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Facing a Future Permeated by Machines

If your son had an accident and lost a limb and was then outfitted with a prosthetic limb, would you still love your son? Of course you would.  What if he lost two limbs? Three? How much of one’s body would need to be replaced by a machine before one would no longer feel fully human or their spouse might say, “I can no longer love this person”? Early in the 20th century, the merging of Mankind with Machines began. Many of our loved ones already have pacemakers, artificial joints, or hearing aids. Many more “mergings” are in the works.

Almost certainly, most people today would accept a machine as a prosthetic limb to replace a severed natural limb. Likewise, most would augment a damaged sense organ with a bionic aid. But when it comes to internal organs, I believe we enter squeamish territory. Replacing the body parts related to our will, i.e., our limbs, does not raise the warning flag that one is sacrificing their humanity as much as does replacing internal organs. What happens to our humanity when the operation of a liver is being largely conducted by an embedded machine? How much of the functioning of our heart can be done by a sophisticated “intelligent” pacemaker without sacrificing our ability to love or be loved?  Does the one with an embedded machine change in anyway? When we consider replacing our thinking-related body parts, even more concern may arise about this de-humanizing our future.

Ray Kurzweil (1) and much of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) community are convinced that the ultimate human organ is the brain. This camp would say we can replace all the other organs and body parts and we still have a human being. They would argue that the essence of the human being is its mind, and this is found in the “software” of the brain. Thus, according to this camp, if one can migrate the software that represents the mind from a biological brain to an equivalent non-biological brain, then that mind will have achieved immortality. (2)

Perhaps we do not truly understand mortality and the role it plays for the human being. Moreover, people who receive organ transplants find that they have new memories that apparently come with the new organ. (3)  Could our memories be outside of our brain? If so, where? Why do we expect that they are bundled up within a physical organ? What are our memories?

When I think of a person or place from my past, typically more than merely a picture arises. Other sensory impressions from that past event arise too. And an emotional memory commonly fills our soul. When one sees a photograph taken in their youth, more than visual memory attributes can fill one’s soul.  Where is this memory content being kept and where is it being experienced? If we lost our memory content, how would that affect our sense of self? Do we need memory for a solid foundation to life and to have a sense of who I am?

It was already well established in the first century CE that the human being was a tripartite of body, soul, and spirit. In the 9th century, Western humanity had largely lost this knowledge and reduced the human to body and soul. As the 20th century dawned in the West, the concept of soul had been largely lost and the concept of body had been reduced to its chemical components.  With humanity’s creative focus fixed on the mineral kingdom, great and powerful machinery arose that could move mountains. Humans became able to move their body quickly from one place to another, over land, over sea, or through the air and even through space to the moon. We became adept at extending our senses to explore ocean depths or the outer bands of the solar system or to the inner dynamics of a molecule or an embryo.

In the 19th century, a man and his horse were considered to become as one and “carriages were an extension of a person, like their clothes.” (4) Today, when one gets behind the steering wheel of a car, one is within a machine. As we drive this car, something in us merges with it. We get “a feel” for its functioning, how it responds to brake pressure, to steering wheel adjustments, and the like. And as we drive on the highways, we can experience the mood of other drivers about us, their aggressiveness or their abundant caution and timidity. Something of us permeates the vehicle and it recognizable from other vehicles. Is it our soul that permeates our car? Our car does not have a soul, but when I drive mine, it appears to have one.

When I make a phone call to a dear friend, my voice is digitized right in the phone itself. This digital signal makes its way through the internet, yes that same internet, eventually coming to my dear friend where the digital signal representing my voice is reconstituted to a facsimile of my voice – close enough that my friend recognizes it as my voice. Although we are not physically in the same room, we can have a conversation that has many of the same attributes as an in-the-same-room conversation. We can be emotional. We can be motivated. We can feel our souls engaged. We find that our soul is not so bound by spatial obstacles. Can we say that our soul is just as able to deal with electrical transmission of voice facsimile as it is with artificial limbs and bodily extensions such as an automobile?

