As you know, my commutes mean I have a tendency to drag-net the entire world looking for podcasts that may yield even the slightest gem of content. This is more challenging than it sounds. One with a 40% ‘gem rate’ -which is pretty good, believe me- is the James Altucher show.
A recent episode had Steve Kotler on it, talking about his book, Tomorrowland (which I subsequently purchased). He presents a reasonably lucid view that we might call ‘scientistic futurism’… complete with the gaping, truck-wide holes in such a worldview, as well as a total amnesia for the fact that, as Chris Knowles points out, many of these ‘just around the corner’ developments are the kind of jibber jabber Leary was going on about in the 70s. (SMI²LE, anyone?)
This is what I mean by competing schools of magic. Nothing quite so pointless or irrelevant as chaos magic versus Agrippan or whatever. The scientistic futurism looks something like this:
- Something about eating paleo and getting all ‘princess and the pea’ about how even a little bit of gluten or caffeine can just ‘wipe you out for the day’. Bro, what are all those muscles you have tightly wrapped in an expensive t-shirt for if a little extra caffeine ruins your day?
- Supplements and injections to make you smarter and blah blah metabolise blah blah. Kurzweil -Rasputin to the archons- apparently takes dozens throughout the day. Ferriss is the same.
- Virtual Reality. Like how we’re all going to live in it and that’s where the jobs are migrating to.
- The use of hormones such as testosterone and the regular blood and chem checks these guys undergo. Kotler was talking about how he had a team of people regularly measuring his bloods.
- The singularity and blah blah AI.
- How genetic research is going to have you grow new limbs and solve diseases and make you smarter and all drugs will be tailor-made to your blueprint.
I want to highlight this stuff for a few reasons. Firstly because some variations of it regularly appear in apparently ‘allied’ sites or podcasts; supposedly Fortean ones that are mostly just Scooby Doo ‘it was the gardener all along’ explanations… and in one notable case, hugely, vilely dismissive of the weird.
The second reason for highlighting this school of magic is it’s actually not a very good or inclusive vision of the future. Basically all of the Singulatarians are describing an amazing future for rich, white, hetero Californian boys. Honestly, it’s like some kind of medieval questing knight… how is this ‘app start-up entrepreneur’ so insanely valuable to mankind that he must have a team of doctors, nutritionists, trainers and consultants ensuring his white limbs operating at the highest possible output? (And yet gluten can ‘wipe him out’ for the day.) Basically, in the future, it will costs millions a year to run each individual human. How does that scale, Mr Ferriss?
Not only is ‘the Bro Future’ too expensive and alarmingly elitist to ever manifest -perhaps more annoyingly- it is based on wrong or entirely unproven assumptions. This glorious biotech future. Did you know that nearly 75% of all biotech companies have no earnings? None!
This is seriously some Tulip Mania bullshit. We’ve been promised the same story since Clinton announced that with the mapping of the Human Genome we’d have cured all major diseases within a few years. This, ladies and gentlemen, is an equity bubble hoovering up government investment and handing it to private shareholders with the future promise of “one day I will build you some unicorns.”
As for the whole brain-enhancing/smart-drug/computer-implant/rise-of-conscious-AI/supplements claptrap, it relies on the probably-100%-wrong, failed assumption that mind = brain. Which we know it doesn’t.
In a discussion with m1k3y on the weekend about his latest piece, I happened to mention my 90s obsession with Blue Planet… a terribly clunky RPG from a gameplay perspective but, from a world-building perspective, is like a Lovecraft or a Kirby or a ER Burroughs: this shit that landed in your head, where did it come from?
If you’re wondering where Jim Cameron stole literally everything for Dances with Smurfs then this is it. Another planet -watery rather than foresty- which contains longevity minerals, being harvested by private corporations for a ‘corporate city state run’ earth, mysterious indigenous types who have something to do with the longevity mineral… which itself might say something tantalising about the ultimate origin of mankind… and so on. The reason I incandescently dislike Dances with Smurfs -apart from it being a terrible film and really kinda racist- is that it is the kind of astonishing plagiarism you can only get away with if you’re a Hollywood director with murky, Freemasonic origins. (Look it up.)
