Thursday, September 13, 2012

Creating the 21st Century: An Overview

Voyager 1 is preparing to leave our solar system. The spacecraft launched in 1977 has traveled farther than any human made object. This is so cool, but what also boggles my mind is how much has changed since Carter was in the White House, Star Wars premiered at the box office, and Disco was queen. It’s stunning that Voyager 1 is traveling to the outer reaches of our solar system with 1977 technology.  Think about how explosive the change in technology, culture, and our understanding of, well, everything has been in the last 35 years. We are living in a different world than what came before.

The exponential change of the last thirty years is minor compared with the revolutionary change that has occurred in the last century. About a hundred years ago, the physicists and the painters began to suggest that our world worked differently than what was accepted. Our view of the world was simple in comparison. The world they showed us turned out to be far more complex and incomprehensible.

This wasn’t the first time humans had experienced such a profound shift. Three to four hundred years ago a similar dramatic shift occurred as we moved from the Medieval Era to the Modern. That transition was the Renaissance, which means re-birth. First the Scientists and the Painters pointed the way to the change. It was taken up by the other artists, including the dramatists and actors who taught the rest of us how to live in our new time. By the end of the Renaissance, the new way of living was embraced by most people and this affected government, philosophy, religion, economics, sociology, psychology, i.e., Everything.

As far as seismic changes go, we are right on schedule. It took centuries from the beginning of the Renaissance until most people had left the Medieval and were on their way to the Modern. The Modern era took another four hundred years to climax; for most Westerners to embrace the difference in the fundamentals of how our new world worked. Of course before we got there; before the Modern climaxed, the picture of our world began to shatter as new ideas cracked the glass.

A hundred years after Einstein, Planck, Bohr, and Heisenberg began to deconstruct Newtonian Physics, few of us can explain the ideas behind the Theory of Relativity or the principles of Quantum Physics. A hundred years after Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Braques and Picasso, few of us can really explain how the early Modern artists were expressing in paint a different view of our world.

The fact that I didn’t get what they were trying to tell us got me thinking. I knew that our time was fundamentally different than what I was taught in school, society and family. I knew instinctively that we had left the Modern era that began with the Renaissance and we were entering a new era, which I sometimes call the Quantum Era and other times just refer to as the Next. I knew as I read and listened to the media, arts, and entertainment that others were also trying to embrace this phenomenal change. I began to ask: how can I understand the change and embrace it in my life? Since I believe the job of the artist is to express how to live in our time, how could I communicate this new working of the world to the rest of my community? How could I help create the 21st Century?

Embracing the Next is really a shift in thought; as simple as an idea and as profound as a supernova. I write how with Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech Shakespeare embodied the idea that humans have choices. Once we realize we have a choice, we have identity, responsibility and consequences. This thought, though not original to Shakespeare, but best expressed by him, generated the Modern Era.

The difference between the Next and what came before is a set of assumptions and perceptions. Generally, the Medieval Man believed that that one thing lead to another and it was guided by God, who ordered our lives and placed us in our place. There was not much stake in linear time or the movement through space. Life was. This was this. The revolution of the Modern era is that man had identity, choice and the ability to alter his life. Since there was causality there was a following of linear time and space was something to be traveled. The question was this or that. The Next era asks us to embrace all levels of quantum uncertainty, including the idea that two conflicting things can be both be true simultaneously. This and that can both be true even though they are opposites. It goes beyond an electron behaving as both a particle (a something) and a wave (an action). The chair I sit on can both be “real”/solid and simultaneously porous/insubstantial/a mental construct. Our entire world could be a construct along with being concrete. Time marches on moment to moment and is happening all at once.

I’ve often thought that once I truly embraced the idea of the Next I would be able walk through walls. As soon as I achieved the shift personally, then I could communicate it to others. While I haven’t yet walked through any walls, I believe I’m onto something that others need to consider. I believe it is imperative that we take the next step. The current political and cultural divide in the United States is derived from this very split in perception.

The split in our cultures and our ways of understanding our time is deeply linked with our brain architecture and the conflict between the left and right hemispheres of our frontal cortex. Our very brains are causing the way we see our world, generating our developing culture and inspiring new technology.

The essays on this blog will chase the ideas of how to understand the change we are experiencing and how we can express/communicate these changes to move us forward. The question I’m asking is, ultimately: how can we Create the 21st Century?

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