I shall now solve the Fermi Paradox in 500 words.
Seriously though, I’ve previously speculated that we will eventually manage to achieve (virtual) immortality and have said that I prefer to be generally optimistic about the possibility of our survival far into the future. So if we also assume that the Earth is not unique in the universe, where are all the aliens?
Well, let’s throw a bit of Integral Theory into the mix and see where that leads. Interstellar space travel would require a civilization to be very advanced, technologically. We’re kinda sorta almost there, but not really. We’re almost to the point where we could make some sort of vessel that could eventually reach another star system, but I’m not sure we’re all that close to embarking on a manned mission. I mean, we still haven’t figured Mars out, and leaving our solar system is orders of magnitude more complicated. And we still don’t even know where we would go even if we could somehow pull it off. So we still have a long way to go technically and technologically.
As we do gradually develop the technical ability to travel to another star, we will also develop culturally, morally, intellectually, physically and spiritually (however you choose to define that last one). All of these various lines of development don’t necessarily evolve at the same pace, so, for example, we developed weapons of mass destruction before we had the sense not to use them, but our moral intelligence is gradually catching up with our technological intelligence. So in the same way, I would expect that by the time we figure interstellar travel out, we will be (almost) ready to know what to do about it. This is why, for example, I don’t find evil world-destroying aliens to be all that believable.
Now, when we figure out how to get to another solar system, how would we decide where to go? Let’s assume that we’ve now also found a variety of inhabited planets out there and that we’ve somehow also managed to estimate how technologically advanced the populations on these planets are. Do we go somewhere where they’re less advanced? More advanced? About the same? Or avoid populated planets altogether?
I don’t think we’d go out and make contact with a less advanced civilization. Unless we wanted to repeat the mistakes of our past. I’m also not sure we’d want to risk approaching a more advanced civilization, unless we were somehow invited first. So maybe we’d try and visit a planet at roughly our same stage of advancement or just keep things simple and go to a planet without intelligent life.
But that’s still just one, extremely complicated mission. How would we go from there to galactic colonization? That would take a level of technological development that we are nowhere near even imagining how we’d accomplish it (beyond what we read in science fiction). And as we develop technologically, we will also evolve in all of our other intelligences. So, for example, we may decide that such a monumental undertaking isn’t worth the trouble.
Think about it, though. Why would we want to colonize another star system? It’s not like we could send a billion or so humans on a pilgrimage to lessen the population burden on Earth. Not unless something like wormhole technology or some other virtually instantaneous form of travel could be developed. And, barring a technology of this sort, we couldn’t expect to bring any resources back to Earth. So we’d essentially be colonizing another star system just because we can. And a more morally and culturally advanced people may very well decide it’s not worth it.
So maybe it would take some sort of faster-than-light (FTL) technology before interstellar colonization is practical, and who knows if that’s even possible? But imagine what sort of advanced civilization it would take to achieve it.
Don’t know. It seems to me that, by the time interstellar travel is feasible, a civilization that’s achieved it would just leave a planet like ours well enough alone. There are surely more interesting places to go in the galaxy than the lonely little arm of the spiral we’re in.
Another biggie in science fiction (along with immortality, which I wrote about the other day) is to speculate about religion and spirituality in the (far) future. I’ve read quite a few sci-fi novels that deal with religion in the future, and virtually all of them fall into a speculative trap that is all too common: looking at one thing, essentially in isolation, and extrapolating out in a given direction to an exaggerated extent to make it feel futuristic.
In the specific case of religion, this typically results in religion playing an overly dominant role in the future “universe” that the author has created compared to how we experience religion today. In the case of technological development, politics or the environment, this often leads to all the post-apocalyptic storylines that have been all too popular for far too long, as far as I’m concerned. And oftentimes, you get a combination of the two: some apocalytic scenario that then allows a religion to rise to a position of extreme power.
I mean, yes, extreme things can and do happen. And they can make for interesting stories in fiction, but I’ve gotten bored with seeing such simplistic speculation about the future in the science fiction that I read.
