Re: Extropian Form Letter (was: an exhortation to action)

Damien Broderick (
Mon, 02 Dec 1996 16:26:06 +1000

At 09:03 PM 12/1/96 -0600, Eliezer replied to my post:

>> 1) It didn't occur to Eliezer that FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON is [...] a
crafted tragedy which
>> depends for its heartbreaking power upon that conclusion.

>What? I don't get it.

Suppose Keyes had allowed Charlie to find a permanent fix to his
deterioration. After all, medicos have come up with fairly good kludges for
tissue rejection. The story would then not have been a tragedy, and it
would not have made us cry, and while that would have been a Good Thing on
an extropian analysis (I take it) it wouldn't have made the story famous

Your own analysis makes some sense in terms of the difficulty of going down
off minor peaks on a fitness landscape in order to go up a higher one, but
as I read it you were claiming that *Charlie's* failure to see the
inevitable transience of his improvement, and maybe even *Keyes's*, was
evidence that he was as thick as a brick, despite his claim of genius. But
that transience was an authorial contrivance, not a revelation of natural
law - as we can see by considering heart transplants. Natural selection
frowns on that, too, or at least you hardly ever find it in the wild.

How do we know that (to take an extreme case) a point mutation doubling the
number of neurons in the cortex might not massively benefit its bearer?
Because it hasn't happened, or if it has happened has proved a hindrance?
That's what Lucy would have predicted, the pea-brain. I wonder if the
bottleneck (sic), as is generally supposed, has until now been the
limitation on pelvic size in mothers; now that we have C-sections, and soon
will have extrauterine in vitro to term, maybe such a big jump, by chance or
design, will be viable.
>> 2) It didn't occur to anaesthesiologists that if there were a technique to
>> control pain, with no downside, it would long since have occured as a
>> natural mutation. Just as well it didn't occur to them.

>Controlling pain is a *major* evolutionary disadvantage.

Yes, if by `control' you mean `obliterate'. But clearly it does no harm to
have women spared the pain of childbirth, despite the religion-blinded
cretins who said it would be the ruin of us all. So a mutation that
enhanced our control over certain classes of intractable pain would not
(well, might not) be a disadvantage.

The example I originally intended to post was radial lens surgery. As far
as I can tell, our population's increasing need for specs after 40 or so is
due to cultural changes in childhood that bugger up algorithms that worked
in our EEA. All that reading really *does* ruin your eyes. But mutations
to short-circuit the problem, as we know, might not be selected because the
problem does not kick in until we're past our reproductive prime. That
doesn't mean that intelligent intervention can't fix things in one fell
swoop. Charlie didn't have to get stupid again.

Or am I misunderstanding your Algernonish points?

Damien Broderick (an Eliezar fan)