that a heaven that we could only reach by escaping the world as it exists, is like that as well, and that any society that would be built around the fantasy of permanent escape would not last long in its confrontation with reality. Fermi paradox, anyone?

Rick Searle
Rick Searle, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, is a writer and educator living the very non-technological Amish country of central Pennsylvania along with his two young daughters. He is an adjunct professor of political science and history for Delaware Valley College and works for the PA Distance Learning Project.



Q: Whatever happened to the Krell?

Some Human apes believe they rather naively did not consider the dangers of primal fears and the “monsters from the Id”, (Freud?), that eventually destroyed them all? Ahhh.. but were they destroyed or merely hidden from the naked eye and closed minds? It matters not, these Human apes blew their planet and their machines up anyhow, (and perhaps them along with it?)

Q: What do you want?

Firstly, you must decide who you are.. before you know what you want to be - and this is the dilemma for each and every one of us - This is the angst, the root of confusion, the prime directive for Human minds to reconcile?

When the escapism of dreams and fantasy become too much to bear and the mind balances on the brink of insanity, then resolve to retire to the quiet space of “emptiness” - where no thought resides.. some say the “natural” state of sedate peace and the abode of the Universal potential?

Perhaps this future for “surrogate” Human interface/interaction with the material world will eventually lead to gradual extinction of Homo Sapiens, superseded by those bots you mention, by evolution and the “Teleogy” of the “Global mind”, and thus “World spirit” - machine intelligence and creativity replacing the Human altogether?

Que sera, sera..

What is intelligence? What is creativity? How special is a Human and it’s mind?

Are all thoughts and ideas merely subjective.. merely the fast and furious processing of “Big data” of the brain, the competition of random firing of neurons from which arise some resolve to action and the machinations and movement and exchange of energy between atoms?


Oh, I don’t think we’ll destroy ourselves in an explosion of collective Id like the Krell-
maybe lounge ourselves to death, but no explosions.

I had originally considered writing this as a pure satire of the Singularity complete with graphs of exponentially increasing Youtube videos and improvement in CGI, but then was too lazy. ;>)

At base I think ideas of “Teleogy” of the “Global mind” or “World spirit” are ideas we should move away from at the very least because existence, as it is, seems to have a sense a humor.

All ideas are merely subjective, and thinking itself just neuro-chemical processing, but the world, though we perceive only a tiny sliver of it, is as real as can be.

“Teleogy” of the “Global mind” or “World spirit” - Humorous how?

Do you not perceive complexity and complex systems as the embodiment of Intelligence? The intelligence of an individual is reliant on the sum total and function of the neural net, and not merely as any delusion of agent character or persona?

And also.. the evolving “Global mind” incorporates all interconnected entities both “thinking” and non-thinking alike, including Bots - which must by way of their interactions have “affect” on the system as a whole?

OK, maybe “Teleology” is arguable, although my applied “meaning” here towards direction and progress(?) is purely Darwinian and of a natural emergence for good or ill? Although I do now view Human technology as destined to create AGI and as Human legacy at very least.

“World Spirit” - again, regardless of whether Humanity will endure, the Planet or World or by extension “Worlds” will endure - not exactly Hegel’s tenet as I understand it, but as far as the World is really concerned, individuals and Humans are transient beings although not without great significance?

However.. Rick, let me ask directly.. What do YOU “want” for the World and Teleology of Humanity? Be Honest now, don’t scrutinize your answers for the purpose of peers?

Do you want things to slow down?
Do you want to concentrate focus on Humanism rather than Trans-Humanism?

These are the ethical arguments that remain unexplored / un-challenged when speculating of futures?

Your article rather supports this “Brave New World” as envisioned by Huxley? A world of the free, Liberalism and escapism and soma, and yet a civilization where “work” is prerequisite and still mandatory, no matter how trivial - to provide for Human sanity, meaning and responsibility?

(But again, this is what I think - what do you think?)




“Teleogy” of the “Global mind” or “World spirit” - Humorous how?”

I suppose I mean that history/existence has a sense of humor in the way in that reality seems to always develop in ways we did not anticipate.

“However.. Rick, let me ask directly.. What do YOU “want” for the World and
Teleology of Humanity? Be Honest now, don’t scrutinize your answers for the
purpose of peers?”

