Humanity's Destiny: A Technological Singularity or Spiritual Transcendence?
“I know Kung Fu.”
This line from The Matrix absolutely blew my mind in 1999 because it was the very first moment I was ever exposed to the idea that computers and technology could literally connect to and augment intelligence. To think that I was in the last semester of my senior year of high school and future generations might have the capability of downloading in seconds what it took me over 12 years to learn through effort and repetition. Nearly 20 years later, we are starting to see glimpses of such a possibility through efforts of companies like Neuralink, which is attempting to create a high bandwidth interface between the billions of transistors on a silicon wafer to the billions of neurons within the human brain. Sure, we are not at a point where we can select languages from a menu and learn French at the click of a button. However, this is looking like it could be a possibility within this lifetime and potentially within a few more decades.
That is the positive side of things. However, an earlier scene in The Matrix paints a more terrifying outcome of a machine based, artificial intelligence. It’s when Neo is shown a glimpse of the real world. Here, humans are plugged into a simulation to keep their minds occupied while the machines harvest their bodies as batteries. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to radically transform society by imbuing all devices with supercomputer-like power and human-like characteristics. However, AI also has the potential to become all-knowing and decide it no longer needs humanity for its own evolution (thanks for planting that dark seed, Terminator).
Regardless of whether or not the outcome of this explosion of computational power and intelligence results in intellectual nirvana or humanity’s annihilation, one thing is almost but a guarantee… it is coming. It is coming because of technologies rapid acceleration that itself is increasing exponentially (aka The Law of Accelerating Returns). It is coming because computational power in terms of individual chips and networked data centers continues to double at speeds. It is coming because it can only be stopped by something as dramatic as an act of god (meteor strike), an act of war (nuclear mutually assured destruction), or an act of cultural and spiritual evolution of society that was so vast that we as a species abandoned technology in its totality.
Given these unlikely scenarios, it is a foregone conclusion to futurists like Ray Kurzweil that, around the year 2045, technology will become so enmeshed with humanity’s biology that the combined beings will represent the next evolutionary leap. Being able to experience the learning kung fu will be a foregone conclusion as we’ll literally have the capability of tomorrow’s future internet accessible in real time and at all time.
In this version of humanity’s destiny, the intelligence of biological matter (with DNA at the source) is merged with the intelligence of electronic matter (with compute, storage, and networking at the source). However, the question I have for futurists is whether or not that this is the ONLY endgame for humanity? Have we been so hyper-focused on technology that we’ve missed other possibilities beyond that?
“I Am More Than My Physical Body.”
In 2007 I made a journey to The Monroe Institute in Virginia to see for myself if there was any merit to a different paradigm of humanity. To highlight how out of character this was at the time, I wish to emphasize the following two facts. 1) Until age 20, I was as a staunch atheist with a strong belief in the materialistic view of the world. 2) By age 25, I had already spent 8 years at one of the most prestigious technical colleges in the world to hone my abilities in critical thinking and the scientific method while pursuing my Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering.
So for most of my peers and me, the notion of a universe that wasn’t wholly described by the standard model of physics and quantum mechanics was a foreign concept.
Still, life managed to unfold in a way that exposed me to concepts and experiences that challenged what was then an unwavering belief. During my first few years of college, I couldn’t help but wonder why a college filled with the best and the brightest students in the world had one of the highest suicide rates. Even more intriguing, why wasn’t it correlated with raw IQ or grade performance. Some students just had a more natural ability to learn and (more importantly) ability to cope with stress. I wasn’t particularly experienced with either, which is why I seriously considered dropping out after one semester after my freshman year.
This near drop-out experience led me on a quest for better learning strategies, stress management, and overall finding an inner sense of peace and happiness. I knew that flying to Tibet and meditating for 10 years wasn’t practical. Still, I was drawn to that type of philosophy because Buddhist Monks epitomized the very state of staying calm amidst the chaos that I was seeking. Fast forward, and this led me to the discovery of binaural beat technology as a way to induce meditative states in a fraction of the time. After a few powerful experiences with this, I dug deeper. This search eventually led me to Robert Monroe’s book “Journey’s Out of the Body” alongside scientific research by Dean Radin, Russell Targ, and Harold Puthoff.
