January 25, 2021

The Big Rip

bigbangOne of the only benefits of having a one hour, one-way commute is that I get to download a lot of stuff off the Internet and listen to it during the drive.  It is a great way to catch up on your “reading,” if you loosen your definition of reading enough.  Of course, I listen to a lot of Orthodox stuff, and evangelical stuff if it is astringent enough and not irritating.   I have also traced the history of Rome from its founding to the abdication of Romulus Augustulus in 476, as well the history of China from the Shang Dynasty to the present.  Since I love fantasy literature, I have also followed Ransom to Malacandra and Perelandra, Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom, and Roland Deschaine almost to the Dark Tower (I’m still in Algo Ciento).

One of my favorite podcasts is a podcast on physics, cosmology, and quantum phenomena.  Since I don’t understand the amount of scientific rigor necessary to develop an experiment which would prove one theory over against another, all of the podcasts in this series affect me pretty much like the audiobooks of fantasy literature.  They are certainly every bit as fantastic, as wonderful.  One physics podcast that struck me forcibly dealt with the ultimate fate of the Universe, the opposite of the Big Bang, which the participating physicists called the Big Rip. Since I am certain to get the science wrong, I will allow the curious to download and listen to the podcast on their own.

The physicists claim that in order to make their cosmological equations work, they had to posit a certain type of energy that hithertofore had not been detected by any measuring instrument.  The physicists called this ‘phantom energy’, and explained that it was stronger than the other forces keeping the universe together.  Because of this ‘phantom energy’, the expansion of the Universe, which should be slowing if it is merely a result of the Big Bang, is actually picking up speed.

Thus, in a finite amount of time, which the participating physicists estimate to be about 20 billion years from now (in a model where the Universe is assumed to be 13 billion years old), the galaxies currently at the edges of perceivable space will “wink out”.  They will disappear over a sort of an even horizon where by not only will we know nothing about them, but we will not be able to know anything about them.  These galaxies will have ceased to exist for us.

Over the following 15 billion years, the Great Rip will advance on our location, swallowing closer and closer galaxies until, by around 33 billion years from now, our galactic cluster (the Milky Way, Andromeda, and the Magellanic clouds and some change), will be the entire Universe for us.  Inexorably this will advance until our own solar neighborhood, then our own solar system, will be all alone.  But it will not end until our very faces are ripped from our skulls.  The Omega Point will arrive when every subatomic particle, at a level far lower than we can currently measure, is completely alone in the ultimate Punyverse.

It was hard not to love the scientists who were reporting this.  They were young and smart and cheerful and kept reassuring their audience that these gruesome events were still multiplied billions of years into the future.  But I could hear the edge in their voices.   This was no longer the Buddhist/Hindu-friendly breathing Universe of just 40 years ago, which continued to expand until gravity overcame the forces of expansion, and the far flung star stuff began its long retreat back to the Cosmic Egg for another round of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return.  This was a Universe with a very real beginning, and a very real, foreseeable, end.

Now, I have the kind of mind that sees patterns, sometimes where patterns don’t exist, so bear with me.  I’ve always seen cancer as a kind of cellular anarchy, where one group of cells says to the rest of the body ‘we will not have this man to reign  over us’.  AIDS I have seen as a metaphorical illness where the body becomes less and less capable of making distinctions between me and not-me until your whole body becomes kind of like the ECUSA where anything goes and no one is willing too to say that even Mao-Tse-Tung wasn’t in communion with you.  It is no surprise to me that AIDS arose in a time when the zeitgeist was heavily involved in erasing distinctions between races, cultures, and even the sexes.

Science always arises in its milieu.  Those of us who live in the West live in an atomistic, and atomizing age.   For the last, oh, three hundred years the face-to-face bonds between people have been dissolving in a reagency of technological change and the rise of what I call the Algorithm.   It is hard for me describe in just a few sentences what I mean by the Algorithm, but I believe that many poets and thinkers in the eighteenth century England, especially the clairvoyant William Blake,  witnessed its birth:

Hardt and Negri’s Empire describes a twenty-first century phenomenon, but their two great protagonists, Empire and multitude, resonate with the language of William Blake and Edmund Burke and the age of revolution and the Romantics. Capitalism began to mature and assume its modern form with the beginning of the industrial system in the mid-eighteenth century. The industrial system used waged labor to operate larger and larger scale machinery  driven by increasingly powerful and flexible power sources. Although the system originated in  England, the ramifications of the system, even in its early days, was global (Makdisi, 1998). What we today think of as “globalization” is the latest manifestation of that industrial system, although suffused throughout with electronics. In this sense there is a clear continuity between then and now. What the Romantics witnessed in its infancy today we see the thing grown up, spread out, in its gigantism.

