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Eternal Reoccurrence vs. Finite Progress

How repetitious is history? — Human Consciousness of Change and Persistence — The Age of Darkness before the Myths of Creation — Fandom Cults of the Academia — Origins of the Wheels of Reoccurrence — Whither be thou, O Sweet Progress?

(Now with fixed footnotes. Hover cursor over footnote to reveal it, or click!)

 

One of the major themes in my Weltanschauung that shows up in my novels, nonfiction, and others nuances, is the concept of historical reoccurrence: the notion that history repeats itself. As with my previous post regarding the death of philosophy, this is not a particularly revolutionary idea in this day and age. It’s wisdom you would’ve heard everywhere from children’s books, elementary school history class, newscasters, comedians, political propaganda, angry tirades, and is often its own butt in joke-telling. It’s a cliché that we take for granted, but also one of the few clichés that we actually take seriously when heeding to the warnings of economic forecasters, political soothsayers — even the advice of our friends telling us not to pursue a certain career path, or to avoid dating a special someone.

What’s interesting is that, our own mass awareness of this notion — that history repeats itself — is a mutually shared understanding, crossing cultures, classes, nations, ages[1], and eras. What’s also interesting (ironic even) is that this hasn’t always been the case everywhere in the history of human culture. What’s even more interesting is how we like to consider our contemporary era of freedom, democracy, mass communications, cheap beer, video games, cell-phones, and the Internet, as something that exists outside of this frame of historical reoccurrence — our contemporary era as an exception to historical reoccurrence, rather than belonging to it, because it’s so “new” and “revolutionary”.[2] And what’s further even more interesting [x4], is that we tend to exclude ourselves as individuals from reoccurrence ‘warning wisdom’ about our lives, eg: “I won’t be the one to make that mistake everyone else has done! Other people made that mistake because they’re stupid / weak / unskilled!”

Now before moving onto what I think is interesting in the above paragraph[3], I’d like to identify a few types of reoccurrence[4].

  1. The reoccurrence wisdom that concerns us as individuals carrying out our daily lives on a micro scale. Life-wisdom like: “she has a history of being flakey”, or “don’t become a writer because the Internet has made their profession obsolete!”, or “don’t wear Hawaiian shirts, flip-flops and baseball caps when haggling in foreign marketplaces, because you risk being pick-pocketed, and merchants will know you’re a tourist and will rip you off!”
  2. That which concerns us on a macro scale: our place in greater society, civilization, and the world. History, economics, politics, society, culture — the big questions, claims like: “allowing the government to strip us of our rights and freedoms in times of terrorist threat will lead to government tyranny and totalitarianism. Just look at the Nazis!”, or “all economies follow the trend of bubbles and bursts, growth-stagnation-collapse”, or “the West has always been the most progressive and innovative than any other part of the world”
  3. Finally, that which concerns observance to laws and axioms of natural phenomena, which requires a ‘reoccurrence’ paradigm. This is a key part of our cognitive understanding of the world as human beings: taking generic rules/concepts, and applying them to particular instances that are likely to repeat. Without it, we cannot have a) or b). These are things like: “F = ma”[5], [physical constants in nature], “don’t touch a hot stove or you’ll get burned” [pain avoidance], “whenever you speak to her about her dead husband, she gets upset” [human psychology as natural phenomena], and “Are you seriously wearing wear jeans and a t-shirt to my wedding tonight? You look like an idiot!” [social norms]

For our purposes here in this entry, we have two essential types of historical reoccurrence that are, I argue, closely linked — (a) life-wisdom, and (b) history-wisdom. Let’s move onto the two main schemes of time.

Two concepts of time– Linear and Cyclical

Our concept of history repeating itself– historical reoccurrence– has its origins in some of the oldest, most profound, and most primordial currents of human thinking about our place in the universe. It’s also a core feature of natural wisdom, experience, and learning that we acquire throughout life. However, human understanding of time on a deeper level has tended to follow one of two currents: Linear, and Cyclical.

