I'll admit, it's an awful long three-syllable word.
It's also the reason I am so interested in Fiction, especially Hard SF and Cyberpunk. It's why I try to keep tabs on the cutting edge developments in new technology.
In the marginal amount of research that I typically conduct for the posts, I found that Transcendence means different things to different people. There are transcendent religions, a school of thought founded by Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson and around twenty other highly respected individuals. There are any number of other uses for the word in relation to religion, mathematics, and philosophy.
The definition that I imply here is that of being beyond other things, comparatively. Such as a particularly apt pupil might transcend their peers by moving beyond where they are by a relatively significant margin.
Am I trying to be better than everyone else? Certainly not, and to be honest, that's not even the proper angle to approach it from to begin with. The sort of transcendence that I am referring to is our ability as a race to transcend our current existence.
Now, here I must ask for a little latitude with you. This is going to get a little deep, philosophically speaking, but if you've been reading along over the past year, I feel you are prepared. On another note, it could just be the ramblings of a person with a steadily declining mental state.
Who knows? Either way, I'm going to say my piece.
Every improvement in geological, physical, or biological sciences of sufficient magnitude advances our knowledge of ourselves and the world around us. Every generation or so, we reach a point where we are able to noticeably improve our quality of life. Even now, during a economical recession brought on by greed and political indifference, the ground work is being done to bring about such another improvement.
That brings me to perhaps the crux of the situation-society. I touched on technology improving our lives, in ways that include medicinal and transportation improvements, but perhaps our next angle of transcendence is social. The Internet has exponentially grown our ability to communicate, and with a seemingly endless capacity to communicate, there exists within the human mind a need to fill in the gaps, or connect the dots. Therein lies the problem with something that we cannot see the "end" of.
It can be said that the human mind has no grasp of infinity, and I am inclined to agree. Keeping myself on topic here, literature can be used to explain this. Humans cannot entirely escape a good mystery. Our minds are hard wired to complete even rudimentary puzzles, to see patterns that only exist because our minds are trained to seek them out.
Even when no conscious thought intended to create said patterns (creationists, I'll have something for you later), such as seeing fluffy bunnies in clouds or seeing the body of a sexual conquest in a Rorschach inkblot. Neither of these things are meant to be "solved" in the traditional sense. The clouds are merely random patterns of vapor and particulates that are pushed around due to temperature fluctuations and the rotation of the earths axis, yet our minds, perhaps selfishly, assign meaning and form to objects that were not created for our classification.
By extension, if we are able to assign patterns to things that are so beyond us (even developing philosophical theories to explain them away and further feel self-important, such as "chaos theory"), it then becomes obvious that the patterns need not have been created with any "rhyme or reason" behind them, and if there is, it is beyond our grasp. Is it theoretically possible to calculate the flow of particulates, vapors, and the various forces involved to perfectly simulate the motion of every cloud in the sky, for every day from today to the end of time?
Is it necessary? I may not think so, but a meteorologists might disagree with me. Why would meteorologists disagree with me? We have different perspectives on things. Knowing where clouds are going to be, their water content, propensity to divulge precipitation and in what form is quite honestly their life's work.
Me? I get to look up at the pretty clouds and make up stories around their shapes.
Perception is a funny thing, and a big part of the point I am meandering towards. You perceive reality with a level of detail that is only sufficient for what you need to accomplish your day to day tasks. There are those within our ranks that choose to devote their lives to improving our understanding of things to an ever increasing level of detail. These people are called scientists. They discover how things work, the forces that bring about the amazing world we get to call home, the universe, and all of the life contained within it.
As our ability to detect becomes ever more advanced, our vision can see further, our measurements become more exact, and we begin to make inferences into how things can be used. Quantum mechanics happens to be a fascinating field that we are just now scratching the surface of. Soon, our computers will utilize much of what we are lab experiments now. Once we begin to make useful quantum computers, it will drive development in other fields, due to our increasing ability to make sense of larger and larger bits of information.
The more we learn, the better we understand.
Of course, there always seems to be so much more that we do not understand. This is where philosophy and religion come into play, as they are both attempts to explain, or understand, that which is quite honestly beyond us. Who is right? Who is wrong? Does it matter? I am here to tell you that it matters, but not to us as a population-yet. It is my thinking that our personal beliefs are meant to be varied and diverse. If everyone were looking under the same rocks, what a terrible waste of resources that would be.
So everyone perceives the world differently, everyone sees different men/women behind the curtain and it all means something different to us. I realize that I've taken us quite a ways from my original intent, but I'm going to start bringing us back now.
It is just these differences in perception that make requires such a large amount of change before transcendence will be noticeable for a statistically significant portion of the population. In layman's terms-It doesn't matter if you can get cold fusion working in a lab, when it starts lighting up my house we can talk about it's significance. Again, these advancements only truly change our quality of life when they begin to effect our life on a daily basis.
And that is the purpose of Science Fiction, and by extension Fiction in general. Fictional works are designed to explore possibilities, Science Fiction to explore the implications of new technologies in order to show us where it can go wrong, where it can go right, and to take theoretical ideas to places that someone else might not have thought of. Many scientists, those same people that are looking under the proverbial rocks for answers to our seemingly endless list of unanswered questions, were inspired by Fiction they read as a child.
Good Science Fiction writers weave technology through their narratives, splicing in enough entertainment to make the journey worthwhile. The story you take with yourself after you close that book is one of the driving forces behind the continued transcendence of our race. SF stories inspired the breakthroughs of today, and today's SF will inspire the advancements of tomorrow.
Today you can buy car polish with carbon nanotubes in it, something that was a flight of fancy thirty years ago. Today, at the same time as medical implants translate electrical impulses to and from our brains, Science Fiction authors envision a time when our entire consciousness can be interpreted by computers, creating patterns in our minute fluctuations of neural activity that can be read by computer and translated into a computer simulation.
Sound familiar? You've seen it in movies such as the Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, and The Lawnmower Man (the movie, not the short story). You've read it in books. In a cyclical way these stories are getting you ready for the next level of transcendence. Because the invention of a computerized virtual reality network that can replace our reality temporarily sounds like pretty heady business. Our culture won't be ready for it when it comes, let alone right now.
As authors planting these seeds now in Fiction, by choosing to think the thoughts that no one else has yet, to explore the possibilities that no one else has forseen, and to look under the rocks that have been so far left unturned, you are readying the next generation for their transcendence.
But be quick about it, I want to get to space, wield a light saber, and gain the ability to fly (even if it's just inside virtual reality) before it gets to be my turn to hand the torch to the next generation of dreamers.
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