Some 500,000 years ago, the lines of Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals split. And it didn’t go well for Neanderthals, although it is not really clear what the reason was. Anyhow, Neanderthals are gone and Homo Sapiens is alive and kicking.
I know this is a simplistic representation of history. It wasn’t binary, there were many more species. And it didn’t happen at once. And such splits have happened before. Anyway. Now, the big question is not whether it will happen again, but when. And how fast. And into which (two?) species. That remains to be seen, I think. The “Big Split”.
Still, I do see a start of a Big Split in our society, today. The haves and have-not’s, the rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated, the powerful and the powerless. The losers and winners?
Lets call them the subspecies Homo Sapiens Traditus – for traditional – and Homo Sapiens Modernus – for modern.
For context, let me point out the following. The dominant form of society today is ‘democratic meritocracy’. This means that we take decisions by majority vote of political delegates. They decide about laws and rules, based on collective mind models. One of those mind models is the idea that a person who can do something what someone else cannot – either based on (effortless) innate or inherited talent or learned skill (with effort) – should be rewarded (deserves) better than the person who cannot. It is called a meritocracy from Latin ‘meritus’, the perfect passive participle of mereō (“earn, deserve, merit”). As a result it is generally accepted and embedded in our laws and rules that some people make more money than other. It has a very positive effect on society. It motivates people to make an extra effort, because they rely on being rewarded for their contribution. But it has a downside too. It creates a rat race to the top with ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.
Now, Homo Sapiens Traditus intuitively feel they are not ever going to ‘win’ in the current course of societal development. (Winning meaning to build a position in society with enough resources to provide well for your family and be respected by your peers and generally in society.) They withdraw, they pull back, they create their own universe with their own mind models, they latch on traditional values, religion, family values, traditional man-woman roles, back to nature, countryside, simple life. Remain with what is familiar and controllable … in what I called earlier the cozy rabbit hole. Create their own sense of (self-)respect. You may call this the mind model of the lion troop in the savanna: struggle for survival, life is hard and dangerous, daily hunt for food, strong males protect against the hyenas, females raise the cubs in groups, the group means survival. Clearly, the mind model is based on harsh circumstances.
Homo Sapiens Modernus improve their mind, their body, their genes and ultimately their DNA.
Contrarily, Homo Sapiens Modernus feel they are winning in society, and want to win ever more. They long for personal improvement and are open to human enhancement. They will improve their mind through education and technology, their body through workouts and medicine, their genes through epigenetics (by deliberately changing their behavior and environment), extending their minds and bodies with technology (becoming ‘cyborgs’) and ultimately their DNA with techniques like CRISPR. They have no need for supporting value frameworks, because they are self-confident based on their societal success. Although … some do stick to lots of traditional rules in the way that is propagated by some apparently successful figures like Mr. Andrew Tate. The Modernus group is an interesting mix of so-called ‘woke’ (progressive) and anti-woke (conservative). Anyhow, sometimes they feel lonely, existentially lonely … in what you may call the divine elysian fields. You may call this the mind model of the gods on the tropical mountain: food and shelter are guaranteed, there are no existential worries, earthly rules don’t apply to us, focus is on the self and self-improvement, focus is on ‘what will be my next success step and how can I get it easily’. Clearly, this mind model, too, is based on circumstances, easy circumstances.
And the two are more and more in conflict. And it will get worse, I’m afraid. A nice, dramatic illustration of where it could go in the short term (tens of years) can be seen in the movie Elysium. (It’s more than just a movie. Some billionaires have their own Elysium dreams already.) And, in slightly different form Elysium already exists: gated communities, private islands, tax havens.
Now, I have no idea whether at all and, if so, how fast the Big Split will take place and what the consequences will be. It may take tens of years, it may take 10,000 years. And, again, it doesn’t have to be so. We can prevent the Big Split … if we want.
