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When Does it Get Weird? by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu Column  ISBN/ITEM#: 0501EL
Date: February 1, 2005 / Show Official Info /

The upshot of the panel on the weirdness of reality and when will it set in, was that we're safe until after the Singularity. You know, that moment (as coined by Vernor Vinge) when computers become smarter than us and we become the belly button lint of the universe...that is to say, useless.

But it isn't so. First off, I'm of the opinion that we're past the beginning of the Singularity, and just don't know it, and secondly, that we never will. Besides, life has already gotten too weird for words. Remember the generation gap? No, you're probably too young, but once upon a time parents looked at their teen-age offspring and wondered what spaceship had dropped them on this planet. That was during the middle of the last century, and the really disruptive technology was a thing called the transistor. What it did was make portable radios practical and affordable, and turned what had been a communal activity into a personal one. Yes, Rock and Roll is the devil's music. Or it was to the generations that grew up on pre-rock. Now, after all these years, sweet sixteen's turned 55...and rock, though here to stay, isn't quite the voice of rebellion it used to be. Even Rap is getting fairly normalized, so I have to wonder what I'm missing that's new and objectionable.

But that's more of a digression than I meant to take. The point is that reality gets weird, then we get used to it. It seems to me like we've gotten used to weirdness itself, and I can't imagine any disruptive technology that could make me feel out of it. Of course that's much the point. If I could imagine it, how disruptive could it be?

This might be a good time to include a bit from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass

    "I can't believe that!" said Alice.

    "Can't you?" the queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

    Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."

    "I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Thanks largely to SF and Fantasy, though for the general populace mostly though media forms, the queen had nothing on us. We believe more impossible things than she could imagine. SF readers are both more willing to stretch our limits of belief and more critical of what we're shown, all because we've trained rigorously by matching wits with the best and the brightest authors.

So most folks have been inoculated against feeling weird. Every few minutes we experience the end of the world as we know it, and we've gotten used to waking up to new realities. I picked up a copy of Alvin Toffler's Future Shock at a garage sale recently, and it occurs to me that though we're all living in a state of "future shock", it's been going on so long it feels normal. One wonders if technology stabilized for a minute if we'd suffer from Post Traumatic Stress.

But, there's a more fundamental issue at work than the notion that we're used to change. It's that no matter what happens, we'll still view it in terms of experiences we've already processed.

In Poul Anderson's short story, "Epilogue" (March 1962 Analog), humans return to Earth to find it overrun by electronic life forms, descendants from early automated manufacturing plants. There's a moment when the explorers look out on the landscape and are unable to get their eyes to focus on anything "it's all too weird". Then their brains start to come up with references for what they're seeing, and it becomes comprehensible, if not normal.

The critical point is that we aren't physically or psychologically able to directly perceive reality. In fact, given the continuing enlargement of what we consider the nature of reality to be, it's a fairly absurd notion. We do however, need to be able to deal with our environment so that we can live in it, and the first step in that is to define whatever we see as normal.

Things often get weird, it's only sad that they don't stay that way.

    Ernest Lilley
    Editor - SFRevu

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