The future of art
Here is just a little speculative essay based on my disciplines in history and sociology. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
First of all, it should be noted that there are 2 dominant theories about the “emergence” of ADHD. Psychiatrists assume that ADHD has always existed, it obviously didn’t evolve in the 1980s, however, since about 2% of adults have ADHD, the question arose if it was part of the neurotypology of mankind, just a variety of normal, or some kind of “other” neurology. It’s debated quite hotly whether alternative neurologies, such as autism, adhd, bipolar, etc… are abnormal or malfunctioning brains, or simply part of the spectrum of natural neurologies. One school argues that ADHD actually represents the “norm” for humans. There is an argument that essentially all humans were impulsive, exploratory, creative, impatient, and strongly emotional, with personal initiative.
The imperfect identification of genetic markers that might demonstrate of genetic cause of ADHD has lead archaeo-geneticists, who get their DNA from the teeth of fossils, and who rarely can get enough to do any testing, so the sampling is quite limited, to test for such conditions in the ancient past. THe findings are striking.
The prevalence of the markers representing what geneticists believe are the neuro transmitter related “aberrations” is MUCH higher in the past. In fact, as high as 80-90%.
Try to think now about what characterizes what we call “attention deficit”. High energy, impulsiveness (exploration), creativity, and volatile emotional states. Including a tendency to anxiety and worry in general. Now, consider life, pre 10,000BC (shortly before the advent of ‘civilization’).
Meandering in groups, moving from shelter to shelter, possibly in makeshift temporary buildings, travelling with the natural migrations of food (delicious mutton!), no groups larger than a hundred people. No clothes. No permanent buildings. No domesticated animals.
It’s theorized based on textual evidence in the earliest civilizations in the near east that Kingship did not exist before civilization. This is… shaky evidence at best, but let’s assume for amoment there were no kings pre 10,000 BC. Groups probably didnt’ need kings (permanent, autocrats, with hereditary power). The differentiation of any social group included very few specialized jobs, and food provided no surplus to support full time craftsmen, artisans, artists, and so on.
Explain the need for the kind of “Attention” that neuro-typical people have. There is none. The amount of work required to subsist is only about 2 or 3 hours a day. The rest of the waking day is free. What to apes do when not looking for food? They play. Fight. Explore. Joke. Groom. Socialize. None of these skills requires the sort of “attention” that NT people exhibit. Presume humans are a kind of ape (that shouldnt’ be hard). SOme of our primate cousins are more curious than others. There is a type of monkey (i wish i coudl remember which) that is so curious, ti actually frequently endangers its life. It literally can not avoid going into any hole it sees. Its been tested repeatedly. Any place you can stick your hand into, or travel into, it will do that. It’s actually kind of envious
Now, evolution is interesting. It produces things at random, and beneficial things tend to predominate. However, things that evolve which do not give any benefit, or any detriment, can also persist. So imagine that “Adhd” is either natural, and beneficial, or, a mutation, but totally harmless in a society without writing, without school, without “jobs” of any kind. And its prevalence balooned to 80-90% of people alive.
Now picture the catastrophic change from pre-pastoralism to agreculture. Gathering fat grass seeds started after the final ice age. But planting those grasses took more time. Permanent settlement followed. One theory is that it was to protect the grass plants from herbivores. But the result was garbage heaps that continued to grow, and attract carnivores, like pigs and dogs. Which in turn were domesticated. Former pray animals like sheep and goats and cows could be fenced in and kept around, fed the grasses that were planted. Food provided a surplus that continued to grow, and soon people could actually work on other things than surviving, full time. The population increased, and the NEED for someone to spend their whole day making tools for everyone else increased. The need to have experts in building buildings, fences, twine, etc… developed. Some people were better at it than others. Society differentiated into people who were broadly more interested in one task over another. Maybe people shared work, but eventually, you have in mesopotamia, a civilization emerge.
the term “civilization” is used to connote a society that lives in a permanent, urban, setting. The earliest cities are on the euphrates, in the north. 8,000 BC, the land there was still very fertile and lush, not just by the river, but in what is now desert. Quickly, the settlements attracted copycats in the south of what is now iraq. By 5,000 BC, iraq and syria were dotted with cities, small things, with populations of a few thousand people.
