What is the Semantic Apocalypse?
Here’s the comic book version (the only version, given the kinds of complexities these issues generalize over):
In social terms, you could suggest that the Semantic Apocalypse has already happened. Consumer society is a society where liberal democratic states have retreated from the ‘meaning game,’ leaving the intractable issue to its constituents. Given the interpretative ambiguity that permeates the Question of Meaning, there is no discursive or evidential way of commanding any kind of consensus: this is why states past and present had to resort to coercion to promote meaning solidarity. Absent coercion, people pretty much climb on whatever dogmatic bandwagon that appeals to them, typically the ones that most resonate with their childhood socialization, or as we like to call it, their ‘heart.’
The result of this heterogeniety is a society lacking any universal meaning-based imperatives: all the ‘shoulds’ of a meaningful life are either individual or subcultural. As a result, the only universal imperatives that remain are those arising out of our shared biology: our fears and hungers. Thus, consumer society, the efficient organization of humans around the facts of their shared animality.
In biological terms, my fear is that the Semantic Apocalypse is about to happen. Despite the florid diversity of answers to the Question of Meaning, they tend to display a remarkable degree of structural convergence. This is what you would expect, given that we are neurologically wired for meaning, to look at the world in terms of intent, purpose, and propriety. Research in this last, the biology of morality, has found striking convergences in moral thought across what otherwise seem vast cultural chasms.
Even though we cannot agree on the answer, we all agree on the importance of the question, and the shapes that answers should take – even apparently radical departures from traditional thought, such as Buddhism. No matter how diverse the answers seem to be, they all remain anchored in the facts of our shared neurophysiology.
So what happens when we inevitably leave that shared neurophysiology behind?
The breakdown of traditional solidarity under the reflective scrutiny of the Enlightenment was recouped by the existence of what might be called a bigger box: the imperatives we share by virtue of our common neurophysiology. We could do without shared pictures of meaning (as traditionally defined) because we could manage quite nicely – flourish even – relying on our common instincts and desires.
The million dollar question is really one of what happens once that shared neurophysiology begins to fragment, and sharing imperatives becomes a matter of coincidence. It has to be madness, one that will creep upon us by technological degrees.
Why does it have to be madness? Because we define madness according what our brains normally do. Once we begin personalizing our brains, ‘normally do’ will become less and less meaningful. ‘Insanity’ will simply be what one tribe calls another, and from our antiquated perspective, it will all look like insanity.
It’s hard to imagine, I admit, but you have to look at all the biologically fixed aspects of your conscious experience like distinct paints on a palette. Once the human brain falls into our manipulative purview, anything becomes possible. Certain colours, like suffering and fear, will likely be wiped away. Other colours, like carnal pleasure or epiphany, will be smeared across everything. And this is just the easy stuff: willing might be mixed with hearing, so that everytime a dog barks, you have the senstation of willing all creation into existence. Love might be mutated, pressed in experiential directions we cannot fathom, until it becomes something indistinguishable from cruelty. Reason could be married to vision, so that everything you see resounds with Truth. The combinatorial possibilities are as infinite as are the possibilities for creating some genuinely new…
And where does the slow and static ‘human’ fit into all this? Nowhere I can see.
And why should any human want to embrace this, when they are the ladder that will be kicked away? How could reasons be offered, when rationality finds itself on the chopping block with everything else. How do you argue for madness?
Perhaps our only recourse will be some kind of return to State coercion, this time with a toybox filled with new tools for omnipresent surveillance and utter oppression. A world where a given neurophysiology is the State Religion, and super-intelligent tweakers are hunted like animals in the streets.
Maybe that should be my next standalone: a novel called Semantica… I could set it up as a standard freedom-fighter tale, then let the sideways norms slowly trickle in, until the reader begins rooting for totalitarian oppression.
“Semantica” sounds like a great book idea to me.
Funny you should post this on the day I finish reading “Neuropoath.”
Premise 1: Democratic states no longer debate intractable problems.
Premise 2: There is no consensus amongst constituents about said intractable problems (questions of meaning).
Premise 3: The constituents fracture into subcultures that are inherently disconnected.
Conclusion: The large democratic states exist without purpose or direction aside from fulfilling animal needs.
Is that more or less how it goes for the first part? Because I have some serious problems with premise 1: despite echo-chamber mentality permeating the internet, I think debate is actually alive in many sectors of society… it’s just invisible on CNN or your favorite internet forum. Premise 2 is obvious given that ‘meaning’ and intentionality are amongst the thorniest problems in human thought (and possibly completely unsolvable). Premise 3 is true, but it is NOT true that those subcultures are hermetically sealed.
