Pic of the day: A new dawn.
The Next Big Thing
It is tens of thousands of years ago now. The Ice Age was holding the northern hemisphere in its dry cold grip, but the Neanderthals were hunting and gathering not too far from the glaciers. They were big and solid people, and not exactly idiots: Their brains were bigger than most people's today, and it's a good bet that they had some kind of clothes unless they were a lot more hairy than modern Europeans. (Not impossible, but it's really hard to say.) They sure had decent flint weapons at least ... these were almost the same type as those of their newly arrived cousins, the Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Yes, that's us. There had been a slow development of stone tools along with the brain size of new variants of humans, but lately technology had started to improve faster in Africa. The new arrivals from there had a small advantage, perhaps enough to offset their more slender, weaker bodies. But the difference wasn't much to write home about.
And then something happened. It is hard to say exactly how fast. Since it is so long ago, it looks like it happened almost overnight. Before, the Sapiens Sapiens were just another variant of smart ape, even though they looked almost exactly like us. Their tools were just improved stone flakes, they had little or no art, and there is no sign of religion of any kind. Then suddenly all these things show up. Burial rites, cave paintings, carved images of chubby women. And the tools became slender, elegant, even ornamental and yet more functional than before. It is like a blast of creativity hit the one species, spreading like a wildfire until no one was left behind. The Neanderthals seem to have traded for some of the new tools, even begun to copy them to some degree, but it was too late. They were fading. Going, going, gone.
In the rather enjoyable fiction books by Robert J. Sawyer, Neanderthal Parallax, this event is placed as late as 40 000 years ago. Later findings from Africa indicates that some form of art was made before that, namely "jewelry" from ostrich egg shells. We don't know if this means art developed gradually in Africa and then spread outward, or if it existed for a long time in a very limited form until it exploded into every crevice of humanity. But in any case, the point is that the change was not biological. The common ancestor of all modern humans seems to have lived between 100 000 and 200 000 years ago, more likely 150 000 than 200 000. (Actually that is "ancestress", it seems that our immune system has retained traits from several male lines, or so I have read.) Anyway, the transition into creativity – the sudden emergence of the "human spirit" – did not happen at that time, but less than half as long ago. Yet it must have spread to all humans, because there is not one single tribe left, nor is there any rumor of them having lived, who were not transformed into the new type. Those who might have resisted the change, must have fallen by the wayside like the Neanderthals themselves did. They were immune to this change, it seems, and faded away with their old world.
I believe that it is about to happen again.
Humankind has leveled up several times since then. Late in the Stone Age, after the end of the Ice Age, we had the "Neolithic Revolution" where people started to domesticate animals as well as cultivate plants. This made it possible for humans to expand out of our niches as a predator and scavenger and multiply, and multiply, and multiply ... which we are still doing, and are projected to do until around 2050 when we level off at around 10 billion people, if all goes well.
Agriculture made possible larger human habitations, villages, towns and eventually cities. These became the seeds of nations and the civilizations we know today. To administer all this, bookkeeping was invented, and writing soon found other more high-flying uses, not least by the temples. Since then, writing has let us accumulate knowledge at an ever faster rate. Eventually we got the printing press, then the Industrial Revolution, and now the Information Age. Yes, things have really taken off. But it seems to me that we have never seen anything as profound, as majestic and awe-inspiring as the day when the human spirit descended onto this planet, and creativity unfolded for the first time in a creature.
At that time, we first rose above fate. Until then, despite having better tools than other apes, we were still ruled by instincts. We had no need for religion, for the voices in our head told us what to do, with no room for doubt, the way they do in all animals. We had no need for art, for we bore the adornments we were created with, the same way every bird wears its plume. We had no need to talk, for we had nothing to say that a smile or a frown could not convey, or a moan or a scream at most. We did not yet create worlds. But all that changed. On that day, we unfolded our invisible wings and rose above fate for the first time.
It was culture that bore us aloft that time. Like in the ancient legends of the son that dethrones the father, so this new product of the brain came to demote the instincts. It did not and could not destroy them. They are still there and at heart they are still motivating us. But the forms our lives take are no longer dictated by simple instinct, but flows through the forms that culture has made for us. By now, we could not survive without it.
But just when culture has created the splendor we see all about us, the call goes out again to rise above fate. As once before we rose above instinct, we shall now rise above culture. It is time to fly higher. And if I am right, this change will be the greatest since that first time. What I expect is individuation on a massive scale. That is to say, that each person will let go of the collective labels they identified with: Nation and race, class and organized religion, and all the rest. No longer will you need to be told who you are and what to do, for you will know yourself and your place in the pattern of all things, with the same certainty that you know your hands and your feet. You will realize what makes you unique, and you will realize what binds you to everyone. The fog will lift, and the old life will become like a dream you woke from.
This is not something that will take place on a certain date in the future. It began thousands of years ago in a few unusual people. It is spreading, breaking out again and again here and there. And when it reaches a certain level, I believe it will once again explode, a runaway change that transforms humankind forever. Even if you do not become part of it, you will see the change, even if you don't understand it, you will see the old world blowing away like dust on the wind: The clay and the iron, the copper and the silver and the gold together. This goes beyond good and evil, it is on a completely different scale. It is the replacement of one sort of human with another. Not genetically, but an upgrade of the brain's operating system.
The real "childhood's end". The end of this age, the end of "all things" as we have known them. But what begins is not a frozen unchanging eternity. Eternity has always been there, after all. It is a new beginning. All things are made new. What starts beyond that event horizon can no one see who lives on this side of it. It is not yet revealed what we shall become. But those of you who will be here for the full breakthrough ... even though it is the most horrifying thing ever, it is also the most beautiful. Hold on to courage! If I could, I would be there with you. And I would encourage you, to step onto that brilliant road to tomorrow. Dawn is coming. It is time to wake up.
Visit the ChaosNode.net for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.