Re: SOC: Immortality and Historiography

GBurch1 (
Thu, 1 Jan 1998 09:12:23 EST

In a message dated 97-12-30 15:58:44 EST, Damien R. Sullivan writes:

> > Because these factors will be significantly impacted by effective
> immortality,
> > such a development seems bound to impoverish the future historical
> An
> > offsetting factor may be that posthuman beings will change so much across
> a
> Criticize me if I'm missing a key element here,

No criticism but, for once, Damien, you may have missed the key element at
which I was pointing.

> but the 'solution' seems
> inherent in the problem. They're immortal. They don't need to study
> history so much, because they're the ones who lived it. I think this
> continuity of memory, presumably with high fidelity of public and one's
> own private recrods, could well offset the loss of other people's
> private information. I think private decision information is much less
> important than people not knowing public information.

History will continue to be important in a society of immortal individuals for
two reasons: (1) The incompleteness of contemporary experience; and (2) The
educational needs of later-spawned individuals. A couple of examples may
illustrate my first point. Like many in my generation, I grew up with Winston
Churchill's History of the Second World War as the foundation of my
understanding of the events that served as the hinge of the 20th Century. Due
to the seeming authority of his personal role in the events he described and
the undeniable power of his mastery of the language, Churchill's work molded
our views of WWII. Unfortunately, large parts of it were self-serving
fiction. After his death, people were willing to begin a full critique of his
account. Furthermore, the disclosure of the Enigma materials cast a
completely different light on almost every strategic decision made by the
Allies, including especially Churchill's.

One of my own idols, Thomas Jefferson, provides another telling example on a
more personal level. During his life and in the generations immediately
after, hagiography and counter-polemics of federalists and anti-federalists
obscured a clear view of the real person of Jefferson. One of Jefferson's
most insightful comments, that "a man's letters provides the truest story of
his life" has ultimately provided the key to a more accurate view of the
private Jefferson which has, in turn, cast a more complete light on his public
life and that of his contemporaries. Fawn Brodie's biography of Jefferson
(upon which the film "Jefferson in Paris" was largely based) would simply not
have been possible without access to all of Jefferson's private correspondence
and the letters of other people. Although other factors (one of which you
identify below) might offset the effect of mortality on such candor, as things
have been up to now, it has been the death of the authors of such
correspondence that has made it available to us.

As for the second point, some individuals will continue to be truly newly-
spawned, as opposed to branching threads on the same identity-tree. For those
entity-identities who come into being later, a knowledge of past events, i.e.
history, will be just as important as it is now. They will want an accurate
account of a history to which they were not a party.

> And an economist might say other people could be offered money for their
> perspectives. First-hand historical consultants.

This may well end up having to take the place of the "mortality effect" on
historical candor. I'm thinking of how Robert McNamara has in recent years
made a cottage industry out of revealing his own private knowledge on the
Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Of course, one reason he has been
able to do this is that his bosses at the time are now dead.

In a message dated 97-12-30 20:29:07 EST, Hara Ra writes:

> GBurch1 wrote:
> >
> > I wonder what other factors we might look to to offset the negative
> > immortality may have on historiography? What might the long-term effect
> of
> > this restriction on the historical record be?
> Excellent Question....
> How about declaring (and legally so) that the duration of any
> information is limited to a period of say, 50 or 75 years. When a
> person is revived, a backup copy is made, which can be examined by
> anyone after this time interval. This includes upload conversion and
> complete interviewing of the upload. Also, it might be mandated that all
> persons who are immortal must make a backup copy, subject to the same
> rules, at intervals of 25 - 50 years.
> How to implement this is indeed a thorny problem. One way might to
> provide a financial incentive for making such backups and later sell the
> information they contain. I consider myself (when revived) a living
> antique anyway, and my memories may well be my only salable assets...

The seminars McNamara has organized about the Cold War seem to be a good
example for how this might work. They serve as good marketing devices for the
memoirs of the participants. Perhaps disclosures by one key actor might end
up triggering counter-disclosures. Naturally, I would be loathe to legislate
a "sunset" for all privacy, but limitations periods on specific causes of
action at law might well serve the same purpose.

In a message dated 97-12-30 21:23:44 EST, Natasha Vita More writes:

> An adjustment in one's thinking and reactions to being "exposed" would
> deemphasize the affects of disclosure on one's privacy. The longer we
> the less affected we are by the consequences of our behavior -- in part due
> to the fading of memory and also, and importantly, due to the gains in
> wisdom from life experiences.

I wonder whether we might not experience a new tension between personal growth
and development and reluctance to disclose the "sins" of one's youth ("ahh,
what a fool I was when I was a youth, a mere 200-year-old!) For people in
"public life", it may be, as I describe above, that the desire to tell one's
own personal private story will trigger more or less full disclosure by most
of the participants in matters of wide concern.

> Historical recordations might rely on computers rather than author or actor
> for information gathering. Certainly, there could be on/off switches
> editing out crucial facts, but will we care to edit events out when we
> become more confident about our actions and less embarrassed by our pasts?
> The methodology of historical research and presentation itself may change.
> When time is not categorized by events such as wars or disease, it will be
> recorded by other types of events -- the events of merit in our posthuman
> years.

These are good points, and ones I believe will be fascinating to watch unfold.
The sheer DENSITY of the historical record is growing exponentially, as data
collection and mass storage technologies advance. I have pondered without
much insight the problems such a massive record will present to future
historians. Instead of the challenge historians of most eras of the human
story have faced in the past, that of a too-small record requiring deductions
and interpolations based on largely theoretical mental constructs, future
historians will have the contrary problem of SELECTION from a perhaps too-rich
record, requiring the guidance of actors at the time.

> Time itself will become abstracted. Our minds tend to still frames of our
> own historical importance in our memories - one to the next - just as the
> news broadcasts leading stories. Our emotions are tied into these images
> very tightly. As we live longer and longer, we will have less and less
> to be emotionally tied to our own leading stories. We may begin to enjoy
> the pauses inbetween. These pauses might become years and even centuries
> living with no featured "historical event" occurring. (Much like working
> the garden, absorbed in the act of life.) Events such as reaching another
> galaxy or designing a new species might be historical events to be
> and perhaps the technology producing the events might be the author also.

More good points. An immortal's conception of time will surely be very, very
different. One of the fundamental heuristics of current historiography is the
"generation", a valid concept in many ways because the actors in one age
simply aren't the same actors in another. With all of the difficult questions
of personal identity raised by constantly evolving but persisting individuals,
such a simple concept as the generation will become less and less relevant.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
-- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover