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Just what sort of creatures have we become, in our 'progress' from makers of hand axes to "artifically intelligent" androids? Human genetics have changed little in 200,000 years. But our human systems have changed drastically. Are we in control of our vast technological systems, or have we become the servants of our creation? If the latter, then what is the 'characteristic spirit' of our new master?


A variety of animals use tools, such as crows and chimpanzees. Our hominid ancestor, homo habilis, or "handy man," was named in reference to the stone tools found with its remains in the Oldewan region of East Africa. From its time, some 1.65 to 2.3 million years ago, through homo ergaster and homo erectus, hominids were tool makers. The species goes 'hand in hand,' as it were, with the purposeful creation of extra-bodily implements -- or technology. Human tool use is distinguished in part from other animal tool users by our ability to employ tools to make tools, or techno-logical skills that enhance technological extensions of bodily functions. That capacity gave an ape-like biped of modest physical strength, relative to other animals its size, the ability to act as a super-predator and eventyally extend its range across every continent except Antarctica.


It is useful to think of technology as 'leverage,' as in using a pole for a lever to increase one's ability to lift a heavy stone. A lever literally multiplies human strength. Externalizing human capacities provided more 'manipulative leverage', directly and indirectly, over objects, animals, plants, even other people. By the time of modern humans (or homo sapiens, meaning 'wise or knowledgeable man') this logical technique of making technology from technology enabled the manipulation of entire environments, construction of monumental architecture, supersonic flight, and the instantaneous transmission of information around the globe, etc. Along the way, our brain size increased considerably.


Genetic human evolution thus appears to have occurred, in part, through the interactions of body, mind, tools, and environments. The early use of technological enhancements of bodily functions created feedback loops between all four. Tool use and its consequences became an environmental factor that influenced which genetic traits natural selection favored. Traits of body function and intelligence that enhanced tool making promoted adaptive capacity, thus were favored by fitness selection. The interplay of body, mind, and tools became a fundamental trait of 'being human.' It literally altered the external environments within which humans lived, through hunting, herding, and agriculture -- each of which had its own technology. It is important to note that extensions of human capacities are not just implements and what we make with these, but include numbers, writing, calculation methods, and record keeping. Clearly, in terms of cultural evolution, this technological capacity has played a major role in the emergence of industrial civilization and its worldwide dominance as the primary form of human societies.


We would not be human, in the ways we are, without our technologically enhanced bodily and mental abilities. Our brains and minds have evolved to be techno-logical. The functions of our tools are 'in our minds,' yet, somehow, our 'minds are in our tools.' Though we are not our tools in a physical sense, we could not exist without our tools. We have 'externalized' our adaptive capacity. And contemporary humans are utterly dependent upon massively complicated technological systems for their survival. Indeed, most of our efforts are in some way or another 'in service to' those systems. They would not exist without us nor we without them. Of course, there are a handful among us who could go off into the woods and survive without modern technology, though such grow fewer by the day. The vast majority of us have no idea how to use an axe, a spear, start a fire from scratch, or build a shelter.


A cyborg is defined as an organism, a biological entity, but one that has enhanced abilities derived from some artificial technology which has been incorporated into the organism through an integrated feedback network. That is, the organism and the technology have become a 'single system.' For some people this cyborgism represents a dystopic future in which humans have become more like machines than animals. Think of the "Borg," from the Star Trek movies, and their ominous prediction of dominion, "Resistance is futile." But for others, modern humans seem unable to communicate or navigate without their smart phones, so have already become fully cyborgian. It even appears to many that our machines will displace our biological body-minds and carry on their evolution without us-- or that we will somehow live on in/as computers.


Given our co-evolution with technology, it might reasonably be said we were, from our very origins, cyborgs. A tool only exists 'as a tool' because it is integrated in a feedback network with a human mind and body. Human organisms only survive because they participate in such feedback networks. But clearly, we contemporary humans do not just 'use tools' to adapt to natural environments. We depend on vast technological systems to create and sustain the urbanized environments in which we live. These systems dictate the structure of our societies and economies. The more complex they become the more we depend upon them for our existence. Many people now feel that they no longer control their personal lives, but that Technology, writ large, is their master.


The Internet is not directly under our control. It is interdependent with and enables all the technological systems of our industrial economies that facilitate its operations. Though the whole of this network arises from the actions of millions of human agents. But, like an ant colony, those interactions enable purposeful self-organization and adaptation at a 'higher level.' There are numerous subsystems contributing this overall integration. Corporations like Apple, Google, and Facebook obsessively strive to expand its influence on us. That is the purpose of their existence. From a systems science perspective, it is a kind of "super organism" -- a self-directing meta-system that arises from interactions of biological agents but is not, itself, a biological entity. Humans are said to be the dominant species on the planet. But what about this super-organism of technology that we have externalized around us? The two are codependent, but which one has more influence over the other? Have the manipulators of tools become the tools of this complex adaptive system our species 'gave life to?' Have humans, who once enslaved other humans, now become the 'slaves' of their machinery? One thing is obvious: technological innovation appears compulsive. Our future is imagined as ever more technologically 'advanced.' Most believe technology will make us more comfortable, richer, more powerful, even happier. With the rise of "artificial intelligence," we begin to transfer what direct control we have over this super organism to its 'machine mind,' its own 'computational agency.' Though some experts warn that AI could 'turn on us,' it appears inevitable we will grant it autonomous 'android status.' We even see our selves in its terms, as 'computers.' We have progressively made, and experienced our selves, as ever more cyborgian.


Media theorist Marshal MacLuhan once observed that technological externalizations of human capacity have a psychological effect he termed an "outering," in which part of one's self is experienced as not just 'extended' but "amputated." Our tools, from stone axes to computers, displace experience of a body or mind function 'to' an external thing, tending to make one feel less capable or adaptive, less complete, even disabled, in the absence of the tool. In such a view, the elaboration of our cyborgian character diminishes our sense of 'sufficient inherent adaptive confidence.' Once having driven an automobile, walking can seem like an utterly inefficient mode of travel, lessening one's sense of one's own embodied capacity.