The Algorithm cannot be bothered to issue a pair of shoes to a particular woman, cut to her own personal measurements.  Instead, the woman becomes a Platonic Woman, at discrete quantum levels (now called “sizes”), and shoes are made for the Sizes.  As anybody more than a standard deviation from the norm can testify, it is the luck of the draw whether one of the Sizes will fit you, the actual Woman.  But the algorithm is not a tyrant.  No. The Algorithm is the successor to Christianity, and only wants what  is best for you.  All men and women are equal before the Algorithm.  All have the same rights and responsibilities.  One size fits all.  The antiquated web of obligations and permissions mediated between Church and local community and families and social classes with all of that oppressive machinery has been abolished.  Now, all relate to one another through the Algorithm and its Mediator, the rising international Finance State.

“I’m Joe, and this is my lawyer and my accountant.  This is my wife Madge, and her lawyer and her accountant.  These are my two kids, Betsy and Joe, Jr, and their lawyers and accountants.  We were going to get a cat, but we couldn’t afford the representation.”

Forgive the deviation, but I do not think it is entirely coincidental that the final atomization of Christendom arose in this period.  The idea of a State Church – as the docent in Williamsburg told me, ‘you were the King’s subject.  You went to his Church.’  – is as curious to our thinking today as landowner suffrage.   In Western Christendom ,since at least the Methodist revival, the price of increased devotion to Christ has always come to paid in the coin of schism.  Here in the New World, the ecclesiastical ground is littered with New Lights and  Spirit-filled this, and Orthodox that, and Fire-filled other.   It has even infiltrated our own churches to the point where we feel the need to have ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ services.

I remember saying to my son once about Orthodoxy, that in a traditional Orthodox  society you didn’t have just saints and monks.  You had Orthodox hookers, Orthodox thieves, Orthodox hitmen, Orthodox moneylenders, and they were all just as Orthodox as you.  You wanna pray and mourn your sins?  Good.   Go over there and do it.  Pray for me while you’re at it.  Here’s fifty roubles.  The same point could be made about Catholic Portugal or Lutheran Sweden or Reformed Holland, but somewhere the linkage got lost.

Nevertheless, its hard for me to believe that the way forward is the way back.  Jefferson was as an effective anti-Constantine as ever could have drawn breath, and he pushed the final spike into the coffin of Christendom.  I don’t think the camera can be thrown in reverse.  Separation of Church and State is now considered a necessary bulwark protecting foundational human rights.  I can’t complain, because if I had lived four hundred years ago, there is no way I could ever have been Orthodox.  This a freedom granted to me by our atomizing culture.  Unfortunately, it has resulted in a profound isolation from my immediate family, who are as free as I am to pursue their own versions of Christianity.  So separation of Church and State has effectively become separation of Church and Family.

At this point I have little but hope that the Church of Me (with open communion, you understand.  We aren’t tyrants after all) won’t be the Omega State of Christendom any more than I have but little hope that the Big Rip will be the Omega State of the Universe.


  1. And the inner, spiritual aspect of the Algorithm is what EO theologian David Bentley Hart calls the Nothing, which is at the core of the imperial self, and thinks that it can shape the world according to nothing but its own phantom desires and preferences, rather than in accord with truth, reality and God.

    • >spiritual aspect of the Algorithm is what EO theologian David Bentley Hart calls the Nothing

      Does this Algorithm have a spiritual aspect? I doubt it, I think it would actually be less frightening if it did. The Algorithm, and least in my conceptualization, is a mindless thing focused on maximization of efficiency as that [according to the beliefs of its makers] maximizes profits. It is too corporate of a thing to have ‘spirit’, it simply has no use for such things. The 21st century western world seems devotedly asprititual to me [or maybe that is what David Bentley Hart means, I haven’t read him] I see little interest in “shaping the world”, just profiting from it [not having a capitalist bone in my body – it is something I’ve given up understanding; just “why?”. Once I had enough to live comfortably for the rest of my days, I would simply loose all interest in profit, I struggle to barely be interested now! My myriad vices lie elsewhere].