Linear Time is the concept that things have a beginning and an end, or flows in one direction–

  • This is the grand narrative of the Bible (which subsequently had an enormous impact on thinking in the West, modern academia, and modern science): in the beginning, God made the universe, made humans for him to judge according to their piety, and he will end the universe with the apocalypse and last judgement.
  • This is also our narrative of the epic of Progress and Democracy. A cliché goes: in the beginning of human society, governments were oppressive and people had very little rights, then gradually through Enlightenment, and the Anglo-Americans inventing the Magna Carta, a Treatise on Government, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights, (wo?)men can finally be free.
  • This is also our sense of time in modern science, including evolution: the Big bang, then the formation of stars and planets, then evolution of life from a single organism, then evolution of humans from a common primate ancestor, all until something ends the universe.[6]

 

Cyclical Time is the notion that, sure, time can be divided up into beginnings-and-ends, but these are just cycles that repeat themselves on a grander scale. Beginning-middle-end is a cycle that repeats. Birth, growth, destruction, rebirth, cycle anew. Cycles are merely patterns within greater time scheme — a greater time scheme, which can itself be eternal, or finite. This is the kind of thinking we see from the wisdom of ancient India, the Mayans and Aztecs, the Chinese, mystical, philosophical schools under the Greeks, and mysticism, where this great time scheme is thought to be eternal.

Again, cyclical time needn’t necessarily be eternal (nor does linear time necessarily have to be finite), although it’s often associated with the eternal time conceptions of the great wisdoms. It’s worth highlighting some other forms of cyclical time that exist outside of mythical, philosophical and religious traditions:

  • Day-and-night, the seasons, movement of planets, and the night sky
  • Business cycle/Economic cycle
  • Life cycles as universal to living things– birth, childhood, puberty, adulthood, seniority, death
  • Malthusian cycles — population growth, saturation, then collapse from overconsumption and starvation.

Conceptions of linear and cyclical time coexist in all societies and civilizations. True, some cultures have conceived of the entire cosmological universe as eternal and cyclical, others as finite and linear, but at its core, time’s cyclicality and linearity are two vital concepts that coexist in the human mind, and in all human societies. It’s a core feature in the human understanding of the world; it’s a cognitive feature that makes possible learning, practice, experience, and wisdom. It’s the reason why you wouldn’t reuse the same calendar next year, and why you don’t throw out a clock at the end of the day. It’s the reason why we can predict that babies will grow into adults[7]; why we don’t assume the sun will never rise again after watching sunset; why people can reliably make a profession out of planting seeds at one time of the year, and harvesting at another time in that year, and repeat this process in years to come[8]; why those more experienced at their profession tend to be better at it; how we avoid (or seek out) conflict, company, companionship and love; how we’re able to judge people, situations and events.

In short: it’s why we’re able to tell the difference between change and stagnation.

Just how historical is our notion of Historical Reoccurrence?

But the concept of linear and cyclical time as part of our historical consciousness — our consciousness of our place in the world, the reoccurrence of wars, revolutions, political manoeuvres, economic crises, etc. — is something quite new, with a very long and interesting history itself.

Reoccurrence has historically taken the form of cosmological and astrological reoccurrence — those born under a certain astrological sign being cosmically allotted a role in the microcosm of human society, or the epoch-cycles in Hindu and Mayan calendars, or the concept of astronomical omens (comets, meteors, eclipses, etc.) signalling catastrophic events — rather than reoccurence as a result of the spontaneous organization of history, that we see nowadays.

The notion of Historical Reoccurrence in the Sphere of Afroeurasian Statecraft [11] was — so far as historians are able to judge this based off their inherent biases for written/artistic sources of the upper 1% — a concept used in small circles of government and statesmanship, for the sake of political education. It was part of the learning curriculum of future bureaucrats, statesmen, and rulers. It was to study history of the sake of learning lesions from it, of knowing what to do if problems arise, and what to avoid the future: to be able to predict what kinds of policies and behaviours may trigger revolts, or how to appease the masses; how to deal with conquered peoples, how to maintain alliances, wage wars, secure trading agreements, raise armies; how to tax, tariff and take tribute; how to legitimize your rule to the 98% rest of the population that you ruled with public works, monumental architecture, patroning the arts, and religion. These are the things that state- and empire-builders wanted their future leaders and bureaucrats to know, and understand as examples that are repeated.

