We are entering an era in which companies dream of becoming cities.
They will fail, almost certainly.
A company can not mimic a city without being as dynamic and as
self-organized, even if it surpasses a city in size or revenue by a
large margin; companies have a naturally shorter lifespan.
This happens since cities have the freedom of a bottom-up flow,
coupled with certain network properties that are vital for a
superorganism to adapt to the environmental changes. Corporations cannot
always stir fast with the moves of the market (elaboration for another
post). They are a different animal. Obesity kills them eventually if
they don’t die a natural death.
Due to structural differences, after a certain level of growth
companies experience decline in their rate of “innovation” – the very
glue that holds cities together. Unlike cities and forests their synergy
will eventually stop and reverse, then they can not carry their own
weight unless they innovate and disrupt. Companies can not scale
* * *
And can tech giants innovate proportional to their growing size, i.e. with a so-called “superlinear” rate?
No, not passed a certain size. Not with a gigantic mass, a top-down
flow and a compartmentalized structure. For these giants to grow bigger
than this, for them to be worth trillions or to become cities and last,
they need to revolutionize their structure. But they simply don’t have
the code for it.
Of course innovation will keep taking place in megacities but
increasingly outside these campuses, even if they try to attach
themselves to megacities like Amazon is trying to land on New York’s
What tech giants should do at this point is to downsize their mass,
their physical manifestation, lay off and restructure, then grow again
but that is not how public companies are ruled. Their leaders may well
be aware of this better than the average shareholder, but neither have a
better next possible move on the board. They are accustomed to follow a
natural course for the evolution of the mega-creatures they are
shaping. And in that course there is no prospect of keeping the pace of
the innovation. This is not about the talent-base; this is a structural
failure and it’s emergent.
* * *
What are these companies going to do with their facilites when doomed by their nature they have to let go of their extra load?
In the most organized and systematic scenario, these buildings will
be taken over by a new generation of emerging insitutions and reused for
different purposes than they are built for. So they better design them
In another foreseeable future our kids shall play techno in their
abandoned halls, or whatever fusion the spirit ot their time will be!
And I think this will happen no later than a couple of decades,
perhaps gradually. Doesn’t need to be any apocalyptic scenario, system
collapse, war or political revolution.
When I was in Belgrade I read, in their official travel guide, that the city has been almost completely destroyed and rebuilt forty-four times. This means that if the chance of not recovering at each event was as unlikely as 5%, now after the forty-fourth time the city would have perished with a chance of 90%. It then occurred to me what kind of super-organism could possibly lose a considerable chunk of its mass and yet survive it so many times (spoiler alert: forests).
Or just look at Rome. It has lived under many different tyrannies, governments and religions, and has survived even paradigms from slavery, feudalism and capitalism. What is that essence that has kept Rome “alive” as long as there was a little flame left to burn
There isn’t anything special about the geographic coordinates of Rome or Belgrade, such that it gives them an exclusive access to some resource and encourages people to rebuild the city over and over from the same location. It takes only a bunch of survivors to rebuild the city from the existing ruins.
All companies die. But cities never die.
Says the physicist Geoffrey West presenting his flagship results. He claims that cities not only save energy per capita, but also create more wealth – also per capita. This leads to a positive feedback loop for growth of the cities that so far seems unprecedented in other super-organisms in nature. [I would be open to exclude forests and corals, but more on this later.]
According to his growth models, cities can be destroyed or wiped out externally, but they, unlike companies, people or animals do not die a natural death; A death that is planned by their nature. There seems to be a double synergistic effect to the growth pattern of the cities. Animals grow by adding building blocks (cells) to their body, but at some point, their exponential growth stops internally, and not due to an external exhaustion of resources. After they grow to a certain size and live up to a certain period, they die a natural and planned death. Companies have similar mathematics, West claims. This doesn’t seem to happen to cities.
2. Super-organisms are “alive“
Now here comes my reading of West’s work, blended with other ideas and some critics.
Just like biological organisms, super-organisms are formed based on smaller elements coming together to benefit from the economy of scale. From the perspective of network science, technological or social networks aren’t different from biological ones, and such similarities could make them in some sense “alive”. Cities, companies, forests (conceivably civilizations, empires, religious institutions, coral colonies, hives, etc.) can all be deemed alive in an objective sense, although not necessarily sentient or conscious, a very different [subjective] story.
Many of these networks have evolved to reach an equilibrium after growth, and the same planed mathematics that accumulates their mass, eventually kills them. They stop growing at a certain point, live up to a rather predictable age and they die a natural death. By doing so – independent of their mechanism of reproduction – they leave room for the new to repeat the cycle. Nature has favoured this code over a countless number of repetitions.
While there are many parallels one can draw between these networks, in one sense cities seem to be an exception. They by design suck up the resources around them with no self-correcting mechanism. At least in our current economic model and since the first human settlements, we have never seen a sudden systemic evacuation of a city or its split to smaller chunks, so they repeat such an organic cycle all over again. The economy of scale gives the cells, citizens, a double edge to accumulate. A city doesn’t seem to ever die under its own weight.
From this perspective, the similarity between cities and biological organisms is preserving energy; that the bigger the organism the less energy is consumed per cell. The difference, however, is that the bigger a city gets, the more it gives its cells, even per capita, a handful of advantages: “money”, “knowledge”, and “power”. Is this superglue unique to cities?