An additional idea worth considering is termed "extended cognition." The most obvious examples would be the extensions of computers or smart phones. In using these, human mental capacities are amplified by becoming interdependent with computational machines. With self-learning artificial intelligence, a machine is literally mimicking aspects of the human cognition with which it is networked. This notion is likely derived from anthropologist Gregory Bateson's concept of "extended mind." Bateson used the example of a blind person navigating with a cane. In the absence of vision, such a person must project a concept of an invisible world, must 'extend' their cognitive processes beyond their body. What is now termed "embodied cognition" considers how our consciousness derives in part from our external environments, actually networking with the tangible world of things and events. We are actually 'thinking with' or 'through' external aspects of our environments. In considering our cyborgian relationship with technology, this concept suggests how our minds and tools become networked into a particular complex adaptive system. This network has postive reinforcing feedback loops. Thus, unconsciously at least, we 'become our tools,' or our technology 'becomes us.' The more we are immersed in a technologically derived and dependent environment, the more our cognition is 'extended,' the more human agency becomes entangled in this cyborgian system -- as in when our smart phones are 'running our lives.' If we lose our smart phones, we feel we have 'lost our selves.'


In all this there is a sense of extremity. If a little control is good, more must be better. If our current technologized existence is threatened, then we need more technology. While humans have existed through technological adaptation for millennia, by the 21st Century, we have become utterly obsessed with this cyborgian aspect of our character. The result has been both astonishingly creative and horrifically destructive. Human populations have exploded, material comforts elaborated, but so has human brutality to both humans and natural systems. The industrialization of war, mass murder, and ecological exploitation are inseparable from modernity. Such devastation, heading now toward collapse of the biosphere, and thus human extinction, does not seem 'wise.' Homo sapiens appears to have become 'homo sapiens mechanicus' -- 'mechanically knowledgeable man.' We are knowledgeable about technology, but not wise about its consequences.


In mythical thinking, human behaviors are understood to be influenced by non-human spirits or divine agency. These 'forces' are represented as personifications that have archetypal character. There are gods and goddesses that personify the behaviors of war, wild nature, hearth and home, marriage, commerce, dance and music. Their character and recounted deeds provide insight into the patterns of thought and action human behaviors can express. Mythology is a symbolic form of psychology. The stories about how these gods influence human behavior often indicate what happens when one god or spirit 'takes over' and pushes behavior to an extreme. These archetypal metaphors of myth are psychological mirrors that can assist people to understand the behaviors of themselves and their societies. Among early civilizations, the Mesopotamians imagined a god-spirit with the capacity to build cities, Marduk. As the metaphor for technologically focused civilization-creation, he is represented as defeating and dismembering an animal-bodied goddess, Tiamat, who personified the chaotic creativity of wild nature. Accordingly, Marduk's character appears as aggressive, merciless, and triumphal. Here we see a mythological distinction aboout the human impulse to 'defeat wild nature' in the technologically empowered establishment of civilization as a 'tamed domain.' Psychologically, the 'wilful wildness' of Tiamat, and the 'forceful taming' of Marduk, are manifestations of archetypal behavioral patterns in 'human nature.' Posed as these are in an opposition that results in the triumph of the aggressive Marduk, a split is mirrored in human culture between The Wild and The Tame, with a reflexive bias toward the latter. The Mesopotamians were 'up front' and honest about the 'spiritual character' of their civilized system: it existed to triumph over Nature.



In our modern world we do not have such metaphoric symbolism that imagines the characteristic forces manifesting in our systems. At least, we do not have a culturally shared imaginal personification of our cyborgian character, of the spirit or 'godliness' of Technology -- though there are some candidates in popular imagination, such as "The Borg," "The Matrix," and Mary Shelly's earlier Dr. Frakenstein (the doctor, not his monster).


It is worth noting that what mythological background still reverberates in our modern cultures predisposes us to the 'conquest of Nature.' The Christian church once promoted the notion of "The Great Chain of Being." This is an extremely hierarchical, top-down conception of order in the world. At the apex reigns an omnipotent singular divinity, with humans in second rank of importance dominating animals, plants, etc. Tellingly, at the very bottom is a realm of 'devils and demons,' which can be understood as agents of corruption and disorder. Relative to other mythologies, this view of divine agency as infallibly 'in control of everything, forever' and humans as superior to all Nature, is rather exceptional.



Though we lack a contemporary 'mythological mirror,' we can apply a version of myth's archetypal characterization to our modern systems. This can be termed 'archetypal analysis' of system behavior. If we reflect upon technology as an adaptive system that asserts itself characteristically, we can look for examples. Historically, human amplification of bodily functions changed little for tens of thousands of years, while humans lived a "subsistence life-style" as hunter-gatherers. Then, perhaps in relation to climatic changes after the last Ice Age, human techno-logical extension diversified and flourished as civilized societies, amplifying human capacities for agriculture, manufacturing, architectural construction, and warfare. Tools were used to make the 'tools' of plows, irrigation systems, granaries, pottery, harnesses and carts for domesticated animal power, urbanized cities, ships for trading, instruments for writing, record keeping, and weapons of war. Civilizations with this level of technological amplification gained dominion over natural environments, accumulated surplus food, elaborated material possessions, advanced metalurgy, created money, generated centralized political states, conducted wars of conquest, institutionalized slavery, and often developed extreme inequity in their social hierarchies. This amplification of our cyborgian spirit gave social systems greater power over both the individuals that comprised those societies and the systems of natural environments.


Civilization is clearly an expression of techno-logical thinking, and the increases of manipulative control that this cyborgian aspect of 'being human' can generate. Indeed, it institutionalizes that control as the 'sine qua non,' the most essential aspect, of civilized society. The political state systems it enabled claimed a "monopoly on violence," the ultimate power of life and death over their subjects. By and large, a person's life no longer 'belonged to them,' or their community, but to technologically enabled authoritarian social systems. Now that is control.