( *Nota Bene: We aren’t quite at the notion of history repeating itself yet here, but we’re getting there. The above is basically no different than any other type of education, in which generic concepts and principles are identified, and taught to the student. Eg, a farmer instructing his apprentice about the best practices to sow and harvest, herd flocks, treating livestock, how to train horses and dogs, etc. )

Yet, even back then, history was still not conceived of as something spontaneously organized into patterns and cycles — that is, something with ‘mechanical’ causes and principles for the state’s existence, growth, and breakdown. It was always closely tied with humankind’s, or a particular state’s fate within a grand teleological[12] scheme, dictated by the hidden forces of cosmology, astrology, and God(s). It was well understood that a famine, a huge influx of barbarians, or the rule of an irresponsible ruler, could cause breakdown and collapse — but the mechanisms and preconditions by which these occur was not in the picture.

The emphasis was on catalysts, not mechanisms — charismatic and interesting persons, rulers, peoples, wars, disasters, scandals, conspiracies, assassinations, heresies, and magic, and not: socio-economic frameworks, interplay of power structures, state policies and institutions, social hierarchies, or even the notion that pre-modern States were inherently oppressive, unstable entities with their dependence on tribute taking and taxation.

Catalysts were also the result of chance and karma, which themselves were considered forces relegated by cosmological/astrological phenomena. Actually, in most pre-modern societies, it was believed the natural state of human society was chaos and disorder, and that a strong ruler/ruling elite was needed to keep the population peaceful, stable, moral, and prosperous[13]. Catalysts were things that befell the ruling class, which trickled down into society. It was conceived that the political history of the state was the result of choice and indifference on the part of the elites — and the sorts of elites that other elites could only be able to recognize.

(Mind you, this is very different from our contemporary understanding of history, where we see it as the result of mass behaviours, the economy, culture, functions of institutions, etc. which are beyond the control of society’s elites. But even this has its own exception: conspiracy thinking[14].)

In a sense, we can think pre-modern astrology/cosmology as the closest thing to our modern concept of history repeating itself. (notwithstanding superstitious modern Apocalyptics)

“X was the first person to create Y. Before that, Y didn’t exist, all was stagnant, and nothing interesting ever happened.” — Quoted from every Creation-Myth ever

On the biases in favour of Creation Myth-making in Human Historical Consciousness

Surely pre-modern historians like Herodotus, Thucydides, Tacitus, Fa-Hien, al-Biruni, Bede, etc., should have noticed that there were common mechanisms and principles, or at least patterns, by which history moved?

Yes and no.

Yes: they saw patterns in the sense of everything I said above, about lesions from history, the ruler’s role in ordering society, and cataclysmic events.

No: There was another tendency — to see the present as something completely new and radically different from the past. That the present is interesting and dynamic, and that the past is stagnant and boring. (I needn’t even point out that this feeling continues well into the present day — both by people who find history boring, and by those who love it![15])

The past*[16] was also understood as being shrouded in myth, legend, folklore/tradition, and uncritically received hearsay/rumors; but it was also largely considered stagnant by historians by and large, unless it was part of the current tradition’s timeline. By tradition-timelines I mean, eg, the Greek philosophical tradition with Socrates as a Creator-Myth figure in the history of rationality, or the rise the great founding prophets and their religious traditions Zoroaster (Iranian-Mazdeanism), Moses (Judaism-Abrahamic[17]), Siddhartha (Buddhism[18]), Jesus (Christianity), Muhammad (Islam), the great imperial histories of Rome, China, Byzantium, the Caliphate(s)[19].

^ All of these traditions conceive history before their traditions as stagnant, and in a certain sense also cyclical (the constant repeating of errors, simple lifestyles, mishaps, and misfortunes), until the founder-figure emerges and breaks this tragic cycle.

