"No longer mere Earth-beings and Planet-beings are we, but bright children of the stars. And together we shall dance in and out of ten billion years, celebrating the gift of consciousness, until the stars themselves grow cold and weary, and our thoughts turn again to the beginning" -- Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, The Ascent to Transcendence, 1999
(Image "Digital Chimaera - Brain Augmentation" by Mondolithic Studios)
What this is about:
I am making this thread to collect and present information that describes and interprets the Synthesis ending of Mass Effect 3 as a viable way to end the Reaper threat and secure a future free of the harvesting cycle for the civilizations of the galaxy. I will also include background information which I consider important to make sense of it and ground it in the themes present in the ME trilogy.
"As the line between synthetic and organic disappears, we may transcend mortality itself to reach a level of existence I cannot even imagine." -- EDI, ME3 Extended Cut, Synthesis Epilogue.
Since the effects of the Synthesis on the galaxy are now a part of the Extended Cut, I don't need to summarize my earlier scenario any more which was close in spirit to what the Extended Cut presents. If you haven't played the Synthesis ending, you can watch the best-case variant in this captured footage of the Synthesis epilogue. In the most general sense, Synthesis will make peace with the Reapers and upgrade organic and synthetic life in the galaxy and bring them closer to each other. This will facilitate greater understanding and eventually, by making the line between organics and synthetics disppear, engender an ascension to a new level of existence.
Synthesis does not result in an utopia. Utopias are static, and the post-Synthesis galaxy as told by EDI isn't that. Neither is it perfect. The theme is ascension, the idea to grow beyond what you are now in order to explore horizons unfathomable to those who came before. It's the idea that to realize those infinite possibilities, you cannot remain what you have been.
The legacy of past cycles in form of the Reapers and the civilizations preserved in them plays a prominent part in post-Synthesis civilization.
At this point I would like to thank Siduri for her Unofficial Epilogue Slides, which inspired my original scenario and, I believe, also the Extended Cut. I would also like to thank Bioware's ME3 team for making the Extended Cut which changed three depressing endings into four great ones, and everyone here on BSN who helped hold the line against the tide of hate.
Related threads (General and pre-Extended Cut):
*What is the Synthesis?, by me, my first Synthesis thread
*On the nature of the Catalyst and the Reapers, and why Synthesis is an attractive choice by me. An exploration of the nature of the Reapers and their relationship to the Catalyst.
*Devil's Advocate: Killing 1 Reaper = Genocide? by JShepppp, more on the nature and agency of the Reapers.
*Did post-leak changes ruin the ending's exposition and the Control and Synthesis options? by me. Obsolete after the Extended Cut, but still an interesting look into the evolution of ME3's ending.
*Why the Catalyst's logic is right II (post-Leviathan version) by JShepppp
*The Unofficial Mass Effect 3 Epilogue Slides by Siduri, IMO these embody the spirit of the endings best. May have inspired the EC.
*It couldn't have ended any other way by AtlasMickey paints Synthesis as inevitable
*Page 111 to 113 of the thread "All Were Thematically Revolting" has some interesting thoughts by CulturalGeekGirl about Synthesis and the rationale behind it. Some of that I crossposted on page 54.
*"Synthesis, Singularity, and the Inevitable Conflict by Obadiah
*"Why Synthesis was a good choice for my Shepard" by ardensia. *
*"Defending Synthesis" by Kroguard
*"Why I chose Synthesis by jtav
*"A stab at interpretation - synthesis changes and "new DNA" ...", by HYR 2.0
*My take on ME3, the ending, etc. by AtreiyaN7
*"How it works: Synthesis" by HYR 2.0
Related Threads (post-Extended Cut):
*SilentMobius post-EC Synthesis interpretation by SilentMobius (external link). IMO Required reading for anyone interested in Synthesis.
*"The Paradox of Synthesis - Is Self-Determination Violated or Celebrated?" by CosmicGnosis
*"Extended cut thoughts - Synthesis was beautiful" by Fuzzfro
*"Synthesis - an intergalactic threat" by AngryFrozenWater is an anti-Synthesis thread, but has some interesting debate here and there.
*Why I trusted the Catalyst by HYR 2.0 (see also JShepppp's thread in the previous section)
*the Truth: the Reapers want Shepard to succeedthe Truth: the Reapers want Shepard to succeed[/url] by JustinElenbaal, a fascinating hypothesis making the Reapers complicit in Shepard's success.
*Why the Catalyst's Logic is Right II (Post EC) - The Impossible Problem by JShepppp, a post-EC analysis of the Catalyst and its logic.
*Are the Reapers, The Catalyst or their Creators evil? I argue no... by maaze
*What's wrong with Synthesis? by Evebry, some interesting debate here and there.
*The post-Synthesis galaxy - utopia or not? by me.
*The Crucible is a Test by JedTed
*Some call it space magic, I say... by MyChemicalBromance, a very nice attempt to explain how Synthesis works.
*How Synthesis works. A non-mystical interpretation. by me
*Thoughts on Synthesis by macroberts
*Synthesis justification from a leader's perspective" by macroberts
*Reminder that the non-human perspective needs to be taken into account by Nimrodell
*The Reapers' Lovecraftian aspect and Synthesis as embracing the unknown by ShaigunJoe
*SilentMobius unifying Synthesis interpretation by SilentMobius, crossposted by me. IMO required reading for anyone interested in Synthesis.