In a way, it’s like the “science or religion” debate–people focusing on one side or the other and making little or no effort to see the value in both. I’ve actually lost interest in debating the details of Integral Theory (see Ken Wilber, et al.), but it’s about the only movement I’ve seen that’s doing anything really interesting in this direction. I wonder when we’ll start seeing some good “integral” sci-fi?
In any event, what I’d like to see a lot more of is speculative fiction in which the author looks at a variety of aspects of life and tries to imagine how they will interact and shape the future. And not just two aspects, like science/technology and religion, exaggerating them out into the future while essentially maintaining and exaggerating the conflict between the two, but also throwing in politics and education and culture and art and the environment and whatever else can make for a more interesting projection of life into the future.
Life is beautiful because it’s so varied, but this variety of life tends to get lost when we speculate about how life will be in the decades and centuries to come.
If I’m gonna speculate about the future, I might as well start with a biggie, eh? And hitting my writing quota for the day should be no problem at all.
When thinking about immortality, a couple of basic questions come to mind right away: Will it ever be possible? And will we even want it once it is possible?
I tend to assume that, one way or another, immortality will eventually be possible. I suspect it will come incrementally over the course of many, many decades, but it could also happen suddenly as the result of some genetic or other medical discovery. It may require some sort of transhumanization, or we may just figure out how to keep our bodies from ever aging. Whatever. For the sake of argument, let’s just assume for now that it will eventually happen.
As for the second question, will we really want to live forever? I think the simple answer is that some will and some won’t. I mean, at one end of the spectrum, some people kill themselves, so that sort of person clearly wouldn’t want to live forever. Fear of death, if nothing else, will surely make a lot of people want to live forever, or at least give it a try for a good long while. And in between these two extremes, I can imagine there would be the whole gamut of different life-length preferences for various ethical, religious or practical reasons.
And what about the practicalities of immortality? First off, as average life expectancy increases, so will population, all else remaining equal. A frequent solution in sci-fi for keeping population under control is for the authorities to impose child-bearing restrictions, but that’s never felt very believable to me. Various innovations in urbanization and agriculture and other cultural changes and adaptations (like eating a lot less meat) could make population growth sustainable for quite a while, but eventually we will run out of space.
So that leaves space. Moving out into it, that is. Either near-earth orbit or lunar or Martian colonies and that sort of thing so that the population can keep growing once the planet has reached its full capacity.
But getting back to immortality itself, if we find that it’s both technically possible and practically feasible, what then? How will governments react? How will the world’s religions react? How will the public react?
The answers to these questions will depend a lot on how long it takes to achieve immortality (or such a long life expectancy that it’s essentially the same thing) and how society has evolved in the meantime. If it happens by some breakthrough in the relatively near future, the reactions will probably be pretty extreme, with governments wanting strict control over it and most religions wanting to abolish it. And if it happens in increments over the course of several generations, it’ll probably be more readily and naturally accepted as a normal part of our evolution as a species.
And that feels like the more likely scenario to me.
(Of course, there’s tons more to ponder here, so I’m sure ill be coming back to this topic in the future.)
Or rather, Italian politicians are full of crap, but the Italian political system certainly doesn’t help. (Not that I’m any sort of expert on politics.)
I’ve been thinking about the future, first in a speculative sense and then in more practical terms about my own future specifically. We’ve been thinking about moving back to the States in a few years, partly to go somewhere with greater opportunities for the whole family, but compared to Italy, a place like that wouldn’t be hard to find. Any country that would allow a clown like Berlusconi–a convicted clown, no less!–to remain in politics is a country to leave well alone, as far as I’m concerned.
And I could rant on and on about how hard it is to run an honest business here in Italy, but don’t want to do that right now. What I was wondering now is what it would take for Italy to have a brighter outlook for the future. I would say a whole new political class and new political system, but what chance is there of that happening? Not much. Not without some sort of major coup or civil war or some other drastic revolution, and I wouldn’t wish that sort of violent solution (assuming it would even turn out to be a “solution”) on poor ol’ Italy.
