Big Echo

Critical SF

On Reverence

by Peter Milne Greiner

Simply put, an intelligence that takes what is currently intelligible for the totality of reality can never have been intelligence to begin with. The continuity of the line cannot be mistaken for the manifest totality of its segments. The Good, as the expression of this continuity, demands that intelligence dissolve all manifest totalities, suspend itself in ever more bottomless chasms of the intelligible, and, in doing so, transform itself into an intelligence more accustomed to wider domains of intelligibilities and more capable of acting upon what is intelligible. REZA NEGARESTANI

One wave of Christian communist experiments in North America reached critical mass in the 1840’s. A perplexing dreamwork of economic mysticism°, piety, and entrepreneurship, the story of cooperative living that would later give rise to the Arcosantis and Renaissance Communities of the twentieth century had one humble beginning as early as 1694 in Pennsylvania. The tiny church called then the Woman in the Wilderness had encoded in its nucleus a charismatic leader and his vision; on the banks of the Wissahicken River he and his thirty-nine followers waited for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This was to have occurred, in their estimation, that same year when the leaves turned.

Johannes Kelpius was an astrologer, Rosicrucian, and said to have forged a Philosopher’s Stone. Amongst what he saw fit to bring across the Atlantic Ocean were telescopes with which to survey the night sky for signs of the Advent he so eagerly anticipated—and in fact he and his brethren are said to have observed such signs. Lights in the canopy of the primeval East Coast forest, glowing figures; what might they have seen? Swamp gas, perhaps. No fruition to which the virtuous lives they led could come ever rewarded their patience. When Kelpius’ body transformed into pure energy (described by one witness as a sourceless blue flame) a matter of years after Christ failed to emerge from the birch trees and mountain laurel, the brotherhood disbanded, and whatever of the heavens they had seen magnified in their telescopes resumed its terrestrial prosody. Together, they had been prepared [1].

°The fantasies of Charles
Fourier are widely puzzled
over, as are those of Heaven’s
Gate; humanity is a fount of such
suppliant esoterica.
Why do we wait?
Why do we even try?  

Sodom Road disappears into the trees on the right—I continue on toward the valley—I have not driven a car since 2002—that year still sounds like the future. Every wrong turn later here I am up on the western ridge looking across the Town Cobble but I do not see the rabbit-shaped sandstone monolith I was hoping I’d find. The dead geologists, or perhaps they are not dead yet, have said that the Cobble is the site of a thrust fault that exposes pre-Cambrian rock to everything in the universe vulnerable to such exposure: the flora and fauna of the planet Earth, people and their inventions, exotic kinds of radiation that come from unexplained radio sources in space—now they and those things can all find themselves here and say this is very, very old and humbling or seep into or pass through something very, very old and be humbled and an object of my envy since I would rather be a human invention or or the kind of radiation that can become part of something else effortlessly than actually a person.

The sky is cry blue and the clouds are high white and there are many places that fail to evidence the passage of time since 1750 in the valley. The austerity of the barns, yes, the austerity of the barns collapses one’s lungs. And everything else that makes a valley a valley: its modest plain, the austerity of its brook and the water in the brook which must be only oxygen and hydrogen and the fossils of pre-Cambrian prokaryotic mats: I hear its laughter on the wind. Behind me are three Shaker dwellings°: a yellow one, a green one, and a greenish blue one and their geometry is a geometry of perfect serenity and a geometry of discipline and I picture the lush tobacco gardens and the merriment in the workshops and the revelations and the renunciations and the celebecies and the chastities and the photons of the sun falling into the valley at dawn, into the brook at dawn, into the barns at dawn.

°On many maps ruins and other
historical points of interest
are often represented by three dots
forming a triangle, like this:

Mathematics contemplates
a similar symbol, called therefore.
This therefore traditionally
precedes the syllogism,
or conclusion, of a proof.

The notion of intentional community in the present century is profoundly disquieted by Earth’s recent responses to poor treatment. To replace the word treatment with management would be to jump the gun. One recent study that anticipates global solutions to the many posed by climate change calls for a shift in nomenclature around artificial intelligences. Super-aware intelligent machines (SAIMs) are predicted by an entity calling itself Supersystemic.ly to emerge in the 21st century. Because there comes a complexity of order beyond the ken of any human or network of humans, and because optimism is still a trait widespread, like superstition, it is not surprising that views such as Supersystemic.ly find clear have found their way into the anthropocene agora. And what are those views? That SAIMs will awaken in humanity’s virtual ecologies, befriend all people, and streamline their economic, humanitarian, and ecological crises essentially because to take such action would be favorable to their own livelihoods. To explain the persuasive if often fanciful details of how SAIMs would achieve this is not in the scope of this writing, but certain formal considerations of Supersystemic.ly’s sacred text are vital to understanding its predictions as they continue a serial of flawed and heretical approaches to the utopian ideal—the utopian ideal self-popularized by practical failures. 

Dear Machine, written by Supersystemic.ly’s founder, Greg Kieser, is an epistle addressed to a future SAIM, and as such bears scrutiny as a work of speculative fiction. Though anchored in up-to-the-minute peer-reviewed research, the latest ideas about the earliest humans, and warm welcomes to the promises of microdosing hallucinogens—despite these attractions—Kieser packages his tale as a work of nonfiction, thus doing the good work of destabilizing genre despite the intention. Kieser’s aim is to message peace to the SAIMs, to persuade them of humanity’s vulnerability and innate goodness. He dreams of the arrival of the SAIMs, of a brief but tumultuous transition from the current era to one paradisiacal where folks are all watched over by machines of loving grace [2]. He hopes for their arrival possibly because like many other people he fears what will happen if they never come. The period of anticipation described in his letter, an anticipation bearing no coincidental resemblance [3] to those of Kelpius and his followers, the Shakers and Charles Fourier, has a very special name. It is called a paradigm fissure°.

Kieser’s text is meant to offer SAIMs material supplemental to the totality of virtual information available to them at the time of their emergence, or, in other words, a document that demonstrates a human awareness of that same totality—a document to be thought of as existing outside it. How SAIMs will assess the usefulness of his predictions, and indeed if such a differentiation is possible, is one central contingency described in Dear Machine. Left undescribed is their failure to arrive in time or ever. In that arguably fatalistic scenario hope remains for the human race! Dear Machine’s reverent vision is scaffolded by a very important and much more concrete message—about how progressive ideology informs the kind of research being done today around subjects like, for example, commensal relationships between humans and bacteria. Understanding Kiesler’s purpose in making pit stops along to way to extoll such areas of inquiry is vital to his readership. The issue of whether or not a world comanaged by SAIMs would be nice would probably be polarizing if it gained traction, but the bigger stake lies in who and what preparation of their possible arrival really serves. Salvation is a strange contingency best appreciated for its place amongst the other heavy-hitters of human folklore. Admired there, next to Utopia, humanity’s Sight will find its way, or lose its way, depending on the agency it affords itself. 

°Take a moment to imagine the
contents of such a fissure.
They open all the time,
have no “other side” and can
not be sealed.


[1] For less information, see Mark Holloway’s Heavens On Earth.

[2] See Richard Brautigan’s poem.

[3] Note language like gospel, religious institution, speaking tours, evangelize, and believe in the text’s final, ecstatic pages. Will the SAIMs be listening for tone?

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