Collective Intelligence in the Holocene – 2: hope springs eternal

Collective IntelligenceLike many people, I hope for a better world. I hope for a world where there is less ignorance and violence and more wisdom and peace, less suffering and illness and more wellbeing and health, less closed-mindedness and selfishness and more open-mindedness and altruism. Like many people, I hope we can transcend egocentrism, embrace the fullness of life around us, and sustain the wonderful diversity of life on our planet. I hope that we can cultivate the ability to redesign our world such that there is greater collective freedom, equality, justice, democracy, sovereignty, and good governance of our global commons.

These hopes prompt a collective vision – a vision where people work together in increasingly effective ways, with growing collective intelligence, on a mission to build a better future. These hopes also prompt a belief in the central importance of our educational and political infrastructure design, where new talents are cultivated, new tools are put to use, and new teams evolve that push humanity toward a new level of systems thinking and systems activity — a new stage of cultural evolution that allows us to work together to survive, adapt, and flourish on this lonely little planet of ours.

The first century of our ‘third’ millennium is an incredibly fascinating and unique point in human history. Theoretical and observational astrophysicists place human history into perspective by reminding us that the Universe came into existence some 13.5 billion years ago and, as far as we have observed, we are the only planet that has some form of conscious, intelligent life. Geologists also remind us that we have emerged from a rather glacial epoch known as the Pleistocene, which lasted from about 2.5 million years ago to 11,700 years ago, and we are now living through the relatively warm period known as the Holocene.

In the early days of the Pleistocene, around 2.5 million years ago, the genus Homo evolved in Africa and began to spread from Africa to Eurasia around 2 million years ago, and a variety of different human species evolved over time.  Homo sapiens made their appearance around 200,000 years ago in East Africa and over the past 50,000 years — and particularly in the transition into the Holocene – Homo sapiens have come to occupy every part of the globe.  Homo Habilis, Homo Rudolfensis, Homo Heidelbergensis, Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthal, Homo Floresiensis, and no doubt other Homo species did not survive the transition.

In our sprint to the modern day, Holocene sapiens have seen the emergence of the agricultural revolution around 12,000 years ago, when our roaming ancestors established permanent settlements for the first time. Holocene sapiens have seen the emergence of kingdoms, money, script, and polytheistic religions around 5,000 years ago, as human settlements grew ever larger and evolved increasingly powerful intersubjective cultural beliefs (including belief in money and Gods) that formed a basis for large-scale coordination and cooperation across thousands, and eventually millions, of people.

And in the recent blink of an eye, Homo sapiens saw the birth of the Scientific Revolution around 500 years ago, and the birth of the Industrial Revolution around 200 years ago, and the rapidly accelerating influence of increasingly synergistic science and technology innovation.  During this time, particularly in the past few decades, the nature of our large-scale coordination has reached a truly epic scale, with billions of people interacting across the globe. Many of us are awestruck by these rapid changes.

Today, as we fast approach 2020 in the Gregorian calendar, we may wonder where science and technology, and more importantly, the wisdom that Homo sapiens have always hoped for, will take us in the future. Will the collective intelligence of Homo sapiens empower our survival, adaptation, and flourishing as a species living alongside other species? Or will emergent forms of artificial and super-human intelligence come to subjugate, overrun or even annihilate Homo sapiens, much like the sapiens have done to other species? Will we annihilate ourselves with nuclear war or massive ecosystem destruction? Or might our cultural evolution bring us closer to the wisdom that we have always hoped for? Will Homo sapiens learn to think and feel and act in ways that reflects their lofty title as sapiens? These are questions that only third millennium Homo sapiens can ask, as these are questions that could have only possibly ever have arisen at this fascinating and unique point in human history.

© Michael Hogan

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