The Awakening Theory
It is my contention for some time that the history of humans can be divided into the time before 1900 and the time after. After this Awakening humans had the ability gradually to make lasting progress, to remember mistakes of the past and not repeat them as much. It means we have consistent progress and improvement of the human condition and future.
This is like the scientific method applied not just to science but also saying we can have real learning and consistent advance in human governance as well as in science.
I acknowledge that history was going in repetitive cycles prior to 1900. Plagues or wars or dictators would besiege humanity over and over and we were helpless to stop the repeating of tragedies.
The chart above demonstrates that there has been progress in behavior of humans to each other demonstrating some learning is occurring over a long time.
Why do I say 1900?
What changed after 1900 to make everything different? I call it the awakening. It is not a specific skill we learned. It is not a specific country. I believe it is a combination of:
A) A certain level of scientific awareness of the world
B) A certain competency at science and manipulating the physical world
C) A widespread ability to distribute information cheaply
D) Enough recorded history to start making generalizations and improvements
By having awareness of the physical world and being able to do basic things, for instance Newton’s laws allowing us to build more and more complex machines reliably and understanding the structure of atoms and electromagnetism. Man had come into possession of the true building blocks of the world that could be used to accomplish things. We had the most fundamental understanding of things.
One of the key things is understanding electromagnetism because it allowed the development of widespread efficient communication systems cheaply.
The Awakening is a matter of having sufficient ability to understand the actual world and to leverage that knowledge in a systematic scientific way to increase understanding.
My theory is essentially before 1900 we had insufficient knowledge or ability to manipulate the real world that we were a victim of the world and unable to design solutions to our problems.
As a result before the awakening we went in cycles partly because there was insufficient memory and communication for people to realize we were repeating mistakes but also because we had no real way to change the circumstances that caused the repeating phenomenon. So, we would get repeating histories of dictators or environmental disasters resulting in cultures dying off.
Understanding the world is one thing but being able to actually do something about it is another. We had to have the tools to be able to manipulate the world to improve it for us so that as we learned more we could take advantage of those things to create further improvement.
I believe we also had to know what happened in the past in order to be able to improve it. We had to see the patterns which requires not just history but enough history with enough detail to recognize the repeating negative behavior, the causes or weaknesses and then put in changes. This history is an enablement of us to stop repeating the mistakes of the past. Not always but to repeat fewer mistakes and correct the cycles.
My contention is that these things reached a critical mass by 1900 a fundamental change happened to mankind. We became able to make huge advances in every aspect of our conditions.
Why isn’t the start of the industrial revolution the start of the awakening?
I realize some people might say bullocks, the industrial revolution more likely corresponded to an awakening. I argue against that because we were able to harness a small fraction of the world and had fundamentally wrong ideas about the structure of the world that limited our ability to do much of anything. Being able to move boulders or water in large quantities is fundamentally different than being able to use optics and electromagnetism to probe to smaller dimensions and start to tear apart the world and make sense of it.
Medicine and Biology
A huge missing part of our understanding of the world prior to 1900 was medicine and biology.
Prior to 1900 we had almost no understanding of the human body and what disease was. We still were calling fluids flowing around the body “humors” and we had only the vaguest idea what the organs did or how.
Before 1900 most of our understanding of the body was essentially useless and wrong. We didn’t understand that germs were a crucial problem.
Without understanding what the body parts are for and even a rudimentary understanding of how they work together means it was almost impossible to do anything about anything.
The Chinese and some other asian cultures had 5,000 years of applied medicine that had evolved not scientifically but with experience that was passed on from generation to generation. Gradually we think some things did improve. There is something there but the Chinese or other practitioners don’t really actually understand why these things work if they work. It would take thousands of years to make marginal improvements with this technique.
The industrial revolution was a key event eventually leading to the awakening but according to my theory it was not enough for us to actually be able to effect change on our future fortunes or to understand what was going wrong and fix things mainly because we had no idea how things worked at the micro scale.
Machines by themselves are not enough
We needed more speedy communication too. The advent of electricity and the telegraph or similar technology was crucial.
In a similar way we could divert rivers and use paddles to generate power to move masses but this was a gross use of energy that couldn’t be leveraged other than at locations adjacent to the places that energy was available thus making the benefits impossible to transfer to the general population.
We couldn’t bring this power to the facility of the individual consumer. Without that we couldn’t being improvement to the lives of the consumer.
