Including The Postage

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If we accept, even if but for the duration of this chapter, that our species (or at least consciousness) is a preordained component of some immense computational system that was meant to be right from the beginning of time, then the future surprises in store for us might be great indeed. Since we are presumably the first species of earthly life to be able to fully confront the mystery of being (at least through science and art), then it seems likely that our conscious role within Nature's informational hierarchy must be of some functional import. If some of the radical ideas which I will shortly be introducing have any bearing upon this issue, then our collective future will be awesome to say the least. If we consider for a moment the dramatic leap in complexity and informational integration which separates the primeval emergence of a single-celled bacterium (in itself highly complex) 3 and a half billion years ago from, say, the emergence of Tokyo in all of its wealth of informational activity, then what would a comparable leap in evolution produce? If Nature is a giant information processing intelligence then what surprises still lie in store? What forms of integrated information await us? Can consciousness evolve to some new level, substantiating some new global pattern of integrated information perhaps?

Before we can assess such questions, it makes sense to look more closely at the type of intelligence that we are conceiving. According to all the information we have so far ploughed through, I can think of 3 basic options concerning the nature of such an intelligence: either that the intelligence exists outside of the dimensions of normal reality just as a programmer lies outside of a computer system; that the intelligence is representative of some extremely advanced form of life existing elsewhere in the Universe; or that the Universe is organism-like such that the intelligence exists throughout Nature.

Already we appear to have gate-crashed the pulp storylines so beloved of sci-fi writers. In defence of such a move, we should hold in mind that, whatever the case, reality is like fiction. Why things should be the way they are in this neck of the cosmos is decidedly strange with or without psilocybinetic speculation. Indeed, as Einstein pointed out before reality terminated his mortal existence, the most incomprehensible thing about the Universe would appear to be its very comprehensibility to the human mind.

To suggest that reality is anything but remarkable and mysterious is to be a victim of life's hypnotic aspect. Because we are so conditioned to reality, we are generally oblivious to the fact that, compared to most of the Universe, the processes of informational integration occurring here on Earth are astonishing and indeed science fiction-like. In fact I am prepared to go as far as saying that there is 'nowt as strange' as human history and human consciousness within the on-going reality process.

It is only because we are so used to being self-aware components of the historical process that we do not continually marvel at the fact. Upon careful reflection however, life and its evolution to the point of consciousness-embodying human brains is truly extraordinary and points to the fact that the Universe be purposeful, that information is continually re-forming itself in ways sublime and meaningful according to the way Nature is configured. In any case, we seem willing to accept plenty of other far more radical notions about Nature without as much as a murmur of disbelief. Not surprisingly, McKenna has made the point that a belief in the big bang in which the entire space-time continuum sprung out of nothing represents; "the limit case for credulity...if you can believe this then you can believe anything".

Quite. If you still don't see this strangeness to reality, then locate some pictures of galaxies and supernovae, study them closely, and then step into a packed train during rush hour. Do you not detect a curious twist to reality here? Is it not a trifle odd that the Universe should have yielded such bizarre arrangements of information, that it should have generated we sentient bipedal hominid creatures who patter busily around the surface of a rock circling a star? Above you lie billions of miles of space and billions of suns. So too below you and all around you. We are literally a suspended anomaly within a twinkling starry mystery whose solution remains suspended. If any scientist or philosopher tells you different, tells you maybe that conscious existence is some petty product of the Universe with little or no consequence, then almost punch him on the nose, or shove a custard pie in his face, for he is surely asleep or an automaton whose view serves only to seal minds away from the Mystery.

Given the very fictional quality of existence as it is, I feel not too unperturbed in outlining the possible nature of the intelligent Other in more detail. In the last analysis, it is no less crazy than to elaborate upon the null hypothesis which asserts that all this 'astonishingness' is without reason. Indeed, it is arguably nuts to suggest that all and everything exists for no rhyme or reason. One even suspects that such a mindless interpretation of life and consciousness stems from an ego-obsessed psyche hell bent on describing itself, and solely itself, in terms of high intelligence.

Back to the chase. The aforementioned 3 options concerning the Other, should we care to elaborate upon them, have been explored in one way or another by the late sci-fi writer Philip K.Dick who used fiction as an unbounded medium in which to put across some decidedly mystical ideas about what he believed to be the true nature of reality. By looking at some of the relevant fictional scenarios he created, we shall be able to more clearly divine the feasibility of at least one of the options open to us.

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