/ Experts


A Breakthrough, or Breakdown, Awaits Us in the Mid 21st Century


Does medicine inflict harm on humanity? Would humans live more peacefully if they had evolved from lions instead of apes? What is the mathematical formula of historical development? We discussed these and other questions with the editor-in-chief of Historical Psychology and Sociology magazine and a professor at Moscow State University Akop Pogosovich Nazaretyan. (Fragments from the author’s book are italicized.)


2045: Mr. Nazaretyan, what do you think about the ideas of the "2045" Initiative, the goal of which is to create an artificial body, which would help bring humanity closer to attaining immortality? What other ways do you think there are to radically extend life span besides creating an artificial human body? And is there a reason to believe that the world will progress according to that scenario in particular? 

Mr. Nazaretyan: I won’t undertake to say how the world will progress, but I can surmise what depends on what. Unfortunately, humankind as a species is degenerating—such are the unavoidable costs of progress. Can you imagine, in medieval Europe, on average out of 10 children born, two to three passed on their genes, 50% of mothers died in childbirth, only 5-7% of people lived to the age of 40, 1-1.5% to the age of 50, and the majority of children did not live to the age of 10. In that way, there was a constantly stabilizing selection. The value of an individual life has increased extraordinarily since then—modern medicine saves and supports the weak and the infirm. We will have to pay a commensurate price for the enormous achievements of human civilization. Genetic deadweight is accumulating at an exponential rate: every generation is biologically (I should emphasize this, “biologically”!) weaker than the one before it and is more and more dependent on artificial environment. A new biological law is taking shape: if the environmental circumstances are too favorable for an individual, it becomes destructive for the population, for that species . . . 


2045: What a dangerous possibility! What do we do?

 Mr. Nazaretyan: Throughout history, progress has always been a choice of the lesser of various evils. It’s the same way now, when we are going through a critical period in world history. We do not have many choices. We can go backwards, repudiating hygiene and medicine and having pregnant women give birth in barns, which will bring about the extinction of a lion’s share of the population, leaving on Earth in about 100 years mostly what are basically bushmen, or groups that are still not so strongly corrupted by civilization. However, they too will not last long, so that scenario is not one of “rebirth” (as some theorize it would be) but rather one that will lead to the death of human civilization. Without professional supervision, the accumulated weaponry and life-threatening manmade products on the planet will soon “blow up”—and complex life forms will disappear. . . . One recalls the words of English poet T.S. Eliot: “This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper”. . . .

And if you just leave everything the way it is, then in a couple of generations, there simply will not be healthy people being born anymore.


2045: And doctors will have to help everyone out.

Mr. Nazaretyan: Well, yes, but they will not last long. . . . As a result, constructive decisions that create an opportunity to overcome the crisis contribute to progress, as they have in the past. That includes genetic engineering, robotics, extrauterine pregnancy procedures, symbiotic forms of intelligence. All these technologies bring with them great opportunities and, in turn, new threats. In the survival scenario, there is the issue that the history of humankind is essentially coming to an end. The question is: how will it end? In a collapse, or with a transition to a new, “post-human” phase?


2045: Ray Kurzweil claims that this transition will take place by the middle of the 21st century and that in 2045, humans will become immortal. Time Magazine made that prediction the main topic of their February issue.

Mr. Nazaretyan: There is a whole array of independent calculations that predict that a powerful polyfurcation, comparable in significance to the appearance of life on Earth, will occur at the middle of this century. Over the course of billions of years, the acceleration of evolution has occurred in accordance with a simple logarithmic formula. That fact, discovered independently by different scientists, is in and of itself amazing. But something else is still more incredible: extending the hyperbolic curve into the future, we see that around the middle of the 21st century, it becomes vertical. That is called the Snooks-Panov Vertical.

