TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Mary Shelley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary Shelley. Show all posts

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Symbols of Immortality 4: The Fake Human Burger



No sooner did labs begin developing the ability to 3D print a fake hamburger, than Oxford-based evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, stampeded straight for the less obvious question: why not 3D print a burger made of artificial human meat?

Inside the Quest to Make Lab Grown Meat | WIRED (16 February 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

Give him the benefit of the doubt for a moment. It may have been a Swiftian joke. Maybe it was clickbait. Dawkins was Oxford's professor for the 'Public Understanding of Science' until 2008, so he must know about outreach.

A 3D printer creating fake meat. Image Source: ByFlow via BBC.

Over the past few years, the major news outlets have promised that lab grown meat is coming to your table and that this is a good thing: Washington Post, BBC, Bloomberg, The Economist, Reuters. Motherboard and the BBC have covered the topic since the new year. BBC reported that Dutch firm ByFlow has started selling its 3D meat printers to restaurants. ByFlow's motto is: "Think. Design. Eat." Memphis Meats (backed by Bill Gates) and Mosa Meat are two artificial meat start-ups which will start selling fake meat for public consumption by 2021. Another cellular agriculture company is New Harvest.

In the third week of February 2018, news outlets reported that the US Cattlemen's Association filed a petition to the US Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA) against the Silicon Valley start-ups which are creating lab-grown meat. You can read their petition here. They focused primarily on the definition of real meat as created from animals which have been raised and slaughtered, so that fake meat cannot be labeled as genuine meat, thereby misleading consumers.

The Meat of the Future: How Lab-Grown Meat Is Made (2 October 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Lab meat, also known as clean meat, is touted as cruelty free, especially to vegetarians. Vegan Insight reported on 16 March 2018 that 41 per cent of Britons will eat "lab-grown clean meat and fish" in the next decade.

Image Source: Belchonock/Depositphotos via New Atlas.

It is one small step to Dawkins' fake human meat. Fake cannibalism will probably get a lot of support. Under the video below the jump, one girl commented: "As a vegan, I'd be happy to eat cultured human meat. I'm actually very curious and not grossed out at all."

Joe Rogan's interviewee in this video, Sam Harris, said (here) that there was "zero ethical problem ... if this was never attached to an animal, we're dealing with concepts here," that is, the vegan girl would be eating an object cultivated in a vat of human cells.

This issue highlights a moral blind spot in technological progress; it proves that technology is skewing the human ability to judge right from wrong.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Awaken the Amnesiacs 4: The New Millennium's Gothic Moment


BBC Four's show, The Art of Gothic: Britain's Midnight Hour (6 November 2014) explained how the 18th and 19th century explosion of science and industry inspired a Gothic counter-movement, a critical moral debate on the implications of unbridled rationalism. The BBC show highlighted the English painting, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768) by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), which portrayed the Gothic fear of scientists' experiments. Rationalists' destruction of spiritual concerns created horror. In the painting, the scientist is slowly pumping air out of a bell jar, in which a bird (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) is trapped. The scientist is suffocating the bird to demonstrate its dependence on oxygen. Image Source: Wiki.

The Awaken the Amnesiacs series on this blog explains why and how the human interaction with high technology is taking on spiritual dimensions. In today's post, I discuss the Gothic moment at which undue rationalism carries within itself the seeds of its own undoing. The rational, when overindulged, becomes anti-rational.

Any undertaking, done in the name of 'cutting edge change' will involve a confident, progressive agent. It is easy to criticize our forebears for their blind spots, and more difficult to see our own. In an earlier post, The Night of First Ages, I quoted an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899) in the 2005 King Kong screenplay. The characters in King Kong are on a voyage to make a movie on a remote island. On the way, Jimmy, the ship's boy, reads Heart of Darkness, narrated by Conrad's protagonist, Charles Marlow. Marlow is on a journey to find an ivory trader, Kurtz, on the Congo River. Jimmy asks: "Why does Marlow keep going up the river? Why doesn't he turn back?"

The Heart of Darkness scene from King Kong (2005) © Universal Pictures depicts the wall between ego and id, or between the conscious-rational and unconscious-anti-rational parts of the human mind. Reproduced under Fair Use. Video Source: Youtube.