Vernor Vinge on the Singularity by Vernor Vinge, 1993
The Orion's Arm Universe Project, an excellent place to explore some of the concepts behind "ascended life". I wish ME3's Synthesis scenario had followed similar guidelines.
by ATiBotka (posted on page 198):
0. Introduction and Synthesis exposition (Extended Cut)
I. Preliminary considerations
I.2 The Catalyst and its nature
I.3 The origin of the Synthesis option
II.1 The many faces of ascension
II.2 Embracing the unknown: Synthesis and cosmicism
III. The organic/synthetic problem asserted by the Catalyst
III.1 Outlining the problem
III.2 The singularity and the geth
IV. What Synthesis does - an extrapolation
IV.1 The attributes of post-Synthesis life
IV.2 Speculations about "integrating technology"
IV.3 SilentMobius' post-EC Synthesis interpretation
Introduction (read also as TL;DR)
Synthesis is without doubt the most controversial ending option of the Mass Effect trilogy. This is, I believe, because the change it makes in the fabric of life makes people fear that they will lose something of themselves in the process. While there is no evidence for such a thing in the Extended Cut, thematically such a fear is well founded, for Synthesis is steeped in themes of transformation, transcendence and ascension, and even though that remains nothing more than a possibility in the post-Synthesis future, there is no ascension in which something is not lost.
Those who choose Synthesis do not fear such a future, but jump into the unknown, embracing its infinite possibilities and the notion that life exists to grow beyond itself, that beyond retaining some core traits that define us, to become other than we were is our fate, and that to speed that process up might just be desirable. The controversy has become more virulent because within the story, the Reapers repeatedly claim those themes for themselves and, as of the Extended Cut, are integrated into the post-Synthesis civilization.
The Extended Cut makes it clear that Synthesis is a good ending. There is a new golden age, the knowledge of the old cycles and their cultures has been saved, and the future holds the promise of an ascension to a new state of existence, with new horizons unfathomable to those who came before. While the question "Is it justifiable to force such a change on the galaxy?" must be addressed by anyone who makes this their preferred choice, calling the Synthesis "horrific" or "evil" is grounded in false assumptions and association fallacies. Organic life will gain the ability to "integrate with synthetic technology" (Catalyst), which may give individuals the ability to link minds, but there is every evidence that individuality is maintained. Unlike the Reapers' ascension, there is no forced conjoining of minds. Diversity is also maintained, since the species of the galaxy look and act as different from each other as ever. Synthetics have gained understanding of organics, and while it might be considered regrettable that the pre-Synthesis perspective of synthetics has been lost, synthetics have always tried to understand organics in that way and regretted - as much as that was possible for a synthetic - that they were ultimately unable to do so. So they, too, have surpassed their former limitations.
The pre-Extended Cut Synthesis raised many more questions and was much less defined. This thread started as the attempt to create a coherent and internally consistent exposition of the Synthesis from pre-Extended Cut material. The Extended Cut has made some of my earlier speculations canon. Some of the existing exposition still makes little sense if taken at face value, but the complete picture is now much more coherent and we can speculate on much firmer ground.
Reference: Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut Synthesis exposition and epilogue:
Catalyst scene (note that the pre-EC exposition partly contradicts the EC - comments on that in part IV):
"The chain reaction will combine all organic and synthetic life into a new framework. A new....DNA"
"The energy of the Crucible, released in this way, will alter the matrix of all organic life in the galaxy"
"Organics will be perfected by integrating fully with synthetic technology. Synthetics, in turn, will finally have full understanding of organics".
"The cycle will end, the Reapers will cease their harvest, and the civilizations preserved in their forms will be connected to all of us."
"Synthesis is the final evolution of all life"
Epilogue told by EDI (example, may have variations depending on major decisions):
(scene of symbolic representations of molecules not quite like DNA floating in space...)
"I am alive"
"All of us, organics and synthetics, have been changed."
(...zooming out to a human face with glowing eyes...)
"The war is over, and the Reapers are helping us to rebuild. Where they once threatened us with extinction..."
(...further zooming out to see Reapers helping rebuild)
"...they now bring the collective knowledge of the cultures that came before"
"As a galaxy, we can now live the lives we have wished for, taking our first steps into a new and wonderful future where organics and synthetics can coexist peacefully"
(slides of mostly rebuilt but still damaged London, an unmasked quarian and a geth, and others depending on character status)
"Unlimited access to knowledge can help even the most shattered cultures...."
(slides from Tuchanka start here)
"...and while it will take some longer than others to see the benefits, even they will eventually live free from poverty and disease..."
(slides of rebuilding on Tuchanka and a krogan with child included even in playthroughs where you sabotaged the cure)
"...reclaiming their worlds, and the stars"
(slide of a gigantic floating structure, maybe a city or an immense starship)
"As the line between synthetic and organic disappears, we may transcend mortality itself..."
(scene of odd lights floating in space)
"...to reach a level of existence I cannot even imagine."
"And we will remember that this chance for a new life did not come without cost."
(slides of the dead - Legion, Mordin etc.)
"No matter how far we advance, we will remember the sacrifices of those who made it possible".
(scene of Shepard's name being added to the wall of remembrance)
"And we will remember Shepard"
(scene of EDI hugging Garrus)
"I am alive, and I am not alone".
I. Preliminary considerations
I.1 Definitions and concepts
I feel the need to include the following somewhat technical definitions since it has been never clear what exactly is the reason that synthetics will always surpass organics, which will always result in conflict according to the Catalyst. Given that we spent three games proving that "normal differences", even in basic biochemistry, can be overcome without a physical change, I'm using the fact that synthetics and organics are based on mutually exclusive design principles. See part III for more about how this may trigger conflict.
A "grown" organism. Technically, an organic life form is a life form whose physically distinct parts are created in a process of differentiation of parts of the whole, regardless of biochemistry. The growth process is controlled by a set of information (genes) that does not describe the complete form, but only details the growth process. The important aspect is that the complete form cannot be known from its genes without growing it or simulating its growth.