I’m not generally a fan of the northern Italian separatist movement either, but I’m starting to think that in this case it might not be such a bad idea. If it’s good for Scotland….
But in the meantime, maybe it’s best to get the heck out of Dodge until things start looking up around here.
I was reading an article by sci-fi author Brenda Cooper about the World Future Society yesterday and about how she writes and talks about the future in all sorts of way, and it made me realize, or remember, the reason I bought the domain name speculate.it in the first place: to have a place to speculate about the future (and other speculative things).
I mean, pretty much all of my various interests have this obsession with the future and striving towards something amazing or surprising in common. I read science fiction to look into possible futures near and far. I got into Integral Theory to help work towards a better future and to explore the wonders and potential of being human. I like to play with technology because it gives me a glimpse of the future right here in the present. And so on….
So it only makes sense for me to focus on the future and related topics here on this blog. I guess what was stopping me before was that I was afraid I wasn’t enough of an expert to write about the future. But then again, nobody really knows anything about the future in the strictest sense, so in a way no one can say that they’re an expert. On a more serious note, though, since my current goal is just to write any ol’ crap, what difference does it make if I’m an expert?
I’m not a fan of (post-)apocalyptic sci-fi, so my speculating will mostly be of the optimistic sort, and probably a mix of near-future and far-future topics. But I don’t want to think too much about specifics right now. For now, I just want to keep focusing on hitting my writing quotas, and I’m still a hundred words short today. I can’t see how I’m going to get another hundred out of this entry, so I’ll close rather awkwardly now and move on to something else.
OK, gotta get this one off my chest. Pretty much ever since the iPhone came out– well, ever since I got my first iPhone anyway, which was the “iPhone 3” (or “3G”, honestly can’t remember right now), I’ve had this tulmultuous relationship with weather apps. I’ve tried pretty much all of the most popular ones, but I end up removing them all from my phone before too long.
To be fair, I don’t think it’s the apps’ fault that they keep getting deleted (although sometimes it is). There are some weather apps out there with some pretty slick UIs and with as few or as many features as a guy could want. No, it actually seems to me that there’s something fundamentally flawed in the underlying science of weather forecasting and in the way we tend to rely on something that is so inherently unreliable.
I don’t know. Maybe there are parts of the world where the geography makes fairly accurate weather forecasting possible, and I just haven’t happened to live in any of those places yet. Dunno. But where I live now, in northern Italy in the foothills of the Dolomites (and with the Alps not too far away, too), weather forecasts are woefully inaccurate. And not only are they inaccurate, they change on pretty much an hourly basis. I mean, damn, a lot of the weather apps I’ve used don’t even show the current conditions accurately!
Recently, I had thought that the app Haze stood a pretty good chance of staying on my phone for a good little while. What Haze has going for it is that it makes no attempt to show you forecast details that are likely going to be wrong anyway. All the app focuses on are probabilities. It tells you what chance (in percentage terms) there is that it will rain, for instance, but not when during the day that might happen. At the end of the day, though, even this generalized forecasting wasn’t of any real use to me. It’s hard to say that it wasn’t “accurate” per se, but it didn’t give me the quality of information I would need to feel like it was worth making or changing plans based on the forecasts it gave. So it got deleted.
Today, I put the Forecast.io web app icon back on my phone temporarily because we’re planning an evening trip to Gardaland, and they’re saying that there’s a chance of rain. I “installed” the app (which doesn’t work until you put its icon on your home screen) just to join in on the discussion about what to do, and I even checked out some other weather sites online, but the forecasts across various services are inconsistent, and the probabilities (when provided) are too low to convince me that it’s worth changing plans.
But what got me thinking today was how a lot of forecasting services don’t give probabilities at all. They just say things like “scattered showers” or “chance of rain” (without numbers) or whatever. Fair enough. The meteorologists don’t really know what’s going to happen, so why commit to a better-defined forecast. But then I was noticing how people take those vague forecasts and see them as being chiseled in stone. “Oh, no! It’s going to rain tonight! Should we cancel our plans?” they’ll say. Or on a Tuesday, they’ll say, “It’s going to rain this weekend. How depressing.” As if a forecast so far into the future has any real chance (other than dumb luck) of being accurate.
