A FRACTAL is the most complex image there is, because it is infinite, and you can’t get more complex than that—as far as we know. Yet, at the same time, this most complex (and most aesthetically satisfying) of images starts out as a simple formula. After a few ‘iterations’ zn+1 = zn2 can quickly metamorphose into the ‘design’ below.
[ It is interesting to consider that the four characters of the DNA code (G A T & C) also seem responsible for generating phenomenal complexity and diversity in the same way… ]
Now, imagine the unfolding of a complex fractal like this from a simple seed-point—like an exploding paint tin or a universal ‘big bang’—only in reverse! Instead of witnessing the initial expansion from singularity to exponential multiplicity (e unum pluribus?), we backtrack and observe how the generated reality gets recalled, faster and faster… until it’s back in the tin! The reverse ‘explosion’ becomes gravitational attraction.
“History is the shockwave of the eschaton..”—Terence McKenna
As this temporal ‘collapse’ continues, the frequency of novelty decreases while the rate of compression increases. This scenario, first proposed by Terence McKenna, is know as the Timewave Zero Theory.
An obvious extension to McKenna’s hypothesis suggests the possibility that the increasing speed of contraction and the diminishing rate of novelty might cancel each other out, creating a virtual ‘still point’, presenting the illusion that nothing in this reality is changing. This would be the ultimate paradox: a dynamic, increasingly chaotic system, experienced as static and unchanging.
Reality Check: Take a moment to look around you. Everything seems the same as it always has, yet you can sense that ‘something’ unusual is happening…
When explaining his Timewave Zero theory, Terence McKenna famously suggested that “history is the shockwave of the eschaton.”—meaning that the propagating ripples of spacetime (or is that timespace?) spreading outward from the 2012 endpoint, back through time, generate node-points of ‘novelty’ (spikes of creativity, invention, evolutionary surges) that become fewer and farther between as the ripples recede into the mists of time.
So, for example: it took mankind perhaps a million years to tame fire; another 100,000 to invent the wheel; a further 10,000 to master language; each interval exponentially shorter than the last. In the first 70 years of the 20th century we went from steam trains… to atom bombs and the moon landings!
Today we have the Internet, the iPad, cloning and Precrime.
The rate of novelty is such that we are likely to progress more in the next few months than we did in the last 50 years—as our evolution is squeezed relentlessly into the endpoint ‘singularity’. More and more complexity: “So much to do, so little time…”
TIMEWAVE ZERO is a numerological formula that purports to calculate the ebb and flow of “novelty”, defined as increase over time in the universe’s interconnectedness, or organized complexity. According to Terence McKenna, the universe has a teleological attractor at the end of time that increases interconnectedness, eventually reaching a singularity of infinite complexity in 2012, at which point anything and everything imaginable will occur simultaneously.
The Joys of Complexity
NATURE loves complexity. This explains why there is such phenomenal diversity in the natural world, with virtually every permutation of life’s potential expressed. This relentless, biological imperative of constant reinvention and improvemnt is all around us. This is why every species procreates—to upgrade the genus. This is McKenna’s ‘novelty’ at work.
We are all familiar with Aristotle’s observation that “nature abhors a vacuum,” but there is much more to Mother Nature’s position than this. She hates ‘status quo’, inactivity, entropy and stagnation: if a life form isn’t constantly improving, adapting, evolving… it is shut down. Sitting on the evolutionary fence, twiddling thumbs, treading water is terminally frowned upon, and the fossil record is replete with species that were ‘retired’. We humans are no different.
“Culture and ideology are not your friends..”—Terence McKenna
IN HUMAN TERMS this undesirable ‘fixed state’ includes any kind of ‘empty’ repetition: any defunct tradition or social ritual, anything we do every day, every month, every year without thinking about it. Any kind of dogma, any law, anything clichéd, outmoded or anachronistic; any political, religious, educational or social structure that doesn’t or won’t adapt or change—flags us for extinction. I’ve said it before, but look around you..!
As a natural part of this biosphere (something which we currently manifestly aren’t) we are biologically hardwired to thrive on complexity, stimulation, new experiences (the spices of life)—and to avoid blandness, repetition and boredom.
Here is a deceptively prosaic visual illustration of our inbuilt preference for complexity:
WE CAN come up with all sorts of reasons why the ivy-covered, exposed-stone side of this house is more attractive than the plain rendered side, but the underlying reason is complexity. If you take a moment to study your emotional response to the two sides of this image, all sorts of subtle feelings will emerge. The right side of the picture has emotional ‘juice’, a vitality, intimacy, humanness: the left is sterile, featureless, disturbing.
We enjoy forested, mountainous landscapes because of their complexity, because we somehow ‘know’ that we belong here. We dislike deserts, snowfields and other desolate domains, interpreting them as ‘alien’. It has been shown that a walk in the countryside, especially woodland, cures depression better than medication. On the other hand the experience of wide open, featureless spaces can induce agoraphobia in many individuals.
Approaching Absolute Zero
So how do we fare for those essential nutrients, ‘novelty’ and complexity, at the beginning of the 21st Century? How well disposed are our governments, our religious and educational authorities, when it comes to providing this vital resource? Not very, it seems. In fact, so reluctant are they, so determind to keep things just the way the’ve always been, that one could easily be forgiven for thinking that it’s part of some huge, long-standing conspiracy…
In today’s so-called advanced Western World, we are (still) ruled by traditional monarchies, democracies or other monolithic, faceless institutions. Our educational and religious systems are similarly rigid, dogmatic, dumbed-down and inflexible. The range of foodstuffs we consume is extremely limited, mainly based on over-refined (often GMO) cereals and sugars and an ever-increasing list of toxic chemical additives—necessitating essential vitamin and mineral supplementation simply to maintain an acceptable level of debility.
So-called ‘healthcare’ is dogmatic, mechanical, chemical: while all natural, un-patentable and holistic cures are proscribed—condemning millions to death each year. The work we do is boring, repetitive and uninspiring: the music we listen to is factory-produced, synthesized, drum-machined garbage. Our children, who would normally serve society by questioning the status quo, have their rebelliousness co-opted, branded and sold back to them, eviscerated and homogenized.
Movies and advertising keep us in in our place by promising an impossible lifestyle that we can never attain. Films are increasingly stuffed with fantastically complex CGI effects stretched over clinically dead screenplays, acting and direction. A cursory analysis of any recent film reveals the exact same torpid storyline: world faces threat, (male) hero needed, hero found but reluctant (usually because of a woman), hero is coerced into action, hero saves world and wins a (different) woman.
The scripts of modern movies are so bad because they are coded to be understood by children—so the indoctrination can ‘take’ at an early, impressionable age. And Hollywood gets away with treating the rest of us like children because the comprehensive debilitating regime outlined above ensures that we never really grow up.
When we compare our stressed Western lifestyle with the vitality of so-called primitive cultures, we may well wonder how far we’ve really come, in human terms—and whether it’s been worth the cost. We may also wonder how long we have left, because, as we’ve learned, nature abhors the status quo…