And so it went, for thousands of years, again without much variation, until modern times. Along the way, numerous civilizations and empires flourished and typically collapsed, often due to how they debilitated of their environments, or conquest by some other civilized state. A prominent characteristic of these technologically amplified societies has been aggression towards each other and readiness to use violence toward their own subjects when these challenged existing social hierarchies. But the modern era, if we identify it with the technological eruption of the "industrial revolution," from the mid 18th to mid 19th centuries, took cyborgism to a radically new level.


It is difficult now to comprehend the extent of that change in relationships between humans and technology. While vast quantities of material goods had been manufactured prior to the invention of steam engines, the earlier mode of manufacture was "cottage industry," meaning independent workers living in their homes who processed materials through manual weaving, pottery, blacksmithing, carpentry, etc. The cyborgs of that time still worked mostly with hand tools and governed their own work lives. With the advent of wood, then coal powered steam engines, the human/technology network changed dramatically. The mass-production factory and the time clock became the masters of working life. Railroads, steamships, telegraphs enabled world wide empires. The powers of the human/technology network multiplied through material science. Marduk was on the march and the remaining corners of the planet still under the dominion of wild Tiamat were rapidly subdued. Though the prevailing description of the industrialization regards modernity as 'human progress,' the brutality and destruction it imposed upon both people and natural systems is truly beyond conception. In pursuit of what we thought was 'the good,' we have often turned the already authoritarian state into totalitarian and fascistic systems. But the ultimate outcome is the present catastrophes of general ecological collapse and the disintegration of global climate regularities. The ancients were harmless compared to us. And still, exponential economic growth and ever greater technological advancement are 'the order of the day,' Cyborgism has become a kind of religion. We might term our behaviors as 'hyper-cyborgism.'


Critiques of this history often focus upon the greed of socio-economic elites and general human short-sightedness. But if our societies have become subordinated to the feedback loops between them and their technological systems, then our collective behaviors might better be understood as an expression of that network's biases -- its inherent archetypal impulses. If humans have become enthralled by these, then our behaviors likely express the same tendencies. It is crucial to consider here that we may think, even feel, we are acting from values and for purposes that are actually contradicted by the consequences of our cyborgean actions. We may feel our smart phones, Amazon shopping, jet travel, and consumer societies make our lives better, without realizing the misery of low wage workers, environmental devastation, and even damage to our own brains and bodies that result.


But why did our cyborgism escalate so vehemently to produce modernity? Why, after thousands of years of civilization, did the Industrial Revolution occur? It can be argued that the discovery of fossil fuel energy and the elaborations of the 'machine age' were not the primary causes but the consequences of cultural changes. Three cultural threads might be relevant here. One is the Christian notion of a top-down "Great Chain of Being," in which humans are destined to hold dominion over Nature. Another is the Christian derived regard for the individual, for human liberty from oppression. A third is the intellectual Enlightenment in Europe , which overlaps the era of the Industrial Revolution. Here it was thought that Reason and Science would 'liberate' humans from superstition, political tyranny, and economic inequality. Though there is an anti-religious aspect to these ideas, they actually reinforce the concept of human domination of Nature and the ultimate primacy of logical control of everything. In addition, Enlightenment thought promoted the primacy of individual liberty and the personal pursuit of material prosperity. So it has been argued that some people in this time period actually conceived technology as what would "redeem Adam," and make the earth a paradise for humans (See David F. Nobel's "The Religion of Technology"). Thus our tendency to be 'religious' about our hyper-cyborgism, to unconsciously grant it some 'divine agency,' has a 'cultural history' to it. It is supposed to 'save us' from our weakness, even 'make us immortal' by transferring our 'selves' into computational machines, where we can 'live forever' -- not as cyborgian humans, but as fully mechanical androids. To 'be god-like,' in reference to our cultural background, is to 'be infallibly in control' of everything. Try as we have, we are making a mess of it. Perhaps our android descendants will have more control over their 'selves' than we over ours.


From a systems science perspective, this run-away technologizing in pursuit of 'absolute control' can be understood generally as an exagerated expression of an inherent self-asserting impulse in complex adaptive systems. These are systems that manifest the capacity to regulate and adapt their forms and functions so as to further their continued existence. Natural selection for fitness favors the evolution of successful adaptations, both in genetic terms but also cultural ones. Orca whales are one genetic species but develop different hunting behaviors in different parts of the world, related to specific ecosystems where they live. These are considered cultural adaptations. So these different whale cultures are optimizing their adaptive capacities in different ways. Humans behave similarly. But with industrial technology, powered by fossil fuel energy, our self-asserting system impulse has 'run amok.' It has 'freed' us from the constraints of our environments to the degree that we are overwhelming the self-sustaining assertion of natural systems. If some aspect of human systems does not act to impose constraints on our hyper-cyborgism, the latter's inherent self-assertion will pursue its goal of 'absolute control' to its 'biocidal' conclusion.


Returning to the perspective of archetypal analysis, we can ask what are some basic traits of cyborgism, of the extending of human functions through tools. Tools use is 'technical' in the sense that it requires 'technique.' This word means 'a way of doing, performing, or executing a task' and a 'skillful or efficient means accomplishing a procedure.' There is an inherently sequential aspect to such technical skill, whether in knapping obsidian to make a hand axe a million years ago or generating computer code today. Machinery operates in highly sequenced processes. Computer programs are encoded with 'ones' and 'zeros.' It is binary, very 'either/or,' and must be 'read' in sequence. In these examples one finds a bias toward goal-directed thinking achieved through skillfully sequenced technique. Control and a kind of 'single mindedness' are essential. Technologically enabled civilized systems tend to be configured as 'top down' networks with 'command and control' structure that are maintained by sequential procedures.


The cyborgian in us favors such traits of thought and action. In the modern world, with all our machinery and digitalized devices, nearly everything we do is imbued with this sequential command and control mentality. Our environments are constantly facilitating it or even carrying it on 'automatically.' Indeed, there is a telling link between our computer age and the flint knapping of homo habilis. The term digital, which now refers to computer programing, data storage or transfer, and numbers, derives from the Latin digitus, meaning finger or toe. Presumably, this derivation comes from both 'counting with fingers' and the primary use of fingers to manipulate things -- to be technically skillful. And it is our fingers, after all, that are the primary interface of our networking with technology.