Here are the key elements that distinguish the Awakening
I could be more specific some of the things that I believe had to be in place or humankind might have remained an ignorant uninteresting species. I understand that it is inevitable we would have gotten to this level of knowledge eventually but I believe these are the critical technologies and knowledge:
1) Electromagnetism – Maxwell’s equations being the most important single development in all of scientific history
2) Microscopes powerful enough to see down to bacteria
3) The development of radio, telegraph and electric power
4) Large scale cheap production of books and basic necessities
5) The recording of history over significant cycles of human history to grasp different systems and different results
6) The discovery of Evolution and being able to control the path of plants and improve them
7) Democracy and Capitalism
I am not sure about number 7 but I think the improvement in the condition of the average person and even the desire to improve that condition depended to some extent on the power of the individual to execute to improve their life and lobby on behalf of that improvement. Before capitalism the feudal system did not really care for the average person or provide a way for them to improve their life significantly. Democracy in a similar way allowing us to create an evolving government able to change to improve as we figured out what worked and what didn’t.
What is different after the Awakening?
After the awakening we have a dramatically increased rate of improvement than ever seen before in human condition. In every front from medicine to living standards there was a massive unprecedented increase that I think distinguishes a period of very slow or almost non-existent advance to a period of rapid change:
- Lifespan increase from 39 to 78 in 100 years
- Population of the world from < 1 billion to 7 billion
- Average wealth from $200/year worldwide to $2000/year
- Maximum speed of movement from 15mph over long distances to 700mph for the average person
- The elimination of an incredible array of extremely deadly diseases
- The emergence of computers, telecommunications, electronic media, satellites
- Rockets and visiting a moon of the Earth with humans
- The emergence of theories of nature that allowed us to see the scale of the universe, the makeup of the universe and down to the atom and below
- Being able to figure things like quantum mechanics which is fundamentally different than any prior idea even envisioned for how the universe or nature worked.
- The elimination of pollution in the US and Europe. A problem that was largely solved in a matter of decades.
- 98% reduction in deaths from natural disasters
When you consider the pace of change before the awakening and after it is apparent it is fundamentally different.
Consider that for the 6,000 years of recorded history of man virtually everything was the same. We gradually had some improvements but as people have pointed out we had a tendency to repeat mistakes. Environmental or governmental mistakes. Wars. We either weren’t learning from prior mistakes or the information wasn’t being communicated to others. In some cases, information was destroyed that eliminated the history.
The average lifespan of humans had hardly changed in those 6,000 years and the condition of humans wasn’t vastly different for 95% of the population of the Earth. We had bizarre ideas about the world and how it worked.
One of the most dramatic improvements is in mans ability to handle natural catastrophes. Up until 1900 man was subject to the vagaries of nature to a remarkable extent. Floods would happen and people would be unaware such a thing was even possible. Their building structures were unsuited to handling it, there were no rescue services, no prediction and total devastation would result. Many floods in history have killed millions of people. This was at a time when there were far fewer people. We had no ability to change the direction or mitigate the flow of rivers.
Over the 20th century a 98% improvement in the death rate from natural disasters of all types was achieved. There is no comparable improvement in prior centuries. The basic tools to understand natural disasters, predict them, prepare for them, improve our structures, rescue people improved so dramatically that by the end of the century 1/50th the number of people died.
In the beginning of the 21st century we have continued to make massive improvements in natural disaster resistance. We have halved in just the first 10 years of the 21st century the death rate. Now we suffer 1/100th the deaths of PRe-1900 disasters. I expect over the 21st century further improvements are guarenteed because a lot of improvement can be gotten simply by rolling out what advanced nations have already accomplished to the rest of the world more uniformly.
Medicine is another area that has shown incredible advancements from a virtual complete ignorance. We didn’t know that infection was caused by little bugs in our environment. Supersitution about remedies and causes was common with people using bizarre conceptual frameworks for understanding the cause of disease or the cure.
After 1900 (approximately) we could see down to the cause. We could start to take apart the basis of life and eventually discover DNA and our immune system, how to inoculate large parts of the population. The change is so profound that it hardly needs explaining. We were literally as dumb as apes about medicine prior to the awakening.
