In my business, I have the incredible pleasure of meeting new people from all over the world, every single day. Daniel Harrison is one of those many people that I have been able to talk to. He is a fellow author (he penned Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact and Fiction in Today's World), and is also the editor of Marx Rand (MarxRand.com), a daily interest and current affairs publication available online. He is an award-winning journalist and an inspirational entrepreneur. Daniel is a deeply observational person. His article today, entitled I Feel Therefore I Am Not, gives you a bit of insight into his point of view.
His book takes a look at the evolution of technology in modern society, and its impact on the world. It's part fact, part fiction, with many chilling and interesting concepts that I believe readers will find fascinating.
I Feel Therefore I Am Not
Contributed by: Daniel M. Harrison
Perhaps because I am a writer, one of the subjects I spend a disproportionate time thinking about is thinking. The concept of thinking, the process of thinking, and the art of thinking in more efficient, right-minded, clearer ways overall is a topic which has always fascinated me the way stuff such as wrestling or football or cars typically attracts many other guys’ attention (none of those is remotely of interest to me at all, incidentally).
So in the Preface to Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact & Fiction In Today’s World, it was only natural to me that I should have begun with a commentary about Renee Descartes’ notion of “I think therefore I am”. Strangely enough for someone who spends such a large amount of time thinking about these things, for many years, not until recently in fact, did I really know what to make of Descartes’ central philosophy. It wasn’t that I was confounded by it, just that there was something that seemed perhaps over-simplistic in the idea, which was, at the same time, flawlessly logical.
Then, as I was in the process of finishing Butterflies, I realized something: pretty much everything Descartes had to say applies to a world we are in almost – if not entirely – in every way about to leave behind. The enormity of this cannot be overstated, nor the potential implications such a departure carries with it. Essentially, we are transiting from a world where thinking was the dominant article to one where the idea comes first. This has been a process that has been in germination now for at least a hundred years: it is why the premium on talent has risen so sharply; it is also why intellectual property has become in many cases more valuable than tangible assets. Simply, the idea is worth more than the thinking that dreams it up.
This was contrary to what Descartes thought, who maintained that the idea was just a “mode” – a kind of function that happened as a result of one’s capacity to think. He was blunt about this, too: in one letter he wrote to Guillaume Gibieuf, a fellow thinker, Descartes maintained that “I am certain that I can have no knowledge of what is outside me except by means of the ideas I have within me.” As I point out in the Preface of Butterflies, uttering such words today within any organization whereby creativity is part of the value-generating process would likely get you fired.
There is good reason for this shift, and it has to do with the level of artificial intelligence that humankind has reached the threshold of developing. In Descartes’ time, society was regularly famished by random hunger strikes; bridges randomly collapsed due to improper engineering; plagues ravished entire cities (half of London, to be precise; in fact, the Black Death as it was known, was only wiped out by the Great Fire of London, which burnt another half still of the city’s population to death).
In such a society, machines, technology and industrial processes performed seemingly miraculous tasks. To be a god of some sort was the same as to be able to process like a machine (or as it happened in the end, with the help of one). Thus “I think therefore I am a bio-technological intelligence” was the true path towards intellectual enlightenment.
Today, the reverse is true. What is it that separates us, we wonder increasingly, from the machines that compute at many speeds faster than out brains? It is quite likely that these machines will take the place of that which many human beings perform today less than a decade from now: they will be able to turn on the lights and wake us up, perform automatic health checks when we go to brush our teeth that will be cheaper than a visit to the doctor and even tell us what we need to wear that morning to impress the prospective client we are meeting.
In such a world, the emphasis is not on performing a task functionally, or skillfully as a process, but rather, on the intuitive and emotional interpretation that we as spiritual, meta-cognitive beings, have the superior ability to do. For it is quite simply, logically impossible for us to make machines “feel” the way this term is here being applied – for if we were able to do that, we would understand inherently our own mechanism of creation, which would cease to make us humans any more and would rather make us some sort of human deity (this after all, is exactly what self-mastery and enlightenment is all about).
Thus, I feel therefore I am not describes much better the next evolutionary stage of “being” to which we are headed.
So what is the Millennial mind then? What is the purpose of it and where will it lead us? Such questions are the foundational cornerstone of our future, but in fact, none of them are really that much about the Millennial as an individual insomuch as they are about the effect that those living and working within the era of the Millennial generation’s increasing influence on society.
