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share link   economics (11)    futurism (59)   

Human cloning would make for interesting game theory experiments. In the case of the classic Prisoner's Dilemma, it's rational for every prisoner to rat the other one out. But in the case of human cloning, the game has one extra assumption: both parties do the same thing. The two-dimensional decision matrix then becomes one-dimensional, with only two choices: we both snitch or we both keep quiet. You can assume that whatever choice you make, the other will make too, so it's always better to choose silence.

share link   anthropology (3)    religion (10)    writing (6)   

Joseph Campbell's presentation of the monomyth is designed purposefully with an unanswered mystery. That there exists common myths in cultures that did not have contact with each other bespeaks of some innate, shared human longing, and therefore something universally identifiable with the hero's journey.

However, it's a simple exercise to guess what this innate, shared longing is all about. For one, the hero's journey is simply about education. Parents tell children stories about heroes to instill courage in grappling with the unknown: "There may be whoolly mammoths in some valley, or some other such mystery, but you will figure it out. If not, there will be mentors along the way." It reinforces the role of teachers, but also that of students transcending their teachers to acquire new knowledge.

The monomyth also follows the laws of flow, with the hero or player attempting something beyond their skillset, thereby causing anxiety and doubt. Eventually, through practice or trial-and-error (i.e. falling into the abyss), they will transform into new capable players and return to the village with bounty. The hero's journey is therefore the most efficient, entertaining story about self-actualization.

Or, the monomyth is simply what happens when a basic story reaches its logical form after generations of evolution. The first version could have been, "John went out into the woods, was hungry, starved for a few days, but invented bear traps, then came back with bear meat for the tribe." After iterative storytelling, with adjustments made over years to increase the story's appeal, it becomes, "John was hungry, had visions (i.e. hallucinated), was eaten by the bear, but became a bear god in the process, and now watches over the universe." The consequences are exaggerated to involve death and the abyss, and the stakes are made astronomical, with the whole world hanging in the balance. All of this makes for better storytelling, which means that the monomyth has a lot in common with a writer's room plumbing the human psyche for the most viral stories possible.

share link   psychology (22)    philosophy (18)   

One problem with reason is that the act of doing so comes with an expectation that we have complete or complete-enough information. But evolution didn't design us to be rational thinkers. Evolution designed us to maximize our outcomes, in the face of incredibly uncertainty. Intuition is maybe 90% of what happens in reason. When we begin a line of reasoning, the path is guided by feeling. People with brain injuries who've lost their emotional centers, suddenly lose the ability to deduce. Extrapolation is the norm. Stereotyping is the norm. Jumping to conclusions is the norm. It's expecting otherwise that's irrational.

share link   history (21)   

Historical narratives aren't trends, but rather totems used for persuasive power. "We should return back to good-natured 1950s values." "We should avoid Victorian prudery." Even though there are trends, they aren't necessarily that significant. For example, while the average number of lifetime sexual partners has ebbed and flowed, going from 3 in more "conservative" times to 17 in "liberal" times, it doesn't mean that the people of those times were that much different. Someone could go from 3 to 17 sexual partners and not really be any more conservative or liberal of a person.

When people imagine historical periods, it's usually visualized through fashion, through a period movie they saw, or through a famous person of that time. Doing so gives the impression of a different people in different times, when perhaps, for the most part, people might have always been the way they are now.

share link   rhetoric (12)    technology (26)    philosophy (18)    writing (6)   

"The Internet was invented" sounds better than "Scientists invented the Internet" or "Al Gore invented the Internet." Even though passive voice is discouraged in English class, we crave it. Much of the human experience is about receiving things or things happening to us, with the actor or agent unknown. We can identify who invented the Internet, but doing so ignores the idea that technology itself has agency. "Technology wants something," with or without the specific named inventors, and so the arrival of the Internet, in a way, is something that magically appeared.

Active voice frames conversations with causality, which makes sense in the plot of a spy thriller with a character who is pushing the events of the story forward. But even then, one could frame it in terms like, "conspiracies formed, commands were sent, and computers got hacked."

share link   futurism (59)    technology (26)    society (32)   

When someone's job is replaced by a machine, their individual unemployment is more than made up for by the reduced cost of goods spread across the rest of the economy—so the theory goes. For optimistic futurists, machines will solve every problem, leaving us free to live a life of leisure.

However, these futurists and economists gloss over the transition to utopia. Engineers have to create these automatons, and while their jobs could theoretically be thought of as temporary, how temporary is temporary? What if it takes a thousand years of computer programmers, working to automate everybody else's jobs, that the entire workforce becomes programmers.

Another scenario is that the future then becomes exclusively built for the machine-makers. Survival a hundred or so years from now could depend on having a minimum amount of technical literacy. This could even come about in a roundabout way, whereby welfare becomes outsourced to companies like Google or Facebook, where in order to access your benefits, you have to perform certain technical maneuvers, like cashing in virtual money from playing games. Perhaps welfare is guaranteed to anybody who knows enough about technology to make a secure-enough password to protect their Bitcoin wallets.

While the collective dream is one of an all-encompassing leisure life, there are so many roadblocks to getting there, that the roadblocks themselves could ultimately end up being the collective reality.

share link   technology (26)    futurism (59)   

In the late 1990s, there were more than 500 million Internet users, and yet it was chided at the time as a novelty. Even though in Silicon Valley, it was described as a world-changing force, the popular understanding of it was as a place for time-wasters like pornography and cat photos. The Internet was conceived of as just one application out of many, something to sit alongside word processing or graphic design.

