Musings on Lovecraft and the Singularity.

I’m re-reading Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. And I’m about to spoil parts of them, so beware!

Both books deal with men who, by supernatural means, acquire vast knowledge by speaking with people and beings from distant times. One man does so deliberately, the other accidentally, but in both cases the theme is the same.

It’s easy for me to forget that in Lovecraft’s time there was no internet, but when you think about it, the amount of knowledge opened up to us with its advent is probably nearly as overwhelming as that which is gained by the characters in these stories. Upon thinking of this, I realized that the amount of knowledge acquired by the characters in these stories must have seemed even more fantastic at the time they were written.

Overwhelming knowledge is a common theme in Lovecraft’s work. For instance, the opening passage from The Call of Cthulhu:

“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

We are capable today of “correlating the contents” to an extent Lovecraft never could have dreamed of. And yet, as anyone will tell you, the internet is not being used to its full potential. J.E. Sawyer and Freddie DeBoer have both recently written fine articles on this subject.

I find the case for a technological singularity at some point in the future quite persuasive. But on the other hand, technology currently enables people to have much more knowledge than most of them actually do, which makes me wonder if the mere fact it might be possible really means it will happen.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?