In designing this pendant, Chief Singularity, I wanted to visually portray conflicting concepts as well as dive into some philosophical questions. Engraved on the backside of the pendant, there is a human skull as well as an eagle wing. The human skull representing the dark and the eagle wing representing the light. When you look at everything in its barest form it all comes down to darkness and light. Most of my pieces are made in order to be of a “self help” variety. Perhaps helping the wearer to better understand their emotions or remind them to make choices that will positively impact the world. I wanted to try something different with this piece but in the end I feel that most people will be able to take some good from what I am about to discuss… Even though some of the topics crawl towards the dark side.
Visually I wanted this piece to represent a machine-age and native american aesthetic. Two concepts that typically do not work together but considered in the right context could be symbiotic. While making this piece I have been thinking a lot about the pros and cons of innovation as a human race. Obviously there are heaps of positive impacts in the field of medicine and technology but I often wonder if all these changes will continue to work for us rather than against us in the long run. To name a few innovations that I am super interested in (and skeptical of) are driverless cars, artificial intelligence (AI) and smart phones. I have say that I benefit a lot from using my smart phone. I basically run my entire business off of it, but the constant reliance on them may be stealing real life experiences and relationships from us and our future generations. I know that I sometimes avoid social interactions by paying attention to my phone rather than the stranger or friend in front of me. What kind of impact will this dependence with our phones have on us in 100 years. Will we even look at each other in the eyes anymore ? Will we even need to ? The basic unknown when it comes to AI is the point of singularity. Singularity is a theoretical moment in time where computers will become smarter than humans. Once we hit this point, predicting what will happen in the future won’t be possible for us because the super intelligence of computers will be beyond the capacity of the human brain to comprehend. Right now we are the smartest species on earth and who knows what could happen if computers outsmart us. It could be solve all our problems or it could be the end of our world. I know this may seem like a pretty radical viewpoint, but one cannot rule it out.
As individuals in the modern world, one possible way for us to not fall to far down the rabbit hole of our own technological innovations is to continuously remind ourselves about the Native American way of life. Things like teaching our children about the intimate community ties they experienced and their respect and admiration of the Earth. Even things as simple as going out into nature and experiencing the pristine areas of the world. These could all serve as reminders to take our eyes off our phones and appreciate the natural world around us. I have been researching the Suquamish tribe while making this pendant and realized that some of the things Chief Seattle addressed in his famous speech could relate to dealing with the questions we are facing today. How about we dive into a little recent history involving the Native Americans to gain some context.
Seattle has not always been the bustling metropolis that it is today. In fact, the Suquamish tribe has been settled in the Central Puget Sound area for the past 10,000 years. Only in the last 250 years have settlers made their presence known and built up the city to what it is today. It is incredible to me how fast this city has been constructed and how drastically it has changed in only 250 years. Look at where we are today versus 100 years ago! To give you a bit of historical context, the first non-native explorer to come into contact with the Suquamish landed on Bainbridge Island in 1792, and Chief Seattle signed the Treaty of Point Elliot by 1855, forfeiting their land and agreeing to live on the Port Madison Indian Reservation. He gave a famous speech before signing this treaty and one part that stuck out was how his long lost sisters and departed braves will always be present in the land that the settlers have occupied as their own,
“And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children's children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.” - Chief Seattle
You can perceive this as a negative or a positive. The negative way to view it would be that Chief Seattle was threatening “the white men” by hinting that they are going to be haunted by native spirits for all of eternity. The other more comforting impression is that we are always going to be among fallen brothers and sisters who will protect us in times when we feel vulnerable. This is not only specific to the North West, but pertains to a lot of the United States and the developed world because most areas were once inhabited by an indigenous culture. One thing that we can take from this is that the old world mentality can always be tapped into in order to help us look at the modern world through a different lens. I would say that it is almost impossible to view the world in any way but the perspective of our present time. Our limited perspective can be expanded by researching and understanding the biases and viewpoints of civilizations from the past. Maybe tapping into the Native American psychology of a few decades ago could help us to view present day issues in an unbiased way. I know that for me, just reading about this historical period and Chief Seattle’s famous Speech has given me a new way of looking at current issues that are going on today.
The potential outcomes of technological innovation could be better understood by never forgetting the viewpoints of past civilizations and cultures. As I consider AI, deep down I feel that there is no right answer on how to address it. What if AI may means the end of human survival? What if it means the beginning of a golden age? Many great minds have come out with warnings about AI in the last year including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. Both realizing the magnificent benefits but also saying that the risk of annihilation may not be worth the reward. AI could be one of the greatest products of human intelligence to ever come into fruition, but it could also be our inherent urge to discover the endless possibilities of AI that destroys us. I would like to propose a question for you all, do you think that we have the ability to turn off the traits that define us as a species? In other words, is our inherent and unrelenting search for knowledge possible to turn off? I know this may seem a bit depressing, but I feel that addressing these concerns are just as important as seeking out love in the universe. One thing I always go back to is that the ups will never be as good without the downs. I feel like Chief Seattle had some great wisdom to share when he heard the knock of impending doom at his door. He faced the dilemma of signing over all his lands to the United States Government, or War with an unbeatable enemy. To him both options appeared to be the end of his time on this Earth as he knew it. In the year 1854, he said in his famous speech,
“But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see.”
The impending doom that Chief Seattle felt is something that we can all relate to. Whether we fear climate change, disease, ISIS, Super Volcano, Nano-Technology, Artificial Intelligence, or Nuclear War, it doesn’t really matter. We all know that one day we will be leaving this Earth. Is it not the possibility of death that makes life so beautiful? How could we appreciate each breath we take in if we knew we were never going to one day take our last breath? It all comes back to light and dark. The two forces in the world that could not exist without one another. I’d like to end this anecdote with another person’s words who have impacted my life remarkably.
“You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the sheered not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?
For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?
Only when you drink form the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”