      The men who command it, or believe they command it, on the other hand, are a different story. From what I read [or listen to], it seems their ‘religion’ is the Algorithm. They are in awe of their own creation [to the extent it is their creation, but they speak with the occasional use of possessive pronouns, so]. It feels to me like the golem of prague, only it stands so tall no one can reach its forehead [*1] And no-one can even remember the name of rabbi who created it.

      [*1] the last several years would indicate not even our own mightiest of governments, although complicity may enter into that as well.

      • I am no lawyer and my career proves that I am less than a businessman, but I believe that in order to become one of the Chosen of the Algorithm, it is not sufficient to merely internalize it (maybe not quite down to the level of your DNA, although with genetic mapping can that be far off?), but also to bind yourself with such parlous oathes as to find yourself quite undone if you fail of your fiduciary responsibilities.

      • You don’t think that corporate entities have spiritual reality? Every powerful social and/or political movement in history has been both corporate and spiritual. The word “corporate” is itself etymologically related to the word “body,”
        and wherever there is a body, there is spirit, either of life or decay.

        Also, I think it is more…edifying to talk about how so many of us are complicit in the developments being decried in the post rather than lay the burden for most of it on “Them,” whoever They may be.

        I think that there can be no question that the changes wrought by what we are calling the Algorithm are the result of trying to shape the received world to human needs,wishes, preferences, desires and caprices. The reason the Algorithm was developed was precisely as a tool to make the world what human beings (some human beings or many) wanted the world to be. That the tool has gone berserker and developed a life of its own does not diminish the fact that it was made to serve the purpose of shaping a world that science and technology have taught us to perceive as plastic to our intentions and projects.

        The spirit of our age cries “Biology is not destiny,” and then goes on to make good its words by altering EVERYTHING.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > You don’t think that corporate entities have spiritual reality?

          No, I do not.

          >Every powerful social and/or political movement in history has been both corporate and spiritual.

          I didn’t say “corporate”, I was referring to “corporations”; the monsters of commerce. And I believe the commercial space is consciously, and legally, devoid of soul. Corporations must return value to share holders, that is their only value.

  2. > The Algorithm is the successor to Christianity, and only wants what is best for you.

    Wow, you nailed something I’ve been feeling for awhile no. But unlike the Universe – to which this will just happen. We are running toward this, with open arms. It is just so bloody “convenient”.

    I work in the Information Technology field and I see this every day. We are choosing to use “communication” tools, so that we have to communicate less, and are slowly [or not so slowly] trading a reality for a thin tasteless, but shiny, simulacra served to us [we like to think ‘personalized’] by that Algorithm. The creepiest part for me, is that again unlike the Universe, is that behind that Algorithm – are men. But we’ll happily dial down to hearing just the people we like [or are suggested to us by the Algorithm], the podcasts we like [or are suggested to us by the Algorithm], the music we like [or are suggested to us by the Algorithm], ….. and reality becomes novelty. A comforting sense of moral superiority can be found by pressing “like” for a charity that feeds the poor [or at least says it does, somewhere], or maybe a charity that gives the poor mobile devices to stare at while waiting for the bus. How can anything but the tiniest religion live in world?

    >I don’t think the camera can be thrown in reverse.

    Nope. And I, personally, can’t see anything that might prevent that ‘rising international Finance State’ from rising to total ascendency. Except perhaps an epic calamity, but it is hard to hope for something very bad to happen.

    Oddly the principal hope I see is in the ‘old church’ (of whichever branch). First, the ‘old church’ has a long track record of surviving through, over, or under the ascendency of all kinds of powers. Second, the ‘old church’ has among its midst some stunningly wise people. Pope Francis continually makes a point that giving to the poor is not Christian Charity, but being among the poor, shoulder to shoulder, and looking them in the eye, is Christian Charity. The ‘old church’ has a way of tethering us to the world which especially now is *good* thing. The Algorithm stands at its door, but as if repelled by the Sheela na gigs, cannot enter – for now – it’s engineers are working on the problem.

