"What gunpowder did for war the printing press has done for the mind."
- Wendell Phillips, abolitionist and orator, 1811AD-1884AD
The Enlightenment (18th Century, sometimes called "The Age of Reason")is looked back upon as an age of almost unbridled intellectual development and progress. It is largely seen to have been powered by the existence of the printing press which allowed mass communication on a scale previously impossible to imagine. It also made the free flow of information and accurate exchange of scientific discoveries possible like never before. Sound familliar?
This ability to spread and build upon useful information helped to cause the exagerration of something known in esoteric circles as, The Jumping Jesus Phenomenon:
"Our psychic universe is expanding even more rapidly than the physical universe. Let us define the measurement of known scientific facts in the year 1 A.D. as "one jesus," using the name of the celebrated philosopher born that year.-Robert Anton Wilson
Before going any further, let us ask how long it took to arrive at one jesus. One way of estimating is to take the estimated age of homo sapiens, in which case it took 40,000 to 100,000 years.
How long did it take to double this accumulation of knowledge, to achieve two jesuses? It required 1500 years - until 1500 A.D. How long did it take to double again and obtain four jesuses? It required 250 years, and we had four jesuses in our larder by 1750.
The next doubling took 150 years, and by 1900 A.D. humanity had eight jesuses in our information account. The next doubling took 50 years, and by 1950 we had 16 jesuses. The next, ten years, and by 1960 we had 32 jesuses. The next doubling took seven years, and by 1967 we had 64 jesuses. And the next doubling took 6 years; by 1973 we have 128 jesuses.
There is no reason to imagine that the acceleration has stopped. Thus, we almost certainly reached 256 j around 1978-79 and 512 j in 1982.
In short, we are living in a mental transformation space; that is, an omnidimensional halo expanding toward infinity in all directions. And the electronic center of this halo of mentation is possibly everywhere. It is all available to you right where you are sitting now. Just plug in a terminal. The machine doesn't care who or what you are."
The point is this; our technology is advancing now at speeds we can't measure effectively anymore. These massive upsurges in the technology of communication usually mean our intellectual abilities should be about due another massive boost. However, the New Age of Enlightenment will be different from the first in that last time what happened was essentially an elite cultural movement in the minds of a small group of European intellectuals. This time round, the modern mental equivalent of what happened to them in the 18th century, may well be about to take place in the consciousness of a worldwide audience.
To put this into context, at the start of Louis XV's reign it was thought that The King's touch could cure diseases such as scrofula. This was because The King of France was put there by God in accordance with The Divine Right Of Kings. By the end of, The Enlightenment, his son was being put to death as a common criminal. That's quite a dramatic turnaround and frankly a huge change in how people saw the world.
Imagine something like that happening to you in your lifetime. A core belief, which is so obvious to you it's taken for granted, being totally reversed and turned upon its head. It's almost impossible to think what ideas it might be without feeling a little silly but if you've agreed with this article so far that's what it looks like we're collectively heading for.
"Do we presently live in an enlightened age?" the answer is, "No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment."
-Immanuel Kant ("What Is Enlightenment?" 1784)
The thing about living in the wake of The Enlightenment, particularly if you happened to be French, is that it was pretty bloody and violent. I suspect that many of the changes on the way will seem awful at the time. My recent experiences in the riots were pretty scary, both reporting on and getting caught up in them. They were an event which seemed to almost take the internet and mass communication for granted. I personally believe that the way people reacted to them are an early expression of the double edged power that technology has given us. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not under the impression that they were caused by the net, just of the opinion that it acted like a magnifying glass on the already hot rays of a summer sun.
This medium acts as a non-specific amplifier able to squeeze every last drop of psychic energy out of even the most inconsequential of moments. A panda sneezing, a boy getting his finger bitten, a mad comedian being all racist. It's no surprise that grievences both legitimate and otherwise can find an audience online and bubble over into acts of violence. It's also no surprise that hysteria moves through it like an electric current as people brag about the free stuff they got the previous night.
During the time of the French revolution there was a character called, Jean-Paul Marat, who used the new media opportunities provided by the printing press to stir up revolutionaries and attack people in power. Nowadays characters like him probably spit their bile into blogs and YouTube videos and are, as we speak, busy plotting world domination.
There's something quite exciting about all this. I think it's the smell of inevitable change.