Yet, this kind of Creation-Myth presentation of history still persists well into the present day, regardless of our secular and rational discourses in approaching history (and regardless of history repeating itself). Just about any treatment of the history of a subject will treat its pre-origins before founder as uninteresting — uninteresting, really until the scope of focus comes into play — and most importantly until a Founding Figure emerges. In modern academic history, pre-modern history is given this characteristic of being stagnant, uninteresting, unchanging across the board, until great white European men of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment change it–

 >>As if to assume there is no mechanism within human beings or human societies that makes possible the preconditions for such a great change, so this Founding-Creator made everything from scratch because he’s such a friggin’ genius, and he owes nothing to the socio-economic/cultural/political/historical circumstances that made his career/discovery possible, [the bias of Ex Nihilo]

 >>As if to assume people who didn’t have access to literacy and the academia didn’t already have these ideas. [the bias of Ivory Towers — bias of the written tradition]

 >>As if to assume no convergent or parallel discoveries ever took place outside of the subject, say, in the trades or in religion, [the bias of the subject-scope’s agenda]

Hearkening back to my first year university philosophy course, I remember: “no philosophy or rational thinking existed before Thales.” Same with the notion of experimentation in the history of Science — a line is drawn before Galileo and at the eastern border of the Holy Roman Empire, for “over there be unscientific savages! They’re advanced, but they’re not Rational Europeans/Moderns!” Same thing with the history of politics, and the notion that unlike modern democracies, pre-modern States ruled with an iron fist, and made no negotiations/compromises with their subjects.[20] (And many more examples will be explored throughout this blog.)

So, you mean to say, people never conducted experiments before? Humans had no capacity of intellectual discourse, rationality, and logical reasoning, until Thales or Socrates or Galileo rolled around? I wonder how we were able to survive the goddamn Ice Age using stone tools. I wonder how we figured out which plants were the best to farm, which animals to domesticate, metalworking, sewing, buildings, monuments, optimize on business ventures — everything that we do as human beings. Even animals, plants and prokaryotes conduct experiments with the world around them for the sake of their very survival. Reason is a survival mechanism, not an idea created by one wise man up in his ivory tower and revealed to us barbarous ones once he descended from his tower. Rationality and experimentation — just like our ability to conceive linear and cyclical time — are basic cognitive equipment for problem solving and survival; and humanity’s particular brand of this is what makes us humans. Ah, but they will reject: “Those are just trade skills and arts-and-crafts! It is not true philosophy or science!

To that, I reference one of my favourite inventions — the Wheel — and say:

[Map depicting the ancient spread of the Chariot (and the wheel — this was the prototype that lead to carriages, wheel-barrows, carts, etc.) from its origin spot somewhere in Central Asia at 2000 B.C., and gradual dissemination throughout Afroeurasia. How much was this the invention of one great genius, and or a collective of cultural innovations leading to its creation? Whichever individual invented the chariot, or whatever team the chariot has been lost to the written historical record, yet we see the wheel’s ubiquity throughout Afroeurasia (and the modern world.) Whoever invented the chariot did not also have to transfer the human cognitive equipment of its usage, or the steps leading to its discovery– people simply had to observe and intuitively grasp the Chariot and the wheel’s importance. If humans possessed no intrinsic preconditions of rationality and practicality, inventions/innovations like the Chariot would never spread from person to person. It would be like trying to teach a canary to use a gun.

In other words: we did not have to constantly reinvent the wheel in order to use it. ]

“In the beginning, the White Man created Science, Democracy,  the Free Market, and the Separation of Church and State. Before that, all was Stagnant.” — Secular Creation-Myth Making and Academic Fandom

 This is Creation Myth-making at its finest, folks. Not: “in the beginning god created the earth”, but: “before this guy everyone talks about wrote down his thoughts — and hey this is the only one copy of 800 other manuscripts of this genre we’ve lost in at least 20 major library fires over the past 2000 years — no one ever conceived of this idea ever, and before that everyone’s thoughts on the subject were stagnant and boring or nonexistent!”