That is, if Homo Sapiens Modernus want …
1 – Maybe no. — You see it happening already. In this scenario Modernus see Traditus as useful idiots, a herd to work for them and sell their products to. The rich live healthier and longer. Their children are better educated and get better jobs. Money accumulates. They invest in healthier brains and bodies. They use technical tools to improve their decision making. Ultimately they will modify their DNA to become a more successful species, whatever success means. Success, at least in an evolutionary way: better chances of survival of their species. Maybe the currently successful Homo Sapiens will first transform into the subspecies Homo Sapiens Modernus and then into a new species Homo Deus (after Harari), speeding-up evolution dramatically?
Although it must be said, that Mr. Harari’s image of Homo Deus is more like a Homo Sapiens Traditus, whose acting and thinking are fully determined by some sort of omnipresent data cloud (controlled by Homo Sapiens Modernus), like Google Maps now determines how we travel from A to B rather that that we try to find our way ourselves, simply because “Google knows best”. But Google Maps would then be somehow – in a cyborg manner – embedded into our bodies and brains – companies like Elon Musks Neuralink are already experimenting with this. Harari’s (individual) Homo Deus has no free will. (This opens a whole new discussion. The one about free will. There is no consensus about whether we have a free will today, or ever had. It also depends on your definition of free will, of course.) Would Homo Deus then be the collective of all human bodies and minds that are controlled by the data cloud? With individual bodies like ants and Earth (or beyond) as the anthill – but with a data cloud ‘central processing unit’ steering all the individual bodies and minds.
2 – Maybe yes. — This you also see happening. Modernus see Traditus as brothers and sisters, and feel an inherent need and responsibility to care for each other. I see two paths. One is – the strongest, but less likely – the “common enemy”, when we discover alien intelligent life in Space and collectively decide that we must flock together to protect Homo Sapiens against the aliens. The other is when aspiring Homo Sapiens Modernus decide this is ethically not the correct path to follow. That we are all one big family, the ‘brotherhood of man’ and that we must care for each other, for the group, like the lion troop.
And, there may be a third way. Maybe, it will be not so easy to speed-up evolution. Maybe, it will be impossible with the current state of science and technology. Maybe, creating (my definition of) Homo Deus (the follow-up of Homo Sapiens Modernus) will result in creating flawed human beings, with all kinds of mental and physical diseases and deviations. (Maybe it will create a monster of Frankenstein. I’m sure there will be people willing to take that risk, just like Icarus took the risk of falling to Earth.) Then, maybe we will collectively go back to the cozy rabbit hole for a long period of time. Or maybe developing into Homo Deus will not take tens but 10,000’s of years.
Or, maybe more likely, being Homo Sapiens Modernus may turn out to be so conflicting with our (current) human nature, leading to so much existential and practical loneliness and mental diseases, depression, more and more pills, stimulants and opiates, more and more flight into instant gratification, convenience and luxury, that those becoming Modernus decide they want to go back to being – a rich variant of – Traditus, appreciating human friendship, a bit of collective suffering, a goal in life, something meaningful to work for, meaning in life, survival, ikigai. Who will tell?
Or a fourth way. Maybe there will be totally unpredictable or unexpected effects. Maybe weird things will happen, such as behavioral sink, or disease X, or … etc. Maybe we will self-destruct in nuclear war. (Is that the answer to Fermi’s paradox: that all intelligent life at some point destructs itself?)
What do we know … ?
In an earlier story, I already suggested to depict the Big Split in an epic statue on the Moon. It consists of a nude man – representing Homo Sapiens Traditus – who climbs on a ladder towards Earth and either an astronaut or, maybe better, a cyborg or enhanced human – representing Homo Sapiens Modernus – who looks into an infinite well (diametrically through the entire Moon) towards space outside our Earth-Moon system.
I asked DALL-E2 to “draw a statue of a man climbing on a ladder into the sky and an astronaut looking into a well”. (The word ‘nude’ is not allowed, apparently, and it didn’t know how to deal with ‘an enhanced man’.) It didn’t work out very well, haha: