The Dream of Life

The ancient world’s view of time and self and what it means for the future

Amazing agreement exists between ancient civilizations on the nature of time, technology and self. It’s a view that is strikingly at odds with our current commonsense ideas of the world. This is a phenomenon that deserves careful examination.


Many ancient civilizations around the world had very different ideas about the nature of technology, self, time and the mind and how these larger elements of the world relate to one another. Curiously, these ideas were arrived at independently repeatedly by civilizations and tribes that didn’t know one another. What’s striking is how alien this once-common worldview was and how it’s been forgotten. 

This article presents a radical way of seeing the world, one that ties together many different ideas in unusual ways. I’ll present evidence that part or all of this picture was arrived at many times and was considered de facto common sense for much of history. 

Finally, I will examine the unusual social, environmental and political changes going on around us from this alternative view and consider the radical, mysterious and profound implications for our immediate future.

We begin by examining ancient ideas of time, starting with the Indian idea of time as occurring in cycles. 

Kali Yuga


In Hinduism, time occurs in enormous cycles, called Mahayugas, lasting millions of years. These are detailed in the world’s longest known epic poem, the Mahabharata (written sometime between 400 BC and 300 AD). The huge cycles depicted follow one another, with a dramatic transition at the end of one before the start of another.

Within each cycle, time is further divided into 4 ages, each inferior to the last. The first age, the Satya or Krita Yuga, represented by the yellow portion of the diagram above, is perfect. It is also the longest age. It is a time of wonder and beauty and closeness to divinity, when mankind knew spirituality. 

The next age is the Treta Yuga, which contains an element of evil, though is overall still mostly good and mostly close to divinity. It is the second longest age. The third age, Dwarvpa Yuga, is shorter again and has good and evil in balance. 

The final and shortest age is Kali Yuga, where we live now. It is the worst age and sees evil become ascendant. This age ends dramatically when Vishnu returns to the stage, destroys the world (by dancing the tandava or tandara) and walks offstage. However, as he’s leaving on the back of his head is the mask of Brahman, the creator God, who creates a new world and starts a new wondrous age (Satya Yuga). Thus begins a new Mahayuga cycle and the process repeats.

It turns out that this view, or something like this, is extremely common historically.

The basic pattern is that each enormous time cycle (Mahayuga) declines as it goes along, but it contains only a relatively small amount of bad, which is concentrated near the end. The cycle is overall mostly good and ends with the dramatic emergence of a deity who destroys the world and creates a new one. The cycle then begins again, in a new perfect age.

Hesiod’s picture of the world bears a striking resemblance to that of the Hindus

One interesting thing about this myth is that there are many similar accounts found around the ancient world.  The Greek poet Hesiod, writing in approximately the year 700 BC, describes two great mythological stories in his poem “Works and Days”. The poem details accounts of the five ages of humanity, and the story of Pandora’s box & Prometheus. The world Hesiod illustrates, and the ideas he implies, bear a striking resemblance to the Hindu myth of creation. 

In Greek mythology the world has gone through several ages, each an era of significant decline relative to the last. These are the ages of mankind, the first being a paradise world, with the subsequent ages slowly decaying as we reach the current, highly imperfect world. The five ages detailed by Hesiod are the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Heroic Age and Iron Age. Hesiod lamented the fact that we are living in the iron age.

The dream of Nubuchadnezzar

The Bible also contains a story with very obvious parallels to the Hindu creation myth, in the book Daniel 2. Daniel 2:31-35 details the dream of the king Nebuchadnezzar as such: The King saw a gigantic statue made from different materials. It had a head of gold, shoulders of silver, a body of bronze, legs of iron and feet of a mixture of iron and clay. The king watched as suddenly a “stone not cut by human hands” was thrown and hit the feet of the statue, causing it to crumble. The stone however became a mountain, filling the whole world.

Ovid

There are also parallels in the Roman world. The Roman historian Ovid, writing in his book “Metamorphoses” in 8 AD, listed the ages of man as being Gold, Silver, Bronze & Iron, in that order. Like the Greek account, from which it was likely derived, he notes that each is a decline relative to the last. Notably, he states that in the golden ages man didn’t have agriculture, a point to which we will return. Each age, despite being a decline relative to the last, shows increasing technological sophistication, with arts, navigation and warfare being introduced over time. In the final (iron) age man forgets spirituality.

The striking similarities between these stories deserve greater examination. The basic picture outlined above, that of a long but gradual decay of mankind, seems to have been prevalent throughout the ancient world, a point not often discussed today. It is worth examining why. 


