Extropic Art (was: Poll)

Eliezer Yudkowsky (sentience@pobox.com)
Wed, 15 Jan 1997 18:20:33 -0600

I've been thinking about the issue, and I've finally nailed down why it
is that "Extropic Art" seems out of place by "Nanotechnology", while
"Cryonics" doesn't. After all, cryonics is almost exactly similar to
Extropic Art in that no matter how important it is, it won't accelerate
the Singularity. Freezing people doesn't contribute to scientific
progress, except by exciting comment, popularizing, increasing the
benefits of being Extropian, helping our personalities by lessening our
fear of death, and so on. Which is not to say that cryonics (or
Extropic Art) aren't good things; they just aren't direct-to-Singularity
research projects. That's what I said earlier. Why, then, is cryonics,
but not Art, on the list?

I know what's missing. Hubris. In nanotechnology and cryonics and
intelligence enhancement, and especially the Singularity, there is a
sense of power and might and challenging the foundations of the
Universe... challenging the gods, not just in the Greek tradition, but
that of the Tower of Babel. Cryonics is a battle against one of the
most fundamental laws of everyday life: Death is supposed to be
permanent. Nanotechnology would overthrow "by the sweat of your brow
you shall eat bread" (and, for that matter, pain in childbirth, the
other half of the punishment). And that was all for eating from the
Tree of Good and Evil; now, it seems that we are about to eat from the
Tree of Life, and, with the Singularity, "be as us" (i.e. God), against
which the first mated pair of humans was kicked out of the Garden.

Extropic Art may be a *celebration* of hubris, as this letter is, but it
is not itself hubristic. This letter does not represent a challenge to
the gods, certainly not in the way that trying to create a soul does.
It's about something human. A great and powerful something human,
something deeply and inherently moving, an important part of the human
spirit... which is another way of saying that Extropic Art is an
affirmation of what is best about us *right* *now*. The subject
material may be what will come, but it can't actually *be* what will
come... only what some humans *think* will come. There's something
tragic and terrible about it, as I kept on trying to say in "Staring
Into The Singularity" (which, now that I think about it, is more
Extropic Art than cognitive science).

It reminds me of a thought I once had while thinking over the idea of
telekinesis, some years back... that emotional energy, *wanting* to move
an object, *visualizing* the object moving, was likely to do absolutely
nothing. I liked to use the metaphor of lifting your hand; you don't
lift your hand by shouting, "Lift, hand, lift!" No amount of emotional
energy will suffice to lift your arm. You need to send out motor
impulses by an effort of will along a specific and nonverbalizable
mental dimension.

Moral of the story: Celebrating hubris is one dimension; carrying it
out is a lot of non-hubristic hard thinking. And though it may seem
that I'm raising one above the other, well, if necessary I'd rather
preserve Drexler before Vinge. But I don't think they should be
regarded as rivals any more than, say, farming and computer science, or
marketing and engineering.

Final note: Some of you may notice inconsistencies between the tone of
this letter and previous soliloquies on Extropian Art. That's because
my thoughts on the subject reached that critical mass I was talking
about earlier... *now*, I think I understand.

That having been said, I'm going to add Extropic Art to the poll anyway,
because the whole goals-vs.-means prioritization has clearly bombed.
Instead I think we should go with a simple list of concepts and 1-to-10

         sentience@pobox.com      Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.