Use of electricity and eventually computers was critical to the massive changes of the 20th century. Prior to having electricity delivered to the home, the telephone, radio and TV and eventually general purpose computing machines many of the achievements were limited to gross achievements from using steam power for trains and manufacturing. Obviously those things were a big deal but I think a quantum leap was made by having electricity that could bring mass improvement to the average person’s life.
The ability to disseminate information instantly allowed more recording of history and to faster dissemination. Eventually the computer obviously has had an enormous impact on improving humans ability to leverage our mental capabilities.
I really look at life before the awakening as only marginally different than the life of say the Egyptians or other pre-industrial cultures. I am sure an industrial culture could create more weapons, could Marshall resources faster and produce more wealth of goods but the goods were primarily the same. The life was essentially the same if a little more productive. We still died of the same causes at the same times and the concentration of wealth probably meant that the vast majority of humanity literally was living life no different than in Roman times.
In pre-awakening times many of the economic conditions and political conditions of the world would repeat. Leaders would come and go. People had only limited recognition of how bad any leader was or how things could improve. The leaders fought things out and people were vassals. It is not surprising that we went from war to war, dynasty to dynasty.
Why does there continue to be war and disease?
I am not saying that the awakening is something that is an ending point. It is more of a starting point to our eventual enlightening.
Prior to the awakening my contention is that humanity was on a treadmill going not much of anywhere.
In other words if we stayed locked at the technology we had in 1850 humanity would have repeated history. We might have had mass starvations, more war than we’ve seen in the last 100 years and rise of repeat Hitler’s.
The awakening did not prevent Hitler from coming about. It may not prevent another Hitler from coming about. It doesn’t mean that humans won’t do stupid things yet like annihilate ourselves with nuclear weapons.
After the awakening we seem to have the ability to learn from prior mistakes and institute mass scale change to implement the fixes.
I realize this may be a controversial opinion. Some people are pessimistic on the future and some see very little improvement. I have met one other person who basically said the same thing as I am in this article. Many people will see no demarcation at 1900 and see it more as a continuity.
My enthusiasm for this theory is slightly dampened by the reality we still see in some places of the world. After WWII we saw the rise of dictatorships as had been seen before the war. We saw brutal men use and create unbelievable injustice well after 1900. I am not suggesting that after 1900 was some kind of blissful existence or that things won’t repeat ever. This is a gradual process of improvement.
Over the 65 years since the end of the big war different things have happened to give democracy and freedom a kick here or there. It hasn’t always stuck. Countries try democracy and slip back. Democracy and freedom don’t always produce nirvana overnight. People are impatient. New leaders come in and take advantage of corruption or flaws and before long things are as bad or worse than ever it seems.
Democracy depends on incremental improvement. Incremental doesn’t always go in a positive direction. The idea is that sometimes we don’t know what is the best direction. Sometimes we have to try paths and decide later to change our minds.
Sometimes using modern technology dictators and states can impose even more crushing injustice and denial of change than before the Awakening.
A concerted effort has been made in the Middle East to reform governments. I admit to being less than impressed with the results. 50 years of more or less constant attention seems to have resulted in virtually no discernable progress. The culture of the Muslim religion seems resistant to evolution.
The current problems with Russia and its neighbors are reminiscent of the problems earlier in the century and in other centuries. I admit that believing that things can be different or that they are different is not easy given the ongoing evidence of injustice in the world. North Korea still shocks us with this kind of absurdity.
Is this simply a golden age that is a repeat? Are we just in a new “repeating pattern?”
One could look in the past and find periods of relative improvement in world prosperity and governance. I am not a history expert so maybe someone will write me and elucidate more compelling evidence of good times in the past but I posit that due to lack of technical advance and other reasons that these periods in the past were simply part of the repeating pattern of the past and that fundamentally things are different after the Awakening and we will NOT repeat the depths of human history again.
Positive evidence of the Awakening
Some really powerful evidence of improvement can be seen in a number of measures.
- Population gains and rising living standards worldwide are stunningly consistent and are amazing post 1900. This is certainly unprecedented.
- The number of starving, people in poverty is falling consistently worldwide.
- Overall deaths from war
- Natural disasters, health and even pollution are being corralled
- A general trend to more democracy and movement to a consistent economic system for almost all countries based on capitalism.
- Incredible advances in Science.
- An exponential path to new technology
Frequently the argument against why we are in a fundamentally different time comes from the belief that history is monotonic thrathethan some step function happened. I want to talk about what are the contributors and why post 1900 is such an important change that essentially we were ignorant before.
