“With our super-plastic neocortices and well-organized senses, Homo sapiens are the gluttons of the informavore world. We are uniquely skilled at acquiring, processing, and ordering information, and uniquely versatile when it comes to letting that information shape who we are. And when we are deprived of sensory information, like a prisoner in solitary confinement, we conjure sometimes fantastical information-rich worlds from the darkness to feed our inner informavore.”
– James Suzman
We are informavores. Wired to inhale information as ceaselessly as we inhale oxygen, in order to fuel our wildly adept imaginations. These imaginations, evolutionarily speaking, help anticipate innumerable possibilities in the world, and in-turn, help us adapt, and survive.
What happens when this informavore engine is revved to it’s ultimate limit? What happens when this informavore engine is truly liberated to concern itself with infinite musings that have absolutely zero to do with food and shelter?
The truth is, modern life is exactly this way.
When hunter-gather societies existed over 12,000 years ago, our miraculous imagination was utilized almost exclusively to take care of self and tribe. Based on anthropological study, further bolstered by DNA-driven archeology, scientific consensus suggests hunter-gatherer (or foraging) societies thrived for over 300,000 years before agriculture came around, merely 12,000 years ago, and unshackled us from the survival game. Initially agriculture was brutally hard, but after 5000 years of mastering crop rotation, modified species of plants, use of animals and slaves, and finally, fossil fuel – extraordinary abundance boomed and changed the course of humanity forever.
The Great Divorce
This moment of separation is The Great Divorce. The moment when our minds, used almost exclusively to keep us alive for hundreds of thousands of years, were able to reach escape velocity from survival… and pivot attention toward other matters.
The primal urge that eternally stokes our informavore diet – boredom – found new life in a new world of imagination – abstraction, culture, stories, beliefs, inventions, material goods, laws, philosophies, entertainment.
No longer do any of us wake up and think about hunting for food, or searching for wild plants from a provident land. The majority of us, or approximately 98% of humanity in the United States today, are free from foraging and farming. Free to have jobs, be artists, play games, and invent all sorts of ways to occupy ourselves, or, simply be amused by the imaginations of others on a streaming service or app of choice.
We are pampered apes, who, in the aggregate, have lost sight of our origin story and are now simultaneously wowed and bewildered by the reality of modern life. Our informavore mind submerged in an ocean of physical and mental superfluity, most of which, in the long-run, doesn’t matter very much… if we are being very honest with ourselves.
This Is Wild
It’s actually very hard to appreciate how absolutely absurd this is – as this is the only way of life we’ve ever known. We – the generation alive today – were born directly into this extraordinary abundance. We take this to be a given. We immediately latch-on to the myriad and contradictory and confounding stories offered to us by overlapping cultures – whether based on our physical location, what we consume on the internet, our political affiliation, or [insert your identity here] – we draw millions and millions of imaginary lines between ourselves and others, and obsess about them, war over them, worry about them, literally believe them to be life itself.
As beautiful as all the fruits of the human imagination can be – music, art, love – they are equally maddening – dogmatic religions, holy wars, status, envy, jealousy… all sorts of wild primal instincts trying to find footing in a world of extraordinary abundance and projected fantasies. An overwhelming information landscape, an anxiety-fueled gauntlet of pursuits and accomplishments and dreams that, at the end of the day, conceal a simple foundation we have almost totally forgotten – simple survival and wellbeing.
Why So Serious?
I can’t BELIEVE I’ve been alive for so long and only now realize civilization is layers and layers and layers of make believe. I am SO relieved! Man… You guys really had me going a minute. I love your work, humanity. Wow. Stunned. Two wildly enthusiastic thumbs up. 👍👍
I kid. But also very serious.
Our stories are just stories, and it’s really hard to see that. Once you do, wow – does life feel a million times lighter than it used to.
YES, of course, the world rages on, people sling venom, dystopian prophecies accumulate, but, you know in the back of your mind – always and forever – you don’t HAVE to buy into any of it. You can actually engage with it less seriously, be a good citizen in the world, realize all of us humans are essentially the same, and maybe, just maybe, make the world a better place with your influence.
There is no reason to let fantasy dominate our lives. Imaginary distinctions between ourselves and others. Dreams that require expending enormous energy on, for profoundly selfish reasons, to finally be “happy”. No no no… happiness is available every minute, every day. Just go outside and go for a run, or something. That’s it. That’s life. We won already.
I am no anthropologist nor DNA archeologist, but fortunately, an incredible (sincerely, incredible) book provides the rigorous science behind this reflection, which I will be writing about more extensively and sharing very soon. Work, by James Suzman.