Thursday, March 06, 2008

Author Peter Watts cites a scientific paper that suggests consciousness -- that ephemeral psychic narrator we equate with self-awareness and the "soul" -- doesn't have any adaptive value. Watts originally turned me onto this proposterous-seeming (yet perversely seductive) idea in "Blindsight," a dark novel of posthumanity and first contact that spawned the following meditation on alien saucer-pilots:

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.

"Ufonauts" are often described as behaving in a military or insect-like manner, even moving in lockstep. Maybe they're interested in us because we're aware in a way they aren't, and they're determined to acquire our capacity for self-reflective thought in order to communicate with us. In essence, our interaction with the UFO intelligence could be a dialogue with a complex but myopic machine. Maybe "they" have never encountered a species like us and are genuinely baffled -- insofar as a distributed computer can be "baffled."

(Have you noticed how I've spent the last two posts quoting myself? Must be something in the air.)

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