"Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are bound to repeat it." -- Some Dude
People are fascinated by the impossible. The speed of light cannot be exceeded. Minds cannot be read. Time cannot be reversed. God cannot be described. Yet we put ourselves in the position of reading the patterns of the world and knowing, despite the fact that we cannot and do not. We are tool-making apes imagining tools that cannot be made. We are pattern matching chimps predicting the weather and the climate. We are blind logicians describing colors with words. Such things inspire us to be more than we are, and as we bash our heads against the walls of probability, we congratulate ourselves on our imagination despite the fact that we don't know what we're talking about. When we talk about them as if they were in the realm of possibility we call it science fiction. Such things make human sense, but not absolute sense. They are the mental equivalent of optical illusions.
My fascination with these illusions issues from my idea about information thermodynamics. It takes a great deal of energy to sustain a belief in a mass of people. But let me introduce another idea into this, which is that in human populations, there are states of equilibrium that are reflective of our evolution and of our society/culture. Rather like the orbits of electrons, there are higher and lower energy states and ionic transfers of knowledge, some of which allow us to function in the normal manner of human society, and some that in our altered state allow us to function at a 'higher' level.
Hold that thought.
The other evening, as my sleep cycle became disturbed, I found myself listening to someone talk about interstellar travel for the Long Now Foundation. It snapped into focus that any sufficiently long voyage of a space ship crew requiring instructions to be passed from generation to generation would create a very different type of human being. Imagine being born, living and dying in a space ship with 100 crew members. Two generations into the voyage, if it was successful, you would only have an historical representation of society's meaning of the voyage. You could not assert by way of experience that the crew's meaning would be the same as society's meaning. The crew would become society, and their mission would become survival - I'm sure there is lifeboat literature aplenty on this. But what if there were 1000 members in the crew and the destination were 200 years away? What would remain human? Only those things that could not have biologically evolved. Which is to say 99.99999% of the genetic humanity would be identical. The crew would not have generated an ability to.. read minds, reverse time, see radio waves, breathe chlorine.. I say they would become tribal, and I say that tribal society would function the same way it does in any small tribe on Earth. And even if they could all do physics in their heads, there would be a 'dumb' one. And even if they were athletes, there would be a 'slow' one.
The original mission to another solar system would generate the higher energy state of the nations capable of collaborating, designing, building, staffing and funding a colony starship - a huge endeavor. Institutionally, all of the values of those must be maintained for the project to get the starship off the ground. But subsequent to generation one, the institution is the starship itself. The energy level of its normality is at equilibrium. But that can be excited by different energies that were suppressed or redirected in the creation of the endeavor. It will inevitably go off track.
So what I'm saying are two things. First that if you could harness a global effort of all humanity to populate some distant star, what would arrive there would only be humanity in a genetic way. That its society would deviate from its origins even though the coherence of its institution (the ship) has a life or death discipline. Humanity's purpose for the ship will, outside of the reach of humanity, be ignored for the necessities of the ship itself will take over at the hands of the people in the ship, period.
Secondly and most importantly I am saying that there are absolute limits on human experience, but like sex, and food and breathing, they remain vital and interesting to humans. We have infinite hunger for our own selves and our own experiences. Outside of our own experiences, our interest tails off, but we still like the smell and sound and feel of our own babies.
In my own Peasant Theory, I assert that the failure of democratic and other institutions will reduce us to feudal arrangements. I would call a feudal arrangement, a lower energy state. It has a structure that is closer to our evolutionary understanding. If we were to devolve even further - if our feudal order collapsed, then we would be reduced to the even lower social energy arrangement of tribalism. I note without much comment in passing that theses equilibria are suitable for smaller populations. If you have only 20 people, a tribe makes sense. If you have 2000, you should probably try a fuedal arrangement. For organizing the activities of 20 million, a kingdom probably won't work.
I mention this because I have issues with certain Leftist theories about the 'new man' and what sort of institutions (presumeably 'internationalist') should rise humanity to the next energy state of organization above that of nations. And I think that in each of these evolutions, the level of command and control is reduced as the energy level is increased and the number of persons organized increases. The 'energy level' remember, is about information thermodynamics. In the largest organizations, the energy required just to keep track of what the instintution itself is doing becomes a larger and larger fraction.
I believe that at some point, a human centered institution or collection of institutions reaches their maximum effectiveness. Like the neck length of a dinosaur or giraffe - if there's going to be blood pumped up there with a heart, there is going to be a limit of how tall. If the brain is going to signal reflex actions in the tail, there's going to be a limit of how long. If an instituion is going to be responsive to individuals, there is going to be a limit of how big, how impersonal, how abstracted it can be and still command loyalty. And our starship example explores the dimension of longevity and independence.
So there may be an arrow of time, but there is not an arrow of human progress that can be mediated by institutions of command and control, of education and meritocracy. But what humans have to learn and generationally will forget, is all of human business, and all of human history. It will repeat. It should repeat. Because to sustain a large and permanent institution degrades the efficiency of humanity itself, which can demonstrably work in smaller, lower energy groups. And they may end up doing so, owing to the failure of larger more expensive institutional arrangements.
I will say finally that people need to hack. They need to discover the truth of things on their own. People should be impatient in this regard. We cannot wait until we are all certified McDonald's chefs before we are allowed to cook our own hamburgers. We cannot make all of our city mayors attend Harvard Businsess School. We cannot wait until we can predict our lover's every mood before we commit to marriage. Perfect is the enemy of good. Dreaming of the impossible does not actually help us achieve the possible.