It optimistically suggests that consciousness can one day be understood as a form of matter, a derivative of the most beautifully complex spacetime structure in our universe.
The core of the book is a heady mix of evolutionary biology, thermodynamics—the study of energy flowing through a system—and cybernetics, a diffuse field pioneered in the 1940s by Norbert Wiener studying how feedback loops can automatically regulate the behavior of machines and organisms. Considering a planetary civilization this way, Lem posits a set of feedbacks between the stability of a society and its degree of technological development. In its early stages, Lem writes, the development of technology is a self-reinforcing process that promotes homeostasis, the ability to maintain stability in the face of continual change and increasing disorder. That is, incremental advances in technology tend to progressively increase a society’s resilience against disruptive environmental forces such as pandemics, famines, earthquakes, and asteroid strikes. More advances lead to more protection, which promotes more advances still.
And yet, Lem argues, that same technology-driven positive feedback loop is also an Achilles heel for planetary civilizations, at least for ours here on Earth. As advances in science and technology accrue and the pace of discovery continues its acceleration, our society will approach an “information barrier” beyond which our brains—organs blindly, stochastically shaped by evolution for vastly different purposes—can no longer efficiently interpret and act on the deluge of information.
Humans are probably not the greatest intelligences in the universe. Earth is a relatively young planet and the oldest civilizations could be billions of years older than us. But even on Earth, Homo sapiens may not be the most intelligent species for that much longer.
Thurman’s spirituality was grounded not only in the beauties of the black experience, but grounded as well in the terrors of the black experience, as only someone living in Florida and Georgia could know them in 1915 and 1920 and 1930. At the same time, it was a spirituality that says: “And knowing all that, I also know that all human beings are one.”
This kind of strange combination of spiritual truth with hard political social truth led one young man in the 1930s to say this about Howard Thurman: “I’m disappointed in him. We thought we had found our Moses. And he turns out to be a mystic.” That’s the spirituality that gets people all riled up.