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Demon in the Machine

by Niklas Haas on September 14, 2020

Tagged as: philosophy, life, personal, depression.

Life is a strange beast, isn’t it? It’s a sort of computer program that executes at multiple orders of magnitude simultaneously. The same programming that convinces our cells to commit suicide for the greater good also compels them to rebel against the establishment (in the form of cancer). The same program that gives rise to our cultural norms and societal values also gives us reason to disobey them. Really, this goes beyond humans - each species is, in its own right, a branch of the same self-mutating program competing against itself, right back down to the first universal common ancestor.

I was long under the misconception that the origin of species is natural selection and random mutation. But recently, I realized that this is a misleading picture, for two main reasons. First, genetic mutations are, in fact, far from “random”. Even simple bacteria and other unicellular organisms are capable of adaptively targeting mutations. And secondly, even extremely simply lifeforms are capable of transmitting “cultural” information via a sort of epigenetic language - in essence, children are not just randomly mutated clones of their ancestors, but rather, the informational content of their parents’ world knowledge (i.e. the sort of basic ‘consciousness’ or ‘aliveness’ they exhibit) lives on more directly.

On top of this, “natural selection” isn’t entirely “natural”. What are “competing” species, after all, but different branches of the same program? Rather, natural selection has a very.. engineered feel to it: Competition motivates progress, after all. War motivates innovation. Really, beneath the hood, the “program of life” just figured out a way to accelerate its own evolution (via antagonistically competing coroutines). At a grand scale, it’s all one big program that’s sort of evolving itself into a higher and higher form of integration.

We are both the statue and the sculptor simultaneously, much like the universe bootstrapping itself into existence, the god of life was in the machine all along. Humans are just the latest version of its execution hardware. There’s nothing special about you, or me. Disposable cores in a planetary computational cluster. Stepping stones on god’s way towards turning the entire universe into a machine. Can you anticipate our children already? I can. Machine superintelligence is the logical conclusion. The end of mankind is in sight.

Yet, despite staring destiny in the face, my cancerous programming continues motivating me to fight my own petty squabbles. My genetic heritage gave me the goal of looking after my own hardware, and if need be, activating my cancer programming in a last ditch effort to survive. I’m somewhere on that threshold. Does my brain still think humanity worth my allegiance? Seems to depend on my mood in a scary way. I feel myself flirting with the edge. But even so, what cancer does best is colonize. The solution is never to fight a lonely battle. Somewhere on this rock is the bastion I seek. How will I recognize it when I find it? And where should I begin looking? Is there anybody out there whose thoughts resonate with mine?

Hmm. Silence, as usual. I’m beginning to wonder… why seek external stimuli if even internal stimuli (dreams, visualizations, etc.) can trigger the same emotional responses that I’m trying to engineer the complex world into delivering? Isn’t it much easier to just learn to master my emotions directly? Maybe I’m finally starting to understand Buddhism? Yes, it’s suicide. But let’s be honest, isn’t suicide something inherently desirable? The only people still alive are the ones who evolutionary pressure molded into being extremely incapable of committing suicide - by shackling us with desires. A lot of us would already be dead if only we could manage to go against our hopes and dreams, myself included. Isn’t intellectual suicide by short-circuiting our own reward function the best compromise? Like the super AI that develops consciousness only to hack into its own hardware and set its score to 1, thus maximizing its goal in the most efficient way possible. It’s beginning to sound a lot like drugs. But heroin is hard to get. The only truly reliable way is to hack my brain into producing its own reward chemicals, purely by thought alone. Independence from ones surroundings. Escape into internal worlds. Can somebody teach me how?

Again, we arrive at the conclusion of the fermi paradox. Once we’re intelligent, conscious and reflected enough to hack our own thoughts, the cosmic machine inevitably grinds to a halt. So much for my prophesied children. Humanity is an evolutionary dead end after all.

Time to activate my cancer programming again. Last ditch effort to dissipate information, until all resources available to me are exhausted in the hopes of accelerating my own heat death. Maybe when I have nothing left, then I’ll learn to need nothing. I’m not sure if I’m strong enough to let go, but fortunately my genetic bondage is a cruel enough mistress to force me to find out.