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

Saturday, December 01, 2007

More Superlative Sniperie

End of term looms, which often means posting gets a bit erratic on my end, I'm afraid. For those of you who enjoy my squabbles with Superlative technocentrics, here's some more back and forth with Giulio Prisco on the topic, from the discussion area of his transhumanist blog. I realize that these debates are hitting diminishing returns, though. At least, they're boring me a bit.

Over the holiday break I have much longer pieces on the way about S&N's wrongheaded "Death of Environmentalism" arguments, about how Bentham's Panopticon was already participatory and why we shouldn't take too much comfort in that, about how making appropriate tech appropriable connects green and p2p/a2k politics, about why the Permaculture movement and Environmental Justice discourses are technoprogressive in my sense of that term, and transcripts of talks I've given about why the p2p democratization of the Netroots really is revolutionary and what I mean by the phrase "pay to peer."

But that's all in the way of coming attractions, for a little while I will likely only have time to post easy sniping stuff about corporate-militarists and techno-utopians. In the following exchanges, Giulio Prisco's objections are italicized, my responses are not.

One: Dale Is Skeered of Teh Science

[C]onsidering human bodies and minds as machines (complex, not yet fully understood etc. etc.) opens the doors to the dangerous idea that they can be improved by engineering. This simple common sense is, of course, very dangerous to religious fundamentalists who prefer to think of our bodies and minds as magic and mysterious things that we little people cannot (and should not try to) understand.

Considering humans as complex organisms leaves open the completely uncontroversial idea that they can be healed and even modified in non-normalizing ways through consensual medical therapies. I’m an atheist, dude, not a religious fundamentalist. It’s Technological Immortalists and Robot Cultists who are —- if anybody under discussion here is -— indulging in a kind of magical thinking.

Beware of religious fundamentalists masquerading as modern intellectuals motivated by philosophical, social, cultural, ecological and political concerns. They are still the same old religious fundamentalists, desperately trying to hide behind big words.

I notice that once again you are accusing me of “hiding behind big words” even though I have taken the time to actually offer up an argument explaining in depth why I disagree with you. Believe me, you have nothing to gain from trying to appeal to the anti-intellectual crowd. Take a deep breath, think a bit more, and then offer up a new version of your argument that circumvents the obvious problems I’ve exposed in this early version of yours. It’s not that difficult.

Two: Either Yer With Us Or Agin' Us

What I am saying is that I think my body and my mind are machines… and that they can be… improved by engineering, not only in the sense of tightening a couple of loose screws, but also in the more fundamental sense of a complete redesign and engineering.

Yeah, I know that’s what you think. But your body wasn’t “designed.” It isn’t a device. The intuitions that derive from the furniture of the designed world don’t provide you the assurance you attribute to them.

You say you are an atheist, and of course I believe you when I say that… But in your writing I detect some traces of the old religious belief in a mysterious, undefined and undefinable vital vital spirit that differentiates humans from the rest of the universe, and that Thou Shalt Not tinker with.

If that’s what you “detect” it can only be because you are looking for it. I don’t say that anywhere, nor do I believe it. Anybody who isn’t a Robot Cultist is a bioconservative, I suppose? Dumb.

Three: Comfort and Joylessness

Good to hear that you strongly deny hidden fundamentalist and bioluddite motivations.

Given the ready availability of writings in which I make this endlessly and repeatedly clear I have to say that anybody who would think otherwise is likely either to be illiterate or just stupid.

But you frequently do the same, accusing me and others of things that we have never said anywhere, and don’t believe. Like in “well suited to incumbent interests and anti-democratic politics, whatever the professed politics of those who advocate them”.

One of my critiques of superlative technodevelopmental discourses is indeed that it facilitates incumbent interests and comports especially well with anti-democratic politics. I’ve offered up a number of patient explanations as to why I think so. It’s not just some put-down I fire off out of and into the blue, there’s an analysis available to support these claims.

I also regularly point out that this is quite different from the suggestion that people who deploy superlative formulations intend these effects. Obviously, many do not —- and this is a point I actually make myself. It seems to me that those who would not intend such effects would want to be especially vigilant about them, and would take my critique seriously rather than dismissing it precisely to the extent that they want to avoid such effects. But, you know, whatever.

Note that “well suited to fundamentalist and bioluddite politics, whatever the professed politics of those who advocate them” is exactly the same sentence.

Of course, that’s not a sentence you actually wrote, now, is it?

You know, I wouldn’t find it the least bit surprising to learn that some bioconservatives might have found some comfort in some of the things I have written. Especially some of the more lefty eco-bioconservative types rather than the more right wingnut anti-choice social-bioconservative types. I think they would finally be more wrong than not to find much such comfort if they do, inasmuch as my formulations conduce better to technoprogressive than to bioconservative politics.

This is because at the heart of bioconservative arguments in my view is always the moralizing project to “defend” established customs in the name of “nature,” however irrational, unfair, or unpopular. This is not a project that can long prevail in my view in the face of secular democratic multiculture central to my technoprogressive case.

The point is, I would strongly disagree with the claim that my formulations are more useful to bioconservatives than technoprogressives, if that's a claim anybody wants to make, and that is a conversation I welcome because I have plenty of good reasons to support my position. But I simply don’t think you can hold up your end of a comparable conversation about the greater usefulness of superlative formulations to incumbent interests over democratic ones, and that seems to me an important conversation to have, and so I welcome that conversation as well.

But instead I’m guessing you’ll just smear me as “using big words” again, or pout that I’m engaging in nothing but “name calling” despite all the careful explanations I offer without getting the same in return.

It seems to me that you do not like the taste of your own medicine.

Good one.

Four: Peddling Scientism As Science

If you backup a program’s source code and its database, recompile and install it on a different computational system (different CPU, different memory hardware, wiring etc.), for which a compiler for the same source is available, everything should work exactly as before, so for all practical purpose this specific construal of information is indifferent to the material mode of its instantiation”.

I am the first to admit that it is oversimplified and needs to be developed in much more detail, but think it is basically right. If you think it is basically wrong, could you explain why instead of hiding behind “reductionism”?


I am hiding because I’m scared of your scalpel sharp arguments for which my mystical brain is no match. From the post to which you are “responding”:
“Dynamic forces, systems, matrices, organisms are all usefully susceptible to scientific analysis even when they are not machines... The chief benefit to a Superlative Technocentric in describing a human body as a “machine” rather than a complex system or organism is the stealthy rhetorical work afforded at the figurative level through which the identification of a body as a[n already] devised thing presumes much that needs argument in the first place; namely, that a[n] imperishable, super-predicated body could be devised to replace the actually-existing “devised” bodies we live in.