In November 2003, Moscow-based physicist Mr. A.D. Panov, at a seminar at the P.K. Shternberg State Institute of Astronomy, presented the results of his original research. He compared the length of periods between turning points in the history of the Earth’s biosphere over the course of 400 billion years, both in pre-history and in the history of humankind (the Neolithic, the Industrial Revolution, etc.), presenting his results in both graphical and mathematical forms. It turned out that over the course of 400 billion years, historical processes had gradually accelerated; moreover, this acceleration had occurred in accordance with a simple logarithmic equation, represented on a graph as a regular-shaped hyperbola.

The resulting empirical formula, which in and of itself was amazing, was declared a scientific discovery by the seminar participants. However, its extension is still more perplexing: the hyperbola of historical acceleration turns up into a vertical line in the decades to come. Formally, this should mean that the intervals between global transformations will become nonexistent, and the speed of history will surge to infinity!

I took the liberty of designating the resulting mathematical extrapolation “Panov’s Vertical”. But after referring to it in an article in English, I received a letter from a famous economist, historian and biologist in Australia, a leading specialist in global studies, Mr. G.D. Snooks. Mr. Snooks was aggrieved at our having rushed to coin the term and sent along a copy of his own book, in which he makes similar calculations which lead to a rather similar numerical result, though one that is less mathematically rigorous. Therefore he asked, for the sake of fairness, to refer to it as the “Snooks-Panov Vertical” (see fig. 1), a request that Panov and I readily acceded to. . . . 

Kurzweil’s predictions match up well with this curve. I do not think that an alteration in the organism evolving is the most incredible thing that will happen. I wrote an article in Questions of Philosophy titled “Thought Formation as a Global Problem of Modernity”. I link the potential of civilization with how the psyche is built on atomic level, with how splittable the building blocks of the intellect are.


2045: Are you referring to subpersonality?

Mr. Nazaretyan: What are called cognitions, gestalts, or, as Kant called them, “a priori ideas”—how splittable are they? If it is truly atoms, as Kant and Gestalt psychologists surmised, then in an extra-ideological, extra-religious context, strategic ideas, for the most part, are not constructed —they “freeze”. The intellect craves for a Master, a Father, and only when it feels subordinate to an alien will (that is, when it remains a slave, a child) is it capable of preserving reference points for intelligent existence. Soviet psychologists—L.S. Vygotsky, A.R. Luriya—and their foreign disciples criticized gestaltists for having an unreliable sample: all the subjects were university and graduate students and professors, all with European education. And people of other cultures who do not have even primary education do not always perceive geometric figures or complete syllogisms. That supposition was decisively confirmed by studies done by Luriya in Central Asia in early 1930s, and subsequently by American anthropologists in Africa, and so on.

So, if they’re right and cognitive structures are indeed significantly more dynamic than Kant, Gestalt psychologists, and like-minded thinkers presumed, then the intellect has a chance to free itself of dominant religious and ideological dogmas.

The origins of critical thinking lie in the axial period, in the times of Socrates and Confucius, 2,500 years ago. The question is, if the critical thinking of Socrates—free, not based on mystical fears (“Where there is fear, there is God”) — is capable of providing meaning in life over the long term?

And whether the intelligence is natural, biological, or artificial, is not very significant. I have always argued that the intelligence of modern man is artificial intelligence. The only thing natural about it is that it is based on a structure supported by proteins—that is, it’s not the intelligence that is natural, but the brain. Experiments have shown that not only higher functions (cognition) but also elementary mental actions are permeated with values, semantics, and cultural codes.


2045: What is natural intelligence exactly?

Mr. Nazaretyan: Apes and wild wolves have natural intelligence. Incidentally, there has been a study underway for several decades in the U.S. that will be the subject of an article in Historical Psychology and Sociology magazine. A population of apes was taught a sign language. They have been teaching their children the language for three generations now and long ago they learned to lie, joke, and ask questions in it. The questions are, admittedly, not very complex, and they don’t ask “silly” questions yet—that is the prerogative of humans. It’s like an incomplete laboratory model of human evolution—the origins of man, culture, speech . . .

