Waking Up in Time

Today - Foundation for Tomorrow

“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

Lewis Carroll

All human progress has come about in what, from an evolutionary viewpoint, is virtually no time at all. We are the product of an ever-tightening spiral of development that has condensed time-scales from billions of years to mere decades. And there would seem to be no letting up. Advances in science, technology, communications, education, health care, and culture are all bound together in a multi-dimensional feedback loop. We are learning faster, growing faster, moving faster, and changing faster. In one year we experience more innovations than the Pharaohs did in a century.

Looking to the future, one thing seems certain: whatever form development may take, its pace will continue to increase. New discoveries and new technologies will lead to further new abilities, and new ways of changing the world. Creativity will continue to breed creativity.

Saving Time

As if these pressures for further change were not enough, there is another factor that is fueling the increasing pace of life: our attitude to time. Much of humanity has become obsessed with time -- particularly in those cultures that have experienced the greatest leaps in material development. Believing that time can be “saved,” we seek to pack more and more into the time available. We shop in supermarkets to save the time it would take to visit several stores -- and we like quick check-out lines. We build highways around and through cities so that we can reduce journey times by fifteen minutes, and so pack a few more things into our day. We spend fortunes digging tunnels that will save us another half-hour. We construct noisy and polluting supersonic aircraft (and plan even faster ones) so that a very small minority can save a bit more time. And we create ever faster microchips for ever faster computers, so that software loads quicker, pages render faster, data is analyzed more rapidly and a tiny bit more time is saved.

Any development that can do something more quickly has an advantage in the market-place. Seduced by the idea of temporal efficiency, we focus much of our creative talent on getting more and more done in less and less time. With the extra time we have “saved” we pack in some more tasks -- and then require another time-saving tool to cope.

However giddy today’s rate of development may seem, tomorrow’s world will -- barring calamity -- be changing even faster. And the world beyond that yet faster still.

Wherever Next?

But where are we going? Where will our burgeoning creativity take us next? What does the World Trade Center’s next layer of paint hold in store?

In the short term, technology will extend in some fairly predictable directions.

  • Computers will become yet faster, smaller and more friendly, invisibly pervading almost every area of life.
  • Increasing miniaturization and nanotechnology will lead to robots the size of living cells, or smaller.
  • Medical science may extend human life by another decade or two.
  • The telephone, television and computer will be integrated into a single multi-purpose tool.
  • Genetic reprogramming will offer new treatments for otherwise incurable hereditary diseases -- as well as new drugs, new foods, new insecticides, etc.

Yet, at the same time as we push ahead towards greater technological brilliance, the dangers of misapplying our awesome powers are also becoming increasingly apparent. Life on planet Earth is suffering badly from the impact of our waste. Its mineral and biological resources have been plundered. Its delicately balanced climate is being disturbed -- perhaps irreversibly. Moreover, as resources dwindle the tensions between people increase, and threaten to explode at the slightest provocation.

But one thing is certain, the future will be full of surprises. Who in 1900 would have predicted the solar cell, genetic engineering, nuclear weapons, radar, microchips, the personal computer, satellite navigation, lasers, television, videocassettes, pocket hi-fi, or many of the other breakthroughs that we today accept so easily? They were all beyond the thinking of the time. Most of them were still beyond our thinking half a century later. Even twenty years ago, no one foresaw the impact that personal computers would have on our lives. Even science fiction writers got it woefully wrong.

How then can we be expected to foretell the next twenty years accurately. Or even the next five or ten years. As much change is likely to be compressed into them as has occurred in the last twenty years. Most of the breakthroughs that are to come remain, quite literally, inconceivable.

Inner Evolution

One area where we may see some of the most exciting developments is the exploration of human consciousness. We still know very little about how sensory perception leads to awareness and how ideas come into being. We have very little understanding about our feelings, or the ways in which our attitudes affect our perception, and behavior. And the inner self, that most intimate aspect of the conscious mind, remains as mysterious as ever.

This is the next great frontier -- not outer space, but inner space. Moreover, research and development in this area is more than just an option; it has now become an imperative. In the following chapters we shall see how the crises in which humanity now finds itself demand we undergo a fundamental shift in consciousness.

Our power to change the world may have made prodigious leaps, but our internal development -- the development of our attitudes and values -- has progressed much more slowly. We seem to be as prone to greed, aggression, short-sightedness, and self-centeredness as we were two-and-a-half thousand years ago when the Greeks were extolling their ethical philosophies and the virtues of self-knowledge. Many good words have been spoken over the intervening years; but how many have been lived?

If we are to continue our evolutionary journey it is imperative that we now make some equally prodigious leaps in our ability to transform our minds. We must wake up and develop the wisdom that will allow us to use our new powers for our own good -- and for the good of all. This is the challenge of our times.

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