Friday, September 16, 2005
How does the singularity affect writers?
I mean, how many times do we catch ourselves talking to our computer? Our car? That blasted Zerox machine at work???
Heck, by a show of hands, how many of us ever named an object, say a car, and then continuously referred to it by name, even when talking to friends?
As writers, we humanize things daily. I say 'things,' because we don't limit ourselves to objects, we humanize aliens, monsters and other figments of our imagination. We humanize them because that's the only way we know. We can skew them vastly to be creatures of evil or beings of pure goodness, but these are always human traits that we are familiar with.
[I believe it was Gene Roddenberry, and please correct me if I'm wrong, who said that most aliens on Star Trek should be humanoid because it was very important that they'd have eyes to show emotions (not only he gave the aliens eyes, he also gave them emotions).]
What does that have to do with the singularity?
The singularity, to those unfamiliar with the concept as Vernor Vinge put forth, claims that within a few decades technological advancement will be such that we would create a superhuman intelligence. Some claim it would be the end of the human era, and Kurzweil even tries to predict the future after the singularity in his new book The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology
Let's assume for a moment that we are on the verge of such a change, how can we write beyond that? Even if someone was smart enough to see beyond, others wouldn't comprehend. I personally doubt that it is possible for us with our average 100+ IQ to understand beings with an average of, I don't know, at least 200+ IQ. I do not think we can understand beyond our intelligence and therefore we cannot envision or predict past that.
Another example: one of the best books I've read that is truly trying to grasp a concept that is beyond our perception is Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer. This fictional account tries to go beyond our instinctive understanding of the three dimensional space and perceive a fourth one. In order to do that, Sawyer utilizes a derivation of the fourth dimension. Ingenious. But even here, the derivation brings it back to the familiar three dimensions.
Before I lose the non sci-fi folks, I should move on.
Now I'm going to tie writing to the singularity concept. Sawyer, despite a noble attempt, couldn't possibly write about the fourth dimension without writing it in terms he and we understand. Continuing along the same line, regardless whether or not we believe in the singularity, we cannot write past it. And similarly, as far as writing is concerned, we cannot write past the 'write what you know.' Case in point - humanizing objects, we cannot really avoid that.
The 'write what you know' writers' dictum, is not to be interpreted literally, otherwise we would not have fantasy, science-fiction and horror books, for example. It is also not to be interpreted as not exploring things we don't know, just as Sawyer did in his book. Researching and learning is part of being an author.
'Write what you know' as a human-being and as part of the human collective knowledge, memory and imagination.
You can learn more about the singularity here.
Categories: writing, process, singularity
Posted by Melly at 10:14 pm