Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Perception of change, reality or illusion?   posted by Razib @ 1/31/2006 09:06:00 AM

Over at my other weblog I have posted an item titled Blogs of the Union in response to a call from Radio Open Source (listen live to see if Brendan notes my BOTU). The gist of it is that I believe we are the last generation of the old human, and might be the first generation of the new. JM Keynes said of Newton "He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago."1 I believe somethings similar applies to humanity as a whole in our age. Roughly, my contention is that in the information saturated universe, where obesity is starting to be seen a worldwide problem, mass culture is finally decoupling itself from the sensibilities that have grounded us in a common human experience for the last 50,000 years. True, a minority of humanity has always lived apart, whether it be in monasteries, or in unimaginable luxury, or the case of the likes of Newton, minds whose virtuosity bears no comprehension. But the mass consumer society is taking novel change to the people and consuming them. Roughly, I believe that the rate of the rate of change is increasing (i.e., derivative of change, change', is > 0).

Of course, this could all be an illusion, a conceit held by every generation. Let me offer two rejoinders, one somewhat esoteric, the other mundane. First, we are not a particularly unique sample of humans who are that privileged at being born when we are,2 a large fraction of the individuals who have ever lived are alive today, 1 out of 20 to be precise.3 Second, walking on a college campus is a surreal experience, gone are the days when a stroll between buildings entailed a possible encounter with a stranger, eye contact with humans of unknown provenance. Rather, it is a time when you withdraw into a familiar cocoon and pull out the cell phone to talk to those who are near and dear. This wasn't so 10 years ago. It wasn't so 100 years ago. Or perhaps nearly 1,000 years ago at the University of Paris.

So do I live in a dream world? Do I simply not know what I think I know? Do you share RPM's unbelief? As I tell Michael Vassar, I don't go to church often, I don't know the scripture and the portents, but I do believe....

Tigers of the future, Why the inflection.

1 - Keynes' assertion was made after his purchase of Newton's papers, he knew of what he spoke, for he had seen into the dark mind of the mad genius.

2 - Certainly those of use born into the first world are the lucky subset, but, I would argue that an age where famine is an aberration means even those who live in Bangladesh (for example) are graced.

3 - Due to the world wide drop in fertility we are also near the mode of the probability distribution of the likelihood of a human to be alive at in any given age. I believe that 100 years from there humans as we know it probably won't exist, or that that those who remain will be less numerous than those at the mid-21st century peak (for whatever reason, ill or good).