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Three Kinds of Singularity

Martin LeFevre:  There are three meanings to the word “singularity” – cosmological, technological, and psychological. The first and last are real, while the second is the fever dream of technophiles.

The cosmological singularity, which gave rise to the misnomer of the Big Bang, is the originating point of the universe, in which “the entire universe was squeezed into a point of infinite density, temperature and curvature.”  All known laws of physics collapse, and the Causal Principle becomes problematic.

Analogously, a gravitational (or space-time) singularity is the dimension, or dimensionless region beyond the event horizon of a black hole. That’s “where all physical laws are indistinguishable from one another, and where space and time are no longer interrelated realities, but merge indistinguishably, and cease to have any independent meaning.”

Whether black holes recapitulate the cosmological singularity preceding the Big Bang (from which space, time, energy and matter emerged) is an open question. As a philosopher rather than a physicist, my intuitive sense is that black holes embody the ongoing destruction/creation of the universe in ways as yet not understood.

If so (and dispensing with the intellectually dishonest “multiverse” idea), the question becomes not whether information is lost or somehow stored in a black hole, but how and where does it emerge in another part of the universe? To borrow a phrase from biology, are black holes the ultimate expression of “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny?”

Whether these questions have any cosmological validity I don’t know. I’ll leave that to cosmologists and astrophysicists. It’s the next two meanings of singularity that really interest me and peak my philosophical passion.

The second meaning, pertaining to technological singularity, is the hypothetical, but supposedly inevitable point in the future where technological growth increases out of human control and is irreversible. “An exponential increase in technologies like computers, genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence” will, according to its leading proponents, usher in “machine intelligence that will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined.”

As recently reported, “the [technological] ‘singularity’ is the point at which a “new technology would unite human and machine, probably for the better but possibly for the worse, and split history into before and after.”

“Machine intelligence and humans will merge, and this intelligence will then radiate outward from Earth until it saturates the universe,” states Ray Kurzweil, perhaps the best-known cheerleader for such an absurdly anthropocentric future. He predicts the technological singularity will occur in the year 2045.

The hypothetical (but nonetheless dangerous) delusion of a technological utopia is actually a hellish race to the bottom for humanity. It contrasts with the psychological singularity, which appears to be occurring at present.

In this singularity, human consciousness has been accumulating unseen darkness at least since the emergence of cities and civilization, and this cumulative darkness has a limit, a singularity. If so, the psychological singularity is the point at which the fate of humanity is decided one way or another.

As a species, just as individuals, we don’t have an unlimited number of chances to change course. Are enough people turning, facing and beginning, for the first time in human history, to dissolve the cumulative darkness within through the simple but complete action of awareness and attention? Or is the experiment in consciousness on this planet over?

Referring to AI and technological singularity folks, Rodney Brooks, the former director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, cracked, “they all want eternal life without the inconvenience of having to believe in God.”

I don’t know whether he is thinking in terms of a Creator or the intelligence that religious philosophers like me feel permeates and transcends the universe. What he’s saying is that strict materialists/atheists cannot have it both ways.

The negation of content-consciousness, which has become saturated with self-made darkness, is the awakening of cosmic consciousness. That doesn’t imply and invoke anything supernatural. It simply means there’s a hell of a lot more going on with cosmic and terrestrial evolution than we can possibly know, and humility is the order of the day.

It’s possible, though unlikely, that the Earth could evolve another brain with the spiritual potential of the human brain Believing in the fantasy of a technological singularity is to believe that “machine intelligence” will make us God when we merge with our machines. It’s a grotesque idea that has far too much purchase on the human mind.

Clearly there is no relationship between man’s darkness and disorder, and life’s wholeness and order. We can and should go as far as we can scientifically and technologically. But the human brain, as “the pinnacle of creation” on this planet, must remain intact in order to silently perceive the beauty, wholeness and sacredness of life and the cosmos.

We could have changed course at many junctures before this point, but haven’t. Is the psychological singularity the last chance to change course, and is that point now?


Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue.

Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.