Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Faster You Go ...


"Wake up in the morning slaving for bread, sir,
So that every mouth can be fed ... "

"It is no coincidence that the most explosive period of growth for the human species has occurred during our period of greatest scientific progress.

… Nanotechnology replicators could have population doubling times comparable with bacteria (which double, on average, every 20 minutes). Such replicators … could also be the cause of growth rates higher than ever before achieved [or imagined] by humanity." (David A. Coutts)

"The faster you go, the shorter you are." (Albert Einstein)

"Your theory is crazy, but it's not crazy enough to be true." (Niels Bohr)

Some thoughts on diverting the express train of reality – before it smashes head on into deep rooted concrete …

Scientists say the universe is expanding at an infinitely increasing rate, faster and faster to infinity. Coincidently, so is the world stock of information. French computer scientist Jacques Vallee has mapped the rate of information doubling from Stone Age till now.

If 1-I is the total information required about the world to create a stone axe (including complex geological knowledge and skills, understanding of animal and vegetable processes, etc.) it took 4,000,000 years for information to double and arrive at 2-I. This first doubling occurred around the year dot, at the height of the Roman Empire. Little things like literacy, empire and transport systems really sped things up. Now we could chop trees and build empires. Cool. Of course, a lot of people got whacked by the Romans, but that’s omelettes and eggs.

The next doubling, to 4-I, took just 1,500 years, to the Renaissance, with the birth of Protestantism, the age of the printing press and Leonardo. This was accompanied by some of the bloodiest wars and purges in European history, including the start of African slavery and the murder of up to 1/3 of Europe’s females and gay men by the Catholic church. More omelettes? Now we could chop, build and replicate God (not least through the development of ‘perspective’ which gives us a God’s eye view, sub-species aeternitatis, raised above our object: the world).

The next doubling, to 8-I, took a mere 250 years, to 1750, the age of reason and the rights of man, the nadir of African slavery, the American and French revolutions, the next world-wide blood-bath. Now we could chop, build, replicate God and experiment with utopias.

The next doubling, to I-16 took 150 years, to 1900, with the industrial revolution. Now we could chop, build, replicate God, experiment with utopias and harness the machine. This period saw the birth of nihilism and the death of meaning, as finally made clear to all by the event of World War One. Welcome to our world: cars, Max Plank's first paper on quantum physics, Freud's 'Interpretation Of Dreams', America's first submarine, the first Kodak camera: modernity. Jazz was invented by a barber named Buddy Bolden down in New Orleans.

Just 50 more years to I-32. By 1950 we'd had the second world-war and the holocaust and used nukes for real, we’d had dictators, photocopiers, Gandhi, and the discovery of LSD; we'd split the atom, and Charlie Parker had expressed the mathematical bases for today’s complexity theory. The last person to know all of mathematics died in 1950.

To I-64, ten years. In 1960 there were an estimated 200,000 new mathematical theorems published annually, we had civil rights marches and tranquilizers, the first earth-orbiting space satellite was launched, using computers, and the world teetered on the brink of global annihilation with the Cuban missile crisis. A taste of things to come. And soul music and rock and roll were already the greatest force for progressive cultural change.

To I-128, seven years. By '67 all the world had heard of jazz, blues, soul and rock'n'roll. DNA was discovered by geneticists to be the building block of all life, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, the Kennedys and transatlantic direct dialing had all happened. Bell's theorem of super-luminal non-local effects was published, demonstrating how an event here can have an instant and immediate effect billions of light-years away, billions of times faster than the speed of light. ‘Zoom’ wasn’t fast enough? We had to have ‘phwit’?

According to Bell Laboratories magazine there were already more computers on the planet than humans back in 1982. And according to Moore’s law, they double in capacity every 18 months. (Presumably Moore’s law needs rewriting if computer development follows similar exponential growth pattern to information.)

Information is doubling faster and faster, every year now, and every time it doubles there is huge upheaval and mayhem, wars and calamity, as value systems are challenged and norms uprooted. Changes of the type that once took 4,000,000 years to adjust to we now face every year. More wars on the planet than at any other time in history? Mushrooming eco-disaster? What’s the big deal? That’s normal for us now. You’d better hang on tight, you ain’t seen nothing yet, we’re just getting to the top of the rollercoaster – wait for the acceleration on the downaways!

By 2012 information will be doubling every second, and shortly thereafter every nano-second (one-millionth of a second). And for each doubling more wars, complexity and turbulence.

Mayan predictions aside, is there any hope of avoiding total entropy and disappearance up our own information derrieres? Surprisingly, yes. The quantum physicist Schrodinger gives us hope that an anti-entropic vector might cut in at the crucial moment and save us all from final meltdown. And logic dictates that every flick of the lengthening tail of crisis has the potential to set us on a different trajectory, more sustainable, ethical and creative.