I’m going to propose a much simpler explanation for why people — including the academics who mediate this — constantlyrely on Creation Myths and Ex Nihilo biases in history:

The academic tradition is by privileged fanboys and fangirls, for privileged fanboys and fangirls — a naive, ignorant, stupid, fan-cult institution that is inherently biased against anything unless it’s been formatted, packaged, with its own Creation-Myth cult of gushingly obsessive scholars attached, and some famous endorsements and testimonies — who may or may not have any actual academic merit. The History of Human Intellectual thought hitherto represents the upper 0.0000000000000000000000000001% of the human population (if even!) that had access to literacy, writing materials, a written tradition, the persistence of a written tradition[21], an educational institution or circle of thinkers of some sort, and, most importantly, whose writings were preserved and survived down to the present day. **Preserved and survived, because interest in them was successfully maintained from the point of their death, to when they have entered mass cultural awareness.**

That’s the mathematically-proportionate equivalent of making a total assessment of all of the universe, just by making a passing, uncritical glance at a single rock on the ground.[22] Finally, the most important thing keeping Creator-X and their Creation Myth in cultural interest is their prestige. Or, more directly put: MARKETING. That’s why you’ve heard of Friedrich Nietzsche and not Ibn al-Rawandi, Homer and not Enheduanna, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince and not the Indian Arthashastra, the Gospel of Barnabas and not the Infancy Gospel of  Joseph the Carpenter. Marketing, marketing, marketing.

How much of human achievement have we ignored, neglected, and lost, because of these biases of the written, biases in favour of the Creation-Myth? How much? The short answer is at least 200 000 years of our species being on this planet, and information about at least 99% of all people who have ever lived. Yes, I am calling here for a grassroots study of the Mind. And it’s not terribly difficult to do that beginning the Information Age, with blogs, comments, and search algorithms (although admittedly, it seems the mass presence enabled by mass communication is leading to a clone-like-replication of ideas, whose origins are probably  reducible to no more than 1million people [modest estimate]). Still, according to the latest estimates, only around 35% of the world’s population have regular access to the Internet — that’s 35% of the 6.5% of humanity to ever live that are alive today. A very small number indeed.

This tendency to draw lines marking “BEFORE” and “NOT-US” goes right back to our psychological tendency as individuals to think of ourselves as unique and as exceptions to rules and wisdoms.

But can you or can’t you step into the same river twice?[24] — Do things change, and can things persist? Does history do nothing but repeat itself, or do we progress?

 [Julius Caesar Crossing the Rubicon — a catalyst event accompanied by a catalyst personality, beginning the catalyst Caesar’s Civil War, and ultimately, transition of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon is a symbol of linear progression in history, and catalysts are the way to do it — thresholds of historical cyclicality can be penetrated and ripped down]

[And sometimes, as in Caesar’s case, you really can’t step into the same river twice. By crossing it, you change the river — by crossing it, you change the man.]

Great things, however, are by no means common-place and inherent to the 99%. We see this disparity ubiquitously in our universe. Most people are awfully boring, simple, cliché, easy to please, easy to dazzle, easy to interest, easy to anger, easy to rouse. Catalysts are required to move the masses, and create great things. Intellect, wit, charisma, energy, prestige, power — or at least the image of someone as such — is enough to mobilize a group of people to work toward something, or at the minimal, to preserve the memory of this person doing such for our historical record. There is a reason why our history looks the way it does — a series of Creation Myths and Revolutions — and it has to do with this fan-flocking feature of mass psychology. But, I do not think our written history covers even a tiny percentage these great catalyst-movers.

Still, this raises a deeper philosophical question about an intelligent being’s capacity to see the universe without bias, and see the universe in its totality. Is something boring and stagnant, or is it just that it falls outside of our narrow scope with which we see the world? Is that which falls outside of our scope’s focus inherently boring, or do we just think it’s boring? Is something a jumbled incoherent mangle of randomness, or do we as a species lack the cognitive equipment or paradigm to truly see it for what it is?

Modestly, I say yes. We lack the cognitive equipment and paradigms to recognize things we call chaos and incoherent mangles. But this is beyond the scope of this essay here (seriously — no pun intended, folks. Stay tuned for Ismael’s adventures in the Anthropic Principle!)

Further, what is it that these great men and women do (or their fan-base) — the great ones who are subject to Creation Myths — to make it seem like everything “before” them or “outside” of them is uninteresting and has no bearing on their own career?