The AI community, lacking a concept of soul, believes that we will eventually reverse-engineer the brain. Reverse engineering is done when one takes apart some manmade object to see how it was constructed. One discovers the object’s inner workings and then one can grasp the original engineering. Once that has been accomplished, one can devise improvements. The brain is deemed by AI to be engineered by natural selection of mutations over millions of years. Today’s brain has evolved. Is the brain’s evolution complete? The proponents of AI believe that the next step in the brain’s evolution will come from Mankind’s augmentation of existing brain functions. And, transhumanists believe, we will give to robots a functioning mind.

Reverse engineering works with manmade objects because our mind can grasp the concepts that are “built in” to them. Such concepts are within the realm of the ponderable. But this begs the question, does the human brain (and body for that matter) arise from the ponderable or the imponderable? If imponderable, will we grasp enough to make a human-like brain?

As we have already done with sensory organs, many in the AI community expect brain augmentation to come before a fully reverse-engineered brain is ready for humanity. This augmentation would be some sort of implant that would enable us to perform “context switching” from the affairs of our human mind to an augmented computational capability. For example, one might need to perform some arithmetic operation such as adding the prices of the items in one’s shopping cart. This AI future would enable the person to visually scan the prices, pass this information to the embedded computer and receive back the result. They expect this to happen similarly to how we conceive that the brain can switch from the functioning of the right hemisphere to the left. The expectation is that, just as we became adept at driving cars, we will become adept at such context switching in our augmented mind.

As these AI scientists and brain engineers research this, they will surely encounter the “hard problem” of consciousness (5) just as quantum physicists did in 1995. AI research will come to show the fallacy of how we view the functioning of the brain. While we wish we would not need to waste so much money pursuing this goal, we do need more “proof” that consciousness exists outside of the body. Near death research (6) may help to achieve this understanding, even perhaps proving that consciousness does not require a functioning brain.

While many in our Anthroposophical community may have the hair on the backs of their necks stand up in fear when they hear about the vision of the future imagined by Ray Kurzweil and others, we also know that the world has seen great changes before — changes such as the ice age, the end of Atlantis, the ending of the Ancient Mysteries, the entering into Earth evolution of the Christ, and the Black Plague followed by the Renaissance. Our Age begins the merging of Mankind and Machine.

Perhaps the greatest ‘adjustment’ humanity will need to make in the coming millennia is what to do about infertility. Steiner claims that because of a coming cessation of fertility, we will need to work with the fallen angels of darkness. “Not later than the seventh millennium in earth evolution women will grow infertile, and reproduction will no longer be possible.” (7) Is this the cause for our merging of man and machine as a training period for mankind to be able to build bodies that allow for continued incarnation? If we use a roughly 700-year incarnation cycle, then we have only about six more incarnations to complete the fulfillment of our karma and prepare these new vehicles.

To complete this picture, we need to be aware of the coming incarnation of Ahriman. Much of what we decry about this merging of Man and Machine is preparation for this incarnation that I believe will occur when Oriphiel will be the Time Spirit or about the year 2233. Each of us has an ahrimanic being accompanying us that Steiner called our double. It has accompanied us since sexual procreation began. It lives in our sub-consciousness from just before birth to just before death.

“These beings once decided out of their own will that they did not want to live in that world in which they were destined to live by the wisdom-filled gods of the higher hierarchies. When Earth evolution began, they wanted to conquer the earth. But to do this they needed bodies, but they did not have bodies of their own. Thus, they make use of as much of the human body as they can, because the human soul cannot entirely fill up the human body.”(8)

They want and need these physical bodies! Today our etheric body is loosening from the physical. As we approach those times of infertility, this loosening will have advanced to where our physical body will be withering and crumbling. People will elect to replace natural bodily parts that have withered with strong, mechanical parts. Our relationship between inner life and physical body must change during evolution. We must find different ways to relate to earthly existence. The “final stages of earth evolution will make it necessary for people to do without physical bodies and yet be present on earth.” (9) All during this future time, the Double will prepare the physical body to become its own desired body in order to conquer the Earth. They will succeed in conquering the Earth which will then become a corpse.

