Saturday, December 27, 2008

This year I've written a monthly column for Futurismic called "Loving the Alien." Here's a retrospective:

On UFOs:

We transhuman ufologists are a witheringly small bunch; although I've come across provocative discussions about nanotechnology and machine intelligence within the more intelligent corridors of ufology, committed transhumanists approach the subject of UFOs and the "paranormal" with pronounced disdain. The very definition of "skeptic," for instance, is summarily forgotten; among the more strident and vocal proponents of transhumanism, the very prospect of extraterrestrial visitation via UFO is considered naïve fantasy good for little more than placating true believers with elusive promises of galactic altruism. Certainly, they argue, we're better off parroting the so-called Fermi Paradox.

On sexuality:

Assuming our species ultimately graduates to some enhanced level of existence, I think we'll probably take sex with us, if only as a souvenir. But our current version seems certain to fall by the wayside eventually; if we take the effort to improve our somatic operating systems, it's doubtful we'll continue running the same programs for the sake of simple nostalgia. Instead, we'll want something better, more meaningful, more in keeping with how we define ourselves as individuals and as a species -- if indeed we remain a single distinct species at all. In reality, the human future might be a bit like the scenario from contemporary space opera, splintered into factions that regard each other with more than a little sense of incomprehension.

On dreams:

As familiar as they've become, there's nothing overtly pleasant about them. Rather, they seem more than slightly ominous: jaundiced psychic postcards from the near-future landscapes of Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard. My very identity is relegated to that of a confused tourist; my itinerary, if there is one, seems limited to so much queasy sight-seeing. I can't plot a meaningful course of action, so I merely watch -- and awake with my mind's eye awash in fragments.

On consciousness:

Perhaps I'm wary of any would-be neurological hackers. After all, a sufficiently capable technology (human or otherwise) might choose to exploit the gulf between "now" and the processed version accessed by our minds. (The rogue AIs of The Matrix certainly weren't above such devilish tricks.) Conversely, maybe we need that gulf -- maybe it's a kind of buffer that's evolved, in part, to keep us from drinking too deeply at the well of the Real (where literally unimaginable horrors might lurk, eager to hijack our sense of self and partake of the slippery phenomenon we call "consciousness").

On contemporary mythology:

Whoever they once were and wherever they're from, the Grays have suffered a cataclysmic schism between body and mind. Like the replicants of Blade Runner, they're largely immune to empathy and look to us with a mixture of fascination and sadness. They've lost something pivotal and will stop at nothing to get it back -- if, indeed, they remember what they've misplaced.

We boldly speculate about the potential of mind-uploading and the promise of designer bodies. We plunge forever deeper in to the resplendent weave of our own genome, shuffling molecules with Frankensteinian resolve. The Grays might be projections from our own future: imaginal constructs so heavily freighted with our own unresolved anxieties that they've become effectively palpable.

On virtual reality:

Not that SL is wholly without charm or promise. It possesses an agreeably anarchic flavor and its locales -- many flaunting ersatz cultures culled from fashion, history and science fiction novels -- betray an endearing alliance of geekdom. Endlessly fetishistic, venturing forth in SL is a bit like stumbling across a mall from the future of Blade Runner: an infestation of capitalistic frenzy so pronounced the billboards often ooze more personality than the inhabitants themselves. Much of SL's real-estate mirrors the progression of a lucid dream; upon returning to reality, you may find yourself waxing philosophical at inconvenient moments.

On dubious claims:

"You know, I have this sneaking suspicion you're not from another planet at all," I said as the coffee began percolating. "Maybe you’ve read some of my essays. I think you're real, but not necessarily the kind of 'real' we're used to. John Mack once used the term 'reified metaphor.' But a metaphor for what?"

I poured two mugs and offered one to the alien, who'd already started up Firefox and was busily scanning my RSS feeds. "Thanks," it said, wrapping a colorless finger around the handle. I sat on the living room's other chair, vaguely aware that my cats had begun congregating around the newcomer.

On science fiction:

None of this is to suggest that UFOs are mere kitsch, ripe for the literary harvest. Extraterrestrial spacecraft or something else, I'm convinced that we're dealing with a very real phenomenon. However, I tend to think a true understanding will occur only when we take stock of our own neurological constraints; perhaps the devastating weirdness of the UFO spectacle needs our imagination in order to give voice to the inconceivable.

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