However 'mechanical minded' we have become, we humans are not machines. We are self-organizing, self-animating organisms. Creatures of emotion, makers of the symbolic expressions of art, who sing, dance, dream, suffer, and love. These aspects of 'being human' are not much expressed by our hyper-cyborgian obsession with technology. Cultural resistance to the impact of industrial technology began at the onset of the Industrial Revolution with the Romantic Movement. This "Romanticism" countered Enlightenment emphasis on reason and science by prioritizing intuition, emotion, aesthetic experience, and idealizing Nature in contrast to the degrading effects of industrialization. The Luddite movement of textile workers in the early 1800s resisted mechanization in defense of their craft-based skills and economy.The invention and use of the atomic bomb gave impetus to a whole genre of science fiction movies in the 1950s that imagined catastrophic consequences of our scientific technology. We have had five decades of environmental activism seeking to protect natural systems from human ones. But none of this has slowed our exponential "outtering" of human manipulative capacities in the pursuit of more control.

Contemporary psychology provides a way of characterizing behavior similar to myth's archetypal personification of gods and spirits. With its diagnostic terminology, it differentiates extreme expressions of human behaviors with terms such as narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, psychopathic, schizophrenic, psychotic, neurotic, paranoid, manic, depressive, dissociated, bi-polar, addictive, etc. Given the destructive impacts of our hyper-cyborgian civilization, we can examine it psycho-pathologically. If we examine our collective systems, with their now universal bias toward cyborgian extension of our capacities for manipulative control, what sort of 'personality traits' are revealed? Firstly, it appears that the more technologically enhanced a society is, the less it appears to notice or respond to the effects it has upon other systems, particularly those of the biosphere. It seems that emphasizing our cyborgian aspect progressively alienates human systems from natural ones. The world, even our selves, become 'just more material to be manipulated.' In exaggerating control of our environments we become insulated from and less empathic toward other life forms. Such inability to 'feel' the disruption or distress of 'others' resembles the psychological diagnosis of being psychopathic. That is an anti-social state of impaired ability to feel empathy or remorse, characterized by uninhibited egotism and a tendency to exploit others without regard for the consequences, or even for the 'pleasure' of being mean and destructive.


Our inability to stop exploiting both human "underclasses" and the biosphere in order to further indulgence in control and consumption also resembles an obsessive-compulsive diagnosis, as well as that of addiction. There is no doubt we 'know what we are doing,' but collectively we cannot stop, we manically pursue ever more -- or, at least, the self-asserting complex adapting system of Technology does so. Perhaps this narcissistic and compulsive behavior involves a symptom of collective neurosis, a deep anxiety about inadequacy in the face of our dependency on the technological system we feel we 'can't live without.' Then again, our over-emphasis upon the cyborgian side of our nature might be creating disassociation in which we have actually 'lost touch with reality.' All these psycho-pathological conditions appear to apply to our hyper-cyborgism. There is nothing practical or logical in pursuing utterly un-sustainable behaviors while knowingly driving the sixth great extinction of life on earth and collapsing the global climate system that has made earth habitable for our species. We are clinically insane.


The Mesopotamian god-spirit Marduk was a terror to Nature. But his powers were paltry compared to our civilization's god-spirit of hyper-cyborgism. We have created a monster. And, like all our tools, it is and is not us. We have extended our manipulative capacities into a system that has no empathy, no sociability, only a mania for extending its powers of exploitation. Yes, there are more benign and even beneficent aspects, like medicine and the pursuit of scientific knowledge. But these in no way compensate for the rampant despoilment of life occurring.


So how to contend with such a monstrosity in which our larger humanity has become entrained? In traditional pre-modern societies, tools were often regarded as 'having soul,' as somehow being 'self animating.' thus worthy of great respect. These were, after all, the means by which humans could survive and prosper. These "outtered" aspects of humanness had a kind of 'life of their own.' That was also how such people regarded the systems of nature, as fellow creatures with feelings. With our vast amplification of mechanical technology, it became easier to 'take it for granted.' We made it, it serves us. We have become "psychologically inflated" with our 'god-like' powers. Machines have been our slaves: used, abused, and readily discarded in favor of the next, more powerful version. We do not care about our tools so much as the advantages we gain by them. If we regarded them as 'having spirit,' or being an aspect of our 'spirit,' that has impacts on the 'spirit' of other systems, might we behave any differently?


If we are to avoid being rocketed to our extinction by the psychopathic temperament of our hyper-cyborgism, we shall have to differentiate our sense of being human from the seductive powers of it 'as an autonomous system', one which thrives by the subordination of our own agency to its manic purposes. But that means we must see our selves as "addicts," as 'out of touch with reality,' as "codependent enablers" of an "obsessive-compulsive sociopath," so that we might redirect our priorities, indeed our inherent cyborgism, to other, more life-sustaining purposes. In this view, it is not the individual persons so prominently acting in service to the "Technosphere," the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs, that are 'the problem.' It is 'The System,' as a complex adaptive network, as a 'creature in its own right.' Here there be dragons.










David F. Nobel: Religion of Technology

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/331339/the-religion-of-technology-by-david-f-noble/

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In the beginning was no thing, but The One -- a singularity of infinite density -- agitated by quantum fluctuations fomenting a Big Bang of cosmic expansion inflating into inconsistent differentiations of The Many -- pockets of energetic matter -- activating an ocean of gravitational waves whose tides and eddies roiled the flotsam and jetsam into stellar furnaces, contracting, transforming what was into what is through nucleosynthesis, colliding, exploding into ever distending space, populating it with new elements and endless variations of planetary concretions, galaxy upon galaxy, for 13 billion Earth orbits worth of traveling light, till The One that became The Many spanned 46 billion, so far as can be seen. And still, it rockets on, and out, swelling itself from itself with epic violence.


