In the 90s I read an interview with Frank Zappa where he expressed the belief that “everything was happening all the time.” That is, time is almost illusory–there is no real past, present, or future. Or to be more precise, such states are primarily based on perspective of a sentient individual. Here are Zappa’s comments:
Oh, the other thing that you have to realize is time doesn’t start here and end over there. Everything happens all the time….The reason I can say that is time depends on the point from which you’re looking at it. It only appears that things are transpiring because we are here. If we were someplace else, they would not have transpired yet. If you could move your point of reference to the event taking place, you could change the way in which you perceive the event. So, if you could constantly change your location, you could live the idea that everything is happening all the time.
When I first read this, I could not grasp this idea. Now, I think I have a better understanding of it, especially the part about the way the past, present, and future seemed (wholly?) based on perspective. On the other hand, how can everything be happening all the time? How can an individual be born, become a teenager, adult, elderly and then die–at the same time?! Those events don’t seem dependent on perspective (or are they?). This is something I have yet to grasp. If anybody can help me understand this better, I’d love to hear from you.
I’m currently reading a book on A.I. One questions that lingers in the back of my mind involves the reasons we would want to build A.I.–and more broadly, the reasons we strive for newer and better technology. Improving our lives–more specifically, improving our material existence–is the obvious answer–i.e., curing diseases, making tasks that requires physical and cognitive resources easier and more efficient, etc. Clearly, improving technology is very important way to improve the lives of human beings.
However, my sense is that many people act as if this is the most important way to improve the lives of individuals and society overall, and I think this position is flawed. For example, I tend to believe the source of humanity’s biggest problems are moral and even social in nature. Improvements on the former can improve the latter, which, in turn, would have the most dramatic impact on most of our social ills. At least, this is my current position.
To test whether humanity’s problem are rooted in material or more moral/spiritual matters, I want to offer the following thought experiment: Suppose we could fulfill all the ambitions of technophiles (excluding technology that would dramatically change human nature–e.g., genetic engineer humans that are more selfless and compassionate), what would those technologies be, and what impact would we expect on individual and societies? Would we expect a significant reduction or elimination of the biggest problems we face?
This is a thread for notes on the New Yorker article, A Different Kind of Everything
by Natalie Wolchover