8.45 am GMT, Thursday 29th September 2130
All eight of them were there in their RCRs, on time, and within five minutes Jocelyn, Maria and Slavica had brought the team up to date with the things they didn't directly know from the media.
"I'm sorry we haven't been able to talk to you as much as we ought to have done," said Jocelyn. "It was a bit fraught now and then."
"Putting it mildly," said Dorothea, voicing all of their thoughts. She had been one of the eleven who had been warned before leaving for fizz to 'get lost' when they arrived. "It's simply amazing how far you've traveled in just a week."
"I do want to say," added Jocelyn, "that John and I don't have any intention to hog the limelight in the foundation. If any of you wants to be part of the team there with us, that's just great. And even if you don't, I hope we can go on as a group. There are some birthdays coming up, and we may find ourselves in different study groups for 19-25. But nothing stops us from carrying on as the group we are, at least in the context of the foundation's work. And we haven't said yea or nay to Michael yet, so we can easily include another couple of people on the payroll, so to speak, if anyone's interested."
"Well, I hope we can keep the group going," said Dorothea. "Actually I would hate to stop, when we've got so far already together. But as far as the foundation is concerned, for me at least I would be happy just to be in the background. Perhaps Maria should be on the actual team though, if she's interested?"
Maria looked as if she was keen indeed, but Lucy and the others just nodded agreement with Dorothea.
"That would be excellent," said Jocelyn. "I was going to ask you anyway, Maria. You're really the one who has a handle on classifying the alignments. Would you like to come in for breakfast tomorrow? Sven will be there, and we need to grill him over how this will actually work."
"Now," said Dorothea, pulling them up. "It's time for class. Shall we meet afterwards to have a go at Slavica's new open RCC?"
The tutorial was curiously flat now that they weren't playing both ends against the middle; and in any case they were within days of the end of the study term, with little or nothing left to do to before moving on to the 19-25 phalanx.
"Cor, that was boring," complained Lucy when they were back in their RCRs. "Let's get on with it, Slavica."
"OK," said Slavica, giving off unusually hesitant signals. "I know you're keen to try the new model RCC, but would it be OK if we tried to have a discussion first about where we're going with this? Any day now I'm going to find myself in the middle of setting up the research foundation, and I really badly need to know what our goals are. 'Our goals'. We're just eight people, we aren't qualified to design the next phase of human evolution, are we? Not that anyone is. But happenstance has put us in a position where we can influence it, quite a lot, even. At least I want to feel that as a group we know what we want, some sort of firmly established basis for what I'm going to have to do."
"That's reasonable," agreed Dorothea. "Is anyone in a rush?"
"I was going shopping," said Lucy, "but I suppose the future of the human race comes first. Only just, though!"
"Maria?" questioned Dorothea. "You're the one with the vision, aren't you? Do you want to start off?"
Maria seemed unphased. "We need to do this. I don't see any alternative to hitting the question head on: is collective living going to be the next dominant mental form on this planet, or is it a curiosity which may be charming, dangerous, lovely, quirky, but ultimately irrelevant? And having answered that question, to ask what has to happen to achieve that result. Well, perhaps in the second case, nothing needs to happen, because that's how it's going to fall out anyway unless someone takes it all by the scruff of the neck and forces the first result. Unlike George the tutor, I'm not asking the question in an academic way, when I already know the answer; I genuinely don't know. I have a feeling about it, which you can guess pretty easily, I suppose, but that's far from being able to justify a particular course of action.
"I think we've got to get out of our heads the problem that 90% of the human race doesn't understand what we're talking about. That was always the case when new paradigms came along. City living in 3,000 BC, organized religion a thousand years later, the State soon afterwards, the Renaissance, the Reformation, even globalization itself. These are the ones we remember, because they were successful in their time. There were others that didn't work out.
"So, forgetting all that, what is the new paradigm that we are dealing with? Surely it's a reversal of the move to separate physical identity? That took place a few billion years ago, and had immense evolutionary advantages which have eventually gotten us to where we are. But in cyberspace there's no obvious advantage to being a separate being. Maybe there are some that aren't obvious, and in that case I am just missing them. Still, a digression is needed here: evolutionary advances take place as a result of competition, never forget. If a species doesn't have competition, it won't change. Why would it? There's no very clear competition forcing humans into cyber-space, unless you want to call it competition against ourselves. There were too many of us; we had to do it to survive. Other outcomes were possible, like reducing our numbers drastically (well, that's what we did, although not in the expected way). Anyway, it was a forced move, whether or not it was the only one possible; and it was very elegant. Definitely it fulfils the test of parsimony.
"Put like that, the whole thing probably sounds too far out. But nothing compels us to surrender separateness, if we want to retain it. I suppose most of us would want to. That's not the question; the question is whether there is advantage to be gained from collective living alongside or together with individual living. We already know the answer to that in general terms, as is evident in RCCs every day, and it's: 'Yes, there is.' So in my mind, that simply leaves us with the unanswered question of what collective living might be like, what its advantages might be for the species, and how someone living collectively might view a return to individuality."
She stopped for a moment. Nobody said anything.
"Perhaps it does all sound too weird. Anyway, just to add at this point that Slavica's focus on telepathy seems absolutely right to me. It's very, how shall I say it, charming, beautiful, wonderful to create our 'alignments', theoretically just as good and interesting as symphonies, Guernicas or sonnets, and I definitely don't mean to decry them. I find it exciting and amazing to do it. Many people would be happy to spend their lives doing such things, as they always have done as individuals, and still do. But perhaps that really is just a spandrel. Telepathy though, or esp in a more general sense, that could be something. If people could combine individual mental powers to create a collective force with which to communicate with each other, influence other groups, or perhaps one day defend ourselves mentally if need arose, that could be really worthwhile.
"I'll shut up now!"
"I do want to emphasize," warned Slavica, "that telepathy may just not happen between RCCs, because of the need for interconnectedness. No-one knows whether non-local phenomena are possible in an inorganic assembly, or even whether psi requires non-locality in the first place."
"Group size is very key, isn't it?" ventured Dorothea. "When does a collection of individuals turn into a group? Two people, three, eight? What we produce when we're eight might be completely different from what we would produce as five, or fifty. That would be something else to test, Slavica, and try to set up a scale of measurement? You might find that larger groups were overwhelmed by more primal emotions, for instance, so the refinement could get lost. Then there's a big training element. We're just thrashing around at the moment. All the organizational protocols in the regular RCCs are designed to handle data; presumably there's a different set of protocols which would be better for handling emotions, and we don't have a clue what they might be. Circuit-breakers for primal emotions, for instance; if too many of the group start to evince say fear and it starts to contaminate the process, there could be an endogenous pulling-back. Or eventually exogenous."
"That's very helpful," said Slavica. "I think what I'll do is to pull together a research brief in the next couple of days and show to you all, and we can hack it about in a regular RCC. At least then I've got some clothes when they call on me!"
"Now," said Lucy. "Can we have some trivial fun, please? All this metaphysics is giving me a headache. Load up the lollipop machine, Slavica!"
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