Monday, January 10, 2011

The Next Deconversion

It seems that many blogs and vlogs have some sort of charter, that their owners have some idea of their own reasons for speaking out in the Internet forum. I've never had a clear idea of what I'm doing here; mostly I'm just putting stuff out there to see what happens, and so far everything seems to have a fascinating life of its own. Still, there are some obvious themes. Perhaps the most important one is conversation. At first I was coming from an entirely selfish position: put my ideas out there, get people to respond, and enrich myself with other opinions, other ways of thinking. This self-centered approach has changed over the months. I'm beginning to see that we need a conversation that can enrich us all. We all need to get together and have a conversation about our future. We need to decide what we're going to be: some lucky components of the universe that briefly participated in the wonders of biochemistry and even intelligence, or the brains of the universe itself, through which the universe could discover, perhaps for the first time ever, what it is.

We need to have a conversation about morality. We need to stop appealing to absolutes such as right, wrong, sin, and to other no-longer-useful concepts such as guilt, shame, punishment. These concepts served us well enough when we were just another species of medium-sized mammal, but we graduated from that role eons ago, and we're long overdue for a massive reworking of our attitudes about how we treat each other.

It is time to move away from our compulsory, punitive, shame- and guilt-based morality and begin making conscious choices about how to behave, based on the awareness that as far as we know, we are something unprecedented, and even if not, it seems safe to say that we're something extremely rare. We need to accept our role as the intelligence of the universe itself, and decide what we're going to do with that role. If it never has been before, the universe is now a living, thinking, self-aware being. What will it do with itself now? Or to be more accurate, what will we do with ourselves now? Or more accurate still, what will I do with myself now, where "I" and "myself" refer to all of reality, including you, including the bag of chips you just devoured, including the exasperated roommate who has vowed to get two bags next time, including the individual saying these words. It could be something really cool. Think about it: we have learned so much, and gained so much skill in controlling our environment in just a few hundred years. What could we do in a few hundred more, a few thousand, if we can just survive our adolescence, if we can just make it through this century without blowing ourselves up or converting the earth into a sterile furnace.

Just think: the sun is due to die in five billion years. We could change that if we wanted to. In a thousand years, or maybe far less time, we could have the technology to replenish the sun's hydrogen supply and remove excess helium in order to keep the sun stable for as long as we wish. We could turn the earth itself into a museum of life, while some of us continue to live here and others go exploring. What if we could learn to control space-time itself? What if we could figure out how to get around the light-speed limit? Cosmologists talk about the universe itself eventually dying, via entropy. What if we could prevent that?

We could be amazing. It's time for us to grow up as a civilization and start looking for new ways of thinking, ways that will bring peace and equality. Of course, people have been saying this for a long time, but now we have a tool that enables us to do something about it: science. Science can tell us how best to cause human physical health to flourish, how best to cause human emotional and psychic health to flourish, and, I think, even if it's impossibly naive, how best to govern ourselves. It's time for us to start using this tool to save ourselves, to stop relying on common sense in areas where it is all but guaranteed to lead us astray: morality, society, education, law, government, economics; there is no aspect of our civilization that we could not improve dramatically if we were simply to take the knowledge we already have and begin applying it. We wouldn't even have to wait around for research; the research is already done in so many areas. All we need to do is start listening to ourselves.

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