I am rejecting the more intuitive "life form based on carbon chemistry" because throughout the ME trilogy, we have shown that different "biochemistries" (used loosely for the internal processes of a life form) do not inevitably result in conflict.
Since the Catalyst is not stupid, that can only mean that the conflict between organics and synthetics it asserts as unavoidable is based on a different distinction.
A "built" organism. Technically, a synthetic life form is a life form whose physically distinct parts are created in a process separate from the formation of the whole, and then assembled according to a schematic that fully describes the complete form. To qualify as a life form in the traditional sense the schematic and process of creating the parts of the life form must be integrated into the life form itself, but this is often waived in SFal realizations.
I am rejecting the defining attributes of a synthetic life form as given by Javik in ME3. He defines the unique perspective of synthetics as "knowing the purpose they were created for", "knowing their creators and knowing they are flawed", and "being immortal, seeing organic life as fleeting and inconsequential. The example of Miranda Lawson shows that the first two attributes are not limited to synthetic life forms. Furthermore, it is not impossible for organic life to attain limited physical immortality, i.e. a state of being where they do not die of natural causes.
Thus, the dividing line between organics and synthetics must be based on a different distinction.
A seed AI is an AI with the ability to recursively improve itself. I.e. it can improve itself and become better at improving itself, improve itself again etc.. etc.. theoretically ad infinitum or until some threshold is reached that requires other methods of self-evolution. In the real world, it is currently unknown if such a type of AI can exist.
I.2 The Catalyst and its nature
The most vocal criticisms of Synthesis are based on the assumption that we cannot trust the Catalyst and that its assertions make no sense. This has been mitigated by the Extended Cut, but people still claim it uses circular logic. As a reference, here's what the Catalyst says about itself:
S: What are you?
C: A construct. An intelligence designed eons ago to solve a problem. I was created to bring balance, to be a catalyst for peace between organics and synthetics.
S: So you're just an AI?
C: Inasmuch as you are just an animal. I embody the collective intelligence of all Reapers.
S: But you were created....
S: By who?
C: By ones that recognized that conflict would always arise between organics and synthetics. I was first created to oversee the relations between synthetic and organic life....to establish a connection. But our efforts always ended in conflict, so a new solution was required.
S: The Reapers.
S: Where did the Reapers come from? Did you create them?
C: My creators game them form. I gave them function. They, in turn, give me purpose. The Reapers are a synthetic representation of my creators.
S: And what happened to your creators?
C: They became the first true Reaper. They did not approve, but it was the only solution.
S: You said that before, but how are the Reapers a solution?
C: Organics create synthetics to improve their own existence. But these improvements have limits. To exceed those limits, they must be allowed to evolve. They must, by definition, surpass their creators. The result is conflict, destruction, chaos. It is inevitable.
C: Reapers harvest all life -- organic and synthetic -- preserving them before they are forever lost to this conflict.
From this, I conclude that the following statements about the nature of the Catalyst are true;
The Catalyst does not use circular logic. It just has non-human priorities.
The Catalyst's priority is the preservation of organic life, and as a consequence, also synthetic life since organic life creates it. It's priority is not specific organic life, not specific individuals or species, but intelligent organic life as such. As long as its continued existence is guaranteed, the Catalyst's purpose is fulfilled.
It sees the minds of organics and the information about their physical makeup as the defining part of organic life, and thus preserves them in the Reapers before they can be utterly destroyed. The thoughts and memories, the information about their material culture, are preserved as we know from the Synthesis epilogue. It makes sense in the non-human kind of way one can expect from an utterly non-human intelligence.
The Catalyst implements the most efficient solution it can find.
The wishes of individuals, the morality of organic cultures, are of no consequence to it. It is, in the purest sense of the word, amoral. That an organic individual would never come up with this kind of solution is irelevant for the Catalyst since is not an organic individual. It can be presumed that any other solution - for instance keeping synthetics in check - would result in a worse cost/benefit balance since the continued non-Reaperized existence of specific organic species does not count as a significant benefit.
The Catalyst created an artificial extinction cycle to simulate the natural ones.
In a universe without synthetics, organic cultures would not last forever. They would come and go. Some would die out, some maybe ascend to become something else, new life would always flourish. Thus, the diversity of organic life that makes it adaptable would be maintained over time. Synthetics threaten that balance, they can be eternal. After they've won once and extinguished organic life, no other intelligent organic life would emerge. The harvesting cycle ensures that new life will always flourish. That old life has to be harvested for that to occur is of no consequence to the Catalyst.
The Catalyst is not insane, but it may be buggy.
The goal of the Catalyst is clear, but apparently it had not been programmed with the necessary restrictions to make its solutions acceptable to organic civilizations. Possibly it also self-evolved out of such restrictions. Whatever the cause, its logic is internally consistent.
I.3 The origin of the Synthesis option
This has been thrown into question by the Extended Cut. While formerly, we could reasonably assume that the options were built into the Crucible by the civilizations of past cycles, the Extended Cut reveals that the Crucible is not much more than a power source and can only enact its solutions together with the Citadel and the mass relays. Nonetheless, when Shepard asks why these new solutions are now possible, the Catalyst answers: "You changed the variables. The Crucible changed me, created new...possibilities".
This means that with the EC, it has become unclear where the Synthesis option originates. It's possible to postulate that it mostly originates with the Catalyst as well as that it mostly originates with the Crucible. There is also the effect of Shepard's sacrifice to consider, which is open to the interpretation that Shepard gives the Synthesis shape.