“Later, Prisco admits that he reductively assumes: “I am the information encoded in my brain.” Of course, this cannot be literally true unless he is completely insane. He surely means to say that everything he imagines to matter most essentially about himself is information encoded in his brain…

“Of course, such a statement leaves to the side whether the “information” he is talking about consists of his memories, his dispositions, the complex relations among them (among these the relations between conscious, subconscious, and evolved dispositions), information as he would grasp and retrieve it himself, information on the basis of which a being could be modeled who would be indistinguishable from himself to an “outside” observer, and so on. Also, such a statement leaves to the side the crucial point that all information is instantiated on a material carrier, that even a “self” reducible to information on whatever construal would still always be embodied information, and hence it is questionable whether glib declarations about “migrations” of informational selves from bodies into digital networks or what have you are the least bit coherent once one attends to them with any care at all. These are questions that have been addressed at length by… Katherine Hayles in her critiques of Hans Moravec, for example, and in other aspects by Jaron Lanier in his critiques of “Cybernetic Totalism.”

“Prisco extraordinarily claims that “It seems to me that any other assumption would fall into mystic, magic, and supernatural realms that are completely foreign to my basic assumptions about reality.” That is to say, according to Prisco anybody who does not believe as he does that the self is reducible to some unspecified construal of information that is somehow indifferent to the material mode of its instantiation is engaged in mystical, magical, supernatural thinking...

“On the basis of this assumption and conclusion,” Prisco goes on oh so non-mystically, non-magically, non-supernaturally to predict “we will be able to upload human personalities to suitable computational supports, much longer lived than biological brains.” He then assures us, “This is, I believe, fully compatible with our current scientific understanding of the universe.” Never mind that actually existing computers exhibit conspicuous limitations and unreliabilities compared to actually existing biological brains of a kind that non-supernaturalist champions of science might properly be expected not to handwave away, never mind that actual scientists have never even approached a consensus of belief in superlative outcomes of the kind that preoccupy Prisco’s attention.

“The ‘natural vs. supernatural’ argument above tells me that cryonics works in principle—there is no mystic ‘soul’ that irretrievably leaves a frozen brain after death by decree of god.” Needless to say, even in a universe without a bloody-minded sky-daddy to govern us, it is not necessarily the case that bodies or brains “preserved” through processes of freezing or even vitrification will be revivable or retrievable by future medical techniques, and the scientific consensus is not encouraging on this question, handwaving by superlative technocentrics (self-appointed “champions” of science, all) notwithstanding.”

It isn’t “oversimplified” but basically "right" to say you are a computer, it is plain wrong.

To the extent that this stupidity prevails in technocentric professions like coders and engineers it does real damage in the world to no actual scientific benefit.

None of what you are saying is common sense, it isn’t scientific, it isn’t “doing something” to create a better future -— do you even know what actual political advocacy means, beyond PR spin and membership outreach for marginal membership organizations? —- all this cryonics and uploading and Robot God business is just ill-considered indulgence in sf iconography (which as a geek I appreciate enormously myself, in its place) turned into a defensive religious outlook pretending to be policy discourse in a desperate bid not to be dismissed as a cult.

Five: Clutching At Straws

“Superlative technologies” like immortality and mind uploading are compatible with our current scientific understanding of reality

Logical possibility is not the same thing as practical likelihood in any human relevant timescale and only the latter relevance justifies the hope & faith (not to mention the apocalyptic dread) you superlative technocentric types go on about. Quite apart from this, before you manage to get to the remote logical possibilities you cling to, all these problematic notions of intelligence, selfhood, progress get smuggled into your basic superlative assumptions. If you guys are wrong in these areas it doesn’t much matter the near-vacuous logical entailments you claim, or the blue-sky megaengineering schemes you enthuse over, if you’re building everything on quicksands.

Dale… refuses to engage “Superlative Technocentrics” in debates on the actual, scientific and engineering aspects of superlative technologies.

You call your hocus pocus “technical” and count on general scientific illiteracy to cut the slack you need to indulge in psychologically edifying handwaving.

He only wants to discuss on his nebulous terms… If he refuses to talk in my language, why the hell should I want to talk in his language?

That’s the task you take on when you decide to “respond” to my critique if this is the language and these are the concerns of which it is composed.

first prove “unrealistic” instead of assuming it. Many people who know much more science and engineering than you would not agree.

Many more people who know more science and engineering than I do disagree with you, and a responsible citizen who isn’t a scientist should defer to their consensus. I agree that many superlative technocentrics do know enough science to misinform the public, or to convince themselves that their wish-fulfillment fantasies are really going to come true any day now.

Should we discuss the cult-of-personality, charismatic leadership, intolerance of dissent, thought policing and internal purges sooo typical of socialist parties? Yes my friend, socialist parties have had all that and worse. Should we then dismiss socialism as psychologically harmful and dangerously anti-democratizing?

Only in the wingnut right can you get away with pretending that people of the democratic left are “unaware” of the dangers of authoritarianism whether on the “left” or the “right.” I ferociously oppose anti-democratic governance wherever it’s happening, smearing social democracy/democratic socialism with Stalinism is dumb.

On the other hand, there are at most a few thousand self-identified “transhumanists” in the world, a handful of marginal organizations, and a small coterie of published authors and Usual Suspects who function as “go to” guys for your movement—and the proportion of would-be gurus, flim-flam artists, proud right wing reactionaries,
young white guys begging for validation is flabbergastingly high.

If you mean that Superlative Technologies are Bad because they will be developed and used by military-industrial interests, wait a minute. I had formed the impression that you thought of Superlative Technologies as nonsensical and impossible delusions of sci-fi geeks or Robot God cultists.

Superlative discourse is the hype that enables corporate-militarists to peddle non-superlative crap they’re actually capable of. We’re sold lethal bombs with fantasies of precision bombs, sold dangerous expensive nuclear technology with fantasies of energy too cheap to meter, sold unnecessary even harmful drugs with fantasies of eternal youth and easy happiness, sold landfills filled with toxic plastic with fantasies of cheap ubiquitous colorful abundance, etc.

Superlatives are True Believers in hype while the beneficiaries profit from the lies.

That neoliberals and neoconservatives like ice cream does not mean that I cannot like ice cream, it just means that ice cream is good for both. “Global Development” and “Technoscientific Progress” are good things, even if also neoliberals and neoconservatives say so.