In short, the boundaries between “natural” and “artificial” intelligence are not as indisputable as we intuitively think they are. Transfer of informational processes to an active, non-protein-based structure could end up being not very dramatic, with the mind not “forgetting” its history and, of course, not losing its moral qualities acquired by going through traumatic experiences. The bigger danger is that people could develop Neo-Luddite attitudes . . .

The entire history of humankind can be described as a leap “away from nature”. For example, take the transition from hunting and gathering toward agriculture and animal husbandry. Hunting and gathering are of course activities that are more natural, closer to nature. But with the development of hunting technologies and the growth in Earth’s population, such a way of life led to irreversible breakdowns in the biosphere (the Upper Paleolithic crisis)—and a way out of the evolutionary dead end that came with the appearance of food production (the Neolithic Revolution). This happened repeatedly in the past—these critical episodes in human history are described in great detail in my books. Every successive leap became another step in the distancing of the socio-natural system away from the natural (wild) state. Industrial manufacturing is without a doubt less natural than agriculture and animal husbandry, and information technology is less natural than industrial manufacturing . . .

I should emphasize that it’s not only that humans and, consequently, the society that have “denaturalized”—the anthroposphere has also developed. That is, nature, having become the setting for human activity, has become less wild. On the level of the biota, a park is less complex than a wild forest, but the aggregate diversity (including its social structure) of a park turns out to be much higher.


2045: This seems like Sedov’s Law—certain levels become more complex as others simplify.

Mr. Nazaretyan: Yes, or the law of hierarchical compensations. We named this systemic mechanism, which I helped formulate in the 1980s, after Yevgeny Alexandrovich Sedov immediately following his untimely death in 1993. The basic idea is that in a complex hierarchical system, having limits on the diversity of support structures helps ensure growth in aggregate diversity. This law holds in physics, chemistry, biology, cultural anthropology, sociology, psychology, linguistics, and in all other fields. Rather amusing methods for limiting diversity have evolved in biocenoses. For example, in a tribe of monkeys, there are so-called wandering males, who migrate from tribe to tribe, passing on their genes at every stop. Thanks to those male apes, there is no divergence of every tribe into a separate species.


2045: And what goal is nature pursuing by eliminating diversity?

Mr. Nazaretyan: Perfection! Uncontrolled growth of diversity would cause a collapse into chaos. For a stable lack of balance you need a maximum amount of diversity at every stage.

Imagine: One person spells “pencil” with an “s”, someone else writes “cau” instead of “cow”—and written language falls apart. God resorted to this technique in order to prevent people from building the Tower of Babel—he created diversity in language, and the builders ceased to understand each other. In order to preserve mutual understanding, the compatibility of phonemes, lexemes, morphemes, and word forms must be limited—then there will be a greater variety of comprehendible texts...


2045: What do you think about the stages of work the "2045" Initiative is proposing? We propose to begin with an artificial body controlled through a neurointerface and to move in the direction of complete abioticism.

Mr. Nazaretyan: It’s difficult for me to make an evaluation as far as the technical nuances go. But I think that in the best-case scenario for evolutionary development (that in which civilization survives), in the decades to come we will need to very seriously revise our understanding of such concepts as “human”, “animal”, “machine”, “life and death”, “cognition”, “psyche”, “soul”, and many others. 


2045: Do you think that society is polarized with regard to these ideas? For many people, the things we’re talking about seem straight out of some Jewish-alien conspiracy...

Mr. Nazaretyan: The question is, once again, which direction things will go in and how global civilization will cope with the polyfurcation phase to come in the middle of this century. In the best-case scenario, in a few decades’ time there will be a radical shift in what kind of problems face the world—I’ve written about this many times. The main problems that currently exist—political conflicts, energy crises, environmental issues, genetic engineering, health care—will be resolved. These are problems that are basically resolvable given sufficient technological development. At the same time, people will stop identifying themselves with large groups, i.e., there will be no Muslims and Christians, Russian, Chinese, or French people...

