by Maniza Naqvi
“… How does our affair progress? I hope that, as dear Mr. Macgregor would say—U Po Kyin broke into English—eet ees making perceptible progress?”
Burmese Days by George Orwell remains relentlessly relevant and a touchstone for cynics eight decades after it was written. The novel opens with U Po Kyin at age 56 thinking of his achievements with satisfaction—and plotting intrigue to further his interests. He thinks back to his first memory of the British troops with their weapons entering victoriously into Mandalay in 1885. “To fight on the side of the British, to become a parasite upon them, had been his ruling ambition even as a child. He does this by playing one side against the other, planting intrigues and solving them, always putting himself in the position of the problem solver, the loyalist to all—taking bribes and ruthlessly controlling everyone.” U Po Kyin's memory of British troops marching into town is set in the moment in which the oil company Burmah Oil is born in 1886 and when Burma became a province of Imperial India. (here, and here and here.)
George Orwell was in Burma in the Indian Imperial Police from 1922-1927 Eric Arthur Blair or George Orwell was born in India, on June 3, 1903 in Motihari Bihar (here). Orwell’s novel follows the trajectories of the ambitions and the psyches of Imperial administrators, their military officers, wives, concubines, their merchants and those who served them. The title of “U” has been bestowed on U Po Kyin for his services enroute his own trajectory from a lowly clerk to a minor official to a Sub divisional magistrate, through planting seditious activities and creating rebellions and quelling them himself so that he can demonstrate his loyalties to the Imperial masters by jailing adversaries while havig his fingers in every pot in his subdivision for personal gain and pleasure.
His good works of building Pagodas will ensure his next life. But in this life his most ardent desire is to be a member of the British Club:
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The present is where the future comes to die, or more accurately, where an infinite array of possible futures all collapse into one. We live in a present where artificial intelligence hasn't been invented, despite a quarter century of optimistic predictions. John Horgan in Scientific American suggests we're a long way from developing it, despite all the optimistic predictions (although when it does come it may well be as a sudden leap into existence, a sudden achievement of critical mass). However and whenever (or if ever) it arrives, it's an idea worth discussing today. But, a question: Does this line of research suffer from “cerebral imperialism”?
The idea of “cerebral imperialism” came up in an interview I did for the current issue of Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine, with transhumanist professor and writer James “J” Hughes. One exchange went like this:
Eskow: There seems to be a kind of cognitive imperialism among some Transhumanists that says the intellect alone is “self.” Doesn’t saying “mind” is who we are exclude elements like body, emotion, culture, and our environment? Buddhism and neuroscience both suggest that identity is a process in which many elements co-arise to create the individual experience on a moment-by-moment basis. The Transhumanists seem to say, “I am separate, like a data capsule that can be uploaded or moved here and there.”
You’re right. A lot of our Transhumanist subculture comes out of computer science— male computer science—so a lot of them have that traditional “intelligence is everything” view. s soon as you start thinking about the ability to embed a couple of million trillion nanobots in your brain and back up your personality and memory onto a chip, or about advanced artificial intelligence deeply wedded with your own mind, or sharing your thoughts and dreams and feelings with other people, you begin to see the breakdown of the notion of discrete and continuous self.
An intriguing answer – one of many Hughes offers in the interview – but I was going somewhere else: toward the idea that cognition itself, that thing which we consider “mind,” is over-emphasized in our definition of self and therefore is projected onto our efforts to create something we call “artificial intelligence.”
Is the “society of mind” trying to colonize the societies of body and emotion?
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