Now, the Internet is so integrated into our lives, that for many people, it's the only way they stay in touch, and for many businesses, it's the only way they make money. Our livelihoods are dependent on it, and so now it appears in retrospect as a monumental innovation, perhaps even greater than the invention of the computer.

Likewise, airplanes and automobiles were initially received as novelties. Everybody was familiar with cars at the time, but they were primarily owned by the rich, and they were a nuisance on the road. A drive in one, for most people, facilitated something that they used to do by other means, such as by walking or with horse and carriage. It wasn't until later that all transport took place via cars, that it now seems inconceivable to imagine the trappings of modern life without them.

New technologies are initially only interested in acquiring new users; acquiring integration into those same users' lives is a whole different challenge. Thus, groundbreaking technologies only get recognized as such much later on, even decades after actually breaking ground.

share link   futurism (59)    technology (26)   

The portable phones we carry are lightyears ahead of the phones we had two decades ago, but consumer aircraft hasn't changed much, if at all, in that same timespan. The miniaturization of electronics can be ascribed to Moore's Law which describes this inexorable trend of packing transistors into smaller and smaller spaces, but aircraft innovation hit a ceiling of material and fuel costs early, which have remained either fixed or gradually increasing over time. If one were to put the historical innards of cellphones on a time-lapse, it would show a box with a battery that expands like a tumor, since battery shrinkage has not progressed as much as transistor shrinkage.

So while the acceleration of technology appears to be this unstoppable force, the shape of the change is more like the hands of a clock. The seconds hand represent tracks of innovation that are still growing swiftly, whereas the hour hand represents domains where technological growth has slowed or stopped. Collectively, all the hands are turning, just as there is some noticeable sense that every couple years, technology is going to improve, like clockwork. But what has become clear is that there isn't some magic that ensures every technology is going to get better all the time. That idea started to die as soon as flying cars did not arrive on schedule. As inexorable as trends like Moore's Law and other innovations seem in retrospect, at any point, they could stop, and become like the airplane: a giant leap for mankind we now take for granted.

share link   futurism (59)    philosophy (18)   

Death is a word, and the thought of that word is an experience for the living. Therefore, even if immortality removed the fear of death, the concept of death wouldn't die. Life itself would still be a death of sorts. Even if everybody's biological functions continued indefinitely, life could still stop. People might say, "I am dead inside," during moments devoid of vitality. And prolonged periods of suffering or anguish would be dreaded as much as one used to dread the march to the grave.

share link   society (32)    futurism (59)   

If war requires constituents to give their lives in concert for the greater good, then peace should give rise to individualism. As peace expands, so shrinks our susceptibility to mass control. But the new peace is not absolute, and new outlets for violence against communities have emerged in the form of lone gunmen and home-grown terrorists.

Pre-peace, violent people were controlled via broadcast, with religious or community leaders—who for most of history were the same people—pushing an agenda to the receptive masses. Post-peace, violent people need to be controlled via network. The potential school shooter has to be watched by a web of faculty and parents, looking for telltale signs. The soldier with PTSD has to be watched by a web of psychiatrists and officers, catching them before they take their weapons off base. And everybody else has to have their emails watched and their purchases monitored, just in case one of them decides to give their life for the good of their own, twisted form of retribution.

share link   history (21)    society (32)   

The problem with conspiracy theories is that once one is proven out, it is no longer classified as such, but instead becomes considered an accident, evil deed, act of terrorism, act of war, or any of the myriad bad things that fill history books. There is no hall of fame for vindicated conspiracy theorists. A conspiracy theory is simply a plot or mystery that mainstream or official inquiry isn't pursuing.

Once official inquiry begins, the theory simply becomes an investigation, and whoever leads that investigation puts their stamp of normalcy on it. All prior rumors, rumblings and misgivings that preceded the investigation, or even agitated for the investigation, are forgotten, and the theorist is left to work on defending their craziness while working on the next conspiracy.

share link   economics (11)    singularity (14)    futurism (59)   

Money is like Ethernet, binding everybody through the 0s and 1s of stored value. The speed of the network has been rising because of new technologies, new players, and new kinds of money. Technologies include e-commerce, credit card networks, and digital currencies. Players include humans and non-humans. Human players have grown because of growing population size and because of the widening circle of moneyed players in Third World economies. Non-human players include automated trading robots. New kinds of money include forms of debt and novel investment vehicles. Together, these factors indicate that the velocity of money is growing exponentially, in a Moore's Law-like curve.

If so, then perhaps the Singularity will be economic. Riches will cascade suddenly to the corners of civilization, with the overnight emergence of a global Leisure Class, wandering around like philosophers and artists in a School of Athens, just without the necessary slave economy to support it.

share link   writing (6)    society (32)    epistemology (2)   

People hear about a non-fiction book from a popular magazine article or through an interview on the radio and are seduced by the thesis. They then buy the book and start reading it in earnest, gaining an introductory understanding of the nature of the research backing the thesis. They then often skim the rest of the book or set the book aside.

None of the author's research is retained by readers, nor necessarily even read, even if hundreds of thousands of people pick up the book. And yet those hundreds of thousands will believe in the words of that author, and of those hundreds of thousands, some will be policy-makers or spiritual leaders. The stack of text then becomes a beacon or totem that says, effectively, "This is probably true." People will cite the book after it's initial publication, and eventually the book could be hollowed out. But even if the text were lost forever, the title of the book and the author's name could continue to guide the direction of human thought for years to come.