    • > The ‘old church’ has a way of tethering us to the world which especially now is *good* thing

      Funny, I reread what I wrote and it occurs to me how my previous Evangelical self would have been utterly repulsed by such a thing. I accused the ‘old church’ of being worldly, and in snotty Evangelical speak “of the world” [*1]. Now that sounds simply silly. Of course the church is “of the world”. The world is where the people are. How was that not obvious?

      Hangs head in shame.

      [*1] because of course “we” were not [worldly], nothing ‘worldy’ about praise bands and the invariably pretty lead singer.

      • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Evangelical Algorithm [I call him the “Dancing Monkey”] is a not-very-successful clone of the Algorithm. The reason the Millenials and others are streaming out of the Evangelical church is that they prefer the products of the real Algorithm to those of the Dancing Monkey. Unfortunately, the Dancing Monkey wants to be invited into the Auld Kirk as well. He says he can save us from the Algorithm.

        There is a difference between the ‘world’ to which the Auld Kirk tethers us with its four biological chains disppearing down into the foam of contingency, and the ‘kosmos’ we are warned about in the Johannine literature. It is the absorption of the world into the ‘kosmos’ that we are witnessing. The Algorithm is indeed crouching pro fano, casting greedy eyes on the Sheelas na gig, the gargoyles, and the Green Men who have taken refuge in the sanctuary to avoid becoming pro fanore.

        • The Evangelical church these days reminds me most of the Washington Generals to the larger world’s Harlem Globetrotters. They’re playing the same game – barely.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > They’re playing the same game – barely.

            They certainly play with both volume and glitz. At least here in the mid-west it would be very possibly for the ‘outsider’ to be unaware that anyone else is even on the field.

    • petrushka1611 says

      I hear music I don’t like all the time. It’s called pop.

  3. I think the rapid flow of information we live with nowadays is also dehumanizing us, we were not meant to assimilate so much data like computers.

    • petrushka1611 says

      How is it dehumanizing?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        I do believe the massive esclation in the volume of data is dehumanizing.

        It has an ancillary dehumanizing effect however, in two different ways.

        That “data” is always available on-demand can be duhumanizing. That changes how conversation happens. Conversation can become about “facts”, wait… I can look that up [completely setting aside that this type of casual data surfing actually returns something that can be described as a “fact”]. Conversation ceases to be about you-and-me, understanding your perspective, and becomes about “facts” [and possibly missing the point that that was not was conversation was not originally about]. Instead of discussing our perspectives we argue about our points.

        That the response to the torrent of data is channelization is duhumanizing. I hear my news feed, you hear yours. The common intellectual space shrinks. Everyone’s cognitive event-horizon constricts, rather than expanding. I am not introduced to the concerns or perspectives of the other, I can be oblivious to the other altogether. The evening news, the paper, no long provide a common space. What each individual hears and reads becomes ‘customized’. The distance to the other expands.

    • Christiane says

      Hi ROBIN,

      I have learnt in older age to ‘tune out’ much of the world’s ‘noise’ in order to survive.

      When I was a ‘kid’, I used to read the trancendentalists of New England with some wonder, and in old age, I have returned to these same readings and I see them now through ‘life’ experience, but strangely, the writings haven’t changed in their effect at all . . . I am still held in wonder, and I rather like that. Timelessness appeals in old age.

      an example from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
      “Great is the soul, and plain. It is no flatterer, it is no follower; it never appeals from itself. It believes in itself. Before the immense possibilities of man, all mere experience, all past biography, however spotless and sainted, shrinks away. . . .
      . . . . . The soul gives itself, alone, original, and pure, to the Lonely, Original, and Pure, who, on that condition, gladly inhabits, leads, and speaks through it. Then is it glad, young, and nimble. It is not wise, but it sees through all things. It is not called religious, but it is innocent. It calls the light its own, and feels that the grass grows and the stone falls by a law inferior to, and dependent on, its nature.

      Behold, it saith, I am born into the great, the universal mind. I, the imperfect, adore my own Perfect. I am somehow receptive of the great soul, and thereby I do overlook the sun and the stars, and feel them to be the fair accidents and effects which change and pass. More and more the surges of everlasting nature enter into me, and I become public and human in my regards and actions. So come I to live in thoughts, and act with energies, which are immortal.