Of course, different people can mean different things by the same words. “Global Development” too often means confiscatory wealth concentration. “Technoscientific Progress” too often means “no limits” (none to atmospheric resilience, none to soil or fresh water, no energy descent, no need to maintain infrastructure or legitimacy with taxes, etc.) to white racist North Atlantic corporate-militarist hegemony.
I understand the appeal of these facile phrases you cling to, this ice cream cone business, but the truth is you don’t seem to understand more than a fraction of the points I am making.

11 comments:

remterbacysi'ox said...

I will be rating everything you say. My comments will be in bold.

Considering humans as complex organisms leaves open the completely uncontroversial idea that they can be healed and even modified in non-normalizing ways through consensual medical therapies. I’m an atheist, dude, not a religious fundamentalist. It’s Technological Immortalists and Robot Cultists who are —- if anybody under discussion here is -— indulging in a kind of magical thinking.

+


I notice that once again you are accusing me of “hiding behind big words” even though I have taken the time to actually offer up an argument explaining in depth why I disagree with you. Believe me, you have nothing to gain from trying to appeal to the anti-intellectual crowd. Take a deep breath, think a bit more, and then offer up a new version of your argument that circumvents the obvious problems I’ve exposed in this early version of yours. It’s not that difficult.

+


Yeah, I know that’s what you think. But your body wasn’t “designed.” It isn’t a device. The intuitions that derive from the furniture of the designed world don’t provide you the assurance you attribute to them.

-
He means that the same laws of physics apply, and that the body can be redesigned in theory


If that’s what you “detect” it can only be because you are looking for it. I don’t say that anywhere, nor do I believe it. Anybody who isn’t a Robot Cultist is a bioconservative, I suppose? Dumb.

?
You didn't directly respond.



Given the ready availability of writings in which I make this endlessly and repeatedly clear I have to say that anybody who would think otherwise is likely either to be illiterate or just stupid.

++

One of my critiques of superlative technodevelopmental discourses is indeed that it facilitates incumbent interests and comports especially well with anti-democratic politics. I’ve offered up a number of patient explanations as to why I think so. It’s not just some put-down I fire off out of and into the blue, there’s an analysis available to support these claims.

I also regularly point out that this is quite different from the suggestion that people who deploy superlative formulations intend these effects. Obviously, many do not —- and this is a point I actually make myself. It seems to me that those who would not intend such effects would want to be especially vigilant about them, and would take my critique seriously rather than dismissing it precisely to the extent that they want to avoid such effects. But, you know, whatever.

+
(if you read the rest)


Of course, that’s not a sentence you actually wrote, now, is it?

You know, I wouldn’t find it the least bit surprising to learn that some bioconservatives might have found some comfort in some of the things I have written. Especially some of the more lefty eco-bioconservative types rather than the more right wingnut anti-choice social-bioconservative types. I think they would finally be more wrong than not to find much such comfort if they do, inasmuch as my formulations conduce better to technoprogressive than to bioconservative politics.

This is because at the heart of bioconservative arguments in my view is always the moralizing project to “defend” established customs in the name of “nature,” however irrational, unfair, or unpopular. This is not a project that can long prevail in my view in the face of secular democratic multiculture central to my technoprogressive case.

The point is, I would strongly disagree with the claim that my formulations are more useful to bioconservatives than technoprogressives, if that's a claim anybody wants to make, and that is a conversation I welcome because I have plenty of good reasons to support my position. But I simply don’t think you can hold up your end of a comparable conversation about the greater usefulness of superlative formulations to incumbent interests over democratic ones, and that seems to me an important conversation to have, and so I welcome that conversation as well.

But instead I’m guessing you’ll just smear me as “using big words” again, or pout that I’m engaging in nothing but “name calling” despite all the careful explanations I offer without getting the same in return.

+

Good one.

?

I am hiding because I’m scared of your scalpel sharp arguments for which my mystical brain is no match. From the post to which you are “responding”:

“Dynamic forces, systems, matrices, organisms are all usefully susceptible to scientific analysis even when they are not machines... The chief benefit to a Superlative Technocentric in describing a human body as a “machine” rather than a complex system or organism is the stealthy rhetorical work afforded at the figurative level through which the identification of a body as a[n already] devised thing presumes much that needs argument in the first place; namely, that a[n] imperishable, super-predicated body could be devised to replace the actually-existing “devised” bodies we live in.

“Later, Prisco admits that he reductively assumes: “I am the information encoded in my brain.” Of course, this cannot be literally true unless he is completely insane. He surely means to say that everything he imagines to matter most essentially about himself is information encoded in his brain…

“Of course, such a statement leaves to the side whether the “information” he is talking about consists of his memories, his dispositions, the complex relations among them (among these the relations between conscious, subconscious, and evolved dispositions), information as he would grasp and retrieve it himself, information on the basis of which a being could be modeled who would be indistinguishable from himself to an “outside” observer, and so on. Also, such a statement leaves to the side the crucial point that all information is instantiated on a material carrier, that even a “self” reducible to information on whatever construal would still always be embodied information, and hence it is questionable whether glib declarations about “migrations” of informational selves from bodies into digital networks or what have you are the least bit coherent once one attends to them with any care at all. These are questions that have been addressed at length by… Katherine Hayles in her critiques of Hans Moravec, for example, and in other aspects by Jaron Lanier in his critiques of “Cybernetic Totalism.”

“Prisco extraordinarily claims that “It seems to me that any other assumption would fall into mystic, magic, and supernatural realms that are completely foreign to my basic assumptions about reality.” That is to say, according to Prisco anybody who does not believe as he does that the self is reducible to some unspecified construal of information that is somehow indifferent to the material mode of its instantiation is engaged in mystical, magical, supernatural thinking...

“On the basis of this assumption and conclusion,” Prisco goes on oh so non-mystically, non-magically, non-supernaturally to predict “we will be able to upload human personalities to suitable computational supports, much longer lived than biological brains.” He then assures us, “This is, I believe, fully compatible with our current scientific understanding of the universe.” Never mind that actually existing computers exhibit conspicuous limitations and unreliabilities compared to actually existing biological brains of a kind that non-supernaturalist champions of science might properly be expected not to handwave away, never mind that actual scientists have never even approached a consensus of belief in superlative outcomes of the kind that preoccupy Prisco’s attention.

