December 18th, 2004


Technology and the Psychological Effects of Magic

(Unedited random essay-rant.)

Imagine a truly post-human society. A world some thousands of years advanced from our own, where technology has virtually overwritten the original code of existence. In this place where technology has finally surpassed the bestial need for aggression against fellow citizens, or against the environment, we have remade the environment in its entirety, such that the world as it was born no longer exists.

People are always coming up with ideas. And as those ideas last, they expand, they are taken up by others, and fleshed out into something manageable. Science works this way. Technology advances because we see what we already have, and we think of what we would like to have, and we find some place in between to try and make things work to the best of our abilities. It is believed that in the future – even in the not too distant future – we will have machines which can do our bidding, by vocal command alone. Not only are we already capable of telling machines what to do in this way, but as we come to understand ourselves, and the way that sound escapes our throats, and is shaped by our mouths, the machines will soon be able to understand each point of inflection which we offer. In the future, these machines will be as capable of understanding each of us as well as we understand each other; perhaps even more so.

Still further, technology will develop such that we will no longer need to voice our commands. Already, there is technology in development so that simple motions and gestures can trigger an automated response. And still other projects are learning to decipher human and animal brainwave patterns in order to understand what is wanted, and accept and carry out the command, just as such a command might normally move one of our own limbs.

This kind of technology, these projects under constant development, is the sort of thing which inspires science-fiction stories such as The Matrix, and its 1983 written predecessor, Neuromancer. The idea that human brain patterns can be deciphered and used to manipulate a mechanical interface, in this case for use in virtual reality, but it can be equally used to manipulate freely mobile devices. The principle is precisely the same, that the electronic pulses in our brains manipulate signals in a device which then acts in response; the only difference is that in virtual reality, the only mechanical response is in the manipulation of data streams, instead of a more tangible device.

And still other technologies are being developed on the organic front. We're constantly learning more about microbial and nanobial life forms, and the nature of the symbiotic and parasitic relationships which develop between these life forms. We learn more and more about the fundamental designs and natures of these things, how they come together, and how we might use them to our advantage. How we might strike a new kind of balance, where rather than species becoming obsolete and being wiped out by viruses and diseases which evolve to bring about extinction in much the same way age brings about death in the individual, these species would live on and grow and change with the environment, and evolve in entirely new directions.

With all the things we learn, and that we will potentially continue to learn over the ages, barring any unforeseen circumstances – of which there will doubtlessly be plenty – it would seem feasible that some day in the far future, technology will take us to places that the average modern-day citizen would not normally dream of. That in the future, organic life, and the technologies we develop, will come together in whole, new ways, which would be virtually inseparable from the vantage point from any persons born in those times. Our very bodies will become organic nano-machines, which we can manipulate by will alone, as each cell will be preprogrammed to obey the commands they receive from the brain. Our brains themselves will have evolved – through special engineering – to easily calculate ways to grant our wishes, without doing any permanent harm to ourselves.

The environment itself will be capable, also, of similarly following our whims. "I would rather have a forest, here, than a lake," and so the water evaporates, and new moss and ferns begin to grow. The ground itself carries seeds along the area, and plants them automatically, triggering the process of hyper fast growth which will bring the new forest to life; where after the evaporated lake begins to fall, over time, raining down to assure its healthy survival.

In this world where technology and nature have come together so inseparably, our own psychological view of things would be that the technology which we have developed over thousands of years in itself is a part of nature. It would seem more as magic, to us, even if we retain the knowledge that in fact it was we whom had designed the world to be such. It would be ingrained in us, from birth, that the capabilities we have are a part of our very natures, that the world is as it is, and we would have no reason to consider a lesser alternative.

How long, then, would it take for things to change? How much further could things develop – or would things develop – before civilization reaches its apex, and begins to decline? We have seen that it appears to be the very nature of the universe to continually change, and that what was once born will eventually die, that anything that is made will eventually be destroyed. So let us consider, then, that over time, this world would no longer be, as it is in this far future, post-human society. We don't know the reason, no for certain; perhaps over time, the technologies begin to fail; perhaps some cataclysmic event occurs, for which we were unprepared, as we were fully satiated by our utopian society, and didn't think to look.

So let's then consider, further down the line, that there are still survivors of these radically evolved, semi-human creatures, but that the world has drastically changed from what they once knew. As time progresses, and the planet is busy washing itself of the pseudo-organic techno-environment which had been developed, the people of this civilization find themselves less and less capable of manipulating the environment as they once had. What would be the psychological effects of such an event? It would have been bred into the natures of these beings to be able to control both themselves and their environment with ease at every whim. Now, they find themselves less able, and it would seem as though their natural abilities are being lost. Like something is missing from them, that they once had.

And what of their descendants? What would happen to them? It is still a much debated theory that genetic memory may not only be feasible, but may very well be the cause of what we call 'instincts' in the complex organisms of this planet. And in this highly advanced society, it is also possible that the idea of genetic memory has even been instated or enhanced by their efforts with technology. So that each newborn could learn from their ancestor's experiences. If a kind of genetic memory, a set of instincts, was so passed along to each following generation, how long would it take for the instincts which had been bred into them through technology to wash away?

It is said that it took in the vicinity of 20,000 years for the dark skin of tribes who left Africa to lighten in adaptation to the colder climates they'd moved on to over the ages. 20,000 years just for the color of our skin go from a deep, dark brown to a more pale, light absorbent color. How long would it take for an entire species to cope with the loss of their power? How many generations following the final failure of their technology would have to pass before the people realized where their magic went, or why it was gone, or that they didn't need it? Could indeed the very instinctual need for such power be self perpetuating, and leave them hungry for ever more than they had? How delusional would a people become, with their feelings of need to access the realms of spirit and magic, to reshape the world in their image, and how well might they be able to repeat the past?
  • Current Music
    Avril Lavigne - I'm With You