Anyway, I guess I’m mostly wondering how it came to be that we place so much faith in something that is so inherently inaccurate. Why does virtually everyone check weather forecasts and talk about them with friends and acquaintances? And maybe it’s just that social aspect of talking about the weather that has made weather forecasts become so important to us. Dunno.
All I know is that I’m not downloading any more weather apps until meteorologists can tell me which specific butterfly in South America caused my thunderstorm here in northern Italy. When that day comes, I’ll start looking at weather apps for my phone again. And in the meantime, I’ll just look out my window and make plans based on what I see (and go prepared for the unexpected).
Strike one on getting my habit-building stuff out of the way early. I’m going to have to get up before my two littlest daughters if I want to get creative writing, exercise and meditating done soon enough to also get any amount of work done in the morning, too. That’ll mean setting an alarm for around 6:30 to be safe since the girls typically wake up any time from 7am on. It’ll also mean getting to bed a little earlier, and last night I didn’t get much sleep. Raising two toddlers ain’t easy!
But on to the topic of the day. Yesterday, I finished reading The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson, who is well known for the quality of his writing, and I can confirm that this particular book had a very literary feel to it. Then later that same day, I started on another sci-fi novel by a different author, but I could tell right from the first couple of pages that I wasn’t going to finish it.
The writing style was way over the top compared to Wilson’s, full of flowery metaphor and other in-your-face narrative techniques that made me focus on the writing style rather than on the story. I may not have noticed it so much if I hadn’t just finished a book that was written much better, but still.
But I put this other book down definitively when I saw that chapter one was an in media res beginning and chapter two went back in time two years as a sort of flashback compared to the beginning. Bleh! I am so sick and tired of this narrative structure. It’s way overused in film and TV, although I can understand the temptation to use the trick in that sort of medium, but to use it in writing just seems like the author being lazy. Why not draw the reader in with good writing and a well constructed story instead of using tricks like these to attract attention?
Anyway, the book is now back on the shelf, and I’ll be downloading another novel by Robert Charles Wilson in the new future, I think.
I’ve been sitting here for a bit staring at a blank page, wondering what to write about and thinking about building a writing habit, and it occurred to me that I’ve already written quite a bit today. It was mostly for an email to my ex, though, so I guess I can’t count that towards my creative writing quota for the day.
It did get me wondering, though, if the amount of time I spend at the keyboard out of necessity (my translation job, email, etc.) could be cutting into my motivation to write for myself. Maybe, after a few hours of typing because I have to, the last thing I want to do is keep on typing some more for fun. If there’s anything to that, though, what can be done about it?
I guess the most immediate solution would be to write for fun first and type because I have to after that. Or a more techie solution could be to dictate my creative writing, rather than typing it on a keyboard. Or no-tech: write with pen and paper, but eventually I’d need to type it out.
Of course, what I’d love to be able to do is replace translating boring financial texts with writing my own stuff, but that’s something that will take a whole lot of time and planning and preparation. A similar solution would be to start translating stuff that’s of greater interest to me, but that isn’t a quick fix either.
OK, so what I need to do first is get the creative writing done first thing in the morning – along with the other things I’m trying to build habits for (right now that’s exercising and meditating) – and then get on with my translating job. I’ve got an app to help remind me to do these things, but it doesn’t help with what time of day I do them, so I guess that’s all on me.
On a side note, I read– well, scanned an article today about someone who had a long-established, professional writing habit that involved writing 500 words every morning and then taking a break for lunch. And I thought, 500 words?! That’s it?! I’ve written almost 400 words in just 20 minutes, and I can translate a thousand words an hour without much trouble. How did this person make a living writing just 500 words a day?
Hmm…. Maybe someday I’ll find out.
