Guest Post: Infinite Hedge: On a Long Enough Timeline, the Survival Rate for Everyone Rises to Infinity

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The last in a series (most recently: The Final Form of Human Government).

Submitted by Free Radical, with a wink, a nod, profound thanks to Tyler, and great appreciation for ZH’s contribution to the cause of human freedom and thus to humanity itself.

Infinite Hedge:
On a Long Enough Timeline,
the Survival Rate for Everyone Rises to Infinity

A man said to the universe,”
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
        — Stephen Crane

For all his striving, man pales in significance to the cold immensity of the universe. Our sun, after all, is but one of somewhere between 200 billion and 400 billion suns in our galaxy, a stellar disk that is estimated to be around 100,000 light-years across. Even so, it is but one of at least 125 billion galaxies in a universe that is estimated to span 156 billion light-years.

Our universe is also old, upwards of 14 billion years, as is our planet, at roughly 4.5 billion, and life upon it, at around 3.7 billion.

Not so, however, for our species, homo sapiens, which is estimated to have made its appearance less then 200,000 years ago – a mere 54 millionths of the time life has existed on our planet, 44 millionths of the time our planet itself has existed, and 14 millionths of the time our universe has existed.

Moreover, for the vast majority of its time, homo sapiens has survived as a simple hunter-gatherer, not inventing agriculture until around 10,000 years ago and progressing all but imperceptibly from then until the onset of the Scientific Revolution around the middle of the 16th century and the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th.  Yet as a result of this recent quickening, our species is now riding a tide of technological advance that swells on a daily basis.

Before we examine it further, however, let us reconsider our statement above that “man pales in significance to the cold immensity of the universe.”

According to an ancient (originally Latin) apothegm, “There is nothing greater in nature than man, and there is nothing greater in man than mind.” If so, then just how great is man’s mind, at least potentially?

If each human brain had only one synapse – corresponding to a monumental stupidity – we would be capable of only two mental states. If we had two synapses, then 22 = 4 states; three synapses, then 23 = 8, and, in general for N synapses, 2N states. But the human brain is characterized by some 1013 synapses. Thus the number of different states of a human brain is 2 raised to this power – i.e., multi-plied by itself ten trillion times. This is an unimaginably large number, far greater, for example, than the total number of elementary particles (electrons and protons) in the entire universe. … [Therefore] there must be an enormous number of mental configurations that have never been entered or even glimpsed by any human being in the history of mankind.

Indeed there must, “enormous” hardly doing justice to the literally astronomical num-ber of configurations of which the human mind is capable or the creative power that could be contained in any number of those configurations. Surely the greatest minds in human history – Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Leonardo, Newton, Beethoven,  Mozart, Einstein, to name an obvious few – would be laughable in comparison to a mind that approximated its true potential, the question being how it would do so. After all, the minds of these men are as rare today as they ever were, and there is scant evidence of vastly more powerful minds suddenly making their appearance.

Or is there? And are we poised instead on the threshold of something akin to the ap-pearance of homo sapiens itself, or even of life itself? With every passing day, after all, the otherwise immovable object of the state is being pushed farther aside by the irresisti-ble force of technology – technology that is today represented most notably by this:

In the internet we see our greatest hope for freedom and for the continual pro-gress of humanity. In the Internet we see the anachronistic and obsolete institu-tions of society being pushed aside for a new dawn of better things. In the Internet we see the key to diminishing the power and status of the state and liberating ourselves from its oppression and deception.

Indeed we do, it being nothing less than the great and growing power of mutual cooperation in the form of social networking, the vast potential of which is only just now being tapped and against which the state will be all but powerless. And insofar as it played a role in the creation of the Internet, the state only helped to create a monster that, unlike itself, is overwhelmingly a force for good, and one that is growing exponentially:

But it is not just the Internet and its networking capability, as other technologies are also empowering homo sapiens as never before, so much so that they are bringing man and machine together in ways that boggle the mind as much as the mind’s own potential does:

An analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the commonsense ‘intuitive linear’ view.  So we won't experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate). … Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to … technological change so rapid and profound that it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history.  The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.

However much one might be inclined to dismiss such notions as mere fantasy, the above analysis is based on well-established trend extrapolation, the pivot point being the “knee” of the curve depicted below.  That is, having come full circle from our beginning, the knee is the point at which homo economicus gives way to homo abundus, not only banishing economic scarcity to the ash heap of history but history itself:

But wait.  If man leaves scarcity behind, and thus the need for money, what about our earlier assertion that “Money…is essential to any society that we would call civil”?  If society leaves money behind, won’t it thereby render society uncivil?  Of course not.  For when society succeeds in evolving beyond money, it will merely be doing what it did when it evolved beyond barter, only vastly more so.  That is, society will increase its co-operative powers by orders of magnitude and thereby vastly increase its ability to civilize itself.  No more “Getting and spending,” in other words, that “lay waste our powers.”  Instead, we will be empowered to not only boldly go where no man has gone before but to become what no man has ever been before.

When will this singular event take place and “cascading technological progress” begin?  It will begin when the computing power of a typical laptop today surpasses that of “One Human Brain” – roughly 2030, according to the graph below, which, ironically, is precisely when Keynes (getting virtually everything else wrong) predicted that “the economic problem” will be solved:

If so, then one has to wonder if Stephen Crane didn’t get it backwards and that his poem should therefore read as follows:

The universe said to a man,
“Sir, I exist!”
“And that fact,” replied the man,
“Has created in me
A sense of obligation.”

An obligation to what?  To merely do what comes natural to him, based on his intuitive knowledge that insofar as being is, it is good, and that more being is therefore better, his own being standing at the forefront of a process of becoming that he has barely begun to grasp. Yet having dwelled long enough in that convivium – that “living together” – that he can now look back on whence he came with keen eyes, so too can he look forward, with ever keener eyes, to where he is going.

Will he in fact transcend his earthly nature and suffuse the universe with his ever-expanding intelligence? He does not know. What he does know, or at least is finally beginning to know, is that whatever transformation awaits him, it cannot happen as long as he is shackled in body and mind by the forces of nonbeing – i.e., by that which serves no other purpose than to tie him down, hold him back, and otherwise deprive him of his humanity.

And when he is ready, he will put an end to it.*

* Note to himself: mark 2030 on calendar.