Re: ExI: Cognitive Extropians

Hal Finney (
Tue, 14 Jan 1997 09:40:22 -0800

At 09:22 PM 1/13/97 -0600, Eliezer wrote:
>and *occasionally* you will run into an Extropian who wants to
>improve their minds.

There has been a lot of discussion on the list over the years on various
technologies that purport to improve minds: various flashing light
devices, languages such as Loglan and E-Prime, "smart drugs" as well as
the good old-fashioned kind.

More recently we have seen Eliezer discuss the prospects for surgically
or chemically altering growing children in order to promote certain
mental abilities (at the expense of others), and David Musick talk about
how his mental disciplines have greatly increased his sense of his own
intelligence (apologies for the over-simplifications here; list members
have access to the original writings).

But I am skeptical about much of this. There is not much in the way of
concrete evidence that many of these technologies will work. The lights
and language seem flaky to me; the smart drugs may have some effects, but
in many cases they seem to largely increase alertness, just like caffeine.

As for self-reported perceptions, while obviously Eliezer and David are
very intelligent, it's not clear what conclusions we can draw from that in
terms of what other people could do to become smarter. Self perceptions
can be unreliable. The fact that Eliezer has many cognitive strengths
and some possible weaknesses doesn't prove much, he could simply be a
more extreme case of the multi-factor IQ model which has been discussed
in the literature for years. And David's claims of having increased
his intelligence are hard to evaluate without knowing more about what he
was like when he was younger. Maybe he's always been a very smart person.

>The rest are talking about
>rockets, cryonics, nanotechnology, thinking faster (but not better), and
>uploading... only to download into a physically omnipotent body and
>explore the Universe.

These technologies are interesting in their own right. And in some ways
they seem more plausible, more certain, than hopes for truly increased
intelligence (as compared to sped-up brains). The only really reliable
ways I can see to increase overall intelligence would be to clone
(genetically or physically) very smart people, or to use some kind of
adaptive process to evolve super smart AI's. Trying to do it the old
fashioned way, by coming up with an understanding of how the brain
works and deducing what must be done to it to make it smarter, is an
uncertain process. It may be very difficult for the brain to understand
itself that well.

>The Extropians as a group still retain that
>old-fashioned worldview that says that the Universe is out there, that
>we must go and subdue it, and that we do this with lightsails and Von
>Neumann machines and the accouterments of physical power.

I think much of our discussion along these lines has been speculation
about the ultimate relationship of life and the universe. Even granted
that we cannot understand the motivations of the actors, if we assume
that they are constrained by physical laws as we best understand them,
can we still draw conclusions about what will happen? I have been
very impressed by the quality of the discussion on these subjects.