Although just similar to biology such surplus of wealth per capita translates to smaller homes and less stuff in the centre of megacities as opposed to the countryside, still because of the centralized rules of the monetary system the economic power that such wealth creates keeps attracting people to bigger cities, hence the cancerous growth.
We could relate to this effect on an individual and personal level. Those of us living in larger human colonies are closer to the power hubs and although we may live in denser areas with lower energy consumption per head compared to our rural counterparts (due to for example a lower surface to volume ratio), we still create more waste due to our superior economic power. We shop more, commute longer, fly higher, etc. A kidney sell does less of similar stuff compared to a free-floating bacteria. This is the essence that makes our embedding super-organism, city, different from an animal.
3. The superglue in the cities: Creativity and productivity driven by money and language
Let’s look at why people are not only more but also wealthier in big cities. Wages follow the rate of productivity, which is higher per capita in bigger networks. “Stronger input-output linkages, better matching of employees and employers, and invisible but active knowledge spillovers” are believed to increased productivity resulting in higher wages. The so-called “agglomeration” economies shaped in dense areas increase creativity (the number of patents, as well as wages, follow a super-linear fit, fueling the exponential growth of the city. In retrospect, among other tools, the advent of language and the invention of money is the factor that has changed the dynamics of our collective network. Without them, no matter how individually intelligent or creative in problem-solving us humans could get, our creativity wouldn’t be unleashed and our exponential civilization would not manifest on the blue planet.
4. What about forests?
What other networks may also enjoy such a double-edged growth patterns of the cities (super-linear gains at sub-linear cost). Could the exceptionally long lifespan of forests and reefs be related to their cancerous growth patterns, too? And more importantly, what drives this pattern?
Sure, forests and reefs can be killed off or shrink due to external reasons, but just like man-made cities, they are robust in their growth pattern. The main question is that, what is their superglue which brings them together?
In other words, if being in New York City exposes a human to more wealth, knowledge or impact than an isolated tribe, what do individual trees benefit from when they are in a bigger network? What’s in it for individual corals to be in a bigger reef than a small one when they can’t even move?
5. Is forest intelligent?
Also this is far-fetched, I think it could be inferred merely from the physics of the network, considering the emergent properties of a forest, that it is way more than a regular grid. I hypothesize that a forest is not a highly-clusterized network (i.e. having a large “clustering co-efficient”, i.e. to what degree neighbours of a node are connected to each other) but also with other properties of a small-world network.
This quite interestingly implies that without a deep knowledge of ecology or forestry, one could possibly show that trees have a sense of networking, collaboration and communication (likely even symbolic communication with an inventory of signs).
Also, trees have documented track record of “trade”. But do they have a sense of currency, property law, and ownership? Do such concepts necessarily follow the invention of a formal *phonological* language? Those who claim Capitalism is a product of nature, may have gotten something right.
In linguistics, “double-articulation” is known as the most crucial feature that made human language differ from other forms of communication in nature. This is the ability to exploit the combinatorics of dual patterns and is extremely powerful since it makes symbolic computation possible.
It is, however, in my opinion very arrogant and naive of us humans to assume that such phenomenon first evolved with our species. Both rainforests and reefs seem to possess similar network properties (amongst others self-similarity, small-world property and high-clusterization) that I argue could be an infrastructure for a phonological [alphabetic] mind capable of symbolic computation, given a random mutation of dual patterns.
This may be the hidden story behind any of the evolutionary leaps on earth, and not just the last one. And it could mean, with all the seriousness, that rainforests or reefs, as intelligent super-organisms have purposefully invented animals in the same way we invented cars. And for short-term or long-term reasons. I do understand the co-evolution of animals with their ecosystem, but do trees know who invented the automobile?
It’s a testable hypothesis to see if rainforests have evolved, say, their own stock market somewhere down in the ground. I just wonder if like ours it ever crashes once in a while in some million years! A bit more far-fetched than that, the urbanization and the human experiment, us, could be one of those.
Does vegetation have similar properties as urbanization? Do rainforests possess a collective intelligence comparable to that of Silicon Valley, Wall Street or Holley Wood? Are they creative, productive and experimental?
Is this postulate crazy? Nope. Is it testable? I think so.
“Dimensionality” in complex networks is still an ignored concept in
any other discipline which deals with those networks – but physics, the
mother of them all.
In city planning for example, governments can aspire to make a metropole of 9 million and expect it to behave like NYC, once it matures. If not necessarily reproducing the same financial or political influence, but at least creating a similar “feel” internally shouldn’t be much to ask?
It is essential to build megacities from smaller organic elements: minor towns already in each others’ neighbourhood.
Is such a simple observation in other, similar, networks something
that the policymakers of some trillion-dollar future megacities are
unaware of? And do they not need that knowledge when they expect the
return for their investment?
* * *
Building new fresh sustainable megacities in uninhabitable fields sounds like a brilliant idea. The trend has many great promises:
For one it shall massively returns the investment through real estate. It will laso host the future waves of urbanizing population while built with the state-of-the-art and more sustainable infrastructure. Even better, if it is built in a desert where preserving the natural ecosystem is much less vital than say, a rainforest.
