Age of Embodiment
A guide to my short-lived blog about cognitive science and science fiction
Around the time that Lady of Mazes came out, I found myself bursting with ideas of a particular sort, and lacking a place to put them. I built myself a new weblog and called it Age of Embodiment. (You'll find links to some of the more interesting articles at the bottom of this page.)
This weblog was an attempt to sketch the shape of an entirely new kind of culture--one that isn't plagued by the neuroses and contradictions of the 20th century. Maybe it's because I'm a science fiction writer that I can even imagine attempting such a thing; the fact is, I see signs of change everywhere, and within numerous disciplines people are talking about how their local worldview is evolving into something new. The problem is that, today, everybody's a specialist--who these days keeps abreast of current thinking in not just in their own area of expertise, but also in cultural criticism, fine art, computer science, theoretical physics, linguistics, neurophysiology, cognitive science, biophysics, narratology, philosophy, psychology and pop culture? And if nobody has the time or energy to follow everybody else's discipline as well as their own, who would notice if a change were to start sweeping through all of them?
Being an SF writer, I actually try to keep abreast of all the above areas; not as an expert, but as a hunter-gatherer for interesting ideas. And everywhere I look, I see the clash of cultures that characterized the twentieth century, coming to a close.
In June of 2003 I gave a short talk at the annual conference of the American Library Association. The title of the talk was "Traitor to Both Sides", and it started like this:
Science Fiction is disreputable. Despite whatever debates we may have about how to define SF, or about what its influence on history or culture may be, this is one thing we all agree on. SF is not considered Literature in literary circles. It’s too much concerned with the physical world--the objective as opposed to the subjective.
Strangely, SF is equally disreputable within the scientific community, because it is, after all, an art form and not an attempt to represent reality “as it is”. I’ve had many a specialist kvetch at me about how SF distorts the facts; we need look no further than Star Trek to see examples of egregious invention of elements and physical phenomena that are ridiculous if not simply impossible.
Being disreputable has its advantages. It allows you to take an outsider's view of matters that would otherwise be too close to be noticeable. In the case of SF, it also means that, since you can't ruin your reputation any more than you already have by choosing to write this stuff, you feel comfortable rooting through any sort of intellectual backwater, side-stream or (sometimes) stagnant pool, for material. As an SF writer, you become the ultimate auto-didact.
Someone who's a traitor to both science and academic intelligentsia is in a unique position to look down on the smoking ruins of a century of warfare between the two sides and discern a pattern to it all. The two-culture war is far from an abstract hobby; it gets fought every day inside the head of anyone who's ever tried to reconcile reason and faith, or scientific discoveries about human nature and evolution versus their own feelings about human dignity. Its struggles directly affect issues such as abortion, crime and punishment, human rights etc. But looking down at the battlefield right now, the observant outsider can see one thing: the war is ending. I don’t think most people on either side realize it yet. But the terms of the cease-fire have been drawn up; the armies are retreating--and the rhetoric and propaganda on both sides looks more and more like face-saving, rather than passionate rallying.
Hence this blog. A laser-like analysis of any one field doesn't reveal the shape of the coming changes. You have to step waaay back and look at everything. And that's what I'm going to try to do, for the next little while, in this blog.
Yeah, Age of Embodiment was a temporary project. But it lasted long enough to get a lot of people involved, commenting on my more provocative posts; and long enough for me to touch on all the issues I wanted to talk about.
Here's some of the more interesting posts, including the sometimes fractious replies:
- Consciousness without Intelligence
- "Hot Cognition", Welfare, and the Pinker/Lakoff Feud
- Farewell to the "God Spot" Idea
- Postmodern Fog Dissipates
- Mind-Reading Helmet for Gamers
- Busting the Metaphor: The Brain is Not a Computer
- Embodied Religion
- Prerequisite #1: Ending the Metaphysics of Math
- Animals in Translation
- Robots Test Embodied Cognition
- Unconscious Computing: the Know-Thyself App
- A Different Immortality
- Unconscious Computing 2: the Augmented Unconscious
- The Fourth Way (to Understand AI)
- Embodied Economics
- Emergent Democracy and Stigmergy
- A New Basis for Liberalism
- Transhumanism Skewered
- A Different Foreign Policy Model
- Finally Some Common Sense
Physics and Reality
- Theories of Everything
- The Afshar Experiment: Farewell to Copenhagen?
- Disembodied Art: Cartesian Dualism in Science Fiction
- The Finite Universe
- Embodied Science
- Sacred Sciences
- Retrocausality to be Tested
- Two Errors: Intelligent Design and "Progress"
- Fake Fitness
- On the Origin of Objects
- Unintelligent Design
Technology as Legislation
- Beyond the Desktop: Computers for Animals
- Instead of Transhumanism
- Transhumanism, Libertarianism, and Choice