© 5/11/1992 Alexander Chislenko
Being both fond of futurology and deeply dissatisfied with everything I could read in it, I started writing down some of my own thoughts - on and off - hoping to eventually put it all together.
Below I am including the first part of my unfinished manuscript in hope to get response that would either put me in touch with some kindred spirits, or make me save my time for something more worthwhile. So what do you think?
Notes on global evolution for fellow Thinkers
It is generally understood that the civilization is now going through several revolutionary transformations. Defining a revolution as a structural transition between two quasi-stationary states, we should agree that the main task for any attempt to envision the future - or understand the essence of current processes - is to describe the expected features of the next state, and also develop some ideas of what we are going to see on the way to it, what other ways we could choose, why this next state is worth achieving at all, and what are our options after we get there.
But wherever I looked, these questions were avoided - there are few people whose scope of vision extends more than a few decades into the future, and even their interest rapidly evaporates when you are trying to discuss with them human alternatives at the stages when all processes they enjoy taking part in give way to something structurally different.
If we compare our way to the future to a road with moving cars, we would picture some people looking out of the car windows in random directions, some sleeping on the seats, and a few trying to steer - mostly to overtake the others. And nobody thinks of the final destination...
Below I will try to suggest some reasons why different areas of thought fail to provide us with adequate concepts of direction, some suggestions how we could improve the situation, and some of my own visions of long-term and ultimate human, social, and technological future.
Notes on the following text (You don't have to read this)
The first few parts represent my today's opinions on the areas where I have tried to look for wisdom. They can be read in practically any order.
The rest of the text contains my own ideas in the order of what I would call increasing vision. I recommend that you read it from the beginning down, and when you think it is already too crazy - just drop it, because further it'll be a lot worse.
Methods of presentation (a disclaimer).
With the greatest respect I have to my reader, I am trying to just outline the path of thought, casting small stepping stones of argument sparingly and far from each other, so you have to take big steps to pass. Well, one who can't make big steps wouldn't get far anyway...
To keep this text short, I also take the liberty of redefining common concepts in what I feel is their broader sense and conducting some linguistic experiments that should look innocently simple to anybody who can understand the ideas of this text. My goal is not to present the complete set of ideas that I would like you to have after reading this article, but to offer some thoughts that will help you to come to these - and other - ideas yourself. Actually, I do not understand why many authors try to feed us with 'full and balanced' stories in areas that are way before completion - instead of just showing us some spectacular and structurally important pieces that we could use as building blocks for further development, even if these ideas are sketchy, ungrounded, politically incorrect, too categorical or plain wrong. Well, since I personally believe that this is the only way to respectably treat the reader in this kind of literature, I choose it - with this warning - and suggest that whenever you find some statements that you would never agree with - try to think of the implications of those statements, but not of what should be done with a person who puts this kind of stuff on paper.
The remarkable success of Science relies on the departure of its concepts from our [limited] sensual experience, to more closely correspond to the structures of the Real World, while Fiction is bound to address our sensuality - and so Science Fiction has to keep one foot on each side of this widening gap - with, as could be expected, inevitable traumatic consequences. Now, with SF writers' and readers' worldviews widening much slower than this gap, we can notice that modern SF is both less romantically appealing to the wide audience and lags farther behind current scientific frontiers than Jules Vernes' and many other books of the relatively recent past.
Today, seeing on the covers of most popular SF books and tapes those typical pictures of sexy-barbaric-alien-females-holding-big- sparkling-shmasers, we can conclude that [at least, the mainstream of,] SF has developed into a new set of popular fairy tales - by creating an artificial reality of its own symbols, metaphors, heroes and environments - and the stories it tells us usually are not even aimed at expanding its world.
Still, even recently, there have been some interesting ideas that first appeared in the science fiction, including those of intelligent superobjects and cyberspace. But keeping up with the frontiers of thought, this part of SF outpaces the mass market interests, and the more its authors try to water their intellectual constructs down with conventional adventure plots, the more it frustrates those few idea-seekers who could really appreciate it. As a result, many would-be-good-SF-writers now tend to express themselves in philosophical essays, publications in alternative scientific editions and Internet messages. Good-bye, SF...
