Like the history of the universe, the history of humanity — indeed the history of myself personally — is one that can be viewed through the lense of transcendental epochs.
Problems are inevitable. To continuously transcend emergent problems I need only, and indeed I can only: rearrange what I already have. This rearrangement produces new artifacts or behaviors that circumvent the underlying dispositions of the problem.
There is a word used to indicate an overcoming of innate limitations; the physical limitations of bodies, the cognitive limitations of minds, and the limitations of sensory perceptions. This word has a spiritual connotation as well: surmounting or rising above, perhaps shedding the human body; to exist in an energetic or spiritual realm of experience. The word is transcendence. A conjugation of the latin words trans meaning across and scendere meaning to climb. Transcendence is confrontation with a real or imaginary barrier that is eventually overcome. A barrier is any rift or obstacle in ability, real or imagined, through which one can eventually climb across. Transcendence obviates the circumstances that allow or produce barriers by presenting new possibilities. There is more to this than just adaptation.
I really haven't been here for very long, yet here I am existing in the universe. For some it is thought to be a closed system of systems with no externalities. The history of this universe; it's existence, it's purpose, where it comes from, why I am here... why constructs within it such as myself can even contemplate these questions... all of this is a profound mystery. Many have attempted to unravel it, each of them adding some aspect to the body of knowledge of how our universe began and its ultimate nature. These efforts have been diverse and each individual that has participated stood on the shoulders of those who came before. The spirit of their contributions can be subdivided into two broad categories: theology and science. Something is lost when such demarcations are strongly established between modes of inquiry. It frames my preconceptions from the outset and prohibits the detection of patterns between them. Nevertheless, the separate stories told through these bodies of knowledge possess one common feature: the universe is an arena in which transcendence happens. From the deep past and into the present, one transcendental epoch has followed another.
The varied stories of the universe, universally, are stories of dispositional forces; good and evil, positive and negative, yin and yang, matter and energy, bright and dark, hot and cold, right and wrong, on and off, yes and no, and notwithstanding true or false. The human experience has sought to understand this frothy arena of space and time through stories of variable plausibility. For some perhaps, a fantastic story can only account for the fantastic realm they find themselves in. For others, a desire for grammatical precision can be obtained only in the machinations of precise simulation. If only to make some kind of sense of this existence at the gnarled edge of chaos and absolute order, amidst an inexorable rearranging of dispositional forces. The ability for the universe to kaleidoscopically rearrange itself, according to discernable rules as natural or divine law, is the foundation of transcendence. These models of reality tell their own kind of story, a story of dispositional forces. The story always begins in a very basic environment for which the first transcendental epoch is embodied as a complex adaptive system: the universe itself. A void, or isotropic monad: saturated in sameness, governed by law.
The next transcendental epoch centers upon the material and energy that emerged from the first epoch of dispositional forces. The material in the universe is now known to be comprised of classes of objects, and so these classifications are then named by the story. In one such story, the material classification of the universe is given the name fermion. There are twenty-four kinds of fermion from two subclasses: quarks and leptons. Energy is communicated between them by a class of objects known as bosons which carry a force between fermions. They act as a kind of 'glue' between components of matter. Of the bosons there are four elementary classes along with composites and other theorized particles. These elementary particles fill the universe with 'stuff'. Inexorably rearranging, the early universe cooled and these objects combined into novel forms. Quarks exchanging gluons confined themselves into nucleons: protons and neutrons. In turn, nucleons bound with each other attracting leptons and forming the atom. Various combinations of these fundamental objects produce a spectrum of possible atoms. Like musical notes on an instrument these chords of interaction emerge in stable vibrations with predictable certainty from what might otherwise had been a fleeting maelstrom. From these atoms a grand tapestry of novelty can emerge; as atoms bind with atoms producing molecules with properties very much different from their constituent parts.
