Learning From Nature to Shape the Future

At a Transhumanist conference in the Bay Area, one of the attendees stopped by to chat with me. During the conversation, he noted that my biography was very strange.

          “Spinning, raising goats and chickens, homesteading, these things don’t sound very Transhumanist or futuristic to me," he said.

          “Understanding nature and the way it works is the most powerful way a Transhumanist can shape the future,” I replied.

I then went on to explain that while we can learn a lot from our technology, in reality, most technology directly interacts with nature and by understanding the way the world works, we can become better designers and inventors. We humans are known to try and force our hand upon nature in an attempt to bring order to what appears to be chaos in our minds, but this impulse isn’t logical. This way of thinking is what leads a scientist to invent plastic bags without ever understanding the environmental impact they would eventually have on our marine life. Thinking that we’re above nature and don’t need to understand it, gives us the false sense that we know better, yet when the hurricanes come and destroy the levees, we’re left wondering why.

I took up my homesteading hobbies as a direct compliment to my technical education. I knew how a radio system worked, but I didn’t fully understand how life itself worked. Learning how to knit a sweater from animal to end product taught me so much—how goats behave, what they need to eat, how to shear them, card the fiber, spin it using a rather elegant, yet ancient technology, and finally knit it. By the end I truly understood why we invented the machines we did to make this process so much easier. Spending time with nature in this case gave me a fuller appreciation of our technology.

By spending time in nature and learning to do things for ourselves, we learn the necessity behind the invention and we grasp and appreciate our technology in entirely new ways.

Yet there’s another reason to become intimate with nature—it can show us solutions to the problems we’re trying to solve. Nature has certain cycles and systems within it that we as humans can mimic. After all, we are a part of nature ourselves.

Some people believe nature is chaos. Others believe its order. I’m of the camp that nature fluctuates between the two. There is chaos and then it tends to order. Then back to chaos. Then back to order. Take a bee hive. When it swarms, the bees go flying out of the hive in a messy bunch, loudly buzzing and scaring most humans away. They flood the sky in complete chaos. And then, something amazing happens as they begin to swirl around one another and what was once frantic becomes an organized funnel, similar to a tornado, as they follow their queen to a tree and form a perfect ball around her. Then they wait, as quiet as can be, until their scouts find a home and they fly off once more.

Chaos to order. Order to chaos.

We fear change and this is often what holds us back technologically. Our imaginations are capable of seeing what needs to be done, what new technology or process could be developed, and how we can bring solutions to the world’s biggest problems. But we fear change and chaos so much, we often march at a snail’s pace when it comes to implementing our big changes. Yet we managed the agricultural revolution and then the industrial revolution.  We can navigate change as a group.

We’re now entering the technological revolution. At the beginning of each of these stages, we live in chaos. Roles, work, family structure, governments, everything is in play. The type of leaders needed to bring about the true information age are very different than the leaders we’ve had. Yet we keep electing people with a 19th century mindset because we fear the change that’s happening around us. Why the 19th century? Because that’s when the industrial revolution truly hit its high point. Society had fully integrated the factory based economy and life was good. But guess what, like nature, we’ve moved past that stage.

Society now is falling apart precisely because it must in order to integrate the information age economy. Until we get there, we’ll experience pain. But when we’ve made the change, things will settle into order and a whole new way of living will become natural to us.

This is what living in nature has taught me—that it’s useless to turn away from chaos. It’s going to happen, structures must break down. Yet there’s the promise of order right around the corner. Everything in nature works this way. The redwood was once a little seed that underwent extreme chaos to form a root and eventually become a tree. Yet for two thousand years after that chaotic event, the redwood is still standing in an orderly, peaceful manner.

We will transition to the information age and with it will come many new opportunities. The changes on the way won’t be easy, and many will go kicking and screaming. However there’s a more logical approach—accept the change that is part of evolution, imagine solutions, technologies and opportunities, and turn to nature to show the way to order once more.

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