So I’ve had something of a “fixie fixation” for the last few months now. It started out with me wanting to sell my road bike (which I pretty much never use anymore) and buy a fixed-gear bike. I did a good bit of research into the “genre” to try and figure out if I could learn to ride a fixie and actually manage to ride one around town since there would be a few hills to deal with, so I’ve seen all the talk about fixies giving you a better feel for the road and being just about a spiritual experience on a bike, but at the end of the day I realized that I wanted a fixie just because they look so damn cool!
It’s the zen-like simplicity that I love about a fixed-gear bike. No mass of cables and levers and gears all over the place. Just the frame, two wheels, two pedals, the handlebars and you (and maybe a front brake). Then there’s the whole urban, retro style that tends to go along with a fixie. So since it’s the look of the bike that I’m after most, I decided I’d just gradually convert my old mountain bike into a sort of urban cruiser.
What I’ve done so far is take off my back brake and front derailer to cut down on the cables and levers. I also removed one of my two bottle holders on the frame and one of the two kiddie seat mounts. (I’ve got two small daughters that I take around on my bike a lot, but when I take them both out, I’ve got a two-seat kiddie trailer.) I then got a brown leather seat and brown leather grips, and brown, semi-slick tires are on the way to match.
Some of the next things on my list are to get an internal gear hub (probably just a 3-speed SRAM i–3 or similar) and swap out the three front gears with a single. I’ll also probably get a few more “retro” accessories to complete the overall look.
I am still trying to sell my road bike, but the money I get from that will probably have to be used to buy new bikes for my two oldest daughters, and that’s part of the reason I’ve decided to convert my mountain bike gradually, rather than buy a new one or do the conversion all at once.
I’m still just in “write-any-old-crap” mode on this blog, so I don’t know where I’m going with it, but I may post updates on my bike as things progress, and if I do, I’ll post some photos. In the meantime, if you’ve got any advice for me, I’m all ears!
Good grief! Has it really been a month and a half since I wrote about just letting myself write any ol’ crap and see what comes up? And since then? Zilch. Way to go.
OK, so now I’ve got all the writing apps like I said, and since last time I’ve also downloaded a few habit-building apps. Let’s see if that finally gets me on my way. They’re helping me to meditate fairly regularly, so here’s hopin’ they can do the same for writing (and for exercising).
But again, what to write? Let’s start with “non-fiction” so that I don’t have to try and create characters and setting and all that. Just braindumps of what I already know. So what do I know?
I know translating. Italian. English. A bit of linguistics. A fair amount about computer-assisted translation (CAT) and machine translation (MT). I know information technology from a geek/fanboi perspective. Social media. I know a bit about business and finance (although mostly academically from university). I know a little about Italy and about the area I live in specifically. I know about spirituality-related things (meditation, religion, etc.) and Integral theory and practice specifically.
Or what would I like to know more about?
Well, there’s cooking and barbecuing. Let’s throw coffee brewing in there, too. There’s sports and fitness. Astronomy, cosmology and the sciences. Gardening and general DIY around the house. CAT and MT. Oh, and writing of course. Collaboration tools, I suppose as well. Parenting, certainly that needs to be on this list, too.
And, maybe most importantly, what the hell am I passionate about?
Good question. I guess information technology is the thing I turn to most, and that does give me some pleasure. But a passion? Maybe, but more so in the past when I would tinker with a PC for hours on end. Now, I mostly just want cool technology that helps me do cool stuff without having to tinker with it. But we’ll keep it in the list anyway.
What else? Cooking and cuisine-related matters (throw gardening in there, too) may be in the early stages of becoming a passion. My family, of course, too. Science and (good) science fiction.
Hmm…. Passion. That’s always been a toughie for me. Gotta work on that. Guess I’d better sleep on it for next time.
I’ve been telling myself I wanna be a writer, rather than just translating what other people write, for quite a while now. I even buy just about every writing app I see, thinking it’ll help get me going, but it never does. Sure, I may write a blog article about every year or so, or take a few notes for a story idea, but nothing ever seems to stick.