The following pre-EC quote is based on the interpretation that Synthesis mostly originates with the Crucible. It is the one I prefer because it symbolizes "human" agency (in form of the civilization that created the Synthesis option for the Crucible) as opposed to "divine" agency:
Synthesis makes total sense as a tactic from a past civilization. It has been implied that the Geth can't be indoctrinated unless they at least willingly accept some kind of a gift from the Reapers. What if a previous cycle had a civilization like the Geth and the Quarians would have been if the Morning War had never happened? Or if the Pro-Geth Quarians had won? This is something that doesn't get brought up enough: the Geth Consensus mission doesn't just show that the Geth were blameless in the Morning war, it also shows that numerous Quarians sided with them and were brutally murdered for doing so. It wasn't just a synthetics vs. organics war, it was a civil war among the Quarians.
Anyway, imagine a collaborative society of sentient machines and organics. Imagine if they learned that machines were resistant to indoctrination, and that making yourself part synthetic conferred that resistance onto organics. Without indoctrination, it seems pretty plausible that a fairly advanced civilization could beat the Reapers, either by hiding out during an entire cycle or through conventional warfare.
Also, being part synthetic makes you harder to kill, stronger, faster-thinking, it confers almost limited military advantages and almost no military disadvantages, assuming that becoming partially synthetic does not completely overwrite your organic consciousness.
A civilization that was already on the cusp of collaborative transhumanism developing this as a tactic makes perfect sense. I could go on for pages about the theoretical tactics that could be employed by a hybrid race or by a transhumanist collaboration between all races in the galaxy.[/quote]
Originally posted here.
II.1 The many faces of ascension
"As the line between synthetic and organic disappears, we may transcend mortality itself to reach a level of existence I cannot even imagine" -- EDI, ME3 Extended Cut Synthesis Epilogue
The leaked script described Synthesis as "a new ascension, for both organic and synthetic life". Likely to avoid associations with the Reapers' perversion of the term, the writers substituted this with "the final evolution of life", without realizing that this is even worse, given Sovereign's assertion that the Reapers are "the pinnacle of evolution and existence" (ME1, Virmire encounter. I suspect that the writers forgot this).
However we take this, the basic truth is that "ascension" usually evokes positive images, of life expanding into the unknown, mentally and physically, of transcending fundamental limitations of its existence, of gaining greater power and understanding. Ascension is an intrinsically hopeful term that looks with optimism to the future, as evidenced by the asari naming their flagship "Destiny Ascension".
The Synthesis epilogue shows that post-Synthesis civilization is on its way to such an ascension, but the Reaper assocation is still problematic, and that is not just a matter of association with an enemy. In fact, the Reapers pervert the spirit of ascension: They claim to be the ascended form of organic life. Which is both true and false. If we believe Legion in ME2, Reapers are "transcended flesh. Billions of organic minds, uploaded and conjoined within an immortal machine body". So yes, it's true. But it's also false. It would be more correct to say that the Reapers are *a* form of ascended organic life, namely the one created by destroying the original form and forcibly uploading their minds. The Reapers' ideology suggests that there is no other form of ascension. The Synthesis epilogue reveals that this is false.
Also, the Reapers have harvested civilizations for at least 40 million years. What would have happened if organic life had been allowed to develop over all that time without intervention? I think it is plausible to say it would either be dead - or so immeasurably advanced that it would be incomprehensible to us. The Reapers, while claiming to ascend organic species, prevent that organic life ascends in a different way. They, not organic species, are the evolutionary dead end. The only alternative explanation - that life is intrinsically unable to advance past them - would create a universe in which the Reapers are right. While that's not impossible, it is also a matter of belief for which there can be no evidence. I find a belief that would limit the prospects of intelligent life so much - needlessly if it's wrong - impossible to adopt.
By choosing Synthesis, the way is opened for a different ascension. Maybe even various ways. One may involve a conjoining of minds, one may simple ascend an individual. Since the Reapers are freed from their enforced objective and Synthesis also affects them, there may be a way forward even for the conjoined minds of the old cycles, freeing them from their eternal stagnation.
II.2 Embracing the unknown: Synthesis and cosmicism
[quote]Pacifien wrote (page 123)
I always liked Synthesis because it touches on the concept of technological singularity, which is about an evolutionary step that pushes a civilization beyond the point of our understanding: embracing the unknown.
And I think that's what most people fear, if you see someone pushed beyond your understanding, you feel that person isn't who they are anymore and everything that person was essentially "dies" to you. So you hold back because you don't want to lose that person. But the truth is, you simply don't know.
And I've seen the counterargument that if you haven't fundamentally changed someone through Synthesis, then somehow you've given them great power by breaking their free will/augmented them with synthetics. But that itself is dictating your actions with fear. Because again, you don't *know*.
And if that fear holds you back, then no, Synthesis is not going to be for you.[/quote]
I believe it is this fear Paficien describes that inspired the philosophy of Cosmicism - the Lovecraftian philosophy that "there exists a realm of existence which is intrinsically beyond our comprehension" (Sovereign paraphrased); that the limits of the human condition are of a kind which will prevent greater understanding at some point, unless humans transform themselves into something "other", which will be equally incomprehensible (and, if you follow Lovecraft, horrific) to those that came before. In the Mass Effect universe, the Reapers have monopolized that place beyond until subverted by the ending.
The underlying theme of Synthesis is ascension, which will result in a transformation to greater power and understanding by making organic and synthetic life "other" in some way. The thematic similarities are enough that it made people claim "Synthesis will turn everyone into Reapers" before the Extended Cut disproved that notion. There is no destruction involved in *this* kind of ascension, no forced conjoining of minds, no immortal machine bodies. That assertion was always false.
