Re: PHIL: The extropian principles

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Fri, 05 Mar 1999 08:55:12 -0600 wrote:
> I'm glad my criticism of the definition of extropianism has launched a debate
> on the philosophical underpinnings of the movement.

I don't know what Jfvirey said before this, and thus I don't necessarily agree with it, but I think he's written something very intelligent that deserves an answer.

My position, as declared about a year back, has always been that "extropy" should be defined in terms of Extropians; not anyone who subscribes to the list, or anyone who declares allegiance to Max More's Principles, but in terms of those beliefs most commonly held across Eric Watt Forste's list of Very Extropian Persons and any people who aren't on the list but should be. In fact, I see no need for a definition of "extropy" as opposed to the communal beliefs, and I have previously complained about the tendency to use "Extropy" to indicate "Everything good in the world."

I believe that Extropianians, to the best of my knowledge of many, many, people, stand for the belief that sentient life can and should seek, through the use of ultratechnology: Complete dominion over the physical Universe; transhuman, superhuman, and unlimited intelligence; absolute freedom from all coercion; transcendence of any limit that can be transcended; total knowledge of everything.

Note that we may have different definitions of "freedom", and how much of should be sought using modern technology, but we all agree that the U.S. government exerts more coercion on its citizens than is desirable and that all coercion, even if permitted as means to an end, is undesirable in principle. We also have different definitions of "intelligence" and even "knowledge".

But the one great constant, the most defining factor of Extropianism, is the belief that "Ultratechnology is the only way to best accomplish my ultimate ends."

> 1) When I mentioned extropianism's "rejection" of libertarianism, I did not
> seek to imply that libertarianism had been declared to be incompatible with
> extropianism, but was merely acknowledging the fact that it had been rejected
> as an intrinsic component of the philosophy and is now on an equal footing
> with statist philosophies that advocate the initiation of force by the
> government.

A Libertarian believes that we should reject all coercion, all initiation of force in the here-and-now; an Extropian may believe only that such coercion is undesirable in principle. But statist philosophies are generally rejected.

> 2) I do not perceive any contradiction between (1) my minarchism; (2) my
> complete agreement with Anthony Garcia's position that extropianism should
> remain anarcho-capitalist. I would be contradicting myself only if I
> considered myself both a minarchist and an extropian-as-defined-by-Garcia,
> since I would thereby be claiming to be both in favour of the minimal state
> and of no state. But I am merely a minarchist, and I feel extropianism (with
> which I do not fully identify anyway) has been betrayed by the recent
> inclusion of statists who favour government subsidies to scientific research
> and compulsory genetic engineering.

Dunno who you're talking about, but I don't think that the Extropian definition should be tightened to the point of excluding people who have a clearly Extropian attitude, thus resulting in the formation of "In" and "Out" Extropian cliques, or cases in which John Smith considers me an Extropian and I consider you an Extropian and you consider yourself an Extropian but John Smith doesn't consider you an Extropian. Max More has very wisely avoided this. If you stand up and cheer at "Great Mambo Chicken", you're an Extropian.

> Max More's argument is that "if Anthony Garcia had his way, *you*, Mr. Virey,
> would not count as an extropian." Well I don't care! I'm much more concerned
> with the term "extropian" actually meaning something than with fitting the
> label.

I believe that "Extropian" is properly used as a label for a community that believes in other concepts with independent meaning, such as "transhumanism" or "anarchocapitalism". Max More may disagree, in which case both of us would have a valid criticism of the overgeneralization of "extropy".

> 3) Max More's answer to my post finally revealed to me what is wrong with the
> extropian mindset as he defines it: extropianism is afraid to stand for
> anything definite, because it perceives any such stand as "narrow dogmatism".
> I suspect that the rampant tolerationism and subjectivism of the movement
> explain the espousal of such an epistemology as "pancritical rationalism",
> rather than the other way round. The most blatant admission of the
> tolerationist-inspired fear of clear, logical thinking is to be found in Max's
> own admission: "I've been considering a more systematic and hierarchical
> derivation of the current principles from fewer underlying ideas. However, I
> feel much reluctance to heading in that direction, since it lends itself to
> monistic and dogmatic system building." I am beginning to understand why such
> balderdash as Robert Anton Wilson's "Prometheus Rising" is still in the
> extropian top ten books: a book that advises people to blow up their "reality
> tunnels" by smoking marijuana *cannot* generate the kind of carefully derived,
> logical system of thought which Max accuses of inherent dogmatism.

Again, I believe that the proper function of "Extropian" is to define a community, not an ideology. We all have different standards for "clear, logical thinking". No one banner could contain all of them and yet remain clear and logical. But to exclude all dissenters from the Extropian community would be a tragedy, "monistic and dogmatic system building". A group of people may make common cause, believing in rational logic and scientific thought, but agree to disagree on what these things are. It's our common goals that created this community, not adherence to an ideology.

"Prometheus Rising" is probably included on the reading list, regardless of any claimed justification, for the simple reason that many Extropians enjoyed the book or that some people became Extropians after reading the book. I wouldn't know; I haven't read the book.

> 4) I resent the implications of the proposition "since you seem to like
> logic". I do not "like" logic. I consider it the sine qua non of valid
> thought.

Good for you! But wait, I only consider it to be the best choice, rather than a certainty. Oh, well, I guess we can't both be part of the same community.

