Friday, October 2, 2009

Global Brain Awakens

The Global Brain Awakens by Peter Russell

This hardcover copy is a re-edited version released in 1995. The first version entitled The Global Brain was published in 1983, some 26 years ago. When I read it, it was hard to believe that the book was written so long ago, because much of the content is very fresh, containing some scientific findings which have been made popular only in recent years. It is perhaps owing to the background of Peter Russell as a theoretical physicist that he was familiar with these theories many years ago when they first emerged.


The author started by mentioning the Gaia Hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock in the 70's. I came across the Gaia Hypothesis in 2005 and wrote a blog article on it. Basically, Lovelock observed that the planet Earth showed sign of a single organism with many different but inter-depending systems. It also displayed an ability to adjust itself to maintain a homeostasis. Some critics considered that such a evolutionary development was not possible as the planet Earth does not reside in a competitive environment with similar bodies.

The theory of evolution has evolved itself in recent years. Its application is now not restricted to animals and plants but to many living systems. Based on a new branch of living systems theory, many organisms including many systems of the human society having 19 common sub-systems are general living systems. The evolution theory proposed by Charles Darwin is being refined. In addition to the process of survival for the fittest, which is a lengthy and complicated process of gradual and slow evolution, there have been many incidents of sudden change in the evolution path, leading to twists known as evolution leaps. The evolution curve is not linear, but kinky with sudden turns in response to sudden and dramatic changes in the environment.

Throughout the evolution of everything, there is a similar pattern that there were long periods of Darwinian evolution separated by evolution leaps. It is now believed that the origin of many evolution events was from chaos. A sudden change in the environment would create a chaotic situation where mutations grow randomly. Among the chaos, some orders eventually appears owing to the competition and the rule of survival for the fittest. Such orders slowly evolve and become more complex until there is a condition for a higher order of evolution to emerge.

The first evolution leap occurred after the Big Bang which was a chaotic event. Modern science is still trying to figure out what was it before the Big Bang. The Big Bang emitted entirely energy. The evolution from energy to matter is now a heavily researched subject. It is considered an emergent event arising from the chaotic pure energy environment.

Another major evolution leap was for matters to evolve into life. Matters started from the chaotic environment full of atoms and evolved into the orders of macromolecules. Complexity increased until a time an emergent event occurred and organic matters in the form of life appeared. It started with bacteria and algae and slowly evolved to multicellular organisms we know today.

Among the living things we know, complexity continued to increase in the cerebral development of the human brain. About two million years ago, another evolution leap occurred. An emergent event occurred and the human brain achieved self-reflective consciousness. We are the only species of living things on Earth that knows ourselves and is aware of the big picture of the environment around us.

According to Russel, such evolution leap would need three major conditions. The first one is quantity and diversity. There must be a lot of atoms and molecules of a large diversity, or 10 billion brain cells to start with. Second, there must be a good organization among them for the sustainable infrastructure to develop. Third, there must be complex and efficient connectivity within the organization for the next level of evolution to emerge.

The human society, composed of 6.6 billion self-reflective conscious human minds, is approaching this critical point of evolution leap. The quantity of different minds is sufficiently large and the cultural diversity among them is very high. The human society is well organized after several thousand years of development of civilizations. In the last few hundred years, owing to the advance of technology in travelling and exchange of knowledge, nearly all human communities are well connected. In the last few decades, communication technology has enabled individual human minds to connect efficiently. A large neural network has been formed among humans.

Thus, Peter Russel speculates, the next evolution leap is likely to occur within the complexity of the human society. An emergent event will occur to bring us to the next higher level. However, as for all evolution leaps, there is no way that the predecessors could imagine the outcome. There is no concept, knowledge, language which could help express what is ahead of us because such experience is not with us. Atoms and molecules cannot understand what life is. Mammals and plants also cannot understand what is the meaning, feeling and effect of a self-reflective conscious mind. What Peter Russel could guess, and it is likely to be inaccurate, is that the entire human race could evolve into a superorganism which would be aware of itself as a whole as well as maintaining the activities of the individuals. He calls it the Global Brain. It is a big step forward from Gaia. However, what is this global brain going to achieve?

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