As global citizens in 2021, we might feel, at times, as if we are an ant on an aircraft carrier. We know the ship is headed for the rocks, but we are just too small to do anything about it.
We could always wake the skipper, maybe? Perhaps bite her, or him, on the toe? Alas, as any ant who has been to the bridge will tell you: ‘Hey guys, there is nobody there’. Nobody is driving this ship.
Just as nobody is driving our planet. And so we go on, living out our lives on our respective decks. Each of us an individual little ant, living in an individual little ant colony, going about our daily business. Each colony with a queen ant, but at the end of the day, nobody is steering the ship. And we are heading for the rocks.
Oh well, we might think, there is nothing I can do. Right? So, we go on about our business: copulating, populating, consuming and polluting. Let’s even chew out the steering system. It is not going to matter anyway.
That is the ant on the aircraft carrier state of mind.
It is a completely understandable mindset. But is it really the right way of thinking?
Well, we sure are small. And we sure feel helpless. But it just doesn’t feel right.
Maybe it doesn’t feel right because we also know, intuitively, that things that are much smaller than ants can, and do, change the world.
Picture a neuron. A neuron is a single brain cell, one of the billions of nerve cells that make up the brain. Each neuron is connected to other neurons by cells called ganglia.
Just like us, neurons are born, they consume energy, they do stuff, and they die. The stuff that they do – that they are programmed by their DNA to do – is: to receive information through electrical pulses, and pass information on. Clock on in the morning, shoot off pulses of information to one another all day, and clock off at night.
The information they pass on to one another via the ganglia might be a sensory input from outside the body, or just a piece of information that they have received from another neuron. Input, output. That is what they do.
It is when enough of them output information in a certain way that the brain as a whole makes a decision. And that decision is what the weight of relevant neurons figured out was in the best interest of the whole lot of them. That is how we survive.
Now, have a think about this: Move the index finger on your left hand, ever so slightly. It moved! This was the work of a bunch of neurons smaller than a pinhead. Each neuron a billionth the size of your finger. But a group of them just used your left arm – as if it is was a conveyor belt – to send information to the muscles in your arm to engage them – like a massive pulley system – to move something more than a billion times the size of any one of those neurons that activated your finger.
The neurons were able to do this because they worked together.
Let us not forget the brain has no king or queen, no president, no master neuron. There is no captain of that ship.
It is the connectedness of neurons that allows them to do things.
Now, if a neuron can work with other neurons to cause a finger to move, then it follows that they can do a lot more. They can even steer a ship. In fact, when you think about it, it was neurons working together that built all the ships in the world in the first place!
So, maybe it is time for us, the people of the world at this time, to start surrendering that feeling that we are as helpless as an ant on an aircraft carrier, and to start acting more like neurons in a brain?
But wait! We don’t have ganglia! Right?
Not quite. We didn’t have ganglia. But we do now. In the last 30 years – and especially in the last 10 years – humanity has developed a kind of ganglia: ‘the internet’.
Through the internet we can communicate information to each other across the globe, instantly. Just like neurons, we can now shoot electrical pulses to each other as to what is the best thing to do. Not only that, we have all the information in the world at our fingertips to help us make good decisions!
So, at last, there is nothing stopping us from working together, like neurons, to fix up the world. Right?
We haven’t done much with our ganglia so far. Statistics show that most of us use the internet for idle gossip, entertainment, personal research and self promotion. But maybe this is just a phase. Maybe we are kind of like kids who have just discovered our ganglia. Maybe we are using it, momentarily, to check out the world around us, and our relationship with it, before we bunker down and start using it to do something useful.
The only way to find out what we are capable of doing with the internet is to have platforms on it where we can use it ‘properly’. Where we can communicate with each other about what we think is best for all of us, and how we are going to do it.
Because the more of these platforms we have, the more we can learn how to drive it.
And the more we learn about how we can drive the internet, our ‘ganglia’, for our common good, the the better the chance we have of turning this ship around.
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