Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Fermi Heterodox

Very Serious Futurologist Owen Nicholas (dooooooooood!) over at stealth Robot Cult "think tank" IEET, the Institute for Ethics (where the ethics are rarely actually discussed) and Emerging Technologies (where the technologies are rarely actually emerging) is pretty sure that the reason we have never discerned any signs of extraterrestrial intelligence despite, you know, looking really hard for a really long time in a whole lot of places (the so-called Fermi Paradox), is because all the ETs have "techno-transcended." All of which means (duh!) that the non-evidence of ETs is really just more evidence that WE are all on an inevitable rocket ship to techno-transcendence ourselves. Of course, this seems a less perplexing conclusion for him to come to once you grasp that as True Believers pretty much everything eventually looks like evidence that we're all (except maybe, you know, the "deathists") on an inevitable rocket ship to techno-transcendence for Robot Cultists.

A while back I offered up my own take on the Fermi Paradox in one of my Futurological Brickbats:
XXII. The answer to the Fermi Paradox may simply be that we aren't invited to the party because so many humans are boring assholes. As one small evidence in this matter it is noteworthy that so many humans would appear to be so flabbergastingly immodest and immature as to think it a "paradoxical" result to discover the Universe is not an infinitely faceted mirror reflecting back at us on its every face our own incarnations and exhibitions of intelligence.


jimf said...

> Very Serious Futurologist Owen Nicholas (dooooooooood!). . .
> is pretty sure that the reason we have never discerned any
> signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. . .
> is because all the ETs have "techno-transcended."

Wow. So he's re-invented one of the plot-elements in
Bruce Sterling's 1982 "Swarm". It just came to him, **after**
having been marinated in Singularity-juice for -- how long?
(I haven't seen the name before.)

Isn't it a shame that Newt Gingrich never had a chance at
the White House? If Newt were President, the >Hists would
really have the ideal friend in high places. n'est-ce pas?

Taurus Londono said...

Hi again, Dale.

"looking really hard for a really long time in a whole lot of places"

Not really accurate; According to Seth Shostak, (Frank Drake's) SETI Institute has only thoroughly scanned roughly "1,000" stars in all the years since it's founding (and it's done so mostly by borrowing little blocks of time on other people's' telescopes).

That said, my own guess is that, for all intents and purposes, ET with "human-like" intelligence (ie; capable of building a radio telescope) *might as well* not exist in the observable universe. Carl Sagan is one of my heroes, but his estimate of "1 million" civilizations in the Milky Way now seems ludicrous to me. My hunch is that we'll never detect one.

I only comment because I put together an amateurish video on this a little while back (the first in a three part series).

(spoiler: the "face of ET" is a microbe)

Dale Carrico said...

I think we can postpone the scintillating debate on whether my use of "a lot" in a parody post is the same as yours for a later day. I share your appreciation of Carl Sagan (who would be very disappointed that you hang out with Robot Cultists) and yet I also agree that estimating a million "human like" intelligence in the universe is both a ludicrous thing to expect and a ludicrous thing to wish for. I must say I like it that although you regard me as a "bombastic" "fallacy-mongering" "Laputan buffoon" whose "distortions are so lazy, so naked, so hyperbolic" I "wouldn't know science if it pulled him into the janitor's closet and gave him a rimjob" you regard my readership worthy of spam for your past and continuing efforts. All that is just to say, I actually appreciate a good insult stylishly put, but there's more to what I am saying and I suspect there could be more to you, too, if you traveled in more sensible circles. You're still going to die, you know.

Taurus Londono said...

Sagan only ever halfheartedly disguised his belief in a teleological universe; it undoubtedly played a great role in contextualizing his own impending death (see "Billions & Billions").

If I had to guess, it seems to me that while Sagan would have acknowledged the reality of some of the things you inexplicably deny (such as successful experiments to keep severed heads alive more than a half a century ago; brain transplantation in 1970, etc), his dismissal probably would've been based on widely-held perceptions about damage from ice formation.

Admittedly, I don't personally know whether or not he ever made any public statements about cryonics. But, gain, if he *did,* I'd bet that any qualms he expressed would've focused on ice formation.

Nevertheless, Sagan would've been quick to point out that "argument from authority does not constitute evidence" in science...and on that, he was absolutely correct. Maybe you need to reacquaint yourself with the baloney detection kit.

You keep calling me a "robot cultist," but you never bother to explain exactly how *I* specifically fit into that imaginary label.

So far, all I've done is rattle off lists of facts culled from either contemporary medico-scientific texts or research (mostly decades-old and long established) published in widely-circulated peer-reviewed journals. I have a hunch that you don't actually understand what I'm asserting. Instead of pointing to findings that contradict my "assertions," you've tied yourself in knots to fit me into the of the little boxes you like to use.

I am going to die (maybe tomorrow), but I'm also going to do everything I can to live as long as I can.

Dale Carrico said...

You know as well as I do that the Robot Cultists you hob-nob with are trying to leverage modest observations and mainstream concerns in the service of techno-transdcendental aspirations.

None of the "facts" you rattle off -- to the extent that you have them at your disposal -- have any salience at all except to the extent that they slot into a techno-transcendentalizing narrative that leaves all facts behind and leaps into pseudo-science and fantasy very quickly indeed. Techno-immortalism is a faith-based initiative and you know it.

Defending healthcare and medical research, diet and exercise, and equitable social support to the diversity of our planetary peers is what working for better longer lives really looks like in the world. I think you know that, too.

It is nothing short of outrageous in my view that you want to pretend your collaboration with snake-oil salesmen is something Sagan would celebrate. I think you should be ashamed of yourself, I really do.