      Thus revering the soul, and learning, as the ancient said, that “its beauty is immense,” man will come to see that the world is the perennial miracle which the soul worketh, and be less astonished at particular wonders; he will learn that there is no profane history; that all history is sacred; that the universe is represented in an atom, in a moment of time. He will weave no longer a spotted life of shreds and patches, but he will live with a divine unity. He will cease from what is base and frivolous in his life, and be content with all places and with any service he can render. He will calmly front the morrow in the negligency of that trust which carries God with it, and so hath already the whole future in the bottom of the heart.”

      for me, what was vibrant at age twenty and still touches a chord many decades later has got to come from that place where all the music begins

      • Thanks that was good, I remember in my youth all before the madness of smart phones or even the internet (which was not accesible to ordinary folks then) that I had time to reflect, savor, mull over ideas and feelings that I had and they took deep root. Now I just get a consensus among people I trust on the web and that’s that. I was asked how this dehumanizes, I think feelings and intellect play together, sometimes we learn things through long periods of time.

        • Another thing to add, I am noticing lots of people turning from faith or even simple indifference to atheism these days. It is easy to do this if you are a blogger, I visit and blog on many sites where pessimism and trashing faith is cool. Its easy to get on that bandwagon, if we just adopt beliefs and opinions without the heart and time component. It takes a deeper look to see or hear God in creation and our lives

  4. Sounds to me like The Algorithm is a more modern name for what Adam Smith called The Invisible Hand. In other words, The Algorithm is you, and me, and all of us–and somehow, none of us.

  5. Hey, Mule, great post, but all the links brought me back to iMonk. Any chance of getting these fixed?

  6. Wow! My first mistake was trying to read this first thing in the morning. My second was thinking that I could understand what the heck the author was trying to say.

  7. You say the church has all this oppressive machinery that is the web of obligations and machinery between church and families, social classes, and communities. I think of it as a system of pipes carrying water(life).
    I really believe that the pipes are bursting, revealing that in truth there is a hidden spring to life. The truth of this in a myriad of categories- “spirituality”, “mind, body, spirit “, “religion”, “self-help”, New Age, Christians, Sikhs, Muslims, non-dualists, Myers-Briggs types, Kabbalah, Celt, ,and many more seemingly all mixed up. It’s difficult when people get to know that there is more to the hidden spring than the old piped systems let on, and especially to post-moderns, that your version of spiritual experience have any weight on external reality.

    Post-moderns believe your philosophy of life is primarily based on the group that most influences you. This leads to a basic mistrust in metanarratives, which are seen as overarching explanations of reality based on organizing. They believe metanarratives now need to be deconstructed, that is exposed for what they really are, which are myths that gave authority to a group.

    Post-moderns( because of their philosophy of life) and also many of today’s Christians and so many others(gang-like, team-like) attempt to empower people through identity with one’s community. The source of the hidden spring invites us to participate in an open future in which we can indeed make a difference, as we implement new, even unforeseen circumstances. The good news is always empowering in fresh and exciting new ways because it is based on the truth of the image of God in man. And that image is nowhere seen more clearly than Immanuel. The ultimate direction of life is Christ as all in all. That is empowering.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      >You say the church has all this oppressive machinery that is the web of obligations and machinery
      >between church and families, social classes, and communities.

      In this article? I totally missed that.

  8. Is anyone here familiar with Jacques Ellul’s work “The Technological Society?” I have not been able to actually read it — the bit I have read flew over my head. But I have read some commentary on it. Perhaps another name for “The Algorithm” but a more complete consideration.

    I like the term “The Algorithm.” Captures it well.

    • Huge Ellul fan here. Ellul would call it “Technique,” but like yourself, somehow “Algorithm” works better for me. I left TTS about half-way through a month ago (it is pretty dry), but when you consider it’s 50 years old, Ellul was quite precient for a guy who died the year the Web was born.

      I should add that it’s entirely acceptable to think locally too from time to time.

      In any case, Dave, I’m glad you brought him up. I’m hoping a valid excuse emerges at some point for IM to look at Ellul in depth — but it may be too much of a stretch topically, I dunno.

    • Beyond the technological dimension, Ellul’s Christian Anarchist views also shine a light on an almost entirely overlooked segment of the Christian world. Another good reason for IM to look at it someday.

  9. David Cornwell says

    “At this point I have little but hope that the Church of Me (with open communion, you understand. We aren’t tyrants after all) won’t be the Omega State of Christendom any more than I have but little hope that the Big Rip will be the Omega State of the Universe.”