The ship's first mate remarks that Marlow keeps searching for Kurtz, without realizing how deep he is getting into the dark side of human nature, because Marlow believes he is civilized. 'Civilized' characters like Marlow and Kurtz are amnesiacs, who think their own savagery is no longer a threat, something from a long lost, bygone era of sticks and stones. In their hubris, they unconsciously become more savage as they push forward as self-appointed bearers of 'progress': "We could not understand because we were too far ... and could not remember ... because we were traveling in the night of first ages ... of those ages that are gone ... leaving hardly a sign, and no memories. We are accustomed to look ... upon the shackled form of a conquered monster ... but there ... there you could look at a thing monstrous and free."

Jimmy realizes, "It's not an adventure story ... is it Mr. Hayes?" To which the first mate responds, "No Jimmy, it's not." The nested novel-to-movie-to-film metafiction in King Kong should be a message to its audience; as is the metahistorical fact that Heart of Darkness was based on a true story and the character Kurtz was based on a real person. The metafiction and metahistory of Heart of Darkness, embedded inside King Kong, reveal our amnesia. In blindly pursuing the singularity, why don't we turn back? Why don't we see that the history of the new Millennium is not an adventure story? It is because we expect the monster inside ourselves to be shackled. On the Internet and in research labs, the monster is not shackled.

Scientists and technologists have reached a Gothic moment because there is a gap between their practice and the way they are perceived in mass media as progressive actors. When they work with the scientific method, they live with uncertainty. They test hypotheses which, if proven, are accepted until falsified or refined. At the same time, we live in a period when a cult of secular rationalism has supplanted mass religions to furnish the prevailing story of global civilization. Scientific method and rationality are equated with humanism, enlightenment, advanced education, and hyper-progress. Scientists and technologists occupy exalted social positions as perceived experts. In this capacity, they are less cautious. They are little aware that when they become public gurus or market their findings with mythical labels, they tap into that part of secular rationalism that functions like a religion, rather than a considered quantification of reality.

Despite recent triumphs and headlines, there are signs of amnesia among today's scientists, technologists, and technophiles. They press ahead as experts and progressive actors, even when their impact on society starts to become surreal, or when their followers become cultish. They do not stop to reconsider their position, even when, as I put it in this post, "a nearly-unstoppable faith in, and optimism about, rampant technology" gives rise to "a heart-tearing soul-sickness which emerges from that intermingling of the virtual and the real."

Scientists are frank about how much they do not and cannot know. The Guardian: "It is perhaps a sign of the health of modern science that the harbingers of so much doubt have met with such acclaim." The current situation is serious: physicists have reached the analytical limits of scientific inquiry for two reasons. They discovered that they can only observe and measure the tiny part of the universe which absorbs light radiation. When they do measure that tiny portion, they have confirmed that they change it at the sub-atomic level. We can only see a tiny portion of reality, and we change that reality when we look at it. Together, these issues trap us in a self-referential bubble of perception.

When physicists determined that 96 per cent of the universe is unobservable and exists in the forms of dark matter and dark energy, scientists at CERN and other labs set out to breach those limits. Particle physicists, who deal with measurable knowns, stand at the edge of the methodological line, with a high point being their 4 July 2012 discovery of the Higgs Boson or 'God particle.' In 2012, Russia Today interviewed Aleksey Filippenko, an astrophysicist and Professor of Astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, who admitted that the 'God particle' raised more questions than answers:
"Let me start by saying that I am going to discuss the universe only from the perspective of a scientist, from an intellectual perspective. I am not going to be talking about whether there is spiritual God or a personal God or a purpose to the universe – these are questions that scientists can’t address. My own belief is that once you have the laws of physics the universe just keeps going on its own. And it could even be that the laws of physics are all that you need in order to get the universe to start from the very beginning – the “Big Bang”. ...

The Higgs boson helps to complete what is called the Standard Model of particle physics. There is a way we have to try to understand – electrons and quarks and neutrino and other kinds of particles. And Higgs boson was kind of a missing piece of the puzzle. Which, if it were not there, would mean that we would have to kind of start over. But the fact that it appears to have been found completes our picture of the Standard Model of particle physics. That is not to say that we understand everything. We don’t yet understand how gravity fits in with particle physics. Other than the fact that gravity pulls particles together. We also do not understand things like dark energy. The universe seems to be filled with a dark energy that is expanding the universe faster and faster – I helped to discover that. And the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics was given to the team leaders last year for that discovery.