All this, and much more, is speculated by mortal sentience peering back in time from the thin veil of atmosphere clinging to a blue-green spec held in thrall by a minor star in an average barred galactic spiral churning its 100 plus billion blazing alchemical furnaces around an ordinary black hole of light-devouring gravitational compression, reminiscent of that originating infinite density.


However it came to be, this Cosmos that is our Earthly sky is ever rending and stretching, devouring and regurgitating, continually ordering itself out of its own disordering. Yet, on the time scale of our effervescent lives, even that of our species' entire existence, the vast celestial panoply appears to stand still. That familiar night canopy of twinkling dots is always tearing at itself, roiling, falling in and away, raining its star dust fragments down upon us as photons, microwaves, meteors, ghostly neutrinos that pass right through our pulsing bodies, even this solid-seeming planet.


So it is above. But how below? Truth be told, the science that reveals such cosmology tracks even greater complexity, more astonishing order emerging from disorder, within this thin organic film of biology where the same dissipation of potential energy that impels the cosmic creativity also fuels the emergence of purposeful agency. Systems science takes us on a fantastical journey into a maze of interdependent interactions jangling and agitating each other, like quantum fluctuations in the Big Bang, but from which continually emerge the unpredictably self-organizing behaviors of cells and bodies, brains and minds, cities and societies, moment by moment, all dependent upon a background cacophony of chaotically simultaneous activity that has no sequentially specifiable chronology, in which feedback ricochets off itself within and between systems like clouds of colliding cosmic debris.


We are that falling sky, condensed and amplified both in chaos and the ordering it begets, becoming creaturely systems far beyond prediction or control, for all our clinging to semblances of normality, addicted to habits and rational certainty, while within and all around us change is constant, disruption inherent, uncertainty intrinsic to the novel forms and functions emerging continually, bootstrapping the actual complexity of ordering within our wispy atmospheric envelope, thus the entire cosmos. Normality is not a routine, the ordinary not predictably ordered, disruption not simply destructive of our capacity to self-regulate and self-direct but actually essential to the mysterious manifestations of that agency. Futures are unknowable because these are continually emerging from the jittering fluctuations of each frothing instant. The only sense of security there is . . . is a false sense of security.


This ordering out of disorder which governs and guides itself with relative self-similarity over time, persisting both in spite and because of instability within and all around it, is astonishingly resilient while also being adaptive, yet has limits beyond which its crazy choreography of feedback synchronizations suddenly collapses, evaporates from the system it has maintained, overwhelmed by a little too much disruption, or a suffocating seizure of crippling continuity, like some stellar supernova that can not longer contain the forces within it, or a black hole of gravitational density that sucks the interplay of parts into a stifled singularity.


Under a falling sky, round and round, back and forth it goes as Life's myriad variations play out their self-asserting parts, interacting to animate the whole, that biospheric meta-system which, in turn, enables all those lesser actors' constantly shifting negotiations with each other -- individual microbes, plants, animals, whole species, ecologies, societies -- that, in turn, make the whole. There is no beginning, middle, or end, no single causal sequence, no central controller nor predetermining program here, nothing to reliably control, though much to be distorted where one component gains too much advantage over others. Complex ordering on the level of our biosphere is miraculous in so far as our powers of analytic reduction and causal prediction can go, arising from a fundamental mystery of self-organizing agency thatsystems science can demonstrate the existence of, but not fully explain.


Yes, yes, obviously there are causes and effects, deterministic laws of physics holding baseline continuities in the underlying realms of matter, material processes that can be, within narrow boundaries of time and space, manipulated with predictive confidence, the likes of which bewitch our attention by enabling us to manipulate our environments through stunning technological maneuvers, whetting our boundless appetites for ultimate knowledge and control of everything, everywhere, forever. But the same quantitative, mathematical scientific methods that give us such awesome powers of manifold manipulation reveal that there are, also, believe it or not, "acausal" events emerging in the self-organizing agency of complex adaptive systems, where semi-chaotic feedback network interactions suddenly synchronize unpredictably to generate adaptive behaviors that functionally promote a systems continued operations in response to changes within itself or its environment.


Under a falling sky, we manifest as physical matter bound to deterministic constraints yet also as the emergent property of self-directing psychic agency, which can only exist because it does not arise from predetermining factors, which enables us to be such master manipulators, which gives us the intelligence to create the science that reveals to us this seeming contradiction in 'how the world actually works,' that we dwell in and as a 'bi-dynamical' realm of causal and acausal events, where instability fosters ordering, which shows how limited our capacities for ultimate knowledge and control are, which lays before us the basis for a naturalistic concept of 'spiritual agency.'


Walk in wonder. Die in delight.













How to Assess the Present Moment?


The year is 2022. War rages again in Europe. Famine expands in Africa. Political systems are mired in divisive deadlocks. Autocratic governments proliferate. An energy crisis threatens economic collapse. The rich are getting absurdly richer, the poor poorer. Well, this is not new. But there is more trouble brewing--much more. Coral reefs that foster the bounties of fish in the seas are dying. Arctic ice is disappearing. Mountain glaciers that provide water to entire regions of the planet are vanishing. One third of Pakistan is submerged by biblical flooding. Ocean levels are rising at exponential rates. Repeatedly record-breaking heat waves are crippling agriculture. The Atlantic overturning meridional circulation (AMOC) that carries warm equatorial waters north and cold arctic ones south is stalling. Hurricane and typhoon storm strengths are increasing. The Jet Stream in the upper atmosphere that once regulated weather patterns is disintegrating. Desertification spreads across the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia. Mega-forest fires rage on every continent. The sixth great mass extinction of plants and animals in earth's history is well underway--at an unprecedented rate. Agricultural soils have become sterile of nutrient-creating worms and microbes from the constant application of petrochemical fertilizers. Micro plastics permeate the planetary seas.