    Thanks for the post. Taking my morning walk around the yard, this kept intruding into my thinking. It opens up for me lines of thought that have not been parsed out in quite the same way, at least in my own mind.

    You say in the above quote “I have little hope that the Church of Me”… .and “I have but little hope that the Big Rip…” Both are good points of course. So, wherein do you place your hope? This is not a post ringing in any kind of optimism. You have apparently found a modem of hope, or of something, in your embrace of Orthodoxy.

    And beyond that, and of more importance, what is our hope in the present state of things?

  10. Mule, you ever read any Neal Stephenson? Your writing reminds me of his, as does your content. If not, look into the Cryptonomicon. If you’re into that, look into his mammoth series, the Baroque Cycle.

  11. Klasie Kraalogies says

    The big rip is an option among the the hypotheses about the future of the universe – just a hypothesis, as the current levels in uncertainty of our data makes this one of several options for the future of the universe. That said, lets get to the real meat of this post.

    An algorithm can be described as a decision making recipe. Some here expressed the fear that it is all controlled by some nefarious bunch intent on squeezing out every last $, not realizing that in the end a prosperous business owner requires a prosperous customer who wants to, and can afford to buy his product. Otherwise, the whole empire will collapse pretty quickly. The idea of optimizing is generally to strike that balance. Hence – the scary algorithm.

    But if we delve into this a bit more, we discover that not only the way business now works, or the way political decision making is done, is subject to algorithms, to programming – but that it has always been thus. What is ethnic identity? Consider that the more we find out about DNA and genographics, we discover all sorts of relations, and similarities, that we previously would have discarded. So what makes us so different from each other? Language? But language change, and is fluid across boundaries. Ethnicity is essentially the product of installed decision making trees, of pre-programmed responses to the world (I see this, I will cook it thus; I want to do that, I accomplish it so etc etc) – and similarity in decision making trees (ie algorithms!) creates group, tribal, national identities, which were essential for survival in ages gone by, though less so now. Yet the algorithms survive – the programs jump from brain to brain, the memes proliferate and evolve. Essentially, it is Information Theory applied to anthropology.

    We are just now more aware of it, since you can actually view an algorithm on a screen. Those algorithms are more easily understood than the ones which have been running in our brains, and evolving there, for millennia, no, millions of years. And because of that, they can be more easily discarded or avoided.

    There is no need to be afraid.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Some here expressed the fear that it is all controlled by some nefarious
      > bunch intent on squeezing out every last $,

      I assume “some here” includes me. I firmly believe “it is all controlled by some bunch intent on squeezing out every last $”. I’d drop the term “nefarious”, because I don’t believe they believe they are “nefarious”. They believe they are just ‘doing business’. And I believe they believe they are in control; every economic / cultural collapse belies the illusion of control – but it doesn’t keep people from having it. And ‘the system’ is much to vast and complex to be controlled.

      > not realizing that in the end a prosperous business owner requires a
      > prosperous customer who wants to, and can afford to buy his product.

      Sounds, good, that isn’t true. There is lots of money to be made from poor people.

      > Otherwise, the whole empire will collapse pretty quickly.

      Decline, maybe, but those on the top will be comfortably insulated. And that is tomorrow.

      > The idea of optimizing is generally to strike that balance.

      No, it is to increase profit.

      > But if we delve into this a bit more, we discover that not only the way business
      > now works, or the way political decision making is done, is subject to algorithms,
      > to programming – but that it has always been thus.

      Yes. But only a micro-scale. We couldn’t imagine manipulation on the scale of which we are now capable. As they say in I.T.: “scale changes the problem”.

      > boundaries. Ethnicity is essentially the product of installed decision making
      > trees, of pre-programmed responses to the world (I see this, I will cook it thus;

      As a software developer – no it is not. This analogy is terminally flawed. People may be probabilistic in the behavior on a large scale, in groups. They behave nothing at all like programs. And ultimately they are not programs, they are persons.

      > Essentially, it is Information Theory applied to anthropology.

      Assuming one accepts the application of Information Theory to anthropology.

      > since you can actually view an algorithm on a screen. Those algorithms are
      > more easily understood than the ones which have been running in our brains,

      Really? I look at algorythms on screens. Many which are terribly complex to understand. Being able to see them means nothing.

