November 17, 2023
Who are we, where did we come from and where are we headed?
In an era marked by rapid technological advances and unprecedented global connectevity, individuals often find themselves in a quest to discover their true identity, cultural heritage, and languages of their ancestors. The allure of exploring one's historical roots is undeniable, but is this endeavor truly worthwhile? Let us delve deep into the notion that such searches for identity, culture, and language may prove futile in the face of ever-evolving societies and disruptive changes brought about by science and technology, by exploring various aspects, from the elusiveness of historical identity to the dynamic nature of culture and language, the evolution of religions and the influence of science and technology.
1. The Elusiveness of Historical Identity
How far back into history can one truly trace identity? The history of our universe spans billions of years. The recent discoveries by James Webb Telescope and other breakthrough findings put our long-standing belief on a shaky ground that the age of universe is 14.5 billion years almost doubling it. The Earth is in existence for about 4 billion years. And humans with self-awareness have existed for a mere fraction of that time, about recent 70000 years or so. Over the course of these mere few years compared to the billions of it’s existence, our ancestors have migrated, adapted, intermingled and thrived on this planet Earth, dominating it. The human story is one of migration, adaptation and amalgamation. Our ancestors have traversed continents, intermingled with diverse cultures, and adapted to new environments. As a result, it becomes increasingly challenging or almost impossible to pinpoint a singular, unchanging identity that encapsulates the essence of who we are.
Modern humans' shared African ancestry is a cornerstone of our evolutionary history, with the "Out of Africa" theory highlighting the emergence of anatomically modern Homo sapiens on the African continent. Over time, our ancestors embarked on migrations driven by environmental changes and resource-seeking, eventually dispersing to other continents. This marked the beginning of our global expansion, with the first wave of humans leaving Africa around 70,000 years ago. Genetic evidence supports this theory, revealing common genetic markers originating from Africa. These migrations not only led to population dispersal but also fostered the development of diverse cultures and adaptations to local environments, contributing to the rich mosaic of human diversity we observe today. Understanding this shared African ancestry and the global migrations of our ancestors is fundamental to appreciating the commonality and interconnectedness of humanity. The concept of a singular, unchanging identity is thus an illusion, as we are a product of numerous influences.
2. Culture as a Dynamic Entity
Culture is not a static entity; it evolves and adapts to the changing times. Over thousands of years, cultures have transformed with societal advancements and technological progress, emphasizing that culture is a dynamic and ever-changing phenomenon. Culture evolves and adapts to the changing times. What we consider as culture today will inevitably be transformed in the future. Practices, customs, and traditions are all shaped by societal advancements, technological progress, and the collective consciousness of the people. Culture is a reflection of the contemporary, not a relic of the past.
Anthropologists Alfred L. Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn in their work on cultural anthropology emphasized that culture is a dynamic and ever-changing phenomenon and their insights are a testament to the malleability of cultural identity.
3. The Fluidity of Languages
Languages have evolved over the course of history, with many languages going extinct and others thriving due to the number of speakers. All the written languages that existed are just 5000 years old or even less. Over the course of history, many languages have gone extinct while others have thrived due to number of speakers, like Mandarin and Hindi. The emergence of global lingua francas, such as English, serves as a testament to the adaptability of languages in a rapidly changing world. The diversity of languages is undoubtedly a part of our cultural heritage, but their evolution is a natural process.
David Crystal's work on language evolution and death provides insights into the dynamic nature of languages and the inevitability of change.
4. Religions in Perspective
In the grand timeline of humanity's existence, modern religions are relatively recent developments. The stories and beliefs that define religious identities have evolved over centuries. These religions have adapted to the changing needs and values of society. For so many years, many of the humans who settled had no idea about the world beyond the few miles around them. For them the world was limited to only that perimeter. They believed that they were the only ones and their language was the only language and their gods were the only gods. Upto last 12000 years all these groups were hunter gatherers. Then slowly they started agriculture, settling in one place, with collective efforts they started communities and with cooperation established states and kingdoms. About 2500 years ago the Jain and Buddhist religion came to existence. Other religions slowly followed.
There were so many languages, religions and gods that existed and perished. States and Kingdoms dominated for some time but bit the dust later. The most strong and dominant in history were the Greeks and Egyptians with their mighty kingdoms and mightier gods. They had gods for everything. But today none of those gods exist except for a few temples that are in ruins. There is not a single person existing today worshipping these mighty gods.