The seven hottest years on record have all occurred since 2015. Millions of climate change refuges are on the move. One billion are estimated to be displaced by 2050--that's one in eight humans on earth. Evidently, 50 years of ecological activism, 35 of alarming climate science, and 27 years of United Nations Climate Conferences, have failed to alter our biosphere-debilitating, thus collectively suicidal behaviors.


In the words of UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, "We are on the road to climate hell--with our foot on the accelerator." That is, we are on course to not only exceed the supposedly safe limit of 1.5 degrees increase in average global temperature over pre-industrial times, but rocketing toward a catastrophic 2 degrees and beyond into "runaway climate chaos." As Extinction Rebellion co-founder, Roger Hallan, puts it, what we face is "The loss of everything. Forever." Anyone willing to seriously investigate the actual evidence gathered by climate scientists is forced to confront this stunning conclusion. Human actions are collapsing the viability of the entire biosphere--the self-regulating basis of complex Life on Earth. The situation could hardly be worse. But it soon will be.


Lest you think this is an alarmist over-statement of the moment, consider that the four hundred plus nuclear power plants around the planet depend on the reliable operations of the current industrial economy. Any serious disruption of this economy could result in failure of those power plants and the subsequent release of plutonium. Further, there are tens of thousands of nuclear weapons that require maintenance to avoid degradation. Through the recent COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have witnessed how suddenly our economic systems can be disrupted. These shocks are insignificant in comparison to those currently emerging from accelerating climate chaos and ecological degradations. The potential to leave this planet a plutonium-poisoned wasteland is the ultimate consequence of our contemporary behaviors.


Can anything be done to stave off this cataclysmic conclusion to civilization's meteoric arc? The science indicates that opportunities to fully prevent catastrophic effects have passed. Global warming to 2 plus degrees is "baked in" by the existing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. The challenge now is how to mitigate and adapt to the unfolding changes in Earth systems of atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. Even if we immediately cease emitting CO2 and methane into the atmosphere we will not avoid drastic disruptions, though it would mitigate their severity and duration. Serious adaptation would involve efforts such as moving cities, creating new water capture systems, and practicing rejuvenating agriculture. Alas, potential mitigation and adaptation efforts are not being undertaken in any significant manner. In fact, CO2 emissions continue to rise. Thus the conclusion: "We are on the highway to climate hell--with our foot on the accelerator." No one on the planet will be immune to the reverberating effects of this calamity.


Why, then, if the evidence is so overwhelming, are we not galvanized to collective action in the face of this existential threat to Life as we know it? How could we possibly have done this to our blue-green planet--much less to our selves--when we had actually generated the knowledge and had the time to act otherwise? Consider that the vast majority of climate disrupting activity has been generated by the most highly educated, technologically advanced, economically wealthy, and democratically governed nations--a minority of the human population that dominates the global economy. If one plays 'the blame game,' fingers can be pointed in all directions. Yes, policy makers, governments, and corporate leaders have long been aware of our suicidal trajectory. Yes, average citizens have fueled CO2 emissions with their indulgence in consumptive appetites. Yes, insidious disinformation campaigns have obscured and discredited the science. Yes, effective action would have required imagining 'future troubles' and prioritizing those over immediate concerns.


Books could be written about 'how and where' we went so wrong. Indeed, many have been. When it comes to 'why' we have failed our selves and the biosphere so utterly, it is often stated that humans are inherently inept at acting in response to distant future events. Is this an accurate assessment of human psychology, or is it relevant primarily to our modern consumerist mentality? Is there something about Modernity's 'worldview' that predisposes our behavior toward such short-sighted appetites, resistance to our own scientific logic, and fraudulent deception?


What Went Wrong with Our Worldview?


Homo Sapiens Sapiens, or Modern Humans, emerged as a species around 200,000 years ago. That is a minuscule moment in the biosphere's 3 plus billion year existence. Agriculture-based civilization dates from only around 10,000 years ago. Industrial technology is but a few generations old. Humans inhabited every continent but Antarctica and used their manipulative intelligence to alter landscapes across the globe even before the industrial revolution. But once we harnessed fossil fuels, our extractive exploitations, constructive disruptions, and population growth exploded. We became "moderns"--a culture of 'the new' obsessed with 'progress,' driven by technological innovation that promised ever more power and control. Like the steam engine that carried its colonial creators around the globe, no society has been able to resist Modernity's dominion.


This 'modern' world view, facilitated by material science, is reflexively mechanistic. It perceives the world in terms of predictable cause and effect. Its analytical methodology is reductive. It leads us to assume that, with enough knowledge of how things are composed, we should be capable of manipulating and controlling all events. Whatever 'goes wrong,' we should be able to fix it--eventually. So why would we worry about problems in some distant future? We will solve them when we get there.


This supreme confidence in our ability to analyze, manipulate, and control the world (at least eventually) seemed quite reasonable, based on all the 'progress' we made with our reductive physics, chemistry, and biology. But our cherished scientific method has betrayed that confidence in recent decades. The study of what are termed complex systems, from weather to ecologies and human societies, has revealed that the world is created and maintained by self-organizing impulses in such systems. Our rampant industrial activities and manipulations of our environments have disrupted the ability of natural systems to maintain their self-regulation. We have pushed them toward "tipping points" in their operations that are leading to radical transformations and collapse. These are not 'problems we can fix.' Yet we continue to believe we can evade the consequences of our actions through yet further technological innovation and manipulation. Most revealing, we refuse to seriously consider reductions in our use of energy or levels of consumption. To do so would be tantamount to admitting that our boundless appetites and lust for power are destroying the systems of the biosphere, thus condemning our species--that our Modern way of life, our vaunted civilization, is not only suicidal but Life-destroying.