Picture urban life in ancient iraq. There are a few times of year when strenuous effort is required to survive. Much moreso than before. CLimbing mountains and fording rivers is hard work, but, digging trenches and planting seeds for grass, (wheat, barley, etc..) takes all day. morning to evening. more than one day, in a row. Long work, boring work, and totally contrary to the nature of someone with ADHD. it requires focus.
In many agrecultural societies that planted and harvested as a community, rather than on large individual farms (As is the western pattern now), there are interesting glimpses as to how this boring work was made interesting enough. Planting songs are common around the world. Rhythmic music makes the repeated task a kind of game. Atually, its very similar to “biofeedback” therapy for adhd, where a rythm is produced, and you move your body in sync with the rhythm, swining your arms and touching a sensor on your hip ni time with the beet.
imagine singing, and reaching into an animal skin sack for a seed, and then pushing the seed into the ground, taking one step back, and repeating the task. A simple rythm might make the whole labor a kind of enjoyable hypnosis, where the song takes your focus.
Then there’s the harvest. cutting the grass down, separating the seeds from the chaff, grinding the seeds, and eventually, making bread, beer, and other “civilized” delights. Again, that time is very labor intensive. You have to stay in one place for large periods of time to separate wheat from chaff, and then to grind it. A lot of sitting, a lot of repeated tasks.
Furthermore, in mesopotamia, which was watered by irregular floods of the rivers (unlike in egypt, which essentially has the same flood level every year), in order to maximize low floods, and prevent damage from high floods, an intricate network of the first irrigation system and dam system was established. These projects took weeks to complete, and were pure manual labor from start to finish. However, in order that the irrigation and dams not be haphazard, but actually mutually beneficial, some degree of planning was required. Some “planning” class emerged. If only temporarily, and during the “construction” period of the year. But, temporary or no, the first governors of thousands of people at once emerged. People whose ingenuity, insight, creativity and intelligence, personable personality, and other features, meant that either they easily assumed command of the project, or, they were elected. IN either event, the characteristics are those of ADHD. Sure, many people with adhd are not personable. But creativity, humor, and intelligence are common features of ADHD. as is anxiety. Anxiety is, according to modern neurologists, essentially the byproduct of civilization. If you are in a jungle, and you hear a noise, your blood fills with cortisol and adrenaline, your senses highten, your heartrate and respiration quicken, and you listen for lions and bears and things. You are only imagining the possible dangers, in this instance. You heard a noise, so you imagine the variety of animals that might be out there trying to eat you, and listen for signs of all those animals. Your imagination creates a list of potential dangers.
Take this impulse, and place it in a society where walls keep out all predators. Your imagination can imagine other dangers, and become equally anxious about them. In fact, some people are primed to constantly imagine things, and those who are are prone to anxiety. Anxiety is a creative person’s ailment. If you have no imagination, you can’t imagine society rejeccting you, getting diseases, falling down mine shafts, etc. The same feature that causes anxiety also causes forethought. Dangers imagined are dangers prevented. If you can think of everything that MIGHT go wrong, you can take steps so that they might NOT go wrong. Properly managed, the impulse to anxiety is beneficial for leadership.
According to sumerian mythology, the first mythology to be written down, they did not originally have any kingship. The earliest leaders were “managers”. LIterally, like a boss, hired for a task. There are mentions in the oldest legends of the “old men” and the “young men”, who had to agree to things that the earliest kings proposed. A kind of parliament, or at least, an ad hoc committee, where people’s will was consulted. The king was not an autocrat, and he was not permanent.
But imagine that its beneficial, on an evolutionary level, for people to lose their impulse to anxiety who are not leaders. Who will never be leaders. perhaps its beneficial to lose ones major imagination, and constant losing of one’s focus of the task at hand to imagine other things. It would certainly make planting and harvesting easier.
people who can’t focus when planting, it can be imagined, plant less. People who can’t focus when harvesting, it can be imagined, lsoe more grain when threshing, to carelessness, etc. Carelessness is another feature that defines ADHD.