My latest purchase is this Byword app that I’m using now on my iPad (but I also have it on my iPhone and my iMac). With the premium version, it’s supposed to be easy to post to a variety of blogging services, so I guess I’d better write something and see if that’s true.
Write what, though?
I’ve heard it’s important to allow yourself to write badly, so I guess I should just start there, with more or less random brain dumps without worrying about how “well” I’m writing. In fact, when I’m “trying” to write something, I usually end up sounding stuffy and forced, rather than flowing and natural, so I think I need to spend some time just putting anything out there in my own, normal speaking style so that I can discover my “voice” and figure out what I really want to write about.
Speculative fiction? Do I really have what it takes to write good fiction? Non-fiction? But about what? I’m good at critiquing and translating the work of others, but can I succeed at writing my own stuff? Maybe it’s finally time to find out.
I like this metaphor often used in Buddhism. I’m not Buddhist, but this concept resonates well with me and where I’m at now. Where I’m at right now is trying to make my life as simple and clutter-free as possible. I’m also in a place where I have an aversion to lots of talk and philosophizing about what spirituality means and what it means to be enlightened or spiritual or whatever. And don’t even get me started about all the words-of-wisdom quotes people keep tweeting and posting all over the ‘net.
What I want to do now is just that, do. I don’t want to talk about spirituality or about Integral or any of that. I’ve studied it and talked about it enough that pretty much everything I see online now is just a rehash of stuff I already know. Yeah, I may stumble across a new detail or two, but for the most part it just feels like a distraction from actually doing and living. And I’m not judging here. I’m just saying that’s the way I feel about it personally right now.
Which brings me back to “chop wood, carry water”. That’s doing. And it pretty much says it all. Keep it simple. Be present in everything you do. Make living a ritual. And “Integrally” speaking, it’s all there, too. I’ve mentioned the ritual, meditative aspect of it, but in the metaphor you’ve also got physical exercise and the basic material needs an individual has. And I like to think of it as implying a community aspect as well, in that I’m chopping the wood and carrying the water for others, too, not just for myself. So for my family, my community… whatever the activity happens to be. The collective aspect.
Personally, I feel that “Integral” these days comes with too much baggage, so this simple metaphor will be my focus for the next… whatever amount of time feels right.
[Note: I originally wrote this a couple of months ago over on my Blogger blog, but thought I’d repost it here to give Tumblr another try. Apologies if you’ve read this already.]
By Alessandro Baricco, 52. In 2006, he wrote I Barbari (The Barbarians - not translated in English as far as I can tell), and he has now written a “sequel” to that series of essays for Wired Italia. (Original in Italian — translation below by Grey A. Drane, links added to translation)
Believe it or not, I wrote this article in 2026, sixteen years from now. Let’s just say I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself. Something like that. Here is the article:
At times, we write books that are like duels: when the shootout is over, you see who’s left standing, and if it’s not you, you’ve lost. When I wrote I Barbari twenty years ago, I looked around, and everyone was still there, standing tall. It had all the appearances of a defeat, but it didn’t make any sense. So I sat down, and I waited. I just had to wait for them to fall, one by one, late but stone-cold dead nonetheless. It just took a bit of patience. Some suffered with great flair. Others fell to the ground in a heap. But I still wouldn’t call it a victory; they more likely died of natural causes, and not because of my own bullets. Even so, I can’t say my aim was bad, if that’s any consolation.
The last to fall, after swaying slowly back and forth and with great dignity, was a bit upsetting because I knew him well. I think I may even have worked for him in the past (with pistols loaded with words, as always). This last survivor was profundity – the concept of profundity, the practice of profundity, the passion for profundity. Some of you may remember these beasts when they still had form, in the time of the Barbarians (I Barbari). They were fed by the stubborn conviction that the meaning of things was to be found in a secret chamber, safe from more facile views, stored in the freezer of remote obscurity and accessible only through patience, hard work, and determined inquiry.