However, there can be no doubt that in any ascension worth the term, something will be lost. That's the truth expressed by the quote at the top of this post. Also, while the ending of Mass Effect 3 ultimately subverts the cosmic horror story, changing the Reapers from horrors from the beyond to super-powerful and super-intelligent, but mundane antagonists, the prospect of embracing the unknown by letting the Reapers become part of civilization, as happens after Synthesis, is a frightening prospect, even if you know what they are. Their presentation as Lovecraftian horrors made sure of that. Ultimately, whether you see the promise of ascension or fear losing a part of yourself from it will determine your attitude to the Synthesis:
- (A) If you embrace Lovecraftian cosmicism as the theme defining the Reapers, reject the subversion of the cosmic horror story in ME3's ending and believe that what will be lost by the ascension effected by the Synthesis is not worth the gain, that we will not become more-than-human, but inhuman, less-than-human if we embrace this, then you will reject Synthesis.
- ( If you reject Lovecraftian cosmicism as the theme defining the Reapers, accept the subversion of the cosmic horror story in by ME3's ending and believe that what is gained by the ascension effected by the Synthesis is ultimately worth the cost, that we will become more-than-human, then you will be attracted by Synthesis.
For many players, the reversal at the end of ME3 comes suddenly, and finds them unwilling or unable to adapt to the new situation - unlike players like me, who have always sought for explanations and motivations, didn't just want to "fight the Reapers" but to understand their nature, those who "explored the dark places" (Cerberus Manifesto) without prejudice to bring the knowledge therein back into the light. For me, the revelation of viewpoint (A) as the canonical truth would have been a cause for despair, and the suggestion of viewpoint ( as viable came as a huge relief.
More about this in a post by Shaigunjoe on page 85:
As many people have pointed out, from ME1 the reapers have represented old god horrors in both appearance and philosophy. Lovecraft feared technology, he felt that Einstein's special relativity would plunge the world into chaos, so he created unimaginable horrors in his writing to discourage the creation of unimaginable horrors in real life (sound familiar? Who else uses circular logic to justify keeping the world from chaos?). Here is a Lovecraft quote that bleeds directly into the choices presented:
"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."
Its pretty obvious that destroy resonants with the statement of retreating into a dark age, shunning knowledge and the revelations that come along with it. Control must somehow fit into madness (as TIM was mad and wanted control) though there is more that could be said about that.
Naturally, being a bit of a coward, he did not include a third choice. Step into the unknown, embrace the change, merge old ideas with new and keep pushing the boundries of knowledge, afterall, this is how we learn
That article describes the evolution of learning as: "synthesizing existing ideas into new combinations".
This makes a lot more things make sense in the ME universe. Reapers are just a representation of the unknown, quite literally beyond our comprehension. The catalyst was a child because the fear he had was childish. And most importantly, this is why synthesis MUST remain an unknown quantity, as it is for those who are willing to embrace the unknown. Knowing the result of synthesis would completly defeat what synthesis represents.[/quote]
It may seem that this them of "embracing the unknown" is no longer present after the Extended Cut, but the new slides and scenes don't show much above that it is, like the other two, a good ending in its way. They show just the start of the path to ascension, and the minds of the Reapers still represent an unknown quantity. The scene with the husk suddenly changing in front of our eyes is indicative enough that there's much we don't know about how Synthesis will change life and civilization. The "creepiness" of that scene is very much the point.
III. The organic/synthetic problem asserted by the Catalyst
Now the thematic considerations have been dealt with, we can at last get to the heart of the matter: the organic/synthetic problem for which Synthesis is asserted to be a permanent resolution:
"Organics create synthetics to improve their own existence. But these improvements have limits. To exceed those limits, they must be allowed to evolve. They must, by definition, surpass their creators. The result is conflict, destruction, chaos. It is inevitable" -- Catalyst, ME3 Extended Cut
III.1 Outlining the problem
The definitions of organic and synthetic life forms given in I.1 above have some important consequences. Most notably, if you want to add something physical to a synthetic, you can do so with relative ease, since you have the schematic and can selectively change existing parts in order to integrate the new part. If you want to do the same with an organic, you have to redesign the complete organism from the ground up, since every stage of the growth process is affected by the change. Or more to the point: improving synthetics is easy, improving organics is very hard. That's why organics seek to improve themselves with technology, and that's why they create synthetics.
Those synthetics can self-evolve. Imagine a macroscale self-replicating machine inhabited by a mind with the attributes of a seed AI. The body can self-replicate, the mind can improve itself, create new ideas and realize physical representations of them using the machinery of self-replication. In very little time, it would be possible for such a life form to develop into a super-intelligent being with immense physical power. The end result of such a process could be a Matrioshka brain, a megastructure like the one the geth are building. Imagine the processing power of a brain with the mass of several gas giants, built in a time of mere decades. Mass Effect 1 makes another allusion to the possible existence of planetary brains with the planet Ploba, Antaeus System, Hades Gamma Cluster.
There is nothing that can improve as fast as this in the organic realm, and there is no guarantee that this self-evolving synthetic will be friendly to organics. It might not be actively hostile, but that is not needed to destroy organics. All that is needed is that it is super-powerful, indifferent and that it has a motivation to self-replicate and/or self-improve. This is the kind of synthetic life that will, given a little time, cause the extinction of organics just by doing what all life does: expanding into space it has not previously occupied. Consider as a comparison the number of species humans have made extinct just by expanding across the face of the Earth. The obvious reply "Those organisms couldn't talk with us" doesn't apply since from the viewpoint of a post-singularity AI, humans are about as intelligent and important as ants are to us.
The common objection here is: we do not know that this will happen. No, we do not. But the Catalyst is more intelligent and knowledgeable than we are (see part I about why I am making that assumption), and it has a different perspective and the ability to model future developments in a way similar to the salarian's simulations of krogan future development. Given that the Catalysst's simulations for future development are likely orders of magnitude more complex than the salarians', I'm willing to suspend my disbelief here and go with the premise that it is, if not guaranteed, at least extremely likely.
