22 January 2007

(1) Horace, (2) Descartes

It's a cheesy old Latin joke, but one that I can't help retelling. Philosopher Descartes said "Cogito ergo sum" -- I think therefore I am. Poet Horace said "Non sum qualis eram" -- I am not what I was. Some people don't realize that Horace wrote his words seventeen centuries before Descartes' utterance. Yes, without some knowledge of history one can mistakenly put Descartes before the Horace. Buh dum bum.

So in this post I'm going to carpe blogem and spin the ancient poet's quote wildly out of context. It will serve as an intro to the next post, which will resurrect Descartes in a virtual world and watch him puzzle out his mind/body dualism in a much simpler space.

The Horace quote appears to be just your mundane nostalgia -- a look back to a time of youth and vigor. Not much fun there, so let's just look at the phrase at face value -- the recognition of a transformation of being. I invite you to consider how we as individuals are morphing slowly (but with acceleration) along a transhuman evolution. I'll suggest that this began with the emergence of human civilization. The awareness that "we are not what we were" is already visible in the earliest writings. In Gilgamesh, for example, Enkidu is at first a "wild man" -- a human animal who hasn't yet made the change to civilized consciousness.

Biological change happens very slowly, over thousands of generations. Cultural change, however is much faster. Human civilization allowed us to grab the reigns of evolution, but with a certain amount of dissonance. As beings adapted to the pace of biological evolution we were ill-prepared to deal with the rapid pace of social change. So the first side effect felt by our proto-transhumans is a that feeling of having to keep up with an ever-increasing speed of life. The idea of the "fast-pace" of modern life is not actually a modern idea. It pre-dates even the industrial revolution. In fact, it may pre-date Horace by several centuries. I remember reading a quote from Aesop (at least I think it was Aesop -- I can't find the quote anywhere or I'd give you a link) which went something like "I saw a man pissing while he walked hurriedly along. Good gods! If this is what our life is like now, in the future will we have to shit as we run?" I'd be indebted to anyone who can track down this half-remembered quote.

Since the dawn of the Internet age I find that there are fewer citations on the fast-pace of modern life. That rapidity seems to be pretty much accepted as a given nowadays. Possibly we've already morphed on to the next stage which is more about abundance than speed. Now we complain not about life's pace, but about being overwhelmed (hence the reason for this blog). It's the "not one song, but 10,000" that Transient Gadfly posted about here (BTW -- you should check out his delightful blog: http://theoddsareone.blogspot.com/). The 20th century metaphor for our life's speed was the jet. The 21st century's emblem for our life's surplus is the Web.

I'm not going to speculate on where we're headed. Not yet, at least -- I'm still "processing". Like most of you I live in a world where my methods of communication (cell phones, email, blogs), my entertainment (digital media, computer games), my primary access to information (duh) all did not exist in my childhood. Like the guys in Firesign Theater said: "Dealing with today's complex World of the Future is like having bees live in your head. But, there they are!" Sure we're future shocked, but these are likely just growing pains. Non sumus qualis eramus -- we are not what we were. You may feel overwhelmed, but the fact is that if you're reading this blog you're no longer an Enkidu. You've already made the change. In the game of posthumanity, you a playah.


For further exploration: http://www.singinst.org/, http://www.natasha.cc/primo.htm

1 comment:

Dr. Myron L. Fox said...

You may already have found the source of the Aesop quote. But, if not, I thought I'd pass on the reference: It's from an ancient fictional work titled the Aesop Romance or the Life of Aesop; its author/authors is/are unknown. A uniform text has not come down to us; as I understand it, there are two main versions of it.