MOST OF US ACKNOWLEDGE COMPASSION, LOVE, AND EMPATHY TO BE OUR GREATEST EMOTIONS.
They represent humanity at our best. Historically, our spiritual systems have gifted us the most beautiful expressions of these feelings. They come down to us from our indigenous knowledge holders, mystics, dervishes, witches, rabbis, monks, nuns, shamans, elders, gurus, priests, priestesses, and more. Today our artists and poets continue this tradition, along with our healers.
We also prize the human imagination. It is that faculty that allows us to transcend the boundaries of ordinary perception and engage with alternative realities, possibilities, and visions. It is our gateway to new ideas, insights, and creative expression. It is what allows our dreams to enter this world.
But why, if we esteem compassion, love, and empathy and we celebrate our imagination, do fear and scarcity remain our collective psyche’s default, even during times of peace and abundance? To answer this, we need to examine our Primitive Operating System. We must face our collective shadows.
To understand our fears toward AI and AGI, we rewind to our earliest ancestors: arboreal apes who abandoned their forested homes to become bipedal hunter-gathers in the grasslands of Africa. This journey, from trees to terra, which took millions of years, was driven by many factors, most notably climate, but it was precisely our pack-hunting ancestors’ ability to feel fear and project scarcity that allowed them to survive. These emotions were evolutionary tools.
As we continued to evolve, we entered the Paleolithic: a period that began with the emergence of stone tools 2.6 million years ago. While varying from region to culture, this period characterizes around 90–95% of our experience, as hominids. During this time, competition for resources, changes in climate, and difficulties in predicting the patterns of migrating animals meant fear and scarcity remained necessary, thus embedding the program even more.
Our next transition, from homo erectus to homo sapien, which took place around 2–300,000 years ago, led to many innovations, including language and our ability to practice more settled farming techniques, which began around 10,000 years ago. This break with our predominantly hunter-gatherer practices led to the widespread domestication of plants and animals and the creation of large cities.
While this change also varied across regions and cultures, the result was mixed. In many cases, large populations enjoyed greater abundance than at any moment previously. For others the opposite was true. For example, as hierarchical cultures expanded, factors like war, genocide, resettlement, and slavery wiped out whole populations and practices that were previously abundant. This is why we have so much inherited trauma and so little understanding of our deep history. Most human knowledge systems were lost over the last few thousand years.
But the reason fear and scarcity remain our collective psyche’s default is because these emotions became the supreme vehicles for individuals, communities, religions, countries, ideologies, and companies to accumulate wealth or power and dominate or control others. When we watch the news, a political debate, or commercials, this old program is always there, even if in the deep background. This is the narrative that works best for those in power. Or those who want it.