From a cosmic ocean of chemical compounds irrevocably reorganizing across astronomical time scales, compounds developed from the unfolding situation and exhibited a novel behavior. Novel, because this behavior sets the stage for the third transcendental epoch. As the dispositional forces tousled these compounds within and through their environment, the resultant entropic disorder was expressed as self replicating substances operating on their surrounding material. And so a new story began, the story of evolution. Chemical compounds of varying complexity emerging in a long process of transcription, transformation and combination. A relentless, almost algorithmic rearranging of genetic material converged on novel arrangements best adapted to carry on in the environment. Somewhere in the vast arena of space and time, LUCA the Last Universal Common Ancestor transcended the primordial potential of being and came to be: real.
Who can know how long LUCA and it's lineage carried on altering their environment before inexorable rearrangements led to more complex systems adapted to a new environment. How many versions of single celled organisms dotted the universe and our planet is anyone’s guess. What is certain though, these organisms had the potential to launch a fourth transcendental epoch, and they did. Clustering into groups, autonomously adapting to each other through dispositional interactions that organisms like us would later anthropomorphise as cooperation. Individual cells within these complex multi-cellular organisms would begin to adapt to performing specialized functions. One function in particular would lead to a fifth transcendental epoch. The nervous system. A communications system carrying a force, or information across cellular pathways. Now, an accumulation of energy from the environment at one end of an organism would be steered through these cellular pathways to direct action at the other end.
Over time specialized cells clustered, rearranged this way into larger clumps of web-like structures: encoding and decoding information in cascades of activity. We call these clumps brain, and the emergence of the brain brought forth a fifth transcendental epoch. Life took the first tentative steps toward the transcendence of the evolutionary barrier. No longer would organisms have to learn at the rate of genetic mutation. Before brains, organisms would respond identically to identical stimulus. Whereas, after brains, organisms could discern repetition and through repetition they would learn. Life like this doesn't simply adapt to circumstances, a victim of external situations or a shifting chemistry. Life like this creates circumstances by consciously rearranging its environment to suit the transcendence of its own innate and personal limitations.
Organisms with brains underwent a long and varied evolutionary process culminating in what today are modern humans, otherwise known as homo sapiens. Prior to the appearance of homo sapiens various evolutionary ancestors left their mark on our planet. What set them apart from the other organisms is that they were prolific tool makers. They may have been very similar to us in a number of ways. Our ancestors, and cousins such as the neanderthals, made tools and harnessed fire. They even made boats and attempted to explore the earth. However, one striking difference is notable. When they came up against an apparently insurmountable natural barrier they stopped. They turned back. They didn't press forward. They would not attempt to transcend these barriers in the environment or in themselves. They paid the price. Modern humans have transcended natural barriers, even at great risk to their personal safety. They scaled mountains, crossed oceans of uncertainty, built monolithic structures and businesses, orbited the Earth and even walked upon it’s moon. Some of them learned from this, that all it takes to accomplish these feats are the right tools applied at the right time. The genesis of tools begins in the imagination, an emergent property of brains. Tools are made of material sourced from the environment and rearranged into something useful, something specialized and suited to a particular purpose. One might say we are tool specialists. Ourselves, using technology and machines daily to enhance power and ability. Transcending the limitations of our bodies and minds with the rearrangement of matter and energy within the universe. This is the sixth transcendental epoch.
It is suggested that neanderthals, along with modern humans possessed the ability to speak. The ability to speak implies a language and language implies grammar. Grammar requires a certain logic of form and function which implies an ability to think and reason about reality. To one degree or another, grammar implies an ability to imagine! Yet as far as I know, it was modern humans that transcended the spoken word and developed a system of writing. A system of writing codifies language into visual symbols which represent words or parts of words. Strings of these symbols mirror the grammar of spoken language and the logical form of imagination. To create written word one need only rearrange material in the universe, to smear a pigment or etch into a stone. The seventh transcendental epoch involves transcending the limitations of learning over a lifetime of first hand experience. Arranging the ability to share experiences between autonomous individuals through spoken or written communication. The ability to write brought with it a desire to record descriptions of experience and to collaborate on a shared body of knowledge across a society. To share knowledge within a lifetime accelerated the experiences of the young such that they could stand on the shoulders of their elders. Now, they could reach new vantages of understanding and from those see broad vistas of unknowing.