Thus: synthetic life, once a self-replicating synthetic with the mind of a seed AI exists, will very likely cause the extinction of organic life in the galaxy (realistically we should restrict this to multicellular life, since bacteria should be impossible to eradicate) with no intervention.
III.2 The singularity and the geth
In this section I would like to show that the geth are on their way to becoming the kind of synthetic which would trigger a technological singularity to far surpass organics in power and intelligence.
Speaking with Legion in ME2 reveals that the geth are building a megastructure he compares to a Dyson sphere (changed into "Dyson Swarm" in ME3 to be more compatible with physics), but would be more correctly named a Matrioshka brain (see above). We also know that geth become more intelligent in bigger groups. This megastructure would be a home to all geth, who would become immeasurably more intelligent as a result of their close proximity. Legion says that the outcome of that process and the attributes of the entity that will emerge from it is impossible to predict. In other words, this is a singularity event.
On the physical level, we have already witnessed that geth can build more platforms from raw materials. On Tali's loyalty mission, we are informed that the geth have probably built more of themselves in the time since the "accident". While this is not exactly "building from raw materials", apparently the materials available on the Alarei were enough to assemble some fifty some geth platforms. They did that in a rather short time as well. This means that geth platforms, while not being self-replicating as individual platforms, are self-replicating as a group. This is, of course, very plausible since otherwise, no new geth platforms would have come into existence after the Morning War 300 years ago, and anyway it is unlikely that a species as advanced as the geth are unable to build more of themselves.
I conclude that letting the geth finish their megastructure will very likely result in the scenario the Catalyst seeks to prevent. In other words, it is foreshadowed in the story of ME2 and ME3 and does not come out of nowhere. It only requires that you look closely.
IV. What Synthesis does - an extrapolation.
IV.1 The attributes of post-Synthesis life
The nature of the organic/synthetic divide as outlined in part I and III creates some restrictions in what Synthesis can actually do to prevent the extinction of higher organic life. The description of Synthesis by the Catalyst creates further restrictions, though I will only take those into consideration if they do not contradict others. Following the exposition of the Extended Cut, I feel confident in outlining the major effects of Synthesis as follows:
"The energy of the Crucible, released in this way, will alter the matrix of all organic life in the galaxy" -- Catalyst, ME3 Extended Cut
(1) The "altered matrix" of organic life may be a DNA-analogue that can encode more than the original.
Organic life will get an "altered matrix". It is likely that to integrate seamlessly with synthetic technology, organic life must gain the ability to grow natural interfaces. Thus I propose a new DNA-analogue which will encode everything DNA ever did, but it is not restricted to that. One possible addition may be the creation of clusters of nanomachines as speculated in part IV.3. Note that the imagery at the start of the Synthesis epilogue shows something that loosely resembles DNA, but it is clearly recognizeable as something different if you know how DNA is usually graphically represented. See also SilentMobius' take on this in IV.2
This only applies to organic life, as per the description. There is no forced hybridization anymore. Synthetics will be differently affected. It also does not change any pre-existent attributes of individuals. The new matrix will encode all the old DNA ever did, it will only add to things. Whatever an individual was will be retained. Perspectives may change over time, though, in reaction to what is new. Or not.
Since the purpose of the new matrix is the integration with technology, it will remain without function in life forms that do not integrate with technology, i.e. in non-intelligent life forms and non-technological cultures unless adapted by technological civilizations.
"The chain reaction will combine all organic and synthetic life into a new framework. A new....DNA" -- Catalyst
(2) The "new...DNA" is a metaphor and a remnant of the pre-Extended Cut description.
The "altered matrix" of organic life and the "new...DNA" of all life appear to conflict with each other. At the moment, I can see no way to reconcile them, so I'll continue to see the expression as a metaphor and disregard it. It is possible that the "new Matrix" is meant to supersede the "new..DNA"
The problem: organic and synthetic life forms are based on mutually exclusive design principles. They can always mix, but never unify into one halfway in-between because there is no halfway in-between design principle. You are either the result of a growth process, or based on deliberate design according to a blueprint, as per the definitions in part I. Parts of you may be one or or the other so that you are a mix, but you cannot be fundamentally in-between. The "altered matrix" recognized that because it only applies to organic life, while the "new...DNA" does not. Thus, the "New...DNA" of the Catalyst can only be an unfortunate metaphor. Any synthetic with a DNA-analogue would be an organic. If Synthesis was literally a genetic rewrite that would give synthetics a DNA analogue, it would turn all synthetics into organics.
The "new framework" can be interpreted as having two parts: the new matrix of organic life and the new coding of synthetic life that gives it full understanding of organics.
"Organics will be perfected by integrating fully with synthetic technology. Synthetics, in turn, will finally have full understanding of organics" -- Catalyst, ME3 Extended Cut
(3) Organics' integration with technology and synthetics' gaining understanding
The "altered matrix" will ensure that organic life will retain its basically organic nature, and the new coding of synthetic life will not change its basic synthetic nature. As per EDI's description, the line between them may disappear in future, but Synthesis does not make that happen, it only makes it possible. Instead, every side gains desirable traits from the other - organics the ability to integrate fully and seamlessly with technology and synthetics full understanding of organics, empathy, intuitive understanding etc.
