Lovecraft’s Folly

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

So Howard Lovecraft began his most famous tale, in what may perhaps be the most devastating opening passage of any work of fiction.

And looking around the world, it’s hard not agree that he may have had a point. Greater knowledge has given humanity capabilities way beyond anything imagined by our ancestors. Planes speed through the sky, and cars across the roads, but these speeds and the connectivity that they bring the human race are little compared to the new frontier of information.

Faster than any movement of mankind, is the movement of knowledge, and of information. Never before in human history has so much new data been available on such a massive scale.

And it’s not just the scale of the data. It’s other things too – mass literacy means that although many will ignore the new frontier, anyone can embrace it. And even then, there are many, many billions more people alive now than there have ever been, each one of whom has the entire accumulated body of human understanding right there, at their fingertips.

But what do we see? Do we see humanity coming together? Do we see the boundaries between peoples being broken down? Do we see the lives we live becoming clearer, and more open?

I would say no. And the reason is this – no matter the advancement, if we are still trapped within the old terms of human nature, the old pettiness and the limited vision, all we can ever do is magnify that chaos and superficiality.

And science can and will come up with amazing things that will enhance our capabilities – but for what purpose do we use them, enhanced as they are?

If it is merely the bickering and squabbling of vanity-blinded apes that we amplify with technology, then it is indeed a new dark age into which we are headed, a journey which some would argue is well underway.

It is not in new capabilities bolted on to the old human nature where our future lies. It is in that nature itself, in understanding it in new ways, ways never before seen, that a brighter tomorrow can begin.

Such a thing is laughable for many. Many things are laughable for many. But being laughed at just means you’re at stage two of Gandhi’s four steps. First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

And this is the crux of transhumanism. This is what makes it greater than a mere gadget fetish. It seeks something that has so far eluded humanity. A way to genuinely change the terms of human nature. To step beyond the old, the ancient ways of squabbling and tribalism. And it asks something of science – that science be directed in a new way.

Not one beholden to corporate interests, or in the service of war. But that the full impact of science on humanity is, even after all its many achievements, still waiting to be unleashed.

That human nature is mysterious is something that, for many, is comfortable. The safe boundaries of the known that keep humanity chained to it’s old nature have many guardians who speak in compelling terms against truly charting that inner horizon. And it is Lovecraft who was their prophet.

The difference is that he had the integrity to look that terror in the eye, and call it terror. The terror of the undiscovered, of shaking all that can be shaken.

There are many concerns raised against such an endeavour, against driving the most potent force for understanding – the scientific method – into the most intimate heart of humanity. For the sake of safety, we are urged to wait. For the sake of mystery, we are urged not to dig deeper. For the sake of the human world, we are urged to leave its foundations alone.

It is all fear. And this is not to say it is not right, it may well be. The doomsayers may have the final word. But they may not, as well. And fear should engender another response also that is different to cowering.

That response is courage. With open eyes to the dangers, it falls to those among this generation who refuse to cower in fear of the dark to make that journey.

It is a journey that has, until now, not been possible. Information was too sparse and too fractured, hidden away from the masses, and from those few among the masses to whom the call of the unknown is a song that calls to their hearts.

It is not in the bickerings of politicians or the ceremonies of the ancient ways that we will find a new path ahead. It is in the new frontier, to take the blue wire of science, and connect it with the red wire of humanity’s hidden core.

This is where the future lies. That wide and trackless sea where adventure and danger go hand in hand. And for those who would follow this call wherever it leads, and take the path less travelled, may be ignored, or mocked, or fought by those who’s understandings they threaten, so too were all pioneers in every age, every one.

The long and thankless grind of the explorer is what has made everything great about humanity possible. Because humanity is only great when it rises above the little worlds it builds for itself, and looks out to the beckoning majesty of the real.

Because the most wonderful thing in the world, I think, is the ability of human vision to correlate all its contents. We live on a savage island of ignorance in the midst of shining seas of infinity, and it was always meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto helped us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such incredible vistas of reality, and of our stunning position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation, or step from the dark into the peace and majesty of a new and shining age.

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Ciaran Healy is an independent philosopher who uses the scientific method to chart the contour of human suffering and pain.  He works to discover new ways to undercut these things at source.  His aim is to bring these hidden dynamics to light with clarity and force for the general reader, and anyone up for looking at things in a new way.  He has been working at this for about 17 years, and amazingly, still loves it.  He lives in Edinburgh with his wife, and as he is unable to keep goldfish alive for long, it’s just them for now.
You can check out his work at www.ruthlesstruth.com

6 Responses

  1. krageon says:

    This is a nice read. The connection you make from Lovecraft’s work though, I find a bit tenuous. Having read the book this except came from, it was very clear to me Lovecraft was referring to his plentiful (squamous, rugose) horrors when he spoke of “terrifying vistas of reality” and “black seas of infinity” and not, as is heavily implied here, whatever horrors our reality has (or does not have) in store for us.

  2. William says:

    The human nature question is really at the core of this concern.Recent studies have established that human nature is simply adaptability; which is why, oddly enough children born in predominantly Muslim countries turn out to be muslim. The irrationality we see all around us is due to irrational upbringing from childhood. The only thing that will save us is the universal application of rationality.

    • Luke says:

      You misuse the term rationality, at least relative to the way the word is used in philosophy. All action and thought is rational, save for the genuinely insane whose premises for action inarguably conflict with reality or the conclusion sought(although of course, there is some space to argue as to what constitutes reality).

      So long as I can explain to you my bases for action, the premises which birth my conclusions, and you can understand my reasoning, I am being rational. This is where I would agree with the writer.

      The only true shortfall in human nature, insofar as conflict and competition are an endemic part of it, is a lack of communication, in other words, a shortfall of shared information. As soon as all people realize that the factors of human life do not change in kind, only in number, we will have begun a most significant transcendence.

      • william says:

        So by your use of the word, the Harry Potter stories are rational because their premises are self contained and can be understood by the reader?

  3. Sno says:

    Great article, what you’re saying definitely resonates with my own reflections. I wish I can be one of these pioneers you’re speaking of.

  1. March 4, 2014

    […] Magazine. His articles include The Ones Who Change The World, Beyond Atheism, Transhuman Anarchy, Lovecraft’s Folly, and The Stars Above The Sea. Follow Ciaran on […]

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