Analytic Paralysis of a Modern Intellectual
I had a strange realization today. One that informed me of my unconscious assumption that ancient peoples and philosophers were more constrained by their lack of evolved instrumentation and concepts than we are today. The more I thought about this assumption the more it became clear that the opposite was true. Somewhere along the way I skipped over the task of conducting a deeper chronological analysis of human capacity for understanding as it appears on our evolutionary timeline.
The oldest discovered remains of humanoid species has been dated as far back as 4-5 million years before present. That fact alone doesn't account for the unknown millions and perhaps billions of years spent crafting such a creature from a single celled organism. From that time up until approximately 100 thousand years ago emerged what we understand today as the modern human but more specifically, the larger cortical structure that grew along with them. A bigger and more powerful brain. I shouldn't have to spell out the point I'm making there.
From here it becomes obvious how quickly one simply ignores the fact that historical figures like Socrates (399 BC) or Isaac Newton (15th Century AD) may as well be quite literally yesterdays news in comparison to the cosmic antiquity of proto-humans. I've already ruled outed any significant differences in gene structure or biomass. But qualitative distinctions still need to be made.
Keeping one foot in stride with my original name dropping of Socrates and Newton, I should first discern the roles they played in history. We might remember that Newton was lauded for his pedigree in mathematics and calculus. He ultimately paved the ground work in how we look at objects in motion and the observable universe. Of course, this is something to be regarded with great awe and respect, however, his knowledge of physical laws didn't provide any hints about how to go about applying his theories. That's not to say that some of our greatest mathematicians have not made philosophical contributions over the centuries. A great many have...
In contrast, thinkers like Socrates engaged with the world, people and objects on an interpersonal level and drew conclusions that we occasionally put into practice to this day. In fact, much of our thoughts and virtues are the unconscious exponents of dead philosophers. More to the point, Socrates was famous for unveiling our personal biases and reaffirming our natural condition as being enslaved by ignorance. He understood the importance of knowledge but placed more emphasis on acting in the world with a greater degree of humility.
Here's the kicker, wrapped up in my original assumption was another assumption that an antidote to ignorance is limitless access to information. If that were true, then the birth of digital networks and the internet should've resulted in a global, God-like capacity for problem solving. This is palpably not the case. In many ways, it actually points to a spontaneous multiplication of problems rather than solutions. Worst of all, an abundance of smaller solutions compared to that of the ancient Greeks isn't any more helpful.
It's hard not to come to the conclusion that what we're up against is an ever increasingly complex existence. Now I'm stuck with the problem of sifting through some undigested problems that first come to mind...
We have discovered sub atomic particles but still struggle with moral dilemmas
Since birth of Socrates, the human population has grown by over 7.5 billion people. Most of us are still governed by 15th and 16th century laws and what's constitutes the law is changing every day. Perhaps there's a good reason some values have kept us afloat this long. Thirty years ago, the concept of cyber crime would sound like the imaginings of Gene Roddenberry.
We wage war with one another on what constitutes reality. Proponents of either religion or science continue to jokey for epistemological dominance. Words and their definitions are being manipulated and altered to serve larger agendas. Politics have saturated social media since the last U.S. election causing increasing tension between Americans.
Terrorism, mass murder, conflict...
We are outsourcing ourselves with technology and automation
Without sounding like a disgruntled working-classman, we will have to eventually address the problem of what to do when most tasks are done by computers. The question is not about how we deal with the job deficit, but how we maintain our sanity during this process. One of the best perks about doing something yourself is not having to wonder why you're here in the first place. Giving up responsibility becomes in and of itself an enormous personal responsibility. Something I'm not entirely confident we are altogether ready for.
None of this is too far off in the distant future. We've already created intelligent technology that has started to crack its own riddles. Even experts cannot predict from year to year what innovation is going to produce. We're already witnessing an erratic yet exponential evolution of artificial intelligence. The fuse has been lit and if its not entirely out of our control, then it will be in our lifetime. This is a whole new of level of future uncertainty.
You can't trust information anymore and there's too much of it
Despite the vast amount of automatic or man powered output of misinformation on the internet, there are some seemingly innocuous sources that are still widely used. Wikipedia, for example, is something that most people have openly agreed is untrustworthy but hasn't gone anywhere since the cat came out of the bag. Millions of people still interact with this encyclopedia daily. Imagine what type of powerful engine could come of such a hyperlinked website if it was managed with complete honesty - to the degree that it's possible. A sudden shift in perspective shows us a book with the sum total of human knowledge. But what do you do with something like that? How do you just dive into such a deep pool of relevance? It has become impossible to make a choice when the choices are infinite.
How about scholarly domains like PubMed? To the scientifically untrained eye, everything you find there would seem like equally credible to another with its sophisticated and cryptic language. But we have to remember that nothing is above scrutiny. Don't be fooled, there is sloppy and misinformed content everywhere. There is a mile high pile of research publications still waiting in line to be run through the gauntlet of criticism and review. The world would look very different if our news media conglomerates were held to the same standard. I'd rather have my news late than it be served to me a jumbled mess of assumptions.
"I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: 'what is the myth you are living?' I found no answer to this question, and had to admit that I was not living with a myth or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust." - C. G. Jung