It will not be a physical unification, it will not make everyone the same or remove all differences between organics and synthetics. Note that the changes to synthetics need not necessarily be physical. A synthetic individual's continuity is based in software anyway, so any fundamental change must start there. Of course physical changes can be made to synthetics to accomodate things like relationships to organics (see EDI), but those are part of synthetics' self-change capability. Synthetics can have a hardware-based notion of individuality like organics, but it is not a fundamental part of them. It may cease to be a fundamental part of organics as well, should things like upload technology be developed or learned from the Reapers.
(4) Invoking a different singularity
It is impossible to prevent a singularity because Synthesis does not reduce synthetics' capability to self-evolve, but gives the same ability to organics. This is akin to invoking a singularity-like event on organic life. This is the basis of the ascension - evolving to an existence unfathomable to those who came before. Again, this is a development in the future, but likely inevitable in the long run.
"The cycle will end, the Reapers will cease their harvest, and the civilzations preserved in their forms will be connected to all of us" -- Catalyst, ME3 Extended Cut
(5) Basic attribute: mental networking and integrating the knowledge of past cycles
As per the description, there will be some kind of mental network that makes the cultures preserved in the Reapers and their knowledge a part of post-Synthesis galactic civilization. I find it very likely that this network will be facilitated by the synthetic technology integrated in organics and naturally present in synthetics, so that all life forms that integrate technology will be linked, while pre-technology civilizations will not be affected, nor will those who cut themselves deliberately off by choosing not to integrate with any technology at all.
My original reasoning for the mental networking also applies: since it is impossible that a single form of human-like size will be able to run processes as powerful as those of a post-singularity synthetic, but we know that Synthesis does not change humans out of their form, we must assume that Synthesis will give organic individuals the ability to link up in a similar way the geth do, in order to run higher-level processes should that be necessary. The ability and willingness of groups of upgraded organics to do that will likely be a factor in the evolution (term used loosely here) of post-Synthesis life. Different cultures may emerge based on different attitudes to mindlinks and conjoining minds.
"Synthesis is the final evolution of all life" -- Catalyst, ME3 Extended Cut
(6) The end of natural evolution....or not?
The Catalyst's description of Synthesis as the "final evolution of life" cannot mean that life will not change after Synthesis. As long as there is life, there is change, and even if you freeze life into unchanging forms like the Reapers, these forms will only stay at the pinnacle unless no life can conceivably exist that could surpass and replace them. More powerful life forms are easy to imagine, including but not limited to those emerging from a post-Synthesis ascension. I conclude that the "final evolution of life" must mean something else.
Here is what I propose: post-Synthesis intelligent life will no longer experience random changes and natural selection as a response to environmental stress factors because it will have surpassed being shaped by its natural environment. Instead, deliberate change will replace random mutation and natural selection. It is possible that post-Synthesis life will allow itself to be shaped by random changes, but that would be a deliberate decision. This means that this end of natural evolution is not inherent in the Synthesis, but rather a likely consequence, and non-sapient life must still be subject to evolution, or it wouldn't be possible for new sapient life to emerge.
Note that in the real world, some biologists have already hypothesized that we are reaching the end of natural evolution and any future changes will be deliberate, because we will have the knowledge to unmake any random changes. So this is not a far-fetched scenario, nor is it necessarily bad.
IV.2 Speculations about "integrating technology"
I propose molecular nanotechnology as the means to realize the aforementioned upgrades on the organic side, and reprogramming as the primary means to realize them on the synthetic side. How exactly the transformation is made remains in the realm of "sufficiently advanced technology" aka space magic, but we can try to get a clearer image of the results.
It is plausible that the primary technology organic life forms integrate with takes the form of clusters of nanomachines. They will be able to build and change things from raw materials provided to them in some form. Organic minds will be able to interface with them because of the changes wrought by the "altered matrix". Pre-Synthesis upgrades like greyboxes or biotic implants can be realized by them as well as more exotic ones. For instance, it may be possible to advance the nanocluster to have an intelligence of its own. This may be the basis of future integration of synthetic and organic life, where the line between them disappears, bringing forth the ascension.
The advantages I have proposed for this kind of solution in earlier versions of this post have been mostly superseded by the advantage of the "altered matrix". Still, these clusters of nanomachines may be part of the altered matrix, which may enable organic bodies to produce them naturally. The advantages remain: (a) they are tools and encourage individual self-expression instead of limiting it as often proposed by Synthesis detractors, ( if not naturally produced they may still pass to children, so that if they are part of the altered matrix, continuity of the ability to integrate technology is retained while reproduction is not adversely affected, © since they are tools they can remain unused by those who prefer an pre-Synthesis lifestyle, though it is no longer possible to unmake the altered matrix, (d) they could be present but dormant in non-intelligent organic life of sufficient size, becoming active if any technology is integrated as species advance to technological civilizaitons. This will result in interesting evolutionary paths...
IV.3 SilentMobius' post-EC Synthesis interpretation
This interpretation was posted on Reddit about two weeks after the EC came out. Since quoting things out of context can lead to information being lost, I'll quote all three relevant posts:
I see a lot of people still unclear about Synthesis after the EC, personally I think it was explained much better (Though as you say, the visuals were... questionable) While Mass Effect, in general, is a little sloppy with the terminology the things that the synthetics gain at each point of the story fits well into current philosophy and IMHO explains synthesis (once the EC clarified it):
- EDI went from being a VI to an AI on luna, she gained sapience and gained the ability to reason (classical Sapience)
- The Geth gained individuality from the Reaper code upgrade (the ability for a single runtime to think independently, however they didn't lose their ability to become even more in the consensus) they remained sapient hence they didn't lose anything of their nature
- Synthesis didn't add organic parts to synthetics it just re-based their platforms on the "new framework" that allows their platforms to be capable of supporting sentient software
- Organics were re-based on the new framework that could include their organics but didn't replace it. The framework could function without the organic parts (Opening up the possibility of imortality down the like) but also worked in concert (as you saw in the EC sequence, the elements of the "new framework" encircled the organic DNA helix. Organics are augumented, nothing is replaced.