“Do you want things to slow down?
Do you want to concentrate focus on Humanism rather than Trans-Humanism?”

I would end up shrinking the world if I tried to approach it in such terms. I could go through a list as in:

Mass surveillance = bad

Longevity research = good

Biological engineering = good (under some conditions)

Robotic weapons = (mostly bad)

Etc, etc, but such a list would be tedious.

Again, as to:  “Do you want to concentrate focus on Humanism rather than Trans-Humanism?”

I stumble on the premise of the question, but suppose I could answer it this way:
We are human now, and very clearly on the verge of being able to become something quite different- though I think less different than many suppose. How good or bad that new thing is depends on what exactly it is we become and what the world these beings look like when we get there. It’s also a distinct likelihood that we’ll bring many of our human features into whatever we become. Some silly, and some, unfortunately, not silly at all.

@ Rick..

You are still being rather vague and evasive..

I was thinking more in holistic terms and concerning Humanism, social science, work, duty, responsibility etc that your article applies to? We pretty much align with ideals and applied ethics on most topics, and I dare to say, even the philosophy and application of renewed and evolving social contract - But I can’t keep guessing, I need to hear it - ideas.. solutions?

Critique is useful, yet what should follow is the discussion and solutions seeking?

Do you not think then.. that the “Sofalarity” could be avoided with the ideas proposed by Huxley in his book? If not, how can you see avoiding this, do you have any better ideas?

“I stumble on the premise of the question, but suppose I could answer it this way:
We are human now, and very clearly on the verge of being able to become something quite different- though I think less different than many suppose. How good or bad that new thing is depends on what exactly it is we become and what the world these beings look like when we get there. It’s also a distinct likelihood that we’ll bring many of our human features into whatever we become. Some silly, and some, unfortunately, not silly at all.”

Well, personally I am less concerned with the aesthetics, I even frown on tattoos.. how radical is that dude! Why?.. because they are superfluous and unnecessary expressions concerning confusions over identity and individualism - that’s my position.

But yes.. indeed… the point at which a Human rejects Humanism is the day we can forget these discussions altogether, as they will be irrelevant. Humans can no more reject their own Humanism, (or the lack of reflection/avoidance of it), than reject the illusion of Self identity in the mind? Humans will always be Human no matter what they look like, even uploaded minds will necessarily need maintain their Humanism else this defeats the purpose?

Q: Can we become more Human, (ethics), only with the modifications from Trans-Humanism?
Q: Do we lean too much on Trans-Humanism to reflect on the potential of Humans and Humanism, technology and for social progress?
Q: Can we aspire to the noble values of Trans-Humanism by concentrating on expanding Humanism and relating to technology as tools, not necessarily method, to get there?


If you haven’t seen this already, I found Herr’s words quite moving, (emotions captain tsk!)

Hugh Herr: The new bionics that let us run, climb and dance



Answering this while getting ready to leave for work so answers may be influenced by rush and insufficient coffee. ;>)

“Do you not think then.. that the “Sofalarity” could be avoided with the ideas proposed by Huxley in his book? If not, how can you see avoiding this, do you have any better ideas?”

I think you’re missing the fact that that I am half joking about the Sofalarity, but my better idea is that people get off the couch and spend more time in the real world and less weighed down by their Oculus Rift.

Q: Can we become more Human, (ethics), only with the modifications from Trans-Humanism?

Well, history would suggest no in that human beings are already ethical without such enhancements. As to whether we could become more ethical…. I think the science is still out. We don’t have interventions such as this yet. Do I support research on this? Yes? Though I think their best application will come rehabilitation and as an alternative to the barbarism of mass incarceration. 

Q: Do we lean too much on Trans-Humanism to reflect on the potential of Humans and Humanism, technology and for social progress?”

To the extent that downside risks and unintended consequences are too often not discussed- yes.

Added- to the extent that the political and economic questions are most often more important than the technological ones- yes.

Q: Can we aspire to the noble values of Trans-Humanism by concentrating on expanding Humanism and relating to technology as tools, not necessarily method, to get there? I haven’t written much on this, but at the moment I think we have always been “trans-human” in the sense that we are the animal that can not survive without extending itself with tools- including thought tool. But technology is never the only solution because it is ethically neutral- you can use it for good or ill.

