Mankind’s present state foreshadows two possible futures: the birth of a new and higher kind of civilization, one fit to thrive beyond the life of the Sun or even of the Milky Way, – or extinction. Life must either flourish or die, and Man, who has the capacity to face the ultimate challenge, will either achieve the ultimate flourishing or will exemplify the most tragic case of extinction in the history of Earth.
What “flourishing” means for Man in these very long-range terms cannot mean merely working together as we have done, it cannot mean more of the same. What some small part of mankind has achieved thus far is indeed awe-inspiring, and we need not cite the wonders of the modern world here. But we can’t avert the grand and inevitable natural disasters that are coming. We can’t deflect asteroids, stop Yellowstone from erupting, or thrive in the face of an ice age. And even if we could come close to knowing how to technically solve these problems, we wouldn’t solve them, because of our present-day political systems and attitudes: someone could have the perfect idea and plan, but decisions would be hopelessly delayed, the wrong people would be assigned to the work, and resources would be squandered and misdirected. While it may be comforting to put your trust in the status quo, hoping that it can actually solve these problems is deadly in the long run; this blind trust, repeated by enough people, will doom the human race to extinction.
Trust in the status quo is tantamount to believing that it is up to the task of remedying its own institutionalized deficiencies, in due course. Such a belief is tantamount to believing that progress is inevitable. But, as progress is not created by those who think that progress is impossible, neither is it created by those who think it is inevitable. Progress is generated by those who have first chosen to create a rational vision in their own minds, who choose to fight to make it real, and crucially, who are not forcibly blocked from doing so. But a choice is the opposite of the inevitable, and forcibly blocking the type of progress that’s necessary here is the heart and soul of the status quo: with our status quo, certain kinds of progress are permitted, but not the kinds that would enable a sane and large-scale response to a severe natural disaster and not the kinds that would upset the status quo political authority; this, of course, is no coincidence.
We can of course bumble along like we have done for some indeterminate amount of time. We do not know when the next epic natural disaster will be, and indeed, it is possible that we may have already run out of time. In any case, we must find a new plane of thinking and behavior if we wish to secure our survival, and the sooner we get to this the better. Most of us sense that mankind has almost magical untapped capacities – what will unleash them?
“Intelligence is organized experience; but intelligence itself must be organized. Consider the resources of the unused intelligence of the world; intelligence potential but undeveloped; intelligence developed but isolated; intelligence allowed to waste itself in purely personal pursuits, unasked to enter into coöperation for larger ends.”— Will Durant
Consider the following (greatly simplified) story of evolution.
We do not exactly know how it began, but the simplest self-sufficient cell we know of has an exquisite and complex organization. We understand much about cells, but even the simplest of cells are presently beyond the complete understanding of modern science.
The complexity of an organism is, in effect, an implicit record, a particular answer to the question: what form of life can survive in the given environment? It is beyond the ability of any human genius to find such an answer within the span of human life, the best they can do is learn some small part of it. It takes the concerted efforts of an army of geniuses to learn what life has “learned” in these past roughly four billion years. (And mankind must recapitulate this kind of learning on a conscious level, it must learn answers to questions such as: “How can mankind survive once the Sun goes out?”)
The first cells probably began in the ocean and then spread to fill it and the surrounding soils, evolving and adapting to a variety of conditions through natural selection: the fittest cell in a given niche tended to survive and reproduce; generations of mutations ultimately created new species. We could call this general scheme of individual cells competing in various oceanic niches a “plane” of existence – the First Plane.
The emergence of multicellular organisms changed this pattern, creating a new and higher plane of existence, a Second Plane, one based on the First Plane but entirely novel, with the two major branches of it being the animals and the plants. The animals thrived through varying degrees of awareness and motility; the plants, through architectures enabling the efficient capture of sunlight.
The advent of Man emerges from a long train of animal development. A worm moves toward the light; an insect incorporates complex behavioral patterns; mammals manifest a wide range of conscious awareness of their environments, including not mere reaction but psychological reaction, such as a dog which can become angry, happy, or scared regarding particular objects and circumstances, and while a dog can learn simple tricks, a primate can learn much more complex tricks. All of this development is the result of the increasing complexity and sophistication of the animal’s brain.