      > and evolving there, for millennia, no, millions of years.

      The ones running in our brain [assuming we agree to describe them as algorithms] are constrained to having the power of one individual under thier direct control. Their dangerous tendencies constrained by their tiny scope.

      > And because of that, they can be more easily discarded or avoided.

      Tell that to the Nigeria worker at the oil refinery working at a slave wage under the point of a gun. Just discard that algorithm.

      > There is no need to be afraid.

      My advice – you should be afraid.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        Adam – who are “they”? Names? Do they wear pointy hats? Who exactly are they?

        “Lots of money from poor people” – and even more from rich people.

        Nigerian oil worker: Sure, there is incredibly bad exploitation in places. Just like there are incredibly bad Christian organizations – I came from a cultic background, I know. But have you looked at the whole picture? Over the last 20 years, 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. No, that wasn’t because of gifts from middle-class churchgoers. That was business at work. Would you rather have them go back to poverty?

        People do not behave exactly like programs – they are more complicated – which means that even complicated algorithms are simple compared to human actions and decision making. That’s my point.

        If you want to know more about my thoughts here, think Bayes, Shannon, Turing, Feigenbaum, Dawkins etc.

        Last question: Iasked you who “they” are. Now, what are we to be afraid of? What/who is the monster lurking beyond the pool of light?

        • Correct me if I am wrong.

          Algorithms work very well when evaluating Distinctions. actually, they are good in telling you whether A is identical to B or not. I don’t believe they are particularly good in evaluating Similarities. The human mind appears to my unstudied view to switch back and forth between drawing distinctions and evaluating similarities at lightning speed, especially when using language. For evaluating similarities you need Heuristics, but once you introduce Heuristics, the entire issue of teleology enters the picture. (What is the goal to which you are directing the process?)

          I think Adam is talking about the difficulty of modifying the basic algorithms of the capitalist system. It is currently set to chew up resources and spew out entropic junk and congealed energy (capital) at anever increasing rate. Inputs from some sources [David Tepper, Warren Buffet, Carl Icahn] are far more heavily weighted than those of the Nigerian oil field worker.

          So, at some point the carrying capacity of the planet will be reached. When? Who can say? When 100,000 Eritreans die of famine and are thrown into a ditch? Maybe not. When Carl Icahn opens a faucet and nothing comes out? Well, somewhere between those two extremes. Will we be able to tell when we’ve reached an optimal point? My reading of human nature and the infinitude of our lusts incline me to say no.

          Systems analysis, man. They are us. Fear us.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            And yet, we have lifted out 1 billion people from poverty.

            But I’m not saying that how we do things is perfect, or that simple algorithms will save us all (I’m not a starry-eyed idealist – VERY much not). Like all tools, one should know what they are good for, and what they are not good for. Any serious thinker should be able to follow that argument.

            But we are talking about many different things here. My original point was trying to demythologize algorithms, by pointing out that we are all subject to variable programming. Sure, some of that programming might act like dynamical systems that have started acting in non-linear fashions, and others have stochastic patterns. Also, our own meta-narratives often act like filters in an algorithmic fashion.

            Thus, we can only hope to improve, correct, revise etc. Nirvana is not here on earth (or anywhere else).

        • What, you never heard of the Illuminati?

          • Klasie Kraalogies says

            Shhh – you weren’t supposed to say that! 🙂

          • I don’t deny that there is a big problem; the “Dark Satanic Mill” (to invoke Blake) is becoming omnipresent in our world. But the problem is us, not some cadre of technocrats or the 1% or the Illuminati or Them or whatever. Our collective wishes made all this mess come about. Human being have wanted the “good life” in its material aspect for as long as human beings have existed; the Algorithm, as you call it, was built and deployed to secure that material aspect of the “good life.” It has obviously gotten out of control, but think twice before you imagine it completely out of your life, because if you look closely at the way you live, you’ll see that you depend on it for your very survival, and the survival of those you love.

            The question is: what can WE do about changing our lifestyles and habits to move toward a future more sustainable and humane without losing the good things we’ve attained at this point? Don’t tell me we’re too small and insignificant to make a difference; it’s all the small and seemingly insignificant choices of the past that have led us into this present.

            “Better to light a candle…” than curse the Dark Satanic Mill.

          • Let’s all remember those sage words of the Kinks,

            Will destroy ya!

