The Singularity as a plural
Twice in the last month I’ve heard people speaking on and expounding ideas that were familiar to me, and yet presented in an unfamiliar way.
This morning it was Izak Potgieter speaking on The Singularity, and a fortnight ago it was Jan Kleinsmit speaking about the Sons og God in the Old Testament. What struck me as singular (sorry!) about both was that both speakers relied on a single book by a single author for the ideas they expounded, and presented these ideas as new and, if not unique, at least highly unusual. And though I had been familiar with the ideas for 50 years or more, I had not read, or even heard of, either author or book.And neither speaker seemed to have read or even heard of any of the books that I had read that had made me familiar with those ideas.
These ideas were presented at TGIF — a weekly gathering at which someone presents a paper on some aspect of the Christian faith or something in culture or society that is relevant to it, and there is brief discussion afterwards. It’s held early in the morning so people who have to work can get to work in time. I’ve been going to it on and off for the last 10 years or so, mainly when the topic is one that interests me. I find it useful because since I retired from the University of South Africa there have not been many opportunities for intellectual stimulation and discussion. For a while it was possible to do it in internet mailing lists and newsgroups, but people seem to have been abandoning those forums for social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, where the exchanges become more trivial and random as time passes.
So I was quite interested to attend these gatherings, and feel like a dinosaur from the prehistoric world, where people were reading and discussing books I had never heard of, and they had never heard of the books on the same topics that I had read.
Izak Potgieter referred to a book called The Singularity is near by Ray Kurzwell. At the end of it I still wasn’t clear about what constitutes the singularity he was talking about. He referred to the rate of technological change and developments in artificial intelligence, topics that had been dealt with 30-40 years ago by Alvin Toffler in his books Future shock and The third wave. Coincidentally I had blogged on the topics of consciousness and artificial intelligence only a couple of days before (see Networking and consciousness), and though I did not mention it in the blog post, one of the essential features of the story I took as the starting point was the question of singularities in the topology of networks. I gather that in the story the concept of a singularity has been somewhat oversimplified and is not mathematically accurate, but at least when I had read the story I had some idea of what a singularity is, while I still have no idea of Ray Kurzwell’s concept of a singularity.
Jan Kleinsmit’s topic, of the Sons of God in the Old Testament, deserves at least a blog post, if not a monograph on its own. At one time I was toying with the idea of writing a book on the topic and had got a few rough drafts written, but then a bloke called Walter Wink beat me to it, so I gave that up. But the bare bones of the idea were laid out by G.B. Caird in his book Principalities and Powers, which was published 60 years ago, and were hinted at in the novels of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, and of course go back to St Paul himself, and mediated through Dionysius the Areopagite and others.