kortina.nyc / notes
8 Aug 2023

O'Gieblyn // God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning

A friend recommended God, Human, Animal, Machine to me. It’s a sort of series of musing essays trying to understand consciousness and meaning and what technology like AI can tell us about that.

Theoretically, this is very “in my wheelhouse,” but I lost interest and stopped reading about 2/3 of the way through.

Notes and quotes…

534 The metaphor was not original. In his 1954 book The Human Use of Human Beings, Norbert Wiener, the grandfather of cybernetics, wrote that “we are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water. We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves.” Wiener was likely alluding to the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, who observed that it is impossible to step into the same river twice. Like Heraclitus, Wiener was emphasizing the transience of identity, the fact that nature is made of fluid patterns that are always changing. But for Kurzweil, patternism was precisely what made possible the most decisive form of permanence: immortality. A pattern, after all, is essentially computational, which means it can, at least in theory, be transferred onto a computer.

607 Intellectual obsessions never really end; they can only be transposed. Although I became less interested over time in transhumanism as such, the experience led to a more expansive interest in technology and artificial intelligence, fields that are somewhat less speculative and yet similarly run up against the kinds of questions I’d always understood as theological. It was through this broader education that I was able to see transhumanism more clearly and understand where precisely it veered into mystical thinking. More importantly, it became clear to me that my interest in Kurzweil and other technological prophets was a kind of transference. It allowed me to continue obsessing about the theological problems I’d struggled with in Bible school, and was in the end an expression of my sublimated longing for the religious promises I’d abandoned.

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