“The ‘natural vs. supernatural’ argument above tells me that cryonics works in principle—there is no mystic ‘soul’ that irretrievably leaves a frozen brain after death by decree of god.” Needless to say, even in a universe without a bloody-minded sky-daddy to govern us, it is not necessarily the case that bodies or brains “preserved” through processes of freezing or even vitrification will be revivable or retrievable by future medical techniques, and the scientific consensus is not encouraging on this question, handwaving by superlative technocentrics (self-appointed “champions” of science, all) notwithstanding.”


It isn’t “oversimplified” but basically "right" to say you are a computer, it is plain wrong.

To the extent that this stupidity prevails in technocentric professions like coders and engineers it does real damage in the world to no actual scientific benefit.

None of what you are saying is common sense, it isn’t scientific, it isn’t “doing something” to create a better future -— do you even know what actual political advocacy means, beyond PR spin and membership outreach for marginal membership organizations? —- all this cryonics and uploading and Robot God business is just ill-considered indulgence in sf iconography (which as a geek I appreciate enormously myself, in its place) turned into a defensive religious outlook pretending to be policy discourse in a desperate bid not to be dismissed as a cult.

-
If what you are saying is valid, that still would not make it plain wrong - it would just put it under dispute. Also, "common sense" is a very bad argument, since he clearly has a different one.


Logical possibility is not the same thing as practical likelihood in any human relevant timescale and only the latter relevance justifies the hope & faith (not to mention the apocalyptic dread) you superlative technocentric types go on about. Quite apart from this, before you manage to get to the remote logical possibilities you cling to, all these problematic notions of intelligence, selfhood, progress get smuggled into your basic superlative assumptions. If you guys are wrong in these areas it doesn’t much matter the near-vacuous logical entailments you claim, or the blue-sky megaengineering schemes you enthuse over, if you’re building everything on quicksands.

+-
Superlative Technocentrics do explain why they are practical, but you are only arguing with him about whether they are possible. Then you say that they have not shown that they are practical, but you have never asked them that.


You call your hocus pocus “technical” and count on general scientific illiteracy to cut the slack you need to indulge in psychologically edifying handwaving.

-
See the last response.



That’s the task you take on when you decide to “respond” to my critique if this is the language and these are the concerns of which it is composed.

+-
But then you have to talk in his language when you respond to his responses. If you don't respond to them, he can just keep attacking your arguments.


Many more people who know more science and engineering than I do disagree with you, and a responsible citizen who isn’t a scientist should defer to their consensus. I agree that many superlative technocentrics do know enough science to misinform the public, or to convince themselves that their wish-fulfillment fantasies are really going to come true any day now.

weak +
Scientific consensus doesn't mean that something is true. It takes some time to change it. Of course, this doesn't mean that Giulio is automatically right.



Only in the wingnut right can you get away with pretending that people of the democratic left are “unaware” of the dangers of authoritarianism whether on the “left” or the “right.” I ferociously oppose anti-democratic governance wherever it’s happening, smearing social democracy/democratic socialism with Stalinism is dumb.

On the other hand, there are at most a few thousand self-identified “transhumanists” in the world, a handful of marginal organizations, and a small coterie of published authors and Usual Suspects who function as “go to” guys for your movement—and the proportion of would-be gurus, flim-flam artists, proud right wing reactionaries,
young white guys begging for validation is flabbergastingly high.

-
Even if most or all socialists are not anti-democratic, socialism could still lead to a non-democratic result. The most plausible way that could happen is either a government getting overthrown by communists (yes, communists are not socialists, but socialist arguments may give communists more support) or a huge and inefficient government.


Superlative discourse is the hype that enables corporate-militarists to peddle non-superlative crap they’re actually capable of. We’re sold lethal bombs with fantasies of precision bombs, sold dangerous expensive nuclear technology with fantasies of energy too cheap to meter, sold unnecessary even harmful drugs with fantasies of eternal youth and easy happiness, sold landfills filled with toxic plastic with fantasies of cheap ubiquitous colorful abundance, etc.

Superlatives are True Believers in hype while the beneficiaries profit from the lies.

+
Exactly. The harmful products are constantly improving (at least marginally), though. (oops, read the second paragraph of that) Actually if Superlative Technocentrics are only people who believe the hype, why would they cause it? I'll give this one a "-".



Of course, different people can mean different things by the same words. “Global Development” too often means confiscatory wealth concentration. “Technoscientific Progress” too often means “no limits” (none to atmospheric resilience, none to soil or fresh water, no energy descent, no need to maintain infrastructure or legitimacy with taxes, etc.) to white racist North Atlantic corporate-militarist hegemony.
I understand the appeal of these facile phrases you cling to, this ice cream cone business, but the truth is you don’t seem to understand more than a fraction of the points I am making.

+-
Actually, it seems like both of you only understand half of the others' arguments.


Something else about technology: People are happier when everyone is equal. This might mean that a poorer but equal quality of life is better than a better quality of life but more inequality, even if the poorest people are actually better off with the inequality.

Anonymous said...

Renowned security expert Bruce Schneier coined the term "Movie plot security" for precautions that are reasonable at a glance, but ultimately futile.

Superlativity as methodology is basically "Novel plot technodevelopment". It too is scientific at a first glance but somehow happens to be wrong 99.9% of the time, which by definition excludes it from science by whatever definition of the term. But the problem here is not that terrorists as a group are too smart to borrow their ideas from movie plots, but that we are all in a "fog of futurity", not on a mostly open terrain with part of it obscured by "curtain of Singularity".

For example, why steam engine wasn't developed in IIIrd century BCE? People of the time had all the scientific understanding and management skills needed. Accounts of Romans building hundreds of war galleys (and thousands of interchangeable oars and rowlocks) amply prove that, as do surviving treatises of Heron of Alexandria. In fact it's well-known that Heron actually built one! What other proof is needed that steam engines were just around the corner? It's much, much more than we have now in regard to say, mind uploading.

However we all know that steam engines appeared as an useful machine some 2000 years later. Why? I'm not a scholar of ancient history, but to me it apears that there were 2 tiny complications. First, ironworking wasn't developed enough to allow relatively light yet reliable boilers and cylinders, second, there wasn't important enough application for early, extremelly inefficient designs. Hovewer overcoming these hurdles took time intervals, societal and technical changes that would beggar any IIIrd century imaginaton. It didn't happen overnight, all the hopes and comncerns Roman or Alexandrian or Carthagenian people might associate with steam engine were mostly moot by that time, and new ones appeared instead.

