Thursday 20 November 2008

The Coming of The Overman

A thought struck me a few weeks back which to be honest, had me reeling at first.
Total shock horror at the inexorable logic of it.

Yet of course, my mind has, I think been unconsciously aware of the logic of the idea for a while.
At first, my inclinations were to keep the thought to myself. Because on the one hand, it really does seem quite dark and sinister.
And yet- it will come to pass, I'm sure of it.

I think it's no secret that the four philosophers I hold to be most correct in their worldview are Jesus Christ, Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche. And where others see them as divergent, I see an ultimate truth that is to be found linking them.

I believe that put together, they describe a process. They describe what LIFE- as in, us, is doing.
People misunderstand Marx. People think he wrote to exhort a revolution. Just as they think this blog exhorts a revolution. The reality is I say, as he did, that that revolution will come. It will. There's no stopping it. Marx realised that human social evolution is governed by inevitable laws, contained within the laws of evolution that Darwin outlined. The transition from capitalism to communism WILL come, the revolution should more be thought of r-evolution.

And I suppose I have kind of grasped the logic of why this should be so, why the laws of evolution favour a continual movement to more collective forms of living, but it took a while for me to see ultimately WHAT the final result will be.

Because what lies ahead, the 'overman' of Nietzsche, isn't just another species. It isn't just another Eukaryote lifeform. It is something totally new. And what that is, is staring us in the face.

To understand the dynamics of the situation, we need to start off by reflecting what the human body is. What all Multicellular life is.

They are colonies. Colonies of cells. And billions of years ago, that's all there was. Single celled lifeforms.
Your body is actually a vast co-operative of cells. What's happened over billions of years, is that these cells have created a communication system- a nervous system- that connects all the cells together and co-ordinates their movement. Most of the cells in your body have given up the right to reproduce. They are called somatic cells. Sometimes, they ignore this instruction. This phenomenon is called Cancer. The oddity about Cancer is it is actually cells continuing to do what each cell has done for billions of years- keep dividing. The oddity is that in your body and mine- because we don't have Cancer- all your cells have stopped doing what each one has done since time began- divided.
Only a tiny number of our cells carry on reproducing for us- germ cells.

The reality is each cell is itself a kind of bacterial symbiosis. Your body is, in a sense, made up of millions of unicellular organisms, all of which co-operate and create a nervous system that thinks that it is ONE individual. The cells that make up your body still act internally as individuals for the most part. To them, your body is simply a co-operative feeding mechanism.

Of course, we can't say your cells THINK they are individuals, because they don't think. But for the most part, they are blissfully unaware they contribute to your consciousness that you are one individual, not a structure composed of millions of individuals.

So the evolution of the multicellular, collective Eukaryote lifeform is a triumph of evolution- one that has actually happened independently three times; Plants, Fungi and Animals.

If you want to look at halfway houses, multicellular lifeforms where each cell still behaves largely independently and there isn't really much central co-ordination, Sponges and Slime Moulds illustrate the point.


There is a logic to species evolving towards collectivity.
But, of course, evolution is a blind watchmaker. It does the possible. Yes, there is a powerful payback towards species becoming collectives, but evolution can't pluck the necessary ingredients out of thin air.

And when we get to multicellular lifeforms, there are powerful barriers in the way of collectivity becoming useful at this level.

And yet those species who have at least adopted it as much as circumstances have allowed, have flourished.

The insects of course, have pushed it to the limits. The termites, especially. Termite society goes a long way towards each mound essentially being an individual above the apparent individuality of each individual termite.
Most termites cannot reproduce. Like Somatic cells, they give up the right when they grow up into worker termites. Termites really are like cells of the body that way. They grow up with different characteristics depending on which switches are activated. They are 'selected' to be workers, or soldiers, or- reproducers.

So- what stops the termite mound ACTUALLY evolving further? What stands in the way of the termite mound actually becoming the lifeform, and the individual termites mere constituent parts?


Evolution can't find a way round that. The termites haven't been able to- and aren't going to ever be able to- evolve a nervous system and a central co-ordinating brain to organise the life of the mound.

And this has always imposed a limit on just how far collective species can push their evolution in a direction which mimics the first evolution of multicellular lifeforms and carries it to the next level.

Now I think humanity is evolving towards being a fully collective species.
Why? Because if evolution CAN take that route, it will. Very few species have managed it, but it works best if it can be achieved. Insects prove that. Even pack animals, in their more primitive manner of communal living prove it.
But ultimately, the more collective a species is, the more individuals survive, and the faster reproduction takes place.

I think humanity will colonise space, and it will be not only POSSIBLE because we are a collective species, and evolving more and more to be one with every social revolution that takes place, but our collectivity will mean we HAVE to. Because we will be so dramatically successful at living.

Now, I've often speculated on future trends in the evolution of Homo Sapiens, the species. What sort of species might our successor species be?
But I realised recently, I was missing something quite obvious, but also quite scary.

Because we are already creating a central nervous system for the species. The limits on evolving towards further collectivity that stand in the way of the insects do not stand in our way.