Economics as a discipline developed when people lived among ample natural resources and in relatively stable socio-economic environment. At those times, and until recently, economics provided insights into some directions of the development of the human society and helped steer it into the future. Now the situation has changed, and so did the relevance of the economic theory:
In the conditions when most of the available resources are limited, the commonly accepted practice of counting the extracted resources as a pure gain in GNP can be compared to moving money from the right pocket to the left and thinking of it as a gain - just because we are used to count it only in the left pocket. And no matter how precisely we do the calculations, we are only fooling ourselves...
With all markets quickly becoming saturated, the main criteria of progress in any sector of the economy are not the increased amount in the production of the same stuff, but those of structural change. Meanwhile, the economic indicators reflect quantitative changes in the structurally stable areas, use questionable methods to disguise small structural changes as quantitative, and totally fail to account for the new products constituting the essence of today's economic progress. As a result, economic methods become confined to a rapidly [relatively] shrinking, and no longer isolated, domain of stable production, and fail to reflect long-term growth in social wealth, let alone guide it.
Innovations have never appeared by means of free exchange or direct orders, which can only help allocate necessary resources and spread the novelty. With innovations becoming the core of the social life we will can only expect local decision-making (foundation for market forces) and monocriterial (monetary) considerations to continue losing their indicative and guiding roles - and give way to more integrated control schemes that already determine the behavior of other complex systems, from biological organisms and national cultures to corporations and software packages.
Attempts to control the society on further levels of development with monetary-economic indicators might resemble carrying biological criteria to assess the condition of a political party by calculating total weight of its members. Not that such a figure would be totally irrelevant, but watching it will hardly yield profound insights into the nature of the subject...
Explanations of these simple ideas should be provided by the economic theory itself, but with its record of still more evident flaws in many areas, we just cannot expect it. For example, I have always been amazed to read in numerous market reviews that an industry with the production raising 20% a year and prices falling 30% a year is in depression. In this case, all market analysts report a 'regrettable 10% decline in revenues', i.e., the money that the industry extracts from the rest of the society for itself. And if none of them ever thinks that such a 'depression' represents a clear success in the industry's service of the social good today, can we expect them to go still farther beyond the sphere of their local interests and predict the future demise of the [traditional] economics itself?
Demographics and other quantitative sociology.
For some time I was fascinated by demographics, and later - by global modeling attempts, the Club of Rome's reports and other similar studies. Many of these works reside on a firm mathematical foundation and can offer spectacular calculations of population and resource dynamics in, say, 22nd century, with an accuracy of a few percent, provided current trends and reproductive patterns hold. So it might seem that with further improvement of these models, and some political will, we could easily manipulate the global eco-techno-socium and print out maps of distant future for inquisitive minds. Unfortunately, however, the underlying assumptions are wrong - the environments of the modelled systems change rapidly and drastically. So the population in the year 2150 can easily be 100% higher or 100% lower. And whatever the figure, we have no idea of whether it is high or not, since we cannot even imagine what kind of technology will service people at that time (in fact, I tend to believe that expectations of biologically immortal and largely non-human population in 2150 are rather conservative, and by far not visionary).
So here we might get some reasonable short-term (10-30 years) predictions of important, but aging factors. Useful for governments and some market analysts, but not visionaries.
It is hard to find any frame of thought comparable to religion in its ability to give people stable and comprehensive vision of their destiny and purpose of human existence.
Unfortunately, most religions are separated from the rest of the world of ideas by high walls of belief condition, which makes them inaccessible to people who are used to travel in this world using mostly rational paradigms. They just cannot penetrate through these walls consciously, and all of them, except a few who manage to get to that side in some tunneling transition, have to form all their views by rational means.
Besides, the rational worldview is increasingly recognized as an important tool of improving human life, exactly at the time when Religion and Science are getting more and more difficult to reconcile, because of the Religion's primitive views of the world structure that portray Religion as a set of fairy tales to the followers of pure Science, and do a lot of damage to the integrity of worldviews of those who are still trying to combine the two.
Those silly tales, however, have as little relation to the Religion as do modern scientific theories, and are no more than artifacts of ancient science that found themselves embedded into the body of religion, and, due to its conservative nature, are still being carried along.
I still believe that it is possible not only to reconcile religion and science, but develop a unified world theory that would fully integrate both. However, all my attempts to discuss ways for this integration, like extensions of morphogenetic fields and semantic space concepts, transhuman ethical principles, possibilities of development of intelligent - and beyond - quasi-material entities, or at least such evident subjects like development of emergent distributed features in super-complex material systems - all these attempts are shrugged off as too esoteric by all rationalists,and are righteously ignored by the Believers who are not interested in any studies of their objects of worship that start from research of their metabolic processes.