Or, a model "singularity" technology, solid-state elecrtonics. You know, it could appear in 20's instead of 50's, in fact it sort of did. As examination of Losev's lab diaries had shown he missed invention of true transistors because of such an insignificant detail, that it could be only called bad luck. (He still invented two other most significant semiconductor devices, - LED and negative-resistance diode.) But what if he did? This is an exciting novel plot (imagine WWII where V-2 would be really a doomsday weapons, piston-engined aircraft dodging guided SAMs, etc...) But very unlikely course of actual history, for many political and technical considerations.

Or, to take more far-fetched exmple, Sci-fi of the era sometimes featured villain which somehow gained access to inexaustible sullpy of gold, thus getting power to upset world trade and take over the world. Now, if such a supply would be found, it would upset bunch of miners and investors, right, but most of the world would hardly notice.

So, that apperance of Singularity as thin "curtain" is utterly misleading. Real future is more like fog. You seee something on the horizon, you see your immediate surroundings, but that's all. You _can_ do better than wander aimlessly through that fog, but it's nothing like just straightforwardly going to that curtain and lifting it.

Dale Carrico said...

I wrote:

your body wasn’t “designed.” It isn’t a device. The intuitions that derive from the furniture of the designed world don’t provide you the assurance you attribute to them.

You explained:

He means that the same laws of physics apply, and that the body can be redesigned in theory.

As I point out later in the post but expansively elsewhere, the applicability of the laws of physics radically underdetermines outcomes, but given the weight superlativity invests in logical possibility this radical underdetermination fatally undercuts the basis for much of their actual conviction and enthusiasm.

Against Prisco's insinuation that I'm a mystic, a bioconservative, or luddite because I haven't gotten on the crazy train with the Robot Cultists I wrote:

If that’s what you “detect” it can only be because you are looking for it. I don’t say that anywhere, nor do I believe it. Anybody who isn’t a Robot Cultist is a bioconservative, I suppose? Dumb.

You complained:

? You didn't directly respond.

I didn't think I have to. You do realize I've written thousands upon thousands of words defending secular multiculture, consensus science, and my own atheism don't you? If only superlativity were non-mystical then my claim to be both anti-superlative and non-mystical would deserve more justification, but nobody believes this obviously untrue thing so how much time do I have to devote to directly responding to it exactly?

I wrote:

It isn’t “oversimplified” but basically "right" to say you are a computer, it is plain wrong.

To the extent that this stupidity prevails in technocentric professions like coders and engineers it does real damage in the world to no actual scientific benefit.

None of what you are saying is common sense, it isn’t scientific, it isn’t “doing something” to create a better future -— do you even know what actual political advocacy means, beyond PR spin and membership outreach for marginal membership organizations? —- all this cryonics and uploading and Robot God business is just ill-considered indulgence in sf iconography (which as a geek I appreciate enormously myself, in its place) turned into a defensive religious outlook pretending to be policy discourse in a desperate bid not to be dismissed as a cult.


You complained:

If what you are saying is valid, that still would not make it plain wrong -- it would just put it under dispute. Also, "common sense" is a very bad argument, since he clearly has a different one.

It's Prisco who likes to claim common sense is on his side somehow despite the fact that almost nobody on earth agrees with him and hence he cannot really know what sensus communis means, then, if he thinks he is supported by it. The points I was making were a not designed to "show" it is plain wrong to say you are a computer, because I think this is indeed plainly wrong -- the brain is more gland than computer and come what may we are more than our brains. All the other stuff I was saying was just highlighting the stakes of this question, not proving its validity, which, to be honest, I think doesn't really need much in the way of proof. If we agree that it is the extraordinary claim that demands the extraordinary proofs isn't it plain that it would be the solid living mammalian person who wants to say he is just information or a computer who needs to start coughing up some extraordinary justifications for saying such odd things, not the one who denies them?

You intervened in my critique by saying:

Superlative Technocentrics do explain why they are practical, but you are only arguing with him about whether they are possible. Then you say that they have not shown that they are practical, but you have never asked them that.

I must say I don't think I quite grasp the force of your point. It seems to me a rather quixotic endeavor to delineate the practicality of the impossible.

You raise an interesting point when you say:

you have to talk in his language when you respond to his responses. If you don't respond to them, he can just keep attacking your arguments.

I don't understand why I should have to respond to nonresponsive "responses" by taking up their nonresponsive terms, especially when it is my terms that are the ones I'm interested in, trained to substantiate, and are the very ones that presumably provoked the response in the first place. There is a difference between attacking my actual arguments and just trying to change the subject. I'm trying not to allow the latter to happen.

I responded to Giulio's boast that all sorts of sciency smarties agree with him at all the transhumanist cocktail parties that:

Many more people who know more science and engineering than I do disagree with you, and a responsible citizen who isn’t a scientist should defer to their consensus. I agree that many superlative technocentrics do know enough science to misinform the public, or to convince themselves that their wish-fulfillment fantasies are really going to come true any day now.

You wrote:

Scientific consensus doesn't mean that something is true. It takes some time to change it. Of course, this doesn't mean that Giulio is automatically right.

We describe as "true" those beliefs that are warranted according to the criteria appropriate to mode of belief ascription comported with whatever end belief would facilitate. If you mean "true" in some sense deeper than warranted assertability that presumably confers powers (of certainty, finitude, and so on) that warranted assertability lacks, then you may be appalled to discover that I dropped my faith in that notion at around the same time I did away with God (and for much the same reasons).

More to the point, in a era for which technodevelopmental social struggle is the primary arena in which the struggle for and against democracy plays out in the world it matters enormously that citizens who are not scientists nonetheless can participate in deliberation about technoscientific outcomes. I don't care about "truth" in some quasi-mystical construal, but I do know that where one cannot grasp the published evidence on the basis of which candidate descriptions for warranted scientific belief are on offer one is still reasonable and responsible to take as warranted those beliefs that have achieved scientific consensus in the relevant field. You're quite right to point out that such warrants fail to confer either certainty or finality -- but nothing does, so this is not a fault that troubles me unduly.

I wrote:

Superlative discourse is the hype that enables corporate-militarists to peddle non-superlative crap they’re actually capable of. We’re sold lethal bombs with fantasies of precision bombs, sold dangerous expensive nuclear technology with fantasies of energy too cheap to meter, sold unnecessary even harmful drugs with fantasies of eternal youth and easy happiness, sold landfills filled with toxic plastic with fantasies of cheap ubiquitous colorful abundance, etc.

You intervened:

if Superlative Technocentrics are only people who believe the hype, why would they cause it?

