Our Place In the Cosmos and the Role of STEM in the Advance of Civilization

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Symphony of Science
Our Place In the Cosmos

Two years ago, Wired Magazine reported that Neil deGrasse Tyson would host a sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos which aired on PBS three decades ago.

The producers of the new sequel say the new series will tell “the story of how human beings began to comprehend the laws of nature and find our place in space and time.”

This also creates a parallel opportunity to review our place in the story known as “The Advance of Civilization.”

We can pick up where Giambattista VicoJames JoyceWarren McCullochGregory BatesonDouglas HofstadterBenoit Mandelbrot, and Harold Bloom left off in The Canon of Western Literature.

The hardest law of nature to apprehend is the mathematical nature of recursive systems. We live in a physical universe, a biological niche, and socio-political culture all governed by recursion laws which we struggle to discover, understand and reveal.

Per Vico and Bloom’s model, we have, over the past 4000 years, repeatedly passed through three recurring ages:

The Viconian cycle consists of three recurring phases:

(1) The Theocratic or Divine Age, represented in primitive society by the family life of the cave, to which the thunderous voice of God has driven mankind;

(2) The Aristocratic or Heroic Age, characterized by incessant conflict between the ruling patricians and their subject plebeians;

(3) The Democratic Age, in which rank and privilege have finally been eradicated by the revolutions of the preceding age.

Currently, we are ensnared in the Fourth Age, as anticipated by Vico, and as explicated by any number of modern sources:

(4) The Chaotic Age, characterized by the bewildering collapse of democratic society, which is inherently dysfunctional and therefore riddled with a panoply of hellish and baffleplexing problems: conflict, violence, oppression, injustice corruption, poverty, ignorance, alienation, suffering, and terrorism.

The resolution of this nightmare age of unrelenting chaos is to evolve to the Fifth Age where we master the art of taming the ill-mannered recursion laws that define and characterize the Chaotic Age:

(5) The Cybernetic Age, in which the otherwise mind-boggling math of recursive loops is tamed and tuned to gracefully converge to the long-dreamed of Omega Point.

To emerge from the Chaotic Age and evolve into the Cybernetic Age, we are going to have to conscientiously educate ourselves in the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) with a concentrated effort to master the fractious mathematics of recursive systems.

The key to mastering the Fifth Age is to embrace the Fifth Discipline of Peter Senge. The key is to master Systems Thinking.

Once STEM fully integrates Systems Thinking into our tools for thought, we can then team up with Artists who can shape this work for public consumption as part of the evolving Canon of Western Media. Once STEM is teamed up with the Artistry, we’ll be on our way to the Cybernetic Age with a full head of STEAM.

7 Comments

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  1. Alison Cassidy

    Excellent piece indeed, Barry. On the last point, I’m not as eloquent as you but there is a place for artistry in engineering. I see it every day as part of my job as a software engineer. Some developers can craft a piece of code that provides such an elegant solution to a problem, that it appears as art. No – it *is* art.

    I see code almost as a physical object, sometimes. It’s got sides, corners, a shape. Some code is pretty and some is ugly, and I mean that in an esthetic sense.

    It’s hard to explain! :)

    • Barry Kort

      Steve Jobs had a keen sense of aesthetics, and he imbued that artistic philosophy into the culture at Apple Computer.

  2. Barry Kort

    Perhaps after the Democratic Age and after the Chaotic Age, but before the Cybernetic Age, we have a transitional Age of Satire, Parody, and Buffoonery.

    • Helga Vierich

      I have only just discovered your essays here, and find them very interesting. Much of what you write is provoking. This particular entry provoked me, in fact, to finally comment. Has it never occurred to you that these “ages” you name are a smokescreen that lead you to think there has actually been objectively identifiable progress in anything beyond a more scientific understanding of causal relationships? Instead of “ages” based on technology or philosophy, perhaps we should search for broad continuities between societies with varying degrees of sustainability – or at least “anti-fragile” attributes? Most of this would involved understanding the human cultural ecology in relation to the natural ecosystem of the planet, rather than the superficial aspects of human ideological systems, which, when all is said and done, merely rationalize these deeper ecological relationships.

      • Barry Kort

        Curiously enough, my “Word of the Day” on Facebook two days ago was “Kadima” which is a Hebrew word that means “Forward Progress.” I chose that word precisely to highlight the issue that our culture is (perhaps hopelessly) stuck in an anachronistic, dysfunctional, and unsustainable governance model. Moreover, the error in the architecture of the culture has been discussed for at least the past 3200 years, with negligible measurable progress in correcting it.

        In order to make meaningful progress, a substantially greater fraction of our population must acquire the tools for thought subsumed under the rubric of the Ninth Intelligence.

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