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Enough is Enough: A Thinking Ape’s Critique of Trans-Simianism


Aaron Diaz
Aaron Diaz
Dresden Codak

Posted: Dec 16, 2007

The following was taken from a cave wall painting in southern Tunisia more than 300,000 years ago. Fossil evidence suggests that the author was of the species Homo erectus.

To further expound upon the topic of last week’s installment, I will address the more specific claims of Dr. Klomp and his radical theory that has been gaining wider acceptance throughout the community. Once again I would like to thank our readers for sending in your fish bones and boar hides in support of this journalist’s campaign to expose Dr. Klomp’s trans-simianist prattle for what it is: a collection of wishful thoughts out of keeping with any factual evidence.

The term ‘trans-simian’ comes from the shortening of ‘transitional simian,’ a concept Dr. Klomp has developed to describe an individual who is in an evolutionary transition from simian to post-simian, though Klomp himself admits that he is not entirely clear what a true post-simian would be.  Characteristics exhibited by a trans-simian include augmentation of one’s natural abilities with ‘tools,’ as well as one’s mental capacities with what has been dubbed ‘culture.’

Klomp’s primary argument rests on what he calls the ‘Quickening,’ an imagined point somewhere in the future when the advancement of ‘culture’ occurs so rapidly that its pace will far exceed that of biological evolution.  In his own words,

"There will come a time when within a single generation we will develop one or possibly even two new ideas… Current advancements in the ‘bow’ and ‘arrow’ industries suggest an exponential trend in the expansion of our technological capacities.  We are able to perform hunts in a fraction of the time it took our ancestors, thus freeing up valuable time to ’ think ’ of new ideas. In the post-simian world, we may develop into a species that is not only intellectually superior to our current state, but capable of feats beyond the comprehension of a contemporary simian."

Pardon this author for not holding his breath.

Notice that Klomp cherry-picks discoveries to better support his argument of an exponential growth.  It took more than a million years to develop fire and the hand-ax, and yet Klomp believes simply because it took only 2,000 years to develop bows and arrows that new inventions will spring up in even shorter timeframes.  This theory is an expansion of ‘Morg’s Law,’ which states that since a sharpened rock can in turn become a chisel to make an even sharper rock, that the sharpness of hand-axes will increase exponentially over the span of tens of thousands of years.  While Morg’s Law has so far proven accurate, Klomp can’t escape the reality that there is an upper limit, namely that a rock can only become so sharp.  We have already noticed a slight decline in the growth of hand-ax sharpness, but Klomp insists that when the potential of stone axes becomes exhausted, new materials will be discovered to replace the rocks and continue the exponential trend of sharpness.  As of the time of this article, however, he has provided no evidence of what these miracle rocks are.  Klomp also argues that there will come a time when we will use tools to create other tools, though naturally this is a laughable fiction since there has never been any recorded evidence of a tool making another tool, or even any records for that matter.

Another factor in Klomp’s post-simian world is the development of "abstract thought" that will be aided by

"the ability to store memories and thoughts outside our brains onto physical media, perhaps on flattened tree bark.  To achieve this we will have to overcome the problem of turning words, which are sounds, into things we can see, but given current trends this is an engineering issue that will ultimately be resolved.  This will be the real catalyst for the Quickening, when the memories of one generation will literally become immortal and then build upon the memories of the next, creating a sort of mass mind that experts in my field are calling “history.” In the post-simian world our era might even be referred to as pre-history."

Here we see Klomp’s predictions descend from unsupported speculation to sheer fantasy.  His recent cave painting, The Quickening is Near, explains in great detail different methods we may employ to transform words into some kind of visible format, but all are incomplete.  The simple fact remains that words are sounds, not pictures, and no amount of wishing will change that.  Even if such a thing were possible, it is doubtful that many would wish to store their memories externally.  This author, for one, would prefer it if his memories stayed in his head and not on some cold, lifeless bark.

The most shocking of Klomp’s predictions, however, is that we apes will have little or no place in the post-simian world. 

"As technological progress outpaces biology, new selective pressures will arise that will force our species to evolve mentally and physically beyond what we are now.  This is the same trend that gave rise to our own intelligent species, but it will only accelerate in the coming generations.  Our new environment increasingly favors higher dexterity and intelligence, and so the true post-simian will not be an ape at all.  It will share some similarities with the modern ape, but at the same time possess capacities far beyond our comprehension.  The thought capacity of a single post-simian could be greater than the combined brains of every ape in the world." 

More intelligent than an ape?  Klomp fails to explain just what a post-ape can think of that we mere mortals cannot.  The capacity of the simian mind is already far beyond any animal in the world:  We are capable of using speech to let others know where we are, where to sleep and eat, and where to find shelter when it rains.  Exactly how fast do we need our brains to be to figure these things out?  When will we decide that enough is enough?

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that such a post-simian future is possible or even probable.  Is it really a world we should want to strive for, where our very ape nature is stripped away in the name of efficiency?  Technologies such as the bow and arrow already desimianize the act of hunting.  While our ancestors were able to experience the pure ape feeling of clubbing an animal to death with a rock, we are left with the cold, sterilized bow that kills cleanly and quickly from a safe distance.  This separation from basic daily activities is a slippery slope.  What would happen if we no longer had to gather fruits and nuts, and they simply grew wherever we wanted them, or had drinking water flow right to our feet instead of wandering in search of streams for days?  These seeming conveniences would rob us of what it means to be an ape. 