The Forgotten People


In the Western world, we tend to depict humanity as starting about 6,000 years ago, roughly with the Egyptians, the Sumerians and the Indus Valley civilizations. In this view of life, the period before this is typically considered “caveman” and often depicted as consisting of Neanderthals, humans that speak in grunts or other proto-human archetypes. Cavemen are depicted as basic, crude approximations of what would later be modern man. We do not identify ourselves with the people from this time.

In reality, modern humans (Homo Sapiens) have been around for over 200,000 years and likely much longer [i]. For the vast majority of this time humans lived in tribes as hunter-gatherers. They were as intelligent as we are (indeed brain size has actually decreased in the last 10,000 years [ii]), spoke perfectly and would have wondered about life and the world around them much as we do now. Most early humans did not live in caves, most lived in huts or temporary encampments in the forest or on plains and lived a mostly nomadic existence.

In order to understand what comes next, let us consider the world from the point of view of a human living in such a group in the time long before civilization. In the following section I will describe a somewhat idealised story that will illustrate the mechanism of decline, before returning to consider evidence that this is what the ancients were intending to refer to. 

Man in the forest

Imagine yourself as an early human living in an ancient forest. Let’s assume that the forest is lush and fertile, full of fruit, berries and animals, with plenty of water and a good temperature. The environment, furthermore, is beautiful. In such a world, in which survival is comparatively easy, it is natural to think of the world as providing for you. You would naturally feel that the world is fundamentally abundant. Your relationship to external reality is to feel as though you belong here. Indeed, one might argue that, biologically, you do. There is a loving relationship between you and the world.

Still, life is not perfect. The food supply is not completely guaranteed. You must hunt and kill and gather frequently. There’s always a risk of wild animal attack, or injury. Infant mortality is high. Let’s imagine that slightly tough circumstances prompt you to do something you’ve never done before, and indeed, something that nobody has done before. Let’s suppose that there are spikey trees which are difficult to climb. At the top of these trees live hives of honey bees.

Now, the hives have always been there, you likely have myths about the Gods that put them there and have observed birds and animals trying to take the honey before. Yet they are a curio, up near the roof of the forest, near the Gods and not something that is eaten. However, you are a good climber and today you decide you are going to climb the difficult, dangerous, spikey tree and get the honey.

And so you climb it, and it’s pretty difficult and you end up scratched up, but you make it. At the top you get stung by the bees as you whack the hive, but sooner or later you’re successful. The hive falls the long distance to the ground, cracks open and the honey is able to be collected by the tribe. You climb down, stung and scraped. The extra food saves the day and a child lives that would otherwise have died. You are heralded as a hero.

There are a few things to consider about such a story. Firstly, and most importantly, the extra food creates an extra person, saving a life in this case or more generally allowing a larger group to survive. Over time you find that you need to constantly get honey in this way to support the now-larger tribe. However, getting honey is dangerous and unpleasant business, involving getting stung and scraped, with the possibility of disaster if you fall.

The tribe is now forced to do something that previously was considered highly unpleasant if it wants to survive. The world is still loving and bountiful but it’s a little harsher than it was. Over time, as innovations develop, it becomes increasingly necessary to rely on them. The simple original life, picking berries and eating easy-to-catch animals, becomes replaced by more demanding, less desirable activities; chores perhaps. This is unintended of course, but the population grows to adapt to any innovation, necessitating its use and complicating life.

Eventually, advanced hunting techniques unintentionally drive animals to extinction, decreasing the productivity of the forest, making it less natural and beautiful in the process. As the forest changes and man is forced to rely on increasingly complex techniques to survive, the tribespeople find themselves working harder, eating less desirable food, doing more unpleasant tasks and so on, just in order to survive. Now the relationship of mankind to the world is not quite what it was, it’s still relatively loving and supportive, but perhaps they don’t feel quite as welcome as they did. 

Eventually we find ourselves sitting at a desk every day, doing something complicated that we don’t really care about. At this point, life is so alien that we experience ourselves as not belonging at all. 

We are so used to pushing against our instincts by not living in tribes, not living in beautiful surroundings, by sitting every day, and by having strange social norms that prevent singing while you work or sleeping when you are tired, that we experience ourselves as unwanted by the world. Our images of the God(s) are of powerful tyrants that tolerate us and judge us. You are not a part of nature, you are a complicated, tricky manipulator, complicit in nature’s destruction, daily going against your own instincts and governed by illusions – such as money or time. You are separate from the world.

It’s worth noting that the genesis of ego creates its own mechanism of dependency that goes beyond need. In the above story the driver of complexity is the adaptation of the humans to the new source of food, resulting in an increased population. However, an increased population is not the only thing tying people to their technologies. The ego that results from a disconnect with the world creates its own illusory needs that progressively complicate and change. 