Our physical bodies will become their bodies. But this will be because we will leave such bodies behind. Christ is now showing us the way forward in evolution to the time when our lowest bodily member will be our etheric body.

These ahrimanic beings will not be able to maintain our form as this was given to us by the Exusiai. They will fall to become spidery beings that will conquer the earth by covering it as a great electronic mesh, a worldwide web. Steiner calls this, “The Second Fall”. This will happen at about the same time as the War of All Against All. That war will end for humans our physical presence on the earth. Then the Moon returns soon after the year 8000 AD.

What happens after that?  We enter the Sixth Epoch. Then the Astral world will “descend” into a new human life that operates above the physical. Today, in the Fifth Epoch (which includes our current and all seven Post-Atlantean Cultural Ages), we live in the time of the descendance of the etheric. The battle of our time is not about what will come but about how it will come. Who will make the call regarding how new technologies are introduced into society and human life? It comes down to a Battle for the Etheric Realm. (10) It is a personal struggle to find the Etheric Christ and to realize “my kingdom is not of this world.” Like Prometheus, we are chained to the mineral kingdom. It will take a Herculean effort to free ourselves from the physical. This Age of Machines is a cosmic necessity that offers our free will a choice. 

The question then arises: if modern technology is simply a source of death, as it must inevitably be, why did it arise? Certainly not in order to provide mankind with the spectacle of machines and industry, but for a totally different reason. It arose precisely because of the seeds of death it bore within it; for if man is surrounded by a moribund, mechanical civilization it is only by reacting against it that he can develop the Consciousness Soul. So long as man lived in communion with nature, i.e., before the advent of the Machine Age, he was open to the suggestion of communion because he was not fully conscious. He was unable to be fully self-sufficient because he had not yet experienced the forces of death. Ego-consciousness and the forces of death are closely related. (11)

Footnotes:

  1. Ray Kurzweil (1948-), author of The Singularity is Near, The Age of Spiritual Machines, How to Create a Mind, and several more, is an American inventor and futurist. He is founder of the Singularity University. The 2009 documentary, The Transcendent Man, celebrated his life and work. Wikipedia includes this statement about how Kurzweil attains his creative ideas, “For the past several decades, Kurzweil’s most effective and common approach to doing creative work has been conducted during his lucid dreamlike state which immediately precedes his awakening state.”
  2. 2045 Initiative, Dmitry Itskov
  3. Pearsall, Paul, The Heart’s Code, Broadway Books, 1999
  4. Transportation Past, Present, and Future
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_problem_of_consciousness
  6. Bush, Nancy with Greyson, Richard, Dancing Past the Dark, 2012 and Fenwick, Peter, The Art of Dying, Bloomsbury Academic, 2008, see also Greyson video and the Near Death Experience Network with Robert Mays
  7. Steiner, Rudolf, Fall of the Spirits of Darkness, Lecture 14, GA177
  8. Steiner, Rudolf, Geographic Medicine, lecture 2, The Mystery of the Double, 16Nov1917, GA 178
  9. IBID
  10. Thomas, Nick, The Battle for the Etheric Realm, Temple Lodge Press, 2006
  11. Rudolf Steiner, From Symptom to Reality, lecture 3, 20Oct1918, GA 185

Andrew Linnell is co-founder of MysTech. He retired from a 42-year career in the computer industry in 2013. He had been CTO of OmegaBand in Austin, TX; and also worked at EMC, Compaq, DEC, Wang Labs, and IBM. He is president of the Boston branch of the Anthroposophical Society and a member of the School for Spiritual Science. He is the father of three and the author of two children’s books plus an art history book “The Hidden Heretic of the Renaissance: Leonardo”. He leads several study groups and for MysTech he has published three study group guidebooks. He is a frequent lecturer on the role of technology in human evolution as well as the Christian Mysteries. He manages several websites and Facebook pages devoted to MysTech and to the Christian Mysteries.

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