Sunday, March 06, 2005

Terrified Medieval Christs and Weird Picasso Women

Izabela and I went to the art museum in DC today, and I realized that pretty much my favorite thing in visual art is the expressions on peoples' faces. Even in the extensive galleries of medieval and renaissance pictures of Jesus, which generally make me sick after a few minutes (and aghast that so many humans could believe so many stupid things for so long -- and wondering what things almost as stupid as the whole crucifixion/resurrection drama we may currently believe --) , I found myself moved by some of the facial expressions.... Some painters (and fewer sculptors, Rodin being my favorite by far) have a remarkable way of catching exprssions that capture the essence of a person's being -- or at least, that give the illusion thereof ... they capture SOME essence, and how that essence relates to the actual human who was being painted doesn't matter much from my point of view....

The essence of some human's being -- what does that mean? The core of some human's personality.... It's different for each one of us, but still there are common patterns -- a common essence of being human. Always some pleasure and some pain. Some resignation to fate, some resolution to struggle. In the interesting faces, some deep joy, some terrible suffering. We humans are bundles of contradictions -- that's part of what makes us human.

I thought about the Singularity, of course -- about transcending what is human, and about perfecting what is human to make something that's human yet better than human. And I found myself really intuitively doubting the latter possibility. Isn't the essence of being human all bound up with contradiction and confusion, with the twisting nonstationary nonlinear superposition of pleasure and pain, of clarity and illusion, of beauty and hideousness?

Some humans are perverse by nature -- for instance, priests who condemn child molestation in their sermons while conducting it in their apartments. But even without this nasty and overt sort of self-contradiction, still, every human personality is a summation of compromises. I myself am a big teeming compromise, with desires to plunge fully into the realm of the intellect, to spend all day every day playing music, to hang out and play with my wife and kids all the time, to live in the forest with the pygmies, to meditate and vanquish/vanish the self....

Potentially with future technology we can eliminate the need for this compromise by allowing Ben to multifurcate into dozens of Bens, one living in the forest with the pygmies, one meditating all day and achieving perfect Zen enlightenment, one continually playing childrens' games and laughing, one proving mathematical theorems until his brain is 90% mathematics, one finally finishing all those half-done novels, one learning every possible musical instrument, one programming AI's, etc. etc. Each of these specialized Bens could be put in telepathic coordination with the others, so they could all have the experience, to an extent, of doing all these different things. This would be a hell of a great way to live IMO -- I'd choose it over my current existence. But it'd be foolish to call this being human. Getting rid of the compromises means getting rid of humanity.

The beauty I see in the faces portrayed by great artists is largely the beauty of how individual human personalities make their own compromises, patch together personal realities from the beauty and the terror and the love and the hate and the endless press of limitations. Getting rid of the compromises is getting rid of humanity....

Trite thoughts, I suppose.... Just another page in my internal debate about the real value of preserving humanity past the Singularity. Of course, I am committed to an ethic of choice -- I believe each sentient being should be allowed to choose to continue to exist in its present form, unless doing so would be radically dangerous to other sentient beings. Humans shouldn't be forced to transcend into uberhumans. But if they all chose to do so, would this be a bad thing? Intuitively, it seems to me that 90% of people who chose to remain human rather than to transcend would probably be doing so out of some form of perversion. And the other 10%? Out of a personality-central attachment to the particular beauty of being human, the particular varieties of compromises and limitations that make humans human ... the looks on the faces of the twisted medieval Christs and weird Picasso women....

(Of course, in spite of my appreciation for the beauty of the human, I won't be one of those choosing to turn down transcension. Though I may allow a certain percentage of my future multi-Bens to remain human ... time will tell!)


Anonymous said...

Hey Ben, love the blog and the whole notion of the very specific and perhaps indelibly unique confluence of traits that we call being human. The Singularity may come this century, perhaps in the next. Who knows. Perhaps you will indeed be the midwife to the prototype that creates the cognitive critical mass so to speak. In any event, love your new website; it is obvious you are deliriously happy with your beautiful new wife. Congratulations again. If fortune should somehow strike me, I will gladly invest the mil plus necessary to create the baby super mind :-). Meanwhile, I am following Kurzweil's latest prescriptions for longevity in his book "Fantastic Voyage." Actually have gotten some exciting results. Thesis is I have to survive at least 20-25 years to catch the second scientific wave that will add yet another couple of decades of life and then the third wave will kick in with functional immortality. Long shot for me, perhaps about 10% I figure, but hell of a lot better than lotto :-). Enjoy your stuff as always and am so glad that your are in a good place. Geez, your picture has you looking a good 10 years younger. Ah, the bliss to a good mate. Best, Frank Mosca

Michael LaTorra said...

Ben, once again I am emjoying your thoughts. I agree that, in a future post-Singularity world, it would be fun/interesting/necessary to multifurcate (your term) into several remotely-linked versions of oneself in order to experience and accomplish much more. The beauty of our humanity could be both preserved and enhanced by doing so if we could ensure that each of those new instances of ourselves retained key aspects of our human pattern. Even if each version by itself was not human in the current sense, it would hold a piece of the puzzle of humanness. These pieces could be reassembled at any time we chose. I would want a reminder that such a choice is available to be announced periodically through some sort of "refugium" routine that popped up on schedule and allowed -- or perhaps even mandated -- that puzzle piece copies be reassembled into a new instantiation of one's prior self. This old self could look upon the new ones and approve what they have become, then merge back into them. Or it might choose to live on again as the old form (while letting the new ones go on their own way). Hopefully, the old self would smile and approve, instead of declaring, with the poet Shelly's irony, the words of his character Ozymandias "Look upon my works ye mighty and despair." Regards, Mike

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