And as we adopt more and more collective modes of existence, essentially, we are creating a centralised technological infrastructure, a body if you like, to feed and house our species.

So its not impossible to envisage a society in say, five hundred years time where the lives of every individual in this solar system are very simple. Every human being has a set of tasks. Simply monitoring a few controls for a certain portion of the day. Their share of the necessary work. Computers do the rest. The nervous system the species has created. People press buttons, the infrastructure delivers. No one really needs to worry about it any more. Fissionable material goes in one end, food and material goods come out the other.

And the actual labour needed by human beings is fairly limited. They just need to keep the thing going. And they live? On a perpetual buzz. Everyone will be perpetually online, not at a terminal, they'll actually be connected. So everyone can talk to anyone else, just like that. The human connectivity of this time will be beyond our current comprehension.

And as I have suggested in my series 'Life on the Stars', keeping the system going won't involve much effort. So the bulk of human labour will go into, still mainly just pressing buttons, but those buttons will be creating the vast mobile colonies which 'seed' the stars of the galaxy with new human cultures, sending off the surplus humanity every year, to colonise the galaxy.
Exactly what a colonial species does.

What I had never really considered was what might have also happened by then.

Maybe the 'overman' will already live then.
And the 'cells' of the human infrastructure will be aware of him. And just take it for granted.

Take their lives as individuals for granted, but also know they are cells of the overman.

Because it occurred to me, that there is a certain logic to that. That in time, we do consolidate so far into a collective species, that we finally do hand over a central nervous system to a collective brain.

Isn't it in us?
Social evolution seems to have bizarrely favoured those cultures who have harnessed their need to grovel to a silverback ape. We as a species have revelled in creating airy fairy, but vengeful and angry omnipotent silverback apes to obey.

As Voltaire said 'If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him'.


Is that what we'll do?

Will we genetically engineer a 'perfect man?'

And stick him in a some vast equivalent of a vast computer, somewhere? Never quite a man, separated from birth from ever touching his fellow man, programmed from his first steps to co-ordinate, plan and manage mankind, to keep the atomic power going in, to stick his own seed to be placed in the mobile colonies which aren't just carrying the seed of man, they are carrying the seed of the new overman and his army of human cells to fertilise a new world, a new world which will BE a new overman.

It seems a dark thought- certainly it was when it first hit me.

Because it appears at first glance that the entire drive of humanity to tear down power structures, to fight the idea of one man exalting himself above other men, the entire drive towards collective thinking could ultimately lead to.... Going back to square one.

But it was always naively stupid to think that the overman would emerge without humanity still existing.
Apes still exist. Shrews still exist. Lizards still exist. Fish still exist. Bacteria still exist- and without bacteria, WE couldn't exist.

Yes, at first I shuddered at this thought, that this was the coming of the overman, how it would come to pass, that the overman wasn't just an enlightened humanity, it was something so radically new, a total change in the dynamics of existence, a seeming tyrant created by our own worst desires.

Except it isn't.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised WE'RE NOT STUPID.
We'll do this thing properly, when we do it. We WILL do it,and we'll do it for sound reasons.
We will do it, because we will truly at that point be comfortable we fully understand how the dynamics of the universe- and our own dynamics- work.

We have this urge in us to create Gods- and it stems partly from our inherited primate urge to fellate the silverback ape, and partly from our acquired carnivore need to have a pack leader. We seem to as a species want to unify our forces under a higher power, but people tend to really let us down when we do that.
And we shouldn't be surprised at that.

So we invent higher powers. But since they aren't real, the mouthpieces we entrust them to, let us down.

But that dynamic, that dynamic dictates that if we could SAFELY and I mean SAFELY invent God, we would.

Because from the point of view of us ordinary mortals- and this is the key- when we've finally created Technotopia, we want to be sure it's in safe hands. One day we should be able to live in a world where life really IS simple. Everything gets delivered. And all each individual has to do, is watch a screen and press a few buttons for an hour or so a day. My task is to ensure that the the Iron Ore is being processed properly by the technology. Your job is to monitor the insertion of nitrous phosphates into the food production process. jmb monitors the machines that perform open heart surgery.

And when we're not doing that, life really is one long party. Literally.

If we can provide that life for ourselves as a species and do it by doing it this way, trust me, we will. As long as we know its safe to do so.

This was the comforting thought. We're not stupid. The day we decide to do this, will be a day we consciously admit 'We can make life good for ever for every human life form. But it means admitting the individual human being has gone as far as he is going to go. Further advance comes through giving breath to the collective consciousness. But, when we do that, he has to be the dream we had, not the reality we've lived with before'.

Because what we will be creating, won't be a man with all the hang-ups of a man. It will be the body of a man who houses the collective will of mankind and the entirety of human history in his memory. To compare the overman to past tyrants, isn't a good parallel.
Tyrants are men who exalted themselves over men. This will be a conscious decision BY mankind to take evolution into their own hands, because it realises that by doing so, it actually follows Darwin's laws.