The conclusion seems largely to simply restate the idea that large state governments act mostly on realpolitik and not on ideological grounds. That’s hardly new.
All of your restatements lack the all important qualifiers. I’m not sure how you arrived at (1). Democratic states have largely abandoned the business of enforcing answers to questions of meaning. Iran would be a good example of the old way of doing things. (3) actually directly contradicts what I say: which is that they are inherently connected. My conclusion references the retreat of modern liberal democracies from a certain aspect of society, which is left with consumption as its primary organizing principle as result. Otherwise, I’m not sure how your conclusion follows from your premises (let alone mine!), or make heads or tails of your final statement (which seems to drag the issue into a different domain).
Let’s see if we can figure this out.
You originally posted:
“Consumer society is a society where liberal democratic states have retreated from the ‘meaning game,’ leaving the intractable issue to its constituents.”
I interpreted this to mean:
“Premise 1: Democratic states no longer debate intractable problems.”
You rejected my (mis)interpretation of your original statement and now say:
“Democratic states have largely abandoned the business of enforcing answers to questions of meaning.”
I am confused: what do you mean by ‘enforcing answers to questions of meaning’? Do you mean that in the US there isn’t someone holding a gun to my head and telling me to pray to Allah? Well… OK…
Just reread my earlier reply and it sounded prickerish. Sorry, Jorge – I get lazy with my manners when I write on the fly.
The separation of church and state is one of the signature features of this retreat, yes. The gradual removal of traditional prohibitions (against things like gay sex, prostitution, pornography, and so on) from law is another.
i dont get it
Question: it isn’t clear if (a) you think it is possible to prevent the Semantic Apocalypse nor is it clear whether or not (b) you think preventing said Apocalypse is desirable. Let’s assume you do want to prevent it, how would we go about that? Where is our Kellhus? Where is our Great Ordeal?
Or has the Semantic Apocalypse been the goal of civilization and culture all along? The final step by which we transcend our very nature. Once we lose our humanity then truly there will be nothing that we cannot be.
“Could it be that all systems, all individuals, harbour a secret urge to be rid of their ideas, of their own essences, so as to be able to proliferate everywhere, to transport themselves simultaneously to every point of the compass? In any event, the consequences of a dissociation of this kind can only be fatal. A thing which has lost its idea is like a man who has lost his shadow, and it must either fall under the sway of madness or perish.”
I’ve quoted the earlier part of the same paragraph in another posting. While I’m rather loathe to drop his name here I suppose at this point I should: it’s Jean Baudrillard’s “The Transparency of Evil”.
The question neither of you answers is whether or not it can (realistically) be stopped and how. I want to know.
Never a fan of ol’ JB, even back in the day. Nietzsche is the source, the one who first saw the way the logic of the Enlightenment was doomed to cannibalize itself. The first, social part of the analysis is a less metaphysical version of Adorno’s analysis.
I’m not sure it can be prevented, barring any kind of catastrophic social reset. The short term riches we will reap will carry the day, everyday, even as the long-term unintended consequences pile up. All I know is that sailing into this future with blithe confidence in happy endings is bound to make things more tragic. The more this stuff comes to the fore of our cultural cortices, the better.
Baudrillard loves Nietzsche, which was one of the reasons I picked him up in the first place. I’m a fan of JB, but I’m a bigger fan of RSB! 🙂
Agree about doing anything you can to cancel out the ‘blithe confidence in happy endings’, Nietzsche called tragic theater “That which says Yes most to life”. We should be having our children stage Oedipus Rex out on the streets. If there’s no hope then why not just pretend there is?
πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει” καὶ “δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης”
Panta chōrei kai ouden menei … kai … dis es ton auton potamon ouk an embaies
“Everything changes and nothing remains still …. and … you cannot step twice into the same stream”
πάντων χρημάτων μέτρον ἐστὶν ἄνθρωπος, τῶν μὲν ὄντων ὡς ἔστιν, τῶν δὲ οὐκ ὄντων ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν.
“Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not”
Basically, the worry you point to is a combination of these two ideas, is it not? If man himself is forever changing and never still, what worth is his measure? A ruler with no fixity measures nothing.
The problem is, our shared neurophysiology (i.e. our “humanity”) is now and always has been more or less a commonality of average distribution and not totality. Madness and psychopathy are not new phenomena. Now the neuro-atypical have at least a givenness to their atypicality, so this is not a perfect analogy, but …
Think of our relationship to the mad. What makes a person insane is not merely the presence of delusions, etc. but how this deviance from the norm affects the person’s ability to function in society. Outside the polis are only beasts and gods.