Humans are beings with imagination. I share language and writing, and these symbols evoke imaginings in those I communicate with. Hopefully these imaginings are in parity with my own. To the extent that they are is the extent to which my communication is effective. The symbols of language are magical symbols. Magic is defined as the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. The course of human events usually are influenced through the use of language. Language and its origins are undeniably mysterious. Imagination too is attributed to something beyond current scientific understanding or the laws of nature. It is built upon a foundation of natural forces but it is an emergent property and thus it is "above nature"; super natura, or super-natural. Imagination is a phenomena of the brain not accounted for in the observation of its constituent parts.
With the ability to write and the desire to share knowledge society emerged, and with it came bureaucracy. Rules and regulations, namely laws, harnessed the imaginations of humans telling them how to behave and giving societies a stable identity. Bureaucracies are networks of human beings whom are constrained by an oath to hold authority over other human beings. Operated by message passing, or the transference of a written signal carrying instructions or news. This is how empires of old held sway over populations many months travel from their epicenters of power.
The eighth transcendental epoch is marked by an expansion of communication networks between human beings within society and the tools and technologies to facilitate ever more efficient means of communicating over distance and through time. This epoch saw the development of the printing press, the newspaper and other periodical publications. From messengers and couriers to the postal services of developed nation states. The transcendence of this epoch is a rearranging not of matter and energy so much as humanity itself. They attempted to transcend some barrier, real or imaginary, in providing well being to a large populous.
During this same transcendental epoch, the nervous system developed perhaps by chance through evolution so long ago was reimagined by brains. Materials suitable to the conveyance of electrical impulses were extracted from the Earth and rearranged into a form that mimics a nervous system. Deployed today upon and around the world, we call this nervous system the global telecommunications network.
Not so long ago the word computer referred to humans adept at the calculation of quantities. They used tools to transcend the limitations of working memory and the speed at which they could operate sums and subtractions. Tools such as the abacus or the slide rule. These tools used symbols and mechanical processes practiced and perfected by the computers. Recently, some particularly brilliant humans have learned to etch magical symbols into stone, special words made of special shapes of a special material. With enough of these symbols connected together in a precise grammar, they could infuse this language with meaning. With precisely phrased questions activating the stones, the stones would reveal answers. These stones are modern microprocessors built of silicon, and the meaning, arbitrarily, is machine language compiled from modern day high level programming languages.
Humans rearranged the matter and energy in the universe and developed tools to perform some of the mental calculations that brains do. Through the language of mathematical proofs humans have come to realize their model of computation is a universal language. Anything that can be computed can be computed by these machines, it is just a matter of time. One need only know how to phrase or spell out a problem in the appropriate language and given enough computational power these machines will compute the answer, if there is one. The time I live in now, this ninth transcendental epoch, these machines have been connected to the global nervous system. These digital computers perform a plethora of services delivered over what today is called the internet. Human society itself is developing a brain, and it has a name, the exocortex.
The story of transcendental epochs is an intuitive one. Since the inception of our universe nothing in it is authentically new. Everything at our disposal, expressed or unexpressed, has been here for a very long time. It is through the rearranging of dispositional forces that these expressions can be realized and imaginary barriers transcended. Transcendence itself is not some colloquially “supernatural” force outside of the universe. Built upon a foundation of fundamental and natural forces; a super-natural force emergent from and above nature is right here, inside of the universe. Human beings can and do harness this force to obviate circumstances that frame their limitations.
The story of transcendence framed as an inexorable rearrangement of dispositional forces in the universe and by the universe is powerful in its simplicity. Go through the Transcendence chapter and learn how this story can be applied to issues closer at home. Namely, the rearranging of material at home to facilitate an emergent behavior: the production of well being in abundance.