Today officially begins the 2016 Annual Grand Lodge Stated Communication, which is one of the best times for Freemasons to network, learn from and grow with each other. I hope this post will be food for both thought and discussion as we look toward the future, what it may look like, and what role Freemasonry has to play. These opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Grand Lodge of Washington. If you wish to engage in a discussion or debate on these thoughts, I welcome conversation on my twitter account @danieldone or in person if you can catch me. Also you’ll all notice that I link to Jason Silva’s Youtube account a lot. You all should subscribe. He’s great.
Here’s a kick off thought:
I subscribe to the theory that we’re in the middle of the greatest leap forward in our evolution as humans since the agricultural revolution over 10,000 years ago. This leap is fueled by the digital revolution and is fundamentally changing not only how we as a species live day-to-day, but also how we see ourselves and who we are at our core. This transition is as big of a turning point in our history as the events that inspired the story the Garden of Eden. And, in order to venture into this brave new phase of human history, we need Freemasonry more than ever, because it frames a universal code of conduct for those who know that their work and actions transform themselves, their families, their neighbors, their countries, and their world in real time.
Let me explain…
Biologically, we’re primates.
There is less of a difference genetically between us, chimps and bonobos than there is between African Elephants and Indian Elephants. But what makes humans truly different is our ability to work as a group, and understand and empathize with other individuals we’ve never met. We can form strong, yet flexible networks that allow us to work as a collective in order to not only complete great wonders of the world and build empires, but also to discover, conceive of and refine our knowledge and understanding of the world. That ability to work together is at a tipping point of exponential growth due to the real-time connection that the internet has given us. It may be that digital technology is, in fact, the greatest democratizing force in human history, and will change our biology and neurology in a greater way than the discovery of fire.
All humanity is a massive organism.
At a neurological level, we’re entirely the sum of the knowledge and influences of people the in our lives such as our mothers, our fathers, our siblings, our teachers our friends, and the millions of other people who contribute to every article we read, TV show we watch and ad we subliminally see. Our bodies are sustained by an infrastructure built by hundreds of millions of people working together for the betterment of the whole. We need that infrastructure and the people who made it as much as a finger requires the hand, the arm, the heart and the lungs all working together in order to move and function. While some of us may prefer to live in a cabin in the woods, the truth is, no human can survive without others, period. (In fact, I even question whether or not humanity is something that we grow into through connection with other humans.) But if you look at the the way in which people connect with those closest to them, almost like individual brain cells forming their own micro-networks, you can get an idea for how we’re players in several different networks, at work and at home. If you zoom out and look at Earth, all humanity is a massive organism, and we’re getting more and more connected as we turn ourselves into a super organism.
In fact, that superorganism is entirely augmented by our tools and technology, which is forms like an exoskeleton, and is as important to who we are as a hermit crab’s shell.
We chose the Tree of Knowledge.
I grew up as a non-denominational Protestant along with about 58% of the US. But at the University of Washington, I studied Comparative History of Ideas and had the opportunity to study several religions. One topic that had particular significance to me in this context was Jewish history. I discovered that one of the hardest things for a traditional American Evangelical to correctly understand is the systems of metaphor, meaning and poetry that was infused into the many of the early Old Testament books of the Bible. To put my opinion simply, I believe the Bible is true, but we’re too stupid to truly understand it.
So I take stories like the Garden of Eden seriously, but in a somewhat untraditional way. In particular, I look at the choice made by humans to opt for the Tree of Knowledge over the Tree of Life. Once we as humans learned to cook our meat and increase the protein we can absorb, thus expanding our brain size, meat became necessary to our existence. The same is true with farming, language, arithmetic — we become dependent on those ideas and can never fully unlearn if we are to survive.
The moment each of these ideas were introduced to human networks, we were socially, mentally and even biologically changed forever. A great case in point is smart phones. How many of us would ever voluntarily get rid of our smartphone once we’ve experienced the way in which improves our access to people and information?
This essentially changes our paradigm of evolution away from relying on genetic mutation over generations in order to evolve new tools that are part of our bodies. Now our minds have allowed us to evolve our technology as an extension of our bodies.
Technology, beginning with sticks and stones, infects us as humans and carries with it nearly infinite unknown costs and benefits. These result in progress, as well as war, famine, disease and death. We only hope that with enough collaboration, the sum of humanity can come up with fixes to fend off those “horsemen of the apocalypse” before they destroy us. I think we have a good shot.
An idea is the most resilient parasite.
Evolution is no longer biological for us.
