Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The "end of the world as we know it" meme has achieved something eerily close to escape velocity.

Christian and Islamic Fundamentalists are fanning the flames of "end times" speculation, complete with high-budget special effects. The tech-geek core of the transhumanist movement awaits the singularity, a nodal point when artificial intelligence and nanotechnology redefine the human condition in a single sweeping flourish. On the UFO front, true believers in a large-scale government coverup anticipate official disclosure of an extraterrestrial presence on Earth -- via government sources or from the aliens themselves.

This sense of anticipation has gelled into an almost palpable fog of incipience, a ubiquitous postmillenial funk, the raw psychic effervescence zeitgeists are made of. But who's forging this emerging zeitgeist, with its curious emphasis on apocalypse? A collusion of advertisers, military strategists and New Age writers? Godlike alien intelligences?

I propose that we're dealing with a meme that has mutated in oder to colonize different sectors of the collective unconscious. A meme is a life-form, no different than a virus (physically "real" or encoded as data and set loose to prowl the embryonic planetary brain we casually call "the Internet"). Our evolution has been hijacked by an automated intelligence concerned only for its own survival. (Fortunately for the apocalypse-meme, we're willing and gracious hosts.)

We must track down the origin of this meme. In doing so we will subvert its agenda and make the first tentative step toward the creation of something very new: a viral intelligence, shocked from its neural slumber and forced (at gunpoint, perhaps) to sprout an intellect to match its tenacity.

Somewhere in spacetime, or perhaps encased in its Escher-esque folds, is our eternally abiding Patient Zero.

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