Any person that would willing choose to be either is already mad. Only such a person would wish the sorts of modifications you imagine. Most will choose modifications which will give them a leg up within the polis/society. (include here everything from eyeglasses to Adderall).
I think my point is that humanity is as much interaction with other brains as it is the qualities of each brain. A brain which is unable to interact with other brains cannot be part of any society. Accordingly, it is only the already mad few who would choose to, say, snuff out their compassion, that we need worry about. Whole tribes cannot be mad and still persist as tribes. They self-extinguish.
Fascinating as usual, One question – How do you see evolution acting on this artificially introduced tinkering?
I mean, one school suggests the biological morality you talk about is still around in most (perhaps psychopaths are an exception) as it was a successful survival trait. Starting to modify for short term benefits (say removing sleep for instance) is rolling the dice for long term evolution.
I know the changes in neuropath were somatic rather than heritable – but I guess they still would have reproductive impact.
How do you argue for madness? – yeah, you would have to be mad 😉
We already have totalitarian oppression, watching our every intimate move, oppressing our lives. It’s called darwinism. This almost seems like an arguement that if one tweaks ones perception of the world, so to has the world been tweaked? No, fire will still burn the tweaked. The base of cliffs will still embrace them.
Because we define madness according what our brains normally do. Once we begin personalizing our brains, ‘normally do’ will become less and less meaningful.
No it wont!? I mean, I’m starting to get what you mean by ‘we are neurologically wired for meaning, to look at the world in terms of intent, purpose, and propriety.’ because here our sense of ‘normal’ is being treated AS the world. We don’t normally jump in front of buses – that ‘normal’ will not somehow become less and less splattery from tweaking.
In terms of raw physical threat, I totally agree. I see those killer drones the US has, piloted by some guy sitting in vegas (how tweaked is that already!!!??) and I think how simple it is to turn that on whatever target. You used to have to convince a guy that a principle was worth risking his life for. Now you don’t
have to even do half of that – no fear of personal death will prompt him to think a second time. And if tweaks get onto that…the raw physical threat is incredible!
But it’s almost like your actually arguing it from a spiritual level, much like you once described Niel as raw physical threat, while Kelhus was a spiritual threat.
From a viewpoint in the gross physical world, there is a long, long causal chain originating from the huge explosion or whatever started the universe, right to your very thoughts right now. That is utterly unavoidable. But this chain, while currenly in a relatively nieve state, could be overwritten by us so utterly that we will not be able to use it to see back into our origins. Or even just lose the desire to find out, having hard wired some invention. And so lose any chance at both being it and understanding it at the very same instant, repeatedly.
I don’t have an arguement for spirituality, but the very notion of spirituality is itself a record (living fossil, perhaps). Records we can’t really afford to lose – there are no replacements.
Why do I bring up all those dross ideas of mine? Because for just fleeting moments, when I read ‘Once we begin personalizing our brains, ‘normally do’ will become less and less meaningful.’ I can, in attempting to empathise with the symbols given, feel a world where the utter scope of the world is that meaning – and that meaning being threatened or destroyed. I guess that’s why you call it an apocalypse.
The dawinist state will get them. The problem though is how some put it. In the westeros thread that a tweaked is still just darwinistic pressure, not man made. And it is. The problem is we understand some darwinistic pressures pretty well – like lions jaws and stuff (though people still get killed by them…and hippos…). The problem is that the darwinistic pressures added will be beyond even a gross cartoon understanding. Thus, the darwinist state will, given the way things often pan out, get all of us (even beyond the issue of lost records). It’s sort of like the phrase ‘darwinistic pressure’ comes along with the mental imagery of ‘we know all the ways you can die and how to avoid them’. So when you threaten new darwinistic pressures, you inadvertantly assure at the same time.
Okay, rambling, I’ll stop.
PS: Did you ever see the doctor who episode where the master used a nanotech ‘healing’ machine to rewrite all humans on earth into clones of himself? With the announcer declaring it was the end of the human race?
“The separation of church and state is one of the signature features of this retreat, yes. The gradual removal of traditional prohibitions (against things like gay sex, prostitution, pornography, and so on) from law is another.”
And yet, with the extirpation of one set of prohibitions we see the genesis of a new wave: serious restrictions on racial/sexist slurs and I’m not longer allowed to lynch the very gay people who are enjoying all that filthy sodomy now. Isn’t there a NEW meaning in those prohibitions? Enlightment era values of egalitarianism? Or is that not ‘real’ meaning because it is devoid of an external intentional agent that enforces it cosmically (God)?
Anyhow, on the second, biological part of the Apocalypse: as I’ve said before I find the basic underlying premise of Neuropath absolutely terrifying in its deeper implications: think what happens when you combine technologies that could enhance longevity nearly indefinitely with technologies that allow you to trap someone in a negative mental state indefinitely. Really think about it.