It can be argued that this is a moral or ethical issue: the greedy appetites of a minority (who produce most of the greenhouse gasses) are imposing misery and death upon the majority. From this perspective, what 'went wrong' with our worldview is that it somehow does not support the ethical values upon which Western style societies are supposedly founded. And why might that be? Perhaps because it is based not only upon a mechanistic concept of cause and effect, but also a hierarchical, competitive, 'survival of the fittest' concept of nature. Both these assumptions about 'how the world actually works' have been shown to be limited by recent systems science. The natural systems that order the biosphere, it turns out, are beyond our control and mutually enabling--effectively cooperative. It is not our science that has failed us but a mechanistic Modern worldview that can neither conceive nor appreciate the ways complex systems self-organize, self-regulate, and mutually facilitate each other. Culturally, we have not 'caught up' with what we science has taught us about 'how the world actually works.'.


To put it another way, cultural evolution leading to industrial economies made human intelligence dangerous to the living systems of the biosphere. We are a species that lived most of our history as hunters and gatherers. Not until we changed our selves into agriculturalists, generated hierarchical states, and magnified industrial technology with fossil fuels, did we become a fully 'rouge system' that violates the mutually enabling reciprocity of natural systems--not, that is, till we invented modern civilization.


From a systems science perspective, human intelligence manifests the most potent known forms of complex adaptive systems--meaning systems that self-organize, self- regulate, and purposefully adapt their operations to promote their continued existence into the future. Such systems have selective agency. Human intelligence 'super charges' this emergent capacity of feedback networks in complex systems to assert influence on their environments. However, as an expression of the inherent impulse of adaptive systems to promote their continued existence, human systems, once technologically empowered, appear unable to resist the pursuit of ever more manipulation, power, and dominion over natural ones. Our success has become our doom.


Systems science reveals a further irony to this situation. Even human social and economic systems have been shown to manifest their own agency, their own self-organizing and self-directing impulses--thus their own self-perpetuating impulses. These hierarchical, competitive, control-obsessed system networks, which our actions generated, have become 'powers unto themselves.' Even though we humans might want to change our behaviors, our systems do not. Our problem is not just the way we think but how feedback networks are configured in our societies, economies, governments, corporations, even our educational institutions. We cannot simply control these now self-directing systems. Indeed, they tend to control us. Significant changes in how they behave will require radically 're-wiring' their networks. If we desire to change our destructive behaviors, we must oppose and redirect the agency of our civilized systems We are neither collectively insane nor inherently wicked -- despite our 'wicked ways.' We are being swept along by the control-obsessed, inherently amoral systems our techno-logical impulse gave rise to -- which now 'run the world' despite our ethics. Even our personal identities are formed around these rapacious juggernauts.


Choices?


We created industrialized civilization and it created our dilemma. Yet we cannot simply 'go back' to being pre-industrial societies in order to avoid catastrophe. Not, that is, unless we first 'wind down' the operations of our current systems in ways that 'defuse' their biosphere-disabling effects of pollution, environmental degradation, climate disruption, and potential nuclear contamination. We would have to use our industrial economy to undo its ravages. Again, however, we have known its effects were bringing calamity upon us for decades, yet we have not acted accordingly. So what would 'going forward' in a realistic manner look like? And what primary values could redirect our worldview so that our behaviors would actually become life-affirming rather than life-destroying?


It appears that to behave differently than we have, and are, means choosing a different worldview--one whose first principle is that human systems must be biosphere facilitating. Such a worldview would be based on systems science. But how does a person, much less an entire society, fundamentally re-configure its worldview--its assumptions about 'how the world actually works?' Well, it has happened before, as illustrated by the industrial and scientific 'revolutions.' That, however, took many decades, if not centuries--time we do not have. After all, to deliberately choose a new worldview based on systems science, a majority of us would have to attain some basic understanding of its concepts. Presently, this science is rarely if ever taught in schools and remains peripheral even to most professional scientists.


So perhaps, given the degree to which human systems are entrained in Modernity's mechanistic, competitive worldview, there is no avoiding 'business as usual,' come what may. Yet even resigning ourselves to this course could be accompanied by choosing to live our individual lives in honest awareness, bearing witness to 'all that is passing away'--perhaps forever. This is not an argument against efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ecological degradation. Rather, it is an appeal to 'facing the scientific facts,' and then acting from the impulses which arise in us as a result. 'What went wrong' with out worldview is now 'baked in' to our own systems. They are our most formidable opponents--not the individuals who appear to be 'in power.' Consequently, significant change cannot really come 'from the top down.' It would have to arise 'from the bottom up,' from small local re-configurations of attitudes and systems.


How to Inhabit This Moment?


If we are in fact among the last generations of humans to inhabit the biosphere as we have known it, perhaps the last manifestations of civilization to exist on earth, how do we inhabit our final moments in geological time? How can we choose to feel, think, and behave, that brings all our exceptional human capacities for understanding, emotional feeling, affinity, and creative expression 'into play' with our particular historical moment?


Some have described the task as creating a culture of "planetary hospice." Hospice has come to indicate compassionate palliative care for the terminally ill. Here, palliative means efforts to make a patient as comfortable as possible when there is no cure for illness that will result in death. In this approach, we become the compassionate attendants of both the collapsing biosphere and our own impending demise. This situation is rather like that of any self-consciously mortal creature. As humans, we are aware we will, eventually, die. If we live our lives honestly, this awareness can enhance our appreciation of life--of being an instance of 'being alive' and being conscious of the experience.


But, at this juncture in the history of the cosmos, we mortal humans are confronted with the possibility of 'The death of everything. Forever.'-- certainly the demise of 'the world as we have known it' within a generation. Is this thought terrifying? Is it more terrifying than the thought of our own deaths? If the thought of our own deaths does not stop us from living honestly and boldly, why should the notion of the biosphere's impending demise paralyze us?


We might here name our times 'The Age of Elegy.' Elegy is a word for a poem expressing a serious reflection or lament for the dead. 'Facing the facts' or our circumstances, we might then choose to make our primary purpose 'singing the biosphere, and our selves, into eternity.' How we live our personal and social lives could become our 'elegiac poem' in honor of that self-organizing impulse in complex systems that made the world, including the civilization that is proving to be its undoing.


