On the last warm day in the Valley, before first snow the mountains, I drove up as high as I could through Lassen Volcanic National Park–over 8500 feet/2500 meters. In the thin air, with a stupendous view of the ridges below, you felt he entire Earth lay below, and the whole universe above.
In one direction you faced the desolate slopes of Lassen, with dead pines framing the foreground. Beckoning in the other direction forests uncurled in stationary crests mirroring the blue sky.
It was a little chilly, but I wasn’t cold in a long-sleeve shirt and shorts. The temperature, even at that elevation, was about 60F/16C two hours before sunset. The next day it would not rise above freezing.
Politics and America’s miserable polarization seemed as remote as the most distant ridge, and about as relevant as the rocky, barren rise to Lassen Peak. Even as I drove down, and stopped at a little lake to take a meditation in the last hour of the last warmth summer and fall, I already missed those timeless moments at the pass.
Where there is no trace of man except the highway and a vehicle passing by every couple minutes, one’s mind naturally turned to the big questions. Where are we headed as a species?
Looking back first, how did humans evolve? As Ian Tattersall writes in “Extinct Humans,” “Once we had language and symbolic thought we could live, not simply in the world as presented to us by Nature, but rather in the world as we reconstruct it in our minds: an ability that has had profound and fateful consequences.”
Indeed, for as the most powerful person in the world attests, the ability to create and live in self-made realities has reached its logical end. There is no going back to traditional, implicit notions of truth.
If we are go forward, and not stagnate as a species, we now have to make the distinction between reality and actuality, or AI will subtly dominate and erode the capacity of the human brain. The capacity for what however?
Essentially, the human brain is ‘exapted’ for insight. The full awakening of insight in a few individuals at the right time will ignite an “Insight Revolution” in the human brain in those individuals that have the capacity for it (and most people do), thereby changing the disastrous course of humankind.
This Insight Revolution will be as sudden and radically changing to ‘human nature’ as the Cognitive Revolution was about 70,000 years ago. It is even more important in the evolution of intelligent life on Earth however, since the preservation of ecological integrity and diversity of life on Earth depends on our transmutation as a species.
The scientific consensus is that Neanderthals and “anatomically modern humans“ were behaviorally identical and lived side-by-side for tens of thousands of years. But the anatomically modern humans, our forbearers, had a latent capacity that Neanderthals did not have.
And once this exaptation (for language and symbolic thought) was triggered, behaviorally modern humans exploded onto the scene, and displaced and/or wiped out Neanderthals and the other hominid species.
Potentially intelligent species matter, wherever they evolve in the universe. To transition from an increasingly destructive, symbol-mediating species, to beings of direct perception and insight requires a transmutation. Unlike the Cognitive Revolution however, which gave us the neural capacity for direct perception and insight, the Insight Revolution has to be consciously ignited within.
Can we consciously trigger the exaptation for insight for which the Cognitive Revolution provided us the neural capacity? The Cognitive Revolution itself, through the unwise use of ‘higher thought,’ has generated tremendous evolutionary pressure for radical change through an explosion of insight.
Of course I’m not referring to insight in service of science, much less the nation-state, be it the Chinese Communist Party and its transnational corporate symbiotes, or the global capitalistic system, but insight per se in the individual.
We stand at a crossroads, at least for our age. Will humankind go the direction of TikTok and AI, or self-knowing and insight?
TikTok, which is based on the appearance of authenticity, is a monumental fraud on the human mind. It’s for children and fools who don’t care whether AI algorithms manipulate them as long as they have their fun.
AI will never have an insight. AI, when it’s primary, destroys insight. But insight prevails over AI when the individual is self-knowing and situationally aware, because awareness and attention are deeper and more nimble than thought, whether human or machine thought.
If humankind is to survive and thrive, the Insight Revolution must ignite. Can it in our age, at this juncture?