The Highest Good

“There are two ways to live your life: one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”

-Albert Einstein

I recently met someone who is striving to further the idea of the technological singularity. He used an interesting metaphor to describe his work. He asserted that, given three wishes from a genie, the best possible first wish would be to wish for more wishes. Striving to eliminate disease, aging, and death, he said, was a bit like “wishing for more wishes” from life.

It was a clever way to describe the hope some hold for technology’s seemingly unchecked advance against death. But something about the metaphor did not seem right to me. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the best first wish would not actually be to wish for more wishes, but to wish instead to know the summum bonum–the highest possible good–for the use of the remaining wishes.

The next wish might, indeed, be for more wishes, or for the strength to carry through on that final summum bonum wish–or for something else entirely. Because I have not actually been granted this first wish to know that highest good, I can not know what would come next. But I do know that unchecked individual omnipotence, in the form of endless wishes, would alter not only the consciousness, but quite possibly the physiology of the wisher. In the face of limitless opportunity, the brain chemistry could change–causing one to become paralyzed by choice, go mad with power, or drop dead from a heart attack.

I accept that the sum total of my consciousness is a subset of all that is. Though the variations my mind can construct seem endless, I liken it to the same kind of infinity as the number of numbers that exist between zero and one. Although this line segment can be divided into smaller and smaller pieces, it is still just a segment that exists between two points. Another person’s consciousness might be represented by the number of numbers between one and two. But the set of all possible numbers, real, imaginary, and perhaps yet-undiscovered, is a far greater and more encompassing type of infinity.

Under the presupposition of an omniscient genie, the summum bonum becomes a calculus of that most encompassing form of infinity. Although the mechanics of this calculation are necessarily beyond any human comprehension, the results are knowable. This recognition–of my own seemingly-limitless-but-finite capacity for knowing, and the possibility of a higher good that is knowable but not comprehensible, is also a revelation about what does not seem quite right to me about the deus ex machina of singularity thinking.

I often think of the benevolent but (to her, at times) incomprehensible relationship we have with our cat as a metaphor for faith in a higher good. Why we bring her indoors at certain times, pick up her food bowl when she is sick, or transport her to the veterinarian’s office, is not knowable to her, in itself, as a benevolent act. In considering the differential between cat consciousness and human consciousness, and extrapolating this out to the differential between human consciousness and all that is, the existence of a highest good that somehow encompasses disease, aging, and death seems not only possible, but worth striving toward on trust.

Perhaps this is why, despite my great respect for science and technology, my love of the incomprehensible–manifest, for example, in my striving to find words that transcend words through poetry–is one genie that won’t be put back into its bottle, or downloaded into a microchip, anytime soon.