> As for Max's assertion that extropians in general are great
> respecters of logic, my own reference to "those who consider logic a
> tyrannical imposition on their minds" was based on a recent post by Joe Dees,
> perhaps the person I dislike most on this list (I merely said I knew "some
> members" of the list who thought that way. Therefore I can't be accused of
> undue generalization. I could have been had I said "most (or all) of the
> members of the list" were that way.)

Perhaps I would not consider him an Extropian; I haven't been reading his posts, so I wouldn't know.

> By the way: how can contempt for those
> who thus reject logic be "misguided"?

Very easily; the cognitive emotion of "contempt" could, regardless of justification, tend to interfere with rational thought; or it could tend to result in actions with suboptimal results.

> 5) To my question, "If I classify the books in my library by colour, I have
> increased the order of a system, which makes my act "good" by extropian
> standards", Max answers, "No. Your act increases extropy only if the resulting
> order is useful to you in ways that improve your life." Aha! So the
> enumeration of "components" of extropy (information, intelligence, order,
> vitality, etc.) is only a list of *derivative* or instrumental values, whose
> actual status as values depends on whether they serve a more fundamental one:
> "the improvement of one's life" (life as the root of value? That vaguely
> reminds me of something.) Why don't the principles say so? And isn't there a
> contradiction in holding that (1) "extropy is only to be maximized when it
> improves your life" and (2) that "the essence of extropian thinking is a set
> of general values and attitudes, not a set of required
> beliefs about means" (since maximizing extropy itself has become a means)?

This is exactly the problem with "extropy" as an ideology; by being stretched to cover the quite distinct ideologies of everyone in the community, the Extropian Principles have become overgeneralized and badly defined in an effort not to exclude anyone.

> 6) Max states that my "intention is to attack, not to be constructive." My
> intention was to attempt a reductio ad absurdum of the definition of
> extropianism, which I believe to be invalid. I have had a love/hate
> relationship with extropianism for about a decade. This means that there are
> elements in extropianism I find excellent, and others I find utterly
> repellent. Without the former, I wouldn't even bother to criticize the
> philosophy. It is precisely the mixture of the two that I find depressing.
> Since the very beginning, I've tried to develop a kind of rational version of
> extropianism (read: "dogmatic"), one that would be immunized against the likes
> of R.A. Wilson or F.M. Esfandiary, one in which no extropian would ever
> proudly claim that "reason is without foundation" or that intellectual systems
> and clear-cut ideas are inherently narrow and dogmatic. The problem is that I
> could find no core in extropianism that would enable me to reject the more
> offensive accretions as "anti-extropian", as I tried to show in my previous
> post (just as Anthony Garcia won't be able to find any principle enabling him
> to reject compulsory genetic engineering as "anti-extropian"). So my intent
> was indeed destructive: I tried to destroy whatever could enable allegedly
> rational people to put Wilson and Esfandiary on a pedestal, while dismissing
> Rand as a second-rate, dogmatic thinker.
> Max refuses to discuss the examples I chose because he finds them "silly". But
> their silliness was dictated precisely by the form of my argument: a reductio
> ad absurdum. I don't think he managed to prove that those silly examples
> (whose force lies in their silliness) did not flow from his own definition of
> extropianism.

> "Extropianism" is still the philosophy that seeks to maximize extropy, and
> "extropy" is still an invalid concept- one which does not refer to a definite
> set of existents. My question is: what enables you to lump together
> "intelligence, information, order, vitality, and capacity for improvement"?

Nothing. I agree with this part of your criterion.

> What do these concepts have in common- i.e. where does their "extropiness"
> lie? Would I be asking for too much if I insisted on a valid definition
> comprised of a genus and a differentia, and including no more and no less than
> the existents it is supposed to include? (I suppose some will find such
> aristotelian correctness a dogmatic imposition on free extropian minds.)

You'd be asking far too much; just as you would if you asked for a precise logical genus and differentia on the Extropians. Only in SGML could such a statement be phrased, only in the Transcend could it be written, and even then only the Powers could understand it.

> And please also answer this question: if (1) extropianism seeks to increase
> "extropy", (2) extropy means "the extent of a system's intelligence,
> information, order, vitality, and capacity for improvement", then "extropy" is
> extropianism's *basic value*. So where do you get the standard that enables
> you to decide which type of "order" (or "extropy") ought to be maximized in
> particular circumstances? You do need such a standard when you assert that
> "Extropian thinking does not value just any kind of order in any situation."

If you regard it as logic, it's circular logic. Another valid criticism.

> 8) Regarding my point on "self-transformation into a toad" and "More
> dumbness", I was merely pointing out that "self-transformation" and "increase"
> or "maximization" cannot be values in themselves until one has determined the
> end of the transformation or the attribute to be maximized. For a very similar
> point, see Rand's article on "Extremism or the art of smearing". I am sorry
> the "More dumbness" example was interpreted as an insult. It was provocative
> and definitely irreverent, but I didn't mean it as an insult.

The statements in the Extropian principles are inadequately specified to be valid candidates for the ultimate good; they may, however, provide valid short-term guidance using the most obvious interpretation.

For all that I don't like the Extropian Principles, they're part of what makes the Extropian community - we have simply agreed that only adherence to the spirit is required for membership. And I can depart from some principles entirely, rejecting Optimism in letter *and* spirit, and still be an Extropian, because I believe in high technology. Removing the Extropian Principles would not have a beneficial effect.

--         Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.