What comes to your mind when you look at ancient art? Those marble statues or the Greek pots that we have learned to associate with the Muses? Worst case scenario, you know of them from Disney movies.
Ancient art gives me a severe case of “memento mori”. Studying ancient art with a modern lens, it turns out that the elements we admire are nothing more but phantoms of imagination. Nonetheless, we, of course, are excited by these phantoms because they live in the same sections of our brains and excite the same pleasure. The most powerful Gods tell us of history, as Jordan Peterson points out. Yet, when we try to take their art and myths apart, it turns out that “Half of what [they] said meant something else, and the other half didn’t mean anything at all”, to quote Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”.
This makes me realise that our culture, art and philosophy are as transient as they were then, and our corporate ideals will crumble just like the kingdom of Ozymandias. But what will replace them? We do not know, but it is curious to fantasise about it. Through myths, we have had the metaverse since ancient times – but now it is more tangible than ever. The metaverse may give a better peek into the future than contemporary history, because frequently it has a big impact on the latter. To illustrate, a thousand pieces of Cambridge Union gossip are inferior to but one appearance of Stephen Fry, yet guess what is discussed more.
So where is it leading us? An artist by the name of Nusi Quero offers a suggestion – even more bold than those of Nietzsche. The former mainly focuses on making otherworldly lingerie and 3D models that depict spooky and filamental “gods” of the future. In one of his posts, he pictures a future scenario where he designs skin enhancements that match the beauty of his dreams, with imaginary critics claiming that humans are so audacious so as to try to evolve into god.
Evolve into god! As much as it sounds like an artistic allegory, we are not far from it. For example, what if we create a synthetic force in a Universe enforcing our morals, making it human? It is conceivable that we may invent a system so universal and precise that it would become indistinguishable from a physical law. If we were suddenly to disappear with all our knowledge, the next generation would find themselves in a world where, mysteriously, everyone is taken to jail by machines if they attempt to kill another human. To them, there would be some absolute moral truth in the Universe!
Or we could create a huge, ever-present, previously unmatched intellect – and we could become it, perhaps also letting go of our evolution-dictated appearance and starting to look more like the eyeless and erotic “gods” of Nusi Quero. Our culture already evolves so fast in the metaverse, creating artificially intelligent deities. We are dancing with the AI – much like Merritt Moore and Alice Williamson.
Perhaps we only struggle with the meaning of life and other unanswerable questions of philosophy because the answers to them need to be created rather than conceived; and created not in the sense of “forging our own destiny” but rather forging reality in our name. Would creating those answers not be the artistic Utopia we seek? The Universe itself could become our canvas. I believe there is great potential in such aspirations, however audacious and perilous they are.
Maybe, one day the Universe will speak back. And it will be exactly the voice we want – because we will be its creators.