An interesting article ...
The Singularity of Knowledge
It’s not just some blurry point of infinitude on our horizon — we’re basically there.
“The time has come to realise that an interpretation of the universe — even a positivist one — remains unsatisfying unless it covers the interior as well as the exterior of things; mind as well as matter. The true physics is that which will, one day, achieve the inclusion of man in his wholeness in a coherent picture of the world.”
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Personally, I’m not really a fan of the term ‘singularity’. It seems to be a cop out for trying to describe a point of indescribable progress. It’s lazy. Especially when thrown into discussions surrounding A.I. or technology — we’ve turned it into such a casually-regarded inevitability that we’ve allowed it to obstruct the pathways of our collective imagination.
Not only is it a lethargic way to idealize the future — to speak of variable singularities as they’re inevitably stitched into our horizons — but it’s also a failure in terms of our philosophical practice of intuitive foresight and critical anticipation.
Sure, it may seem near impossible to describe these certain points at which our chosen variable takes on an infinite value, but it need not prevent us from trying. In all truth, we ourselves exist in a singularity — we’re a bipedal example of the infinite progress that our primordial ancestors couldn’t necessarily envision, no matter how hard they could have tried.
Yet, I’m sure that some of them would have had some startlingly accurate or, at the least, entertaining guesses.
And so, to contextualize this rambling preamble, we should embrace the idea of a singularity, not as a term used to capture our inability to understand what’s on our horizon, but as the literal interpretation of cohesive unification, and as an invitation to try and imagine the infinitude of what’s in store for us.
This, when all is said and done, is the hallmark of what makes us human — the innate ability to predict, hypothesize, imagine.
I’ve written previously about the noösphere — an idealized high-energy layer of human thought and connectivity that is constructed upon our world of ideas and innovation; somewhat of an informational nervous system, a shroud of mental inter-connectivity to which we become more and more dependent upon, fashioned from and by knowledge, exponentially generating more and more information that propels us to unrealized heights of human existence.
It’s a mouthful. And a bit of a grandiose idea, if not an already-actualized aspect of our reality.
The concept had originated in 1926 (arguably as early as 1922) by a trio of astoundingly underrated minds: Edouard Le Roy (philosopher), Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (paleontologist) and Vladimir Vernadsky (geochemist) who had agreed upon their conceptualization of this sphere of human thought in the sense of a lexical analogy to the geosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.
We’re now on the doorstep of the century mark from whence this theory had been birthed out of this odd three-way of intellectual prospecting. Long after the innovations of radio wave technology and telecommunications, as well as the more pressing advent of the internet, we’re seeing this noösphere come to fruition. Rapidly.
To beat a preambling drum: if these three minds could only see how information moved around the world at today’s pace, they themselves would have a hard time describing it, back then, as anything other than a singularity.
Nevertheless, the noösphere is as real as it could have ever been imagined to be, and it warrants more than a respectful nod in the direction of its existence, as it means that we’re in store for some monumental achievements atop the ever-growing pinnacles of our epoch.
If only we could make sense of them, or anticipate them enough that we don’t resign ourselves to labelling it a singularity.
I’m not going to try and postulate the many ways in which the noösphere will revolutionize our systems of knowledge — it’s getting tiresome to copy and paste the ö.
This is more about an acknowledgement that we’re on the verge of unfathomably remarkable milestones in the journey of our understanding, milestones that we don’t need to concretely identify as much as we ought to loosely imagine.
First and foremost, we have to consider the landscape of our past, present and future knowledge structures. While Medium’s not necessarily the most appropriate outlet to get into such details, we can concisely agree that we exist in a time like no other with respect to how we currently cultivate and share information.
Knowledge is no longer restricted to the clergy or to those with sufficient tuition payments. Information, despite it’s clunky and clumsy manner of being organized, has been liberated for most of the minds on the planet.
This point should be celebrated ad nauseum, but it’s rarely appreciated.
More critically to our modern perspective (as praising the internet is very 1990s), we’re continuously seeing the development of more streamlined and efficient methods by which information flows around.
Upload speeds are increasing, mediums are propagating, frequencies are amplifying, receivers are tuning more precisely. Hardware, whether we’re talking about 7G towers or Neuralink, is barely able to keep up with our insatiable appetites for innovation.
Information transfer is increasingly nearing the plateaus of immediacy and, in getting there, the noösphere is becoming more responsive, more sensitive, and all the more self-propagating.
The nervous system is developing.
Our reality functions by various thermodynamic laws that nothing can seem to escape. No matter how tangible or intangible, entropy pervades anything and everything, always moving things from a state of order to disorder.