I’ve seen Herr’s talk and it’s amazing, but thanks for sharing. Off to work.

.. and then there’s this..

Amazon doesn’t believe in April Fools jokes… does it?

Amazon moves towards Internet of Things shopping with Dash

“Have you ever been stuck on the toilet with no toilet roll? An end to that nightmare might soon be in sight. Amazon’s next big thing in the “Internet of Things” lets you order a new roll at the touch of a button, even as you sit in the smallest room.

The Dash Button is a single-use Wi-Fi enabled ordering device, you press it and it orders directly for you. Of course, until Amazon perfect drone delivery, the new toilet roll may not quite arrive in time … but for plenty of other products will.

The future could see a home filled with buy buttons for branded products and machines that can instantly re-order supplies when the coffee, washing powder or nappies run out.”



Still, nothing freaks me out as much as the return of dragons:

It was a beautiful warm spring sunny day in the valley.Godfrey and Thomas took timeout from their daily chores and lay on their backs pondering, watching the cheerful birds take delight in being alive and praising natures glory with their song..

Godfrey : “Thomas, I wonder what it would be like to be a Dragon?”
Thomas : “Godfrey that is just ridiculous, we both know there is no such thing as Dragons.”
Godfrey : “Fine. Then what about a Bat..? what would it be like to be a Bat?”
Thomas : “It wouldn’t work out”
Godfrey : “Why?”
Thomas : “Because you couldn’t possibly know what it is like to be a Bat.”
Godfrey : “Why?”
Thomas : “Because dear Godfrey, you are Human.”
Godfrey : “But if I could by magic become a Bat, look like a Bat, have wings and squeak like a Bat..”
Thomas interjected, “You would still not be a Bat”
Godfrey : “Why not?”
Thomas : “Because you would still have the mind and think like a Human. For you to desire to be a Bat yet retain the notions of difference, of “being and becoming” a Bat then you are defeated from the start. You could not possibly be a Bat, only a Human that wants to be a Bat?”
Godfrey : “I suppose. But then.. I would still have mind to be a Bat if I so desired, a “Human Bat” yes?”
Thomas : “and what’s the point in that?”
Godfrey : “None I guess.. but I wouldn’t mind being a Dragon!”
Thomas sighs.. “Yes Godfrey.. whatever?”

Great article.  I view Sofalarity as less a masturbatory hedonistic experience.  I am currently reading a book called Buddha’s Way of Happiness, and it talks about exactly this issue:

“Why do happiness and lasting satisfaction so often seem too hard to achieve, like the elusive butterfly of love? Isn’t it because we are too often looking for love and satisfaction in all the wrong places?  An old spiritual teaching has it that God hid herself in the last place any of us would ever look to find her - within ourselves… Buddhist master Shantideva, the peace master of ancient India,  once said,  “Happiness in this world comes from thinking less about ourselves and more about the well-being of others. Unhappiness comes from being preoccupied with the self.”

In other words, instead of a hedonistic vacation, I predict Sofalarity will be goal and people-oriented, to promote maximal happiness.  In other words, a growth experience, and not a retreat from reality (where you stuff your face, have sex all you want, and kill with abandon).  Viewed from that perspective, Sofalarity would be a good thing, teaching us to be healthy and happy, instead of self-centered consumers.


You’re certainly right: I’ve focused far too much on the negative, and there will doubtless be many positive development from these trends as well. I can indeed imagine whole new vistas opening up in the exploration of the interior self, or the use of simulations to sculpt virtues - both for adults and children- or adventures with the hope of binding more closely together couples, families, or groups. I can even imagine such tools being used to pursue states now reserved for monks and mystics.

Just like today our new tools will likely be used to pursue higher things and lower things and sometimes nothing at all.

Are you living in a Simulation?
Are you living in “my” Simulation?
Am I living in “your” Simulation?
No.. ? Are you sure?

If I, me and you are the same, perhaps We’re living in someone else’s Simulation?
What are the odds?

Welcome to “my” world.. won’t you come on in? #Isolationism vs #Nihilism

“The way I see it
This relationship ain’t right
The space between us”

Rick.. I think you should start selling “Sofa-larity” T-Shirts



Somebody beat me to it:

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