Very true, but with a very important difference in rationales: Harm reduction is the mantra of the modern age. The animal doesn’t like to be poked in its cage…
The modern idea is that anything goes, so long as nobody gets hurt. In the good old days, when Meaning was king, we didn’t care about individual harm all that much, so long as we lived in accord with tradition.
Personally, I think we should just blame the whole mess on Peter Singer. 😉
“when you combine technologies that could enhance longevity nearly indefinitely”
yeah – but if someone wants to punish – you don’t even need the objective longevity – a subjective eternity may as well still be an actual eternity for the person on the receiving end – chilling…
Actually, maybe someone with that level of neural-manipulatory sophistication probably would not even need to punish – just make their victim loathe or be incapable of conceiving doing anything “punishable” – I think I find that even worse….
Those are all valid and interesting considerations. Pondering the consequences of tinkering with our neural structure really stresses the limits of imagination. After all, we could redo that very imagination, too. But the more pressing question here, one that keeps tormenting me, is “where do you pick your shrooms, man?”
A book store, I assume. Maybe a library. There is nothing quite so shattering as reading dangerous ideas.
From a little place I like to call the Rectum of God.
I can only assume you mean Sarnia, Ontario. Also known as “The Armpit of Ontario.”
I can only hope that I stumble upon this shoppe, Rectum of God, one day. What a magical place it must be. I picture a crazy little place tucked down some alley somewhere.
Thanks for the words, Bakker. Great blog. Appreciated.
My problem with concerns like these is that they require orders of magnitude more understanding of brains than we have. With our current understanding of the brain, methods of studying it, and crude tools for manipulating it, we’d be the equivalent of paleolithic humans trying to do open-heart surgery with their flint knives. I took enough neuro courses in undergrad to gain a real appreciation for what we don’t know.
While I don’t argue it’s impossible to reach the sophistication your concerns require, none of the methods we’ve used in the last century to study brains will get us there. Short some Copurnican turn in neuroscience, I’ll sleep easy.
We’ve never waited for comprehensive understanding before fucking with things. Deep brain stimulators and cochlear implants are simply the thin edge of the therapeutic edge. Remember, only a century separates the phonograph from the Blue-ray. Christ, Neuropath seems dated to me now…
It’ll be our children who’ll see the really crazy stuff. Eine Augenblick in the scheme of things. Less.
Fuck the luddites. The world keeps getting better and they keep wanting to go back to the past.
I thought the semantic appocalypse was just the mass realization that there is no meaning. That we mistakenly see meaning where none exists because our brains evolved to do so. I think I get it. At the lowest level it’s just physics and I have no control whether the electron goes down synapse A or synapse B. Essentially free will is a myth. That my love for my wife and daughter is just an evolved myth. Knowing that has made me depressed once or twice but has not substantially changed my life.
The ability to alter the meanings in our minds would not change this. I would reject changing my mind the same way I reject taking heroin. Most people would.
What I’m trying to say is the semantic apocalypse is impossible. I think neuropath made that clear. Despite understanding the semantic appcalypse more so than anyone else the protagonist of the story rejected it. The only scenario I can see where this could happen is with a totalitarian state. Your solution is the problem.
I posed Supertotalitarianism to illustrate the intractability of the problem, not as any solution. The problem is that what you or I or anyone ‘believes’ is irrelevant. So long as competitive advantages are to be had from pushing our hidden buttons, the science of manipulation will proceed apace, becoming ever more sophisticated, ever more effective. The kind of denial you talk about could be the Royal Road to Supertotalitarianism.
So long as I don’t want to manipulate my brain, something that I suggest is the current norm, then not manipulating my brain would be something I would work to do. As an example if removing my morality made me a great business man. I would not do it because what I want most is my morality and not the money that comes from being a great business man. People make this choice all the time in their daily lives. This seems a very strong norm.
Put another way. I think people generally hunger for moral things. So the market driving us to modify ourselves would lead us to make ourselves more moral and less mad.
The problem is that people generally make themselves the yardstick for what’s moral: they make their own intentions (which are a horrible predictor of their actions) the yardstick for other people’s behaviour.
‘Fitness indicators’ are the engines of self-improvement. ‘Trustworthiness’ is undoubtedly a fitness indicator, but simply one among very many. In highly mobile, anonymous societies, the simulation of trustworthiness is far more competitive than the actuality.
