Realizing our limits
A big idea, slowly starting to make its way into conventional thinking, is that our brains are actually long past their thrive by dates. We are now living in a time where computation, neuroscience technologies and mass data collection allow for in depth understanding of how the brain functions, as well as how it has managed to survive with its many flaws in a world so foreign to its conceiving.
The brain itself, is not to blame for its flaws, as its major functions were developed hundreds of thousands of years ago, where life for our ancestors was all about survival in the wilderness. Avoiding predators, finding food, water and shelter, fighting competitors, etc; were the most important parts of life, and so our brains formed intuitions, thought patterns, and other cognitive strategies, that allowed us to survive in this environment and therefore increase the chances of our genes being passed on. Thus the brain developed slowly over thousands of years via changes in DNA due to natural selection. But were always at the forefront of complexity and so intelligence.
The problem was that as we started forming complex social groups we realized that we could go beyond our individual biological limits through specialization and exchange. We were pushed to create linguistics which lead to shared knowledge, outsourcing and the development of other complex tools.
These growing social group complexities helped to widen the gap between the individual’s biological intelligence and the holistic intelligence of the group, therefore increasing ones reliance on other members in order to thrive. This, in a way halted natures plan and her naturally selective ways and pushed our brains to function in ways different to their original purpose.
And so fast forward to today, where the gap is still growing. We find ourselves in a world of complex computer technologies, information abundance and desk based careers, with an out of date brain that is still geared for survival in the wild. We are living in a new world with old hardware, and this old hardware with its wildly intuitive nature, is causing us to fail more and more often as the new world grows in complexity.
One of the major ways that we have been able to thrive in this new world, with our limited biological hardware, is by outsourcing technologies. We have created complex technology to make us more effective and efficient, but with disregard for our habitual nature. We easily become comfortable and eventually reliant on technology and consequently less reliant on ourselves and other people.
We are therefore not only isolating ourselves from society, but also increasing our dependency on these inorganic, artificial creations. In other words, our drive to keep going, well past our limits, is forcing us to depend more and more on technology and less on the organic hardware inside of our heads. It’s a sort of transfer of cognitive reliance and it will keep going as long as technology and the web, grow in complexity.
I often think about why we have this drive to increase complexity. Why are we pushing the world further and further away from our individual biological cognitive limits and so forcing an ever mounting co-dependence with the Web and technology in general?
Are we just curious to understand the universe? Is it a pursuit of immortality maybe? or something driven by our desire to compete?
And where does it lead to? Will we eventually become fully dependant on an independent technology, and therefore a sort of parasitic organism loosely hanging onto the world we gave birth to? A bit of a blue sky idea perhaps..
Kevin Kelly has a really interesting idea of why we are moving towards this co-dependent interconnected world, which he outlines in the video below.
Cover image thanks to pedro mujica