Permanence and technology

1. Mt. Fuji, 3776 m high. A petrified mass of volcanic discharge, thought to have been first ascended in year 663.

2. Skyscrapers in Ootemachi, Tokyo and the City, London. Buildings belonging mostly to banks and insurance companies. They appear, on some intuitive level, to have been there forever, though most of these buildings can now be built from the ground up in less than a year. It is hard to fathom how they could ever be destroyed, though the work could be done in a matter of months (?) with the right equipment.

3. What is permanent? Anything that we cannot perceive as changeable, we call permanent. But this is a linguistic and epistemological error. The inability to perceive something has led us to declare its absence.

4. The earth. 5.9736 x 10^24 kg of matter, likely fused into a planet about 4.54 billion years ago. The sun will enter a red giant phase in about 5 billion years and swallow or cause tremendous damage to it. The sun is also currently the source of all fossilised energy on earth and the energy used by most life forms on it.

5. A certain class of mathematical proofs often consist in converting facts from one basis (family of concepts) to another. Such proofs often have a hamburger-like structure: first the initial facts are rewritten into a larger, more complex formulation that suits both the assumptions and the conclusion, and then the complex formulation is collapsed in such a way that the desired results come out and the original formulation is lost. The “beef” in such a proof often consists in carrying out the correct rewriting process in the middle.

6. Facebook takes off and becomes enormously popular, in part because it facilitates, on a huge scale, something that human beings want to do naturally. Communication and the need to relate to crowds and individuals could be said to be universal among humans.

An incomplete version of the technology lattice, as suggested in this post, with human desires at the top and the resources available in the universe at the bottom.

7. We can imagine technology as a lattice-like system that mediates between the human being, on one hand, and the universe on the other. As a very rough sketch of fundamental human needs, we could list drives like communication, survival/expansion, power/safety and art. (In fact, an attempt to make some of these subordinate to others would constitute an ethical/philosophical system. Here we do not need such a distinction, and the one I have made is arbitrary and incomplete.) When we place our fundamental drives on one end, and the resources and conditions provided by the universe on another – elements and particles, physical laws and constants – we can begin to guess how new technologies arise and where they can have a place. The universe is a precondition of the earth, which is a precondition of animals and plants, which we currently eat. And food is currently a precondition of our survival. But we can imagine a future in which we are not dependent on the earth for food, having spread to other planets. We can imagine a future in which oil and nuclear power are no longer necessary as energy sources, because something else has taken their place. New possibilities entering the diagram like this adds more structure in the middle – more beef – but the motivating top level and the supplying bottom level do not change perceptibly. (Of course, if they did, beyond our perception, they could be made part of an even larger lattice with a new bottom and top configuration.)

8. Technology is a means to the establishment of permanence, and a re-encoding of human desires into reality.

9. New technologies arise constantly. But can this evolutionary process go on forever? Does the lattice converge towards a final state?

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