These were intelligent men and presumably there were many others at some point in the past but without the scientific method much of what they wrote was based on pure logic. No consistent advance was possible based on this kind of thinking.
The destruction of the libraries
At several tmies in history great libraries were destroyed. Today such destruction is impossible. The information is so widely distributed it’s impossible to destroy but back in 200AD or 500AD destruction of major libraries meant that the world and the awakening was literally set back hundreds of years.
One could argue the Dark Ages and the loss of 1000 years of human history was becuase of these libraries being destroyed. The libraries are just part of the social system of the time. The destruction of them and the lack of recognition of the damage done to society points out the depths of our misunderstanding of how to make things better. I consider these library destructions as probably the most tragic and senseless things done by humanity to itself.
Some blame the Dark Ages on a cold period that stuck or the fall of the Roman Empire. Whatever the reasons humanity slipped into a repetitive period that we may never have escaped until the awakening.
Newton and the Scientific Method
I believe the scientific method was a crucial thing to discover. However, Newton as great as he was by himself was not enough to move humanity beyond the repetitive disaster world.
Prior to the awakening someone’s better sword or better battle technique or a natural disaster, using up a local resource could all sink your society and send you back to square one.
As incredible an achievement Newton, Copernicus and others had during this time it did not prevent the repeat of history. The spread of the knowledge of these people was not consistent. It could not always be applied without deeper understanding.
The Industrial Age
The first sputtering of the industrial age were the start of significant change. Once technology could do large scale things it gained cache and started to gain traction.
What I mean is that prior to then you might be able to say I think this is a solution but science had not advanced far enough or fast enough to enable that thought to become reality. Let’s put it another way, some isolated sciences had made some progress and certainly advancing technology had changed the outcome of wars for instance but it had not progressed to the point that steady advancement of science was a noticeable thing that society could look for answers.
The 1644 the invention of the microscope possibly could be a crucial awakening. Seeing blood cells or other bacterial cells might have given a clue but it didn’t. Medicine took an incredibly long time past the microscope to see how to use it to solve intractable problems for humankind. We needed to understand the elements and their properties.
While we could see cells of different organs we had no idea of the purpose or chemical reactions going on. It took till the 20th century to first put things together seeing and understanding to be able to make conclusions and take actions using the scientific method to actually come up with modern medicine.
I believe democracy is a key element of the Awakening. Clearly self-determination and the rise of people from the injustice of their government is a key success criteria to stop repeating mistakes. This is not to say humans individually cannot make mistakes repeatedly but it is hard to call any future progress where we grant individuals unlimited power over others and a system of justice based on rules that are defensible is necessary to say there is progress.
Like with the sciences there was fits and starts of progress on this front. I am sure some will want to reference Geek democracy and even Roman democracy which existed for some time, The Magna Carta, Swiss democracy. and eventual liberty movements in the 1700s ending with the United States.
The US and democracy didn’t seem to gain much traction for at least 100 years worldwide. It wasn’t till the 1900s and the strong push of the US that democracy again seems to make consistent progress.
Feudalism vs Corporate Society
Feudal societies or societies based on “Mafia” economics, many dictatorships follow a pattern which makes consistent progress hard. The market as much as it is maligned provides a “scientific method” to industry which allowed efficiency and proving out of many ideas and technologies.
I believe this is a crucial part of the consistent advancement of humanity and even though John Smith and others had elucidated the ideas of capitalism before 1900 like other things the combination of these things seems to be what got us over the precipice from repeating past mistakes over and over.
This of course is controversial as many will say that capitalism is responsible for the problems of the past. I will argue that at least economically capitalism is not feudalism. The existence of a rule based corporate society which allowed winners and losers to be decided by the market is fundamentally different than prior economic systems and a crucial part of making advances.
Einstein and Modern Physics
In 1905 Einstein published his paper on Special Relativity. Within 10 or so years Einstein would lay the foundation for all major physics we know today. Certainly he wasn’t the only scientist but for whatever reason right around the time we discovered there was a speed limit to the universe a number of other critical things happened including the ability to see through microscopes down to the microbe level.
