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Today, I had an experience that really brought home to me how much our lives have changed in less than one generation, and how different the experiences of the generation born after 1990 are from all those who went before. My experiences (pre-1990…that’s as specific as I feel like getting!) are more akin to someone from AD 1400 than they are to those of my kids, in some pretty profound ways. I think this was on my mind because my wife and I had just had a great weekend discussion with good friends about how the information revolution has impacted our lives over the last twenty years or so. My friend framed the conversation around “access to data” as the pivot point, and I think that’s right. I did want to quibble though over a distinction between “data” and “information”, because it’s not clear to me that access to data in and of itself is good or bad…what we do with that data (does it inform) and our ability to socialize it (does it elevate or denigrate culture) is what counts. On that last point, we’re not off to a good start (culturally)…just look at our degenerate politics, education system, etc.
Today’s experience, however, was very positive. I have been having a great exchange with a “Facebook friend” about an esoteric topic that (I at least) only dimly understand but am mesmerized by. Namely, the implications of new discoveries and theories in the areas of particle physics, quantum mechanics, the nature of consciousness and the role it plays in universe, the idea of multiple universes, the universe as potentially being a computer simulation, or a lab experiment (it’s theoretically possible that singularities could be created in a lab, spawning new universes), etc. There came a moment in the exchange where it struck me “I think the number of neurons in the human brain is about the same as the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy…and oh by the way, how many stars are there estimated to be in the entire universe?”. I’ll tell you why in a minute, but point is I was able to retrieve the answers to all those questions in less than a minute. Twenty years ago, it would have been a passing thought because there was no way I would have taken the time to track down the answers…go to the library, try to find the right medical and astronomy tomes and paw through them to get the answer. Now, it’s one minute and I have the data. And in the next minute, I was sharing the information on Facebook.
This is the type of thing I wish we’d see all this access to data and networking unleashing in a huge way…but it’s not. It just feels like the more data and connectivity we have, the dumber our culture is becoming. The optimist in me says we are in the early days of a new stage of human evolution, and ultimately this technology will in fact serve to unleash human potential, and help every person maximize their personal growth, success, happiness and fulfillment.
For those still hanging in at this point…why I wanted the stars/neurons info: These quantum/metaphysical threads I’ve been following (the boundaries between the two start to blur when you really get into it) is leading increasingly to the notion that reality does not exist independant of consciousness….one school of thought holds that the universe itself is conscious…another that the basic, indivisible particle is…data (information), and that the universe is a simulation, or hologram. Who’s running it? God? Maybe. Or maybe it’s you – some theorize (and I’m not talking quacks, I’m talking high level theoretical physicists) that the universe is in your head. Literally, not metaphorically.
Now think about this…the number of neurons in the human brain is about the same as the number of stars in the Milky Way (both estimated at about 100 billion). And there are so many stars in the entire universe (estimated to be about 300 sextillion), that there is a star out there to correspond with every single neuron in every single human brain that has ever existed. Think about that, the idea of the universe as a function of consciousness potentially contained in your mind, and then look at this picture. Tell me it doesn’t freak you out.