Re: Present dangers to transhumanism

Robert J. Bradbury (
Sun, 29 Aug 1999 18:01:07 -0700 (PDT)

On Sun, 29 Aug 1999, Natasha Vita-More wrote:

> Her encouragement of me to move forward, don't look back, take it on,
> and ignore the small-minded folks who feel envy or anger or combativeness
> who try to tear down the strengths of creativity.

Envy and anger are perhaps the smallest part of the problem. In truth the problem stems from combativeness, which it most cases, stems from simple, pure and unadulterated fear.

Consider this: from Science: 285(5432) [27 Aug 1999]:1339-1341 :
> Results reported in this month's issue of Nature Neuroscience suggest
> that the hippocampus, a twist of tissue deep in the brain long believed to
> help form only conscious memories, also serves certain memories that don't
> rise to the level of awareness. The finding bolsters an emerging theory
> that the role of the hippocampus in memory is to relate different elements
> of experience--a role that is suggested by the fact that it receives
> information from many other brain regions.

If you have read Minsky's Society of Mind (admitedly difficult for me to read), then this makes even more sense. People mentally have a "survival paradigm", that is primarily what development is all about -- do this and you survive (maybe even reproduce), do this and you don't. These paradigms are tuned, primarily, *beneath the level of awareness*! They operate primarily the same way we drive a car (i.e. without much conscious thought).

When we invoke the "winds of change", we are simultaneously invoking "threats to survival using known paradigms". Those "who try to tear down the strengths of creativity" are primarily doing so out of the fear of survival. [The more you create which is "different", the more difficult you make the selection of a proper survival path.]

> It is hard sometimes because it impairs, but it is essential in order
> to get work done when on presenting new ideas that ruffle feathers.

It is hard because negative feedback from external entities strengthens those parts of our minds that seek approval, consensus & acceptance as natural survival strategies. We are doing more than "ruffle feathers" we are informing people that they are standing under an avalanche, that they are doomed if they do not learn to snowboard quickly. Those looking down the mountain slope, not hearing the rumble of snow behind them, will be saying, "You are completely crazy, there has never been an avalanche here." In those situations it is useful to remember the Titanic.

> I say stand firm, be publically polite and learn how to express ideas
> objectively and with a calm but speak up when misinformation needs to
> be addressed. The skills that allow adversaries to *not* feel threatened
> and is our best tool.

I agree with you to a very large degree that this is the best way to proceed. However, we can be the most skillful people in the world and the average person (not even adversaries), *would* feel threatened, by the very nature of what we are discussing.

It is important to acknowledge concerns and perspectives when they have a basis. It is important to address them when they have been thought about or debated. It is important to relate current concerns with unknown solutions to past concerns with unknown solutions (so people realize that running the "Unknown" rapids is survivable).

However, it is also appropriate to aggressively stop incorrect memes and where appropriate force those memes to be self-confronting. A majority of individuals do not have the time or background to "judge" the arguments and so they "trust" the experts (witness the Ag-bio debates where different sides choose their respective experts). In many cases, the argument is won simply on the basis of who is perceived to be most confident in their opinion. Confidence has many presentation styles. Perhaps the task we face is presenting a variety of those styles, so that individuals with style preferences will gravitate to the one they feel is most compatible. There is no style that works universally and it takes a very talented individual to switch styles on the fly (at which point we become accused of being politicians). Perhaps our strength is in having different perspectives and styles, embracing that, and encouraging others to do the same. Perhaps we must be the antithesis of "Men in Black".