I am so thankful I live in this era in history, and for a variety of reasons. One of the main ones is the one that we all take for granted every day, the technology that is advancing exponentially by the day. Only a few decades ago, they invented the first computer that took up an entire room. Now, our calculators have more processing power than that one did. In the course of fifty years, we have gone from the first satellite to bringing half a dozen or so live astronauts into space. We have gone from the old snake and pong games to the cusp of virtual reality. We have gone from the telegraph to the handheld PCs which many of you own. Even war, which has for centuries been based on manpower enhanced by technology, is becoming technology enhanced by manpower, which is terrifying.
In just the past century, technology has exploded, and the potential it has is incredible. But where is it going? That question has many answers, but one of them that I am personally most excited about is virtual reality, which I hope to be able to experience within our lifetime, and maybe even get the chance to work on. You might say that full-dive virtual reality is further off, but I don’t think so. We already have the occulus rift, google glass, and we are in the middle of developing technology for reading brainwaves. You doubt that statement? I’ve seen multiple Ted talks on it from various neuroscientists. Imagine full-dive virtual reality, and its implications. Inception wouldn’t be so much science fiction anymore. Okay, maybe that’s going a bit far, but you get the idea; the practical and everyday applications for virtual reality are astounding. Astronauts could be trained in virtual reality, rather than expensive live simulations. To take an example from Inception, military training could be reinvented. Those with disabilities
would be able to experience a world without those inhibitions, even for just a little while. Even regular people would be able to experience worlds never seen before. Imagine a simulation based on data we’ve gathered from space, being able to see the universe firsthand, or the example I’m sure some of you are thinking: a virtual reality video game. There are hundreds more applications, and the idea that technology is only limited by human imagination will become even truer. Some applications are not so uplifting however. The ethics of this technology could be disturbing as well, we already know from psychology that human memories can be changed relatively easily, and if full-dive virtual reality is developed imagine how easy this could be. Just the idea of being able to access the brain through a computer is scary, never mind entering a simulation.
Virtual reality is also only one of the thousands, maybe millions of directions technology is going as we live our lives, and others such as drones or surveillance technology are equally fascinating and disturbing. Ever heard of lethal autonomy? Edward Snowden? These are the technological issues that our generation will deal with. Technology is affecting our everyday lives to an enormous degree, and it will only continue to do so as the decades pass. Virtual reality is only one of the many technologies we may and already do have to decide how to use and for what purpose. Technology affects our politics, privacy, weapons, entertainment, and much more. This millennia has already greater advances than we have ever seen throughout history, and I am thankful that I get to see it during my lifetime.
The Ubermensch: a person who has a greater purpose and is fortunate enough to have the means to do so. This is a fascinating concept to me, that there are some people who are highly intelligent and are at the right place in history to pursue their aims. It is a disturbing concept, that one person can hold power enough to rattle the entire globe and the potential for both good and evil that those people have. Fyodor Dostoyevsky gave the example of Napoleon, though I would also include Hitler and Caesar. All three men were intelligent, and seized the opportunity for power presented them to attempt to dominate their region and dramatically changed history.
As disturbing as this concept is, especially in Hitler’s case, we seem to be fascinated with this concept, the concept of a chosen one. We see it in various movies, tv shows, books, etc. where the main character starts out as unnoticed, a regular person in society, and something happens to them that enables or sometimes forces them to become an important person in power that causes some dramatic change. Katniss, Tris, and Eragon from the Hunger Games, Divergent, and Eragon series respectively I would argue are all modern day concepts of the Ubermensch. We see this idea in ancient history with Aeneas in the Aeneid, and there are likely more examples from ancient myths.
I also found it interesting that even though in stories the Ubermensch sometimes succeed in what they are trying to do, the Ubermenschs from history did not. Ceasar was assassinated, Hitler committed suicide, and Napoleon died in exile. I think this contributes to Dostoyevsky’s point that no one is above the law, and no one can decide that someone’s life can be sacrificed in
pursuit of a greater cause; no one should ever have the power to decide that, because in the end everyone is evil, and that power does not end up benefitting humanity, the ends do not justify the means. The perfect example for the horrors these people can execute is Hitler, who was hailed as a hero before he committed the atrocities he did. In Rodya’s case, he murdered to get himself on his feet in society, and ended up squandering the murder and realizing he had only murdered for the murder’s sake.
In stories, conversely, the Ubermensch succeeds as often as they fall. Some die, some live their lives removed from the scene after they have done their work, and some fade into the background completely. While the concept of the Ubermensch is well-intentioned, it seems that Dostoyevsky was correct when he said that the ends do not justify the means, for the conceptual ends are often merely a justification for the potentially atrocious means.