But sustaining a megacity logistically is not possible without sustaining it culturally. That is the foundation of the city life and for it is necessary to mimic the underlying dimensionality of organic metros – something that should match the metropolis’ magnitude – or else the megacity will never produce the effects of cities of even much smaller magnitude, no matter how much money is spent on central planning.
* * *
Even if the best engineers set up the physical infrastructures and plug in the vital resources and the structures are built with fresher and more sustainable technology with a smaller footprint, there are still fundamental problems in printing a city in the middle of nowhere with a “grid mindset”.
The good news is though, it could take just a little more investment but in the right direction to try to recreate a “dimensionality” that typically evolves over centuries when a megacity is organically seeded.
Only then one can attempt to create the equivalent of some several centuries old institutions in the course of years.
China has understood this and they are building their megacities around the existing smaller parts. Much smaller cities like Dubai or Doha have also grown their skyline organically – though on steroid – around an existing old town.
My naive analysis of cryptocurrencies based on the publicly available
data (historic price of the major coins) inferred four key parameters
to model a typical crash:
– The magnitude of the latest bubble.
– Length of the inflation period.
– The speed of deflation measured by the powerlaw exponent of the decay curve.
– The length of the deflation period.
On the flight back from New York City (have to look up the date but
it was early January this year) looking at the 11 major crashes in the
history of cryptos, the rather simple model predicted that:
The market may crash at any moment. (It did in a week, but could go on a little longer too).
And that at the current market cap ($800B at the time) a following crash will, in a period of 6 months to one year:
– Deflate to a market cap of $150B for all cryptos.
– 4,500$ for Bitcoin (17,000$ at the time)
– 200$ for Ethereum (1,200$ at the time)
And I said I will buy when two of the three goals are met.
So far (9 months through) one of the three has taken place (Ethereum hit 170$ yesterday).
Economy of scale and life’s punctuated equilibrium:
Life on earth is going through another short period of rapid
morphological changes, this time because of us humans: In a short
geological moment we have gone through a massive scale-up (7 orders of
magnitude from tribes of hundreds, to billions on the Internet or
members or the global economy). That we all know.
Phase transitions are common place in single species – known as punctuated equilibrium and are spotted based on local evidences at hand such as fossil records. But terrestrial life as a whole experiences such phase transitional behaviors too, although they aren’t always as easy to spot in our labs.
Last time we think a scale-up like this happened was the so-called Cambrian explosion half a billion years ago: The rapid shift in life forms from single-cell organisms to complex animals with advanced specialized systems and organs. This was when nature evolved new networks and gave life emergent properties such as intelligence or purpose.
And well in between these two explosions, there may have been other
economies of scale transcending single units to complex wholes, though
we may not as easily manage to identify them. I am for instance quite
open to the spiritual idea that views rainforest as an intelligent
whole, with a form of wisdom and the ability to reason, possessing
foresight and purpose and other emergent properties invisible to our
senses and ungraspable by our brains.
We require more advanced tools to discover those realms, but rest
assured there exists much more than we have seen; Communicating with the
intelligence that takes place at much bigger or smaller scales, or much
slower or faster pace isn’t the most trivial thing we have evolved to
do. Neither we have made our tools specifically for this. But I think we
already have made tools that we can begin to utilize for this
particular purpose. And I am hopeful and optimist, that science has the
ability to eventually explore those realms.
Subjectivity,an emergent property?
What can be even more puzzling is the question of conciousness,
subjective experience and sentience. Are they too, some emergent
properties of complex networks? This is a whole new discussion:
Can networks emerge not only intelligence, planning and reasoning –
as stated before, I am convinced they do – but also create joy and
suffering out of nothing?
And what are the ethical implications of all these?
We don’t know if cells have sentience. I wouldn’t be surprised at all
if they do have something like we do. Why exactly can we have that and
they could not?
And now let’s for a moment assume they have a sense of sentience. The ethical question is then: Was that explosion a fun thing for them, or was it a disastrous regrettable mistake to ride the economy of scale and shape animals instead of competing alone for survival. Did they sacrifice their individual freedom for specialization in order to serve the survival of a bigger whole? More far-fetched, is a kidney cell *happier* than a lonely floater with shorter life span and less guaranteed levels of safety, but possibly higher degrees of freedom?
Relativity of morals is ethics 101, and good for something is bad for soothing else. So I am not trying to quantify and sum up all the good and evil in the universe to solve a Karmic optimization problem here. This is difficult enough to ask. Could singles be happier on their own, or as a part of a bigger whole?
And if it doesn’t make sense to you to ask such a question about microbes, just wonder the same thing about us. It’s hard to conceptualize things we haven’t evolve to perceive but our transition from tribes of apes to specialized members of powerful gigantic institutions that decide our faith more than us is a phenomenon that we tend to ignore. And such super-organisms, whatever you can think of them from physical campuses of multinational corporations, institutions and governments, to less visible codes of AI all across the Internet competing for their own survival, may only be in their early forms. Their real game may have not even started yet!
Point being, all the signs of technological singularity fits in the context of evolution.
