The major problem with James Lovelock’s new book Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence (2019) is that it focuses on consciousness as intelligence rather than consciousness as awareness. Thus, the entire domain of interiority is almost completely missed and ignored by Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia hypothesis.
While it is very impressive that Lovelock wrote this book at the age of 99, the book itself seems to be a farewell, but not to humanity as a sentient life form (which is to be superseded by hyperintelligent and rapidly self-improving cyborgs, at least according to the author), but to the author’s own individual life in this world, as this particular personality inhabiting this particular carbon-based embodiment.
I can only imagine how Lovelock’s acute awareness of his own mortality has inevitably colored the apocalyptic message of his latest (and, as it is said in the Preface, probably the last) book. Don’t be too sad, dear humans, says the author, for it was a good history for our humanity, but we’re destined to be left behind by the cybernetic organisms of our own creation, who will be more advanced than us in every single way.
Based on the anthropic cosmological principle Lovelock thinks that this cosmos could be tilted towards evolving sentient life forms. So the evolution progressed towards biological forms which in themselves would soon be replaced by electronic sentient machines. And, of course, we’re alone in the universe, as Lovelock thinks, for the complexity of conditions which is needed for Life to emerge are too sophisticated to be repeated anywhere in the universe. Therefore, the Gaia-theory perspective (or at least its founder’s worldview) seems to be exclusivistically Earth-centric.
As I said in the beginning of this short review, the major shortcoming of Lovelock’s thinking—as well as that of most other authors who fantasize about the posthumanistic future of non-carbon-based sentient cyborgs—is that he conceptualizes consciousness as intelligence rather than the qualia of awareness, the depth of interiority. Thus, he completly misses the entire plenitude of consciousness that is already potentially available to us (and, therefore, he is incapable of recognizing other, subtler avenues of evolution).
What I mean is that awareness is rather the space of living and vibrant conscious presence—prior to anything else, prior to such things as computational power. Awareness seems to be an inherent dimension of the Kosmos. This awareness coalesces into a multitude of states and structures, thus offering us—and, most likely, other sentient beings—a multidimensionality of our qualia. This very qualia which does not and likely will not exist in cyborgs and AI. Any conceptualization that doesn’t understand that richness of consciousness and awareness is simply a flat shortsighted reductionism.
The best criticism of such a reductionistic and flatland view of reality can be seen in Ken Wilber’s works (his recent book The Religion of Tomorrow has sections which deconstruct most vital shortcomings of such reductionistic views and provide a better and more integral view of humanity and the Universe).