This is all obvious to us moderns and has been explained many times before: we know that Man is the highest in intelligence, both incorporating and going beyond what lesser species do; that he can more reliably expand and pass down knowledge than any other primate. While a non-human primate may learn and it may even possess rudimentary “language”, the manner in which Man learns and communicates is qualitatively different. Crucially, this enables Man to intensively collaborate, to organize his intelligence both individually and collectively. While an individual person may not fare well versus a dangerous animal, there are no animals on Earth that can defeat a well-organized tribe of human beings – except other tribes of human beings. With the human capacity for gaining and communicating knowledge comes human organization, and with human organization comes immense power. Human intelligence is, then, yet another evolutionary plane, a Third Plane, the plane that reigned as superior until about 2500 years ago, and still dominates.
But there is a yet more advanced plane, one we see the glimmer of in the rare show of genius such as Euclid, Archimedes, or Newton. This is the Fourth Plane, the plane of what might be termed a mathematically disciplined awareness, it is a plane aware of its own method – the Rational Plane. Importantly, the first glimmer of this plane is coincident with the birth of philosophy.
Unlike the Third Plane, the Fourth Plane is unnatural to Man. Whereas humans very naturally take to learning and using language, we do not naturally strive for a consistency of understanding. In mathematics, genius established and now everyone agrees that inconsistency is proof of error; but in general and especially in regard to how each area of knowledge relates to the others, mankind is still under the impression that a hodgepodge of inconsistency can stand for truth. This posture of inconsistency reigns in the most fundamentally important realm – the moral realm – and thereby pollutes the disciplines of the humanities, which in our era is to a great degree an anti-education: a process for making people more impervious to reason than when they began. Hence the earned contempt of the humanities by not only many laymen but by scientists.
Aristotle was wrong: Man is not the rational animal – rationality is a capacity of man, and one rarely exercised – it is not an inevitability. Man is the volitional animal – he can choose to shape his nature, and he can indeed choose to become rational, but he is not destined to be so. Natural Man is intelligent, he is organized, he learns, he creates, he communicates, and he is even sophisticated. But he is pragmatic – he does not have methodological self-awareness and self-discipline. If upon learning that beliefs he is fond of are contradictory or unfounded, then unless he sees an immediate negative consequence in this, he will greedily cling to them. Genius sets a different example, readily seeking alternative beliefs and readily casting aside those beliefs that don’t conform to a rational method. For Natural Man, arbitrariness, self-contradiction, and intellectual disorder in general is the ordinary backdrop to his daily experience and his being made aware of it is akin to pointing out to him that the Sun shines; for genius, such awareness creates an inner emergency, the feeling of a problem in need of solution, as well as the feeling of the possibility and desirability of resolving it.
For Natural Man, disordered and arbitrary beliefs are the norm, but the genius strives for rational explanations, which includes finding the logical relationship between his beliefs. Natural Man can learn from genius, he can learn science and mathematics, but then these borrowed beliefs happily reside with cultish beliefs, and he finds no problem in this, whereas genius strives for a mind that is whole, one not fractured into arbitrary compartments.
The institutions that follow from Natural Man’s lack of method are predictable: contradictory, arbitrary, dogmatic, stubborn, authoritarian, destructive, secretive, pompous, unjust, criminal. This is the world we live in. For mankind to survive and flourish in the long term and in the face of the brutal indifference of Nature, it must reform itself; its institutions must be governed by reason. Essential to this is the principle that they should be foundationally and eternally open to rational feedback and correction. As science evolves by feedback from experiment, institutions must evolve from rational engagement with its critics. The hallmark of a corrupt institution is precisely its unwillingness to rationally engage its sincere critics and then change when its practices are proven wrong, and we see precisely this corruption everywhere in contemporary society. This is indeed a central absurdity of our era, for it is one thing to do evil, but to fail to recognize it is to determine that it will go on, and on, and on. Such insanity is the nature of Natural Man’s lack of method when amplified into the institutional scale.
“The advancement of science is the work of a powerful genius, the prize and reward belong to the vulgar or to princes, who (with few exceptions) are scarcely moderately well informed.”— Francis Bacon
Mankind thus far exploits genius instead of learning its methods. But if it doesn’t replace the ethic of the impertinent thief with the ethic of genius it will perish. Reaching this Fourth Plane – the Rational Plane – is our destiny as a species, and if we fail, we will cease to be, for as powerful as genius is, it is not powerful enough to overcome institutionalized barbarism.
Also see “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, by Bill Bryson.
Consider the bizarre choices it gives you in terms of political candidates or systems for example – i.e., no sane choice.