Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Fundamental Question

"Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

It's the question which has driven mankind since the first hominids stood up for the first time. It drove us to chip stones into tools, to harness fire, tame animals, work in groups, and learn to speak. It shaped our thoughts, and evolution, made us curious about the world, and seek answers.

And the answer we found was "No. We can do better."

It drove us to find grains, cultivate them, build farms, form communities, governments, and trade. It produced writing, and record keeping and stories, and laws. The People asked "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And Hammurabi said "No. We can do better.

It drove us to build cities, and roads, pyramids and temples. To create The Hanging Gardens and the Colossus. The Great Lighthouse and the Great Library. It drove us to create Kings, and Pharaohs and Prophets. It drove Alexander to build Empires until he wept that there were no more worlds to conquer. He stood on a hill and asked "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And in Athens, Socrates said, "No. We can do better."

Seeking an answer we created science, and philosophy and art. Built civilization and ships, trade empires, and great centers of learning. We built Athens, and Alexandria, and Rome. Roads and Aqueducts, until the day the Caesars cried out "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And a wandering Rabbi in Judea answered "No. We can do better" as he was crucified.

Rome fell, divided and shattered, and a wall of darkness descended in the west. Alexandria burned, and the Huns slaughtered all. Man rose against man until it seemed that only darkness would survive. The Glory of Rome had ended, and only the barbaric rule of might makes right held sway. And from the weak and forgotten could be heard the call "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And in England, a king named Arthur drew his sword for the first time, and answered, "No. We can do better."

Camelot fell but was never forgotten, inspiring works of art and stories of heroism. Wars were fought, and castles built and churches sprouted across the land. The old knowledge survived, kept in books and scrolls, and manuscripts. Religion fought religion as the Catholics and Muslims warred with one another. Knight's fell, and cities burned and from the ashes came the question, "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And a man named Gutenberg turned the crank on his printing press and answered, "No. We can do better."

From fire and flame, and a Reformation, came a Renaissance. A flowering of art and culture, science and technology. A new dawn of civilization and knowledge. The Black Death was survived, and new books were written.  DaVinci created and Michelangelo sculpted, and Galileo observed while Copernicus shoved us out of the center of the universe. We realized how little we knew about the world, and in Spain, Columbus looked out across the ocean and asked "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And history shook its head and whispered "No. We can do better."

Though war and death and the end of civilizations stained the way, a New World was born. Born in shame and misery, exploitation and bloodshed, and filled with malcontents of every race and nation, it began as a tribute to the worst that mankind can be. But in a room in Philadelphia, a group of men came together and asked "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And with a Declaration that was heard around the world, they answered, "No. We Can Do Better!"

A war was fought, and a Nation forged. Elsewhere a blade dropped and heads rolled as others strove for their own freedom. Electricity was discovered, and a new Territory purchased, but sadly the natives were displaced, and the blacks still enslaved. America grew and prospered. One nation against the world until the injustices could no longer be tolerated, and Brother fought against Brother over simple human dignity. The cannons roared, and the bullets flew as the dead screamed "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And a man in a stovepipe hat stood on a field at Gettysburg and answered, "No. We can do better."

A Nation united in a world in turmoil. Russia fell and Germany invaded, and the Kaiser lost his throne. Communists tried to make a utopia only to be betrayed by tyrants. A Great Depression fell across the world. In America people ate their shoes, and in fallen Germany an egg cost a month's wages. A failed artist rose to power, and jackboots crashed across Europe, and the world cried out "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And Churchill and Roosevelt reached across an ocean to shake hands as they answered "No. We can do better."

A War was won, and a cold one begun. Stalin murdered millions as McCarthy chased shadows. We all lived in fear of the Bomb. A madness of MAD, and wars everywhere, until a small island sparked a Crisis which made the world hold its breath as it wondered "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And a President turned our eyes to the moon and away from the brink as he pointed the way. "No." he said. "We can do better."

Moon landings, Space shuttles, computers galore. Technological innovations by the score. Cellphones and iPhones and Artificial arms. A world changing so fast that it's hard to keep up. Stem Cells, and Cloning, and DNA computers. Every day with new wonders and new creations. A world awhirl with possibility.

And still that question remains. "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

We seek it in philosophy, we seek it in religion, we seek it in mysticism, but in the end, only science can answer. We are a curious race. We strive for perfection knowing perfection is unattainable. We will never succeed in that quest.

But that's okay. It's the journey that matters.

We are called transhumans, and no two of us are alike. Some of us foresee AI Singularities, or Artilects, and an age of Computronium. Others see a world of infinite virtual universes. Still others see a world in which humans have become their machines. In the end, only the future can say what we will be, but we are all united with one common quest.

We have asked "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?"

And we have answered, NO.

We can do better.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Valkyrie, this is a great article.

    (Bio)luddites talk a lot of "human nature" and "human dignity", never defining them, and they criticize transhumanism for being against "human nature" and "human dignity".

    But to me, the essence of human nature and human dignity is our never ending quest for something more and something better. "No. We can do better" is our transhumanist answer to the question "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?" We are those who stand for the true human nature and dignity.

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  2. TY Giulio. I had originally submitted that to H+ but sadly only a few days later R.U. put the magazine on hiatus.

    I can still remember the day I found that answer for myself. I had recently enrolled in an electronics repair class, and my teachers "pep talk" was "Everything I am going to teach you is useless. No-one does board level repairs anymore, and computers can diagnose hardware far better than any of you will ever be able too." But I liked the class, and became very interested in the science behind electronics... which led to my local library and a book I originally thought was on miniaturization, a book titled "Nano"

    I figured I would read a few chapters before bed the night I got it. I never did get any sleep that night, but I did wake up.

    The first thing I wrote after reading was this question: "Have you ever woken up and realized you have woken up in a completely different world than you went to sleep in?"

    I was asleep in a world of grey, of hopelessness and unending monotony. I read sci-fi and fantasy books as a way to escape this drab existence, but the dreams I had as a child seemed dead and buried.

    That book changed everything. I felt like a glass planet hit by a meteor. I could hear the tinkling of the falling glass go on and on as I sat there for hours with my mind racing.

    I had been asking "Is this all there is? Is there nothing more?" for twenty five years.

    And in that moment of shattering glass I finally had the answer.

    In the years since, I have watched as that world I saw in the future has been assembled piece by inevitable piece. I've shaken my head at far too many futurists who have failed to see the forest because they were only looking at trees, and seen far to many people like Mike Treder head off in weird tangents because they refuse to take their eyes off the sky and look at the ground at their feet.

    And the biggest mistake I have seen people make time and again is to think that technological advancement is a linear process. Mike's "straight" road, even Kurzweil's "accelerating curve" fail to realize that progress is a PARALLEL process, and that each and every day more and more of these massively parallel lines are widening and beginning to overlap, and merge. Follow any single thread and it may seem to lead nowhere, and too many transhumanists have become disillusioned because they followed a path that didn't lead to their desired end.

    But that has never meant that other paths don't lead to them.

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  3. This is the core of transhumanism and its greatest asset. Despite my profound political disagreements with most of y'all, the revolutionary idea that we can and should radically change the world and ourselves for the better unites us.

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  4. Hi Val, i love to read what you write.

    Yes we are driven to more and better, always have and probably always will.

    Our views about our current present-future is match in many areas.

    I am hoping for a Polytopia where diversity of genders,minds,realities,tastes unifies us all instead of separating us.

    I remain optimistic about our ability to evolve as material scarcity disappears.

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