origin of ideas, civilization, reading list

From: JoshCahoon@cs.com
Date: Sun Aug 05 2001 - 13:11:46 MDT

Just out of curiosity, I'm wondering how many on this list feel they came up
with the idea of the singularity on their own. I feel like I did, and was
surprised to find an organization based, in large part, on the concept.

That brings me to a broader issue: I wonder to what extent important ideas in
humanity's development owe their geneses to individuals versus the zeitgeist
of the times. Evolution by natural selection would almost surely have been
discovered without Darwin and Wallace. Discovery of the structure of DNA
really didn't need Francis and Crick. General relativity? I dunno.

And if we could settle this question, would that have any important
consequences for how we should try to acheive an extropian future? For
example, if we could convince ourselves that the ideas and technologies that
will foster the kind of future we want will owe their origins, in large part,
to the general intellectual climate of the times, then we might see
augmenting intelligence as a less important means than influencing societal

On another topic entirely, I'd like to confess sympathy with a very
anti-extropian idea: Civilization and technology are bad and unnatural. Hehe..
I'm no longer certain that people have "better" lives today than they did in
prehistoric times. We are not biologically adapted to the worry-prone,
insecure, estranged lives that are part and parcel of American society today.
Chronic stress, anorexia, depression, obesity--these are a few maladies that
are likely much more prevalent today than in prehistoric times. Maybe the
anarchists are onto something.
I suppose my rejoinder to the above (yes, I argue with myself) is that these
are objections to a particular society and particular uses of technology, not
to civilization and technology themselves, which have majestic *potential*.

By the way, I really wish I hadn't seen Ayn Rand's works featured so
prominently in the Extropy Institute's reading list. Objectivism, insofar as
it's not coextensive with laissez-faire political and economic thought, does
not seem to me to be a natural fit with the extropian worldview. Nor did I
care for the favored interpretation of consciousness that was evident in the
listing of Churchland's book, which again, doesn't seem necessarily consonant
with an extropian outlook. But maybe I'm reading too much into the reading

Josh Cahoon

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