I’ve been asked (in the few comments I have got so far) to take a look at historical context, and to comment on what could prevent a singularity. I’ve decided to do some bit-pieces on it, in fact. I will probably have to come back to them, because these subjects alone are worth an entire book, but here is the first – just be aware that it is not the only.
Also, be prepared for rant-mode.
As I’ve said before, I firmly believe that the singularity will happen. I don’t really know when, and my wild guesses could be way off, but I’m quietly confident that it will not only be within my lifetime, but relatively soon. I realize how whacked out that sounds, I’m very aware of the prophetic and mystic nature of such a statement, and ironically enough it’s this sort of thinking I want to warn people about.
See, our world has gone through a lot of ups and downs. It took several billion years for multicellular life to form. It took something like 350 million years to get from the first proto land-dwellers to us, and sixty-five-ish million years ago it all nearly came crashing down. The asteroid which hit in the Yucatan did, in fact, end the reign of Earth’s dominant form of life at the time, and this tragedy then helped give birth to us. And what we are, is a creature capable of using its senses and reasoning to deduct, investigate, test and record apparent facts about our universe.
So why the hell are we so hell-bent on ignoring investigation and instead so in love with revelation?
I’m talking, of course, about religion. Not so much the weaker word “faith”, not the ambiguous (and oft maliciously misused) word “belief”, but organized, structured religion.
I’m an atheist. It’s not something I’m really intent on pushing in this blog, but I am. More than that, I think the world would be a whole lot better off without some great big beard in the sky handing down millennia-old, antiquated and generally loopy orders. At least, loopy where they’re not genocidal, hate-filled and barbaric. More specifically than that? I don’t want to hear it when some desert-dwelling nutcase says we should jump because either the voices in his head or the burning shrubbery said so. Quite rightly, if somebody comes up to you in a street and tells you he hears messages from god, you back the fuck up. But give the man a suit, and suddenly he’s a pastor.
Again, it wouldn’t matter so much even then, but if you can stay relatively respectable-looking and claim to talk to the biggest invisible friend on the block, other people will not only believe you, but start to listen to the voices in your head …and it’s at this point that things go terribly, horribly wrong. Because the voice in your head doesn’t know everything. I can guarantee it.
Did you come up with Newton’s Laws of Motion? Or Dynamo Theory? Or Atomic Theory? Or trigonometry? Or calculus? No, I can assure you, you did not. More to the point, the people who did come up with these amazing theories (whilst many of them may have been religious, and relegated aspects of the universe to god’s domain) were firmly of the opinion that god was not necessary for their theories to exist. It was only once the limit of their ability to reason was reached that they fell back to their god. indeed, reportedly Laplace, when he completed the work that Newton left hanging when the latter was unable to work out perturbation theory because he felt that organizing orbital dynamics was surely the work of said god, famously said, when questioned about said work by Napoleon regarding how he could talk about all creation without once mentioning god, said, “No, Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis”.
There has not been, and I am very secure in my next statement albeit so terribly sweeping, and there never will be a revelation covering any such mathematical or physical law.
This is because religion puts blinkers on the mind, it does not free it. Religion says “this far, and no further”. Famously, the catholic church (and I will do a piece about abuse of power another day) told Stephen Hawkins not to try to mathematically probe back further than the origin of the universe because (paraphrasing here) “that was god’s domain”.
This isn’t just me idly bashing on religion, either. This isn’t going to turn into a back and forth about what “secular” societies may or may not have done, because that really isn’t relevant. What this is, is a powerful damning of our current society’s penchant for elevating magical thinking to an unassailable pedestal and thinking ourselves better for it.
See, over two thousand years ago, a Greek mathematician knew that the earth was a sphere. He had a lot of other things wrong for sure, but he knew the world was a sphere. The Greeks and the Romans named all the constellations, in fact. Their abilities with logic, reason and mathematics are still legendary, even today. A thousand years or so after that, and the islamic world (which at that time held that the scratchings of scientists are worth more than the blood of martyrs) became the center for learning and enlightenment all across the globe.
So many things in today’s society stem from a frighteningly short space of time (approximately 800 CE to 1100 CE) – algebra, our arabic numbering system (or would you rather we still used roman numerals?), almost all the stars in the sky… for a short time, the arab world was a powerhouse of development.
And then something happened. Can you guess what? If you don’t know, it was that a persian scholar, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, decided that (essentially) mathematics was the work of the devil. Trying to work out the nature of the world, instead of the nature of god, was evil incarnate. As a result, the arabic world sank into a dark ages from which it has never recovered as islam and sharia law became ascendant.
I’ll state that again: islam, whatever you may think of it, was the major force in both the meteoric rise and then the utter desolation of enlightenment with regards to science, mathematics, medicine and industry in the islamic world… and the list goes on. The number of scientific papers actually produced now by islamic scholars is essentially zero. There have only ever been two who have won the nobel prize – and this isn’t some anti-islamic bias, this is purely because islam in its current incarnation is an absolute enemy of scientific thought.
Now, I am not going on an anti-islam rant. My point is that the West was full of barbarism at a time that the mid-east was full of enlightenment. More to the point, the West was full of christianity. We were burning witches and stoning heretics left, right and center. Galileo himself was almost imprisoned or executed for daring to state that perhaps the earth wasn’t the center of the universe, and that maybe it revolved around the sun instead… but it was the start of the enlightenment in Europe.
We have only come as far as we have because we have been unafraid to look for answers through investigation and the scientific method, rather than sitting naked in the desert waiting for a sign from god. Whichever way you slice it, if you demand that god knows everything, that a holy book can never be wrong, then you have shuttered the windows of critical thought that let enlightenment in. You have decided that you never can know more. And worse than that, you are saying that this one book (or set of books) can never be wrong, and contain the whole sum of anything worth knowing.
If our civilisation falls back into theocracy, and it does not matter which religion it is, then our civilisation falls.
And it may not get back up for a thousand years.