“Four Trends That Give Me Hope”
by Robert Anton Wilson
Published in Loompanics’ Greatest Hits, 1990
Despite superficial impressions caused by our brutally short lifespans (73 years average, at present), something that can be called “progress” clearly exists in history and can be demonstrated mathematically. Brooks Adams, Alfred Korzybski and Buckminster Fuller, among others, have given examples of this “progressive factor” in their books. A recent and more rigorous demonstration comes from the French economist-statistician, George Anderla, who used Information Theory to convert knowledge into binary units and calculated how fast these units increased since the birth of Christ.
Taking all knowledge at 1 AD as x, the rate of acceleration has been as follows: 1500 AD – 2x, 1750 AD – 4X, 1900 AD – 8x, 1950 AD – 16x, 1960 AD – 32X, 1967-64X, 1973 AD – 128x.
That this process is accelerating is immediately obvious; the acceleration of the acceleration is clearer if we express this in terms of the time interludes for each doubling of knowledge. Then we see that the first doubling took 1500 years, the second 250 years, the third 150 years, the fourth 50 years, the fifth 10 years, the sixth 7 years and the seventh 6 years.
All available indicators suggest that the doubling has accelerated further since Anderla completed his study in 1973. Patents granted per year, new books, new computer software, new scientific papers, etc., have all continued to “multiply like rabbits.”
Of course, the pessimist or cynic can say that “we” will just mis-use new knowledge as “we” have, allegedly, misused all previous knowledge. I have disputed this view (and given more details on the Anderla calculations) in my Prometheus Rising; in this brief space, I will say only that as knowledge increases, and as technology increases, human options widen. At the very least, people today can choose from a larger variety of kinds of misery than our forebears in 1888 and much, much more than those in 1788.
I also object to the fictitious “we” that cynics invoke as the omnipresent fuck-up factor in history. I have never met “we” except in books of grammar or politics, or other works of fiction; in experience, I only encounter phalanxes of individuals. Some individuals mis-use knowledge and some use knowledge very intelligently. I assume that as knowledge increases, however much the stupid continue to mis-use it, the intelligent will find increased options give them greater freedom in which to exercise their ingenuity.
A second evolutionary trend that I find hopeful consists in the accelerated speed of travel and communication in the modern world. According to Professor Platt of Michigan State university, speed of travel has increased a thousandfold since 1900 2nd speed of communication a millionfold; and both are increasing faster ail the time. The “one town world” forecast by Bucky Fuller is appearing all around us. Look through the Restaurant section of any large city’s phone directory and you will find the cuisine of the whole planet available; walk through an art museum and you will see all the art of humanity; turn on the TV in a really big city and you will find Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Spanish, English, Jewish, French and various other imports available at the turn of a dial. Like all increases in options or possible choices, this omni-cosmopolitanization seems to me a liberating and wonderful evolutionary transformation.
Concretely, my childhood reality-tunnel was bordered by one neighborhood in Brooklyn; my current reality-tunnel is bordered by Berlin and Maui, those being the furthest-apart points that I visited last year. They are 12 time-zones, or halfway around the planet, from each other, and I expect to see China next year. (I also expect to visit a space colony sometime in the next 20 years…) Similarly, in a recent computer conference, I spoke to people all over the US and Canada; that would have been science-fiction if I wrote it 30 years ago…
Having friends who are Punk Rockers in Berlin, computer executives in San Jose, actors in London and Dublin, psychologists in Maui, etc., has not only re-educated me but liberated me from mental limitations I didn’t know existed until I lost them. “What one fool can learn, another can,” as the ancient primate proverb says. More and more people are traveling all the time (one man flew the Atlantic in 1928 and 200,000,000 flew it in 1978), so I have high hopes that existential re-education through experience will eventually liberate more and more minds.
As the potential knowledge and the potential human experience available to us both multiply faster, our lifespans are also increasing, a third trend that fills me with joy. In 1976, a survey found 500 people over 100 years old in England; in 1986, a similar study found over 3000. In America, lifespan has increased so fast since the 1970s that life Extension Researcher Durk Pearson admitted to being surprised by it (on a recent Donahue show). Ironically, due to AIDS, more money is being spent on immunological research than ever, and research on the immune system is the most likely path to super-longevity. We may all live hundreds of years, or longer.
With more space (due to faster travel), more time (due to longevity) and more knowledge (due to the accelerating Information Explosion), I see no reason to believe that any past limits on me or you or “humanity” in general need to be regarded as permanent. I think we are moving rapidly toward some evolutionary Quantum Jump of which the “Harmonic convergence” is only the Mickey Mouse cartoon version of simple minds.
The fourth trend that gives me hope consists of all the problems and symptoms of breakdown on this planet which motivate most of the cynicism and panic around these days. Ecological mismanagement. The Permanent War Economy. The increase of State power to the point where government has become a pest in everyone’s life. The continuing risk of nuclear war. All these problems seem as real and dreadful to me as they do the cynics, but I see them in a different light. In a world of increasing information, increasing richness of experience and increasing lifespan, our problems may serve as the evolutionary challenges which will force more and more people to use our new options creatively.
After all, it seems quite likely that there would be no “progress” and no evolution at all, if serious problems did not compel living beings to innovation and experiment.
(submitted to RAWilsonFans.com by R. Michael Johnson)