At this point, society was developing the “Western model” of agreculture. Individual ownership of fields, surrounded by fences. A family being responsible for its own food supply, and paying a tax to the temple, which fed the priests, scribes, and king.
Soon, kings were hereditary. In fact, the sumerians greatly emphasized this concept of kingship as having been created at some point in the recent past, and being essentially alien, but beneficial. In myth, kingship was invented in the city of Kish, sometime in the 4th millenium BC or early 3rd millenium.
By 1000 BC, in the last Assyrian period, states were large empires, cities had up to 100,000 people in them, merchants who travelled form place to place, not merely to trade rare goods and crafts, but building entire commercial empires, had evolved. Religious prophets, artists, writers, sculptors, full time artisans, architects, musicians, poets. Everything we have today, except computer engineers, had been developed.
In mathematics, due to the lack of a system of proofs (which evolved later in the Agean), meant that new mathematical concepts came by insight. Individuals with creativity literally had a flash, and then tested their theory with as many possible numbers as they could, and if it held up, they considered it good. Usefulness would be the test, and insight would be the source. New techniques of casting metal developed, by individual mistake, or individual creativity. The adding of carbon to iron to create steel. technology, medicine, mathematics, science, all advanced by individual insight.
After proof theory originated in the aegean, mathematics had a new basis to invent new knowledge, and prove it. Infact, someone who wasnt’ particularly creative could derive a new equation and then prove it, procedurally.
By the 15th century, experimental science was born. by the 18th century, science was systematized into disciplines, experimental procedure was written down, then replicated by other scholars to test results, and observations were codefied mathematically. Infact, mathematics often predicted observations, and then the observations proved the theorizes trajectory of an obeject, or comet, or what have you.
By the 20th century, city sizes had risen to a couple million at their maximum. Large mechanized armies of international empires were organized, like armies had been since roman times, into a large body of professional, volunteer soldiers, who drilled and drilled, lived a regimented existence, and who were lead by the few people who showed insight, energy, and creativty enough to successfully formulate a strategy that did not result in everying being quickly killed.
Scientists were men of discipline, but who still retained great insight. The individual theorist who sat and pondered and then tested their ponderings mathematically is sort of the classic example of the early 20th century scientist.
Most people farmed, or worked long hours in factories or clerical jobs, construction, or other tasks, while a small professional class of lawyers, accountants, administrators, doctors, psychiatrists, bankers, etc.. existed.
Men who touted their lack of education ran multimillion dollar empires, built on personal initiative, ruthless exploitation, and individual creativity.
BUT, the vast majority of people had “attention”, meaning, they were able to have extremely boring, sedentary existences without crawling out of their skin. Tha thad been the pattern in civilization for the last 8-10,000 years.
Today, the prevalence of ADHD in entrepreneurs and the wealtheist americans is significantly statistically higher than in the general population. Among politicians, despite their long work schedule and difficult lives, ADHD is also significantly higher than the general population. Energetic, able to switch tasks rapidly, leading people reather than waiting to be told wht to do, etc… seems natural.
Among artists, and leading scientists, again, ADHD is significantly above the general population.
However, the future is bleak. Adhd now represents 2% of the population (as adults). Clearly, the trend is to eliminate ADHD.
And what takes over, if that particular characteristic is eliminated? Well, natural selection is a funny thing. Society is now more productive in terms of food than ever before. only 5% of people work on farms, and provide food for the other 95%, including a large surplus. Society has systematized farming to the point where unskilled workers who simply follow schedules provided by managers of factory farms can provide all the food we need. Despite vast technological gains in agreculture, the farmers themselves, and producers of milk, meat, fruit, etc, are less experienced and less educated in those fields than at any point in histoyr.
Humans work longer hours than at any point in history. On average, susbsistence labor in the amazon basin is 3 hours a day. In north america, its 10+ hours a day, depending whose estimates you go with. Some are as high as 15 hours a day.
At the dawn of the industrial revolution, when factory workers worked 12-16 hour days, 90% of people worked on farms. Farms are labor intensive, but in phases. There are long periods of down time. So the average was much lower than today.
Anyhow. Society has invented an agrecultural machine that needs little ingenuity to run.