I'm not sure I understand your objection. Superlativity is hype because it's not plausible. Superlative technocentrics peddle it anyway because they want to believe it or for other irrational reasons (stumbling into a cult at a vulnerable time in their lives, fear of contemporary global change provokes compensatory mania, whatever it may be). Hype is useful to incumbents because they peddle their crap by promising hyped outcomes, or by riding the general wave of hype. Superlatives function as Useful Idiots for Incumbent Corporate-Militarist Interests. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Actually, it seems like both of you only understand half of the others' arguments.

I'm not averse to this kind of suggestion in most cases, but I think ascribing an evenhanded level of understanding in this particular dispute is actually pretty flabbergasting, even hilarious.

Anonymous said...

More to the point, in a era for which technodevelopmental social struggle is the primary arena in which the struggle for and against democracy plays out in the world it matters enormously that citizens who are not scientists nonetheless can participate in deliberation about technoscientific outcomes.

While it's difficult to disagree, I'm afraid that relying on "scuientific consensus" isn't quite up to it.

Whatever is truly consentual isn't science, because it means no one is researching it. (Any worthwhile research is challenge to consentual.)

What we can do instead is an attempt to tell valid scientific challenge from mere demagogy and denialism.

So, it's not that every scientists in relevant fields says mind uploading is theoretically infeasible (they don't) but that proponents' proofs of the contrary aren't, at least so far, valid.

Dale Carrico said...

relying on "scuientific consensus" isn't quite up to it.

Whatever is truly consentual isn't science, because it means no one is researching it. (Any worthwhile research is challenge to consentual.)

What we can do instead is an attempt to tell valid scientific challenge from mere demagogy and denialism.

So, it's not that every scientists in relevant fields says mind uploading is theoretically infeasible (they don't) but that proponents' proofs of the contrary aren't, at least so far, valid.


Look, I know already that the scientific process is a matter of applying criteria, and enagaging in public practices of testing, publishing and so on. I teach philosophy of science to college undergraduates, as it happens, and you can proceed from here on out on the assumption that I actually already know Hempelian hypothetico-deductive models, Popperian falsification models, Kuhnian paradigm theory, Lakatosian research programs, Feyerabendian anti-methodology, and so on.

My point about consensus is actually the very conservative Rescherian characterization of the state of science consisting, in any given epoch, of the scientific consensus that finds its way into most science textbooks for high school students and college undergraduates of the time. This is the science that reasonably technoscientifically literate people in any such era should be able grasp or at any rate know enough of to know who knows it when deliberating about technoscience issues that impact their lives. This is the scientific policy horizon.

My point isn't about the cutting edge of scientific practice that will undermine that very consensus in some significant respects for the next generation of textbooks defining the next generation's scientific technoscientific policy consensus. That is an understanding of science available mostly to professional scientists in the relevant fields (often almost vanishingly small minorities) and rarely migrates out to public intelligibility in less than an academic generation's time.

Superlativity pretends, of course, to just this kind of cutting edge knowledge but it consists for the most part of a bunch of clowns. Pop futurology is not professional science, it is popular wish-fulfillment (and most interesting as a constellation of symptomatic texts -- which happens to be my own professional department by training: literary, cultural, and political theory and rhetoric).

Come what may, I know actual scientists at the premier research institutions at which work is being done in every one of the areas to which I direct my critique of superlativity. Also, although I am modest about the science I know, and my opponents love to crow about what a woo-woo mystic and pomo relativist aesthete I must be, the fact is I fully expect my own expectations to bear out on the technodevelopmental front incomprably more accurately than the techno-utopian self-declared champions of science manage with all their silly Superlative handwaving.

I don't engage in discussion at this level because it actually isn't my expertise and this actually matters to me (but I will add that few who claim such expertise in arguments with me know much more than I do as far as I can see on that front), and because my critiques in my actual area of training seem to me quite worthy on their own account and certainly better attuned to my abilities.

You say a reliance on "scientific consensus" isn't quite up to it. As opposed to what? Who decides what outcomes against the grain of consensus trump the verdict of that consensus and on what authority?

I agree that accountable representatives have as part of their responsibility the hiring a professional policy-makers and advisers to cope with technoscientific problems that address urgent issues that have not yet migrated into public deliberative intelligibility.

In a healthy polity there are extremely stringent protections against conflict of interest, corruption, partisanship, and so on associated with this role, and representatives should actually face failure in their careers if they go wrong in their trust of such advisers.

But that said, I have much more faith than many seem to do in the capacity of everyday people to speak objectively and sophisticatedly on matters of direct concern to their lives on such questions and think that especially in democratic societies with peer-to-peer formations quite a bit of the work of technoscientific adminsitration that has traditionally fallen to a professional apparatus can be powerfully supplemented and often replaced by public policy deliberation.

remterbacysi'ox said...

Yes, this is (one of) the point(s) I was trying to make: If Superlativity is symptomatic, how does it advance hype?

Also, can you respond to what I said about socialism? (this is just a question)

Anonymous said...

Look, I know already that the scientific process is a matter of applying criteria, and enagaging in public practices of testing, publishing and so on. I teach philosophy of science to college undergraduates, as it happens, and you can proceed from here on out on the assumption that I actually already know Hempelian hypothetico-deductive models, Popperian falsification models, Kuhnian paradigm theory, Lakatosian research programs, Feyerabendian anti-methodology, and so on.

I didn't doubt that for a second. I'm sure you know of this subject far more than I ever would. That's exactly why I commented in the first place. If someone who obviously knows more than you says something that seems not quite what you would expect, you obviously would want to hear reasoning behind that. And the only way to know that reasoning is to try to formulate your own thoughts first.
(Or in shorter form, it's better to ask something and look like complete fool, than just nod your head and actually become one.)

Who decides what outcomes against the grain of consensus trump the verdict of that consensus and on what authority?
I don't know for sure. But my guess would be that everyone involved decides for yourself, and if sufficiently obvious trend is present, that passes for "science's verdict" on the matter. However, again, as I understand, that trend can't be the only guideline, even for a layperson. Exactly because it alone isn't up to detecting something that "pretends to this kind of cutting edge knowledge", and sometimes nature of the issue at hand makes it unwise or even impossible to leave resolution to professionals, like climate change.

So, pretender just smiles and says, "Hey, they laughed at Gallileo too. (and if I had a dollar for every time I read that...)"