Hence, the pursuit of ancient religious traditions to connect with one's identity may be a futile endeavor.
Karen Armstrong's comprehensive work on the history of major world religions sheds light on the continuous evolution and adaptation of religious traditions.
5. The Influence of Chance and Default
The identity, religion, language, and food habits one possesses are often the result of chance and default. In different circumstances, one could have been born into a different family with a different culture and religion, highlighting the arbitrariness of these factors. Believing in one's identity is essential, but it is futile to fight over these aspects.
6. The Blessing of Reasoning
Cogito ergo sum
I think, therefore, I am.
When these feelings about language, religion and place become obsession, reasoning goes into the backburner turning us into zombies without brains... But fortunately, human beings have a few more ounces of brain more than other animals fitted densely into their craniums, and those additional dense ounces got some more billions of neurons. These neurons make trillions of interconnections with each other through electric pulses causing us to think... And thinking makes us different from all other species that exist on this earth...
Till human beings were able to think, they were no different than other animals like apes, elephants, tigers and lions who lived in herds. In fact, they were weaker than those bigger animals. But as they developed cognitive abilities, with effective communication, planning, and collective efforts, they could control other animals and emerged as a strong species that dominated all other animals.
Human beings possess a unique gift—reasoning. This ability to think and make sense of the world sets us apart from other species. Obsessions with language, religion, and place can lead to a loss of rationality. We must cherish and utilize our capacity for rational thought.
7. The Glorious Future of Science and Technology
The world is currently experiencing disruptive advances in science and technology, with innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, and biomedical engineering, all reshaping the fabric of society. These technological leaps are challenging the way we perceive and interact with the world. Attempting to reconcile these developments with an idealized notion of cultural and historical identity can be overwhelming. With ongoing advancements in science and technology, humanity is on the cusp of a glorious future. Futurists like Yuval Noah Harari predict the evolution of humankind from Homo sapiens to Homo deus, where we ourselves are in the process of becoming Godlike.
Ray Kurzweil's exploration of Singularity and its implications for human evolution provides a thought-provoking perspective on the profound changes brought about by science and technology. Max Tegmark in his book Life 3.0, tag lined Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence discusses not only the advancement of AI and its aftermath for next 10,000 years in a way that common man cannot imagine, but he also further ventures into Humanity’s Cosmic Endowment for the next billion years and beyond!
In a world where change is only constant, the relentless search for an unchanging identity, culture, or language may be a futile endeavor. Instead, embracing the fluidity of our existence and adapting to the evolving world might be a more constructive approach. The essence of who we are as individuals and as a collective society is a dynamic phenomenon, shaped by the ever-evolving forces of history, culture, language, and technology. Rather than dwelling on the past, it is often more fruitful to focus on how to adapt and thrive in the changing world of the present and future. The potential of our reasoning abilities, coupled with the promise of advancements in science and technology, offers an exciting forward path for humanity.
With reference to all development that’s rapidly happening in the field of AI and ‘Singularity’ is just peeping around the corner, if not governed and given well defined ‘Goals’ a self-aware superintelligence could regard humanity as humans perceive ants and termites, potentially rendering discussions about our identity quests somewhat absurd.
With so many gadgets at our fingertips, we are bombarded with information right and wrong. Everyone having a Cellphone and little creativity has the capacity to be a content creator in this digital era. All are jumping into the bandwagon to produce contents from WhatsApp messages, Reels, Shorts, YouTube videos to full pledged propaganda films, suitable to propagate what they think is right. As information is wealth, it is our duty to find out what is true and genuine from the right sources that would build a better community, a strong committed society that would ultimately transform into a robust next gen Homo sapiens that is ready for grand Cosmic Endowment.
- Diamond, J. (1992). The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal.
- Kroeber, A. L. & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions.
- Crystal, D. (2000). Language Death.
- Armstrong, K. (1993). A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
- Kurzweil, R. (2005). The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology.
- Max Tegmark, (2017). Life 3.0, Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence-Alfred A. Knopf
- Nick Bostrom, (2014). Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies
- Yuval Noah Harari. Sapiens (2011). Homo Deus (2017).
Singularity: In technology, singularity describes a hypothetical future where technology growth is out of control and irreversible. These intelligent and powerful technologies will radically and unpredictably transform our reality.