Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Built-In Obsolesce

Here’s another of those thoughts that has nothing to do with software but that I think is interesting enough that I want to post it.

I am a huge fan of science fiction, and I just got done reading a brilliant book by one of my favourite authors, China Miéville, called “Embassytown”. Miéville does not disappoint with his latest work; mashing up New Weird and Space Opera to create a most thoroughly enjoyable yarn. I highly recommend it!

This story got me thinking about the cultural evolution of sentient species. The one concrete example I have leads me to believe that the same sentiency that allows these species to dominate their worlds, also all but guarantees that they will all eventually self-destruct in the rare case that they are not made extinct by some environmental catastrophe. Though their demise will probably be brought about by technology-accelerated runaway consumption (as my subject species is demonstrating), I suspect that there is a more subtle reason why their demise is inevitable: the species-wide nihilism that I assert is inevitable as the species unravels the mysteries of its own existence and the Universe.

As the human species begins (and I do assert that we are only in the paddling pool of self-discovery) to unravel the nature of their own existence and the Universe of which they are a infinitesimal part, one by one the things that they imagine are vitally important will become meaningless. For example, how can the significance of any individual’s hopes, dreams, aspirations, desires and beliefs, stand firm in the face of an understanding of the biological evolutionary process. I would assert that they cannot.

George Bernard Shaw wrote the following about Darwinism in the preface to Back to Methuselah:

“But when its whole significance dawns on you, your heart sinks into a heap of sand within you. There is a hideous fatalism about it, a ghastly and damnable reduction of beauty and intelligence, of strength and purpose, of honor and aspiration, to such casually picturesque changes as an avalanche may make in a mountain landscape, or a railway accident in a human figure.”

Note: Shaw wrote this as a criticism of Natural Selection; he was a Lamarckist.

Though there are still many who do not even believe in Evolution, let alone understand it well enough to come to this miserable and inevitable conclusion, it is an unstoppable meme; inevitably all of humanity will come to understand it, assuming we don’t self-immolate first of course. And when the entire species succumbs to this meme it will simply expire from collective nihilism. Perhaps this is why there has been, and continues to be such resistance to this so-obviously correct idea; on some level our genes “know” that this level of species-wide self-awareness is fatally dangerous. And Evolution is not the only dangerous idea that undermines the human condition.

I am a self-confessed Nihilist and Atheist so maybe I am just projecting, or this might just be my attempt to understand the Conservative and “Anti-science” worldview.

It should be kept in mind that I had a smile on my face the entire time I was writing this. I don’t take myself too seriously and neither should you.

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