Radical Evolution — GRIN, the Promise and the Peril of Enhancing humankind
By John Graham
August 1st, 2011
I recently discovered a fascinating book. The title is Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies – and What It Means to Be Human. The author, Joel Garreau, wants to awaken his readers to the fact that we are at a turning point in human history. In this century application of rapidly advancing GRIN technology (Genetics, Robotics, Information, and Nanotechnology) will transform what it means to be human. Soon, he says, we will be altering not only our bodies but our minds, our memories, our metabolism, our personalities, our progeny and “perhaps our very souls.”
Garreau says these dramatic changes could lead to heaven on earth in which we are made smarter, illness is vanquished and our lives may be extended forever. Or, we could find ourselves in a hell on earth – where unrestrained technology, and brilliant machines that can replicate themselves, could even bring about the total destruction of humanity and all life forms as we know it on planet earth – the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — Pestilence, War, Famine and Death.
The danger is very real and, like it or not, we are being trust into a new Axial Age by the exponential growth in GRIN technology. Raymond Kurzweil’s “Singularity” is upon us. The focus of Garreau’s book is to provide an alternative to the Hell possibility by Prevailing. By this he means to encourage humankind to take an active role in managing the growth of GRIN technology so we may prevail, even transcend, as we enter this new age. Click below to read more.
“The big question,” Garreau says, “is whether we are also seeing an accelerated increase in the rate of solutions. Are we seeing a rise in adaptability? . . . In empathy? In beauty and in love? . . . The problem is culture and values always change more slowly than technology.” Optimistic, he says, “Evidence exists that increasingly interconnected billions of individuals are coming up with answers that are ‘good enough’ to deal with their new local realities.
One example he gives for new answers is the “gift economy” that has emerged in our generation. The internet is free, there are endless self-help sites. Garreau says, “They aren’t run by anybody. People there cluster spontaneously around their needs and desires.” He also refers to support groups and grief groups of every description. He also notes that, “We now have begun to freely share the very guts of our own computers – both the content and the processing power – individual to individual, peer to peer” . . . “It points toward a gift economy that is altering the basics of the marketplace” . . . “It’s an open engagement with a community.” He then reminds us that sacred writings of our great religions speak to this. “Not only do five loaves and two fishes offered freely by Jesus and his disciples feed the multitude, according to the book of Matthew, but the leftovers fill twelve baskets.”
For Garreau, “the gift economy is an act of faith. A holy act. This gift exchange is socializing us to a degree not seen before. The typical person today is engaged in more relationships with more people in more dimensions than every before.” (p 255) This observation invites him to quote from the brilliant French Jersuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his 1940 opus, The Phenomenon of Man. In his book, Teilhard “argued that someday our technology would allow us to create a web of thought and action that would make the world more complex, diverse, and alive, moving humankind toward an ultimate evolution. He called it, The Omega Point. . . The goal of evolution is to link up individual human minds, bringing an explosion of intelligence and even global consciousness to this mammoth being.” An amazing observation by de Chardin, a half-century ahead of his time.
This leads to Garreau to ask, “Do we have a moral obligation to use enhancement technology to make ourselves beings who are more compassionate, moral and wise? Is it our only chance for survival? The planet comes with an expiration date. Is our only way out to continue the march from prehuman to early human to human to transhumant to posthuman, in order to tame the forces of the universe?” (257).
Reminding the reader of Karl Jasper’s study of humanity’s previous Axial Age (800-200 BC) Garreau says, “The new element in this age is that man everywhere became aware of being as a whole, of himself and his limits. He experienced the horror of the world and his own helplessness. He raised radical questions, approached the abyss in his drive for liberation and redemption. And, in consciously apprehending his limits he set himself the highest aims. He experienced the absolute in the depth of selfhood and in the clarity of transcendence.” (p 258-9).
Garreau says, “Maybe this tells us something about human nature. That we are pattern-seeking, story telling animals.” (p 259) He then says, “This raises the interesting question of whether we are due for a new Axial Age. If our narratives of how the world works are not matching the facts, are we seeking a new era of sense, intelligibility, clarity, continuity and unity? If profound restatements of how the world works arose all over the planet the last time we had a transition on the scale of that from biological evolution to cultural evolution, will it happen again as we move from cultural evolution to technological evoutionl?”
Finally, he suggests humanity should be about finding meaning in this age of transition. And, we do that by attaching to something bigger than we are, something transcendent. He quotes Bertrand Russell who wrote, “Introducing compassion into the equation is at the core of meaning. Without more kindliness in the world, technological power would mainly serve to increase men’s capacity to inflict harm on one another.” Garreau says, “Compassion may thus be at the core of successfully managing transcendence – of coming up with a practical way to Prevail over the blind forces of change.” (262).
Ray Kurzweil observes, “Evolution moves toward greater complexity, greater elegance, greater knowledge, greater intelligence, greater beauty, greater creativity and more of other abstract and subtle attributes such as love”. . . “And, God has been called all these things, only without any limitation: infinite knowledge, infinite intelligence, infinite beauty and so on. Of course, the accelerating growth of evolution never achieves an infinite level, but as it explodes exponentially it moves rapidly in that direction. So evolution moves inexorably toward our conception of God, albeit never quite reaching this ideal. Thus the freeing of our thinking from the severe limitations of its biological form may be regarded as an essential spiritual quest.”
I hope everyone will read Joel Garreau’s wonderful book. It is powerful and can be life changing, especially if we come together as a people. Reading his book made me want to be a part of the process of helping to manage the exponential growth of technology so that it manifests the qualities we see in Transcendence/the mystery we call God, rather than the hurtful and selfish ways which fill the history of mankind to this point. As always, the danger is that good people will do nothing. Will you join me in this quest? If so, purchase Joel Garreau’s book and go to his website at www.garreau.com.