Our obsessions with the present-that it's something special

Most humans are obsessed with the idea that today's times are special. That new tecnologies like Internet, Cell phones, AI, Stem cell research, etc. are changing the world like never before. That global warming (a previous post has mentioned some serious inconsistencies with the alarmists of the global warming camp) is how we are killing the planet, and so on...A general feeling that inventions are faster than ever before, that "WE ARE MOVING TOO FAST NOW" etc.

All humans are very interested in their present and want to feel it's special. Even brilliant minds like Taleb fall for this "The present is special" syndrome.

Do you think that the guy who discovered making buckets with palm leaves to draw water from the river or well didn't change the outlook of his town? All townspeople said at that time-this is major discovery, and will change forever the way we draw water. Or a better known example-the discovery of fire. Do you think that is was less significant? Or putting meat on fire to cook it? Or discovering copper and gold? Or the steam engine, the telegraph, the telephone, etc. etc. My point is, that there's nothing special about the present. What is so special to you will be the past in 200 years. And the pace of innovation etc. is the same as before-you think somehow that the man who invented the axe is any less intelligent than the one who invented the washing machine? It is simply our obsession with the present.

It is good to think of improvement as a slow, gradual and constant phenomenon, and the velocity of it probably is the same as before (innovations and improvements per head in the population), or at least is not known. There is no such thing as an "Industrial Revolution" in Europe in 1600 or 1500, it was a gradual, slow move. Smith didn't even mention this in his writings in the 1740-1776 time frame. This was  a word coined later, and it really caught on...you would think that Europeans were doing nothing important before the Industrial Revolution. I am sorry to disappoint you in saying that there are no technological or scientific revolutions-they are your way of making human progress more discrete and probably simply because it becomes easier to remember the time-line of progress by these discrete jumps, and you can write a story much easier with these discrete achievements of humanity (Nassim Taleb mocks at these stories and tells us about how we love to tell them).

Here's what Alfred Russell Wallace wrote in "The Malay Archipelago", printed in 1860:

"During the last century, and especially in the last 30 years, our intellectual and material advancement has been too quickly achieved for us to reap the full benefit of it. Our mastery over the forces of nature has led to a rapid growth of population, and a vast accumulation of wealth; but these have brought with them such an amount of poverty and crime, and have fostered the growth of so much sordid feeling and so many fierce passions, that it may well be questioned, whether the mental and moral status of our population has not on the average been lowered, and whether the evil has not overbalanced the good...:

This is Wallace, one of the most brilliant men of his times-and he fell for "The present is special!". I chuckled when I read this.

Here's a present day example of a big tech guy talking about how Software is Important-it apparently is eating the world. Obviously he is a software buff. In that article, you can replace the word "Software' By Microchips, Telephone, Telegraph, Steam Engine, Axe, Wheel,  Extraction of Copper, etc. and you could come up with the same conclusion, that each of these was such an important thing for humanity!

Many such examples can be culled from published literature since as long as you can find something written (centuries!), where authors, philosophers, etc. are talking and are worried about things moving too fast, too much scientific and technological development etc. It is amusing when you realize that your times are not that special-and one day a few hundred years from now your times will be looked at as the slow, non-technological past; just as you think about the middle ages or life before Christ.

I must point out, that in whatever I have read by Darwin and Smith, I have never seen them falling for "the present is special" fallacy.

The only thing special about the present is that you are alive in it...

Sanjay