[updated June 2013] Let n beings approach nirvana. What is the limit scenario when n is very large? Wordwide bliss? Peace on earth?

<backfill> Lunchtime. The perfect time for my colleagues and I to insult each others’ intelligence with bizarre postulates and nonsensics. The day’s what if: What if we were all to suddenly, overnight, become:

  • aware of ourselves, others, our surroundings and our ultimate interconnectedness
  • able to live within our means or sustain ourselves with a minimal ‘waste’ footprint
  • able to override our personal greed and instinctual survival habits, and help each other
  • able see past mass media marketing and hype and perceive truth
  • able to accept ourselves as we are, without fear of judgement of others…
  • and able to live meaningful lives that follow constructive patterns instead of blindly following societal norms and rites of passage… ?

“it would be the end of the human race,” I posited. “Not just ‘as we know it’, not in some transformative sense… I mean it would literally be the end, period.” “yeah, I was just thinking that the other day” said Taco Bell lunch #1. “I mean, we’re all trying to be good, but… take recycling for example. If we reused everything perfectly, like… TONS of businesses would fold… all those people would be out of a job!” “Yeah but, in the long run its still better for everyone, right?” says Taco Bell lunch #2. “maybe…” I say, scrabbling at the bottom of my container for fork-defying, oily strands of remaining spaghetti. I brought lunch and it isn’t enough and I’m hungry again already. “It’s the equivalent of a run on Mother Nature’s bank, isn’t it?”. </backfill>

Well. That’s what we got to thinkin’. And I can’t remember EXACTLY what taco bell #1 and #2 said, but it was funny to think about how parts of the economy would just fall over if everyone started ‘doing the right thing’. Too many myriad vacuums would be created by our collective and spontaneous enlightenment… it would be like everyone “ascending to heaven” at once, and I don’t know that the pearly gates have been crash-tested.

The dysfunction function

Thing is, I’ve started to wonder if systems aren’t meant to be inherently imperfect. There is a certain amount of ‘dysfunction’ that must, it seems, be allowed to plague any given system. This might even be how the system itself survives, for all I know. An error margin in which maladaptive designs are scribbled and incoherent nonsense is spouted and things are generally screwed up while we generally remain in complete and vehement denial that any of it is going on. It’s like friction: you don’t need a lot of it, but try having a universe without some.

Basically, it’s possible that as people wise up, and become the best earthly citizens they can be, the better life is for everyone on earth… until too many people wise up. Then, I posit, life is going to get suddenly and inexplicably harder for all of us. At least for a while. This wee problem ‘near the end of the curve’ reminds me of the ‘uncanny valley‘ effect, a function which I’m beginning to think describes lots of other trajectories, not just the ones describing our (in)ability to find robots cute as they evolve. It oughta have been named the dysfunction function: A function of how decreases in the dysfunction of some sub-system x affects the overall function (efficiency) of the larger system X. You could plug in all sorts of things for little x and big X.  Intriguing….

I reckon the uncanny valley has the same shape as the ratio of enlightened to un-enlightened beings on planet earth. And as we get ever closer to “the singularity”, or nirvana, which ever comes first, there’s gonna be a hiccup. But right now, ‘n is small’, so we’re good.

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