By the time 1916 had rolled around the basics of all modern understanding of the world had come out. We even had the inklings of nuclear bombs and power. We had traction at our feet. Even if we were not using this knowledge to change the world in the early part of the 20th century I believe that by then we had enough of a true understanding of our reality that we could say we were “Awakened.” We were in a position to make the changes that would forever change the path of humanity and to discover the things we needed to do and how to do them.
Biology, Evolution, Smallpox and Modern Medicine
One could argue that it was the smallpox vaccine that is the crucial distinguishing event that characterizes our ability to change the course of humanity but it really comes down to all these things which come together right around 1900.
The age of electronic communication has made the world smaller and knowledge transfer has accelerated. This may by itself explain a lot of the change after 1900. Simultaneously with the telephone, radio and eventually television, satellites and high speed internet, mobile communications we have seen big change.
It may not be any one thing that shifted us to Awaken
It seems to me that the constant advancement described in the previous section has not been apparent till the later half of the 20th century. Possibly the 20s was a period of extreme feeling of capability but we clearly had not accomplished a lot by then. There was no reason to believe this 20th century would be so different.
Slowly as discovery after discovery and event after event occurred it becomes clearer and clearer that something truly different was going on than all human history before. The rise of democracy, consistent technical advances that conquered previous things that derailed humanity in the past. The consistent rise of living standards. The defeat of dictatorships. It is impossible to say it is any one thing but we have been on a consistent exponential trend since then.
America as the synthesis of all these trends and protagonist
One could argue that without America as a protagonist of this new technology driven free systems of governance and economics the world may not have made the jump. Technology would have been advanced much slower, democracy much slower. Possibly Germany would have won world war II and we would just now be seeing some places without Sig Heil being echoed all day.
It’s not just WWII though. The US has been an indefatigable defender of democracy and to international cooperation. The US has also led many wars this century. The argument is that these wars however misplaced the actual conduct the intention was to promote democracy and move from dictatorship.
This has been an overall long term success with many failures. While we can see that many countries slip many countries are slowly trying it again or the dictatorships of the past are worse than the current ones.
Economically we see the world rising consistently to new heights and with it lower poverty, greater health and overall better conditions. A key element to this was the change of the Chinese government away from communism to some form of other system yet to be understood. Whatever they have done combined with trade with the US and the west has resulted in more than a billion people being lifted from poverty.
Exponential gains in technology
The most consistent of all the things going on in the 20th century and now into the 21st century is technology. On every front we see an exponential rise causing more and more useful discoveries. Our ability to peer into the atom down to the electron and to manipulate matter is astonishing and every year is astonishing and possibly getting frightening.
What is different between before the Awakening and after
Frequently arguments are made for instance that humans eat themselves till they die of starvation or abuse the environment. We had no way previously to even notice we were modifying the environment or that it was changing. We did not have the technology to count the effects we were having on the environment. We could not conquer our own pollution because we had no idea what pollution was.
I submit that after the awakening mankind is not subject to the same kinds of failures and repeated mistakes. Part of this is collective memory. People are educated more and there is history we have recorded so we can see the mistakes of the past. We can learn to avoid those mistakes before we make them again.
We see that now and we have the ability to change our technologies and behaviors so if we recognize we are on a bad path we can recognize it and change course. If we’ve never seen this mistake we can hope we will learn, people will be taught and we won’t repeat but inevitably that still happens to some extent.
The future is hardly perfectly rosy. Some Noire clouds linger over our future.
From this blog one might conclude I think the future is just going to be better and better without stopping. I have to admit to thinking this way until the last 10 years or so. My first doubts were in my own studies of Artificial Intelligence. However, there are lots of things people worry about that could presage a new negative future.
The very fact we are not just thinking about the negative repetitive things we’ve done in the past but that we are thinking of things that haven’t even happened yet is a sign of a tremendous improvement in our situation. We have gone from just fixing the mistakes we make over and over but anticipating the mistakes we might make. This is potentially indicative we WILL solve our problems.
So, here are some of the big things to worry about:
While I was fascinated with the subject a deep unsettling fear that if we succeeded humankind might find itself in a deep load of trouble like nothing we’d seen before. At the time when computers first started becoming prevalent people thought the “learning” algorithm couldn’t be that difficult.
It was presumed that sometime in the early 80s we’d have this licked and we would have intelligent machines. It turns out that after 40 years of trying we are barely any closer. This learning thing is actually quite difficult problem. We have made virtually zero progress biologically or from a computer science perspective.