Back to the ethical questions: whether this is all good or bad and
should we help or stop it? Relativity of ethics aside, there are two
levels of moralities I can think of:
– One is what we are used to in our conventional ethics; A sense of good or bad at the human level or familiar issues in its proximity such as animal welfare: Are we as individuals losing our freedom to serve the dictatorship of new giant monsters? Are we going to suffer more and for long dark periods as humans? Could we humans catch ourselves in a blink of an an eye (a giant eye!) in miserable conditions as animals are experiencing in our industrial farms, simply because unavoidable forces of nature are leading us there? Or will we find a more sustainable and less cruel way of expanding the network of life and transcend this with less pain and suffering, exploitation and war?
– The other ethical discussion is a more Karmic sense of good vs
evil: The ultimate survival of life. Whether or not we humans will be
happy or miserable in any given futuristic scenario, is our technology
eventually going to protect life on earth from external cosmic hazards
and possibly even expand it beyond earth? Or will it kill it off
completely. Some say our species may actually have a purpose and this is
In this context if our civilization explosion instead implodes to kill all life, before our reaching its multi-planetary ambitions, then that can be viewed as a failed gamble by mother nature.
Will humans make it to, and survive the technological singularity?
And then there is this third scenario in between. The most likely I
would say. Our species will die a mild extinction before taking over
stars, but also before completely destroying the life forever and ever.
Both seem much more difficult than simply going extinct.
What will happen in that scenario? Probably plants will come back
with new wisdom – resistance to nano-biological hazards, radioactive,
plastic and what not. Then they make new things that will move around
and will send them again on the mission to pollinate other stars for
another thousands of unsuccessful trials, up until a massive asteroid
finishes us off, this time completely.
Now seriously, does mother nature have ways to set goals and make
plans, invest in a species to become technologically advanced enough to
protect its mother? Hey let’s make some humans to protect and expand the
life although they may kill it all. And in taking such gambles does she
even further possess mechanisms for sensing and evaluating the risks
I think she does. Apparently in one instance right here and now.
If this post evolved as a part of nature, then nature does have ways
to try assessing the risk of its gambles. All technologists and
scientists who push our civilization forward, and yet inform and warn us
about existential threats that come along the horizon are the
manifestation of such a risk assessment. And they come from the nature.
So why should we think of them as an isolated phenomenon? How do we know
nature hasn’t manifested things like this previously? All we see is the
qualities of its current wave of emergent intelligence.
Hopefully it’s not the last wave, and I really doubt if it is the first one. Unlikely!
“Science is a random walk of accumulated literature.”
What do I mean by this compact claim is that the scientific code and its instrumentation evolve organically within an ecosystem of ideas and objects.
By scientific code I mean its language, terminologies and formulations, as well as their results and interpretations. And by its instrumentation I refer to the science-making technologies; tools and instruments.
The scientific code in its evolving journey is profoundly sensitive to its initial states as well as randomness along the way. Random elements of all kinds such as mistakes and accidents, cultural bias, geographic self-reinforcement among the scientists, charisma, manipulation by power and even the order of discoveries. All of these factors have potential to deviate scientific claims to drastically different directions.
We are limited beings trapped in a narrow set of interpretations that we call reality and therefore we are not using our imagination as much as we can to realize how things could have been otherwise. More interesting, useful, truthful alternatives do not get the chance to be seen or discussed in the dictatorship of the scientific enterprise. And scientists are behaving very politely with a fear of being abandoned, excluded or fallen in the blacklist of pseudo-sciences determined by the dominant story. And things doesn’t have to be this way.
Now speaking of the chaotic self-organized nature of the scientific random-walk, we would like to believe that there is an objective truth out there that functions as an external field and leads the scientific endeavor to get closer and closer to an “attractor” of the ultimate truth, neutralizing the effect of its random fluctuations.
This is not obvious.
How do we know that we are dealing with a controlled random walk, that there is an attractor? There may be many attractors. There may be none. There may be infinitely many with a different cardinality even. If we are destined to one thing is that we belive in destinty. And we think of science as having a destiny too. This may be an unwritten assumption but widely accepted that there’s a naturally truthful science. It may be randomly deviating people admit, but it is moving towards the attractor of the holy truth. In my experience the common claim is that not only that truth exists, we are also approaching it rather effectively. And so how can you even dare to argue over this when you are wittnessing the fantastic discoveries and the ground breaking achievements of science?
I am not unfamiliar with this world-view and can comprehend their logic, but have a completely different idea. I am saying that the myth of a naturally truthful science should be debated because it undermines the profound chaotic nature of the evolution of the scientific code and its instrumentatlity. It should be questioned because it ignores how fundamentally trapped we are in our cognitive tunnel and left alone with a very narrow and specific set of wide-spread stories that we have made about the reality.
And let’s say that the attractor of reality does exist in a sense, and that we humans are getting there because we have launched an honest journey with a solid plan. Even if so, I think without bringing up discussions like this post, such a goal is unattainable and navigating towards such a truth is impossible. We can not be sure we are on the right path, let alone the only path, if we suppress any effort to overcome our blindspots, simply because we don’t see them.
