Re: Is Expecting Future Strangeness Our Essense?

Steve Witham (
Mon, 18 Aug 1997 19:56:05 -0400

Robin Hanson says:
>Listening to Greg Stock at Extro 3 I formed this hypothesis: that what
>most unites us is a conviction that within a century (or two at most)
>the world will be a VERY different place. [...]

Hmm... I became an extropian before munching on the idea of the
singularity. BUT. I've always contrasted extropians with...50's
futurists. You know, domed cities, flying cars, plastic clothing,
cities on mars, rockets going everywhere, videophones, robot-tended
farms (or hydroponics), fusion reactors...

I think what we have is a tendency to trace basic changes through
to radical ramifications. What "50's futurists" do is more like
linear extrapolation. Also, they seem(ed) to think as if things in the
future will just be more rational ways of doing things we do now.
As if change were something brought to us by the experts in Housing,
Transportation, Communication, etc., finding more efficient ways to
do their jobs. "A big machine to make big decisions, programmed by
fellas of compasion and vision," as Donald Fagan sings.

We look at causes--basic technologies, market forces, evolution,
information transfers--instead of just extrapolating trends in
results and finished products.

So, I think our tendency to see future strangeness is a result of a
deeper difference in the way we look at change. Bottom-up futurists
are tipped-applecart futurists.

There was a jump from not having an idea of progress to the idea of
progress. Progress was gradual and good for us people.

Then there was futurism, the idea that change was happening soon enough
that we ought to think about it seriously. Here the idea was to make
choices at the forks in this road we're progressing along.

The difference between Futurists and Extropians may be the
suspicion that formerly abstract or theoretical topics--evolution, the
structure of molecules, arrangement of matter as information,
number theory, quantum mechanics--will have a more forceful and
immediate effect on our own futures than human social structures,
needs and activities.

Of course the difference could result from a *willingness* to consider
strangeness, not shying from it. I'm not sure but I don't think so.
Consider 50's science fiction readers. Definitely neophiles,
strangophiles, but not extropians.

It's the tendency to extropolate.


--           Steve Witham          web page under deconstruction
"...when activated, it pops a message off the bag
    and recurs with the tail of the bag."
             --Vijay Saraswat and Patrick Lincoln