And though it seems that those nice objects would be much better off if there was a place in their admirers' minds for both their beauty and design, I will still keep trying to build a bridge over the wall surrounding the beautiful city of Religion with its somewhat narcissist inhabitants, only from the outside, together with other ambitious rationalists. Maybe, we'll get some help from the other side when we are half way through...
In my own experience, the better I learn to convey my thoughts, the sooner my listeners understand that this is something they definitely do not want to strain their brains for; the only way seems to try to lead them from where they are to where they know they might enjoy it, then get them make the next step, hoping that in those little steps and peculiar paths they will ultimately get to the apex of knowledge that has always been so near... But is this game worth it? Especially taking into account that there are lots of other directions for growth, many at least as good as mine, and nobody can follow them all at the same time... Another idea is to help those people to harmonize their ideas in their sphere of understanding, using my experience in my special field, but without trying to even outline the map of my field.
Same thing seems to happen with the attempts to simplify the increasingly complex scientific ideas to general audience; most of them just cannot be adequately projected on the non-professional set of concepts, and as a result the society is alienated from this field of research, and the field is not getting the funds... Instead, we could try do develop metaphors that cannot be smoothly extended to the prevailing professional paradigm (in other words, limited, irrelevant, etc.), but represent structures of knowledge that can help the rest of us harmonize our understanding of the world and reconcile our primitive misconceptions of the Reality's structure with those of modern science (humor intended).
In fact, the world is full of such concepts, but due to a narrow understanding of their metaphors by professionals (as 'truths'), the non-professionals have to develop them themselves.
Transhumans should not be expected to be super-humans, to excel or even succeed as humans (just as humans don't have to succeed as animals to be superior to them). They may also look like humans, just as those look like animals, or collections of cells, or atomic structures. But there always are emergent features, unobservable for the previous level...
Transhumans develop visions, superhumans do the work, humans provide 'democratic' control.
Flaws in biological design (kludge):
- species don't share inventions due to absence of mechanism and standards, though there's a pool of genetic freeware in terms of food, viruses, etc. (a species could try to slow down the development of other species by making genes incompatible, but would definitely loose more by not getting anything else - that's a clear great opportunity, but the blind process couldn't use it);
- vision maps and other kludges;
- outdated stuff - our memories getting rigid, fat supplies.
- what discipline then? Well, the disciplines are areas with positive feedback, and tend to distort the picture, and preserve it........ If we could videotape the process of scientific growth in the space of ideas, we would see it start as a small round egg near the original point of zero complexity, then develop little bulges representing appearing ideas, mindsets and, later, institutions, pushing their own areas outwards. After a short period of such growth with local positive feedbacks, our nice egg turns into a full-scale octopus... Some of the tentacles develop in the directions that...
Identities, pride etc. when features are shared.
Greek mythology - 3 Gray sisters - they had one eye and one tooth; Ulysses sees them, one sister says: 'give me an eye so that I can see him".
Soon we'll be able to produce robots with basic image recognition and motor skills that will be able to replace humans at many manual jobs. What will those people do? Read Shakespeare? And: are we producing superior beings (robots) to enslave them only because we don't recognize them as beings? Is that what the whole robot industry is about?
Nobody has ever produced a single bit of matter. All that people have being creating is structures. Until recently, the structures have been mostly material (now less and less so), which is not their essence, as some humans still manage to believe, but a temporary, and regrettable, factor.
Arts and economics
Let us call the realm of structures that we use to build other structures economics, and structures that we directly enjoy - art. A couple of exemplary notes:
1) Protein structure of food isn't art, even if food *seems* to be the final consumer product. It isn't, since economics doesn't stop at the skin boundary, and neither should our theory. It's rather the boundary of consciousness we should do our accounting at (*lots* of reservations here), and the parts of (intentionally produced) food structure that reach this boundary are definitely [culinary] art.
2) This realm division is functional, which means that [different aspects of] the same structure can represent both economics and art. Some of the art we enjoy when it enters our consciousness (momentary pieces with instant access, like [simple] pictures, tastes, etc.); some - in the process of their digestion by the consciousness (music, movies, dances, games), and still others - after pre-loading them into our minds (memories, theories and other nice mental constructs).