Unlike the games I actually played more often -the White Wolf ones- Blue Planet is what we could call ‘hard sci fi’. It has little innate ‘magic’, just a measured -almost cynical- view of what humans can and will do in the future. There are famines on earth because of GMO crops, we’re still destroying the environment used by indigenous populations on Poseidon, etc. In that respect, it may have been a strange choice of ‘absolute favourite world’ for a kid who was in his full blown Wiccan phase at the time.
But it was more than that. And then I realised this was the world in which I built my first astral temple, one that I still regularly use. And, in fact, I’m going to commend it to you as a location for such a thing, because a lot of the legwork in terms of ‘building the astral world’ is done for you… look at that map. It even has the ocean currents and scientific names for alien sea grass and so on.
My ‘magical hack’ of an unashamedly ‘hard sci fi’ future world strikes me as the emblematic pivot point in our discussion of competing schools of magic.
The competition is not simply one of ‘unproven, scientistic materialism’ versus some form of psychism or literal magic. There are holes in the wall of that school too, specifically around our wholesale adoption of the absurd Many Worlds hypothesis of quantum theory. (Which is just a mathematical fudge to keep materialism intact: all particles still definitely exist, just in other dimensions.) The drive to bolt on spurious or unproven scientistic guesses is disappointingly pervasive. See this Vallée quote from Eric’s excellent blog, The Night Shirt.
I have always been skeptical of parapsychologists, because their experiments and their theories borrow the standard concepts of space and time dimensions from physics. These concepts seem obsolete to me. They are not appropriate for understanding telepathy, or the moving of objects at a distance, or ghosts, or Melchizedek. I have always been struck also by the fact that energy and information are one and the same thing under two different aspects. Our physics professors teach us this; they never draw the consequences. —Jacques Vallee
Written in 1979, much of that is still in play. No one seems to have really grokked the implications of neuroplasticity, for instance. Or the fact that the biggest ‘social future’ trend is not the rise of the Virtual, but the return of the Real. Anyone under 35 is using digital platforms to get into the real world… the over 35s -which encompasses basically all media commentators- are still living in the shadow of IRC… that the virtual is something you escape to. Simon Jenkins calls this the post-digital world.
This is the school of magic that I hope wins the competition.
Beyond online to offline, it is characterised by
- Decentralisation, not centralisation
- It it localised; the dialogue with space is a reflection of the local biosphere, not some silly LARP of a dead culture in a country you have never been to.
- It is chaotic in the Nassim Taleb sense:
“If the past, by bringing surprises, did not resemble the past previous to it (what I call the past’s past), then why should our future resemble our current past?”
- It is non-exclusive. You don’t have to take hundreds of dollars of supplements and tell your five blood nurses about all the fun you’re having with your fucking Occulus Rift. (The masturbator’s Google Glass.)
The thing about this second school of magic is that it describes a world we are all going to live in anyway, even if some variant of the Bro Future comes off. The Bro Future is astoundingly deflationary: you may have noticed a little turmoil -exactly on trend as anticipated– occurring in global markets. Once debt becomes much more expensive, and it will very soon, business will be forced to lean into the automation trend, permanently engineering out at least 40% of current Middle Class jobs. I’m not quite sure who they expect to sell all these Occulus Rifts to when consumer disposable income no longer exists. As for improvements to health care? Ha, not for you, poors! Go pick some leeches out of the weed-choked creek where the trains used to run.
That’s really why I keep telling you to decentralise and demonetise. There are no steps in between today and the future I am describing that change the outcome; not ‘government investment’, not war, not new technological developments, not UFO disclosure… nothing.
The Bro Futurists probably have enough VC capital access to go ahead and continue to build their private space programmes and their wearable tech that tells you when you have had trace gluten exposure and need to go visit your private nurse and robots with ‘AI’ that are near enough to consciousness that these aspies won’t be able to tell the difference. (Seriously, we are leaving the building of artificial humans in the hands of those least adept at actual human behaviour. Think about it.)
Their machines will be haunted but not in the silly mind=brain/AI way that they hope. Their machines will be haunted because, like my astral temple on a hard sci fi planet, we will be haunting the fuck out of them.