Re: >H and pop culture: Who cares?

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Sat Feb 24 2001 - 17:55:54 MST

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:

> Transhumanism in its reified, explicit, non-heartwarmingly-vague
> form is a very recent innovation, and I do not expect to find that
> Columbus was a closet transhumanist.

More recent than 1500 I'll grant you. Recent, as in final decade
of the 20th century, I think not. Something very similar to
modern transhumanism started occurring to smart people (like Samuel
Butler, in 1872), and even getting published, not long after Darwin spilled
the beans. See, for example,
or the more recent example .
I'm willing to believe that Singularitarianism, as the inflationary,
positive-feedback-driven variety of transhumanism, can be
largely credited to Vernor Vinge (though I seem to recall seeing
somewhere that John von Neumann, or somebody of that period --
Norbert Wiener? Vannevar Bush? -- adumbrated something similar decades

> I am, in general, bored with "Hey, maybe yada-dada is a transhumanist!"
> posts - here, and on the Extropians list, and everywhere else in the Solar
> System. I do not care whether the Beatles, Einstein, or Christopher
> Columbus were transhumanists or Singularitarians or whatever.

Since I don't belong to the SL4 list (it doesn't seem to be archived on
the Web, as is the Extropians'), I haven't read the offending post,
though I've certainly contributed recent posts to the Extropians' which
might seems to fall under the cloud of the subject line
">H and pop culture: Who cares?" :-> Your brief for SL4 (at ) is "The four virtues of an SL4 post are
Intelligence, Fun, Importance, and Future Shock. Any post should have at
least one." Certainly Fun, in the **writing**, is the sine qua non of anything
I bother to put together for the Extropians'. Whether I'm providing enough Fun
for potential readers to justify the time they've wasted downloading
one of my own blurbs is hard for me to judge -- I usually get at least one response
along the lines of "I enjoyed the article about...", and I haven't (yet)
gotten a response along the lines of "this is utter trash, and a waste
of the time I spent downloading it", but I have no way of knowing that
99% of the list doesn't killfile me right into the garbage (and I can't
say I care that much, as long as I'm not getting hate mail :->).
Extropians' is unmoderated, so the standards are set by a subtle and
complex social process depending on who's attracted to the list in the
first place, who musters up the energy and chuzpah to post (for
whatever complicated reasons), and the aggregate feedback they get
thereafter. In a moderated or edited forum, it's another story.
Some writers and editors from the traditional book, newspaper, and magazine
publishing industry have taken a publicly dim view of the very low signal-to-noise
ratio and shockingly low standards of veracity, pertinence, or sheer literary
style on the Wild Web -- and some of this harrumphing is just a cover-up for
fear of loss of control, influence, and livelihood. So what's to
be done? Are you volunteering to moderate the Extropians'?

As far as the relevance of pop culture is concerned -- I thought one of
the perennial foci of this list was the propagation of Extropian and
transhumanist memes (to use the popular jargon for this sort of thing),
and to discuss the memetic import vis a vis Extropianism of elements
of the wider culture, so that discussion of books, movies, and TV shows
was within the pale. You have acknowledged in your own Web publications
that sci-fi (surely that comes under the aegis of pop culture, does it not?)
was intimately bound up in the coalescence of your thinking about
the Singularity. Are the circumstances now "been there, done that,
time to move on", meaning that nothing that doesn't look like it
belongs on the Eurekalert page or in an investment newsletter is
appropriate? In any case, I thought that's what the private
Singularitarians' list was for.

> The reason I'm confident in my ideas is that a very smart person
> agrees with them - *me*. If someone else also agrees with me, good for
> *them*... [A]t the end of the day, the reason you believe in your ideas
> is that *you* decided they were right. You don't really give a damn what
> anyone else in the solar system thinks, though you may think you ought to.

In an interview on one of my Bertrand Russell records, the great man
comments that if you're a genius, you also have to have enormous
self confidence if you're going to accomplish anything worthwhile, because
the rest of the world is going to be trying to discourage you every step
of the way. So I think it's terrific that you've got the self confidence
exhibited in this remark, particularly if it's true that you're one of the
handful of people currently alive who might have the wherewithal to bring about
the Singularity (though if so, one might suggest that you spend a bit
too much time on mailing lists like this one ;->).

For mere mortals like myself, the network of belief is far less self-
conscious and self-examined. Maybe one or two patterns in the skein
come clear enough from time to time to be examined in any detail,
only to sink back into forgetfulness. It's like the large software
system I maintain at work -- I can get a particular small piece of
it into sharp enough focus to make an enhancement or track down a
bug by means of a period of intense concentration that's almost like
going into a trance, but afterwards (maybe only a week afterwards)
the details have subsided once again into the murk. I harbor no
hope that my own beliefs are independent of social milieu (although
social milieu these days is fortunately not simply a matter of
geographical propinquity), and every reason to believe (based on
my own more-or-less vague impressions about human evolutionary and
social psychology) that I'm constantly, albeit unconsciously, comparing
and checking my own beliefs about all sorts of things against the information
I'm absorbing every day from my social surroundings (which includes,
as one small component, this very list).

Nor do I harbor any illusions about the ratio of original to recycled
thought in anything I say, do, or write. For this humble consumer
in the early 21st century human economic nexus, to add a barely-visible
toothmark to a well-chewed meme would be an accomplishment worth
celebrating, and that's not an attempt at self-effacement or false
modesty, that's just the way it is. I view my reading of this list as
a form of entertainment. My writing for this list is also, in my view,
primarily for my own entertainment (with the hope that at least a
few other subscribers are also entertained, and that nobody is
particularly bothered).


Jim F.

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