*The Energy of the Crucible, released this way, will alter the matrix of all organic life in the galaxy.
*Organics seek perfection through technology, Synthetics seen perfection through understanding.
*Organics will be perfected by integrating fully with synthetic technology.
*Synthetics, in turn will have finally have full understanding of organics.
The Reason the Catalyst failed to create synthesis is because it couldn't. The whole point of synthesis was to create a new type of platform that catered to organic-style thinking while still supporting existing organic and synthetic consciousnesses. The Catalyst and the Reapers can't think like organics, therefore all their attempts ended up like the husk/banshee/marauder/collector, techno-organic machines, nothing more
People say that EDI was definately having emotions before synthesis but people (sapients) without empathy can still desire it. I interpreted EDI's attempts at "human" interaction as acting on a "want" and trying to understand without actually feeling. Even in ME3 when Shepard give colloquial advice like a couple requiring "chemistry" EDI doesn't get it, because she doesn't have the empathy to feel hence she has to ask to be told.
Y'see I don't see the Geth story as sentience vs sapience, I see that as individuality vs gestalt, and I think that story is done reasonably well in hindsight. Geth have no identity and no intelligence without a sizeable group of them, hence cooperation is natural and almost required. the heretic situation illustrates that therewill be fractures in their unity, illustrating the need to be capable of individual self-sufficiency. The Quarian attack panic's them and they make a bad call and lose their self determination. Only a Geth platform-cluster acting as an isolated individual succeeds in saving them. Then it sacrifices it's own identity to save the consensus even though it had achieved individuality illustrating that individuality and the consensus are not mutually exclusive. Hence the Geth embrace it as an "upgrade" each runtime is now capable of sapience on its own, but is still part of the consensus, it's as if the Geth got a 1000-fold processing upgrade (Where 1000 Geth were needed for sapience, now only 1 is) Now Legion was already 1000 runtimes, and I believe he was still 1000 runtimes and yet a single entity, hence I'd say that Legion was much more capable of understanding emotions compared to EDI and maybe even blossoming into sentience just before he died, but only just It's almost like the ME universe is positing a "sociopath gap" in the computational ability of AI
Axis of increasing computational power: Dumb terminal -----> VI --> Sapient AI =======> Sentient AI
Between sapient and sentient is where the intellect is sapient enough to think for itself but not sentient enough to relate to other intellects with empathy. Which would explain why most AI's turn out badly. Synthesis short-circuits that problem by providing a usable base framework and getting it everywhere.
This also satisfies the problem of people re-creating AI. It's just like genetically engineering a severely autistic organic, possible, but not useful, additionally the technology of the framework give a path of "growth" for the nascent AI where it can eventually escape its limited perception. Hence minimising "killer" AI.[/quote]
*"Sapience Sapience is often defined as wisdom, or the ability of an organism or entity to act with appropriate judgment".
The bit I find the most important: "Sapience describes an essential human property that bestows 'personhood' onto a non-human"
*Sentience is the ability to feel, perceive or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences"
and IMHO the most important bit: "Eighteenth century philosophers used the concept to distinguish the ability to think ("reason") from the ability to feel ("sentience")"
EDI starts on Luna in ME1 as an experimental VI, complex enough to blossom into an AI where she gains sapience. in ME2 and ME3 she tries to understand human emotion, but it's all based of self modification of code, she decides a given thing should be true and thus modifies her programming to make it true,she never feels any of it.
Hence a new AI is sapient and thus doesn't understand organics however should still be considered a full "person" whereas the whole organics vs synthetics thing was seemingly a quest for synthetic sentience, the ability to "feel" (have implicit emotion) hence EDI's comment during the synthesis ending, there she smiles, almost cries and really feels "alive"
Hence the Catalyst failing to create "synthesis": It can't make something it doesn't understand. Hence the important differentiation between what happens to organics vs what happens to synthetics. Which, in turn, quells confusion about the synthetics "gaining organic bits" (This doesn't happen they just gain sentience)
The main thing is that a lot of people see "personness" (sapience) as the only metric to measure worth, hence they can't see what they synthetics gained in synthesis and/or they don't see how gaining access to "feeling" would help an AI however AI theory really values our "feelings" and posits that they are the thing that allows infinite information space problems to return with a solution in finite time.
ME seems to posit that the lack of "feeling" is what reduces the understanding of synthetics to the degree that they will always threaten the existence of organics (due to being unable to value the things we value)[/quote]
Ok so we saw that the "New framework"'s base-element was smaller than a DNA nucleobase (in the EC cinematic) given that a nucleobase is only ~13 atoms we must assume that the "new framework" also functions at the atomic scale , so let's say that a complete nanotech "unit" is a meta-base that wraps around the existing base that can be transparent to molecular interaction depending on outside forces.
What element do we know of that is small, and given certain circumstances might be considered "transparent" in an electro/gravitic sense?
So we have an element zero complex that wraps around a DNA strand, acting as a "processing unit" like a synapse but much much smaller, that could either act as cognition or act in concert with others to enhance existing organic interaction or a fragmentary Mass Effect Field generator. Any organic system that previously just generated new cells now generates "wrapped" DNA in those cells.
Biotics are what you get when there are Element zero nodules in the brain, what if you were using Eezo as a sympathetic layer to enhance all organic processes. and/or as an extended neural net. It also explain what happened to the massive eezo stores in the relays (Galactic scale ME-field nano-surgery)
So, that is all techno-babble and pure 100% sp
Edited by Ieldra2, 19 October 2013 - 04:42 PM.