Limitless

There was a book before the film (of course there was!) called the Dark Fields, by Alan Glynn. I want to read this now. For those of you who don’t know, it concerns a wonder drug which allows your brain to tap into all that potential that don’t normally have access to. On it, you can see more, do more, and understand and pull together all the random bits of information that we assimilate on a daily basis. With the drug you can actually use this experience. Unfortunately, it comes with side effects, and the film follows a guy who is introduced and seduced by an opportunity which quickly leads to addiction.

It makes you wonder if we would all be better version of ourselves, improved people, if we were constantly on this drug? Apart from the negative consequences of regularly using the drug, and the issue of supply not being able to keep up with desperate demand, I think it might be too good to be true.

If we were as good as we could be, constantly, there would be nothing to reach for and nothing left to achieve. The problem with reaching your potential is that once you’ve done that, you are left with the big ‘what next?’

Living with limits is our reality. The boundaries to what we can do are not only there as a safety mechanism to protect us, they are there because the wonder of humanity is that we will never be all that we can be. The point is we have to choose, we have to allocate our time and our energy into certain pursuits and leave others. If we could do everything we ever wanted to do, would we want to do anything at all?

I have a feeling that we would get bored and apathetic pretty quickly once the novelty had worn off. At the moment, we are very rarely satisfied, and that is an essential part of human nature- that we continue striving, and struggling, pushing ourselves onwards- we progress.

Having it all at once would immeadiately render this void, leaving us without meaning. You can get too much of a good thing.

Will post again with my thoughts when I get my hands on the book!

Who wants to live forever?

Just finished reading Trouble with Lichen, by John Wyndham, which considers the practical consequences and effects that would come from discovering a way to significantly prolong life. Again, his books take a slightly different stance from the one I expect, and in this case it is probably because most people cannot get past the initial shock and judgement about extended life to properly consider how it would change society, and the different benefits that it could bring.

People split into two camps; those who think it is a great thing, and those who think it is terrible. There are few who would remain ambivalent in the face of such a large change, although the way our health care is advancing, we are already slowly and gradually pushing the limits of ‘natural’ age.

One of the central characters suggests that the extra time could allow humanity to develop solutions to the many problems we currently face, and could even increase the level of equality between the sexes. She argues that, by directly facing the consequences of our actions, and not just knowing that what we do will negatively impact some abstract future, we will be more involved and motivated to stop harming ourselves and this world and instead spend our time thinking about how to improve things.

While this has some logic to it, I’m not sure whether I’m convinced. Of course some people would realise that they must change their behaviour immediately in order to ensure their continued survival and happiness, but some people already do that. Whether enough people would realise, and change, in time to save ourselves, is a different story.

People are already faced with consequences in our current short(er) lifetimes. We still mainly ignore them, and carry on doing whatever we want, with little heed to the future. Humanity seems to be stubbornly disinclined to plan and act for long-term gratification, even though this is one of the things which is meant to separate us from other animals, and from small children.

So, although it demonstrates the lack of faith I have in human kind, I am not sure that the clear-thinking minority could override tradition, ignorance, and reluctance to any kind of change. Additionally, for certain individuals at least, the amount of damage they could inflict over a lifetime would be expanded, leading to more for those with hope and forward thinking to repair.

Thankfully, there hasn’t been such a discovery so far. I think we would misuse and abuse any extra time we were afforded, and so am firmly in the ‘it’s unnatural!’ opposition camp. I don’t think longer lives would help us to lead better, or happier lives, and the problems surrounding a longer-living race are so large as to overwhelm any benefit of the scientific progress.

What do you think?

Thoughts on Google and the end of the world

I know this isn’t a book, but check out this article in the London Review of Books. It’s about the domination of Google, and how it’s feedback system allows it to become more and more intelligent every time we use it. Since I use Google a lot, in a work capacity as well as just random searches, it’s really made me think about what a powerful tool it is, and how impossible life would be now if it were suddenly removed. It also holds some lessons for our own mental wellbeing; every time we click on a link that is below the number one spot, we are showing Google that it got the ranking wrong, and it needs to readjust the information it provides us with. Instead of facing this criticism with sulking, defensiveness or a drop in self confidence, Google learns from the experience. Without these criticisms, it could never have become as intelligent as it is now. All feedback is useful. Everything we experience can teach us something, even if its something which we feel threatened by.

On an entirely unrelated note, I finished the Kraken Wakes. I have to say I didn’t like it as much as I mostly like his books, and found it a bit disappointing. The book focuses on the (admittedly more realistic) element of how humanity would react if there was really an alien invasion. We would be confused, and very slow to react, and react badly, and turn on each other. However the despondent atmosphere makes it hard to enjoy. The slow, bleak loss of hope is probably a more truthful portrayal of the end of the world, however much we (or just me?) like the drama of one final battle, with blazing emotions, and devastating losses. The monotony that uncertainty and futility would create is far more depressing than some grand sacrifice, or bittersweet victory. I read the whole thing waiting for something to happen, and by the time you realise that this is all there is, there has been nothing but emptiness for so long there are no contrasts left. Its why I didn’t like The Road, even though again, I understand that that is the whole point; the desolation of the circumstances is reflected in a tedious narrative where nothing happens, and all emotions are numbed.