Pop historian-philosopher Yuval Noah Harari fascinates and horrifies us in equal measure with his long-view description of human evolution (see Sapiens (2014) and Homo Deus (2016). It goes a little bit like this:
In the dark ages, humans believed in superstitious fictions that gave their life meaning. They existed in close connection with nature, but also at its mercy.
With the Enlightenment, humans gained control over nature through science, and turned themselves into the measure of all things, but this made their lives feel empty and meaningless. The religions of authoritarianism tried to fill that void with awful results.
New scientific and technological advances are now calling into question the basic assumptions of the enlightenment: behavioural economics and evolutionary psychology show that human being are not rational, their beliefs and actions are conditioned genetically and culturally. Machines are becoming smarter than humans, able to predict and manipulate their behaviours in increasingly sophisticated ways. All these developments point at an impending transition to a new stage in history.
Can democracy and markets survive this change, or will they be replaced by collective intelligences and platforms that aggregate and automate decisions in complex ways?
Can humanity survive the battle between the forces of reaction and acceleration?
Will we find meaning again in new religions of fandom and singularitarianism?
Noah Harari tells all this with a dispassionate voice, avoiding linear narratives of progress or decay. With each phase transition in human evolution something is lost and something is gained. A mystery always lingers, we listen to its music.
The dark ages were full of mystery and emotion, they contained a sense of permanence, and order, with human existence tightly embedded in the cycles of the celestial and terrestrial spheres. Free will in believing and sinning opened the way to moral behaviour and heroism, but this was part of a bigger story told written by the Deux Ex Machina.
Delia Gonzalez’ latest album, Horse Follows Darkness brims with that sense of thrust through layers of gnostic mystery and invisible force fields, into a space of revelation hidden at the heart of the dark forest. Hidden Song is the theme track for the werewolf gang that runs things that neighbourhood.
We are the children of the enlightenment. Our most successful societies protect and nurture us, encourage us to express ourselves and our creativities in a myriad ways. Those of us endowed with genius can make their selves (even souls) seen, heard and felt that way, and when this happens, all witnesses are seared by a flash of joy. We might be alone in the universe, but we can gift each other universes.
Modern composition has many moments of such humanistic beauty, here is one from Philip Glass’ North Star.
Many of our favourite musics are produced through collaborations between humans and complex technological artifacts (electronic music) or seek to induce trance-like states where humans start behaving as if they were components of technological systems (dance music), or had been bodily spliced with technology (EBM/post-punk).
Caterina Barbieri’s take on our technological structuration is more abstract. Her electronic compositions give us nerd-rapture inducing vistas of cybernetic worlds where human and machine intelligences have already merged; we listen to their message with a mix of alienness and familiarity, as if told in the tongues of the natives of those strange new lands, distant descendants of the mild cyborgs who today inhabit online gaming clans, collaborative consumption platforms, and the deepest code architectures in GitHub’s sprawling cathedrals.