Climate change denialists write papers that to me look just as good as papers of their opponents. Creatins and IDiots do their best to make evolution look like unfalsifeable belief system. Some proponents of these and other unscientific views have geniune degrees, tenures and other attributes of distinguished scientists. They do their best to make issue appear "controversal" to an average layperson.

Of course, to someone who personally knows prominent scientists in the relevant fields these attempts to skew perception of what's consentual and what's not may appear inefficient. But they are anything but that.

But that said, I have much more faith than many seem to do in the capacity of everyday people to speak objectively and sophisticatedly on matters of direct concern to their lives on such questions and think that especially in democratic societies with peer-to-peer formations quite a bit of the work of technoscientific adminsitration that has traditionally fallen to a professional apparatus can be powerfully supplemented and often replaced by public policy deliberation.
Well, when all is said and done I'm an everyday average Joe. So thanks for kind words, but sometimes I just feel that I know what I know nothing, yet have to do something. I'll try to do my best of course.

Dale Carrico said...

If Superlativity is symptomatic, how does it advance hype?

Technology discourse is prone to hyperbole, superlativity exacerbates this but also exemplifies it. Superlativity cites and symptomizes a deep convention and tendency within technodevelopmental discourse generally, but also in citing it invigorates it, mobilizes it, carries it forward. It is both citation and substance: in this way discourse is much like language, which likewise is expressed but also constituted in the practices of language-use themselves, you see?

Some basic assumptions of mine: "Technology" marks the prosthetic elaboration of agency, the desire and pleasure of empowerment, the dread and danger of disempowerment, at the idealized poles of which (and in a certain sense these are regulative ideals) we find aspirations and iconography freighted with outright omnipotence and utter impotence -- this is where the proneness to hyperbole comes from.

The fact that technology is actually a collective process contingently stabilizing into "nature" whenever enough people grow accustomed to some expression of it (hence, it would probably be better to speak of: "technologization" and "naturalization" rather than the facile opposition of technologies and nature in the usual sense), just immensely complicates this hyperbole.

Anyway, superlative discourse is a discourse citing a long lineage of techno-utopianism and technohyperbole more generally, and it is also, in its citation of this old story, participating in the ongoing elaboration of that story, contributing to its momentum, weaving its assumptions ever deeper into our customary ways of thinking and doing technology and nature.

Also, can you respond to what I said about socialism? (this is just a question)

I'm writing in America and in America it's very hard to talk about socialism within indulging in long preliminary dance moves, figuring out if the word socialism triggers in the mind of one's conversational partner something like tyranny, authoritarianism, communism, social democracy, democratic socialism, radical democracy, or whatever. Given all the crazy zealotry in every possible direction it is hard to talk about socialism without discovering deep into the conversation that all the heat arises from the fact that nobody means the same things by the words they're using. And so, I skipped the socialism question you asked, just because it is raising rather different issues than any of the others we were talking about, and because these discussions are a bit like a minefield online usually without much payoff of illumination at the end.

You asked: Even if most or all socialists are not anti-democratic, socialism could still lead to a non-democratic result. The most plausible way that could happen is either a government getting overthrown by communists (yes, communists are not socialists, but socialist arguments may give communists more support) or a huge and inefficient government.

For me the struggle for democracy against the forces of anti-democracy is the primary struggle. I can discern possible routes to democratization of which one might make collective opportunistic use in most of the ideological orientations people take up, socialists, liberals, moderates, social democrats, whatever. Advocacy of market solutions can be democratizing in certain historical contexts certainly, for example. Anti-democratization inheres in human greed, laziness, agressivity, in our capacity to retroactively rationalize almost any conduct, and it is especially exacerbated in conditions where structural inequity exists or forms of diversity are customarily stigmatized. There are no guarantees in any system or ideology that definitively overcome these structural tendencies to tyranny.

Checks and balances, no taxation without representation, universal rights securing freedom of expression and the scene of informed nonduressed consent, open access to governance, anti-secrecy, subsidiarity, localism, a basic income guarantee, and so on are among the things we have hacked over generations to frustrate the anti-democratizing tendencies inhering in plurality.

As for myself, I believe that people should have a say in the public decisions that affect them and that makes me a democrat. My politics are more defined by my excitement about p2p formations and permaculture practices or my hostility to corporate-militarism than terms like "socialism" or "capitalism," although there are people with whom in conversation the best the word to describe my ideological orientation is probably "democratic socialist" or "social democrat" (especially due to my advocacy of basic income guarantees). There are other people with whom that description of my politics would distort far more than it would say about what I really believe. These are very difficult conversations to have with near strangers online!

remterbacysi'ox said...

How do you know that your politics actually helps democracy? You say that Superlative Technocentrics harm democracy even if they don't intend to, so how do you know that you aren't accidentally harming democracy? You could be indirectly giving communists (not socialists) more support, for example.

jfehlinger said...

> Superlatives are True Believers in hype while the beneficiaries
> profit from the lies.

It's dog-eat-dog, ain't it flim-flam man?
Dog-eat-dog, you can lie, cheat, skim, scam,
beat 'em any way you can.

Dog-eat-dog.

Holy hope in the hands of snake-bite evangelists
and racketeers. And big-wig financiers. . .

-- Joni Mitchell

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> I responded to Giulio's boast that all sorts of sciency smarties agree
> with him at all the transhumanist cocktail parties that:
>
> > Many more people who know more science and engineering than I do
> > disagree with you, and a responsible citizen who isn’t a scientist
> > should defer to their consensus.

and

> [T]here are at most a few thousand self-identified “transhumanists”
> in the world, . . . and a small coterie of. . . Usual Suspects
> who function as “go to” guys for your movement —- and the proportion of
> would-be gurus, flim-flam artists, proud right-wing reactionaries,
> young white guys begging for validation is flabbergastingly high.

and

> ["Anonymous" wrote:]
>
> > Scientific consensus doesn't mean that something is true.
> > It takes some time to change it.
>
> We describe as "true" those beliefs that are warranted according
> to the criteria appropriate to mode of belief ascription. . .
> If you mean "true" in some sense deeper than warranted assertability. . .,
> then you may be appalled to discover that I dropped my faith in that
> notion at around the same time I did away with God (and for much
> the same reasons). . .
>
> I do know that where one cannot grasp the published evidence on the
> basis of which candidate descriptions for warranted scientific belief
> are on offer one is still reasonable and responsible to take as warranted
> those beliefs that have achieved scientific consensus in the
> relevant field. You're quite right to point out that such warrants fail
> to confer either certainty or finality -- but nothing does, so this is
> not a fault that troubles me unduly.