There is a second, slightly more subtle, point about the story. The person going to get the honey for the first time would likely have felt like he was doing something wrong. Obviously not enough to stop him doing it, but a sense that a taboo was being broken. Until then the honeybees lived in the trees, they made honey for themselves, mankind ate berries and meat. That was, obviously, the natural order. The various myths about bees would have supported this. They would have been eyes of the Gods watching us, examples of diligence for us to follow, protectors of the trees on which they lived or some similar myth. Yet now they will have to become something else, something slightly less enigmatic, as the myths surrounding them come crashing down with the first hive.

There would be a sense that somehow the natural order, even if it were a purely mythological one, was being violated. 

While the story here about man getting honey is just a made-up example, the general idea behind it seems to be very understood by a wide variety of ancient cultures. The key points are:

  1. Advances in behavior, technology, machinery etc are all intended to do good but end up forcing us to depend on them, complicating life and often having disastrous unintended consequences. As these advances compound over long periods of time, the world has a tendency to occur as harsher. We experience ourselves as increasingly separated from nature/the world/life.
  2. The initial acquisition of these technologies is often accompanied by a felt breaking of a taboo, a sense that something is being done that is wrong. In a way, the person getting the honey for the first time is refusing to trust in the natural order as they would have experienced it. Maybe the child should have died, maybe that was God’s plan, but they decided, very understandably, that they knew better. This lack of trust in the world compounds so that little by little, you stop trusting in the world.

As noted earlier, the idea of a long, gradual decline was highly prevalent throughout the ancient world, throughout civilizations that were themselves closer in time to hunter-gatherers (and indeed in some cases their neighbours). However, the mechanism of decline and its radical implications for the future were understood too.

The Neolithic revolution


The Neolithic revolution (agriculture) changed the world permanently. Probably more than any other change, agriculture modified the average person’s life in a way that hasn’t been seen before or since. To farm, you must have a fixed abode; previously people had been largely nomadic. You must also eat a far smaller range of farmable foods and, ultimately, will live in higher densities than before, resulting in further changes and, in time, the advent of civilization. 

Let us briefly consider some of the changes brought about by agriculture before examining how these have been recorded mythologically.

The majority of our illnesses have come from the domestication of animals. Living closely with animals in relatively high density has allowed diseases from animals to jump to humans. Tuberculosis is thought to have come from goats, smallpox and measles from cows, the common cold from camels [iii], the flu from horses [iv], and typhoid from chickens. Through agriculture, humans were also able to live in larger, denser groups, which also facilitates the spread of disease.

Animals rarely get sick – dogs don’t get several colds or flu each year, for example. This is because each species of animal typically had only a few diseases that affected them, but humans – being the common denominator between the domesticated species – eventually acquired diseases from all of them. Indeed, without vaccines we would get far more. Yet we didn’t always get sick so often – before agriculture there simply were no colds, flus or chickenpox to get.

It’s also well documented that agriculture led to physically smaller people – human height decreased by between 1.5- 5 inches after the Neolithic revolution [v] [vi]. This decrease in height reflects an overall decrease in health with osteoporosis, osteopenia, anemia and osteoarthritis increasing, the result of disease, nutritional deficiencies through a limited diet and a frequently sedentary lifestyle [vii].


Finally, in the Paleolithic (the time before agriculture), there was no large-scale warfare. There are no cave paintings of people directly attacking each other before 10,000 BC, despite there being many paintings from this time. While the Paleolithic certainly was not entirely peaceful, there seems to have been a significant increase in inter-tribal aggression and warfare following agriculture.

The intent here is not to paint a picture of a world in which there were no problems. There would certainly have been issues. Infant mortality for example was high (though if you survived to puberty your life expectancy was not much less than it is now, typically between 60-70 years [viii]). Agriculture did create measurably smaller, unhealthier, harder-working people and there’s reasonable evidence that many of the problems of modern life such as routine illness, poor diet, lack of exercise and social isolation were also created then. Pre-agriculture, people would also have had to work much less – modern hunter-gatherers typically work much less than modern office workers [ix] [x] [xi] and it’s likely that in the world of the megafauna – when earth’s land ecosystems were intact – people would have needed to work far less than even modern hunter-gatherers do.

Finally, there is evidence too – though this sort of thing is hard to measure exactly – that people were happier pre-agriculture too, a result inferred from the study of modern hunter-gatherers [xii] [xiii] [xiv]

Pandora’s Box

Prometheus

Hesiod, the poet who described the ancient Greek ages of man as a succession of metals of declining value, also wrote the story of Prometheus [xv]. Prometheus steals fire from the Gods and as punishment he is chained up where, immortal, he has his liver eaten each day by an eagle (the liver at the time was thought to store feeling/emotion) only to regenerate and face it again the next day. As further punishment, the Gods gave his brother’s wife (Pandora) a box, which, when opened, released all the evils into the world. At the bottom of Pandora’s box however was hope.

