After talking about as-of-yet intangible ideas like parallel universes and self-replicating artificial intelligences for the past two weeks (and, oddly enough, watching the presidential debate), I thought I’d bring ‘the Spoon’ back to our somewhat more palpable, observable world (while of course keeping the spirit of the column alive and well).
Though admittedly much different, the idea of artificial sociological (and other) constructs is no less strange. What I mean is to say that everything we (i.e. homo sapiens sapiens) know and accept about society, the economy, religion, government, language, politics, science (albeit, this is more of an exception to my thesis), and even family, is artificial. What I mean to say is that the rules we apply to tho[e]se constructs are ones we made up (in the case of science, we use our created language to label items, events, and phenomena that already exist, though we apply systems we create — physics, calculus, etc. — to describe them).
This idea takes a little thinking outside a person’s day-to-day box, but when thoughtfully considered, one is forced to ask: Just how did things as we know them get to be the way they are?
Religious scholars will often cite divine intervention, though that line of rationale (wince…) doesn’t typically satisfy the curious mind. I’m a fairly staunch proponent of Evolution, but let’s even allow that Man spontaneously materialized in a cave millions (or thousands? cringe…) of years ago, naked and alone — or nearly so. We place Man far enough back, chronologically, that he has not yet discovered fire (though far enough forward that there are a few of his own kind — men, women, and children — and they have a system of communication).
N.B. Admittedly, I’m not an anthropologist, thus I’m sketching this example from a strictly logic-based system of reasoning.
Let’s just say we have a tribe of people.
The smarter and more assertive tribesmembers (not tribesmen because other than physical strength, these early people have no concept of a patriarchy) recognize skill-sets in other tribesmembers and begin trying to convince the others to divvy up responsibilities. Already we can see that these people are developing classification systems for efficiency and survival — but these primitive systems are/were not divine or predetermined. They are/were evaluated and subsequently assigned . . . by other people. (Cue Brad Listi’s podcast theme!)
It’d take a veritable “forever” to start from the beginning of human history and slowly work our way forward, so I propose we jump forward through time.
Banking systems? Global economies? Capitalism? Socialism? Trade markets? Democrats? Republicans?
None of these systems and structures are natural to the known order of the Universe. They do not occur without a catalyst. They are artificial. All currency is fiat currency; it all quite literally comes from thin air.
No? What about the gold standard? some might ask. Gold occurs in nature, true — but its value is arbitrarily determined (again) by people. “Something is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.” Econ 101. Jonathan Reeves. Etc. etc.
Did you know that diamonds are neither rare nor valuable? (Sorry ladies!) Diamonds or coal: chemically, they are both simply compressed carbon — and there’s a lot of carbon out there. The price of diamonds is artificially inflated. Their scarcity and value come from people telling other people that diamonds are scarce and valuable.
In fact, planet “55 Cancri e” is literally (probably) covered almost entirely in diamonds.
Shit’s just not rare, yo!
I hypothesize — in what’s likely a quite inarticulate and plebeian fashion — that a lot of cognitive dissonance we experience so regularly is possibly somewhat attributable to our shoehorning ourselves into so many artificial constructs in almost every facet of our lives. We live in a way we think we prefer, but it is a way we were never “meant to” live. I also submit that, by this logic, there is no “true” way we were meant to live, but the more artificial layers we impose on our lives, the further we detach ourselves from some kind of natural equilibrium — whatever the hell that is.
A lot of this column is contingent upon my own personal biases being true, however, it stands to reason that a lot of what I’m saying makes sense. We (i.e. human beings) developed systems of classification to make sense of the planet upon which we’ve found ourselves marooned (for indeed the Earth really is an island in the void; blame dumb luck, but anything resembling our own habitable planet is obnoxiously far away). We’re like a nickel dropped into the ocean, though perhaps even less significant.
Maybe we sense this cosmological insignificance and arbitrarily bestow excess significance on things here (i.e. Earth) simply because we like- or prefer them?
How else do you think professional athlete’s salaries have come to make salaries of teachers (or anyone else, for that matter) seem like a pittance (e.g.)? It wasn’t carved into the Rosetta Stone or deciphered from clay tablets pulled out of the Mediterranean Sea. People got together and collectively decided we’d pay men and women millions of dollars (dollars: the value of which is always determined by humans or human-created systems) to play a game for one season every year.
Politics and the inherent artificialities associated with it would take a series the length of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time — all of it . . . an perhaps that’s even being optimistic. . . .
While mulling all of these thoughts over writing this column, something’s occurred to me: in order to be a sentient, higher-order[ed] thinking animal, we have to create artificial constructs — necessarily — to explore the more complex layers of our universe and its multidimensionality. It seems that a/the disconnect occurs when we become too reliant on the artificial constructs without always — to steal a quote from a Nintendo shirt I’m particularly fond of — “Know[ing y]our roots.”
Here’s the bonus question: given that all currency is fiat currency, again, currency out of thin air,” can you really waste it — per se — in any kind of tangible and quantifiable way that’s also actually meaningful subsequently in a non-artificial way?