So I was sitting watching TV with my folks the other night… and something that looked a bit like this came on:
WWII etc. I had this kind of mega-epiphany.
But before that…
When you move to London, you get a flat, get a job, see the sights. It’s huge… and your knowledge of the place consists of these little islands, connected by tubes or buses etc. Over time, the islands you know grow… and grow in number… but they’re still islands. Then one day (and it might take a decade), something clicks, the islands all link up, and you realise that you have the entire map in your head. You can grok the thing as being “one big thing”.
So it is with history I think – people quite often start becoming interested in history in their 40s. Not sure why that is. Something I’ve noticed though… and it’s something that’s made a whole lot easier with the internet, and co-joined insomnia. Little by little, all human knowledge is being uploaded. All human ignorance as well. All human information, whether it’s right or wrong. But right or wrong, your islands of history knowledge grow.
So anyway, we were sitting there watching this footage of WWII – and it’s not just the planes made out of canvas and wood that seemed incredibly antique, the impossibly grainy film technology, the cocky imbecility of the propaganda… everything… it’s another world…
… and it’s living memory. I was sitting with people who were there.
And it kindof hit me – that “the thing that happened” in the 20th C, wasn’t WWII or the moon landing or Vietnam or even climate change (although they did all happen) – the “thing that happened” was this technological bloom. The counter-entropic Inflorescence.
The only reason for that video is the shininess I think. In its way it’s dated already… people doing WWII stuff with characters from the 1960s in a digital context – overlaid with analogue lens artifacts. That said, things are different – and this film is state of the art in as much as science fiction and product-design have had the boundary between them dissolve. The Science-Fiction event-horizon is on us. A lot of the time, we can’t really tell what’s real any more, and not always in a good way.
I don’t think The Inflorescence is the same thing as the rapture of the nerds – the singularity (which is what happens when computing power goes into a fast feeback loop of self-evolution). This is something that’s been going on for thousands of years – in fact it’s arguable that it’s the ONLY thing that’s been going on – everything else is just machination. Recently though, it’s gotten to be really really fast – like a fractal explosion of symbolic information… and I think “symbolic” is at the core of it.
I think history starts with the advent of people making symbolic representations of things – before that it’s just anthropology. I’m not sure why symbols should be so special. The ability to non-causally link two pieces of information doesn’t seem like a huge deal if you’re hunting mammoths and being chased by sabre-tooth tigers etc. Unless of course that this kind of linkage isn’t non-causal… and there are people who think that this might be the case – that whole morphogenetic field thing. Does the universe work like a giant neural network?
Which is an idea that I have some sympathy with, but it is just an idea.
And maybe history actually starts with DNA – which is also (kindof) symbolic – albeit in a causally linked sort of way. Although DNA can be viewed as a symbolic representation, it isn’t – there is direct chemical causal linkages between geno and phenotype. Between symbol and subject. A mold is not a symbol for the thing it makes.
So what makes a symbol a symbol? A purely neural connection?
Yer morphogenetic types would have it that there’s an extra-dimensional causal connection between symbol and subject… which I find a very interesting idea to play with – if (like the square root of a negative number), you allow suspension of disbelief (for total lack of testable evidence), over that one key possibility. It is the heart of art, and the heart of magic.
Back to symbols – they do give us a way to “freeze” information – and in so doing, bridge time. They definitely do this on a physical level – maybe on a neural level, the symbolic representations of reality that we create, are what allow for continuity of consciousness.
As far as I can gather (more ephemerally) that’s what consciousness is – the awareness of self inside a cognitive/neuro model. You get all these data feeds from your senses, and your brain molds them into this world that you can navigate – but what you are consciously ‘seeing’ isn’t what’s really there – you’re seeing the model. You’re sitting in a room inside your own head and consciousness is the ability to see/feel yourself inside this room.
I’m getting out of my depth here. I have no idea what I’m talking about.
Still – carry on. Symbolism appears to be key to history.
So in this context, the invention of art, writing, and the invention of the internet are part of the same thing – a counter-entropic drift… which started out slowly… then turned into a trickle which seems to have a specific direction… which picked up momentum… and is now turning into a kind of soft, self-fueling explosion, which is growing exponentially. We take it for granted, but I think (if we survive), we’re going to leave the era of Moore’s-law predictability, and get into an Hieronymus Bosch-like Cambrian explosion of weirdness.
Which is apposite, because I have this vague nagging feeling that we’re building evil into its DNA… we should be building love into it. Like Jesus possibly told us to. If this thing is going to create itself in our image (and if it’s a fractaline progression, it will), then maybe we ought to have a whole lot less hate, and a whole lot more compassion.
Or maybe it’s transcendent of all that. Maybe the future is pulling us towards it.
It’s happening though. Google just spent $3 billion on a home-automation/monitoring company, to accompany it’s military robot purchase (which is its 8th so far).
In 5 years, this will seem old-fashioned.