Coded gray.

Monday 15 March 2004

Screenshot City of Heroes

Pic of the day: A startling transformation, as seen in this official screenshot from City of Heroes. Featuring the city hall of Paragon City, "Birthplace of Tomorrow".

A super future, if any

You know, if I wanted to voluntarily end my journal, I would like to do it with an entry such as 10 September 2003. In a way these years of writing have been all about me. But not really. I don't do this mostly to get attention; it seems only a few of my readers ever bother to contact me, so I would certainly get more attention in a chat room or something. But chat rooms are generally superficial. Talking about the weather, not the climate. ^_^*

Here and there, one way or another, I've met a few people online who have impressed me. They are almost without exception younger than me, most of them by a generation. Oh, in some ways they have it easy. But in some ways not. The world today is more demanding mentally. It is complex and nuanced. Only few can find refuge in a simple black and white worldview. Among the young ones this seems far less common than it was in my youth. I am impressed by some of my young friends (for lack of a new and better word) and their grasp on reality at an early age.

Then again, they have tools we did not have. Even so, it must be challenging the very fabric of the human mind to live in such a world. Hey, it's challenging even for me! ^_^ And you have to admit I'm scaringly elastic in some ways. Mentally, that is.


At the end of April NCSoft will release an online multiplayer game called City of Heroes. (Yes, I have mentioned it sporadically for the last few years.) In it, every player will be a superhero. You start out with just a few basic superpowers, though your starting powers define who you are going to be, and then you grow into new related powers over time (and a few unrelated powers as well, if you so desire). There is a lot of variation, but everyone is super.

I thought of this and the song from Stellvia which I wrote about in the link to that September entry. Yeah. Perhaps this is the way it goes, if we don't accidentally summon a black hole and disappear into it before then. Perhaps the new generations will eventually surpass destinies even we cannot imagine. Perhaps they will be "Homo Superior", a new breed. It may not even require a mutation or genetic engineering, though I'm sure the latter could help. It may however be possible that our species will undergo a new phase shift similar to what happened ca 40 000 years ago.

Our species seems to be somewhere around 150 000 years old as counted back to our last common ancestor, at least on the female side. Give or take a few ten thousand years either way. The Neanderthals separated from our line at least 600 000 years ago, it seems, and was actually a different species when they and our ancestors uneasily shared Europe during the latest ice age. Yet their technology was not strikingly different. None of them showed any particular interest in art, and their tools were just good enough, neither fancy nor really innovative. Progress in stone tools moved at a glacial pace indeed, as it had done during the couple variants of Homo that preceded our own.

And then something happened. Most scientists believe it was speech. While we were physically able to speak all modern languages before this time, we may not have done so. Whatever it was, it happened very suddenly, and seems to have spread through the world like a wildfire, faster than any genetic trait. It must have been something that could be learned, because otherwise our latest common ancestor would be 40-60 000 years ago rather than 150 000. Whatever it was, suddenly art exploded onto cave walls and carvings and jewelry. Tools became pretty, elaborate, and more useful as well. Innovation started to become a continual process, and has accelerated ever since. At the same time, elaborate burial rituals show that people started to believe in a soul. It may well be that they did not believe in a soul before because they did not have one, or at least were not aware of it. Basically, this may be when they became self-aware.

The brain has become slightly smaller since then, the body slightly weaker. But the new improved mode of thinking may simply not require as much brute work even for the brain, because it moves in a new and better way. And we may still have resources to spare. This certainly seems to have been the case up to now, as the Flynn effect has made youngsters more and more intelligent for each passing decade, despite government policies to encourage the mildly retarded to breed at the expense of the gifted. Lately however we may seem to be reaching a plateau. Perhaps there is a natural limit for what a human mind can do.

Time, perhaps, for a limit break.


Marvel Comics used to make a point in their X-men series about how common people felt threatened by the mutants and feared that humanity would "go the way of the Neanderthals". Indeed, the Neanderthals disappeared shortly after the arrival of culture as we know it. They traded for some of the new tools and copied them as best as they could, but then suddenly they were gone. But that is not the point. The point is that the ancestors of our race also disappeared. Yeah, they died from old age, but you'd think some of their ilk would have persevered on some continent or in some remote location. But they disappeared utterly, even though we are genetically almost identical to them, more so than family members among other primate species.

Could it happen again? Could our offspring (well, your offspring, I don't have any) move on to something so alien, we might as well join the Neanderthals for all we could understand them? Some parents claim this has happened already, but I think what I mean goes beyond that. Most people, frankly, have problems understanding a part-time mystic such as I, unless I talk about the weather and what clothes I wear. But this goes beyond that. Childhood's end. The end of the world as we know it ... and they feel fine.

In ancient legends, there were superheroes. The Iron Age gods such as Zeus and Odin were in many ways magical supermen, certainly nothing like the God worshiped by modern Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus. It is fitting that some from the old pantheons have indeed been included in superhero comics ... I have Thor issue 576 in a bag near my desk, and I've seen quite a few of the others as well. But back in the days, these superhuman beings were a breed apart. They occasionally interbred with humans, giving rise to heroes, but their offspring again quickly faded to normal human levels.

In contrast, modern superhero comics tend to share a fascinating trend. At first, the heroes were few and far between, especially the really super ones. But gradually they started to proliferate. And in futuristic story arcs, it seems universally accepted no matter which comic "universe" I look at: The superpowered beings will expand rapidly into the thousands, shaking society in its foundations. Mutants, metahumans, harbingers, gene-actives or whatever their name is in different traditions: They just explode onto the scene. Why this sudden consensus? Is it just because the artists never run out of ideas for new cool powers and costumes? Or could it be that art precedes life, that they are picking up a subconscious atmosphere of expectation? That something is building. The waterfall of time, the singularity, the transformation, the Second Coming, the End of Days? "Behold, I make all things new."

Even if we don't accidentally implode the planet, it could be that the end of our race is at hand. I don't think the next generation, or even their offspring, will be flying by willpower and emitting energy rays from their eyes or hands. Not literally. But they may be as far beyond our understanding. The things they do may make no sense to us, yet the results of their actions may seem to rock the very foundations of heaven and earth. Already our lives would seem out of this world to an observer from 300 years ago, when they burned witches with great earnestness and only birds could fly. But this may go much further, much faster. A phase shift.

Or perhaps not. But if it happens, I'd like to be there and see it.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago: Fading?
Two years ago: Blah
Three years ago: Shadow of death
Four years ago: The toilet nail
(Five years ago: Vacation)

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