So this is what I summarize in the compact claim that science is not about the truth. Science is about the instrumental growth of the human ape, developed and expanded collectively and in a deep sense accidentally. Science is developped with the help of the limited capacities of our brain and its selfish interaction with the environment, ultimately for the sake of survival. We are fundamentally trapped in this thinking organ and besides that we do not try to keep in focus what our hard-wired biases are, as much as we should. We don’t even ask simpler questions such as how our cultural biases shape the way we think often enough. The answers can be sometimes really surprising if we dare to digg into this.
While it is still a meaningful topic to question for example how science would look like for some alien intelligent life form, I will not go that far here. I am claiming that even with the very same structure of the human brain, in a parallel version of our – let’s say – post-agricultural civilization, branched out as late as five thousand years ago and formed with a different throws of dice, the scientific code could have looked very very differently. And at this point only imagination can speculate on this important question about “how else” things could have looked like in an alternative human society. Let’s just specualte a bit. This is pure contemplation:
I think we may not have come up with Newtonian mechanics and then two theories of relativity later on, very unlikely. Instead we could have had things in between or completely different models that would still work. For example with a whole new set of definitions angular momentum did not necessarily have to imply rotation and who knows may be not a single scientist of that parallel world would have even heard of the analogy that some particles rotate around others similar to our planetary system. Imagine the possibility that Einstein’s idea of spacetime was thrown earlier than anything like Newtonian mechanics, simply on a different food diet or given another set of conflicts, power shifts and revolutions.
Imagine Which parts of Algebra would look different beyond its symbolic representation. And then to explain our cosmos how would we expect more complex formulations – such as string theory – to have formed similarly out of a completely different context? The whole axiomatization of our mathematics and how it would state its open problems could look different. It stil can. My personal hope is that it could look more fractal, and more transcendental in a sense. Or not. But we may have not had the Euclidean dominance on our early geometries, the following Cartesian coordinates and thus the use of complex numbers in some form of electronics or any technologies that would give us functionalities similar to smartphones or chip implants. Instead remarkably different tools and languages would serve a similar purpose.
The most solid pillars of our sciences shake if we think in these terms. Even the idea of evolution itself which is the support story behind this post could be told differently. Darwinism and Lamarckism wouldn’t be exposed as distinct theories with a form of epigenetics as their compromise. Other good functioning legends could be told with a different order of discoveries and their marketing.
Well, and on the other hand some core ideas and theories could have been told similarly. And it is not quite impossible to contemplate and guess which of them. It’s very difficult to place a bet for me here but I think we would still have numbers in a sense, and mathematical constants. We would somehow know the families of π and e. We would have had telecommunication and eventually at some point we would sequence our genes and hack ourselves to the next level.
What would remain intact and what would change? This is an important question for all sciences and we do have the tools and resources to make a move towards some answers these days. It’s not necessarily expensive in terms of research fund nor environmental footprint to get on to this. Imagine we live in a world when a comprehensive digitized copy of our scholarly literature is publicly available with all sorts of accessible algorithms. We can now supervise machines to evaluate a whole body of the scientific literature in a matter of days if not shorter. Machines can now reveal contradictions and fallacies in proofs and arguments, detect and neutralize the marketing bias in scientific work to extract the quality, detect and promote ignored nobel ideas and bring up the missed gems, deconstruct existing notions to come up with new ideas, and simulate the future of the whole science itself in multiparallel versions.
None of rhis is any longer farfetched. For those of you who love brands and abbreviations, I came across SSK and SSI, one in many posssible projects of meta-science in this regard. They stand for sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) and its complementory, sociology of scientific ignorance (SSI). The maturity of these projects were the dream of philosophers such as Fayerabend and Kuhn long before the age of Big Data. That idea didn’t take off and was suppressed by other dominant codes which could make more money and thus stood the selection pressures of the scientific enterprise better, to address its demends.
Fair! They were too vague and not regirous enough. And they were not affordable at the time. Our processing power is now millions of times bigger and the immediate availability of pretty much every important scientific idea that have been created is not a dream anymore. So we can get on to such a project again.
And those of you who love stories about AI take over, would agree that if we don’t do this, at some points machines will go ahead and do it for us; or for themselves. This one is not a new story anymore, since we have probably read a piece of fiction journalism on a similar idea lately. So, crazy ideas don’t seem that farfetched when they are repeated enough or endorsed by the public.
Science is an amazing achievement and the fact that its pioneers have constantly used it to transcend itself with new paradigms, ideas and breakthroughs is simply beautiful.
Science deserves to be better than an idiocracy. While, despite its core values of a truthful struggle, like other human achievements that have become old enough in a rigid framework, it seems attracted in to that direction now. People who rightfully claim that science is white or masculine are only scratching the surface.
If you love science, care about it. Try to see its fundamental limits and so transcend it. You may still call it science and I won’t argue over terms. I think it will still not be about finding the truth; however, it is a neater struggle to serve such a purpose.
