Can selfishness be controlled
The self-awareness that allowed humans to develop was a near-miracle. Some regard it as just that, a miracle. Others regard it as a quirk of physiological development along the lines of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Some are halfway between the two. Whatever the cause, self-awareness (autonoetic consciousness) made us who we are, allowed us to draw conclusions from logical thinking and gave us the ability to perceive relationships, enabling us to become creative. I’ll settle for the word miracle any time.
And the miracle goes on. If my parents had been told 100 years ago about the personal connectivity we have now they would have neither believed it nor approved of it. The dangers associated with such speed and facility would have been, to them, possibly satanic and certainly species-destroying. Controlling yourself in their generation was key to a good life. Self-indulgence was bad except on a very small scale and then not more than once a week. If necessary, it could be confessed the following Saturday.
We have moved from the shibboleths of belief to the intransigence of science with unprecedented speed, and the movement continues with increasing vigour. Our concept of happiness, the basis of much life search, has changed, too. Where senses were courted to be lightly touched once in a while – perhaps even once in a lifetime – they are now frequently bombarded in a way that seems to many, me included, to be excessive. That may be just the perceptions of an old man. The test is in the joy of the life lived.
Because ‘normal’ changes, too. The ‘new normal’ is referred to often. Fifty years ago we smoked cigarettes.. Now we regard sitting still as a new normal to avoid, too. In the battle between the bulge and the gym, those who are disciplined win. The less fortunate must make of their lives what they can, accepting their indulgences and lack of self-order. How much control any of us have over our lives is still one of the great unknowns.
It may never be known. Artificial Intelligence will certainly develop – or has already developed – to the point where most decisions will be made on a strictly logical basis. The inference for those of limited self-control is that they will be ‘guided’ – a word sometimes mentioned in connection with democracy, though in practice usually lightly applied. If this is to be the case, choice, and the concept of free will, may largely disappear. A more ordered society may develop faster, though to what end and with what human satisfaction in living will be hard to say. Exploration of the universe will be one such result.
The essence of humans is the ability to choose between changing rights and wrongs. This choice is defined by a number of criteria which themselves vacillate. What is normal changes, as individual circumstances disrupt and as the collective consensus alters its view. Moral absolutes exist but these sort of decisions are relative more often than fixed. For example, the selfishness of a new-born baby is essential for survival. Again, choosing our own wishes over other people’s in the short term may benefit others in the longer term.
Today’s big question is not so much how mighty an algorithm can we build or even how far into space can we travel. It is how can we re-tune humans to look beyond our existing mortality to the time, soon to be with us, when immortality is possible and is recognised as an option demanding serious consideration. Such enlightened thinking, if we can adopt it, will transform the planet we live on.
More importantly, it will transform us human beings.
It’s high time we thought about it.