Re: origin of ideas, civilization, reading list

From: Mark Walker (
Date: Sun Aug 05 2001 - 16:50:43 MDT

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> Just out of curiosity, I'm wondering how many on this list feel they came
> 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.
There is nothing new under the sun (I may not have been the first to say
this). Transhumanism is a minor variant on an ancient theme. Plato and
Aristotle said the (1) telos of humanity's best (i.e., philosophers) is to
become godlike, (2) that we ought to become godlike, and (3) that
dialectical reasoning is the means for philosophers to realize their telos.
Unlike Plato and Aristotle (Hegel, etc.) we do not believe that there is a
little divine element in us that needs to be nurtured. Darwin killed that
idea forever. So, transhumanists substitute technology (most notably genetic
engineering and AI) for (3). What separates us from Plato et al is a minor
quibble about the means to become what we ought to be.

> That brings me to a broader issue: I wonder to what extent important ideas
> humanity's development owe their geneses to individuals versus the
> 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
> will foster the kind of future we want will owe their origins, in large
> to the general intellectual climate of the times, then we might see
> augmenting intelligence as a less important means than influencing
> views.
Why? Suppose we find that Chimp views are shaped more by chimp zeitgeist
than chimp geniuses like Kanzi. If their goal was to improve their wisdom
wouldn't they still be better off to adopt technology that would allow them
to augment their intelligence to become human, or more? Perhaps I am missing
your point. Mark.

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