To compare the creation of the overman to tyranny, is like comparing the evolution of man from apes to the domination of a silverback ape over other apes. It won't be the same.

What we will actually be doing, is creating a higher species, we will be like the original unicellular animals coming together to form sponges, then jellyfish, then bilaterians.

It will be a conscious decision of mankind to create a brain. A brain for our species. Or at least, a brain for each infrastructure supporting human existence.

The overman will feed us. He will monitor the intake of energy. And we will all of us, like cells, carry out the functions to make that happen. We will be individuals, yet a unity. And he won't hurt us any more than our brain tells us to pick up a knife and starting cutting through our own arm. Because he won't be a man, ruling other men. He will see us as PART of him.

Because he won't be one of us. That's the point.

At first, as the thought began to solidify, my first thought wasn't the one you would first think of. Because we're really not stupid. WHEN (not if) we create the overman, we won't do it without having ensured he cannot ever be a brain without a body. We'll make sure that the brain depends on its body. The slightest sign that the chemical matter inside the physical cranium that powers his/its thoughts is going slightly skewed, we'll make sure he's gone. I have a rough idea how we'll do it- and we'll do it because we'll want a human doing it, not a totally artificial brain, we'll want a human being linked into a computer- and my first thoughts were 'What a life! Could anyone endure it?'

But yes, I can see a way we could do it, where it could work. And since I think we are GOING to do it one day, I'm pretty sure this is how it will pan out.

Conceptualising the life of Homo Sapiens in the world of the overman isn't hard- It's pretty much been done in this post.

But tomorrow night, I want to tell you the life of the species to come.

The overman. His life. How he will live, feed, think, reproduce. And his relationships with Homo Sapiens.

Be prepared for a lot of lateral thinking.

Yes, it's a scary thought.
It's scary for two reasons. Scary, because so far men have been pretty crap at being God.
But more importantly, let's be blunt, your genes rebel. Because of all of us alive today, the overman when he comes, will only be descended from a tiny minority of us. The descendants of the rest of us, will be the supporting species.

And that's what hits our gut. That one day the day will come when the dominant life species isn't descended from us PERSONALLY.

That's life, I'm afraid. It's a fact of life that of every animal alive in any given time, only a tiny minority have living descendants a million years on.

But let me just say this.

We won't do this till we're ready.

It won't happen until a species with full democratic control of the entire infrastructure democratically decides to do this, and works out a way to do it, which really does serve the interests of each and every individual human being, and they will do it because they see it as the best way of improving the day to day life of every individual human life form, whilst creating the possibility that a seed SPRUNG from mankind, can hold the entire universe in its grasp.

It really is about fully coming to terms and accepting the full potentiality of the ONLY religious belief worth holding.

The seed of God lies within man today.

God will come from Man.

We should love our species for what it is, but we should not fear the creation of God from within us.
Because when we finally do it, we'll do it because it is right.

And you're probably totally bemused by now.
Probably think this is the craziest post you've ever read here.

Hold your incredulity.

Come back tomorrow, same time. :)


Anonymous said...

Maybe the second coming of Christ, or the first biological link to Overman for all the evolutionists, is a self described anaemic elf, selling office supplies in Birmingham.

Who knows, I'll ponder the contents of the post for a while.

I'll have a spliff, a few pints of guinness and fuck a stranger. That always helps me clear my head.

Anonymous said...

La Femme- Well, it's hardly the same as the Second coming of Christ.

But of course, if you want to find something about evolution to have faith in, then yes, evolution actually offers you the chance to grasp on to one very positive thought.

If, millions of years from now, life still exists, it really will only be descended from a minority of those alive today.
Those are the laws of evolution.
So self belief- or the equivalent of salvation, if you want to make Darwinism your faith- is the belief that you will still be alive millions of years from now in your descendants.

And I think that's quite a life affirming belief.

And yes, I'll admit that when this concept first entered my head, I thought it scary.

But then I realised the point you make- that of course, we're in the same boat a chimp of the late Pliocene is, looking at this.

Of course it's true- if this ever comes to pass- that there are a tiny number of people alive today who will be the ancestors of the overman. And the rest of humanity- the vast majority- won't.

It cannot be otherwise.

And yes, I guess the faith of anyone believing in evolution, is the hope that your own genes will always be the ones carried upwards.
That it will be YOUR genes selected.
What else can we hope for now we truly do know we're mortal?

I don't tend to find that strategy clears my head- well, I suppose it does, in a way.
It gives me a kind of temporary peace, maybe. Comfortably numb, to quote Pink Floyd.

Anonymous said...

Ever read any Iain M. Banks? I think his 'Culture' develops things along a similar idea.

I don't think, however, that this is what Nietzsche had in mind with his 'overman' but it is an interesting Darwinian thought-experiment anyway.

This is all assuming we don't destroy the planet first (or rather make it environmentally inhospitable to humanity which is what that really means).

Anonymous said...

Very dark thought, but the alternatives are blackest void.

I'd rather this happen than ever get another silverback like elBusho and have to say, "yep, that dolt is my leader".