Re: Love and friendship
Sun, 4 Jul 1999 10:27:36 EDT

In a message dated 99-07-02 22:29:38 EDT, (David Lubkin) wrote:

> While I am largely enthusiastic about our shared visions of the future,
> uncertain about
> the prospects for love and friendship.
> As a science fiction writer (among my other hats), I have often thought
> about this, but
> cannot conjure up a future that I think is plausible that does not
> jeopardize both love and
> friendship as I know them. To me this seems an inevitable danger that
> scares me as
> much as nanowarfare or deliberate grey goo.

Far from seeing the pleasures and benefits of love and friendship as being threatened by the kinds of technological transformation to which we look forward, I see the prospect of enhancement of these feelings and relationships. Love and friendship grow out of shared values, goals and life experiences. I don't see that basic truth changing, although the ways that these relationships are formed and the feelings are expressed will.

Consider the life of a pre-modern human. For most of human history and prehistory, an individual's circle of social interaction was restricted to the small handful of people in one's extended family or tribe. Every individual with whom a person came into contact had essentially the same life experience and prospects, within a fairly narrow range of diversity dictated by simple sexual and narrow cultural bounds. With the development of writing and transportation technologies like the domestication of the horse, a few privileged individuals were able to expand their social sphere to include distant people with more diverse life experiences. In the last two hundred years the proportion of people able to enjoy that diversity, and the range of the available diversity for social interaction, has broadened dramatically.

Transhuman technologies promise an acceleration of this broadening of social horizons, but the fundamental values upon which love and friendship are based won't change, in my opinion. Just as today I am able to form friendships with people who are distant in space and life experience through the use of jet aircraft, telephones and the internet, with the new technologies to which we look forward, we will continue to expand the range of entities with whom we can form bonds of shared values and life experiences. Imagine how much deeper and richer friendships with distant comrades will be with mature virtual reality. Imagine how enriched friendships will be when much higher bandwidth communication will be possible. And the prospect of friendships that extend in time vastly beyond the mere eight decades to which natural humans are condemned to live is truly wonderful!

I recently watched Ken Burns' wonderful documentary about Thomas Jefferson. He did a fantastic job of depicting the tender reconciliation between Jefferson and Adams in the correspondence of their last twenty years. Imagine if that renewed friendship had not been cut off by their deaths! The shared life experience of the two men formed a basis for a deep and fruitful friendship in a context that the younger men -- who had for a time become political "enemies" -- could not imagine.

In his fiction Greg Egan has explored how love and friendship might persist through even the longest and most transformed lives. In "Permutation City" I recall how the main characters maintained a core of emotional connection across the fantastic automorphism of two uploaded humans. And in "Diaspora" he explores how entities from vastly different beginnings and with completely different goals and basic cognitive forms reach across such gulfs to form friendships and find love. I highly recommend those books for a view of how the fundamental values of love and friendship will persist in a radically post-human world.

> A related question: what are the evolutionary advantages to love and
> friendship?
> What non-human species do you think have these experiences?

I think it's clear that animals co-evolved these emotional responses in connection with the selective advantage of social life. I have certainly seen what appears to be only a slightly more primitive version of our own feelings of love and friendship among the non-human primates I've observed closely.

     Greg Burch     <>----<>
     Attorney  :::  Vice President, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide   -or-
                         "Civilization is protest against nature; 
                  progress requires us to take control of evolution."
                                      -- Thomas Huxley