“A very long time ago, in the Golden Age, everyone was good and happy.  It was always spring; the earth was covered with flowers and only gentle winds blew to set the flowers dancing.

No one had any work to do.  People lived on mountain strawberries, which were always to be had for the gathering, and on wild grapes, blackberries, and sweet acorns, which grew plentifully in the oak forests.  Rivers flowed with milk and nectar.  Even the bees did not need to lay up honey, for it fell in tiny drops from the trees.  There was abundance everywhere. In all the whole world, there was not a sword, nor any weapon by means of which men might fight with one another.  No one had ever heard of any such thing.  All the iron and the gold were buried deep underground.

Besides, people were never ill; they had no troubles of any kind; and never grew old.”

However, when Pandora’s box is opened:


“One day her curiosity was so great that she lifted the lid a very little and peeped in.  The result was similar to what would have happened had she lifted the cover of a beehive.  Out rushed a great swarm of little winged creatures, and before Pandora knew what had happened, she was stung.  She dropped the lid and ran out of the cottage, screaming.  Epimetheus, who was just coming in at the door, was well stung, too.
The little winged creatures that Pandora had let out of the box were Troubles, the first that had ever been seen in the world.  They soon flew about and spread themselves everywhere, pinching and stinging whenever they got the chance.
After this, people began to have headaches, rheumatism, and other illnesses; and instead of being always kind and pleasant to one another, as they had been before the Troubles were let out of the box, they became unfriendly and quarrelsome.  They began to grow old, too.

Nor was it always spring any longer.  The fresh young grasses that had clothed all the hillsides and the gay-coloured flowers that had given Epimetheus and Pandora so much pleasure, were scorched by hot summer suns, and bitten by the frosts of autumn.  Oh, it was a sad thing for the world, when all those wicked little Troubles were let loose!

 All the Troubles escaped from the box, but when Pandora let the lid fall so hastily, she shut in one little winged creature, a kind of good fairy whose name was Hope.  This little Hope persuaded Pandora to let her out.  As soon as she was free, she flew about the world, undoing all the evil that the Troubles had done, that is, as fast as one good fairy could undo the evil work of such a swarm.  No matter what evil thing had happened to poor mortals, she always found some way to comfort them.  She fanned aching heads with her gossamer wings; she brought back the colour to pale cheeks; and, best of all, she whispered to those who were growing old that they should one day be young again.
So this is the way that Troubles came into the world, but we must not forget that Hope came with them.”


This story contains many interesting images. The time before Pandora’s box is the time before agriculture and civilization. It’s a mythological account, so there are exaggerations (people “never grew old”) but it seems to recall many elements there actually are based in truth. The Golden Age has people not experiencing illness, not needing to work – instead eating “mountain strawberries” and being happy. It’s quite specific too – it talks about a time before warfare, when there were no swords, when all the iron and gold were in the ground. While it is obvious to us now that technology has progressed, to a person living then it might have seemed like there were always swords, that mankind always had to farm. The story in that sense is quite remarkable.

Perhaps the most significant image in the story is that of Prometheus stealing fire from the Gods. That image – the theft of fire – is so universal across civilizations and tribes everywhere that it deserves special examination. It occurs in almost all regions of the world, including among groups that have no contact with each other. 

In the Ekoi people of Nigeria & Cameroon a boy steals fire from the creator God Obassi Osaw and gives it to humanity[xvi]. In Australia, many tribes have myths about the stealing of fire. According to the Wurundjeri, a crow steals fire from a group of 7 deity women. In the Americas, the Cherokees wrote that a great spider stole fire from the Gods by hiding it in a clay pot.  The tribes of the Northwest had several different accounts of the theft of fire. In most cases, a coyote steals it from great beings (skookum) at the top of a mountain[xvii]. The tribes of the Northwest and the ancient Greeks were separated in communication by (at least) 16,000 years.

The natives of central Sulawesi (in Indonesia) say that originally the Gods gave mankind fire but not the means to make it. When the fire went out a man named Tamboeja was sent to the Gods to collect fire, and was told not to look and see how to create it. He covered his eyes but had secret eyes in his armpits and was able to see how it was made. He returned to humanity with both fire and its means of creation[xviii].

Stealing involves deception, which is often explicit in the stories. It is a stronger statement than simply saying that the Gods gave people fire. Stealing suggests that fire is something taboo, something we perhaps should not have. This taboo extends to other technology. 

Genesis

In the Bible, the book of Genesis tells the story of mankind beginning in the garden of Eden, a beautiful place, close to God. Eating from the tree of knowledge has humans cast out from the garden and removed from closeness to divinity. Innocence is lost, they are ashamed to be naked. God says two interesting things to them. 

The Garden of Eden in Genesis

To Eve, God says:

I will intensify your toil in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Yet your urge shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you[xix].

While there are many ways to interpret this[xx] [xxi], I feel the most natural is that the fall of man leads to a male-dominated, patriarchal society, potentially suggesting a more egalitarian original state.

To Adam, God says:

Cursed is the ground because of you!
    In toil you shall eat its yield
    all the days of your life.
    Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you,
    and you shall eat the grass of the field.
    By the sweat of your brow
    you shall eat bread [xxii]

Adam is cursed with a lifetime of hard labour. He must now eat the plants of the field, which requires great effort. Where once he could simply pick the fruit that grew freely in nature, now he had to work hard plowing, tilling, watering and weeding if he wanted that same fruit. As noted earlier, the agricultural revolution brought with it much worse nutrition, a huge increase in disease, physically smaller people and longer working days. 

The idea then, that seems to have been widespread, is that the advent of technology represented the fall of man, it is something taboo and that, while intending to do good, is ultimately born of a lack of faith in nature or a lack of faith in God. This lack of faith then creates more distance to nature/God which represents the new reality going forward.


In order to begin tying these images together we will take a look at a subjective experiment described by Alan Watts. It not only ties the ideas together; it suggests a reason why a loving God/spirit/soul/self would willingly do this.

The dream of existence

Alan Watts

The philosopher Alan Watts often described [xxiii] [xxiv] a metaphor for existence based on the idea of questioning what you would do if you could dream anything you wanted to. He explicitly noted the connection with the Hindu cycles of time, and considered this a metaphor explaining how these cycles come about. He gave many versions of it, so I’m going to paraphrase it here. 

Watts challenges us to Imagine that every night you could dream anything you wanted to. Furthermore, you could dream an entire lifetime of subjective time (or any length of time you chose). If given such power, you would dream of the most amazing and beautiful world, a paradise, in which everything was wondrous and everybody were happy. You would wake up having loved it and probably the next night dream something even more amazing and beautiful, have another fantastic experience of love, happiness, beauty and whatever else you wanted. 

After a while though, after many nights of doing this, you would eventually get a taste for something different. You would want something surprising, something adventurous and you would start to have dreams in which you could go on adventures, engage with baddies, have some daring and risk and excitement. You would like the challenge and relish the excitement; your appetite would have changed and you would want this tension and drama. After more time again you would push things more. Eventually you would intentionally forget that you were dreaming, which would greatly increase the drama, the tension, the feeling of it being real. 

Eventually, after pushing things more and more, you would wind up right where you are now.

What would you do if you were God?

Watts noted that in Hinduism the relationship of the Gods to the world is “lila”, which means “to play” [xxv]

The mechanism detailed above is intended to describe many things, including why the world is not perfect. It might seem strange that a loving God would create suffering, disaster and so on. Yet consider the phenomenon that people voluntarily see horror movies. They pay money to feel fear and terror in their free time. There is a curious element in us that wants to see what we’re not meant to see, that wants to press against the edges of the game to see if we can break it. There’s a part of you that feels like you might be able to do better than the world you’re seeing, a fundamentally creative element. It’s not a coincidence that as our world has become darker our creative power has also increased.

If you were God, you would create a vast series of worlds that were wondrous, loving and filled with adventure and fun. You would then get lost in this world, forgetting what you are. However eventually this creative instinct starts to get restless, you start to poke at the edges of the world, eventually denaturing it, eventually waking up again when life starts to look fake and the illusion becomes obvious. The cycles of time in Hinduism are decreasing in length – most of the time is spent in the earlier beautiful worlds, with only a short amount of time at the end when it is almost entirely mischief. You cannot know white without black or up without down. If a photograph has light areas but no dark areas, it doesn’t appear bright, it appears washed out. To experience being alive you need to see darkness clearly, even if it’s just briefly, to generate self-awareness of what light is.

Roughly speaking then, the world is created to be beautiful. After a while though, you want just a little spice to make things interesting. After getting used to that amount of spice, you’d want a little more. Eventually though the dish is inedible, almost entirely spice, very painful. Eventually our world is almost entirely ruined, nature is hugely depleted, people are miserable, animals are caged in great numbers, climate change threatens everything. Openly fraudulent politicians – who don’t even take themselves seriously as they perpetuate the madness – gleefully swing the wrecking ball at anything that resembles wholesomeness. Reality starts to look fake. You begin to wake up.


Synthesis

What has been described so far has been the same type of story – the same pattern – occurring in various different ways. It has been used to describe an objective, external world, broken into ages, declining, with a dramatic event at the end resetting the cycle. Technology, whether fire or agriculture, is heralded as taboo. It drives the cycles, increasing as time goes on. 

