Monday, October 11, 2010

PHB Back Pages #4

(Photo - Mac Tonnies, 2000)

"Looking down from a sufficient distance, human habitation recedes to the merest glimmer. As night devours the continents, our seeming dominion vanishes, replaced by scattered constellations, the haughty gleam of our cities suddenly as substantial as a skein of campfires. As the dark deepens, we realize with mounting unease just how tenuous our presence is; the mountains, prairies and lakes, denuded of daylight, taunt us with their enormity.

Then there are the oceans, almost entirely vacant of man-made lights. Our seas, so often taken for granted, are like vast tombs from which even the most unseemly phantasms might emerge; we ply their waters at our own peril, distantly aware that we might find ourselves in the company of others.

The Earth is ancient, its biosphere only slightly less so. For four-billion years our world has has secreted life. The advent of homo sapiens is alarmingly recent in comparison. We're like foundlings washed upon some alien shore, stifling our fears by pretending to a feeble omnipotence. Having launched spacecraft to the outer planets and inspected the crater-pocked wastes of Mars through the unblinking eyes of rovers, it's easy to entertain the idea that we're the first, evolution's sole successful stab at the phenomenon we casually term "intelligence."

Yet as we watch night erode the familiar highways and stadiums and ever-encroaching suburbs, our confidence falters. Already, technological forecasters envision a near-future populated by our artificially intelligent offspring. Perhaps as our most cherished certainties crumble in the glow of a new century -- full of danger, portent and enigma -- it's become relatively easy to contemplate the presence of the Other: not an other new to our planet, but one predating our own genetic regime. Something unspoken and ancient yet nevertheless amenable to science . . . an intelligence with an almost-human face, until recently content to abide by the shadows of our complacency."

- Mac Tonnies via this 11/22/07 PHB post.

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