From Plato’s cave to Hitler’s superman, the conscious mind wants the world to fit the model in its imagination. It wants information to transcend materiality. It may be that civilisations fail from environmental collapse, but why do their environments collapse? There may be a connection between the random property development of Rome and the religious iconography of Easter Island in their convoluted devotion to information. The mind is always searching for Maxwell’s demon, some way to use information to trick the universe into releasing free energy. Everyone is vulnerable to the fantasy of the almighty, some being with perfect knowledge and the power to reverse or accelerate entropy at will and escape from the conservation of momentum and the speed of light.
The most striking thing about the big heads of Rapa Nui, when they are all together, is how similar they are, as if the Island only ever had one artist. The villa builders of Rome and big head sculptors of Easter Island were not dedicated to information, they were dedicated to duplication. This solipsism reappears in the Sagas of Iceland, where a period of intense fertility was followed by a profound dedication to copying the existing texts to the exclusion of new material. Something similar seems to have happened to the information in Christianity and even Judaism, where periods of exploration ended in informational conservatism, isolation, and intellectual disintegration. Likewise, the information age has not increased the quantity of information at our disposal so much as the duplication of existing information. It is a curious pattern that seems to mirror the environmental collapse and the increase in physical isolation and entropy that are catalogued in Jared Diamond’s work. The most extraordinary thing about Europe before Hitler was the incredible heterodoxy of information, in physics, music, literature and medicine, and especially in European Judaism, and that heterodoxy is something we may never see again.
One other curious thing about that period was its understanding of energy. This was after “energetics” was fully discredited by statistical mechanics and light quantisation, but before the advent of big power companies and universal electrification. Planck could still say that “in nature, we never talk about energy, only the difference in energy.” It was a time when entropy was still respected and energy was understood as a property of things, not a thing in its own right. That understanding ended with the post-WWII industrialisation. Nowadays, the common understanding of energy has reverted atavistically to “energetics”. For all of our information, common knowledge is ignorance.