My point is that, we must learn to conceive of humanity’s — indeed, the entire universe’s — evolution[25] as aggregate, rather than as something pockmarked by a wholly singular, completely revolutionary, exist-in-a-void, catalytic events. Catalysis (and cataclysms!) certainly exist — the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid impact, Napoleon and Hitler changed the face of world history with their conquests and occupation policies, Einstein was a genius who revolutionized modern science with E=MC^2. But preconditions are just as important aggregately, if not moreso ­– mass collapse of the biosphere that itself was formed around certain biochemical and evolutionary transitions, exploitation of mass mobilization and internal weakness in European socio-political structures, standing on the shoulder of intellectual giants and their institutions (to oversimplify for the sake of this argument).

But in observing history — in categorizing events as part of our awareness of History — we irrevocably become part of it, fit ourselves into it, amalgamate its paradigm into us, and act according to our impressions of it.

And these cycles of repetition we see? These cycles only repeat under a narrow band of conditions that exist in a historical threshold — a narrow band, which we as observers of it, are inextricably part of it. A narrow band, that has its own historical development. It would be absurd and unhelpful to speak of sociological and economic factors in the formation of the planets — but it would not be absurd to point out that the same patterns that we take notice of in sociology and economics, also exist in astronomy and physics — or Nature, in her glorious Wholeness.


[1] By “ages” I mean here: children, teenagers, adults, seniors, etc.

[2] Notwithstanding this, I realize most of us tend to consider much of contemporary politics, economics, and history as reoccurring (usually just limited to the vices of history, like wars, massacres, corruption, economic depression, etc.), but we consider technology, science, democracy, citizen’s freedoms, fashion, gadgets, etc, as something unprecedented, progressive, and completely new in its current form. (though some of us are conscious of many consumer goods being fads)

[3] Not that I don’t think this is interesting.

[4] Not to say these are the only types, but these are the only I’m dealing with here.

[5] Newton’s second law of motion.

[6] For those interested in science’s own morbid fascination with the apocalypse, I recommend reading about: the Heat Death of the Universe, and the Big Rip/the Big Crunch.

[7] At least physically. Mentally… is another story.

[8] How an occupation like “farmer” can exists.

[11] This is a term that I am coining here that requires qualification (*and warrants its own article). It refers to the traditions and systems of government, statesmanship, royalty, privilege and citizenship, and tribute-taking, which spans the parts of Europe, Asia and Africa that had states (be they city-states, kingdoms, or empires). These traditions and systems were enforced by the upper 1-5% of elites, and an even a smaller class of ruling elites who were actual the policy makers, advisers, political, economic, and military leaders. Why lump Africa, Europe and Asia together like this? This is geographical location that is historically linked through extensive networks of exchange and influence, which stretches well into the dawn of pre-recorded history, and the tradition from which we draw the vast majority of our modern institutions of statecraft and governance world-wide.

[12] That is, all things existing for the sake of a greater purpose that everything was enrolled, evolved and converged towards.

[13] Ideological concepts like: God-Emperors, Pharaohs, the East-Asian Mandate of Heaven, the European Divine Right of Kingship, the Caliphate, even concepts like Enlightened Despots and Philosopher-kings — these were all ways of legitimizing rule to the ‘inherently chaotic, degenerate’ masses.

[14] We will return to the phenomena of ‘conspiracy thinking’ in a later entry.

[15] A point I shall return to very shortly.

[16] *Unless they were speaking nostalgically about their forebearers (imaginary or real), like the Prophet and Caliphs, or Greco-Romania, or Han China, etc.

[17] “Abrahamic” is a catch-all term for the mythos, symbols, characters, and world-views belonging to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and their sectarian offshoots

[18] Buddhism, however, is conscious of its indebtedness to the tradition of the Brahmin Priestly Caste, which it is a reaction to/liberalization of (in the same sense one can consider early Christianity as a reaction to Judaism). Still, it does follow the paradigm of Creation Myth-making with its founder, in relation to Brahmin religion.

[19] I have noticed that, of the pre-modern historical traditions, the Islamic tradition perhaps to be the most universal and the most eclectic, with writers like Rashid al-Din, al-Biruni, al-Tabari, ibn Khaldun, covering histories of peoples and traditions throughout the Eastern hemisphere. This is probably due to the Islamic tradition’s late arrival/formation in Afroeurasia, (622AD is the birth of the Muslim calendar, but the Islamic written tradition doesn’t begin to take off until ~750, and Islam did not become the majority religion in the Middle-East until long after the Arab invasions), and the multiethnic make-up of peoples from their own traditions converting into Islam, and carrying them into the religion and their work (Egyptians, Iranians, Turks, non-Arab Semitic peoples, Africans, Indians, etc.,)

[20] I wrote above that the pre-modern state was generally inherently oppressive. When I say this, I am not precluding the fact that the pre-modern State had to negotiate and compromise with its subjects. This is a topic I will return to in a future entry.