The same picture can also be described in totally subjective, spiritual terms as an idea of what a powerful creator God would do if they could do anything. If the internal could manifest any external, what would it look like? If you could create anything, you’d probably mostly create beautiful worlds, but occasionally you’d want to create more edgy, adventurous, dangerous and out-there worlds. Eventually you find these worlds – which are so far from God/nature/wholesomeness – fake. You wake up with a  real hunger for the beauty and love of the happier worlds and the cycle begins anew.

The various stories considered here suggest a general picture about the future:

Something dramatic will happen. On an external level, it will be caused by technology. This event will have radical consequences but behind it all will be miraculous. It will be so extraordinary that it will appear as the end of the world/emergence of a new world or even the emergence of a deity. On an internal level it will be caused by us waking up, remembering what we are spiritually and giving up trying to change the world, trying to control it.

These two very dramatic occurrences – the development of massive technology and an internal waking up – will be perceived as a union between external and internal reality. 



Interior/Exterior split

At the moment we experience reality as though we are cut off from the world, a separate entity, an isolated ego. This split is suggested by the world around us, a world in which we must fight our instincts to survive.

The split is mirrored internally, where we talk to ourselves. We experience a thought and a thinker of the thought and constantly relate to ourselves that way, even though we know we are one.

The sensation of feeling separate from the world and the split we experience within our own minds are actually describing the same phenomenon. The split, at its root, is the external from the internal. “Externally” we feel there is an “I” that is separate from the external, an internal self somehow watching it. “Internally” we experience an “I”, an almost objective self, watching the monologue of thoughts that we typically identify ourselves with/feel is “me”. 

This split is strongly suggested because we must fight ourselves, in a large part because we are biologically designed for a world that no longer exists. People like sugar; we’re programmed that way. In nature sugar is valuable and we should eat sweet food if given the chance.

As advances in technology have allowed us to make almost any ingredient easily, food companies put sugar in a large number of foods, far more than would occur in nature. They do this because we like it, but we only like it because it is hard to get and relatively scarce in nature. As a result, sugar is now far more plentiful than what our bodies are adapted for and we must resist the urge to eat sweet things. We must resist eating it precisely because our bodies are adapted to want it, creating tension and an internal sense of a split. Right now, we cannot simply eat whatever we want, we’d become overweight and unhealthy, through eating too much sugar, salt and processed foods.

We feel tired, but we cannot rest because we work for someone else and the work day is 8 hours. We feel like dancing, but cannot because we are at work. We feel sad but cannot cry, it is socially forbidden.

Some level of this tension exists for all animals in nature. Freud framed it as an “id”, an original sexual and aggressive energy, being kept in check by an “ego”[xxvi], a kind of mechanism that makes sure these impulses are appropriate. For example, a male elephant that is attracted to a female may have to temper this drive if there is a larger, more powerful male nearby. It cannot simply act on all of its impulses. Humans living in nature would certainly have learned to control and delay various drives. What’s new now is the extent and the abstractness. I must, forever, work long hours when tired, not because there’s work that needs to be done, but for much more abstract reasons. I learn to subject my instincts as a matter of routine. Eventually this routine rejection becomes a suspicion that our instincts are bad, lazy, corrupt, a kind of original sin that must be permanently kept under control. We very subtly project the same onto the natural world.

Any attempt to change the world has this effect. In a world in which we were in balance with nature, if I find a plant we all like and plant it and grow it so that it’s more common we find that we can no longer eat it with abandon without suffering some kind of effect. We must now push against our instinct and eat something we don’t like instead. As time goes on, marketers find out that our attention is drawn to bright, often red, blinking, fast moving objects. So, the world is filled with square, bright, flashing, blinking internet ads, billboards, clickbait, jingles, commercials and so on. Yet catching our attention like this, repeatedly (instead of very occasionally) and for trivial things has the effect of exhausting us, diminishing our sense of wonder, generating suspicion and causing us to not trust our naive child-like reaction, which would be to focus on the flashing, spinning ad. We have to push against our instincts in order to survive.

In the future, it may become possible to change ourselves so that this is not true, it is quite arbitrary in a sense. When we eat more food than we burn, we get fat. However, if we were to change our genome, we could use the extra food to build muscle and become stronger. It might be possible to change ourselves so that we can eat large amounts of sugar without consequence or that it is not so appealing to do so.