In science, the development of the think tank has given way to the “research industry”. The purpose of the research industry is to, procedurally, test everything. Gradually, to accumulate knowledge, in a very uncreative, plodding way. it’s almost like a system that is trying to count to infinity. It just ads one, then one, then one. And its able to provide results, with large teams of people, that previously 1 individual, insightful scientist could have provided on his own. A huge team of 50+ people can do the work of 1 truly insightful person, using the “precedures” of research, and get the same results.
In finance, the systems of accounting controls that have been developed over the 20th century have resulted in a corporate existence we take for granted. You can’t get something that’s not on the menu if you go to macdonalds. If you talk to the billings department at a phone company, they dont’ ahve the authority to change your bill. THey have to refer up to their manager. INdividuals don’t have any initiative, because corporations trust their accountants, who tell them that they lose money when people make their own decisions. instead, decisions are made by a few acocuntants, which are then written down, and disseminated in a handbook of policies, that everyone follows. There is some leeway, but you’ve probably been frustrated by the lack of empathy and creativity many times when dealing with the lowest evel of a corporation. Poeople who perform a perfunctory task, unable to stray from the limited dictates of their job and make decisions.
In this respect, society hs created a “system” for maintaining and growing its wealth. one moving further from individual initiative, and towards a group of technical specilaists, uncreatively developing controls in response to numerical data on a page. I used to be an accountant, so i’ve participated in this process. It requires no creativity. You literally look at the balance sheets, the departmental reports, and say “they are spending x dollars. In order to make it y dollars, we should take this away, or that away”.
Gradually, technology has reduced the use of creative people. And reduced the creativity of the average person at the same time.
Now, all of what i’ve said should predict that, gentically, humanity undergoes a change from one kind of thing to another kind of thing, about 10 thousand years ago. If my theory is correct, there should be some evidence.
Well, despite people thinking taht we’ve “Arrested” evolution by our sanitation and medicine, the truth is that humanity’s genome has changed more in the last 10,000 years than in the previous 50,000 years before that. This is the finding of archaeo-geneticists.
HUmanity underwent an evolutionary leap at the beginning of agreculture.
This also predicts that people who live in isolated genetic populations, in the amazon basin, on small pacific islands, etc., who have not developed any particularly intense agreculture, should have a higher prevalence of ADHD. Well, when placed taken from “the jungle” and placed in a modern society, this is exactly what is found. A tendency to have problems staying on task.
it’s now more beneficial to survival, for industrial people, to not have ADHD. ADHD is problematic today.
Another separate but interesting notion is that creative people tend to like more elaborate expressions of creativity. A swiss study on humor found that people who were more creative were more likely to prefer absurd and surreal humor, whereas people who were personally uncreative preferred humor that dealt with stock situations, and stereotypes. Familiar things. Unfamiliar things were simply confusing.
Artists often lament how everything seems to be getting worse, tv is worse, films are worse, music is worse, etc. But the question i put to you is, in the future, assuming this entirely speculative essay above, will there be any artists? Will there be any need for art? I sort of envision a future where “art” is produced procedurally, like food, finance, research, etc. Where generic and uncreative people work in teams of 100 to write sitcoms by some manual or instruction set. That they completely lack any humor, but that the average person merely recognizes it as meant to be funny, and laughs. That kind of person would not only ACTUALLY find it funny, but NOT find funny anything we find funny.
Someone looking at some uninspired panting of a house, or a tree, loving it, ebcause it depicts, as realistically as possible, something familiar, unable to like anything modestly abstract or stylized. The definition of a good artist would shift, to someone who can be uncreative. Increasingly, creative producers of ingenious and authentic experience would fail to reach people, until they no longer exist.
Can the future be so bleak? What will th enext 1000 years hold for humanity?
What if the evolution continues to the point where humans literally become dumb animals, pulling the one lever that it is itheir job to pull, every day, without knowing why, or understanding how it affects anyone or anything, yet always having food, and clothes. until eventually, people are too dumb to know how to repair anyhting, and the system of automatons following their small perfunctory task, starts to starve…
anyhow… just some pure speculation and adolescent simplicity of thought. But fun nonetheless.
One response so far