But the thing to realize is that the question of ‘motives’ is almost entirely occulted in scenarios such as this. When all the experiences attached to all the positives of life – love, fulfilment, success, and so on – are only the push of a button away, then what motivates any of our behaviours? This is simply another way to formulate the problem: once we have the power to decouple all of experience from real-world circumstances, and in ways that make them seem more intense or ‘real’ than we could undergo otherwise, then…
But this is what I’m talking about: disposing of the very frame of human intelligibility. Maybe something bigger awaits.
Maybe our machines will get tired and start shopping around for some new pets.
Scott — have you read Philip K. Dick? I think you might enjoy him — he writes scenarios in which we manipulate ourselves, and he’s very penetrating, thoughtful and funny about it…just thinkin’… Hey, keep writing man.
But of course! He was an adolescent idol of mine. Coincidently I’ve just been asked to blurb an anthology of essays on the mad old genius.
“More human than human” or “Human, all too human”?
More human than humourous…
“So long as I don’t want to manipulate my brain, something that I suggest is the current norm, then not manipulating my brain would be something I would work to do.”
I suppose it depends what you denote by “manipulate my brain.” Every time you have coffee, alcohol, or sundry psychiatric pharmaceuticals aren’t you technically manipulating your brain? What if, you desperately wanted to escape you anxiety so you took a pill or had surgery to mute your amygdala? Sure, you would lose your fear, but you just made yourself closer to a psychopath. (See Bob Hare).
Point conceded. Every time I look at something I’m manipulating my brain. That said my main point is the apocalypse Scott describes is impossible. The norms that motivate us now would prevent us from desiring to become mad. Only someone who is already a psychopath would choose to become a psychopath.
Really? This sounds an awful like saying, ‘only a junkie would choose to become a junkie.’
Creeping normalcy is what will screw us over, same as always. Think of all those people without any economic bargaining power perennially voting for parties who’s policies are designed to erode their economic bargaining power. We do all sorts of things counter to our long term interests all the time, either for lack of understanding, deception, or perceived short term gain.
Think of the ad campaigns: Anxiety got you down? Want to be funnier? Feeling empty? Wherever the technology opens up a commercial niche, it will be exploited – as the pharmaceutical industry is in the process of demonstrating. And those guys are selling hammers…
I like the site redesign. Stop pushing my hidden button that accepts this site as more aesthetically pleasing! Must…. buy…. more booooookkkssss NOOoooooo
I’m probably out of place here, so often do Bakker’s words drive me towards novel revelation.
However, I think a point here is that we have absolutely no practical way of establishing, specifically conceptually, what the form of our internal individual yardsticks, and thus our social and cultural ones, will be after we begin drastically re-engineering our neurophysiology.
For instance, what “norms that motivate us now,” Gareth, might actually maintain their distinct flavor following a neurotweak?
There are always exceptions and “junkies” are a good example. How many junkies are there? How normal is it to be a junky? Who strives to become one. Junkies are extremely low status. The same norms that prevent people from taking the path to being a junky would prevent them from taking the path to being mad. Since those norms are baked into our genes we will never overcome them universally and will therefor never have a semantic apocalypse.
Even now look at breast implants. Women with naturally big breasts are higher status than women with fake boobs. There is some baked in bias here that seems to me to be universal. Why wouldn’t this same bias that prevents more women from joining the ranks of the perky boobed prevent more people from becoming more funny or more brave or whatever neuro mod you want.
If your proposing that the apocalypse will come as a side effect of taking penis enlargement pills then sure I guess it’s possible. I don’t think people will willingly take the path.
The point is that people don’t have to be willing, in fact it helps if they are confident in a happy ending, which the majority of people appear to be. It is the lack of alarm that makes the apocalypse likely, inevitable even.
As a self-declared functional junky of a sort I can honestly say that we are out there amongst you all, pretending to be normal (that’s the point of the drugs for many people to begin with, it helps them act ‘normal’) and that we easily escape the low status accorded to the truly down-and-out (who are most likely schizophrenic as well as being junkies) by pretending to be normal.
I’d question how many of the genuine big-boobed blondes you meet are lying about the implants.
Once enough people are doing “it”, “it” becomes the norm and everything else becomes the exception.
People won’t simply be willing to take the path, they will be ecstatic.
That’s the assumption as I understand “it” anyway.
It depends on the “madness” we’re talking about.
One may think of the brain as composed of trends of complex sets of thoughts beliefs and attitudes about the world promoting certain behaviors. What a person professes might not be all that is there. The other trends may surface in moments and expressions (privately internally or spoken aloud) of doubt.
Hence a person could have conflicting trends within them. Part of their brain feels like being moral. Another part would want nothing other than for them to be able to ruthlessly manipulate people into doing what they want (psychopathy). Perhaps this part of them is small but in a moment of weakness they take a pill or an implant to reprogram their brain into being a psychopath.