The things around us were the trees, and we sought out the roots. We went back in time, dug for meaning, and let the clues settle and sediment. Even in emotion, we aspired to the deepest of feelings, and we wanted beauty itself to be deep, in our books, our actions, our traumas, our memories and, at times, in our glances. It was a voyage, and our destination was profundity. Our reward was meaning – which, at times, we called “ultimate” meaning – and the satisfying roundness of a concept to which, years ago, I believe I had sacrificed all too much time and energy: the profound and ultimate meaning of things. I don’t know when exactly, but at a certain point this way of seeing the world began to feel inadequate. Not false exactly, just inadequate.
The fact is that meaning which came to us through profundity was too often sterile and, at times, even harmful. So, as if in a hesitant overture, we began doubting whether a “profound and ultimate meaning of things” truly existed at all. At first, we turned to milder definitions that seemed to better reflect the reality of things. That meaning was something which could never be pinned down in a single definition, for instance, felt like a good compromise. But today, I believe we can simply say that we weren’t daring enough and that the error in our ways was not so much in believing in ultimate meaning, but in placing that meaning in the profound. What we were looking for existed; it just wasn’t where we thought. It wasn’t there for the disconcerting reason that the changes of the last thirty years had thrown in our faces, giving us one of the most fascinating, most painful of findings: profundity is what doesn’t exist; it’s an optical illusion. It is the puerile translation of a legitimate desire into spatial and moral terms, placing that which is most precious to us (i.e. meaning) in a stable place, safe from circumstance, accessible only to a select few, attainable only at the end of an arduous journey.
This is how we had hidden the treasure. But in hiding it, we created an El Dorado of the spirit, of profundity, which in reality seems to have never existed and which, in time, will be remembered as one of the necessary lies that humanity told itself. Rather shocking, that’s for sure. Indeed, one of the traumas that this change caused was that we found ourselves living in a world that was lacking a dimension, that of depth, that we had grown accustomed to.
I remember that, at first, the keenest minds had interpreted this curious condition as a sign of decadence. They pointed, not incorrectly, to the sudden disappearance of as much as half of the world they once knew – and, to make matters worse, the part that truly mattered, the one that held the treasure. From this came the instinctive tendency to see events in apocalyptic terms – the invasion of a horde of barbarians who, having no concept of the profound, were reorganizing the world within the only remaining dimension they knew: superficiality. With the consequent, disastrous loss of meaning, of beauty… of life.
It wasn’t that it was stupid to see things in this way, but we now know, with a certain precision, that it was a nearsighted view. They confused the abolition of profundity with the abolition of meaning. But in actual fact what was happening, amongst the thousands of challenges and uncertainties, was that, once profundity had been abolished, meaning was shifting to inhabit the surface of things. It wasn’t disappearing; it was shifting.
This reinvention of superficiality as the place of meaning is one of the challenges we have overcome – a work of spiritual craftsmanship that will go down in history. On paper, the risks were huge, but we must remember that the surface is a place of stupidity only for those who believe that we only find meaning in the profound. Once the barbarians (and by that I mean us) had unmasked this belief, automatically equating superficiality with lack of meaning became a reflex that pointed to a certain degree of ignorance.
Where many saw a simple surrendering to superficiality, many others sensed a very different phenomenon: the treasure of meaning, which had been relegated to a secret crypt accessible only to a select few, was now distributed throughout the surfaces of the world, where the ability to reconstruct it no longer meant an ascetic descent into the depths of the earth, attainable by an elite few, and was now a collective ability to recognize patterns in the fabric of reality. And that doesn’t sound too bad. In fact, it sounds more suited to our natural abilities and our desires. For people unable to stand still and concentrate on one thing, but who do move quickly and are able connect fragments with great speed, the open field of surfaces seemed the ideal place on which to play the game of life. Why on earth would we want to play it, and lose, in the corridors of the underworld that they insisted on teaching us in school?