P.S. I am not viewing this post as a truthful post, either. This is just a code. It’s a rather unconventional idea in the sphere of ideas out there. Your human brains recieve it; some relate to it and some object. The process of understanding something is a set of biochemical algorithms; Logic and reasoning have that shady characteristic in common with emotions and feelings. This is why there is so much disagreement out there in the world. It’s not that people are almost always wrong. It’s because folks are different and the evolution of their worldviews take totally different pathways and so different things make sense to them based on their previous experience and knowledge. From these many ideas out there some of them get lucky enough to survive, take over and dominate for a period but it is not necessarily an indicator of their truthful. Truth may be non-monotonic in a very deep sense. It is alarming when we realize that even if the external field of reality or the attractor of truth had not existed, we would still assume them. And what I have said here has been said before in different tones and terminologies. The scientific climate has not been so friendly to those ideas and they have not got enough exposure or resources. All instances of similar claims that I managed to find have faded out due to what I think as a form of early exposure. This post is not about the truth either. You can view it as a mutation that I would like to promote. This time around it may take off somewhere around here.
* * *
Science is not about the truth. It’s about our instrumental growth.
It’s a human specific language for the short-term dominance of this very species; a subjective and relative cultural viewpoint; a man-made phenomenon not only sensitive to geography and demography of its producers, but fundamentally relying on our specific physiological features.
Science is a random walk of accumulated literature largely indifferent to the reality; a set of self-reinforced terminologies that has hypnotized our collective mind.
Science is one in many possibilities that turned out to be the dominant widespread culture of our time due to a series of thrown dice with similar dynamics to rock pigeons colonizing the urban landscape worldwide.
So if you take all of it too seriously you may as well think of a pterodactyl as the superior form of a flying object; the shape of a moldy bread as the ultimate manifestation of “truth”, or the last check-mate snapshot of a mediocre chess game as the final capacity of a chess board.
Technology is a great thing [for us humans], but it has a negative aspect not many talk about.
It deprives us from feeling the “real experience” in accordance to how we are biologically wired. Technology builds a protective bubble around the human body that however takes care of a lot of challenges for us, leaves us peculiarly unchallanged inside. And to elaborate a bit more on the “challange of unchallended”, it unemploys and unsues the sensorimotor circuitry in our pre-historic brains. And since we percieve happiness more directly inside our brains than on the surface of our skin or outside our bodies, this can be enough to spoil a good deal of fun for us.
In many cases technology offers the same functionality for our survival needs, but with less substance. Same outcome, less work for it. But what if “working for it” was a part of the satisfaction, that was planted in us by evolution to keep us motivated to persue tasks vital for our survival?
The main reason we have brains is sensorimotor circuitry. Some researchers claim it is the only reason. As organisms we need to act upon the world for our survival (the motor system) and in order to do that correctly we need to sense it by a sensory system. So the motor act is the primary goal and the sensory is secondary; it is needed only for the motor act to be decided correctly. Nature doesn’t care if you observe the details of the environment perfectly. Your gene code is passed on if you survive.
Now the technology sits in the way by enhancing the sensory channel and empowering the motor act. It eases the deeply emotional process of decision making, and by doing so leaves those circuitry unused and unemployed. But hasn this not made us unhappy? I used to think that technology enhances feelings and emotions since it assists and magnifies the sensory channel but at our core we are not passive sensors. We are active performers of our lives and spoiled in the comfort of our civilization we have truly lost our natural reference of comparison to our bodily similar ancestors. Lots of process that used to happen in our brains now takes place outside our bodies. Most of the signals that we used to constantly process and handle for survival does not reach the surface of our skins or don’t come even close to us. People go to the nature or gym, try extreme sports or play video games to experience those situations and trigger those condditions; It is a retro movement.
We have all heard modern-time complains about how people nowadays use digital messages instead of real ink on paper postcards, navigate the reality with GPS, and now get dates from apps without holding face-to-face conversations. The outcome is the same; conveying the message, mating or reprodution, or getting to a destination. But something is missing during the process.
Now, this familiar contemporary observations may be worrisome, but it is nothing new.
The technological dumb-down of mankind even if admitted is usually associated to the modern times. This seems to be a new trend in a couple of generations, if we take our own norms and typical lifestyles as the ultimate base for the real experience. Much of “the real experience” had already been taken away from us and before that from our ancestors for dozens of millenia:
* People express worry these days that driving skills, the real experience of navigating the roads is going to fade away with self-driving cars. But do we remember how horse riding felt before cars? Or did our horse-rider ancestors know what they were missing not to hunt an animal while running after it, barefoot?
* Spending too much time in the digital conversations and dealing with only letters and emojis makes us deaf to the intonations of the spoken language. The ability to grasp the meanings conveyed in the rise and fall of the pitch and loudness of the speech needs to be practiced. But was it not the verbal language itself that provided a parallel channel of communication and made us blind to the previous forms of communication, such as reading of emtions from facial expressions? How often do we even try to read each other’s eyes nowadays? In such intuitive social skills that were vital for tribal survival, our illiterate ancestors were more intelligent than us.
* Youth nowadays get dates for their digital profiles sometimes without composing a sentence, or having to make a face-to-face charm. An Irish man in Trondheim told me once “There was a time that people couldn’t hide behind dating profiles. You had to show up in person in real places and talk to real people and prove yourself”. As if a bar is a gladiator arena, or the spoken language itself, just like dating profiles, is not used for people to hide behind. This complain is sound but to me sounds like we would complain to our grand children: “There was a time that you couldn’t just telepathically go through a hundred thousand profiles with the chip in your brain to get a mutual date. You actually had to open an app, a real app! And had to go through profiles one by one. And you had to chat with them, for real. Like composing sentences word by word to make a connection. And then there was still a high chance that they wouldn’t match you because it was not pre-calculated!”
