How to Live in the Future Part 3: The Future is Both True and False
(This is part 3 of my first book, currently in progress — support this project and Future Fossils Podcast at Patreon.com/MichaelGarfield.)
One more thing that we can say for sure about the future: it is both true and false. My senior year of college, in an animal communication seminar that nudged out foreign language training — casting once again my sights too far, perhaps, and missing trees for forests — I learned that lies will never go away entirely, as they’re an “evolutionarily stable strategy” (or ESS). An ESS, to get game theoretical about it, is a viable approach to play the game of living long enough to reproduce, in given systems, such that new mutations can’t disrupt the balance or invalidate the strategy. It is the stable basin of attraction round which all contingency unfurls and whirls, like stable ratios of predators to prey depending on metabolism, or the shape of wings evolved to suit specific flying gaits. The parts may change; the pattern stays the same (with variations).
The classic situation is the endless “hawks and doves” dispute, in which opposing tendencies toward war and peace reach equilibrium in fluid fractions. There will always be some balance, in which bellicose and peaceful personalities exist in right proportion as the aspects of a meta-peace — dynamic, turbulent, disrupted, yes, but meta-stable. Peace within which war exists in perfect portion. Alive and held in tension, like a runner’s leg. The muscles don’t accomplish anything if they don’t pull in opposite directions.
The ESS is why we’ll never be completely rid of cults, for minds and cultures also follow evolutionary patterns, and a cult is often quite a fine idea when faced with the realities of mystery and power. (We forget that. We don’t intervene in cultish thoughts when we’re in the bubble of the cult itself, or notice how they’re just a reflex action of the brain while being human. Hopefully at least a few of “us,” whatever that means, do this on the regular in distant futures, catching fictions in the making, turning intellect upon itself to weave a platform for the spirit of the age to anchor even deeper and the World Soul to recognize itself in many bodies…)
The ESS is why we’ll never be completely rid of lies. The lie is so sustainable because it’s so ephemeral. It is so easy, cheap, and quick to lie, on average, it cannot not be. A truth implies a lie. Communication’s based entirely upon the pretense, the agreement, of our signs, and thus upon the risk of our deceit. We trust that words communicate the truth more often than they don’t, because they do; and if we notice signs transforming in their meaning, then we all adapt. So nothing can remain a lie forever; misinforming signals ultimately bend to irony, as villagers begin to notice that when boys cry “WOLF!” it doesn’t mean that there’s a wolf. Lies die or they evolve to serve the signal they were made to thwart; but lying is forever, since communication makes a trust surplus that life can’t possibly resist exploiting.
An ESS exists in an ecology, not in a vacuum, and members of a population (e.g., the hawks and doves above) assume opposing stable strategies that complement each other, but tend to make both sides seem crazy to each other. The liars and the cheats think straights are fools for buying it, and those of us excluded from the play of falsehood by our oath to truth all seem to loathe or envy criminals for not abiding by the social contract. But actually, the contract is with physics, as it happens that the ESS for maximizing entropy in dissipative structures, like the USA, is more of everything, including both sincere attempts at intimacy and disinformation of the kind that all of us now take for granted.
Lying will persist as long as there are lines to cross, as long as there are others to communicate with. So you cannot really say and mean that lies are fully false; for each of them contains the truth, reflects it, and says yet more about the hidden mind that models and presents such falsehoods. (You can, but then you would be lying to your self, aware of it, and holding both perspectives from opposing banks across an oxbow of your fractal subjectivity, and only ritually “siding” with one view to immanentize and involve and push-against, cuz God gets bored, so what?)
Our trans-ironic (or is it merely post-ironic?) present is the greatest indicator that the future will be true and false: when jet fuel will not melt steel beams, but did; and when rebooting Cosmos means rewriting scientific history; and when our daily life’s a perfect sphere of equal and opposing experts telling us that cell phone radiation does and doesn’t give us cancer, fracking does and doesn’t lead to earthquakes, that we have and haven’t met ET…then everyday existence is a chance to watch the paradigm shifts in real-time, as our competing explanations for the most complete but parsimonious description of experience appear both outwardly, as scientists and priests, and inwardly, as myths and theories. Incumbents versus young bucks, precious selves and hallowed old traditions versus the implausible, impractical, or even imperceptible…just don’t believe what all you think. (Or do; because although the virtuality of private intuitions versus common objects of consensus shows a gradient of being, curving from what “isn’t” to what “could be” to what “is,” consensus could itself be just hallucination, and you have to be okay with that. It’s all a little dreamy, really.)
As we become transparent to the information processing from which our selves and stances grow like automatic daisies in the field, the simple and traditional “true/false” no longer cuts it. At this depth we can’t even say for sure what “it” is that needs cutting, so we waste less time on clashing certainties against the shore of other truths (truths just as vulnerable to essential doubt), and get on with the business of a practical, provisional, and hypothetical relationship to Being.
As every question answered generates more questions, and the shores of the unknown climb up an asymptote approaching infinite unknowability, our most authentic scientists and priests will drop the pretense and embrace their former foes as fellow seekers. We’ll get more comfortable with the dynamism, turbulence, and transformation of a digital society (dispersed in cloud computing, wireless networks, peer-to-peer instruction, horizontal gene transfer, the blockchain, and our always-split attention) as it melts whatever solid ideologies we stand upon, until we’re back to swimming in a fluid network — fish again, or maybe playful squid with flashing colors, ready for the Mystery to take us all to school.
“Do I contradict myself? Very well then…I contain multitudes.”
– Walt Whitman