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Innovations vs. Generations
Yuval Levin, in his neglected classic Imagining the Future, claims that there are two characteristic ways of viewing our technological and biotechnological future. One is in terms of innovations, the other in terms of generations. It goes without saying that lots of “futurists” pay some attention to both innovations and generations. But just about all of them tend in one direction or the other. What I’m going to say about these two views will owe something, but not everything, to Levin’s fine book.
The innovationists privilege “disruption,” while the generationists privilege “continuity” or at least worrying about too much discontinuity.
The innovationists are all about maximizing individual choice and control and so pushing back nature and chance. They can be called libertarian insofar as their inclination is to trust people to choose intelligently on behalf of their own interests. They’re about pushing death back indefinitely, and not so worried about the connection some make between our pursuit of indefinite longevity and the birth dearth. They’re open to the thought that the world to come might not need replacements (children) because individuals won’t need to be replaced. They celebrate our techno-world where it is so clear that a free woman can so easily choose not to have a child. And so they want to detach marriage and parenthood from biological necessity and allow them to enter the realm of freedom or choice. In innovationist utopian dreams (that are meant to become real), children are sometimes not present at all.
The generationists are more about living according to nature. Their thought is conditioned by the insight tha we are the beings born to love and die. So in a way they’re more Darwinian, more in tune with the perpetuation of our existence of social, generative animals. They notice that the indefinite progress of technology seems to have negative consequences for the relationships between the generations, and that’s one reason why the family—especially the extended family—almost seems to be withering away. The “anthropology of generations” is built on what the philosopher Hannah Arendt called “natality,” or the new beginnings that come with birth of unique and irreplaceable beings. Our hope is most properly in children, and not in gadgets or machines or information systems. In generationist futurist nightmares, people become so self-obsessed that children end up having to raise (badly) themselves. Or biotechnology produces "designer babies" that are or are treated as manufactured commodities.
The innovationists are all about the new ideas that are turned into enhanced power that we can deploy for the pursuit of happiness. Free self-development is unbounded and often unprecedented.
The generationists wonder whether we can really be happy too detached from social institutions, from, to begin with, being parents and children. Self-development is or should be bounded by our natural desires, beginning with our social instincts that point us in the direction of finding significance in being parts of social wholes greater than ourselves.
The generationists constantly warn us that in our techno-attempts to become more than human, we may well make ourselves less than human. They think about the possible coming of a subhuman Brave New World. The innovationists think that it’s our constant task to overcome so-called “natural limitations,” and their imaginations are filled not by the fear of subhumanity but the techno-hope for transhumanity. The generationists distinguish between natural and sinful man and God. The innovationists say the distinction between man and god is only provisional or evidence that lots more work needs to be done. The generationists aren’t atheists in the mode of the existentialists who whine about the absurdity of being human. They think in terms of a future where religion disappears because we’ve achieved for ourselves what the personal God promised.
There’s a lot to be said along these lines. But Levin doesn’t mean simply to choose one view over another. Both the innovationists and the generationists often fall victim to utopian fantasies. The innovationists sometimes really do believe that that we can escape birth and death and so parenthood and childhood and become like the gods. Or at least they often think that technology can free us from the necessity of virtue. Or at least detach feeling good from being good. It doesn't occur to them that a world without kids and death might be hell.
The generationists are often stuck in romantic fantasies about the past. They forget that all sensible nostalgia is selective, and that there are many features about our techno-world that nobody in his right mind would want to give up, even for the necessity-driven virtue of the past. Thanks to technological progress, almost all children around these days in our free country get to become adults. Technology—like birth, love, and death—is a wonderful display of part of who we are, of what we really can do for ourselves.
It's also true that we know that a free person shouldn't be either too wrapped up in or too detached from his or her family.
The truth is that our lives our marked by both freedom and necessity, by the drive to personal autonomy and the irreducible good of relational love. An innovative generationist or a generational innovator would be animated by a view of personal, relational freedom that seems between hard and impossible to find these days.
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.