[21] The writing traditions of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Mesopotamia, Harappan India, Mayan, Aztecs and Incas — to name the ones that we do know about — are all examples of writing traditions that have not survived all the way into the modern era. Literary documents from these civilizations have been recovered, but there is no direct, conscious continuity of these traditions into the contemporary era.

[22] Mind you, given the mechanisms involved in that whole process, the fact that you can even have such an experience, is still pretty remarkable, and is the universe’s patterns and principles at work.

[24] Paraphrased from Heraclitus.

[25] Evolution, in the sense of movement — be it for better, or for worse.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for making me aware of this post via your note on Tumblr. You’ve made several interesting points here that stand in obvious and important relation to what I’ve been writing about lately, so I’ll be thinking of this. I especially like your point that preconditions are important as aggregate causes, though we cannot (as easily) fix a long train of preconditions to a particular catalyzing or watershed event.

    How do you conceive the aggregate of history? In terms of totality or infinity?

    Best wishes,

    Nick

    • I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the essay — I’m quite enjoying your Tumblr!

      How do I conceive of the aggregate of history? I see it as a synthesis of a diversity of what’\ has survived. History has crossed many Rubicons — many points of no return — on its way to this moment right here, to this conversation that we’re able to conduct right now over the Internet in this once obscure language of Anglosaxon peasants (which is a very amazing series of aggregate historical conditions in and of itself.) Many things are lost in history as we cross these Rubicons — they are either synthesized (or aggregated— I like this word) into a new kind of emergent condition, or dropped altogether from history (where are the Dinosaurs, Neanderthals, and Hobbits of Flores?)

      But I also believe that there are many aggregate effects of human civilization and human creations that are well beyond our own comprehension, and I don’t just mean our immediate effects on global warming making it a little harder for human civilization to thrive, or the spontaneous assembly of some kind of Frankenstein (although these are interesting) — I’m also meaning that our threshold of modernity will open up some kind of niche to something completely unimaginable and unexpected. Also, aggregate effects of the universes own structure is another thing that may just be completely beyond human comprehension (Dark Matter and Dark Energy to name just two, I also suspect Quantum Randomness may be there too — or maybe our brains themselves?)… But admittedly, I’m being very speculative here.

      I also read that you’re watching The Great Courses’ Big History. I loved this course, highly recommend it — although the lecturer does make quite a few errors, he does give a very solid overview.


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  1. […] [Editor's Note: It is often the case that transhumanists take it for granted the notion of technological progress, that we live in a unique time unlike any other where change dominates creating a unique situation which has never come before. This idea is of course central to Kurzweil's notion of The Singularity and summarized in the Law of Accelerating Returns.  However this belief  is unusual historically. In many cultures  a cyclical or eternal return was assumed, for example in the Mayan Calendar that infamously "ends" in 2012. Seasonality, the cycles of the moon, day/night, etc. all drove  early cultures to conceive of time as circular or cyclical with repeating cycles of birth-death-rebirth.  Modern science and Newtonian physics did away with this idea replacing it with a linear time in which we imagined time as a "time line" or totally ordered set. From the perspective of general relativity, the universe either had to be infinitely old  with no beginning or  to have started at a singularity, The Big Bang. However notably physicists Hawking and Hartle proposed a third possibility; that  universe is cyclical and finite in time with no  singularity or boundary. this proposal returned the idea of cyclical time to scientific respectability. Importantly, some futurists and forecasters still follow what is essentially a cyclical model, beleiving that technological change is driven by 50 year business cycles sometimes also known as K-waves. Historian, philosopher, and autodidact Michael  Sarfatti shares some of his musings on the subject of linear and cyclical. This post was previously published on Michael's blog the Codex Sarepticus] […]

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