At a TEDx event last year I first saw Jason Silva’s ‘Imagination’ video. I’ve seen a few of his other videos and they’re always awesome. The guy seems like he’s on a permanent adrenaline rush, and he makes you want to get up instantly and do stuff.

 

At the recent Festival of Dangerous Ideas, he was one of the speakers and the title was ‘We are the Gods now’. An appropriate venue, as this is a dangerous idea. It’s dangerous because people will believe it, and because we like to think of ourselves that way. But it’s mostly dangerous because it’s bullshit.

 

It’s easy to look at our mighty skyscrapers and our jet planes, and feel that we have the conquered the planet, that we are its masters. How do you think the Egyptians felt when they built the Pyramids? Or when Rome was erected?

 

The world looks different now, and our technology is far more advanced. However, one thing has remained constant throughout history – we are entirely dependent on the resources of our planet. We’ve gotten better at using and managing those resources over time. In fact, modern civilization’s growth is entirely down to our ability to utilize the energy stored within ancient fossil fuels; coal, oil and natural gas (sorry economists, but you really didn’t have much to do with it). Without those things we couldn’t have built jet planes, cars, skyscrapers, rocket ships, or be able to feed a planet of seven billion and rising. That last point is an interesting one, as it’s only due to significant technological advances in agriculture that we could feed a population this large (much of the soil on the planet is now in a terrible state and couldn’t sustain older methods of agriculture). That agricultural technology depends on fossil fuels to run.

 

The leaders of historical civilizations often saw that danger was coming, and yet did nothing. In fact, they began investing more resources in boasts of their own power – more monuments, treasures etc. I look at a world today in which we face a number of tipping points (climate change, declining food stocks, melting ice caps, decline of freshwater aquifers and depletion of fossil fuels) and am left in bemusement by the way that nations go around trying to show the world who has the bigger stick, rather than investing seriously in sorting out some of these problems. It’s pretty primitive.

 

It’s certainly not the behaviour of Gods.

 

We are an incredibly creative, innovative and resourceful species. I am fascinated by some of the technological developments we’ve produced, and still find it amazing that I can speak with and see my family back home thousands of miles away without paying a thing. But I shudder when people claim that human ingenuity will be the solver of all problems. Human ingenuity let down the Greeks, it let down the Romans, the Egyptians, the Mayans, the Aztecs…

 

The problems we face are not a question of genius, but a question of nature and habits. Something we humans have long struggled to understand and that has proved our downfall time and time again throughout history, is a denial of limits. Or an arrogant belief that they do not matter. Exponentially increasing resource consumption in a finite world just does not work. And when you look in evolutionary terms (and our genes also go a long way to determine our psyche), we’re not even far from cavemen.

 

We’re certainly not Gods, and that arrogant belief won’t help us one bit. Who knows, a little more humility may even help us navigate some of these tricky challenges.

Advertisements