Much of our sensorimotor circuits are inactive since their function is outsourced to the technology. And I think that comes in an order. First the motor act, the outcome of the whole process gets outsourced and inactive, since the machinary around us does it on our behalf. Then there’s no longer need for the sensory part and so that part gets dull and dormant too.
Your worry may be right. The new generation gets spoiled by the new technology and loses the real feel of an experience. They are handed in something as functional but less sensational; less powerful, engaging, and real. Just like we were.
We know it, by comparison.
Our parents knew it, by comparison.
Their parents knew it, …
I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. Quite the contrary, I believe in accident, in self-organization. If I sound like advocating any form of conscious conspiracy I have failed to communicate my message. So here is the disclaimer:
In the absence of enough evidence, I refuse to believe that a secret society made of few individuals have succeeded to gain control over the rest of mankind, and with a plot so seamless that no body could get any direct evidence of.
I am not however saying that the effect is not there. I just argue that tracing the cascade of causes and reducing the root cause of an effect to a bunch of folks around a table sounds a naive explanation to me. Though if we want to believe in something like that, sure we will manage to fish for enough false positives from the pool of complex world around us to support any theory. But indicators are not always proofs and imposing non-existing patterns upon the reality is a human talent. Just like designing a crosswords puzzle, search for pieces of evidence and put them together and create the pattern you are willing to see or believe in.
So if a conspiracy theory wants to pass the test of time it should be convincing that randomness is not the root cause of a spotted pattern, and thus some intelligent design, albeit of human nature must have caused the observed effect. In that sense many of popular conspiracy claims deem quite unlikely when considering the difficulty of not only doing the impossible, to execute, predict and control a chaotic system such as the modern human society, but to not leaving a single trace behind.
So the good news is that the all-powerful secret lizard people well-organized to harm us are for the most a product of our imagination, but sorry to be the bearer of the bad news:
Even the purest and most innocent intentions can collectively cause purposeful evil outcomes.
The Sandpile experiment
There is a simple physical experiment during which grains of sands are dropped one at a time on a conical pile of sands and as a result once in a while there is a sudden avalanche. It was a Danish experiment in the 80s and was replicated by Norwegians on piles of rice in the 90s. These are the first physical experiments to demonstrate a phenomenon called “self-organized criticality” which is an “emergent property” of a complex system:
“Emergence: The larger entities that arise through interactions among smaller entities can show properties the smaller entities do not exhibit.”
The occurrence of an avalanche is an emergent property for the sand pile. it is extremely unpredictable to the local sand grains and also to the experimenter. But metaphorically speaking, if you could ask the local sands somewhere in the pile, what they would make out of their experience of an avalanche or its cause, they could probably blame few sands somewhere on top of the hierarchy. In fact no single grain of sand has control over the behavior of the whole pile. Even the experimenter who is God-like to the grains by having the whole picture fails to predict when and how the next avalanche will take place.
We humans are the sands in a complex sand pile, our civilization. Based on our limited view of the local neighborhood we tend to believe that there must be a designer behind every human phenomenon around us. We tend to connect big events such as wars, revolutions, scientific discoveries and historical breakthroughs to certain leaders or public figures. Such good simplified stories makes sense to our little monkey brains, cause we can never get even close to comprehend the complexity or the nature of such phenomena. Our civilization is much more collective than it is portrayed in the narratives of history books or newspapers.
When an unpredictable social or political event of a large magnitude – and usually a negative one – takes place, sometimes even if it had a natural cause such as an earthquake, our tribal brains still tend to point the finger at other humans; If we didn’t see a war, epidemic or a revolution to come, somewhere out there has to be someone who knew about it.
But things don’t have to be explained that way. Political events are the collective behavior of our actions, but since we can’t comprehend the details, we tend to believe that there should be minds, and indeed minds of our own type, behind them all. There should be an intelligent designer with some form of team work behavior behind them, like a scrum master!
The conclusion is that secret organized societies with God-like predictive power and flawless control do not have to be the explanation for the political or societal evil that we face. Illuminati doesn’t exist in that naive sense.
Except that it actually does! And I tell you, it is in fact me, it’s you, and is all of us combined. Illuminati is our emergent property.
What made us different from other animals?
We are the building blocks of a complex partly hierarchical society and we have achieved the current state of our civilization due to two sets of factors that separated us from other animals: Individual and collective. Collectively the advent of language and the power of communications which helped us with preserving our knowledge and building up a system of advanced tools by simpler tools. And individually due to the power of our thinking organ; the human brain. None of these two had to be extraordinarily different from other animals, but combined they passed a critical treshhold that redefined our nature and turned us to something entirely different, in such a short time.
In the past fifty thousand years we have transformed our lives from an animal in a tribe to interconnected socioeconomic beings embedded in an advanced technological society. Respectively the size of a human network has grown from hundreds to the size of the global economy with some 6 degrees of magnitude scale up. Meanwhile, our brains has not changed much and we have arguably even become slightly dumber. Our brains, including the brains of our powerful decision makers, celebrities and politicians with a broad range of influence, is still tribal. This organ grew from 0.5 to 1.5 kg from three million years ago to some fifty thousand years ago, so two third of that brain, one kilogram is tribal stuff! Our bodies and brains have not changed much since then, but our collective environment has, drastically. We tend to think that we do things for truth and reason, though we only do what we do for one reason: survival.
