This is the first of an ongoing series of posts expanding previous tweets. It's pretty common that lines for Twitter posts pop into my mind without any immediately detectable source, so it seems like it should be fun to explore a few of them here. This particular tweet is a bit self-referential in that it is an example of a split within my consciousness (since it came out of nowhere) and alludes to both the complexity and unintegrated nature of the psyche.Prophets of doom have been predicting the end of the-world-as-we-know-it for thousands of years. Despite a .000 batting average so far, many people still believe that the Rapture, the Mayan End of Time, Nostradamus' predictions or some other cataclysm is lurking around the corner.
A relatively recent crop of soothsayers has shifted the predictive focus from the physical to the psychological and instead describes the end of humans-as-we-know-them. The revolutionary change they envision is called The Singularity, a time when technology creates intelligent entities who are so far advanced that unaugmented Homo sapiens won't be able to comprehend them. Depending on the pundit, these beings may either be cyborgs (a mix of human machine) or a purely computer intelligence that gains self-consciousness.
Although I'm pretty skeptical of such a chasm, it's possible there are some historic precedents. Bicameralists hypothesize that ancient humans left- and right-brains weren't as integrated as they are today. This theory explains ancient myths as being the left brain's externalization of right brain imagery. Marshall McLuhan thought that higher levels of human reasoning were only established in humans after the phonetic alphabet emerged to transcend the constraints of oral culture.
Despite the possibility of some relatively rapid and profound shifts of consciousness in human history, I tend to doubt the advent of some sort of technologically-induced Singularity that throws us over a chasm. Here are a couple of reasons:
- Giving humans access to almost unlimited information hasn't made them any smarter so far. In fact, I could argue that the ability to almost instantly find information online has atrophied the average human's intelligence. For instance, why bother to develop memorization skill when you can ask your cellphone for the answer? How many people do you know who don't even know their friends' phone numbers because they always speed dial. Sure, humans are adapting to a new technological environment, but what happens if some sort of catastrophe turns the power off for a week, a month or even years? The ability to rapidly access information is great for a small subset of human endeavor, but has no impact on the core of human existence which is centered around interpersonal relationships, personal expression, creativity, etc.
- Access to information + Faster processing =/= Wisdom. Sure, you can have a better handle on probabilities. You might even be able to discern patterns in information that were not otherwise knowable. But facts and meaning are two different animals. For every important matter of human interest there are very intelligent people with conflicting views. Harry Truman's "There are three types of lies: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics" is quite applicable to the question of truth/wisdom versus information.