Progress

Imagine yourself standing on a curve of progress. You look back on the years that went before you. There were wrong turns, periods of stagnation, conflicting roads of progress. Still, there was progress.

Imagine this progress being exponential. As the progress of human culture and technology certainly was.

You look back far. Into the palaeolithic. Where earlier forms of man roamed the earth and where early Homo sapiens evolved. Slowly stone technology evolved. We do not know how much non-stone technology evolved, we do not have any evidence left of such technology because it didn’t make it through time to us. But we look back and see the slow evolution of stone technology.

Looking at time closer to the present we see cities being built. First perhaps just as meeting grounds for ceremony but as agriculture gets invented we see the density of people growing in isolated places. We see them inventing and sharing technology.

We see historical time unfolding. We see civilisation grow. We see the density of humans grow; the density of minds communicating grow; the inventions of humans spreading between minds. Where earlier an invention would sparkle into existence and soon be lost because no mind would be there to catch it and give the flame the fuel it needed to grow, now there is always adequate fuel. Now ideas spread. Inventions spread. The technology of the species grow.

Sure, from time to time, inventions are lost. Through disasters we loose civilisations. Through the idiocy that is also part of our species we actively destroy ideas. But still, minds get closer together. Ideas spread. Ideas are not lost at the rate they used to be. Rather, they are caught. They are seeds that grow in new fertile minds.

Through the classical civilisations. Through the middle ages (that, no, were not the dead waters of ideas that history books tells you). Through the enlightenment. We see ideas growing. Improving. We see civilisation and technology and our understanding of the world improving. Growing.

We look back and see a very slow progress of technology through the palaeolithic. About ten thousand years ago we see a slight jump but more of a speed up in the progress of technology through the neolithic. Progress speeds up when we see the copper age and the bronze age. Writing gets invented and now minds communicate, not just between contemporaries but through time.

Look closer to yourself in time. Communication is now global. We are still faulty mammals. We make mistakes. But good ideas spread. Inventions quickly spread across the world. It is not a certainty, of course, that good ideas spread and bad ideas die. Not at all. But ideas that improve our lives do tend to survive and ideas that hurt us tend to be thrown away. Over time. It is not a constant progression of progress, but still, we do see, in the long view, an increase in knowledge, in understanding of the universe, and in technology that lets us control and manipulate the world around us. We control our environment; we are not controlled by it.

Imagine yourself, if you can, standing on this curve of exponential progress, looking back in time. Now turn around. A tiny step in time looking back contained so much more progress than a giant step just a little further back in time. Imagine what a tiny step into the future would mean.