We’ll talk a bit in FoL today about Danny Hillis’s “A Forebrain for the World Mind” and whatever else from the first 40 pages of This Will Change Everything anyone cares to mention, before looking back at the Long Now clock.
What we have now with the world wide web, Hillis says, is a primitive hindbrain concerned with
the functions of preference and attention that create celebrity, popularity and fashion, all fundamental to the operation of human society. This hindbrain is ancient. Although it has been supercharged by technology, growing in speed and capacity, it has grown little in sophistication. This global hindbrain is subject to mood swings and misjudgments, leading to economic depressions, panics, witch-hunts, and fads. It can be influenced by propaganda and by advertising. It is easily misled. As vital as the hindbrain is for survival, it is not very bright.
And what do we need? A forebrain,
with conscious goals, access to explicit knowledge, and the ability to reason and plan. A world forebrain would need the capacity to perceive collectively, to decide collectively, and to act collectively.
Sounds a lot like Plato’s philosopher-kings, but that’s not what Hillis wants. He just wants more intelligent direction in our communal affairs, more smart collaboration and connection. So far, “technology has made the conversation larger, but not smarter.”
Is this the change we need, change for the better? Will our attention span finally be wide enough to wrap around all our challenges? We’ll talk about that for as long as we can stand it this afternoon. Then we’ll take a little test, and we’ll probably get back that twenty minutes of overtime from Monday. (Was that a useful demonstration of what the “Long Now” feels like?)