The motivation is simple, ambition, the desire for “the good life”. This already happens. Psychopathy is not completely genetic. There are environmental factors. People already alter their brains towards psychopathy by adopting psychopathic views (though they may not think of the label “psychopathy” while they do it though some probably do) of the world by becoming nihilistic, selfish and power-hungry in their attitudes because “it’s what you need to do to rise to the top”. Worse is that these people will also think of how to “get away with evil” while their attitude changes into psychopathy. This is particularly likely to happen while a person is in late adolescence or early adulthood and still determining their views of the world.
Right now most people toying with the idea of going evil in order to ‘win’ in the world will eventually side with being moral and having a conscience and overtime squelch away the psychopathic part of themselves. But with technology all it takes is one time and an available modification and they could choose to blank out any shred of morality or conscience in them.
And the worst part is these people would get away with it. Psychopaths are often masters at concealing who they are and how they think. They can have a real advantage in getting ahead in today’s world. Imagine the advantage in a world where neural enhancement can be used to get ahead. They could not just turn themselves into psychopaths but also take what ever pills or implants or program modifications they need to have the intelligence to be adept at avoiding detection, at faking that they are moral normal people. And then they would likely find themselves working in groups of psychopaths in business, politics, etc… This already happens in cases of fraud and corruption. It could happen a lot more often in a world where more and more people use to technology to modify their brains to become psychopaths.
I’m not sure it’s so simple, Gareth.
The norms you’re talking about seem to be framed within memetics. In my opinion, junkies and psychopaths seem to be a matter of environment and only in a smaller percentage of cases do those environmental factors actually affect extreme genetic circumstances. Or do I have this wrong?
If a meme is simply a belief, perhaps not only the big but also the small everyday ones, then memetics is the study of our individual and collective human psychological evolution. Which in turn corresponds to neurological evolution, increasing complex cortical representation of the many physical electric and chemical structures within the human brain.
If junkies become junkies and psychopaths become psychopaths primarily due to social and cultural factors over genetic ones then once we start changing ourselves we will lose those social and cultural norms you’re relying on in subtle and not so subtle ways.
Perhaps we can frame the future now with some statements.
1. Individual humans beings will re-engineer their neurophysiology to reflect their existing internal yardsticks.
2. Like attracts like, and I see no reason to contradict the laws of attraction in neuroscientific discussion.
For whatever strange reason then, our social and cultural organization might recenter around our philosophic underpinnings. Communities might form because of shared choices concerning neurophysiological engineering. Secular and religious interests might select or require applicants based on their specific neurophysiological tweaks.
Whatever the consequences, humanity will likely change itself to reflect its existing ideals, which very well might not reflect the actual changes engendered.
Imagine a priest, or even whole religious communities, that congregate because they shared has a constant connection to the divine, facilitated by a subtle neurological changes or even stimulation, which they interpret as deepening their faith. What Neil was able to do with evangelist in Neuropath wasn’t even much of a fiction at the time as we have been able to use stimulation techniques to induce revelatory religious experiences.
Or a philosopher who is able to tweak his rationalization module into overdrive, always, or even on reflex?
because they share a constant connection to the divine*
I’m sure there’s more.
I think I’ve burned out my contrarian candle. I’m still skeptical of the of the semantic apocalypse but I’ll concede the possibility.
The semantic apocalypse is itself the product of intense skepticism, so there’s that at least.
It is an attempt to bring skepticism to the front of the collective mind regarding our shared future.
I think your skepticism is entirely warranted, Gareth. Aside from the precautionary principle, what has me arguing the doom side of the equation is a combination of creeping normalcy and a pessimistic induction regarding the social function of markets. The argument is simply: in the absence of any obvious deleterious consequences, markets will exploit any technology that confers competitive advantages.
I actually take it to be a fact that our minds are a paleolithic artifact, and as such are maladapted to modern social contexts. We pretty much fear, love, feed, fuck, everything in suboptimal ways – men especially. Optimizing is inevitable: eventually all of our ‘alchemical ways’ of trying to do this (education/indoctrination and pharmaceuticals) will be supplanted by direct, targeted neurophysiological interventions. If you take the ‘fracturing model’ of the Enlightenment 1.0 as the paradigm for Enlightenment 2.0, which I think is fair, then the chances that we will be delivered to the ‘Neuromonium’ that I describe seem pretty high.
Just the fact that my daughter will encounter up to 40 illicit drugs in the youth subcultures of 15 years from now, compared to the 4 my generation had to stare down, makes my head spin.