          • What has become of the green pleasant fields of Jerusalem?

        • I don’t think the issue is whether businessmen can use [insert latest technological gizmo here] to make a buck and provide a service for someone who needs it. Or didn’t realize they needed it until just now. Advertising is nothing new. I know that when a recommendation pops up on Amazon they’re micro-segmenting me to a T. And my name starts with T.

          No, the real issue is that the Algorithm is ubiquitous.

          When I see that Issue X is “trending on Twitter” or Google pops up an article as its #1 Most Importantest Article Ever, what does this mean? A single Twitter feed can be picked up by a an influential blog, multiply instantly by 1,000 and so be “trending.” And who knows what goes into the Google search sausage? (I have a math degree, so please, don’t tell me. I might actually understand.)

          The point is that you can’t really escape the Algorithm. SOMETHING is being optimized whenever we interact with it, which is all the time. Unlike Adam, I’m not so much worried that it’s some form of mindless economic efficiency. Rather, I’m worried that whatever it is produces AS A SIDE EFFECT a world so different from the one in which the traditional, mediated ways we humans have interacted and obtained knowledge that it may be changing society and our very brains in profound ways.

          Time will tell. But we may not hear it by then.

          • Good point. It’s not the intended results that have been the biggest problem but the unintended side-effects. They are outracing our ability to even get a grasp on what they might be.

  12. There is hope, but that have to wait for a more coherent post than this one.

    The Hound of Heaven has flushed that ancient fox, who hid in times past in the groves, temples, and weirding woods. We had to go through this, as a race, as an organic unity. The Golem with the Algorithm written on its forehead bestrides the sacral wasteland that Christ created. It still needs to shatter or absorb Islam, Buddhism, Talmudic Judaism, Hinduism and whatever is shatterable in official Christianity [Hebrews 12:25-27]. Finally, in all of its tedious, stultifying triumph, it will tear the icon of the Pantocrator from the ceiling of the temple of God and enthrone itself, secure that his Adversary is finally dead in the hearts of men.

    But it tried that already, and it didn’t work.

  13. I just call it the World System, which has been around since Cain built his first city. I will admit that, at least where I live, it is probably preferable to anarchy, at least for now. If I had to pick one person who kicked out the jams, I would nominate Marty Luther. But he would have been horrified at the subsequent dissent and eventual toleration that lets me say today, “Why, yes, since you ask, I am my own pope.”

    Since much of that developed in England, as did capitalism, Luther would probably have laid the blame squarely at the feet of Henry 8, tho Hank would have been horrified as well. Too late, the jinn is out of the bottle. I think an underrated hero in all this was Big John Wycliffe. I’m surprised no one has ever dug up his bones and burned them and thrown the ashes into the river.

  14. I know it’s a thought provoking Mule Chewing Briars post when I have to either consult Google or the dictionary every 5 or 6 sentences!

  15. Please Mr. Mule, do be careful of William Blake; much as I love him, he was a fantastical gnostic, the kind that believed that the God of the Old Testament (Nobodaddy, as he called him) was actually Satan, the father of lies, and that Jesus’ Father was the not the Satanic demiurge of the OT, and that Adam and Eve did a great service in eating of the forbidden fruit and giving humanity Knowledge so that we might escape our entrapment by the Evil One pretending to be Creator.

    He wrote, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” and despite what some would have you believe, he was not being ironic; he meant it.

    • Despite my reservations, I do love Blake, the person and his poetry and his wonderful courage.

      “If the fool persists in his folly, he shall become wise.”

      Fool for Christ, Mule?

      • I am used to the wild and wonderful. i am still digesting Owen Barfield, and I desperately need to read more of him before I weave him into my narrative. Blake is – his language is magnificent, but his ideas are a real stew of brilliant and poisonous.

        But he did see things others of his era did not.

  16. Is this what the Greek Orthodox believe? I can’t make heads of tails of it. I don’t see what all this gobbledygook has to do with Jesus.

    • It is important to remember, Francine, that Jesus is bigger than you and I can ever conceive. The fact that any one of us cannot see how something may or may not relate to him is not the test.

    • This is one Orthodox person’s ruminations on aspects of the physical universe that call to mind what, in his view, are some aspects of our current spiritual condition. If it doesn’t ring any bells for you, I’m sure Mule would not be offended. And what CM said.


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