Monday, March 17, 2008

Hyperrealism after the Singularity

Humanity's Identity Crisis - Kevin Kelly @ Technium

Via Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing is this article that asks some of the basic questions of metaphysics and their relation to the world we are living and will live in. The salient point I pulled from the article was the issue of the supermodern/hyperreal in how we identify ourselves and the relation of that identity to the world. Whether that world is a physical one made up of atoms and cells or one made of images and mental spaces is the essence of such questions now. The divisions people place between the public and the private sphere are disintegrating while new divisions between who we are in the physical world and who we are online are growing rapidly. And yet those same divisions are becoming blurred as well as cosplay, Second Life, multi-communication devices and a myriad of other advances bring the virtual directly into the physical.
Identity plays a key role in the debate of the hyperreal versus the real. What is Reality, Person, Time, Place and Space when fakes, avatars and split timelines are here and ready for use? If the supermodern is more about the spaces we move through, the decontextualization of the physical world and hyperreality about the simulated lives we mentally create for ourselves, the bringing forth of a reality more real than Reality, then how does that change the sum in our lives (sum by the way is Latin for I am)? Memories become nothing but a matter of storage space, yet we have still to create the first truly artificial brain. We still haven't fully figured out the plasticity of a single neuron yet. But science cannot provide the entire answer to the questions of identity when identity can change with memories, place and time. How whole networks of neurons interact tell us only part of the story, the basic outlines of a narrative of humanity.
History is not a matter of science per se. History is the true story of human existence. It is a story with a narrative so even though we might get the outline we haven't understood the plot quite yet. The cogito ergo sum of Descartes was overturned by Wittgenstein when he explained how language was entirely a public act and thus the sum or the I we think ourselves of doesn't create identity. It is public and relies on the interactions of humans. We are not an I until there is Other. And when the barriers between what makes the I and the Other begins to dissolve as it has in the last two decades it become an urgency of philosophy to return to metaphysics and wrestle with those woolly questions.
Humanity is on the precipice of something entirely new, a cultural singularity of sorts, or mass psychological freak out. Where does the I go and what was it really in the first place? If we can fake reality, or make it more real than Real then can we fake identity or make an identity more real than Identity? Moreover, have we simply faked identity all along? Is that possible as well? When the God of the Universe said I am and became afraid because he recognized the Otherness of everything else, was that the birth of identity? Are we subsuming consciousness into subconsciousness/unconsciousness into a super-consciousness? How much understanding of reality do we really have and how much more can we bear? To me, these are the questions of the next decades. Whether we fall apart in that psychological freak out or finally move beyond the childhood of the mind depends on the answers we arrive at.

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