And like I always say, this is nothing but the crude beginning of an accelerating process…
Since its my first post, I must begin with thank you for helping me to see the darkness that comes before. About four years ago is when I was introduced to TDTCB, and never before have I felt so HUMAN, so frail. As soon as I finished the series I went to the local bookstore and ordered Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil. And was furthered educated on how blind I was to life in general. Funny how fantasy and a “madman” can totally revamp how a young man thinks. I never really had a mantra, to borrow from you I was Legion, always wanted to be heard, to be mr. cool, the best at everything when I didn’t even know who the fuck I was. Maybe it was because of my odd childhood, I never new my father, my mother was an alcoholic and a teenage parent, needless to say I used it as an excuse for the longest of times to fail at most things I attempted. What saved me was my grandparents love of knowledge and reading, growing up on a farm was a plus as well, hard work does build character. By 17 I was emancipated and living on my own because my grandfather had died. Luckily I had a distant uncle who saw the bigger picture and started me on the right path, but still I was ruled by my thoughts. I went to college, Ole Miss, to run track and CC after graduation thinking I had developed some sense of who I wanted to be; alas I failed out after two years because again I wanted to be the big shot who new it all. And it was the best thing to happen to me. By that time I found out my uncle was terminally ill and I was needed at home, and thats when I found your book. I have never been more awake then what I am now, I’m 25 now and I spend my days training my mind and body, not for any specific purpose, but to be more then what I came from; having a uncle who supports my every move helps as well. He allows me to do this, to train, to read, and to write; he is letting me pursue my passion for music as a career. I know this doesn’t have a place on this discussion, but I felt the need to write you and say thank you. I never got a chance to write Hunter S. Thompson to tell him what an inspiration he was to me because of his death, so I figured I should stop procrastinating and write you.
I hope someday that I will be able to put myself in a position to add something relevant to the discussions on your blog, until then I will continue to read and educate myself. So any good books you would suggest I start at?
cheers for everything
Welcome to the comic book store, Bran. I think your story is a great example of how a ‘reader’ is as much a set of personal circumstances as a person. No different than a writer. We actually bring a small horde of people with us when we come to books, don’t we? Loves. Losses.
Maybe check out Susan Blackmore’s Oxford Introduction to Consciousness. She has a genius for introducing the most complicated concepts and problems in terms pretty much anyone can access. In the meantime, I would say that anytime you sense an ‘authority gradient’ outside the sciences, that you shouldn’t say anything because you’re in over your head, that’s a good time as any to take a dump and make your presence known. Add your rank to the speculation!
Cheers for the reply. To be honest, after I posted I felt some sort of weird shame, like I was some odd fan-boy or something of that nature; now I don’t feel so stupid. One thing I want to ask before I leave you be, would you mind elaborating on this:
“In the meantime, I would say that anytime you sense an ‘authority gradient’ outside the sciences, that you shouldn’t say anything because you’re in over your head, that’s a good time as any to take a dump and make your presence known. Add your rank to the speculation!”
Do you kinda mean don’t let your jaybird mouth override your hummingbird ass?
At this point in time I don’t mind asking for a little help when I don’t get it.
Thanks for the book, ordered it this morning!
i once saw graffiti scrawled on the wall of an alley in San Fransisco reading “A hard God is good to find.”
the first result on a google search for ‘Psychosis’ reads the following: “Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality, usually including false beliefs about what is taking place or who one is (delusions) and seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations).”
how does this not describe most or all people that one sees on a daily basis? a theater goer can sit through two hours of the recent ‘City of Life and Death’ and then get up and drive home, exchange words with loved ones, wake up in the morning and perform their daily tasks, etc. we can read Bakker’s descriptions of the battle about the walls of Shimeh and then walk through our city and go buy something to drink, ride the bus, see family… Scott, i love your writing, more than almost any, so don’t stop showing us the sublime and intractable beauty that is this world and life, but…
it is false beliefs which enable us to be ‘sane’. identity is mostly delusion. as is knowledge, … all of it.
i constantly force myself to admit that i have no f-ing clue what’s going on. i bend myself until i break; and thus i am broken. i AM insane. but for the normal, not-insane citizen, what is the difference between having their mind tampered with and being their normally-contained self?
the semantic apocalypse has already come.
it has been here since the beginning.
there is no human way to escape it.
“I think your skepticism is entirely warranted, Gareth. Aside from the precautionary principle, what has me arguing the doom side of the equation is a combination of creeping normalcy and a pessimistic induction regarding the social function of markets. The argument is simply: in the absence of any obvious deleterious consequences, markets will exploit any technology that confers competitive advantages.”
