11 December 2007

Utopia is In Your Mind--Enjoy It

Nick Bostrom continues to update his classic "Letter From Utopia."
Have you ever known a moment of bliss? On the rapids of inspiration, maybe, where your hands were guided by a greater force to trace the shapes of truth and beauty? Or perhaps you found such a moment in the ecstasy of love? Or in a glorious success achieved with good friends? Or in splendid conversation on a vine-overhung terrace one star-appointed night? Or perhaps there was a song or a melody that smuggled itself into your heart, setting it alight with kaleidoscopic emotion? Or during worship?

If you have experienced such a moment, experienced the best type of such a moment, then a certain idle but sincere thought may have presented itself to you: “Oh Heaven! I didn’t realize it could feel like this. This is on a different level, so very much more real and worthwhile. Why can’t it be like this always? Why must good times end? I was sleeping; now I am awake.”

Bostrom seeks to convey to present-day humanity what their existence might be like if it were substantially elevated.
What I have is not merely more of what is available to you now. It isn’t just the particular things, the paintings and toothpaste-tube designs, the record covers and books, the epochs, lives, leaves, rivers, and random encounters, the satellite images and the collider data – it is also the complex relationships between these particulars that make up my mind. There are ideas that can be formed only on top of such a wide experience base. There are depths that can be fathomed only with such ideas.

You could say I am happy, that I feel good. You could say that I feel surpassing bliss. But these are words invented to describe human experience. What I feel is as far beyond human feelings as my thoughts are beyond human thoughts. I wish I could show you what I have in mind. If only I could share one second of my conscious life with you!

Bostrom joins other writers from the distant past: More, Bacon, Bellamy, Plato, Huxley and many others who have made the attempt to paint their longings (and warnings) in words so that they must be understood. These several authors have sought to motivate their readers--to awaken them from complacency and inefficacy. To inspire them to grow beyond their present selves and tendencies.

I have always been drawn toward the dystopian side of the literature. It is the marvelous feeling of awakening from the Orwellian nightmare into a bracing reality that drives much of my selection in leisure reading. Looking up from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 to glance across the thousands of books in my library, or pausing a moment from A Clockwork Orange to gently stroke the soft hair of my bedmate.

Likewise, in science fiction, I am drawn to the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic. The challenge of preserving civilisation through the apocalypse--or of jump-starting civilisation in a post-apocalyptic era--is stimulating. Certainly I would prefer to move straight through the present into a next level future, without the apocalypse. But we should always count on something going wrong, at some point.

As for utopia, it really is up to us. Utopia, like happiness or heaven, is in our minds. We can cultivate it or neglect it.

In terms of future society, my utopia is not what they call the "singularity." My utopia is an open-ended future where at least 10% of humans (hopefully a much higher proportion) are empowered by brighter minds, longer lives, wiser perspectives, and a compassionate desire to take enlightened life into the cosmos. My utopia is a utopia-by-choice, so that I would never expect every human to choose it.

Many modern day persons are content with a climate-controlled place to watch cable/satellite HD television, play high-res video games, or enjoy alternate reality VR immersion. Preferably with an infinite supply and under the influence of their drug of choice. Others immerse themselves in missionary religious fervour, some even willing to kill the infidel to create their utopia. Still others are content to work, raise a small family, enjoy hobbies and limited interests, and thus serve out their time. Some cluster together with like-minded people to create the closest approximation to utopia their mind can hold. And another category of people see themselves as wolves, to prey on all the rest who they see as sheep.

Even in the era of my utopia--the next level--there will be examples of all of those groups and more, who choose not to participate in my particular utopia. Some will opt out because they have their own visions of utopia. Others simply can not be bothered.

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