Golden Ages: Why Not Deliberately Create Them?
Across the world and throughout the ages, Golden Ages have appeared. Ancient Greece, Han Dynasty China, the early days of Islam, Italy during the Renaissance, the Scottish Enlightenment to name just a few. During these times and in these places, there is a great flourishing of human creativity, innovation and progress. And yet, somehow, these periods then fade. The lights turn off just as quickly as they turned on. The Golden Age gives way to a Dark Age. If you ask most people why Golden Ages appear and then disappear, they probably couldn’t tell you why. In fact, they might tell you, it’s magic.
Magic is a large feature of human thinking throughout history for one simple reason: individual humans are terrible at figuring out why things happen. Look at this graph below. It’s the result of testing a human toddler’s intelligence against that of an orangutan and a chimp. Notice that on causality — figuring out what causes things to happen — we are dumber than chimpanzees. Figuring out why things happen is humanity’s Achilles Heel. The problem isn’t that humans don’t think they know why things are happening. The problem is that we do. Our brains fill in explanations and then those explanations make perfect sense to us because of naive realism.
The result is that when Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, taught that disease was caused by an imbalance in the four humors it made PERFECT SENSE. And it went on making perfect sense for millennia. Until enough disconfirmatory evidence built up that people were forced to reflect on their beliefs and see if they really made sense. Our brains have not changed in the last 2000 years. Look around the world. Your fellow humans believe totally different things and yet all of them think their beliefs make perfect sense. Welcome to the human condition.
However, occasionally, that disconfirmatory evidence takes a very special form: a happy accident. A perfect example of a happy accident is what happened to Alexander Fleming. Accidentally, Fleming left the lid off a petri dish and some of a fungus called penicillium got in there. His dish was ruined. Except, Fleming noticed something interesting when he looked closely at the dish.
He noticed that around the penicillium there were no bacteria. How odd?
Fleming was a curious man and so he investigated to find out what had killed off the bacteria. From the fungus, he extracted a compound he called penicillin. And thus, the world’s first antibiotic was discovered. The history of human progress involves taking such happy accidents and turning them into repeatable and scalable success. So, why not study the happy accident of Golden Ages and create sustainable prosperity and progress for all? Well, I’m happy to report that, as with most things, Golden Ages and innovation more generally have been extensively studied and so has innovation and so has human success. The science exists.
It’s now time to turn that science into engineering.
In fact, there already are little Golden Ages happening all over the world right now. Some of them are in companies like Pixar and Apple.
Some of them are in television like the Golden Age of Television that we’ve been living through. And some of them are on a much smaller scale like Mixed Mental Arts. Individuals and families all over the world are living through their own personal Golden Ages. The challenge is not having a Golden Age; it’s scaling them and sustaining them indefinitely. This is the question I’ve been obsessed with answering since I was a little kid. Growing up in the developing world, I saw great poverty…from inside an air-conditioned car. It bugged me. It continues to bug me. And I’ve realized that the only way I can handle that feeling is to keep doing whatever I can to fix it. I won’t rest until there is peace, prosperity and progress for every human being on the planet. The question is why does that happen and how do you make more of it. As a toddler, my ability to understand that was worse than a chimp. And so was yours.
However, since then I’ve used humanity’s superpower — social intelligence which you have too — in order to gradually accumulate piece by piece the causal understanding I need in order to figure out why Golden Ages happen so that we can begin creating them for everyone. And it all comes down to the free flow of ideas being endlessly recombined in new and interesting ways. It’s about ideas having sex. Thanks to technology, the free flow of information is easier than ever before. And it is flowing between computers. But innovation isn’t about the flow of information between computers. It’s about the flow of ideas between HUMANS. To innovate, you need to have productive, respectful conversations with people who Think Different.
How much of that is happening right now? It’s not. Instead, people are in their little echo chambers mentally masturbating. My job is to be humanity’s intellectual Barry White. I have to set the mood for the biggest idea sex humanity has ever seen and there’s a growing group of people here to help me do that known as Mixed Mental Artists.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to call yourself a Mixed Mental Artist to get in on the fun. Many people are doing this already without ever having heard of us. And doubtless, some people will take the ideas we’ve packaged together and rebrand them to try and make a business of it. That’s great! The one thing we care about is moving those ideas at all costs because it’s in moving ideas that we create a dynamic intellectual ecosystem. That’s how you make an idea orgy and an idea orgy is really what a Golden Age is. It’s lots of people getting involved in taking ideas, remixing them, tinkering and standing on each other’s shoulders to see further. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the ultimate goal of the Mixed Mental Arts project. Our goal is to create humanity’s First Global Golden Age…and to keep it going. Of course, part of what enables human flourishing is having a tribe or community and so that’s why I mention Mixed Mental Arts. If you want to be part of a community devoted to creating a Golden Age for all, then you should join us. And if you want to know more details on how you create a sustainable Golden Age, then I’ll be speaking at the Detroit Economic Conference on September 19th. My talk is titled “Detroit’s Third Golden Age: How Do You Sustain a Culture of Excellence?” Detroit has had two Golden Ages. In the first, Detroit pioneered the mass production of the motor car. In the second, Detroit pioneered the mass production of some of the world’s best pop music. Why not a third that pioneers the mass production of human excellence and flourishing? Why not make it last? I’ll tell you why not. Because no one has dared to try.
In an age when machines are putting millions out of work, we have no choice but to overcome our complacency for our survival. We cannot afford to stay where we are a little longer. Instead, we must evolve beyond the ancient cultures into which we were born and evolve a culture which fits this new age. Laying out his vision to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, JFK said “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” Humanity needs hard, clear goals to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. The time has come to turn Golden Ages from magic into science. Actually, it’s time to turn Golden Ages into something humanity can engineer at will. This is our Apollo Program.
Detroit is just one of the Mixed Mental Arts’ movements intended incubators. We’re changing the culture in our homes, our communities, our classrooms, our community colleges, our places of worship, our gyms and much, much more. The more of these we create the more undeniable it will be that excellence and prosperity is a choice that is available to all. And it will be available to all. In just a few short months, a team of Mixed Mental Artists have managed to distill down hundreds of technically dense books into nine, easy principles that will enable all of humanity to navigate this new age. We call them the Mixed Mental Arts belt system. And that’s just the beginning. The problem of the modern age is that there’s too much information for any individual to make sense of. The problem isn’t the individuals. The problem is that we’re trying to work as individuals. The answer is understanding our superpower is what we achieve when we tackle that problem together. William Gibson is right. The future we’ve always dreamed of exists. But some assembly is required. Mixed Mental Arts is about putting it together…and doing it together. Because that’s how Golden Ages have worked all along. The world was made by people no smarter than you…and those people were in many ways dumber than chimps. They got smarter by using their social intelligence and learning from all the humans they could. Imagine if we all did that and you’ve imagined how you create a Global Golden Age.