So, we don’t understand the dark energy. There is also something called dark matter. It may or may not be some kind of fundamental particles that could be part of the Standard Model – we don’t yet understand. The Higgs boson is a very important discovery. But it does not solve all the questions that remain in physics. But it is a very important discovery. In a sense, it would have been more exciting as a scientist to me if it were not there because it would mean that we were not correct in our view of the universe. The surprises are more fun than the expected discoveries. ...

I don’t think scientists will ever truly understand creation because I don’t think we will know where the laws of physics came from. But given a universe, given a universe can arise I think some day we may well understand dark energy and dark matter and the other constituents of the universe. We only discovered dark energy 14 years ago – the accelerating expansion of the universe. So it is no surprise that we don’t yet fully understand dark energy. Dark matter was only conceived a few decades ago. So again, we don’t yet fully know what dark matter is. But we have not been investigating it for very long. I mean, in hundreds of years who knows what we will know. We might have a full inventory of what is in the universe and how everything behaves. So we will know a lot. But we won’t quite know why it all happened and why there is something other than nothing.

Why are there any mathematical laws of physics rather than just nothing at all? I don’t know whether we will ever understand that. Scientists are only well-aware of 4 per cent of the universe – that is, we understand pretty well the nature of 4 per cent of the universe. The stuff that is made of atoms. Ninety-six per cent of the universe is made out of dark matter and dark energy. And although we know they are present we don’t know what their detailed properties are or why they are there. Or what exactly is going on."
On the other side of the line stand theoretical physicists, who deal with unmeasurable unknowns using mathematics. Astrophysicists stand, somewhat unhappily, on both sides of the line. A 2011 book by Richard Panek, The 4 Per Cent Universe, emphasized that scientific measurements begin to break down at dark energy and dark matter. The conventional wisdom is that as discoveries, knowledge, and tools improve, the scientific method will expand and continue. But this underestimates the problem of scientific methodological analyses - and for researchers in all disciplines who use them. It is not just a question of having insufficient tools to measure and quantify reality. It is a question of not being able to comprehend the findings. The Smithsonian: "'We have a complete inventory of the universe,' Sean Carroll, a California Institute of Technology cosmologist, has said, 'and it makes no sense.'"

Apollo 18 (2011) faux found footage movie explained why 'we've never gone back to the moon.' The film was a huge box office hit. The real reasons for canceled Apollo missions were political, technical and funding challenges. Image Source: Movie Blogger.

Just as physicists hit a wall, big science stumbled elsewhere as well. In one generation, the space age promised and failed to produce space station cities, moon pod villages, and colonists on Mars. Lunar settlements remain technical concepts, and China's 2013 landerYutu, made the first soft landing on the moon since 1976. On the Internet, lunar exploration has become the dismal stuff of conspiracy theory and cinematic legend. Nor did the atomic age solve the energy crisis, or bring us cold fusion. Instead, it vomited up the radioactive fallout of nuclear disasters and inexplicable dark matter. Geneticists were supposed to cure cancer and the common cold, not produce human-animal hybrid chimeras which scare the public. These generalizations do not account for the realities of research and funding; but they explain why mass sympathy and confidence in big science waned over the past generation.

Another day at Boston Dynamics. Image Source: RAND Corporation.

Where big science stumbled, big tech was supposed to bail us out. In the public mind, if not in reality, the torch passed in the 1990s from big science to big technology. Over the past fifteen years, interest shifted from space exploration and cosmology - to computers, gadgets and the Internet. Technologists promised transhumanism, posthumanism, artificial intelligence, and the Singularity. This was why 'singularity' became the evangelical buzzword of technophiles between 2003 and 2012, and remains fashionable with its own cluster of personalities. Silicon Valley became one of the most powerful places on earth. High tech would launch us exponentially toward a gnostic, mind-opening, theophanic moment of transcendence.

