Dispatches from a rapidly changing, rapidly improving
Inspired by some extraordinarily
positive developments from last week, we are running a series of Better
All the Time special dispatches this week and next.
Articulating the Future of Humanity
I’m a big believer in the Human
Imperative, which states that human beings are, essentially, reconfigurers
of the universe in search of an optimum configuration. What will that eventual
configuration look like? I can’t begin to describe it. If the first single-celled
organism had been capable of thinking, it might have imagined — given the
hint that its descendants would eventually evolve into something called “human
beings” — that the primary advantage of being human would be a vastly
expanded capacity for finding food. And, yes, that is an advantage,
but I think we can all agree that — from where we sit — it misses the point
by a fairly significant margin.
Likewise, I can assert that the endgame for the Human Imperative is a vastly
expanded capacity for, and realization of, human understanding, capability,
and happiness. And, yes, our optimum configuration of the universe will
provide those things. But it will provide so much more. If we as a species
continue in the direction that we’re currently going, we will at some point
achieve the most wonderful world imaginable. At that point, we will carry
on in the direction of improvement towards either
a) an unimaginably wonderful world, or
b) a newly defined most wonderful world imaginable, provided courtesy
of a great leap forward in our ability to imagine.
Trying to define the most wonderful world imaginable is challenge enough.
If I try to tell you anything about the world described by either a) or b),
above, I’m in the position of that single-celled organism attempting to wrap
its metaphorical head around string theory or a Mozart aria or even — keeping
it within that creature’s sphere of interest — a pint of Haagen Dazs.
It just can’t be done.
So we have to stick with what we’ve got, even though it is, at best, the
faintest shadow of what the reality will be. Just to reiterate, what we’ve
got is “a vastly expanded capacity for, and realization of, human understanding,
capability, and happiness.” So we’ll all be smarter. We’ll all be more
capable. And we’ll all be happier. (And by the way, that’s a lot smarter,
a lot more capable, and a lot happier.)
Some might want to argue that third point. After all, haven’t people always
been happy and unhappy? Isn’t it fair to say that our modern technological
society has brought as much grief and misery as it has goodness? Weren’t,
say, our hunter-gatherer ancestors just as happy as we are today?
I would have to say yes, no, and definitely not.
Yes, there have always been happy and unhappy people.
No, technology has not brought as much grief and misery as it has goodness.
Granted, it has brought a lot of grief and misery. But keep in mind
that we are reconfigurers of the universe. Each new configuration seeks to
build on improvements from the past. Our aim, however misguided our attempts
to achieve it might be, is to increase the amount of human understanding,
capability, and happiness. We get it wrong a lot — a lot – but we
get it right more often. Besides, if technology really brought more misery
than happiness, we would see massive efforts to relinquish and suppress it.
But those movements are by and large fringe affairs.
No, the hunter-gatherers were not as happy as we are. I would venture to
guess that they had pretty much the same capacity for happiness that
we have, but daily hand-to-mouth survival tends limit opportunities for exploring
that capacity. Many of them lived under constant threat of being eaten by
predators. Oh, and their chances of being killed by one of their fellow human
beings were about 20
times as great as what we face today. It wasn’t quite the idyllic existence
many like to picture.
So we’ll be happier. Why? Because our material needs will be met better?
Maybe money doesn’t buy happiness, but not having to worry about money
could sure buy a lot of peace of mind for a lot of folks. It’s like our ancestors
and being eaten. Take another item off the list of human woes and you’ve got
a happier human population.
Or put it this way. Take your time machine back to the middle ages. Find
some locals and explain to them that in the era you’re from, most people live
better than the king
does in their day. What do they think — will people be happier in such a
world? I think they would laugh at that question. The answer is so obvious.
Likewise, if we had even a rough approximation of what life will be like for
people in the future, we would be equally amused at the suggestion that those
folks might be less happy than we are.
So what will their lives be like? Again, this is just a sketch:
They will be able to do more and understand more. They will be physically
perfect–healthier than we are, as well as stronger and less prone to injury
or illness. There lives will go on indefinitely and they will be young and
healthy throughout. They will live in what we would take for unbelievable
luxury and opulence (although they won’t see it that way.) Their improved
understanding of how the world works, coupled with their vastly improved technology,
will give them the ability to perform amazing feats, things that today can
be done only in science fiction and fantasy stories.
To summarize — and I repeat, this is a single-celled organism describing
humanity — they will be sexy immortal billionaires with super powers. And
even at that stage, we’ll be a long way from the optimum configuration. But
that at least gives us something to work with.
Image by Romana Machado
Live to see it!