What do I want to do when I grow up?

If you’re reading these words and you’re not an archiving bot sifting through the digital detritus of the early internet a thousand years from now, you were born as a squishy bag of meat. The fact that you are the particular sort of meatbag that can perceive light to such fine detail that you can interpret the squiggles that make up this sentence and convert them to meaningful electrical signals in the spongy bit of meat above your food hole is nothing short of amazing.

I, too, am that sort of meatbag. I  am writing this by pushing the dangly bits that hang off my flippers into a tool that sends electrical signals to another tool that some other meatbags invented. That tool is connected to a worldwide network of tools that are connected to each other via radio waves, thing strings of copper and strands of glass pulsating with light.

Every day that you are alive you are experiencing a symphony of sensations, emotions and thoughts that clatter about in a cacophonous kaleidoscope that your consciousness has the gall to call “life.”

How anyone experiences even a moment of boredom in this situation is incomprehensible.

So, given that we’re all squishy meatbags that have developed, to a greater or lesser degree, the capacity for rational thought and reflection, it really behooves us to take the opportunity to learn and explore as much of this life and planet as we can. It is an opportunity too rare and special to be taken lightly. For a brief period of time you get to perceive what is happening, interact with others, feel tingly sensations and see the light of a star reflecting off of everything around you, warming you and causing everything around to grow and change.

It’s no wonder that our deepest longing is for all of this to go on forever.

However, our meatbags are maddeningly unreliable and fragile. It seems that shortly after we’ve lived long enough to get a handle on what is important and worth paying attention to — the meaty bits of our person start falling apart.

You see, the part of your meatbag that learns, enjoys and wants to live forever is an accident. The genes that are driving our evolution are unconcerned with metaphysics. The genes are information. The cells that make up the smallest unit of meat before you get to the holy scroll of information encoded in patterns of chemicals twisted together into a tiny strand. That strand is at the root of a system that is attempting, blindly and carelessly, to live forever. So far, it’s working. Since this chemical reaction first began, it has persisted, overcoming every obstacle by changing itself into something new. As it did, it defused into billions, no, trillions of branches. Each branch an experiment, a slight variation on the previous iterations. Successful branches blossom, failures wither.

Lately, in a rather bold move, at least one set of branches has hit on competing with big malleable brains. We have these big rubbery bits that are capable of thinking and imagining. It’s an ability so interesting and exciting we forget that thinking and imagining are not ends to themselves.

They’re really just result of an out of control recursive loop that kept making our brains bigger and our social and intellectual lives more complicated. Our genes were just trying to make really neat and adaptable babies and we ended up with science and Shakespeare.

So here we are, meatbags with short lives and big brains, experiencing a universe too big to comprehend, art too beautiful to describe, love too intense to bear and hopefully enough joy and laughter to make it all worthwhile.

So, given the urgency of experiencing life to its fullest, what do I want to do with the rest of mine?

I’m curious about using the information infrastructure we share to explore and learn. I’m excited about the opportunity to engage and connect with communities outside of the limits of space and time. I’m fascinated with the surprises that result when you mix algorithmic certainty and individual eccentricities on the web. I’m interested in creating tools that expand influence, share ideas and leverage the motivations and incentives of meatbags like me.

Lance Cameron Kidwell

13 May 2011

Posted in Culture, zen

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