Recent advances in AI have some proclaiming the time is upon us but I don’t believe we are anywhere near this. The recent advances I need to tell you are simply small incremental improvements on previous techniques.
The thing is that most humans and their jobs don’t require a lot of intelligence. While we are not on the brink of having a human awareness level robot with conceptual thinking able to challenge human minds the AIs we are building can incorporate enough pattern matching to take the jobs of many if not most people. That is a different concern I spell out below.
There is some chance we do figure this out and are faced with what to do about computers that are sentient in what is called AGI (General level of human intelligence). This represents problems as humans may not feel special and we will be faced with all kinds of new ethical issues.
Even more troubling is ASI (Super Intelligence) in which computers eventually make us look like idiots in which case they decide we are not worth spending any time on. The book Hyperion by Dan Simmons is a good read to help you think how super intelligence might evolve and interact with humanity.
We might have self-driving cars in 20 years for a good part of the population in America maybe. Some people see a lot of problems from more intelligence and declining relevance of humans. It is not clear if we progress to some different more negative future or if these things are just part of an ever lifting process of improvement.
Our ability to eventually control the coding of life and understand it is happening very fast. Much faster than AI.
We have CRISPR today. CRISPR is a cheap and efficient way that virtually anybody (I mean anybody, even a grad student) can play and insert genes and gene sequences into living things reliably. Past attempts at doing this were very expensive and hit or miss. CRISPR is extremely efficient and getting massively better as we speak. Within a year or two this may be a high school level thing to play with.
The possibilities for doing good are enormous but I won’t belabor you with all the bad possibilities.
My chief worries about genetics (I do laud and look forward to the benefits) concern the ability for evil people to use it negatively and for mistakes to be made. The other big worry is that people will start using this technology to improve people. The question then becomes a bifurcated society of the “superior genetically improved humans” and the average person who hasn’t been improved.
Eugenics wars have been a big part of SciFi for ages but we are now on the cusp of the ability to create truly scary and difficult situations. How will this technology be used? How will it be applied democratically? How will the consequences be handled so it is fair or not cause tremendous injustice?
The first step will be when we figure out how to make a superior mental or fitness gene. Once parents start encoding those into their kids which could happen anytime we discover them now that we have CRISPR it will be the start. How will we treat someone in the Olympics if they’ve been modified genetically to have superior fitness?
Our society in the modern world is built on a contract of fairness. What separates us from this past is believing the systems of today ate suited to help everyone do better and most / all people have a fair chance. What happens if the game is rigged again?
One of the scariest technologies and essential technologies is the world of nano-technology. Everyday our technology gets smaller and smaller. Devices are smaller and smaller. The components are smaller and smaller. Much of manufacturing is being turned to robots because it is simply impossible for humans to manipulate the size of objects to be manufactured. It has to be done by robots.
Many foresee robots that are infinitessimal and able to go into our bodies to make repairs. We are already prototyping such things. Even if it is not metallic type things we normally think about we are creating essentially biological robots to go in and do things to cancer cells or to fix arteries.
The fear is that these things get our of control. Their size makes it hard to see them to defend. We need to invent nano-robots to fight the nano-robots. We could end up killing the whole race in such a war.
Pollution and Global Warming
I am not a big believer or worrier about this one. We have conquered trying to eliminate most pollutants. The big one that remains that everyone seems most worried about CO2 is actually a food source. The fear of heating the planet similarly a little less than compelling.
The Earth is a snowball. In the past it’s been very warm and supported life very well. I just don’t see how an existential threat to humanity from global warming or CO2 is even remotely scary compared to things I mentioned in this blog that are much more imminent and scary.
This technology is immature but as Elon Musk has pointed out: If you assume even the most plodding slow advance of this technology it is truly staggering what it might mean.
If you have not tried the virtual reality headset from Occulus or some other firms you may think I am joking. The fact is that once the resolution and the sensory improvements are made being in a VR world will be extremely compelling. I believe we would make all phone calls like this. We would go into a virtual world to talk with one or more people.
This could have major implications on travel and how business gets done. It could impact how we meet people and our whole lives. We could end up spending all our time in VR. Forget the cellphone and its addictive capabilities. VR would be 10 or 100 times as compelling. Anything is possible. Would all the world sink eventually into a massive dark ages with everyone locked in their headsets? Is that so bad? Is real life so much better?
