Ken MacLeod's comments.
The title comes from two quotes:
“Work as if you lived in the early days of a better nation.”—Alasdair Gray.
“If these are the early days of a better nation, there must be hope, and a hope of peace is as good as any, and far better than a hollow hoarding greed or the dry lies of an aweless god.”—Graydon Saunders
Last week I had a short piece on two types of odd but unmystical experiences published at the new and interesting magazine Aeon. One of these is a peculiar, spontaneous iteration of self-awareness where it feels surprising to be me. In the article I asked if anyone else had it.
The response: lots of comments saying 'Oh, I have that too!'
Since writing it, I came across two things that seem relevant to the odd experience.
One is that I remembered a passage I'd read years ago - it may have been an essay in the now legendary anthology The Mind's I - in which the writer imagined abstracting from every personal feature of one's consciousness, and pointed out that what remained would be what is common to all conscious beings. What struck me is that if one could step back into that consciousness-as-such, one would have something like the experience I described.
Another was reading Chris Beckett's Dark Eden. One of the characters, Jeff, is an odd little tyke with the habit of saying, every so often and apropos of nothing: 'We're here. We really are here.' Later in the book we get inside his head, and find that he (unlike everyone around him) sees 'the same Awakeness' in the flat, blank eyes of the alien animals as people do in each other and remember in Earth animals. This is more or less what Schopenhauer said in opposition to Descartes and Spinoza: that animals may not think or reason, but they share the same awareness as we do, just by being aware.
I don't know where that line of thought is going, but if you're interested, have a look at my article, and especially the comments. And give Aeon a browse too - there's a lot of interesting stuff there that you won't find anywhere else.
For a few days in the first week of September I was in the Breton port city of Brest (which although medieval is an architectural riot of modernity, nearly every building except its impregnable chateau having been levelled in 1944) at an academic colloquium on Mapping Humanity and the Post-human to which I'd been invited by its organiser, the erudite and vivacious Hélène Machinal. Its programme was wide-ranging, and mostly in French. Although I couldn't follow everything that was said, I think I got the gist of most, and was kindly helped by a student who volunteered to sit beside me and pass notes.
I found it strange to be listening in to serious academic discussion of ideas that originated on the fringes of science fiction, and to hear 'Kurzweil', 'Vinge' and 'extropians' pop up from a flow of French discourse like yellow plastic ducks on the Seine. About half the discussion was on the post-human in mainstream literature and philosophy, but popular culture, movies, and SF were just as minutely and seriously anatomised.
My own presentation touched on my earliest encounter with extropianism and (that cheap laugh out of the way) argued that Darwin had made post-humanism possible: first, by establishing that humanity was a species with predecessors and (by implication) possible successors, and (therefore) that the human mind was the outcome of a material process; and secondly, by shifting the notion of 'species' from an essence to a population, with no intrinsic limit of variation. Once 'the human' ceases to be an essence, it loses its self-evident status as a standard of value. Watson and Crick followed up in 1953 by demonstrating the material basis of heredity, and hence the possibility of consciously changing it.
Two developments that were new in the 1980s and 1990s made post-humanism a project rather than a prophecy. The first was that thanks to Moore's Law and molecular biology, it became possible for the first time for people to imagine that they themselves might live into the post-human era. The second was that socialism, the global project whereby the International was to unite the human race, was over, and with it the counter-project of liberal humanism. Humanity is no longer an imagined community. If it's ever to become so again, something like the socialist project will have to be revived, or replaced by a different project with less hubris but no less ambition.
Otherwise the robots will rise up and eat our brains, if we haven't beaten them to it by bashing each other's heads in first.
'The Surface of Last Scattering' is to become a film!
My short story 'The Surface of Last Scattering', published last year in TRSF (a well-received original anthology commissioned by Technology Review) is being made into a short film. Needless to say, I'm over the moon about this. Scattered is the graduation project of MetFilm School students Joshua Bregman (writer-director) and Victoria Naumova (producer), and they've pulled together an impressive team of students and professionals to make the film and act in it. I'm seriously in awe of, and deeply grateful to, the kind of talent that's throwing itself into realising my story on screen.
If you'd like to be a movie mogul - and let's face it, who wouldn't? - go to their fundraising site at IndieGoGo, contribute, and claim whatever amazing perk (which can include, as well as tangible mementoes and desirable treats, your name on the credits) matches your contribution.