Two world wars and a world economy founded on conflict and destruction have put paid to a lot of the talent that might have helped us out of the hole. Most of our great leaders have been wiped out and we are left to flounder under the velvet gloved iron fist of the tyranny of mediocrity. But as long as we’re here there’s wriggle room for sanity to prevail, and because even a single point of light can fill an empty pool of darkness there is a real possibility of kickstarting a dynamic that can divert the runaway train.

Sure, the odds don’t look worth a punt. But all religion and mythology from the ancients to Hollywood suggest that we are hardwired for hope. Hope inspires vision and vision begets new narratives, new realities. That is what ‘history’ is made of. While most so-called hard-nosed gamblers (bankers, investors, corporate c-suite execs, etc.) wouldn’t bet on us making it they would bet on political and economic systems run by myopic pygmies with egos more fragile than porcelain butterfly wings. And that’s the smart money? ‘Playing smart and not being clever’!

So, how can we divert the express train? Clues abound.

There is no direct economic or scientific fix, so the answer must lie somewhere in cultural action. For culture informs all of society including science and economy. Culture is the code by which we express our humanity. Only cultural action can enable us to adapt to life set to super spin. We need to develop a cultural framework that allows us to manage the future positively, decisively, wisely. Ducking the challenges with celebrity media nonsense is like driving across London with your eyes closed.

And when we talk cultural action we talk education, for schools are the locus of enculturation. Media like TV and ICT may colour and describe the narrative of culture but school frames it and establishes the value of its currency, i.e. its social economic meaning.

And when we talk school we immediately talk youth too, for youth culture is a key element in the cultural dynamic of schools.

Ever since the tomb raiders entered the Valley of Kings we have seen how the influence of jazz, soul and rock and roll has curled out of New Orleans, like smoke from a reefer or a mummy’s curse, stretching across the globe. Since 1900 the blended folk music of African and European traditions has led the dance of the world’s heartbeat, giving us youth culture itself.

Clue: The problem contains the seeds of its own remedies. Cultural pluralism is the very essence of youth culture. And it is an important part of the historical process of information and population doubling. It should therefore be used for its potential remedial qualities.

In particular we need to use the cultural excellences of the Black peoples of the Americas, for they have the best track record of transforming ultimate adversity into blossoming partnership, co-creating pluralism with European folk-culture to form the twin pillars of all youth culture.

And we need to recognise and acknowledge that Jamaican culture has a special significance here, for all US and UK urban youth culture is disproportionately Jamaican influenced. Jamaica’s tiny population and economy makes the disproportion of its cultural footprint equal only to the disproportion of ancient Israelite culture in terms of it’s world influence: rarely has so much been owed to so few by so many. 'Why' is complex, but has to do with the highly concentrated enforced pluralism of island slavery and the heterogeneous predisposition of the predominantly Ashanti culture of those kidnapped from Africa to work that island.

Some may argue that certain negative aspects of ‘Black-influenced pluralist urban youth culture’ present big challenges to positive learning cultures in our schools today, with growing attitude and behaviour issues, underachievement (especially for males), lack of motivation and decreasing faith in society. This may even help to explain why boys of Jamaican descent are four to six times more likely to be permanently excluded from English schools than Whites. (I was one of those statistics myself, expelled from school for demanding anti-racist curriculum reform.)

But if such an argument holds true at all the opposite must also be true by the same token: i.e. the positive aspects of ‘Black-influenced pluralist urban youth culture’ must present some of the biggest opportunities for the development of positive learning cultures in our schools today (especially for males?).

If we are looking for education to break the chain of bondage to global destruction we should think about how we can work with that ‘pluralist urban youth culture’.

And yes … I do have some idea of how to embark on such a course and of the possible roadmap, opportunities and risks involved.

The only certainty is that the walls are about to go wavy and the ground shaky in the wobbly era now dawning. And when the going gets tough …

Where are those who can pull true sense and meaning from the infinitely complex super-spin that so disorientates our societies? Who has the nerve and the ability to divert the express train of reality before it crashes headlong into that rooted concrete, spilling eggs all over with no chance of an omelette in sight?

There are plenty of us out there, in schools, government, business and communities. We must work together to trace the huge cultural footprint of our youth culture, influenced as it is by urban, cyber, White, Black, Asian and, oddly enough, especially Jamaican. There is scant time for delay and the responsibility is all ours.

Education is the trigger, culture the ammunition.

We’ve got one shot.


"Don't want to end up like Bonnie and Clyde
Poor me - the Israelite" (Desmond Decker)

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