Fictional Metaphysic is Psychosomatic Prophylactic

Dinosaurs, AI, and Moses

Dinosaurs, AI, and Moses

Someone asked: why didn't dinosaurs develop civilization? There are multiple prejudices at work in that question, the antidote for which is this provisional answer: they had one of the most glorious civilizations of terrestrial life thus far.

We must stop assuming that genetic adaptation, and specifically the modularity of facilitated variation which enables diverse successes in a riotous ecology such as dominated the middle Jurassic, must be excluded from the definition of technology. The superiority of protoavian genetics was their technological advantage. If you examine any given criterion for the existence of civilization, you'll find in it largely nothing but ecological domination via hypertrophic exploitation of core adaptive traits: for the hominid group, this is tool use and spoken language. It strikes me as simply the prejudice of an ape, to claim that nothing but a tool gripped by the hand defines technology: the longer we maintain these convenient self-glorifications, the more ignorant we become concerning what we really are. To be civilized is to dominate the earth with a minimum of effort, such that energetic extravagances become possible: that does not sound like an abuse of the term if you say it in Latin...

To make the analogue between protoavian "civilization" and our own seem more plausible, it's important to understand that Homo sapiens is not a unique species in the ape lineage, but rather the last of the hominid phyla which once had many diverse alternatives. There's growing evidence that all of them used tools: there's many paleontologists convinced that Neanderthal could speak and may have been the first to invent the core hominid toolset - namely that Neanderthal was a superior hunter-gatherer, and Homo sapiens merely borrowed and stole many of their innovations. The anthropocene is a subset of the pithekocene.

Biological intelligence is not somehow inferior to what we call "artificial" manipulations of ecological resource. Human beings continue to dominate their environment through exploitation of their two interdependent techniques: tool use, and the elaboration of the linguistic faculty in all its bewildering forms - encompassing everything from mathematics to hiphop. Additionally, we should include the extended infantilism which enables a lifetime of learning and neuroplasticity. Human neuroplasticity is probably our secret weapon - although it is also a grave risk to the species: the hominid path entails high risk of psychosomatic illness. Understanding this risk helps explain much of why and how we are different from the other animals: in place of the certainty of instinct, we have taboo, ritual, and hope.

There is the unspoken assumption, that because biological intelligence appears more constrained, it must therefore be inferior. But instinct and genetic priming are not stupid. Actually this constraint is an illusion: we imagine that human beings are free to do or be anything at all - but this is not remotely true. All this alleged freedom, arbitrariness, and diversity within humanity is limited to an extremely narrow scope of behaviors compared to all that life does and can do. Human beings cannot help but be hominid. Everything we've accomplished since the Paleolithic is a selective elaboration and hypertrophy of existing technologies. Although again it must be admitted that enduring neuroplasticity - the deferred adulthood of humanity - is exceptional: again because of the enormous risk. This is why human beings are so uniquely concerned with mental health: everything spiritual can be construed as the attempt to recover the certainty of instinctual coherence through cultural elaboration and the binding power of ritual. Usually what keeps the human being sane more than any other factor, is its craving for social bond - it's loneliness that lures us away from idiosyncratic psychosis and the artistic mood alike. Although group consensus is likely to create fictional entities and employ as much mythology as it needs to, the human being is adapted to create functional group modalities in any given environment, not merely despite its fictional metaphysics but because of it: if we've proven anything in the last 100,000 years, it's our ability to adapt to any ecology using a remarkably uniform formula as hunter-gatherers - including everything entailed by metaphysics and the role of the shaman, whose job it is to contain the potential for neurotic paralysis. One of the most important tasks of the traditional medicine man is to induce neuronal systemic crisis, pseudoepileptic catharsis, and thus achieve expiation and containment of the high potential for psychosomatic disease in the human creature. This function and its remarkable uniformity across cultures, is witness to the enduring presence of that almost anathema idea: human instinct.

As the besotted ship of fools surrounding AI hype demonstrates, we need mythology now as much as ever: perhaps more than ever, since one of the core functions of metaphysical speculation is to contain the pathological within the imaginary. When something goes wrong and our uglier nature appears, we much prefer to blame angry spirits, moral failings, fictional disasters and other hysterical displacements than confront the possibility of irresolvable tensions in the human condition, something which only the outliers can afford to imagine. The prophet speaks with the voice of the desert: he turns his ire and envy into a popular tune about false gods or the sins of the people whenever he can - maybe I should blush here and wink. Thankfully the psychologist trumps the prophet, or absorbs his power: it's the Nietzschean path to force psychology to overcome all appeals to moral authority or die trying. But prophetic authority is only desired at the critical moments of breakdown in group dynamics: when the tribe needs the influx of a radical paradigmatic shift, it becomes briefly receptive to the influence of the visionary. Just as in ancient astronomical lore, it was during the transitions between regimes that the divine child appears to save the world. Therefore we can be certain that part of the human adaptive package is to maintain wild-eyed outliers in reserve, to continually eject a small set of its gifted members to become wise in the margins - despite the fact that only a small percentage of them will resist succumbing to their own psychosomatic profile and get a chance to reinject their creative potential into the community. Most of us talented weirdos just wander around in the dark talking to ourselves - interminable interrogation is the curse of introspection - therefore I agree with the old stylings: if you're going to talk to yourself, make it into a song, a chant, a calligraphy of pathos, something done under the naked witness of the blazing starry sky, something to gift your people as medicine.