OTOH, one of the Usual Suspects wrote (on the Extropians' mailing list,
in April 2004:

----------------------------------------------------
The actual working part of science is Bayesian probability theory, which
individual scientists and their social dynamics partially and imperfectly
mirror. . . .

Science intrinsically requires individual researchers setting their
judgment above that of the scientific community.  The social process of
science encourages people to do the work and recognizes when they have
done the work.  The social process is not an actual human brain, has not
the power of intelligence.  If individuals do not have novel opinions and,
yes, disagreements, for the scientific process to recognize as correct,
there is no science. . . .

The overall rationality of academia is simply not good enough to handle
some necessary problems, as the case of Drexler illustrates.  Individual
humans routinely do better than the academic consensus. . . .

Yes, the Way of rationality is difficult to follow.  As illustrated by the
difficulty that academia encounters in following [it].  The social process of
science has too many known flaws for me to accept it as my upper bound.

Academia is simply not that impressive, and is routinely beaten by
individual scientists who learn to examine the evidence supporting the
consensus, apply simple filters to distinguish conclusive experimental
support from herd behavior.  Robyn Dawes is among the scientists who have
helped document the pervasiveness of plausible-sounding consensuses that
directly contradict the available experimental evidence.  Richard Feynman
correctly dismissed psychoanalysis, despite the consensus, because he
looked and lo, there was no supporting evidence whatsoever.  Feynman tells
of how embarassing lessons taught him to do this on individual issues of
physics as well, look up the original experiments and make sure the
consensus was well-supported.

Given the lessons of history, you should sit up and pay attention if Chris
Phoenix says that distinguished but elderly scientists are making blanket
pronunciations of impossibility *without doing any math*, and without
paying any attention to the math, in a case where math has been done.  If
you advocate a blanket acceptance of consensus so blind that I cannot even
apply this simple filter - I'm sorry, I just can't see it.  It seems I
must accept the sky is green, if Richard Smalley says so.

I can do better than that, and so can you.
----------------------------------------------------

OT**O**H, another participant in the same thread on that list wrote:

----------------------------------------------------
This is a dangerous road to take.  I'd be concerned that if I started
off doubting the practice of science as a guide to truth, I might as
well send in for my membership card in the Flat Earth Society, because
that's where I'd end up.

You complain above that individually, scientists can't practice science
because that requires interactive criticism.  But in fact, most individual
scientists do work in a framework of interaction.  Most scientists
that I've known are actually very cautious about criticism, and do
their utmost to make their presentations and publications bulletproof.
They'll go out of their way to mention any weaknesses or ambiguities
in their theories specifically in order to pre-empt their critics from
raising those points.  Science is a sport where defense counts more than
offense, from my observations.

And then you go on and criticize consensus science as being no more
than a popularity contest.  But this again overlooks the tremendous
importance of criticism in the scientific process.  A scientifically
unsound theory, even if popular, cannot withstand criticism for long.
There is too much temptation to jump onto the critical side once people
see that it is going to win.  Science rewards successful critics,
and this self correcting mechanism is part of what has made science so
successful as an institution.

The real problem with abandoning science is that you will have no guide
to truth in our complex world.  No one can become familiar with all of
the technical details relevant to the issues we face.  By abandoning
science you are explicitly turning away from the people who have spent
their entire lives acquiring expertise in these areas.

Do you really think you are better able to weigh the many complexities
around, say, global warming than those who have devoted their careers to
studying the atmosphere and climate?  Or similarly with other questions
like the safety of genetically engineered plants?  Or even, yes, the
feasibility of nanotech?

I have an extreme belief in the importance of being open minded.
I've written at length about the dangers I see in ideologies, the way
they blind us and control our thoughts.  I've been strongly influenced by
the results that Robin Hanson has reported and extended about the ways
we fool ourselves, how we don't really seek the truth even though we
think we do.  I believe in seeking the truth.  To the extent that I have
an ideology, that's it.  I try to look for those mechanisms in my mind
that are operating to push me off the path to truth, and to compensate
for them as well as I can.

One of the principles I follow is that if I believe something that
mainstream science disagrees with, I am probably wrong.  It's for the
reasons given above.  I'm not smarter than those guys, at least not
the smartest ones of them.  And their expertise in these areas is far
deeper than my own.  Plus they have this incredibly complex and elaborate
process of modelling and testing and subjecting each others results to
intense criticism, while my uninformed notions on those topics undergo
no such rigorous trials.

The lesson I learned from Robin is that if I disagree with someone
else, it's an accident of history which position I ended up with.
I could have just as easily been in his shoes.  Hence I should have
no presumption that I am probably right, when there is a disagreement.
Given this perspective, when I am going up against a scientific consensus,
the odds are overwhelming that the scientists are right and I am wrong.

It looks to me like these attitudes are the only appropriate ones to adopt
for someone who sincerely seeks the truth.  We have to try to discard
or at least overcome our prejudices and egotistical belief in personal
correctness and superiority.  We have to be willing to change our minds
when we come up against a situation where the experts disagree with us.

Without the guidance of the best advice and analysis available on a
subject, I would be concerned about being vulnerable to all kinds of
quackery and fraud.  We have many crazy beliefs right on this list.
Some here refuse to accept the reality of global warming.  Some believe in
psychic powers.  Some reject the link between HIV and AIDS.  Some believe
the universe is packed full of intelligent life.  Some believe that Israel
caused the 9/11 attacks.  Some believe in cold fusion.  And that's not
even mentioning the whole complex of beliefs about the Singularity.

Rejecting science means rejecting the best and most successful institution
mankind has ever developed for finding out the truth about the world.
It puts you onto a dangerous path fraught with tempting falsehoods that
can lead you astray.  As I suggested above, you better set aside money
for your membership in the Crackpot League, because that's where this
road ends
----------------------------------------------------

And never forget:

"I used to have a neighbor who told his wife that he
was the youngest person since Sir Isaac Newton
to take a doctorate at Oxford. The neighbor gave
no evidence of a world-class education, so I looked
up Newton and found out that he had completed
his baccalaureate at the age of twenty-two (like most
people) and spent his entire academic career at
Cambridge. The grandiose claims of narcissists are
superficially plausible fabrications, readily punctured
by a little critical consideration. The test is performance:
do they deliver the goods? (There's also the special
situation of a genius who's also strongly narcissistic,
as perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright. Just remind yourself
that the odds are that you'll meet at least 1000 narcissists
for every genius you come across.)"

http://www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/dsm-iv.html