There is a feedback loop between our tools and ourselves, causing what is called a dialectic, which is forcing us to evolve. Operative masons once built cities, cathedrals, keeps and castles that shaped culture, and you had better believe they did it on purpose. They understood that architecture forms the exoskeleton of societies, and influences how those societies function, link, feel, and controls their future.
Freemasons expand that idea that to everything that is man made has a similar impact… We’re all engaged in the transcendence of our humanity.
Our tools are an extension of our body.
I was spellbound by a TED talk given by the MIT Hugh Herr on bionics. Herr lost both his legs to frostbite in the 80s. In the talk, he said, “I didn’t view my body as broken. I reasoned that a human being can never be “broken” but rather that “technology is broken.” The insight of that quote alludes to the foundational philosophy of Millennials. By framing it in that context, he is recognizing that his body is nothing more than technology, and so the inverse is also true. Technology is the extension of the body.
This premise was known by ancient swordsmen, who taught the sword is the extension of the arm, and also by Steve Jobs, who famously called the computer the “bicycle of the mind”. It was certainly known by Larry Page and Sergey Brin and their team at Google. The refinement of algorithms such as theirs is nothing more than techno-sociological ergonomics. In other words, it’s refining itself to better serve our needs and desires as humans.
Given that now we produce more content and knowledge in an hour than in most centuries of our past, and that nearly all of this is either stored or shared through the internet. Meanwhile, the internet has effectively become a literal collective consciousness, and that “sum of all knowledge and understanding” can actually be quantified by the weight of those electrons. The most humbling thing is that it’s smaller than the smallest possible grain of sand.
What is the collective consciousness?
The idea of collective consciousness has been around for centuries and has been studied in the context of shared experiences in both space and time. A concert, a revolution, a tsunami, a war is something that has an impact on such a large group of people that that memory is shared amongst an entire group of people and is often remembered for generations, or even millennia.
Ritual has the same effect on the human brain as events. It’s something that is shared throughout generations and forms the mortar that binds groups together which is why we use it in Freemasonry. Ritual, however can be engineered, just like cities, and purposefully have a direct impact on the societies and and individuals they produce. Being aware of that engineering effect thus, could be considered collective self consciousness.
Today, thanks to technology and education, we have over a billion people connected to the internet, which allows them to connect in real time and collaborate on projects large and small. This means that from a macro level, if the entire human race is an evolving brain, it would be just a few short years away from being able to think and act as one in our own best interest. However, in order to do that, we’re departing from our old tools of communication; we’ve passed pen and paper, the printing press, Radio, and TV (which are all mono-directional). Social media gives a voice to all, but it still requires an interface. We now know that within the next 50 years, communication and connection to the internet will be integrated into our minds to one degree or another.
The integration and rapid evolution of digital technology into a culture, therefore hyper-charges our individual and collective quest to be more human.
Last week, an article was published in TechCruch on search engine algorithms’ artificial intelligence called “Deep Brain.” There is a great summary in that article about the progression of artificial intelligence. Now again, if our tools are just an extension of our bodies, and the tools we use together like the roads, trains, and the electrical grid are the skeleton of our collective organism, then the internet and all of its information, programs and robots are in fact an extension of humanity itself. Now predictions are that our machines will be as intelligent as the sum of all human brains put together by 2060. Once we reach that point, there is no turning back. All rules are off. We will have left Eden again. Or, just maybe, we might be returning to a new Eden where war, famine, disease and death are finally eradicated by our own will and power. We will see.
Why we are “Free-Masons”, really?
You might have noticed that Elias Ashmole’s first mention of Freemasonry was “Free-Mason” in his diary in 1646. It is so important to realize that the birth of “Free-Masonry” was in the time just before the explosion of knowledge and invention that was the English Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. I believe the realization was due in part to a recognition that Masonry studied the fact that our environments shape society, and had studied this for centuries. Because of that power, it behooves good men to hold themselves and others to standards of building societies for good and the betterment of all and not our own selfish ends. With the scientific revolution, it became clear that we are all builders in our own way, and have that same power to change the world through our creativity and workmanship.
So moving forward into a world where we are about to breach the gates of everything that is possible, one thing will remain the same, human nature. Freemasonry speaks directly to the core of what it means to be human and reorients our minds to what is truly important amid the chaos of change, not in resistance to it. So I don’t have any conclusion other than big changes for humanity are here, and even bigger changes are coming. Let us be a force for the good and the betterment of humanity as we always have, but let’s find out how to do it in a new way.
I’d like to conclude not with another Jason Silva video, but with Charlie Chaplin’s speech in “The Great Dictator”. A few years back, someone brushed it off the shelves and added modern b-roll to illustrate his points. I think it illustrates exactly where we are at. I hope you all enjoyed the read, and I look forward to discussions.