Pic of the day: Only this child can walk up to the barrier and cross through it, out of our sight forever. (Screenshot from the anime Kamisama Kazoku.)
The bounds of human thought
There have been great poets in the past, and great philosophers, and explorers. And they have all had this drive in them, as I quoted four years ago from Lord Tennyson: "To follow knowledge like a sinking star, Beyond the utmost bound of human thought." But it turned out to be a moving target.
When I quoted that poem, it was because I had happened to find the poem online (not sure what I searched for) while still recovering after a mysterious illness in the night, where my body lost nearly all power for 10-20 minutes and I was left crawling on the floor in a fog that blanketed all my senses, my very consciousness burning only with a low flame, unable to sense much more than itself. I had no reason at the time to know that I would return to life rather than continue downward to the shore from whence we sail out but never return. It was a strange experience and conductive to thinking about the meaning of life, when I again became able to think.
Since then I have lived four good years. And I realize that back then, I had no idea how far away were the utmost bounds of human thought. I still may not know, but I have learned things that were not even in my dreams back then. And yet I thought I had seen far, and indeed I had seen further than most, standing on the shoulders of giants. (It bears mention that standing on the shoulders of giants is a lot easier when said giants are dead, but this is probably not the most efficient use of them. We make do, however, because they are heaped one upon another.)
It is in these four years that I have begun to seriously think that we approach a new "phase change" in human thought, comparable to how water changes from ice to flowing water to steam. An abrupt transition where we (or most likely a later generation of humans) reach the utmost bounds of human thought, strain against it, and pass through, into a new world of thought that is impossible for us to even imagine.
Raymond "Ray" Kurzweil may seem like a weirdo, but one of the most intelligent and practical weirdos of our generation, with several nifty inventions on his tab. (Including speech recognition. I am typing this entry, though.) He claims that technological change is exponential, and if the graph continues according to the same formula, the 21st century should see as much change as the preceding 20,000 years. O_O Who can surpass a thousand destinies in one lifetime? Who, what must we become?
There are indications that this change applies not only to technology, but that the accumulation of information has been exponential since the dawn of life, if not before. When genetic storage of information was no longer enough, there arose species able to teach and establish traditions. The great apes do this to a limited extent, but only in humans was this potential taken to its peak. Why us? Is an intelligent designer overseeing the universe, making sure that the accumulation of knowledge takes place at the prescribed speed? Or did we just happen to come into existence at the time when we were needed, and in the branch of animals already involved in this project? Despite all our knowledge, we still don't have a provable answer to that. Anyway, when the torrent of information from generation to generation reached such a level that even our long lives and our long childhoods could not handle it all, writing was invented. When the number of books being copied became too high, the printing press was invented. In the fullness of time, the telephone and the computer arose, then merged, creating a global brain of a billion nodes, accumulating knowledge at an ever greater speed, until the world is covered by knowledge like water covers the bottom of the ocean.
But the race of men who know live, are unable to wield such a massive tool. There is just too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found. Not just our biological brains, but the structures of our minds are built on too small a scale. We can handle our own lives, a family, a small tribe or circle of friends. Much more than this, and we lose sight of either the details or the whole, or both. Only together with others can we begin to see all the dimensions at once. We cannot cooperate this seamlessly with a ego only lightly modified from its primate origin, in which the fight for food, mating rights and protecting offspring is at the core of most of what we do. We must find a way to make trust possible, nay inevitable, so that we no longer have to protect our lives and our rights, but can freely exceed the bounds of our own bodies. The same way knowledge is now spreading at near the speed of light, so that these my words are at the same time in Norway and Normandy, Texas and Thailand, so it should be at the personal level: The mind itself expanding outward from the limits of one brain, to expand through the networks, grow in size till it is great enough to handle the new tools.
We are not gods, and even in our next form we will not be gods. But we will no longer be human, in the same way as we today are no longer the category of hominids that preceded us. With the same body as ours, they lived and died, generation upon generation, as little more than smart apes, until the time had come, and creativity descended on earth as a force of nature, sweeping everything before it. I do not have a name for what I wait for. I know what we need to arrive there, though. It is something that combines – not as an amalgamate, but as a love child – humility and love, in one. Only this child can walk up to the barrier and cross through it, out of our sight forever. Utter selflessness and utter realism. This is why I will never get there, but at best I hope to glimpse the promised land from a mountain peak before I die.
I know it can happen. I have seen parts of what is to come. Just parts, seeds and buds. So much needs to come together, come together and grow. But I trust the One – the who or the what that has ruthlessly enforced the law of accelerating return on this planet for over 3.5 billion years now. Your name for this force or person or law of nature may matter in other contexts, but not here. If you throw a stone into the air a thousand times and it falls down every time, it will surely fall down the next time as well. And so I wait in the cold and in the wan first twilight before dawn, wait and watch. I may live to see it far away, or another night may take me away. But a new force will descend upon earth and fill the vessel made ready for it, like when mankind was born. And the stars will fade before the rising of the sun, and all that we were will be as a dream, and all our history the dreams of a fetus in the womb.
Visit the archive page for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.