For the world right now is going one of two ways: either the acceleration of innovation and productivity that characterized the previous century are about to come to a grinding halt, giving the appearance of growth where there is very little and thus weighing down a newly unified society in something of a paradigm hypocracy, or everything is going to move at such an accelerated rate of progress that maybe only 20 percent or so of the moral values, scientific facts and artistic trends that are the standard-bearers of life as we know it today will survive the next century of human evolution.
The Millennial mind is an expanding mind, and this will naturally incline the world towards the second scenario, but even expansion can’t get there on its own: for that to happen, the conditions have to be just right to warrant expansion. Otherwise, our state is a contracting one or simply an oscillating one.
Millennial attitudes towards things might seem wildly different at times, but unless these ideas are accepted and integrated into the legal, political educational and economic fabric of our society rapidly, the very worst type of world is one that likely lies in the future. This world is best described as one where the majority of people are completely cut off from access to knowledge but believe themselves to possess it in abundance.
The risk of the transition we are undergoing now as a species resulting in the latter type of social order is much higher than we assume.
Some examples are the abuse of knowledge almost everywhere you look today, from advertising and PR campaigns to the ways in which we cynically manipulate the weak to bend them towards ideals and goals that are politically motivated to our own ends. It exists when we sentence someone to a punishing jail sentence for a crime that they were not fully cognizant of committing. It exists in our desire and propensity for winning – which is to say, for revenge and conquest (for winning is merely a reaction to some alternative experience).
There is a unique opportunity in the education of our young to reverse the possibility of negative attachment to knowledge. This opportunity lies in the fact that in the present day we live within a networked society – as opposed to one bound up from city to city linearly like a train track – while the present-day networks that we occupy are unusually open.
They will not always be this way, certainly: historically open gaps close and just as surely the network will become harder to gain access to and the intelligence required to do so manifold complex.
The solution to all this is quite simply both as easy and as impossible as it portends to be: it is to impress upon those with minds that are learning still the power of one’s soul, or spirit, or metaphysical nature before impressing on them the power of their brains.
As Summer Lane’s narratives do a fine job of illustrating and implicitly pushing us to acknowledge, no culture can transition from one of limited intelligence to one of superior intelligence without a conscience.
The adults of tomorrow, much like the author’s hero Cassidy Hart, will be many times superior to how we were at her same age, but similarly, they will require real values weighted in hard experience when it comes making decisions of enormous import for all of us.
What if, reading this, you are one of the protagonists – a Cassidy Hart or Chris Young of our lifetime, still with your entire future ahead of you, graduating high school now (or near enough ago that many of your friends from school are still the same ones now)?
Then take it from someone who’s about twice your lifetime in age (which is to say, someone just young enough to still get it, and just old enough to have lived enough of it to know):
First of all, do yourself the best favor of all, and make sure you understand what it really is to feel about something or someone before you allow yourself the luxury of contemplating abstractly.
Then, equally as importantly, experience the pain of how it is to care for someone and lose them before you turn your attention to figuring out whatever is the cure.
Sometimes, this may feel like letting someone go without putting up a fight or like you are giving up an opportunity to succeed. But the person who does not want you is not yours to belong with, just as the opportunity you are not born for will only come to sentence your career to certain death later.
Ultimately, you must consider everything before you set out to create anything – this is true whether it be a relationship, a career or a work of art or science. Every creation, remember, has an unknown impact of some sort that you must feel the consequences of before bringing it into being.
This is the hardest path of all to take, and the one that will seem at many times pointless and irrational.
But ultimately, if you follow this path, yours will become the first generation to remove the mindless reality of the ideology we live are confined to now – the one founded on the absurd notion that justice can be subjectively interpreted and that one person has a higher market value than the next because an algorithm says so.
With right-mindedness enabling fabulous – miraculous even – innovations to aid you in performing the heavy processing, you can escape this zero sum outcome of win or lose, and live in a world where death is not a blind abyss but a comfortable, well-lived cooperation.
That’s a world that you can really call your own, and it’s one far from that of today, which will then seem like nothing more than the dying years of a late-druidic dystopia that lies somewhere far, far away in a soon-forgotten past.
Daniel Mark Harrison is the Editor of Marx Rand, a daily general interest, current affairs and innovation-focused publication for the Millennial and Plural intelligensia. He is also the author of the Amazon Number 1 bestselling book Butterflies: The Strange Metamorphosis of Fact & Fiction In Today’s World (not advised for children under the age of 14; contains challenging and controversial content).