The cultures of large groups, which have their origins in confrontation (the “them and us” paradigm)—between nations, ethnic groups, religions, classes—are preserved in carnival form, in outer appearances. But on the deeper level of fundamental values, world views, and behavioral norms, these cultures are unified. As a result (according to Sedov’s Law), the diversity of small cultural groups will increase, and the world will gravitate toward being organized on the basis of networks. Thus the crucial “global” problem of the middle of this century could become the clash between the natural and the artificial. People could develop neurotic fears and phobias and corresponding feelings of aggressive Luddism.


2045: What kind of ideology will be relevant in the near future? Can we predict how human interrelations will change?

Mr. Nazaretyan: I already answered the second part of your question. As for ideology, I think that in the best-case scenario, it will fade into the past. If the differences of large groups dissolve, then ideologies will not take shape...

In their studies of animal behavior, biopsychologists have discovered a curious phenomenon that has been given the name “the law of ethological balance”. It holds that the more powerful a weapon nature endows this or that species with, the more durable is its members’ instinctive ban on killing their own kind. From this, the eminent scientist and Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz made a clever conclusion: “It is a pity that man . . . does not have ‘a predator’s nature”. If humans had evolved not from such biologically benign creatures as Australopithecines but instead from, for instance, lions, then the history of society would contain fewer wars.

Taking up an artificially sharpened stone flake, Handy-man (Homo habilis) once and for all destroyed the ethological balance, holding the natural population back from self-destruction. In cultural anthropology, that crucial stage has been designated the existential crisis of anthropogenesis. In response to that provocative designation, American “socio-biologists” (E.O. Wilson) performed special studies that showed that per capita, modern humans kill each other significantly less often than lions, hyenas, and other powerful predators . . .

The conclusions made by the socio-biologists pinpointed a fundamental question that stands before anthropology, sociology, and psychology: Having been freed of natural limitations and consequently having built up the power of destructive technologies, why people have not yet killed each other and destroyed the environment?


2045: What has prevented humankind from dying off?

Mr. Nazaretyan: I suppose that a “herd of neurotics” has survived in which psychasthenia predominates and genetically strengthened forms of behavior are broken down. Members of this “herd” also possess incredible neuroplasticity. The rudiments of animistic thought have formed in such individuals—an unnaturally developed imagination has developed a tendency to ascribe living attributes to a dead body. A deceased family member who is expected to carry out cruel and unpredictable actions has become an object of the most intense fantasies.

Such a set of circumstances, complemented by various forms of “compensatory necrophilia”, are clearly discernable in modern-day aborigines as well.


Russia 2045: It seems not only in aborigines!

Mr. Nazaretyan: Neurotic fear of a vengeful corpse is what brought about the first artificial limitations on intragroup killings. This manifested itself in ritual activities with regard to the dead (beginning with the tying of their legs)—as well as in care given to sick and wounded relatives, behavior that is illogical from a biological perspective—aimed at preventing their turning into dangerous corpses. 

Most likely, necrophobia prevented early hominids from self-destruction and became the seed from which the many-branched tree of human spiritual culture subsequently grew.

In the 1970s, at the end of the Vietnam War, it was discovered that a large Paleolithic tribe of mountain Khmers had disappeared, a tribe that have lived in southern Vietnam for thousands of years. It turned out that the reason for the aborigines’ death was that they had gotten their hands on some American semiautomatic rifles. After figuring out how to use the weapons and coming to understand their advantages over bows and arrows, the primitive hunters destroyed the fauna and wiped each other out within a few years.


Russia 2045: It turned out that necrophobia alone was insufficient!

