Compression - The Collapse of Time
Now! Now! cried the Queen. Faster! Faster!
Let us suppose that humanity survives these critical times and continues to evolve. What might the future look like then?
One thing is clear. Change will occur faster and faster. Much of this change will occur at the leading edge of our current technologies. Computers will become faster, smaller and more powerful. Scientists today are talking of optical computers working at the speed of light; quantum computers storing information in individual atoms and millions of times smaller than todays; and wet computers using DNA or other biological components that may offer true artificial intelligence. Whatever the technology, the computers of the future will have left current computers far behind.
Since the birth of the microprocessor in 1971, microprocessor performance has increased 25,000 times. If this pattern continues, a personal computer of 2020 will be as powerful as all the computers in silicon valley in 1998. Fantastic? Yes, but if someone had told me thirty years ago that I would be carrying the entire computing capacity of Great Britain in a brief case, I would probably have scoffed.
Such extraordinary increases in computing power and speed will change how we communicate in ways that are impossible to even begin to predict. Remember that in 1990 when the WorldWide Web was first introduced, no one, not even its originators, had any idea that it would take off like it has.
However, in addition to these and other remarkable technological developments, many of which may build upon inventions or discoveries that we cannot possibly foresee today, there is another area of progress that could become even more significant, and even outpace our accelerating technological development. This is the development of the human mind and spirit.
Looking back over human history we can see how we have progressed from hunter-gathers into the agricultural communities, followed by the transition to the Industrial Age, and now the Information Age. There is, however, no reason to suppose that information technology is our final technology; it is just the current focus of our development. I believe the next major transition will be the transition to what we might call the Consciousness Age -- a period when the exploration and development of the human mind will become our major focus.
There are two principal reasons for believing this. First, this is the direction in which our current crises are pushing us. As I have already discussed, if we are to survive the critical times we are now passing through, it is essential that we undergo a profound shift in values, and awaken to our inner truths and full spiritual potential. As Buckminster Fuller put it, we are facing our final evolutionary exam. Is the human species fit to survive? Can we develop the consciousness that will allow us to use our prodigious powers with wisdom? If our civilization continues, it will be because we have passed that test, and will have already made the step into the exploration of human consciousness.
Second, inner awakening offers us what we really want. Beneath all our searching, we are looking for an inner well-being -- peace of mind, joy, happiness, satisfaction, or however else you might identify it. All our material progress is, in one way or another, aimed at fulfilling that inner quest. We may not always see it that way, and may get trapped in the belief that material progress is the goal of life; nevertheless, our ultimate motivation is an inner one. The more that we wake up to this fact, the more that the focus of our attention will shift from material progress to the means to achieve this inner goal directly. This, as I pointed out earlier, may ultimately be what all our material freedom is for; the freedom to make the transition to this next phase of our evolution.
The Industrial Revolution happened much faster than the Agricultural Revolution, and the Information Revolution faster still. There are several reasons to suppose that if we do make the transition into this new arena of human evolution, then progress will take place even more rapidly.
First, inner evolution would represent another step in the direction of ephemeralization -- the trend towards doing more with less. Just as it takes less matter and energy to modify a piece of computer software than it does to modify the engine of an automobile, it takes even less to change our thinking.
The obstacles to inner change are not physical but mental. They are our attitudes, our mental habits, our assumptions as to what is possible, and our beliefs as to what we should do. As we learn how to release our minds from these fixations, we could find ourselves changing very rapidly indeed.
Second, as in previous leaps forward, the new arena of progress will make use of previous advances to further its rate of development. The Information Revolution has stood on the shoulders of the Industrial Revolution, and used the earlier advances of mass production, transportation, distribution, project management, and other skills and technologies to its own advantage. A similar phenomenon is happening with the exploration and development of human consciousness.
Information technology is speeding the evolution of consciousness in a number of ways. Books, one the oldest information technologies, are having a major impact. Thirty years ago, when I first became interested in spiritual affairs, the bookstores in Cambridge, England -- some of the largest and most comprehensive bookstores in the country -- had only a shelf or two dedicated to personal development. Today most cities in the developed nations have specialist bookstores dedicated to consciousness, self-development and spiritual affairs. The so-called new age market has now become the fastest expanding area of publishing; and for the last few years an average of half the top ten books on New York Times best-seller list have been books concerned in one way or another with inner growth.
