Re: meaning of life (RE: (repost) RE: GUNS: Re: Self Defense)

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Wed Jan 24 2001 - 03:10:01 MST

On Tue, Jan 23, 2001 at 10:43:32PM -0800, Samantha Atkins wrote:
[ I wrote: ]

> > He's not a nihilist; he's simply following the commonest theory of rights
> > on the planet -- one that's used by just about everyone except Americans
> > who've been indoctrinated with their state's peculiar constitutional
> > theory -- which is that rights are negotiated and conditional.

> Is the nature of human being negotiated and conditional or is the nature
> of human beings a given? If it is a given then it just might imply that
> certain rights, certain fundamentals of how people treat one another,
> are fundamental to the well-being of human beings based on their
> nature. Yes?
I deny that human nature is a given.

Firstly, this is the extropians list. We're supposed to be talking about
transhumanism, right? If you postulate that human nature is fixed, we might
as well pack up and go home right now ...

Secondly, one of the most unusual characteristics of the human animal is
its remarkable developmental plasticity. You can take a human neonate and
teach it to communicate in a language that no other human has ever spoken
if you get it young enough. You can make 'em behave in weird and wonderful
ways, some of them extremely self-destructive. You can also *modify* the
behaviour of adults, within some rather vague limits -- limits which are
much broader than most of us would like to admit. (The Milgram and Zimbardo
studies are a chilling example of just how far this can go.)

Therefore, I do not believe that human nature should be assumed to be
constant, or that we should assume that individual humans can't be changed
out of all recognition.

> > A nihilist would deny that there's any _point_ in negotiating with others.
> >
> If there is no standard of reality like the nature of the entities we
> are talking about to fall back on then negotiation probably is
> pointless.

Nope, I don't agree with that. Why should there be no point in a human
being negotiating with an AI living in a computer simulation of a universe
where pi = 3.0?

> > You, for your part, appear to be as much a fundamentalist as a member of
> > the Southern Baptist Congregations: you believe in some absolute underlying
> > Truths (either revealed by the Lawwd God Almighty, or the Singularity, or
> > Human Nature(TM), or some other big source of revelation) against which
> > everything can be measured. This point of view has its pros and cons, but
> > you need to bear in mind that many other people see it as a blind spot.
> Thank you for the insults. They certainly make your point more strongly
> than your argument did. There is nothing mystical about the notion that
> existing creatures, us, have particular properties rather than being
> whatever society decides somehow to define us as.

You misunderstand the idea of human mutability. Society can turn around
tomorrow and decide that left-handed males of jewish descent (like me)
are criminal subhumans bent on its destruction; that IN NO WAY changes
me. What it changes is *the way I interact with society*.

At the same time, if you upload my mind into a bush robot, my nature
will have changed radically -- but if society recognizes non-human
intelligences as citizens, this change in my nature *doesn't* affect
my interactions with society.

What you appear to be doing is assuming that society is a reified entity
that exists in its own right, and that it can dictate the terms of human
existence. It isn't; it's simply a convenient way of representing
a gigantic bunch of one-to-one relationships that, in aggregate,
form a one-to-many relationship between the individual and everyone
around them. It can exert social pressure on me, but it can't force
me to change. However, if I *want* to change I can, and the act of so
doing doesn't fundamentally change my relationship with society.

In other words, I'm a mutable individual, not a robot subject to the will
of a collective.

-- Charlie

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