Monday, August 03, 2009

The semantic apocalypse

Welcome to the Semantic Apocalypse

What if our memories, experience, thoughts and worldview are all just a side effect of our brain's evolution? What if human consciousness as we know it is something we'll eventually evolve out of? What if we are essentially just a strange dream cooked up by a piece of meat that drives our bodies on a genetic mission to reproduce?

The day that scientific knowledge blots out human meaning -- that's the semantic apocalypse.

Image by Chris Butler.

Could sentience be a passing evolutionary phase? If so, what comes next? Elsewhere, I've wondered if the strange behavior exhibited by UFO occupants might reflect a post-sentient mode of being:

If we're dealing with aliens -- regardless whether or not they originate in space or on Earth -- maybe their clumsy, oblique interactions with us can be explained if they're endowed with intelligence but devoid of sentience. They could have taken an evolutionary route that bypassed awareness entirely, or they could have achieved a form of sentience only to lose it, perhaps by recklessly merging with their machines.

In hindsight, I suppose I shouldn't have used the word "recklessly." After all, we're conditioned to accept self-awareness as an advantage because it's a fundamental aspect our our existence; just because it seems "natural" or consoling now doesn't mean it will last. If the future survival of life on Earth entails ultimately jettisoning consciousness, perhaps we should welcome the prospect -- regardless how "cold" or alien it might seem from our slender perspective as social primates.

Once again I'm drawn to the prospect that the "Grays" function as posthuman metaphors summoned forth from the collective unconscious, their clinical disposition underscoring our own postbiological trajectory.

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Mike Clelland! said...

Yes - I've said this before. The creepy thing about these gray aliens is that - on some level - THEY ARE US. They are, to me a warning of what we are on the cusp of becoming.

Overly scientific, dependent on machines, frail, and void of emotion. This may be a kind of grand theater with a warning hidden in the metaphor.

Tristan Eldritch said...

Arguably, the semantic apocalypse has already occured, but a large percentage of the world's population have refused to accept its implications - or its legitimacy. Current ideological battles between science and faith, and reason and New Ageisms of wildly varying degrees of merit, reflect a massive conflict along these lines, and one which in many respects reflects the divided nature of our individual psyches.
I find it very hard to believe, however, that we are meant to relinquish self-awareness; I think our awareness needs to extend beyond the small, localised boundaries that it is currently encased in.

Red Pill Junkie said...

Intelligence without sentience? This might be useful on automatons, although it limits their capabilities, but on an entire species?

Maybe they are a hive mind, like an insect colony, performing more on instinct than personal impulse.

Maybe they are incapable of "making sense" of the world without their technology. As humans progress our senses become more dull. We don't have the power of smell and touch that our ancestors depended upon in order to survive.

One thing is certain: We, the humans of the XXIst century, perceive the world through the internet, and likewise the internet is molding our emotions. We're becoming something of a "Meh" culture, when news travel at the speed of light to capture us for an instant, only to be replaced and forgotten by more recent events —another LOL cat, another joke, another SPAM, another porn pic.

Does that mean we're evolving past sentience? Maybe it only means we're becoming duller in our self-contentment.

Mac said...


We're becoming something of a "Meh" culture, when news travel at the speed of light to capture us for an instant, only to be replaced and forgotten by more recent events —another LOL cat, another joke, another SPAM, another porn pic.

Could all of this amount to an evolutionary catalyst of some kind? Or just a cul-de-sac?

Mac said...


"The semantic apocalypse is here; it's just not evenly distributed."

Anonymous said...

Love your thoughts here Mac. I've been pondering the predictability of the human condition for some time. I like concepts which force us to consider the possibility that our understanding of reality is tenuous.

This is also why I feel, though I love him for being so aggressive, Richard Dawkins is likely just as deluded as hard core Catholics.


Anonymous said...

The phrase "semantic apocalypse" is a creation of Scott Bakker's book Neuropath. I highly recommend the book to understand the concept, it goes beyond what you presented here... Bakker's thesis is not only that human consciousness is proven illusory by science, but also that we as human brains are incapable of perceving this reality. The sort of radical undoing of human consciousness he envisions in the Semantic Apocalypse has certainly not yet happened anywhere, that would take something more than a scientific education and a good brain. You'd need at the least a radical transformation of language, culture and civilization, and most likely some kind of neurotechnology.

Mac said...


Peter Watts ("Blindsight") gave "Neuropath" high praise. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Bruce Duensing said...

"Then there is the further question of what is the relationship of thinking to reality. As careful attention shows, thought itself is in an actual process of movement. That is to say, one can feel a sense of flow in the stream of consciousness not dissimilar to the sense of flow in the movement of matter in general. May not thought itself thus be a part of reality as a whole? But then, what could it mean for one part of reality to 'know' another, and to what extent would this be possible?"
-David Bohm

Bruce Duensing said...

You might enjoy this post on the connections between surrealism, implicate order and consciousness.It includes an exchange on the nature of time.