Saturday, December 22, 2007

Spero: Question Seven

If the universe was created by an omniscient God, it was created for some reason.
And as we are part of that universe, we were also created for some reason. Are we here to be something? To do something? If so, what?

Maybe, because of the collaborative live-role-playing aspects of how we were created, we are too flawed ever to be or to do what it is we were created for. Maybe it will be our descendants- be they genetically human, giant robots, uplifted gila monsters, or virtual intelligences living in carpets of intelligent polysaccharides- who will be or do this thing.

Whatever it is, being Good is a precondition. Being reasonable is another precondition, or we will never be able to Do anything.

One thing I have often thought of is that maybe our role is to start to untangle the flaws of creation. We should be able to make a natural world where each thing can be fully itself, can seek and participate in truth and beauty, where carnivory and the other appalling horrors of the ‘natural’ world are removed. We can start with humanity, like Lord Ivywood prophesies in The Flying Inn:
‘If we come at last to live on light, as men said of the chameleon, if some
cosmic magic closed to us now, as radium was but recently closed, allows us to
transmute the very metals into flesh without breaking into the bloody house of
life, we shall know these things when we achieve them. It is enough for us now
if we have reached a spiritual station, in which at least the living head we lop
has not eyes to reproach us; and the herbs we gather cannot cry against our
cruelty like the mandrake.’

Then, we can move on to the rest. I have argued before that the individual is more important than the group, so if no individual tigers are harmed, and their genetic material is preserved as part of a thousand new varieties of Neo-tiger, I can see no downside to making them into autotrophs. This sort of endeavour- to remake the natural world as a place of more justice and mercy- would I think be a major goal of many ideologies in a real Greg Egan or Charles Stross future society. Of course it is a goal of incredible hubris, requiring megayears for its realization even in a tiny corner of the universe. And if the point of the universe does not lie inside it, but in the Universe, and we are all here- microbes, curlews, humans, and sentient galaxies- to be made into fit instruments for eternity, then maybe it is a waste of time. Possibly.

But then? Once we have reconstructed the living world, what is the point?
A problem with the popular virtues of our present civilization is that they are essentially negative. ‘Peace’- what does it mean, beyond ‘absence of violence’? ‘Justice’ means ‘equitable distribution of misery’; ‘mercy’ means ‘protection from the bad consequences of one’s actions’. In the Earthly Paradise, none of those virtues will have any meaning. We need some motivating virtues for life in the Earthly Paradise. If not, what can we do but go backwards?

As Paul tells us in Alpha Ralpha Boulevard:
We were drunk with happiness in those early years. Everyone was, especially the
young people. These were the first years of the Rediscovery of Man, when the Instrumentality dug deep in the treasury, reconstructing the old cultures, the old languages, and even the old troubles. The nightmare of perfection had taken our forefathers to the edge of suicide. ...
I myself was the first man to put a postage stamp on a letter, after fourteen thousand years. I took Virginia to see the first piano recital. We watched at the eye-machine when cholera was released in Tasmania, and we saw the Tasmanians dancing in the streets, now that they did not have to be protected anymore. Everywhere, things became exciting. Everywhere, men and women worked with a wild will to build a more imperfect world.

Of course, we will be very different creatures by that time. We should have a much clearer idea of God and a much clearer idea of the universe. Maybe the way forward will be clear. But maybe, as so often happens, our capabilities will have outstripped our moral sense. We will need strong medicine for that time. I suggest the following:

We should never be satisfied with the ideal we can imagine;
We should strive for the ideal we cannot yet imagine.


Dave said...

Makes sense to me.

I personally want to be part of the as-yet-unimagined though, which means that our first act of unmitigated hubris has to be functional immortality, followed closely by resolving the many horrific social, ecological, political and economic effects of functionally immortal humans.

Dr. Clam said...

Aiming high is good- good luck with the functional immortality ambition! Myself, I don't think I am cut out for functional immortality... if I keep changing over time, by the time we get to the as-yet-unimagined I will be so different that I may as well be somebody else- I would no more be 'me' than a penguin is avenerable-ancestor-of-all-dinosauria. And staying like I am for more than a hundred years or so... that would just be unbearable. Even if I could edit out the worst character flaws so I didn't keep making the same stupid mistakes over and over.

Dave said...

That's a danger, to be sure - but lately I am moving towards the philsophical standpoint that "I" (whatever that may mean from an objective standpoint) change quite frequently over time, in ways that I cannot really. If not from moment to moment, then certainly from year to year, making incremental changes in what I believe, how I think, what matters to me. Hopefully this standpoint is preparing me for the psychologival challenge of a hugely elongated lifespan :)

Dr. Clam said...

Yes, it struck me a while back that there are any number of people walking around who are more like me 20 years ago than I am. Also, that by selectively forgetting different memories, you could create quite different people out of the raw material available in my brain. I like to hope that all of those 'I's are somehow preserved outside of time, in the mind of God.

I expect your future will arrive... here are some dates from the chronology of the 'Young Space Heroes' game, which we ran c.1999:

532 b.p. Pope Siobhan XVIII drops papal restrictions on immortality, leaving the Dysonic Instrumentality the sole anti-Immortality force in the Human Polity.

2300 b.p. Heterotrophy is condemmned by Pope Alexandra I.

2900 b.p. The Four Good Emperors (Tinky-Winky, Laa-Laa, Dipsy and Po)