[I wrote this essay one evening in 1998. There were no blogs then. So, I am publishing it in January 2014. I cannot resist making a few comments; so they will appear in square brackets, like this. The essay explores the way we reduce the wonderful to something boring and normal. It then anticipates the amazing future. It recognizes the power of envisioning. Why this synopsis at the beginning? As I write, it is believed that search engines pay more attention to first paragraphs than conclusions at the end of a post.]
For most of my youth I was presented with such incredible novelty every day that I thought that novelty was normal.
Schooling seems to teach from the point of view that everything is normal. The fact that we can know things must mean that the world/universe is basically normal
So, if you show a little child something astounding–unless it is something novel in his/her day-to-day life–they kid will see it as just another incomprehensible thing in an incomprehensible world.
Then, after a few years of schooling the universe is reduced to math, science, economics, poetry, or some other field of boring study.
Faraday had to write his Chemical History of a Candle to remind us that if you look closely at anything, you see the whole universe… and it is amazing.
People love to say, “there is nothing new under the sun.” “What goes around, comes around”… and other notions that suggest that everything is basically normal.
Our science is built on a foundation of laws. I hear people state that “Even nature must obey these laws.” [I think that is an arrogant way of describing the reliability of the Universe.]
My first concern about this arose when I realized that the so-called laws were valid only as far as they go. I can make a good case for calling them pretty good generalizations, instead of laws. [That is another essay.]
Somewhere along the line, I learned that the world and the Universe are evolving and changing. The sense of a basic normalcy comes from the brevity of an individual’s life compared to this incarnation of the Universe—the time after The Big Bang. In the 4.5 billion year age of the Earth, my whole experience of awareness is as fleeting as the illumination of a strobe flash.
From our understanding of the physics of time, the arrow-of-time points only forward.
In the past–nearer to the time of the Big Bang–the Universe was very different from today. Looking into the distant future, it will be very different from our experience. Once the Earth was a barren rock. Today you might almost describe the Earth itself as alive.
What changes have happened to life on Earth? The fossil record provides clues to a process of evolution. There is also the story of drifting and colliding continents, of ice ages, of magnetic reversal, of the Sun’s Maunder Minimum. Surely, there have been a host of events and influences about which we will never know.
So, what is normal? Change is normal. Okay, that is not a new observation. We expect change in our lives, but what about change in the story-of-everything?
As people attempt to understand the world around us, there is a basic assumption that we are trying to understand something that is constant. In fact, we are all part of an evolving story.
The term, evolving story, suggests that many changes may be so gradual as to be imperceptible.
When we ask, “what is going on here?” Maybe we should be looking to see what part of the story is happening now.
In the past couple of generations, life-on-Earth has changed, perhaps as dramatically as in the aftermath of the great asteroid that hit the Earth 65 million years ago.
Our political leaders, and the whole systems that support them, are completely inept when it comes to managing the human planetary condition.
As an environmentalist, I am aware that the current philosophies of economics require measurement of many of the wrong things. “If you cannot measure it, it does not exist.”
Our intellectual community and our scientists can see some of the changes, but no one seems to have a valid and compelling vision of where we are going as a species… or how the Earth will behave as it gradually awakens.
Soon we will have 6 billion people living on this planet. Then more! Amazingly, I think that the Earth will be able to support them. [As I write in 2014, one estimate of the current population is 7,207,967,035 — the last digits changing as I watch.]
Soon the planets and the asteroids of the solar system will be part of our dominion. It is only a matter of time–and I suspect a short time–before a star travel is an option.
Global communication is rapidly changing the way we use information and the way we communicate. I suspect that it will change our perception of borders and the way we, as a species, think and behave.
The asteroid has hit.
The genie is out of the bottle.
Why does everyone think that everything is normal?
It is becoming clear to me that vast changes in the nature of being a human will occur during the next couple of generations. Maybe faster.
How the changes manifest themselves will be the consequence of two factors. The first is the list of developments, such as those described above. The second–and I think probably more profoundly–will be the vision as it is articulated by someone or some group.
When that person (or group, or organization) says the words that billions of people recognize as being true, the words will resonate and effortlessly make it happen. [The discussion of the power of a good idea and the means to communicate it is another essay.]
It does not seem to be human nature for everyone to agree on anything. Therefore, probably there will be several, incompatible, visions competing for supremacy.
This is a story. With the best stories, you can expect the unexpected. I am looking forward to being surprised [I hope not horrified] by developments.
1998 October 7, 11:42 PM