So we don’t feel like we’ve had to give up on a noble meaning of things; we’ve just begun to pursue it by different means, by moving along the surface of things with a speed and skill that mankind has never before known. We have turned to forming objects of meaning as constellations of points in the reality through which we now travel, doing so with unprecedented agility and ease. The image of the world that the media provides, the geography of ideals that politics proposes, and the idea of knowledge that the digital world gives us lack the slightest shadow of depth. They are a collection of thin, fragile facts that we organize into objects of a certain strength. We use them to understand the world. We lose our ability to focus; we’re unable to do just one thing at a time, and we always prefer speed over depth of understanding.
The combination of these defects results in a technique of seeing the world that systematically seeks out a simultaneous overlap of stimuli – what we call experiencing. In books, in music, in all we call beautiful in what we see and what we hear, we increasingly appreciate the ability to express the emotion of the world simply by shining light on it, not by bringing it out into the light. We cultivate esthetics, where any and all boundaries between “high” art and “low” art disappear, as there is no longer any high or low, but only light or dark, vision or blindness. We move quickly and stop rarely. We hear pieces, never the whole. We write on our phones. We marry and then divorce. We watch movies without ever entering a theater. We listen to readings instead of reading books. We stand in slow lines to eat fast food. And nonetheless, all of this moving about without roots and without burden results in a life that we must find to be extremely meaningful and beautiful for us to worry with such urgency and passion – more so than any generation ever in the history of mankind – about saving the planet, about cultivating peace and protecting monuments, conserving memories and prolonging life, protecting the weak and defending Lardo di Colonnata.
In times that we like to imagine as being simpler, they burned libraries and witches; they used the Parthenon as a weapons depot; they squashed out lives like flies in the folly of war, and they wiped out entire populations just to have a bit more space. And these were people who absolutely adored profundity. The surface is everything, and in it is meaning. Or better, in it we are able to trace out a meaning. And since we have acquired this ability, we are almost embarrassed by the inevitable tremors of the myth of profundity.
Beyond all reason, we suffer the ideologies, the fundamentalism, any art that is too lofty or serious, any brazen statement of absolute truth. We are likely even wrong in this, but these are the things that we remember as being founded on the profundity of reasoning and indisputable dogma that we now know are based on nothing, and we are still offended – or perhaps afraid. This is why any false profundity now seems tasteless and why any concession of nostalgia seems somehow cheap. Profundity appears to have become a throwback for the elderly, the short-sighted, and the poor.
Twenty years ago, I would have been afraid to write anything like this. It was perfectly clear to me that we were playing with fire. I knew that the risks were enormous and that, faced with such a change, we were playing with an immense heritage. I was writing I Barbari, but I knew that the unmasking of profundity could have given rise to the domain of the insignificant. And I knew that the reinvention of superficiality often led to the undesired effect of validating pure stupidity or the farcical simulation of deep thought, all for a misunderstanding. But in the end, what happened was only the result of our own decisions and our talent and of the rapidity of our intelligence.
The change led to specific behavior, crystallized perspectives, and redistributed privileges. Now I know that, in all of this, the promise of meaning has survived and that it was the myth of profundity which has, in its own way, given this to us. Of course, among those who were the quickest to understand and manage this change there are many who do not know of this promise, are not able to even imagine it, and have no interest in passing it on. And from them we are receiving a bright new world without a future. But as has always happened, the culture of that promise was equally full of determination and talent, able to pry from the masses the scattering of hope, of confidence, and of ambition.
I don’t believe that it is foolish optimism to say that today, in 2026, such a culture exists, appears more solid that ever, and is often at the helm guiding change. These barbarians are giving us a view of the world that is suited to the eyes we have been given, a mental design that is appropriate for the brain we have, and a hopeful plot deserving of our hearts, so to speak. They move in swarms, guided by a revolutionary instinct for collective, suprapersonal creativity, and in this they remind me of the great many unnamed copyists of the Middle Ages.
In their own strange way, they are copying the Great Library into our own language. It’s a delicate task and is certain to contain errors. But it is the only way we know not only to hand down our legacy to the generations to come, but to give them a future as well.