Tech-savvy young people are not only rejecting right-wing anti-science creationists but they are rejecting techno-utopian marketing hype and bs of which futurological Robot Cultists represent the most extreme expression. These twin rejections are part of the same pro-science struggle, and you are on the wrong side of it if you are championing the likes of Max More and Giulio Prisco.

Nobody has to tie themselves in knots to see the company you keep and to know the nonsense they spout. You want to see knots? Check out the defensive PR moves Robot Cultists make to sanewash their pseudo-science every time it gets exposed to the least scrutiny! Everybody knows how to use the google and you would do well to remember it. You may be bright enough to swallow your pride and get out of the clown car in time. But if you don't, you should expect to be exposed and ridiculed into an even greater marginality still which ensures you and your friends do as little harm as possible.

Anonymous said...

People like you are so amusing, because while you are very good at deconstructing other people’s quasi-religious narratives, you fail to see the religious nature of your own ideology. In what universe is “equitable social support to the diversity of our planetary peers” mandated by evolutionary biology or the laws of physics? Don’t you see that thoughtforms like “tolerance”, “diversity”, “democracy”, “equality”, etc. are purely constructs of your imagination, and when you ascribe magical powers to them you are doing *precisely* the same thing that other priests do with their scripture?

Is this world not a brutal, amoral, endless struggle for power, which rewards aggression, creativity and intelligence above all? I have never seen you write a single line which acknowledges this reality, which suggests to me that you are as delusional and religious as any Christian. Techno-transcendentalism may be quasi-religious, but at least it acknowledges that there is no inherent moral order to the world, and that technology and power trumps morality. I’m still awaiting your deconstruction of your own quasi-Christian moralism, or your derivation of your ideology from first principles in a godless, amoral universe.

Dale Carrico said...

I am far from thinking that equitable social support to the diversity of our planetary peers is "mandated by evolutionary biology or the laws of physics." I just think it is the right thing to do if we want to live in a world that embraces the real worth of the diversity of our peers and has a chance at solving the shared problems that beset us. That doesn't make my view "quasi-religious" it just makes me not an asshole.

Tolerance and intolerance, diversity and conformity, equity and inequity are far from substanceless "thoughtforms" -- although of course they connect to various ideologies -- they are living material practical realities in the world, with real consequences in actual lives.

If you really consign them to magic -- rather than this just being some anonymous coward's (hi, Darth!) bullshit bloviation in a blog's comments -- then you should probably be consigned to an asylum before you end up consigned to a prison cell.

It's nice to find yet another confirmation of the structural connection between the Robot Cult and the ugliest kind of reactionary politics and sociopathic personalities.

Eudoxia said...

>Techno-transcendentalism may be quasi-religious, but at least it acknowledges that there is no inherent moral order to the world, and that technology and power trumps morality.

Appeal from nature. Acknowledging reality doesn't mean one has to think it is right.

Anonymous said...

So your justification for you ideology is essentially a tautology then? Did you not just defend your values by appealing to them? Are you asking me to accept them on faith, and is this not what all religions do?
And please stop with the magic words like “reactionary” and “sociopathic” -- these are just incantations by which you seek to discredit and gain power over those you disagree with. Don’t waste your time, your magic won’t work on me!

Are you really threatening me with an asylum or a prison cell for disagreeing with you? That’s fine, but surely then you have no right to claim moral superiority over Hitler, Stalin or any other Sith Lord. I’m just trying to force you to confront the arbitrariness of your ideology, to make you aware of your blind spots, assumptions, your Shadow and dark side. I think you should thank me for performing this service for you free of charge, and with only a little mental violence!

(By the way, I have no connection to the “Robot Cult”, though I did create a web site a while back which upset some of them for taking their ideas to their logical extreme. See )

Dale Carrico said...

Wow, you stumbled on the is-ought dichotomy, welcome to Philosophy 101!

I defend my values by literally defending them -- by saying what I value and why I do in the hearing of the diversity of my peers. "Reactionary" and "sociopathic" are not magic words -- they describe real attitudes with real consequences in the real world.

And don't piss your diaper because I point out that saying crazy things if you mean them leads to the asylum and acting on sociopathic impulses leads to prison, this is no more threatening you than pointing out that leaping off cliffs in a world with gravity leads to getting squashed. It is all too typical, though, that Mr. Anti-Christian soft-porn Nietzsche would play the martyr, Mr. Anti-Social soft-belly predator god would whine about my intolerance of his intolerance. Next you'll be crying into your pillow because I delete your racist pud from the comments of my own blog unread -- waaaaaaah, the injustice!

I DO indeed claim moral superiority over Hitler and Stalin: I literally claim that, which is just to say that I actually value what I do for the reasons that I do and which I am willing to state and willing to stand by, and those values happen to be very different from those of Hitler and Stalin.

I don't think the universe has any preferences at all in the question of the words humans use to describe it or the values humans affirm or the outcomes that seek to attain by the means at their disposal. I'm an atheist, exactly like I always say I am, right up front, I don't need to pretend my values are endorsed by Baby Jesus or evolutionary optimality, I am fully responsible for the beliefs I hold and quite content to offer them up as such to the hearing of my peers, something I do under my own name every day here and elsewhere and in my teaching.

Can you say the same, pseudonymous/ anonymous coward, with your marginal defensive racist views, with your ill-digested undergraduate coffee house philosophy? Yeah, that's what I thought.

jollyspaniard said...

Our civilization is quite noisy radio wise but despite that if there was a civilization just as noisy as us in Alpha Centauri SETI wouldn't be able to detect it.

The whole Fermi Paradox is built on a pile of assumptions. It's not worthwhile to put too much stock in it.

Dale Carrico said...

Definitely agree.