It is sometimes said that gratitude and grief are intimately related. In that view, grief can enhance gratitude and gratitude can alleviate the pain of grief. The more we experience our grief the greater our capacity for gratitude. The more gratitude we experience the less debilitating our sense of loss and sorrow might become. But to plumb the depths of our grief requires expanding awareness of just what we might be 'loosing,' or have had that we shall have no more, or might have experienced but now will not. In the case of the collapsing systems of the biosphere, all the myriad interdependent complex systems of 'the natural world,' most of us are woefully ignorant of just how marvelous these actually are.


Thus, to fulfill the role of compassionate attendants to 'what is dying,' we must exert ever greater effort to understand 'the patient.' And, the more complexly we understand its actual character, its self-creating, self-adapting agency, the more we can grieve what is passing away, thus the greater our appreciation and gratitude can become. What is unique about this act of hospice is that the 'attendant' is also the 'patient'-- the presently healthy humans focused upon the degrading species and systems of the biosphere. Thus seeking to know our own personal complexity as thoroughly as possible becomes part of the hospice. Then there is the grief for younger generations, and even future ones, who will have to inhabit the escalating disruptions cascading from our recent, as well as present, behaviors.


The same can be said about our civilized systems. Biosphere-destroying juggernauts these might be. But marvels of self-organizing, self-adapting agency they are nonetheless. As such, even these monstrosities are worthy of complex understanding, awe for their terrible powers and elegant creations, grief for their passing, gratitude for enabling our knowledge -- thus our more informed compassionate attendance. This view applies to us as individuals as well. In one sense, individual humans have become monsters, gobbling and smashing their way through the interdependent networks of natural systems. Anyone who participates in industrial economies and consumer society is committing 'crimes against life itself.' Though we do not intend this devastation of the biosphere, it is a consequence of a worldview within which we are all entangled, of the systems our actions enable. It seems that most of us do 'love the natural world' in some way, despite how our behaviors have ravaged its self-regulating agency. Here we attend to a 'tragic flaw' in our own human character.


The notion of tragedy has become rather dissipated in contemporary language use. It is now applied to most any kind of misfortune. Its older sense derives from ancient Greek drama and involved a sense of fate or inevitability in human acts that lead to calamity. Thus, the tragic is not simply 'bad luck' or disaster. For the Greeks, it seems there was value in 'making art' from human error, even arrogance--as it appears inherent in human behavior. The notion of hubris expresses a kind of inflated sense of importance that leads to a disaster of one's own making. The word derives from hybristikos, translated as "given to wantonness, insolent." There is even a sense of 'offending the gods' associated with it. That thought can be understood as our Modern assault upon the self-ordering, self-adapting agency of the biosphere--the latter standing for the 'creative force' of life itself, or 'the gods.' Our 'tragic flaw' then is our inability to restrain our capacity to manipulate the world in ways that damage natural systems, thus threaten even our own existence.


If we are to honestly 'face the facts' of our historical moment, we must consciously step onto the stage of our collective tragic drama. Depending on how we choose to 'play our parts' in it, there might yet be a catharsis -- a process of releasing profound, repressed emotions that give us new meaning and understanding. This plunge into the reality of our moment has been termed "deep adaptation" by such as Jem Bendell. It is generally conceived as a "framework of resilience, relinquishment, restoration, and reconciliation to reduce harm from climate and ecological devastation."


Taking a stance characterized by honest analysis, planetary hospice, elegy, and deep adaptation has the potential to dissipate our differences, conflicts, and competition. It could foster greater meaning, purpose, emotional honesty, and genuine community. As Stephen Jenkinson, sings it, "friends are made on a dark road out of town."


Moving Forward through Analysis and Affinity, Grief and Gratitude


Taking actions that decrease our disruptions of climate and ecological systems is obviously a wise practical choice, in so far as it might improve our own future survival. It can also be part of this 'planetary hospice,' if it is done with compassionate acceptance and relieves the immediate suffering of human-induced degradatiions. That is, though such actions are unlikely to prevent a cataclysm, these can be expressions of our affinity with and gratitude for the biosphere. Reductions in consumption, ecological disruptions, and greenhouse gas emissions thus become part of 'palliative care' for the world--even part of our 'elegiac poem.' There are at least three related avenues for inhabiting our present moment in these regards.


Radical Attention: The first is to choose to pay radical attention to a convulsing world, and our experience of it. We can enhance that experience through greater understanding of 'what is passing' -- both in terms of natural and civilized complex systems. The more we know about how these create, order, and purposefully direct their operations, the more compassion, affinity, awe, gratitude, and grief we can express. Thus the more impetus we might have to live honestly and boldly in 'the times we have left.'


New Worldview : This radical attention can be amplified by gaining greater understanding of systems science, using it to challenge our habitual mechanistic assumptions about cause and effect, about 'how the world works.' When one reflects upon one's experience of self-ordering systems through the analysis and concepts of the science, one's marvel and appreciation can be greatly expanded. The knowledge systems science has given us both arises from Modernity's worldview and reveals its reductive delusions. To re-frame our experience through this science is to evolve a radically new worldview, one that connects our human intelligence with all the other complex adaptive systems whose agency collectively generates the biosphere. In this science, we can logically encounter the factual mystery of Life as its own creator.


Naturalistic Spirituality: This sense of mystery in the science of self-directing systems provides its most stunning implications. By revealing how agency emerges unpredictably from such systems, the science becomes a basis for a new, naturalistic sense of spirituality. This concept is surprisingly simple. The evidence that complex adaptive systems manifest selective agency, through their self-organizing, self-adapting networks, provides a scientific basis for the notion of 'spirit' as an animating impulse producing consequences in the physical world. This concept of spirituality is based on empirical research that demonstrates the unpredictably self-directing activities of complex adaptive systems and how that agency continually creates the biosphere. Such a worldview closely resembles that of animistic pre-modern cultures, which concluded that humans must be cautious about how their own activities effect those of the 'spirits' of natural systems. It is arguable that our Modern culture's lack of such a spiritual concept is why we are incapable of restraining our biosphere-destroying behaviors. Using our science to restore such an attitude to our culture would greatly amplify our empathy for 'all that is passing away.'


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