Human Intelligence Increase: The Last 4,000 Years and The Next 40 Years
By ROBERT ANTON WILSON (september 1980)
"In 1928, when that long man, Charles Lindberg, was flying the Atlantic in his crude bi-plane, engineer-designer R. Buckminster Fuller, who had read Korzybski, defined the I2 function as synergy. Synergy is kind of reaction where 1+1 does not equal 2, but 2+. For instance, put a man and a woman in bed and you might get, in nine months, three people, not two. Add molybdenum to steel and you get an alloy tougher than either or both. Bring Arabian mathematicians to Europe, mix it with the empirical knowledge of the craftsmen, and you get Galileo and the science of physics.
Fuller realized the highest form of synergy was mind itself, which is, as he says, inherently self-augmenting. That is, you can’t put two ideas together without a third idea emerging, almost as in our sexual example above. Fuller agrees with Douglas: capital increases, because ideas are always increasing. The world is moving toward larger and larger coherently organized systems, each capable of doing more, synergistically, than earlier, less organized systems.
In 1944, Nobel physicist Edwin Schrödinger added the next block to the definition of I2, in a book called What is Life? Schrödinger noted that everything in the universe, except life, follows the Second law of Thermodynamics in moving steadily toward maximum entropy (which for our purposes we can define loosely as chaos or incoherence.) Life, however, moves in the opposite direction: toward higher organization, greater coherence, negative entropy.
In the next few years, almost simultaneously, Claude Shannon of Bell Laboratories and Norbert Weider of M.I.T. realized that the information in a message could be mathematically expressed as negative entropy. The whole science of cybernetics comes out of this discovery, but that is not our topic here. What is interesting to us, in terms of I2, is that the movement of life toward greater coherence is, as Shannon and Weiner, vastly accelerated as life’s techniques of information processing improve. In short, the movement from grunts to language, to math, to computers, is a move towards Information Intensification and against entropy, a movement toward coherent order and against random decay.
As Bucky Fuller was quick to point out, the development of Information Theory by Shannon and Weiner enables us to see the human mind as the greatest synergy-machine, the greatest tool for doing-more-with-less, in this part of the universe.
Fuller points out that knowledge can only increase (except for tragedies like brain damage in an individual or totalitarianism in a society.) As our communication skills and information processing improve, human knowledge as a whole accelerates synergistically. Therefore, both hard and soft technologies accelerate – ideas and tools both change faster, faster, faster. And capital accumulates accordingly.
The ever-provocative Dr. Timothy Leary gives us a final set of models to understand the law of acceleration. In The Intelligence Agents, 1979, Leary claims the east-to-west movement, seen as a migration of capital by Brooks Adams, is really a movement of genes. The Earth turns west-to-east; the hardier, more innovative genes, he claims, go against this and move east-to-west. The shift of power from Babylon to New York noted by Brooks Adams is still continuing. Leary avers; the pioneer genes are piling up on the West Coast, and getting ready to blast off for space.
This oddly parallels the theory of sociologist Carl Oglesby that there is a cowboy-versus-Yankee war in our ruling class. The cowboys are still looking for a new frontier, Oglesby says; the Yankees have turned conservative. Control of our economy is split between the old New York capitalists and the innovative western cowboy-capitalists. The latter group, of course, are the ones who are heavily investing in the space industry.
There is clear relevance between all these notions, and they all contribute to our understanding of socio-economic change. The Adamses on migration and acceleration, Douglas on increment of association, Korzybski on “time-binding,” Fuller on synergy, Schrödinger on life as an anti-entropic process, Shannon and Weiner on information as negative entropy, and Leary on neuro-genetics, all illustrate part of what we mean by Information Increase. That Intelligence Intensification (a term borrowed from Leary) is part of the world round 4,000 year information explosion should also be clear. Our hunting-gathering ancestors did not need the variety of kinds and styles of intelligence that the Greeks of Plato’s age needed. More intelligence, of different flavors and functions, were necessary for the transformations known to us as the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of representational government. New types of intelligence are being produced to cope with the computer revolution and the burst into space.
“We can now amplify and accelerate our sharing so that it can cross the world in a matter of moments, copied and replicated all the way. The power of the network has driven us into a new era. Sharing culture, knowledge, and power has destabilized all of our institutions. Businesses totter and collapse; universities change their practices; governments create task forces to get in front of what everyone calls ‘something-2.0’. It could be web2.0, education2.0, or government2.0. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that something big is happening, and it’s all driven by our ability to share. -- Mark Pesce, Nexus of Sharing.