RE: origin of ideas, civilization, reading list

From: Harvey Newstrom (
Date: Sun Aug 05 2001 - 14:39:32 MDT wrote,
> 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.

I believe H.G. Wells' Shape of Things to Come, Orwell's 1984, and similar
stories have predicted the basic concept of future-shock for a long time.
In the '70's there was a book called Future Shock. People thought computers
would make life so complicated that we wouldn't be able to cope or
understand reality. They predicted that the future would be so alien that
we would not be able to comprehend it or cope. The entire world would be

I think historically, every generation has had this fear. The industrial
revolution made people fear that machines would do all the work and humans
would either live in utopia or wander around dazed without any purpose of
function. When the New World was discovered, it was an planetary reshaping
event that changed the view of the planet. Entire geographies, cultures and
histories changed. People suddenly could leave the known world and go
somewhere else. This was seen as a bizarre change with a new world which
was assumed to be so alien that people wondered if it were possible to
colonize. People feared the idea that the earth wasn't in the center of the
universe. They thought that this concept plus other scientific discoveries
would rock the foundations of the cosmos so much that the common man would
be lost and unable to cope with reality. Socrates was coerced into drinking
hemlock because his basic philosophical ideas and thoughts were feared to
corrupt a whole generation of youth with a culture so radically different
and changed that it threatened to bring down empires.

I believe every generation believes that they are on the cutting edge of
some cataclysmic change. They always imagine that they are possibly the
last generation and that the world would be destroyed soon. The apocalypse
is always seen as immanent. Each generations imagines that their
accomplishments piled on top of all historical accomplishments have
accelerated so far that there is no turning back. They also have trouble
conceptualizing the changes such that they cannot fathom what future changes
will bring. As such, they always predict total destruction or total
incomprehensibility of the future. This is the basis of ancient religious
apocalyptic writings and mystical revelations.

There is nothing new in the concept that we will finally reach the ultimate
acceleration into infinity. I think each generation looks like it is
advancing exponentially when compared to all previous generations. What
looks like a steep exponential curve to us will be relatively flat to our
descendants. I not only think that the concept of a singularity is an old
concept. I think it is a recurring concept that will keep repeating. We
will keep having continuous improvement into the future with no sudden
changes in reality. We will adapt to sudden changes as we have adapted to
guns, steam engines, computers, space travel, internet, genetic engineering,
etc. Cloning, uploading, and nanotechnology will merely be the latest
products on the market and will soon become boring. The riots and battles
over future technology will be just like past battles over slavery, race
riots, energy crisis, gay rights, nuclear energy, etc.

In many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Harvey Newstrom <> <>

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