However, as the intelligent creatures we are, we have the uncanny ability to smirk in the face of this law by being able to re-establish some order from the disorder at play.
Think of an engine. It takes a stable fuel and uses the disorder caused by the burning of that fuel to create a new sense of order (locomotion). The volatility and disorder is harnessed into new methods of order (travel).
The same can be said for our systems of knowledge.
In an increasingly nonsensical world, we tend to make sense of things however we can. We write, we podcast, we legislate, we regulate.
Knowledge is just another resource that can spin out of control and that we can organize as need be, one that we’ve co-existed with since we’ve been able to share it throughout our history, from ancestral folklore around a fire to transcribing hieroglyphics.
With the future comes an exponentiation in the many flows and streams of information. Not just the message but the medium; not just the transmitter and receiver but the amplifiers and transistors and scramblers as well.
Things will get messy, as they are already becoming with the likes of social media, biased news, non-credible resourcing, noisy and dysfunctional types entertainment.
“Frankly there is nothing more cosmic than this freaking planet and all the illusions and delusions we entertain ourselves with. A knotted ball of yarn, between the absolute and the infinite. “
But, again, wherever disorder can be found, there is order to be made.
It’s not too difficult to foresee the eventual (and hopefully inevitable) harmonization of knowledge structures. A unification of sorts, one that spans the previously-compartmentalized lines of study, stitches together the feedback loops and modernizes the lenses and filters through which we understand reality.
This is the singularity of knowledge of which I write — not a singularity in the sense of an indescribable infinite, exponentiating into infinity but as a coming together, a literal singularity. An absolute.
Beyond imagination, the human mind is also gifted with the ability to decipher patterns — to make sense out of nonsense.
Especially, we seem to love common denominators.
So much so that the biggest breakthroughs in science have revolved around unification as much as they have around discovery. Routinely, we’ve made paradigm-shattering discoveries by simply tying loose ends together, and we continue to operate under this ambition (it can be said that our next target in line is dark matter).
The greatest minds in history have understood this need for unification to be the ultimate prerogative. Some, like Nikola Tesla, had subsequently failed in their connecting of certain dots while others, like James Clerk Maxwell, had become famous for it.
The problem is that it’s not easy. Far from it.
As clever as we are, we’ve compartmentalized our systems of knowledge into such distinct and divided segments of study that it’s near impossible for one student to embark upon two opposing streams of belief, something that had been the norm only a hundred years ago.
The noösphere promises us a rekindling of this comprehensive approach to understanding our world. With its synergetic potential and it’s touch-point responsiveness, it holds the ability to take all that we’ve chopped up and bring it back together, even if for a moment, just to see if anything blends together comfortably, anything that we hadn’t had, or couldn’t have had, previously considered.
Because, and this is the main point to digest, the noösphere is able to do something that we ourselves have a hard time doing. It can discern and catalogue, cross-boundaries and synthesize streams of information. It can employ numerous algorithms that would take us an absurdly long time to match in terms of efficacy.
Sounds like A.I. doesn’t it?
It doesn’t necessarily have to be, though artificial intelligence will certainly be an integral part of its picture, as it currently is.
The noösphere is the environ. We are the data points.
Twitter lets political discourse unfold in real time. Instagram lets people share their experiences with a taste of immediacy. TikTok, well, it may serve useful in some respect one day.
Quora, Reddit, Wikipedia. All far from perfect, but we’re getting there.
Once we’re able to communicate faster and better and once we’re able to contextualize and idealize more comprehensively than ever before, we’ll see the connecting of a new array of dots that we hadn’t previously thought possible.
Knowledge will come together, under a real singularity, and harmonize itself to a point whereby we’ll have as comprehensive of an outlook as we can imagine.
Whatever this really means (and it may mean many very different things), it will be the milestone of our civilization.
Technologically, socially, environmentally, astronomically, biologically — information will reach the apex of interconnectedness; in so doing, we’ll have the most informed understanding that there can possibly be (correlating to our rate of new discoveries) at any given time.
Our segregation of various fields of study will no longer be isolating; our subjective experiences and insights will no longer be so subjective; our vision will no longer be obstructed by division.
The singularity of knowledge — it’s already happening, but it’s about to speed up to rates we won’t even realize until we’re able to look back on it.
Our only obligation, it seems, is to nurture this process rather than standing back and watching it unfold on its own under the presumption of a far-and-away singularity that we don’t have enough time or imaginative power to consider.
In essence, we are the singularity.
Coming soon: The Singularity of Consciousness