Mr. Nazaretyan: When a society takes a leap immediately through several technological phases, things happen quickly, and evidentiary links are easily reconstructed when you have fresh tracks. The ethnographers that were part of the expedition team easily discovered what had caused this sad story, since similar episodes had been observed in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia: the explosive combination of modern technology and primitive psychology undermined the tribes’ ability to survive.  

Analysis of the many crises of anthropogenic origin at various stages of social history (and pre-history) reveals a logical relationship between three variables: the “strength”, “wisdom”, and “survival ability” of a society. The greater the power of manufacturing and military technologies, the more advanced the cultural regulations need to be for the society to survive. This law—the “law of techno-humanitarian balance”—has held for all of human history and pre-history.


2045: This hypothesis is essentially similar to the famous saying, “If you have strength, you don’t need brains”!

Mr. Nazaretyan: The hypothesis of techno-humanitarian balance explains not only episodes of self-destruction in flourishing societies, but also much more uncommon (and still more mysterious) occurrences of breakthroughs of transitional human cultures into a new historical era. When an anthropogenic crisis has spread across a broad geographic area with a high level of cultural diversity, its inhabitants have managed to find a decisive way out of the evolutionary dead end. There are no fewer than seven crucial moments in the history and pre-history of humankind following major anthropogenic crises. Every time, they were accompanied by an advance (a rise in specific productivity) in technology, an increase in the complexity of society, growth in the intellect’s capacity to retain information, and reorganization of the value system.


2045: Therefore, every technological breakthrough must immediately be accompanied by a growth in humanism and awareness, and otherwise we can expect civilization to collapse?

Mr. Nazaretyan: Yes, only you have to remember that this is a rather dramatic and double-edged process—a process of serial “scrapping” of cultural values that no longer align with new historical realities. This has often been accompanied by the physical death of those who hold an obsolete world view.

Only because these comprehensive changes have become, for the most part, irreversible has humankind managed to survive to this point, consequently augmenting the power of technology. By having regularly faced crises and disasters caused by their own actions, people have adapted their thinking toward increased instrumental power and refashioned the natural environment according to their own criteria (i.e., “humanized” it, and not just destroyed it, as environmentalists like to argue). Every time, humans’ niche environment expanded and deepened, but later there would be a new increase in needs and new territorial claims, and . . . they were on the path to the next crisis.

One of the meaningful consequences of this model of techno-humanitarian balance is that the population density that a given society is capable of sustaining is proportional to the moral maturity of the culture and indicates the number of anthropogenic crises that have already been successfully overcome.


2045: We must hope that humankind, having already overcome so many difficult crises, will break through this time as well!

Mr. Nazaretyan: I think that we can work together with the "2045" Initiative. As in a good football team, we shall have a balance of “old” (experienced) and young players. On May 25, the Academic Council of the Institute of Oriental Studies established a new branch—the Euro-Asian Center for Big History and Comprehensive Forecasting. Among our research topics will be global forecasting and projects based on the study of universal mechanisms of the evolution, intensification, and surmounting of crises. Our forecasting methodology is also built on knowledge of psychological mechanisms, since if you don’t account for them, even the shortest-term predictions end up being tragicomically inept.

Akop Pogosovich
Ph.D. philosopher and psychologist, editor-in-chief of Historical Psychology and Sociology magazine, and a professor at Moscow State University

“The intelligence of modern man is an artificial intelligence . . .”

/ experts
More opinions

Login as user:

If you are registered on one of these websites, you can get a quick registration. To do this, please select the wesite and follow the instructions.

Login to 2045.com

You do not have login to 2045.com? Register!
Dear colleagues, partners, friends! If you support ​the 2045 strategic social initiative goals and values, please register on our website.

Quick registration:

If you are registered on one of these websites, you can get a quick registration. To do this, please select the wesite and follow the instructions.


Field of activity:
Enter the code shown:

Show another picture

Восстановить пароль


Contact Email:
Attachment ( not greater than 5 Mb. ):
avatar project milestones