Re: Scooping Up & Blending Knowledge

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Mon, 28 Sep 1998 15:01:41 -0500

Where are the da Vincis, the Rembrandts, the Bach or Mozart, the Homer or Shakespeare of this age? Why has modern art degenerated into a test to see how random or tawdry art has become, and why does modern music sound like noise even to the teenagers? Why are modern novels either incomprehensible, why is modern philosophy incomprehensible, and why is modern poetry boring?

In the old days, the brightest minds of a generation became writers or philosophers. Today they are scientists.

In the old days, the poetic souls were drawn to art or poetry. Today they are science-fiction writers.

In the old days, the mathematical minds wrote music. Today they are computer programmers.

There are so many new professions which employ to the utmost human intelligence, which are so much better paid, that the former occupations of genius are dying; there are many competent artists, but the great geniuses of generations have gone elsewhere, and far from science even competence becomes rare. Compare science fiction and fiction. Compare the philosophy of AI with philosophy. Compare "Gödel, Escher, Bach" with anything.

Except for schools dying out for lack of intelligent teachers, I see nothing wrong with this. Once someone asked me whether computer programming was a challenge that allowed me to use my talents; I replied: "There is no limit to the amount of talent that can be used in computer programming." If there is an explosion in the uses of talent, it is no surprise that those areas which formerly had a monopoly will suffer.

When will the days of art's greatness return? Perhaps when the sterile babblings that now inhabit these dead fields peter out, when nobody bothers with modern art or deconstructing existentialism, when all the writers of Westerns and singers of rap have starved or moved to flipping burgers at McDonald's, then we will see more Hofstadters and Feynmans move in to fill the vacuum. But these _are_ the days of art's highest flowering, and if you would doubt it, reread "Permutation City" or "Gödel, Escher, Bach". Let those who bemoan the lack of culture in the old and settled lands look to the true frontiers, the eternal tests of greatness.
--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer: Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you everything I think I know.