I devoured this literature while continuing to experiment with and benefit from binaural beat technology. Eventually, I was sick of just reading and wanted to have a more direct, hands-on experience with what felt like outlandish claims of people having out of body experiences at will or projecting their minds to view people and places in distant lands. This was was equally if not more impressive than watching Keanu Reeves as Neo download skills into his skull. Why push information into the fixed size of our skulls when we can project our minds and our consciousness to the ends of the earth.
Sitting on that plane in 2007, I had several “WTF did I just get myself into” moments, but it was too late to turn around. I then spent 7 days at a retreat going as deep as I could in the user-guided meditations. It is there where I took a big leap in exploring the depths of Robert Monroe’s affirmation, which contained the all-important phrase “…I am more than my physical body...”
World Views Beyond Matter That Matter
Where does the mind come from? In the materialistic worldview, atoms serve as the fundamental basis. They combine to form molecules, which combine to create cells, which combine to form tissues and neurons, which ultimately form the various components of a human brain. A common metaphor is that the physical brain is akin to a computer’s CPU and the mind and memory are the software and storage. A point to state explicitly is that the mind requires the brain and can not or does not exist without it.
Then there are the counterpoints:
“My brain is only a receiver, in the Universe there is a core from which we obtain knowledge, strength, and inspiration. I have not penetrated into the secrets of this core, but I know that it exists.” — Nikola Tesla
”Looking for consciousness in the brain is like looking inside a radio for the announcer…" — Nassim Haramein
There are several scientists (past and present) that believe there is a more accurate depiction of reality. A reality in which a person's mind, memory, and consciousness either originates from or has access to realms beyond the confines of their physical brain. In short, the brain may serve as the place where the mind resides, but the mind/soul/spirit may exist without the brain (a critical difference from the materialistic worldview).
Researchers like Dean Radin have shown that humans in isolated chambers can be emotionally and physiologically connected at a distance. Rupert Sheldrake posited a theory of morphic fields to explain how information travels within a species without direct interaction. Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff researched and trained individuals to project their minds and access information across space and time.
The lists goes on: research into psychic phenomenon; dark energy and dark matter used to fill the gaps in the standard model of physics; research into over unity models. The point of this article is to not dive into each of these extensively (although I would love to do so in follow-up articles). The goal is to cast doubt that the materialistic view of the world is complete. In my opinion, based on my research, it’s not.
The materialistic view of the world ends in technology being the pinnacle of evolution. But if energy (consciousness? morphic fields? etc.?) are the true source than that would open the door to a future beyond matter. It would mean that the technological singularity is merely a stepping stone to something even more significant.
That is one reality that was painted in Robert Monroe’s final book Ultimate Journey. During one of his (alleged) out of body experiences, he visited a future reality in which all humans evolved to the point where they could leave their physical bodies at will. In this scenario, humans were spirits first and physical bodies second. As spirits, they could communicate with each other telepathically in a way that would transcend the time and space limitations of technology.
Is this crazy? Maybe. While a technological singularity is all but a certainty, a spiritual transcendence is not guaranteed to happen. Humanity could always eliminate itself through war or a global catastrophe before the human species had enough time to evolve its emotional and spiritual faculties. And that assumes that the vision by Robert was not just a dream or a fictional story. While I’m open-minded to it, nobody can prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, and therefore it’s still an uncertainty.
However, it might be possible that a technological singularity could be the trigger for accelerated emotional health and spiritual evolution. If we could link our mental faculties to a supercomputer, it might free the biological portion of ourselves to heal emotionally and to spend more time developing our connection and evolution in the spiritual realm.
To that end, “I know kung fu” may be a stepping stone to “I can access the all that is.”
This may seem farfetched. However, I feel like the reason we haven’t fully explored these possibilities is that too many of us are focused on the more obvious, more immediate end game of robotics, AI, the Internet of Things, etc. In the materialistic worldview, we are searching for the singular answer space that focuses only on brute force IQ intelligence and physical matter while ignoring energy and information patterns beyond matter. I guess we’ll never know until after we cross to the other side of the technological singularity and use our newfound powers to see into the next great beyond.
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About Rick Manelius
Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.