“It felt like I was watching people from a different planet.” Our ancestors 100 000 years ago were so similar to us, if you managed to restrain them long enough to cut their hair and put clothes on them, they would blend in with the crowd. Yet they were utterly alien to us, and we to them, even though we were their children. It is about to happen again.
I wrote about this in summer 2005, and it may still be the most important thing I have written. But various things have happened since then, and I have decided to write about this again from the start.
There is a lot to be said about this topic. It changes everything. Things that seemed absurd will make sense if one “gets” this, and things that seems to make sense to ordinary people will seem absurd.
Although this topic has probably not been expressed this way by anyone else, the topic itself has been introduced into human history again and again in various forms, and is an important part of all the world’s high cultures.
I am talking about the upgrade of the human psyche, the software that runs on our brain. And not just the business applications, like learning a new language or another skill. Rather, I talk about the “human operating system”, the fundamental way in which we relate to the world, the way we think and feel about life, the universe and everything.
In the past, we did not have computers. Therefore we could not make this analogy. It is just an analogy, perhaps even a metaphor. The human brain is not a computer in the sense that we know them today, the blocks on our desks. But it has certain elements in common with them. There is a physical structure that serves as a basis for an information structure. The physical structure is the hardware, which corresponds to the brain. The information structure is the software, which corresponds to the psyche, or the mind and the subconscious. The most basic part of the software is the operating system. When you turn on a computer and use it, the operating system is active in the background and interprets every input, conveys every output. It decides the format in which information is stored and retrieved at the most basic level. We also have this in our psyche, but we do not have a name for it.
The “human operating system” has come in two main versions that we know of. The human brain has been largely unchanged in size and shape for something like 200 000 years. (It has shrunk just a little the past 10 000 years, or so I read.) But for most of the time, humans were Not Like Us. They had no culture, probably because they had no language. They made hand axes of stone, which they probably learned to make by watching. There was nearly no variation or improvement on these for several thousand generations. The Neanderthals, which parted ways with us about 600 000 years ago, made roughly similar axes.
Somewhere around 90 000 years ago, we start seeing some weird stuff happening here and there in Africa. Egg shells are collected on a string. Stone with a strong pigment has been scraped. Thousands of years later, elsewhere in Africa, fishing nets show up for a while, and elaborate bone tools. Elsewhere again, rare stone is freighted across long distances, implying some kind of long-distance barter. Somewhere between 65 000 and 40 000 years ago, it all suddenly seems to come together in an explosion of creativity. Cave art, sculptures, new tools and weapons that were both more efficient and elaborately decorated. Intricate ritual burial that speak of a spiritual tradition. While not as refined as later civilization, these tribes were fundamentally similar to us, compared to their ancestors who were utterly alien.
The change happened so suddenly and totally, it seems from our remote distance as if every human on Earth suddenly one day changed from the old version to the new, or else died. It probably did not literally happen that fast, but it happened faster than anyone has been able to track, and none of the old humans have survived even in the most remote parts of the world.
I refer to the stone hand-axe time as Human Operating System version 1, and the later use of speech, art and imagination as H.O.S. version 2. This is not controversial, although the naming is original. The controversial part is version 3, which I claim has been in beta for several thousand years, and is slated to replace the current mind as completely and irreversibly as the Ice Age revolution replaced the world of hand-axes and grunting.
The Human Operating System version 3 is basically what we now call Higher Consciousness. I believe certain people in our past have had this to a high degree. Those who saw them and listened to them realized that they were deeply different, but could not understand them. So they tried to emulate them and explain them using the tools of H.O.S. v 2, somewhat similar to how the last Neanderthals copied imperfectly some of the new inventions brought by their African cousins before they disappeared.
They may have been “beta testers” of a new mind that one day will utterly replace the old, like it happened once before, consigning to oblivion the old way of being human.
And there’s a mighty judgment coming … but I may be wrong.
You see, you hear these funny voices, in the Tower of Song.