There is also the simple matter that doom and gloom is a more fertile soil for speculation than cheery optimism that has gone out of fashion. There are just so many more ways for anything to go wrong than for it to go right that it seems silly to believe that that handful of positive developments will ever happen.
In addition, our own position disadvantages us in evaluating progress/regress. Would a 10th century farmer look upon our world as the mixed blessing we see? I doubt it.
In a way, all prophets are “prophets of the past.”
The doom and gloom merchants have a terrible track record. It seems much sillier to me to think that because things can go wrong that they will. Go take a drive. Sure accidents happen but they aren’t the norm.
Why would I see the current state of the world as a mixed blessing compared to a 10th century farmer?
Global warming, mass extinction of species, shrinking diversity of agriculture, possibility of nuclear disasters/war, rising mercury levels in the sea . . .
things like that.
The Luddites weren’t all that bad, they were fighting the loss of their way of life (an example would be the weavers burning down textile factories), and while it is absurd to say that if they had succeeded things would have been better I think it’s just as absurd to say that because they haven’t succeeded things are better.
Think of it as vigilance. Accidents while driving are the norm if you’re completely drunk.
In terms of junkies, I went to a lecture by Robert Winston once, where he suggested that petrol isn’t too expensive, it’s that petrol is too cheap. That we are addicted to petrol.
And people, lots and lots of people, do aspire to be this type of junkie.
Futher on the car, what of the tragic reports of people backing over their children in the driveway? Isn’t it psychopathic to crush your children under several tons of weight?
“But it was an accident!”
But it’ll always seem like an accident, instead of seeming a madness. That’s the creeping normalcy. No one wants to become mad. But what happens when you encounter a new situation no one has ever encountered before? How quickly would you be to say you’ve entered a state of madness, Vs how quick would you be to say you caused a tragic accident?
Really accidents only happen because someone is ignorant of the future consequences. How quickly can an ignorant person suddenly conclude they know enough to know they haven’t entered a madness? Very quickly, sadly.
What is the fracturing model? How does that model lead to the Neuromonium? And what is the Neuromonium?
I just reread all these posts. Fun and fascinating. I’d recommend overcomingbias.com to anyone who’s following along. Some of the subjects are similar but with a slant in the opposite direction of this blog.
I’m actually with you on the ‘doom merchant’ thing. The thing is, my argument grants that the technological optimists are right…. All I’m saying is that what they see as some variety of transcendence leads in a direction we simply cannot comprehend, and so cannot positively value. Since it entails leaving humanity itself behind, it becomes easy to see it as a different kind of species suicide. Jumping over a cliff is jumping over a cliff, whether we turn out to have wings or not.
What was the fracturing model with petrol/cars?
And what is the Neuromonium?
The noise you make when you try to speak while eating peanut butter!
I would kill to read ‘Semantica’.
I used to be recommended this web site by way of my
cousin. I’m no longer positive whether this submit is written by means of him as nobody else realize such exact approximately my trouble. You’re wonderful!
Thank you, Niklas.
Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
I mean, what you say is important and all. But think about if you added some great images or videos to give your
posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and video clips, this
website could certainly be one of the greatest in its field.
Thanks, Ivory. I have been trying – on occasion. I’m just mad for text, I guess! Mad, I say!
[…] a post on his blog Bakker explains that the “semantic apocalypse” has already happened on the social […]
These posts seems to be more like the ramblings of a neurotic pubescent child than reasonable speculation
LOL! At least this insult is half-ass polite. I’ve had to trash about a dozen crazy offensive posts so far. Arguing against meaning whips people up into a frenzy, I guess!
It also seems to blind them to the possibility of irony…
Please refer to your most recent post for an apology (my other alias “neuroscientistman”.
[…] https://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/what-is-the-semantic-apocalypse/ ↵ […]
[…] specific hypotheses to this effect. I have lately been stimulated by RS Bakker’s theory of Semantic Apocalypse. Bakker emphasises the role of increasing environmental complexity in short-circuiting human […]
[…] So what is the relationship between control and communication? How does participation in communication contribute to social control? How is the feedback loop between control and communication experienced? How is it represented? Or, better, how does it defeat representational strategies? Have we slipped from a crisis of meaning to the brink of ‘semantic apocalypse’? (https://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/what-is-the-semantic-apocalypse/) […]
[…] and philosopher RS Bakker wrote a blog post in 2011 that is showing itself quite prescient, “What Is The Semantic Apocalypse?”, in which he […]
[…] who enjoy this podcast might check out Bakker's What is the Semantic Apocalypse? and Enlightenment How? Omens of the Semantic […]
[…] What is the Semantic Apocalypse? R. Scott Bakker. https://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/what-is-the-semantic-apocalypse/ […]