Enter the computer programmers, designers and engineers. We would remake ourselves on the clock, rework our societies and the whole world, and finally efficiently manage resources. The Internet, conceived by the scientists at CERN, was rationalistic in its construction. Unfortunately, it is anti-rational in its execution; it exploits users' unconscious impulses and forms a giant collective mind. We did not get a robot-supported Valhalla. Instead, we got 9-million-hit Roomba cat videos, cyber-bullies, social-media-supported home invasions, remote-controlled brain-to-brain interfaces, and Boston Dynamics cheerfully preparing its Second Variety military hardware for World War III. The technological revolution began to give way to the surveillance revolution.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Responsible Parenting


Bufo marinus. Image Source: NT News.

Someone should call the editors at the OED. There is a new definition of 'responsible parenting.' In another of those stories in which scientists gain ever greater abilities to do amazing things, but seem not to register any implications of said things, The Telegraph reports on an Oxford professor's comment that, "genetically engineering 'ethical' babies is a moral obligation. ... Genetically screening our offspring to make them better people is just 'responsible parenting.'"

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Uncanny Valley

Aimi Eguchi, non-existent Japanese pop sensation. Image Source: Washington Post via Youtube.

In robotics and CGI circles, there is a concept known as the 'Uncanny Valley,' which describes the alienation people feel when confronted with a simulated human.  It's a psychological response that is a last divide between the real and the unreal.  Bridging that divide is key for enterprising film-makers and marketers who want to create believable imaginary worlds or CGI characters.  Slowly, they are devising ways to do that.  Wiki defines the term and explains its origins:
The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics and 3D computer animation, which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The "valley" in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot's human likeness.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970, and has been linked to Ernst Jentsch's concept of "the uncanny" identified in a 1906 essay, "On the Psychology of the Uncanny." Jentsch's conception was elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled "The Uncanny" ("Das Unheimliche").
The Uncanny Valley was recently almost crossed with the creation of supercute Japanese pop star Aimi Eguchi.  However, fans treated her with suspicion because she resembled her fellow pop band members too closely, and her fictitious back story seemed implausible.  On 24 June, Eguchi was revealed to be a computer simulation. From the Telegraph:
The perfectly-formed fake singer was made up of the very best of pop pedigree, with computer scientists plucking specific facial features from six of the most genetically blessed of AKB 48's real life female members.

The cut-and-paste popstar was bestowed with eyes taken from Atsuko Maeda and a button nose from Tomomi Itano while her long, lush hair hails from Yuko Oshima and her sensual mouth belongs to Mariko Shinoda.

Even her eyebrows were borrowed from pretty band member Mayu Watanbe while the mix of features were cleverly united within a face outline belonging to Minami Takahashi.
But manufacturing your own AKB 48 idol, is not as easy as it looks. Skilled computer scientists used detailed imaging to highlight the points on the real-life girls' faces before their best features were captured and digitally implanted onto Aimi's virtual face.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Times Outside History 2: The Holocene Extinction - the Big Picture


Why are the transitions from one geological time era to another marked by mass extinctions?  The explanations all involve climate change and associated survivable conditions for some species.  But somehow there is an additional sense that as time turns over, for certain species, 'time is up.'  At present we are living in the Cenozoic Era, which means 'new life era.'  This is the time when the continents moved to their current positions, after the extinction of the dinosaurs. The Cenozoic Era is sub-divided as well - we are in its second, Quaternary Period.  And in that period, we are in the Holocene Epoch, which means 'entirely recent epoch.' 

The movement of the continents away from each other has changed the oceans and the earth's climate.  Wiki: "There are two types of global earth climates: Icehouse and Greenhouse. Icehouse is characterized by frequent continental glaciations and severe desert environments. We are now in the icehouse phase, moving towards Greenhouse. Greenhouse is characterized by warm climates. Both reflect the supercontinent cycle."  Technically, we are in an Ice Age right now, called the Quaternary Glaciation.  But the Holocene Epoch is considered a warm geological time within that Ice Age, or what's known as an interglacial period.  Ice ages run on 100,000 year cycles (just like everything else it seems).  In addition to plate tectonics, the earth's climate is affected by associated rises in atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (we're not helping that natural shift), wobbles in our planet's orbit, and shifts in the earth's magnetic poles.

So with all this going on, it's not surprising that the primary geological event of our Holocene Epoch is the Holocene Extinction.