Laurence Tribe's State of the World Address

Tribe talks about “collective intelligence.”
  • Transcript


Question: What are the forces that have shaped who we are today?

Laurence Tribe: You know I wish I had the depth to say something that felt meaningful about that.  I mean I think of human history as such a small piece of a galaxy that is so vastly beyond our comprehension.  I marvel all the time that we can figure out with some sense of certitude when the Big Bang occurred; that we can have theories about why there might be similar creations going on in parallel universes all the time – how the human mind can mange to think that. And when I think about those large things of which the human brain is somehow capable, and recognize that brain has evolved over time, I think that the possibilities are limitless.  That is the idea of collective intelligence, of intelligence that is no longer bound by the limits that flesh is heir to, but is in software and disbursed in the universe.  The possibilities are so endless.  And the slice of it that we have seen in our . . . not only our personal experience but in our sense of the last several thousand years of history is so short, that one really has to hope rather than understand.  I mean my hope is that in the great privilege of experiencing life, each of us has been a kind of wave on a great sea of progress; that in fact in some … way it’s moving in a positive direction.  It’s not so much the … omega point.  It’s something that I have to admit I can’t possibly understand.  Our capacity to encompass it all is so limited.  Then I come back really just to the privilege of existing.  I mean you think about the probabilities.  I mean what’s the likelihood that you or I would exist in this universe?  If someone had had a drink of water in a different time of night when we were conceived we wouldn’t be here. The fact that we have this enormous privilege for a finite time of experiencing this tiny window of something so vast; and the fact that we can’t know where humanity is going, where history is going, why it’s gone this way rather than that, whether we are one of only an infinite number of parallel possible paths; the fact that we can’t know that could be a source of enormous fear and despair.  Or it could be a source of awe and wonder.  For me it’s the latter.  I think I said that for me amazement is the central human experience.  Being amazed at discovery, at understanding; to be part of the human experience and to experience the amazement of existence; to know that we have only a very short time here; that we’re simultaneously like a star and a snowflake, I mean, is an enormous amount to take in.  It makes one feel . . .  It makes me feel that in the finite time that’s left, one really has to do all one can.  And that doesn’t mean write all the books you can.  It doesn’t mean litigate all the cases you can.  It may mean hug your grandchildren a little more.  It may mean feel grateful for how the kids you raised are being wonderful parents.  It may mean making a connection with that one student who seems to be hopeless and showing that student that she can really maybe make a difference.  You know I’m sure I haven’t answered the question of how we got here or where we’re going; but I think it would be false to who I am for me to pretend, “Oh, I see the trajectory.  And I know where it’s going and how it got here.”  Because the fact is I don’t.