On television there are an increasing number of programs focusing on health, healing, spiritual wisdom and the such-like. Movie writers sneak spiritual themes into their scripts; Overcome your fears, said Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker. Popular music lyrics repeatedly challenge the existing materialistic mindset, encouraging people to break free from their cultural conditioning. Videos and audiotapes mean that anyone can have access to spiritual wisdom from around the world. While the Internet is overflowing with sites dedicated to the transformation of consciousness. There are thousands upon thousands of pages offering advice, experience, techniques, and links to other such sites. And the number is growing daily. It may be that, just as the greatest unexpected spin-off from the Apollo 12 mission to the moon was the photographs of the earth that the astronauts brought back, the most unexpected contribution of the Internet to world affairs will turn out to be the facilitation of our inner, spiritual evolution.
The net result of all of this cross-fertilization is that we no longer have to learn the art of self-liberation from scratch, through a somewhat hit and miss approach. We can learn from each other how best to move towards a more mature mode of being. Once again positive feedback loops are at work.
The more that we awaken to our inner selves, the more free our minds will become. The more free we become in ourselves, the more creative we can be. And the more creative we become, the better we can apply ourselves to the task of inner awakening.
The more we discover about our own inner liberation, the more we will have to offer others in their awakening. The more that they awaken, the more that we will benefit. As this positive feedback continue to accelerate, we may find the maturation and inner growth we now expect in a lifetime could happen in years.
Moreover, we are all standing on the spiritual shoulders of those who have gone before. The more that adults awake from their dreams, the less likely are they to infect their children with the erroneous thinking and value system that so dogs our world. Not having so much conditioning to unlearn as their parents did, the next generation could mature that much quicker.
Already there are signs of this happening. I know many in their teens and early twenties whose perceptions, values and wisdom far outshine the liberated thinking of a couple of decades ago. Those of us who lived through the heydays of the sixties might have thought our philosophy of life was pretty cool; and by the standards of the time it probably was. But place some of the wiser kids of today back in that world, and they would stand out as beacons of enlightenment.
The net result of these feedback loops is that spiritual evolution will wind itself into ever-faster rates of progress as surely as our material evolution has. Moreover, its freedom from material constraints could lead to an acceleration in development that far outstrips our current rates of technological progress.
A Blind Spot on the Future
Because we find it difficult to entertain an ever-growing pace of life, most of us have developed a blind spot on the future. We can imagine how things will be if they keep on changing as they are now -- and even that can make us pretty dizzy -- but we find it hard to picture a world in which change keeps coming faster and faster. As a result we overlook, or ignore, the full consequences of this trend.
Most future scenarios, whether made by corporate strategists, government think-tanks, or science fiction writers, generally assume that the pace of development will continue at a similar pace to today -- or perhaps a little faster. Seldom do forecasters consider the full impact of continued exponential acceleration.
In the early 1950s, for example, eminent scientists were predicting that it would take at least fifty years to put a person on the moon, primarily because it would take that long to make all the necessary technological advances. They underestimated the increased rates of progress that led to this goal being achieved in only fifteen years.
In a similar way, the growth of information technology has been consistently underestimated. The TV series Star Trek was set to happen two hundred years in the future, by which time computers would no longer use magnetic tape, and would synthesize human speech. We may not yet have bravely trod beyond our own solar system, but as far as computers are concerned, reality caught up with fantasy in less than twenty years.
There is no reason to believe that we are not making similar errors in the present day. If we do survive these challenging times and move on in our evolution, then it seems more than probable that the pace of change will continue to quicken, and any predictions we may make are likely to materialize far faster than we anticipate.
The implications of such sustained acceleration are quite staggering. The degree of progress that humanity has experienced in the two hundred years since the Industrial Revolution is similar to -- possibly greater than -- the degree of progress that occurred over the preceding two thousand years. This in turn was of an order of magnitude similar to or greater than the progress of the previous twenty thousand years.
If rates of development continue to speed up, we could see degress of progress compressed into a few decades.
And then to mere years.
And after that . . . ?
Who knows, we could experience as many leaps in our own lifetimes as have occurred in the whole of our evolution so far.