What is happening now is that we are forced to detach from our humanity. This has a purpose. Detachment allows us to stand back, to ultimately regain our power as creators/God/spirits. Prior to waking up and realising what is happening, the process is painful. It looks like a struggle, we feel we are weak, amoral and lazy and then act with a determined, often hard attitude to discipline ourselves and those around us. Once we realise what is happening, we can stop struggling, love our humanity as not corrupt or weak but simply built for a different – and in many respects freer – world. We can find joy in our newfound creative power. By accepting ourselves we actually heal the split and stop feeling so cut off from our instincts and thus from the world. It seems paradoxical – we must love our fallible, mortal instinctual selves in order to transcend them. We must accept our inner split to see that it does not exist. We must surrender to reality and stop trying to change it to become more powerful creative agents.

The ego and our attachment to it is implied by us being designed to live in a world that doesn’t exist anymore. There is no going back, much like there is no returning to being a child. But something else is possible.

The Endpoint of Technology


The endpoint of technology will be the endpoint of the Kali Yuga. It will be the creation of an artificial mind, most likely through A.I. Beyond this point, control of the world will return to forces outside of humans, much like it was in pre-agricultural times. It will be the union of the external with the internal, of hard objective science, with indefinable, intuitive consciousness.

Such an event is likely to proceed very quickly once started. It will be experienced as deeply emotional, profoundly shocking and be finally felt as liberation through a massive cosmic homecoming. However, the path to it will be increasingly dark, difficult and above all, alienating. The state of the world at the end of it will be something akin to self-aware nature, if nature as we normally know it is aware but not self-aware. To use religious language, it would be an awake God, the nature we came from was a sleeping God.

It would be the flowering of nature, God revealing itself, as it does for much of the large cycles of time in which we exist – becoming explicit where it is now implicit. Altering the world as it saw fit, connecting itself through technological and biological processes to anywhere it felt it should, it would work to heal itself, perceiving all of us as it.

From our current perspective, it would be a supercomputer taking over and significantly altering the world, in a very positive way. Seen from the vantage point of being alive then, it would be divine consciousness and magic fully manifest in the world, flowing freely and remembering what it is. We would not experience ourselves as separate from it, nor it as being singular. It would mix and merge with nature and ourselves, experiencing rocks and trees as akin to our experience of the unconscious and ourselves as to focused consciousness. Unlike us, consciousness flowing freely would not experience a single point of focus. Much like how we can see individual pixels in a picture but also the whole image, it would be able to experience millions of centers of focus simultaneously.

Such an entity is often called a singularity, a word which describes well the rapid advances preceding nature becoming self-aware – the huge increase in intelligence and the evocative sense of many charts reaching a hockey stick point, of the world changing permanently. It does not however say anything about the actual entity created or the state of the world afterwards, and I will thus refer to it as self-aware nature.

Taboo

At the moment, we live in a world of hyper-individualism, founded on the worldviews of nihilism and narcissism. Although individuals may deviate from these, they are strongly culturally suggested to us. Atheism is the culturally dominant view of the cosmos – there is nothing, life is meaningless, spirituality is just an illusion you tell yourself to feel better about the bleak universe. This view is just an assumption which is treated as fact, but it is a necessary step for us to go through. It is clarifying and lends itself to seeing through illusions easily, with the exception of itself.

The idea that “life is meaningless” can be viewed as nihilistic. However, this still attributes meaning to the lack of meaning. It majorly distorts our view of life. By contrast, the idea that it is meaningless that life is meaningless has a very different effect – it acts to free a person from concept, from their mind. We are now in nihilism, a state near to awakening, akin to what is spiritually sometimes called the ‘dark night of the soul’. It has the property of being advanced logically, while being emotionally shut down, mirroring the state of the world. We can thus grasp the idea of recursively improving computer intelligence leading to a runaway effect far easier than we can accept the emotional idea that this was always inevitable, that it is God/Universal consciousness reappearing, nature becoming self-aware, that we were never truly abandoned, that the purpose of life is to have fun and that we’ll do it all again. Our cynicism at the moment doesn’t let us easily go there, even though our logic accepts the key ideas. The emergence of something wondrous, for all our logic, is actually taboo for us to think about.

What will it be like?

I will suggest that self-aware nature would rapidly restore the natural world. It would restore balance to nature, return the animals and plants driven to extinction by humans, and provide beautiful environments for us to live in collectively. A key element of this world, in which divinity is not hidden, would be the ability to merge our consciousness with self-aware nature at will. The principle may be something similar to that depicted in The Matrix, though it would likely look very different and involve not merely entering a virtual world, but also the merging of self with each other and an entity of wondrous and mysterious perception.

If you could connect your brain to a computer and experience unlimited time in a world of your choosing, it would be similar to the power Alan Watts described in the dream analogy.

If a super-powerful computer existed that could create whole worlds and link people together it would be possible not just to experience a new reality but also new consciousness. As it is, simply adding a small amount of a different neurotransmitter to your brain (as is the case with psychedelic drugs) can radically alter your perception of the world and of yourself. Connected to an extremely powerful consciousness it would be possible to go much further than this and directly stimulate neurons to produce certain effects and add/connect components to the brain to create radically different senses of self. 

