LIT: Culture as civilized Singularity

The Low Golden Willow (
Tue, 23 Sep 1997 19:56:56 -0700 (PDT)

A defense against any who think I'm influenced by Banks too much: I
think he's about as extropian as Vinge, only more optimistic. He's got
the goodies -- matter manipulation, AI, immortality, superhuman
intelligence, genetic modifications up the wazoo. He also has force
fields, FTL, and lots of aliens, but I consider those to be like the
Zones -- necessary for him to tell his stories, but not necessary for
the recognizable (if smaller) existence of his world. He's got similar
politics, but he comes from the anarcho-socialist side, which is as
nice or nicer to live in as an anarcho-capitalist society except that
no one talks about their economy enough. (As opposed to a socialist
state, where one might not want to live anyway, never mind if it

And unlike Vinge, he can see the continued existence of humans without
appealing to hokey mechanisms. I've expressed doubts about the
Singularity before, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that I think
something like the Culture is as likely as a Singularity, Spike, or
Crunch (my advisor, Bruce Murray, has his own term.) What Vinge sees is
everything speeding up into some violent unpredictable cataclysm, which
we get to survive as best we can, or not at all. Banks notes that the
humans starting the process are social and civilized, and assumes they
remain so and become more so -- not less. One could even say the
Culture is the result of a civilized Singularity.

Practically, Banks might be better for proselytization. Many of us were
inspired by Vinge, which is kind of odd considering that _Marooned in
Realtime_ has a rather creepy mystery surrounding the end of the human
race and that _Fire_ has big fences guarding us from the big nasty
Powers, who are born in catastrophic transcendances of a race. Or
considering that I haven't gotten the impression that Vinge himself is
unambiguously inspired by all this -- more that he sees the Singularity
as inevitable, and he can't ignore it to write space opera, than that he
thinks the extinction of the human race in the name of higher
intelligence and complexity is desirable. (Or the Singularity could be
avoided, but at even worse cost -- _The Peace War_, "The Peddler's

"And for all my rampant technological optimism, sometimes I think I'd be
more comfortable if I were regarding these transcendental events from
one thousand years remove ... instead of twenty."

If the Singularity can disturb some of us, or Vinge himself, how do you
think most people will react? The Rapturists here have asked for
brainstorming on how to spread our ideas. That could be a bad idea, in
current format. Most people will find the story "Unknown Kadath"
horrifying, not inspiring. If you argue that attempts to stop progress
are inevitable people will panic and try to stop you all the more.

I mean, the Culture itself is probably frightening to many. 400 year
lifespans, drug glands and true sex-changing as a genetic birthright,
immortality or uploading as options, resurrection, AIs, living on the
kindness of superhuman Minds, hedonism, etc. Not well-accepted memes at
the moment. But "all" it requires for acceptance is tolerance and some
expanded horizons. As opposed to worrying about having enough education
to survive the next three decades, or having humanity be convicted of
inefficiency and wiped out.

Merry part,
-xx- Damien R. Sullivan X-) <*>

Genua had once controlled the river mouth and taxed its traffic in a way that
couldn't be called piracy because it was done by the city government.
-- Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad