Or so says neuroscientist Christof Koch, in his recently-published “Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist.” There is a good writeup of it here.
Credit to the guy, he’s clear about his biases, writing about “my insistence that the universe has contrails of meaning that can be deciphered in the sky about us and deep within us.” It may, runs the counterargument, but then again it may not. If it does, it certainly raises some interesting questions about why it has meaning, and what force generated that meaning.
But where he takes a really big bite is here: “But complexification does not stop with individual self-awareness. It is ongoing and, indeed, speeding up. In today’s technologically sophisticated and intertwined societies, complexification is taking on a supraindividual, continent-spanning character. With the instant, worldwide communication afforded by cell phones, e-mail, and social networking, I foresee a time when humanity’s teeming billions and their computers will be interconnected in a vast matrix — a planetary Übermind. Provided mankind avoids Nightfall — a thermonuclear Armageddon or a complete environmental meltdown — there is no reason why this web of hypertrophied consciousness cannot spread to the planets and, ultimately, beyond the stellar night to the galaxy at large.”
Care to count the assumptions? Off the top of my head: That we can not just fully know, but meld with, other minds; that this can happen at scale, big scale; that this can be done through email and social networking; that this can be done via computers to create “a planetary Ubermind,” whatever that is; that this thing would be positive; that we should want it; that this should spread to other planets (the nicest of which, Mars, I’m sorry to say but based on the photos makes the most godforsaken patch of Earth look like paradise); and that, tra la la, we take it to the rest of the galaxy.
Just fyi, the Voyager spacecraft is leaving the heliopause, the furthest edge of our solar system. It was launched 35 years ago. I did the calculation — traveling at this rate, it should be as far out as our nearest star (not to say it’s going there, this is how long it will take) in about 620 years. The others are much farther away.
I’m such a killjoy.
The point is, it is impressive how far a new communications technology can spur our imagination to updated versions of mankind’s eternal yearnings for immortality and omniscience.