The red button
Back in the tribal times the “red button” did not exist. Symbolically put, if Adam and Eve would push a button, at most a fruit would fall off a tree. Now there are buttons around us that if we push we could somewhat blow up things out of your sight; lives can be affected by a minor task of us. Now we can simply make changes by pushing a like button, ordering an item from a restaurant menu, buying a share from stock market, or deploying a code.
We do it all for the sake of our survival, indeed with our kindness and affection towards our local tribe. The people for which we naturally have capacity to care, are only a couple of hundred people who are around us, socially or geographically. We can never affectively reach out to seven billion people out there, and not in fact to zillions of animals and beings. Nature has simply not given us the empathic tools to do so. Despite that, in order to increase the power of our influence, we have redefined our environment and hacked the natural resources around us. Just like any other animal we do it for our survival with disregard to other beings. The difference is though we do it beyond our natural habit, systematically and technologically.
This already started from the first man who made a tool; the manifestation of grabbing and touching an object, using it, and leaving it NOT unchanged. Animals don’t do that. They either eat or kill the thing and destroy it permanently, or they let it be. We grabbed things around us with our hands and left them changed, still in our service. We made the first tools and then tools made more tools and that escalated. And well with an ultimate disregard to the nature and things that we touched, or things that we touched touched, we set up this advanced system. And now the complexity has reached a level that the mentioned disregard may come back to ourselves.
We tend to put our animalistic tribal behavior in a divine and holistic light. We are proud that we have made judiciary systems and rules, democracies and beurrocracies, technologies and computational systems to be soft and civilized and avoid the downsides of our wild tribal behavior. But are we still not let by apes like ourselves? Is the wild animalistic behavior limited to third world dictatorships and underdeveloped tyrannies, or to the ancient kings and emperors?
Now check this out. Apes and ravens are extremely social animals. As a group they sometimes team up to attack an isolated victim who did not play with the rules or to project a group failure onto that individual. When you see that for example 160 republicans (about the natural size of a human tribe) in a group act stop supporting Donald Trump, do you expect some of them to be brave enough and admit that this was not a calculated act independent from the truth of Donald Trump, and that was simply a tribal act of mimicking a group to conform? When you see such an animalistic behavior in such high levels or power hierarchy, do you really need to believe in conspiracy theories to explain evil? Let us not our problems on to the political parties or even broadly politicians. These are normal people like me and you. This is not about political parties or the individuals. It is about all of us and how rapidly and blindly we scaled up. This is what Hannah Arendt argues introducing the term “The Banality of Evil”.
Scaling up the human power to influence, without scaling its control mechanism (empathy) accordingly has been going on in waves since the prehistoric times and in each round the wave collapsed and taught us a new lesson on how to scale. Ever since we united in bigger groups than a tribe, an external force was required, after a collapse, to teach us how to scale in numbers while being in peace with each other. Depending on the size of the human populations we learned that we need to synchronize with music or stone idols, we need to invent language or religion, and that we need to set rules, judiciary systems and bureaucracies. The problem with our age is that we have never experienced the connectivity to this level, ever before. This is historically is not a good sign cause we don’t know what kind of collapse we will get after this and sadly it does not seem that predicting a collapse is enough to take measures to stop it. We need to see it with our eyes to reverse some of the aggressive and self-destructive aspects of our scaling.
Getting connected from a tribal to a global level, from a couple of hundreds to a few billions, is in fact a scale-up of a 7 to 8 orders of magnitude. Yet our amygdala has remained the same size as a hundred thousand years ago. What do we expect from such dynamics except for a catastrophic apocalypse? How can we theoretically see any other sustainable horizon in the near future when the scale-up is still going on and no one is trying to adjust it or advance it a bit more mindfully?
You see, you don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or a fatalist to warn others that The Doomsday’s Clock might be ticking. You don’t need to spot and blame some conscious master minds or group for every disaster that comes along our way. The evil is not always one of us. It is bigger than us. It is our emergent property.
To put it intuitively, this video sums up the politics of our era. One doesn’t need to know more than this about politics: Scaling up the human power to influence, without scaling its control mechanism, empathy, accordingly.
We are not completely helpless though. There are solutions ahead of us. We can in fact take advantage of our destructive connectivity and design a data-driven system for functional empathy to avoid its collapse. This is not what we are doing. Nothing but a “technological self-consciousness” (interpret it in anyway you wish) can possibly save us from an exponential over-exhaustion of our limited resources and an apocalyptic breakdown.
Should we do something about that, or should we let the system collapse and wait for a new order to rise from its ashes? What’s right to do?
The biggest living structure on earth and the only one visible from outer space, who had managed to live for 25 million years died a quick death, in few months.
“The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away after a long illness.”
This structure was hosting billions of organisms of all sizes, and even species of whales were observed in it. Now they are homeless and will probably die.
We don’t know how it is seen by the poor creatures deep down in the ocean but it must have been disaster and panic since March. Them panicing and scaping a great underwater “fire” set to their “woods”. Sounds like anything but The Little Mermaid song.