My biggest fear in all these scenarios is what happens to humanity and its future as a positive force? If we are a bunch of zombies are we any better than a bunch of rocks? If we are so divided genetically and wealth-wise, health-wise that we either sink into perpetual wars or are people subjugated once again?
How do we emerge on the other side of all this technology with a positive view of humanity and our future?
Inescapable human immaturity
One thing I have called the “Mathon Law” is the idea that humans maturity has to rise as our technology matures because one unhappy person will eventually be able to destroy all humankind.
I envision this as a graph with the cost of killing all humans on a descending line and the immaturity on a similar falling line. If the two lines cross then disaster. Humanity ends. We need to keep the immaturity falling faster than the cost to kill all humans.
Short of the destruction of all humankind is a sort of undesirable noir type future where for many people life is hell. There remains massive injustice and we never rise again to be something that we want to think of as worthwhile.
Lastly if none of these things get us then we may be wiped out by a massive asteroid strike or a giant solar flare or the passing of some unknown massive object. We may make a mistake that unravels our world. We may find that through no fault of our own the planet becomes unlivable.
We could also figure this all out
We have incrementally improved things this century. The record is impressive in its consistency. We could have done a lot of things wrong. We didn’t. At each point, the predictions of doom have failed to come about.
We have navigated enormous environmental problems and growth problems and technological problems already such as nuclear bombs.
One theory is that we will learn from our mistakes, we will still make them but we will learn. We will continue to improve ourselves and our systems to enhance everyone’s life. At every point of challenge we rise to meet it.
Some of these challenges are going to be daunting to address and we may fail. Ultimately we may kill ourselves or something happens outside our control.
It would be really good to have a second home, a second place for humanity in case some of these things don’t work out or places where we can make mistakes and survive other than the Earth. I am a strong believer in going to the stars.
I also look at this differently than some people.
Humanity deserves to go on
What I have described is a humanity that has progressed to “Awakening.” We can see down to 10 ^ -16 seconds in time and 10^-22 meters in space. We can see the visible universe and we can start to understand the fabric of the universe. We have achieved astonishing things in 100 years.
Here is a list of some compelling capabilities of humans:
- We have grown to billions of people
- We have instituted peace generally across this vast number of people
- We have fed almost all these people and in a process of consistent improvement of all conditions
- We are engaged in saving plants and animals recognizing nature around us and protecting it
- We have discovered to a very complicated and sophisticated level an understanding of our physical world
- We have discovered the universe and mapped it
- We have started to understand evolution, DNA and the coding of life
- We have actually travelled beyond our planet and put boots on the ground of another celestial object (the moon)
- We have sent probes to explore our solar system and sent probe beyond our solar system (Voyager)
- We have fostered democracy and risen from base instinct and to a rule based society in many places
- We have a vast array of cultures, art, achievements in areas of human expression
As a result I proposition that humanity is worth saving. That even if we can’t be saved there is something that we should do to preserve our future for others to discover or for us to propogate ourselves beyond this planet.
This is why I am a big believer that we need to try to colonize other worlds such as Mars but also that we need to spread our seed beyond this world.
If we cannot continue as a civilization or species but find for some reason that life here will end then we have an obligation to not let this that we have achieved completely disappear. We should launch ships eventually to the rest of the galaxy with our genetic code, with our message and history. We should send seedlings to enable life to proliferate in the universe beyond our star.
The reason this is so important is that so far as we know we are the only sentient creatures in the Universe. If we die here then all life for all we know is gone in the Universe. That would be pointless. The rest of the Universe to our knowledge is dead rocks. Nature is great, but without the awakening and sentience as we have it there is no potential, no ability to have a directed future for anything.
I therefore think one of our highest callings has to be to spread our seed.
If we discover there is other life in the galaxy or universe and it is generally better than us then you could argue that we hold no special position and should just die. However, if other life isn’t as good then we have a right and responsibility to promulgate ourselves and to help other creatures and planets evolve to preserve and expand sentience.
Humanity crossed a boundary I believe in 1900. We became what I call “awakened.” We are aware of our Universe and its true nature. We are no longer neophytes endlessly needing to repeat mistakes and dying at the hands of capricious and random events. We can control our future more and more.
I believe ultimately anyone who really understands this realizes how special this is and how we need to preserve it and move it forward. We are aware of our awakening. We can make change and we now have an obligation to pursue the betterment.