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A Global Organism

The perennial conflict between diversity and concentration of resources is entering a new phase. The creation of global economic and political institutions to resolve disputes between nations peacefully is an essential, but also very dangerous development. History suggests that such institutions will inevitably serve the interests of the powerful in opposition to the general interest. The situation is complicated by the corruption of the vast majority of governments in the developing world.

In addition to the problem of dominance by the powerful globalization presents us with the danger of a race to to the bottom in areas such as wages for the lightly skilled, environmental protection, working conditions, right to unionize and legal protection against corporate abuse and corruption. Unfettered free enterprise will seek the greatest profit without regard to the human cost.

For all of these problems it is not that difficult to provide practical solutions. We need to price in all the costs of doing business including things like environmental degradation and we need to establish a universal legally enforceable code of human rights. The difficulty is implementing the solutions in a world dominated by special interests. Whether or when we will succeed is an open question. The appeal of demagogues and simple minded solutions is all too compelling to far too many people.

I am an optimist and for the remainder of this chapter I assume we will overcome the immense difficulties of preserving diversity and creativity in globally governed world. Where will this take us? Where do we want to go? A second Eden is the starting point. The work needed to provide food, shelter and good health will continue to decline to the point where such work is largely automated. The world's population will be independently wealthy with a minimal need to work for a living. The creation of beauty, art and knowledge will be engrossing tasks. The exploration and expansion of consciousness will be the primary source of meaning and value as it becomes increasingly clear this is what spirituality is about.

There are multiple ways in which consciousness can be expanded. Traditional methods of spiritual practice are one. Far more people will have the time for such pursuits. Mind altering drugs are another. In time our puritanical attitude to such drugs will fade and our understanding of neural physiology will allow us to explore this arena more safely than is possible now. Directly interfacing physical devices with the nervous system is just beginning to be experimented with to mitigate handicaps such as blindness or deafness. As this research expands it may some day be used to expand the consciousness of those with normal sensation.

In the not too distant future the combinatorial complexity of relatively inexpensive computers will exceed the combinatorial complexity of the human brain. That does not mean that such computers will be intelligent, but it does open the door to that possibility. It is impossible to predict when machines will reach something approaching human intelligence because we still have such a limited understanding of the functioning of the brain. That it will happen in an environment of peace and creativity is almost inevitable. However that does not necessarily mean that machines will come to dominate. For simultaneously with this development will be expanded interfaces between computers and the human neural network so that human intelligence and consciousness will be expanded.

Perhaps the strangest possibility is the emergence of a global intelligent conscious organism. Inevitably the global network of connected computers and human beings will vastly exceed the complexity of any single human brain. This opens the possibility for the emergence of a world intelligence and consciousness that is as far removed from human consciousness as our consciousness is from that of the cells we are composed of. This may sound frightening and threatening and potentially it is. Any single path approach to development, no matter what resources it has, is doomed to a Gödelesque stagnation. Seeing our individual existence as being like cells in a global organism raises the specter of a monstrously cruel totalitarian state that views its people as a resource to be exploited.

The dangers are real and there is no sure way to avoid them. But understanding evolution in the widest possible context is one essential element in minimizing the risk. We need to recognize that evolution is an ongoing process and cultural and technology are both a product of evolution and essential elements in its expansion. They are the key to accelerating evolution. They are major milestones in evolutionary history like the creation of DNA the development of multicellular organisms or sexual reproduction. Seeing technology as opposed to nature or other than nature is to miss the forest for the trees. Technology is a natural product and an essential stepping stone in evolutionary creativity.

Equally essential to avoiding the dangers inherent in a unified planet is the cultivation of a wider sense of self discussed in Chapter 12. We need to feel that we are the evolutionary process. A global consciousness is our future and destiny. One must feel that their history is not just that of a individual life, but of life on this planet. One must feel that ones individual future is the future of life. When this happens one's perspective and values shift. One becomes more saintly or enlightened or whatever it is called in your spiritual tradition. One must feel it in the way one identifies with oneself as a child and with the person one will be tomorrow.

So what will we do when we become a conscious planet? That is a bit like asking what does God do. The question is way beyond us, but one can speculate about how evolution will proceed beyond this planet. Barring a revolution in the laws of physics that leads to faster than light speeds we will travel to other worlds only through robotically controlled vehicles. But these can contain much of the knowledge that human culture has created up to the time they are launched and enough biological and mechanical devices to create evolving live on barren planets. We will, as a global organism, seed the galaxy with life. Are there any limits to the evolution of consciousness?


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