Images of the past – II

Two great contingencies keep watch over the river of human history, great pillars of stone between which the stream of our interwoven consciousness flows. First, the contingency associated with the emergence of the Neolithic and thence human script; second the looming, imminent diffusion of our thought into the shared collective cloud, underpinned or augmented by artificial minds. It is at this second waypoint which the human now finds itself. The human holds in one hand the stone axe, and in the other cradles the neuralink. The potential of the human’s proclivity for technology is fully realised, perhaps, as the node is inserted. Do mind-body dichotomies and ideological concerns dissipate in its computational force? Most importantly, will historical anguish and political alignments dissolve as human commonality prevails?

As the human casts its eyes backwards along the already navigated river, what does it see? How does the imminent metamorphosis affects its historical gaze? And more, how will the cloud-dwelling human then see time and history?

One explanation is that a relentless melting away of the narrative structures of the human past will begin. As the human mind accelerates away, the pitiful epochs, empires, intellectual trends, economic shifts and cultural movements will recede and dwindle, falling away to nothing, the periodisation and stories upon which its historical knowledge is poised collapsing into meaninglessness. We have seen this process before, on a more limited scale. Crucial past ideological or religious differences now seem petty. The great shifts in population and even ancient wars seem trivial, inconsequential, or predictable and recurrent. They did not seem so at the time; and similarly, as the entirety of human history decays and withers, we will wonder, as our minds are released upon a limitless landscape of thought, what all the fuss was about. We were there; and now we are here.

Alternatively, the human mind in the cloud will retain its reverence and curiosity regarding the past. It may do so as an intellectual indulgence, or categorise even recent historical traumas in the detached way we view ancient warfare and culture. Or it may find its care for the past sharpening. Why would we feel less pain in relation to an ancient crime, compared to one sixty years ago? Something more fundamental may also occur. Western linear views of time may falter; radical recompartmentalisations of time may thrive. Across human intellectual imagination, many conceptions of time recur; although the cloud will spring from the technological and philosophical conditions of the West, the neural conditions of the cloud might mean other traditions prosper. A fitness function may emerge, by which the heuristic most closely applicable to the human’s condition is favoured: which model for time and the human past will win out? Radial cosmological and chronal models may be appropriate. These, neatly, correspond with ancient, neolithic, and some Eastern and traditional models. We’re here, and we were here, and we will be here again. Same shit, different epoch.

And as the human stands, hands upturned in bewilderment, faced by the great monolith of our past, it is confused. This confusion has a new urgency, so imminent is its technological transfiguration. It senses this, as it wallows in its consumption and in its social hypochondria. All answers evaporate, and all questions hover brightly. Time and the human’s story have lost all meaning; and the human is numb.

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