Op/Ed: Visualizing the Complexity Human Civilization
An explorative response to the socially prevalent prompt that I and others are “too insignificant, arrogant, incapable or uninformed to truly make a difference”.
Human Civilization is certainly a complex, nearly living, breathing organism spanning the entire planet in a multi-dimensional matrix of diverse networks of exchange, interconnecting hundreds of trillions of individual nodes across the planet, only 8e9 of which are human. Everything that we create is to accommodate exchange.
The exchange of energy of varying form: currency, thoughts and ideas, creative expression, social validation, tangible physical commodities, religious principles and values, sexual and emotional stimulation, a sense of security, importance, prestige; these and many more examples are all forms of energy, and the physical, digital, ideological, and other types of networks that we form, serve the purpose of sending and receiving energy.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, humanity has birthed through trial and labor, a near unimaginable landscape of exchange networks, wrapping the planet billions of times over, integrated into and interconnecting everything we have ever created – every human, every device, every thought, idea, and desire. By virtue of the networks we have designed, humanity is effectively a hivemind. Albeit an incredibly inefficient one.
If you were to visualize this network on the global stage, each connection point between participants would look like a glowing string. A visual representation of the flow of energy between people and the expressions/creations of people. 10,000 years ago, these networks looked vastly different.
The planet’s continents would be mostly dark, with distant and isolated illuminated regions, comprised of a few dozen or a few hundred nodes representing individual humans in communities. Most people within each group would be connected to one another as many communities are, and the connections would vary in colour and opacity. Colour indicating the types of exchange, and opacity indicating the intensity or frequency of exchange.
The colour tones of these networks would be few, as the energy that people had to exchange was far less diverse than today. Sex and intimacy, child-rearing, food, protection, social connection, knowledge, and stories; and the networks for exchange would be limited to direct verbal/physical communication or word of mouth.
Groups of these glowing dots represent societies or tribes of humans, and it is likely that these societies would have knowledge of neighbouring tribes and would have social and trade networks connecting them. Even networks of war. Types of exchange would be highly limited in diversity and speed, and most of the planet would be unilluminated, with wispy strands connecting miniscule groups of humans, 5e6 in total global population.
Today, that picture looks vastly different.
In the past 10,000 years, the global human population has grown by 160,000%, from 5e6 to around 8e9 in 2023.
Shanghai China’s suburban region alone, has a population of over 27e6 people, more than 540% larger than the entire global population of humanity just 10,000 years ago. And with modern technology and methods of communication, transportation and expression, the exponential rise in our abilities to extract and process energy from the global biosphere, methods of synthesis to create novel materials, and the universe of possibilities unlocked with every new discovery and innovation, the visualization of human civilization is no longer sparsely glowing lines and dots illuminating a fraction of the planet.
Now, it looks like a hyper-dense, multicoloured, pulsating ball of energy multiple times the size of Earth, excruciatingly bright, and with a density so high that we would be unable to see the surface of the planet through it. If we could, we would see that the volume of nodes has increased dramatically.
Not just to include every human on this planet, but to include everything that we have created. Every business and corporation, every law and piece of legislation, every corner of the infrastructure of every city, community, nation and country, every farm, field, factory, all roads and grids, every home, every appliance, every piece of raw and processed material in every warehouse and transport vehicle, every wireless device, every wire and transistor, every social media account across all platforms, every garden, farm and unit of food produced by agriculture, every point of connection between humanity and the rest of ecology, every video game character, every book and song, every server, every website, every line of code, and every thought, idea and expression shared across long web of the internet.
The nodes within the network now span every continent, and extend between the surface of Earth, kilometers into space.
Not only has the network totality grown exponentially, but it is getting exponentially faster, as we unlock the capabilities of more energy and time-efficient methods of transmitting and transporting energy.
Ten thousand years of expanding awareness, developing tools, and unlocking understanding and possibilities, 10,000 years of communities, societies and nations rising and falling, 10,000 years of thousands of generations of humans living, creating, building, maintaining, birthing, and dying, has led us to this point. 10,000 years of expanding upon foundations laid by billions of years of evolution on this planet.
In the span of history, we have manifested miracles, and molested life in mass, leaving a path of destruction, extinction and creative genius in our wake. Human Civilization is a radically complex, gargantuan knot of energy, with no beginning or end in sight.
And yet, it must all be reimagined, unravelled, and redesigned, all while averting total collapse, within the time limit set by the global biosphere evaporating at an exponential rate, and AI progressing even faster. Points of leverage do exist. Once we define where we want to be and where we are with clarity, there is always a path between the two, and we have access to nearly ALL the tools required to do the work of reshaping this world.
The only resources that are really lacking, are clarity, agency, inspiration, conviction, and appropriate applications of technology which we will doubtless discover along the way. All answers reveal themselves to relevant questions. And any resource can be cultivated and multiplied with effective strategy. How exactly do we go about redesigning human civilization? That is the defining question of this century.
What an incredibly challenging, meaningful, and exhilarating opportunity.
Final note, the belief that we individually or collectively are incapable of grasping complexity or changing the world is a stinky and disempowering excuse to temporarily soothe an internal sense of overwhelm, apathy or inadequacy.
Stop wasting energy by trying to convince everyone else to eat that stuff as well. Complexity just means a (current) lack of understanding of a system with many moving pieces.
Wa-ya Aeon is an entrepreneur, stop ecocide Canada member and graduate of J.V. Humphries High School in Kaslo. Along with this “Human potential is limitless, and the writing shared here is part of my contribution to fundamentally redesigning our understanding of who we are, why we are here, and what we are capable of “.