When we consider the development of Western philosophy, we can generally group major leaps in intellectual thought into a number of eras: the Classical era of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. It was during these periods of time that revolutionary new ways of thought were introduced and knowledge greatly disseminated throughout society; in turn, it was the thought of these eras that the foundations of our civilization were built upon. Outside of the philosophy of the West, however, thought has also rapidly developed during periods of great intellectualism and discovery and stagnated during periods of economic, societal, or intellectual downturn. It is perhaps natural that this is the case: thought and philosophy ebbs and flows with the changing societal, cultural, religious, and political environments of the time.
Since the Enlightenment, which produced the political philosophies off of which most of the world is now built and operates: – liberty, social equality, and reason to name just a few – there has been a lack of revolutionary forward progress in philosophical thought. The rise of socialism and the resulting new economic and social theories of the 19th century marked a period of brief development, but these theories were isolated from a greater culture of intellectualism and thought that was more apparent during the Enlightenment and Renaissance. Though a number of prominent thinkers and philosophers, many of whom have contributed significantly to the wealth of human knowledge, have lived during the period since those eras, their lives and works have not necessarily produced a new ‘era’ of thought. Simply put, the world continues to build off of the thoughts of a previous era, and is still waiting for another intellectual revolution.
The world of today is a markedly different place than 50 years ago, and is continuing to rapidly change. Humanity has moved into a new era: the information age. The rise of the computer and now the internet has connected humanity in a way that has never before been possible. Literally all of the knowledge of the human race is available to anyone’s fingertips, so long as they have the internet. The implications of this might be enormous: this might be the necessary foundation for the development of a new era of revolutionary thought and intellectual development. In the past, so much thought, culture, and progress was lost to history and thus the future because of various circumstances. Lost thought cannot contribute to the forward progress of humanity. With the computer and its enormous capacity to record and store information, however, this will no longer be a problem. So long as something can be recorded and put onto the internet, it will forever exist and be accessible; no longer can the thought or culture of entire civilizations disappear never to be found again. Also during the past thought was limited to geographic or societal boundaries; the distances in space and culture prevented the dissemination of thought. Now, however, the computer, the internet, and other tools of communication have brought everyone on the globe together.
With the entire human population capable of accessing, considering, and building off of the entirety of human knowledge, enormous developments in thought and philosophy may be coming soon. We are now capable of utilizing the intellectual resources of our species in far greater amounts than we were during the Enlightenment or Renaissance, times during which we still managed to revolutionized thought. The power of technology contributing to this intellectual revolution will also continue to grow; computers are continuously growing more powerful, and in turn they will connect us and assist us in our intellectual pursuits more and more. As long as the internet exists, and barring any major catastrophic, the products of thought in the future will be recorded for the entirety of humanity both in the present and in the future to build off of. The possibilities for growth in thought are almost limitless.
Already we are beginning to witness the intellectual transformation the internet is capable of. The average human is much more informed about the world around them and about the lives of people far removed from them in space and time… knowledge which is the first step in producing new thought. Forums, websites, and other mediums of technology are providing spaces for intellectual thought, discussion, and discourse, akin to the Salons of France and the meeting houses of Renaissance and Enlightenment Italy. We are witnessing how the internet is intimately connecting people across the globe through websites which routinely bring people from distant parts of the world together. This newfound communication may facilitate the most revolutionary and widespread dissemination of knowledge, perspectives, and philosophy ever experienced in our species’ history.
Where intellectual development during the information age may head remains to be seen, but the possibilities are promising… an incredible future awaits.