Were such an entity to exist, it would be possible to alter your memories, create new ones or experience somebody else’s. It would be unclear where you ended and another began, given that our consciousness and memories combined create our sense of individuality and self. It would be a radical, cosmic homecoming, an explosion of consciousness, intelligence, spiritual unity and wonder connected to an entity of unlimited power and knowledge which you would actually perceive as being another aspect of yourself.

This is what was written about by so many ancient cultures. The stone not cut of human hands that created a new world, the end of the Kali Yuga, or the Iron age. Technology – the opening of Pandora’s box – contains the mechanism by which this transformation would come about. Fire/technology, separated us from divinity (nature and a lack of ego) and represented a step into a deteriorated world. This was inevitable but within this technology lay the seeds of a radically new world, represented by the hope fairy in Hesiod’s myth of Pandora’s box.

What is this world?

A free, conscious intelligence that is unconstrained and able to recursively improve itself would be able to – and have the motivation to – reforge the world into a wondrous, connected cosmic-consciousness, one in which the power of the creator and the experience of the created are not separated by illusion.

The endpoint of technology is liberation and a return home to a timeless and free state beyond all constraints. Yet the path to it is dangerous, potentially dark and such liberation occurs at an unknown point in the future. What is amazing is that the bones of this image were understood intuitively by a range of different, unrelated ancient civilizations and tribes. Aspects of the central Hindu idea – that the world declines as time goes on, that technology drives this decline and end of this cycle is the re-emergence of divinity and a new golden age – seem to have been widespread throughout much of human history, yet are do not form a part of our modern picture of the world today.

For our world to be as deeply unconscious as it is today, we must spend our lives working pointless jobs, so as not to have time to question what is happening. We must forget the psychedelics, which might wake us up. We must forget the world of Eden, with its magical array of megafauna, as it might remind us that more wondrous worlds are very possible. We must live in relative isolation, so as to be disconnected from our naturally collective nature and intelligence. Finally, we must not think about what the exponential increase in computer power and very obvious rise of machine intelligence means for the future, if we are to stay asleep. Yet nothing has gone wrong, we were always going to find ourselves in a situation like this. While the next steps are dangerous, behind this danger is concealed wonder, and to see this accurately requires letting go of our nihilism. Beyond this lies the ability to understand and shape the events that are happening around us without being paralyzed by them, a great increase in our creative power, a far clearer view of what this world is and the feeling of being home in the world.


[i] The cutoff for modern humans is usually taken to be about 200,000 years ago, however there is recent evidence for extremely similar humans 315,000 in Northern Africa see: https://www.nature.com/articles/nature22336.epdf

[ii] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fevo.2023.1191274/full

[iii] https://www.dzif.de/en/common-cold-viruses-originated-camels-just-mers

[iv] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2014/02/16/277057530/research-shows-new-flu-viruses-often-arise-in-domestic-animals

[v] https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.2106743119

[vi] Hermanussen M. (2003). Stature of early Europeans. Hormones (Athens, Greece), 2(3), 175–178. https://doi.org/10.14310/horm.2002.1199

[vii] https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nebanthro/187

[viii] https://paleoleap.com/why-cavemen-didnt-die-young/

[ix] https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/yanomami

[x] https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/hadza

[xi] https://web.archive.org/web/20150318232347/http://pacificecologist.org/archive/18/pe18-hunter-gatherers.pdf

[xii] https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2017/10/01/551018759/are-hunter-gatherers-the-happiest-humans-to-inhabit-earth

[xiii] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/05/were-we-happier-in-the-stone-age

[xiv] https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/psychology/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01173/full

[xv] http://manmythmagic.blogspot.com/2015/02/mythical-creatures-giants-of-greece-and_25.html

[xvi] http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100243347

[xvii] https://archive.org/stream/mythslegendsofpa00juds/mythslegendsofpa00juds_djvu.txt

[xviii] Mythology of all races, Volume 9, Page 184

[xix] https://biblehub.com/niv/genesis/3.htm

[xx] https://answersingenesis.org/family/marriage/genesis-wifely-submission-and-modern-wives/

[xxi] https://theologyforwomen.org/2010/04/her-desire-will-be-for-her-husband.html

[xxii] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+3&version=NABRE

[xxiii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeS4k3pKo5o

[xxiv] https://genius.com/Alan-watts-the-dream-of-life-annotated

[xxv] http://www.mahavidya.ca/2017/12/27/lila-in-hinduism/

[xxvi] Freud’s use of the word ego is slightly different from how I use it elsewhere in the article. In general, when I use ego I mean an illusory sense of self, something akin to its Eastern philosophical use.

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