The unaware

Editor’s note 1: The idea that we live in a multiverse made up of infinite parallel universes, also called “alternate dimensions”, or “alternate timelines,” has been defended by various prominent physicists. In one of such hypothetical universes, the following conjecture may be taking place, and reflecting upon it may be utility-generating for scholars in various timelines

 Note 2: info from “A dynamic interplay within the frontoparietal network underlies rhythmic spatial attention” by Ian Fiebelkorn, Mark Pinsk and Sabine Kastner (DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.07.038) and “Neural mechanisms of sustained attention are rhythmic” by Randolph Helfrich, Ian Fiebelkorn, Sara Szczepanski, Jack Lin, Josef Parvizi, Robert Knight and Sabine Kastner (DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.07.032)

Setting: Unknown*

The science vessel arrived at a telluric planet that harbored conscious-intelligent-life. The assessment-team gave us an interesting report. The species does not actually register much of the world around it. Their consciousness shifts in and out of focus, so what the individuals think they know about the world is constructed from limited information. Estimates of how often they are actually focused suggest they don’t know much about their world at all.

Their brains oscillate in and out of focus four times every second. In other words, their brains are built to be distractible. They focus in bursts, and between those bursts they have periods of distractibility, when their brain assesses the rest of the environment. They experience their reality as continuous, but it is simply because their brains fill in the gaps for them. The team suspects it might have offered the individuals’ distant ancestors an evolutionary advantage detecting threats.

This may be related to another interesting finding. They have achieved a level of technological development where they are more than able to resolve their social needs. Nevertheless, most of their species live in mental and/or physician suffering, and they are in the process of destroying their planet’s ability to sustain their lives. Most of the individuals are unaware of these processes. It is also likely related to their stagnation in a market-based resource allocation society, rather than progressing into coordination and planning. The end of their world is relatively imminent. It is comically absurd, but it is much sadder than it is humorous.

 

A Star Trek Political Compass: On some similarities and differences between the Borg and the Federation

When the Borg were introduced in Star Trek: TNG, there was a clear contrast between their collective being (which seemed to represent Soviet communism) and the Federation’s defense of individual freedom (which seemed to represent American values). The first series of Borg episodes coincided with the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, so it’s unclear if writers still felt the need to incorporate anti-communist material. Nevertheless, the episodes had a distinct anti-communist tone.

Trekonomics by Manu Saadia raises the point that there are profound economic similarities between these two civilizations. Both, the Borg and the Federation, have had sufficient technological development to become a post-scarcity economy, where no currency or market mechanisms are utilized to allocate goods or resources. Demand and supply are collectively determined through communication— be it through subspace communications between Federation ships, planets, and starbases, or through the Borg’s cybernetic collective consciousness. The difference lies in its politics and in the motivation driving the individual. In the Borg case, the individual disappears. There is no choice in their drone-level existence. The Borg drone by definition must do as the collective requires. It is absolute authority, for the drone cannot even conceive refusing an order. In the Federation, a high sense of moral obligation (akin to Che Guevara’s new man and woman) drives individuals to choose to do what the collective requires. In the Star Trek universe, the fact it is high moral standards what drives individuals to do what is best for society is not conceived within an idealist perspective. As Saadia, notes:

Star Trek believes that material conditions are the primary determinant in people’s actions. In the Federation’s cornucopia, individuals’ needs, desires, emotions, and activities are significantly transformed and reoriented toward noneconomic goals. This is what makes the inhabitants of the Federation so bizarre and impenetrable and sometimes even boring. They do not seem to care at all about the same stuff as us, mostly because they do not have to. And that is why they are truly from the future (emphasis added).

Thus, we can synthesize some of Star Trek’s contending economic systems in the following political compass chart. As other researchers have noted, this cartesian political map is undoubtedly an oversimplification. Notwithstanding, the framework is useful for critical analyses of the Star Trek universe, as well as research on alternative economic systems for the future.

Comments on the 20th Century ‘Multiple Discovery’ of ‘Star Trek’ by Rodenberry and Soviet writers: Implications for Full Space Communism and Techno-barbarism

Audiences have been introduced to works of science fiction that take place in a future where hunger, disease, crime, poverty, and states have disappeared on Earth, while humans explore the galaxy and routinely encounter alien species. These fictional future humans have very high ethical standards, and try with all their might to not intervene with other civilizations in ways that are disruptive to their own development.

Perhaps the most well-known is Star Trek, which first aired in 1966. Curiously, a similar work was published in 1962 as a Soviet novel titled Noon: 22nd Century, written by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

Trekonomics author Manu Saadia explains one can find a first sketch of most of Star Trek’s themes not only in Noon: 22nd Century but also in the Strugatskys’ subsequent books as well. It is unlikely Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had heard about them. They were not translated until several years after the finale of Star Trek The Original Series. Saadia notes: “In a way it is even more intriguing to think that Roddenberry could create the Star Trek universe, along very similar lines, without even knowing of his Russian counterparts’ existence. Same broad conclusions, from the opposite side of the Iron Curtain.”

Both space utopias had similar economic processes behind them. Humans have overcome scarcity and no longer have to worry about providing for themselves. Our needs and desires are all taken care of by technology. Most notably, this future economy does not require currency or market mechanisms to produce and exchange goods. Monitoring and communication through a process of continuous feedback direct the flow of supply and demand harmoniously. This is similar to what economist David Laibman calls an economic system of multilevel iterative planning. This paper argues this is also an example of Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism.

After further analysis, it is not surprising that Roddenberry and the brothers Strugatsky simultaneously came up with such a similar vision of future Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism. “Multiple Discovery” or “Simultaneous Discovery” is a common and vastly documented phenomena. Famous examples include the simultaneous development of calculus by Newton and Leibniz, and the simultaneous invention of the telephone by Meucci and Graham Bell. The list of strangers independently and almost simultaneously developing grand ideas or inventions is quite extensive.

While many conceive history as a succession of geniuses with world-changing contributions, history may be more aptly described as a succession of Multiple Discoveries or Simultaneous Invention. Most discoveries or inventions are simply the product of piecing together previous discoveries and inventions. If the necessary pieces of the puzzle aren’t there yet, the discovery cannot take place. As soon as all the pieces are available, the global race is on to see who are the first to piece them together. In many occasions it is actually much more than two people. The First Law of Thermodynamics was roughly developed by five different people during the late 1800s.

 

The idea that something cannot take place until the necessary material conditions are present resonates with Marxist theory. Thus, the simultaneous conceptualization of a high-tech interstellar post-capitalist utopia is understandable. By the 1960s, technological development was advancing at unprecedented speed, and many were convinced the crisis-generating and dehumanizing contradictions of the capitalist mode of production were intrinsic features of capitalism. In contrast, many science fiction writers envisioned technological development would lead us to a robot-ruled apocalyptic future.

Labor-saving technological development can lead to profoundly different outcomes depending on how the benefits of these developments are distributed. If only robot-owners or anti-human sentient robots benefit from this technological development, we may encounter a new form of barbarism. If this technology is utilized in a communitarian fashion, we may encounter a Trek-like space utopia. Science fiction’s technological paradox resonates with the crossroads Rosa Luxemburg warned we have encountered. To paraphrase, either we transition to Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism or we regress into [techno]barbarism.