Klomp predicts that through a technology called ‘hygiene’ we could extend the simian lifespan well into the late 20s or possibly 30s.  What exactly will the post-simian do with all that time?  Do we really want to live in a society populated by geriatric 27- year- olds?  In living so long and spending so much time ‘thinking,’ do we not also run the risk of becoming a cold, passionless race incapable of experiencing our two emotions (fear and not fear)?  How much of our simianity are we willing to sacrifice for this notion of progress?

Rest assured that while Klomp may have accru ed a recent following, there is no reality to his fantastic claims.  What is concerning is the increasing number of young apes spending less time clubbing animals and more time ‘inventing,’ ‘thinking’ and ‘creating,’ none of which contribute to the preservation of the simian way of life.  These sorts of fads come and go, however, and this author is confident that in a short while everyone will have forgotten about Klomp and the notion of being anything more than an ape.”

-Thog

Professor of Finding an Animal and then Killing It,

The University of the Woods

—Translated by Aaron Diaz


Aaron Diaz is the creator of the brilliant webcomic Dresden Codak.

 


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COMMENTS


While I disagree with Klomp’s conclusions, I can’t help but find the fanciful ideas titillating. Imagine the possibilities - blades that could be longer than a forefinger, simians that could count their lifespans with two sets of hands and feet, even devices that could somehow move objects from one place to another without hurting knees and backs! Perhaps methods could be found that preserve language and transfer ideas from one location to another. The myriad concepts are beyond imagination - and yet they will not likely be reality. I don’t see Klomp’s ideas coming to fruition any more than I could see this “walking” fad lasting more than a few years. Still, Klomp would make a great legend-talker. I’d love to hear what stories he could conjure from the cave fires.





Bravo!

I loved the section on writing: “Even if such a thing were possible, it is doubtful that many would wish to store their memories externally.  This author, for one, would prefer it if his memories stayed in his head and not on some cold, lifeless bark.”

This reminded me of a similar line of thought in Plato’s Phaedrus dialogue. It’s really touching : Plato was such an obviously gifted writer, but was really afraid of the consequences of the development of written culture. He worries that our memories will deteriorate and that we will lose accountability for our ideas…

(P.S. “fear and not fear” was THE BEST!)





Hahaha, using the internet, a technology that didn’t exist a decade ago, to attack the idea that technology is progressing faster than in ancient times.

I hope they invent a time machine so they can send people like you back to the 1800s, when you’d be happy.  None of this awful technology to tax your ape brain.





What an awesome metaphor. just as we can’t understand the future technological gains that will be made they couldn’t either. would it be bold to say that this essay is sarcastic and actually pro-singularity? i don’t think so.

Well done.





GREAT! Author rocks! And yet a few words…

Grog, the Associate Professor of Helping To Kill An Animal After Professor Finds It:
“Yes, Mr Thog, and I must admit another trans-simianistic threat - the bloody desacration of Holy Water by swimming and attempts to settle on the Other Side! Imagine, they say apes will soon learn to swim as only fish can! What a blasphemy. It is obvious than swimming badly deformates our sceleton, unnaturally spoils our body and mind and those who swam are cursed for disturbing One Who Lives On The Other Side! And those crazy swimmers - imagine - try to eat fish!”

Thog: “FISH? What a hell! It is well known that eating cold-blooded creatures makes our blood cold and makes us half ape, half fish! Hasn’t Mr Papa declared Seven New Taboos including fishing and eating fish! This is worse that eating other apes! Beat them all!”





Grog: “Just FYI. They call themselves “aquanauts”. They should have learned it from another tribe’s “rivernauts”. One of those miserable Red barbarians jumped into The River, didn’t sink and proclaimed himself “the first ape in the water”. Then our crazy warriors told the Chief that we should also learn to swim to beat the bloody Reds. And it was our tribe’s two apes who dared to swim to the Moon’s Island and walked on its holy ground! What a shame…”





Naturally, Professor Thog continues to extol the acts of killing animals by rock in hand instead of using the arrow. Thog, as all tenured professors seem to be going back into the mists of what the older people remember and tell me happened, wishes for nothing more than for before-now to replace now, and refuses to accept the very existence of ‘soon.’

As with all things, truth can be found not in Thog’s worship of what was and Klomp’s wild fantasies of what he thinks will be, but in the practical study of what *is,* right now. Our flintknapping techniques make our clubs into axes, our rocks into knives. We use our knives to make our sticks pointed sticks. We use our pointed sticks and more flintknapping to make spears. This is not some bizarre “post-simian” evolution—this is simply what *is.*

Could we make better spears, arrows, axes and knives? Perhaps, if we should come across harder rocks. We have done some interesting things with the red rocks from the valley-where-Tog-once-bit-that-Lynx-Man-you-should-have-seen-it-it-was-hysterical. But this is no ‘evolution,’ even if Klomp claims it would be. This is simply finding harder rocks. The harder rocks were there. We already know how to flintknap. Klomp mistakes engineering for philosophy.

But as mist-eyed as Klomp is, I would take it over Thog. Thog, who ‘teaches’ others to find animals and then kill them, but who hasn’t himself found an animal and killed it since he was thirteen. Tenure, thy name is laziness. Of course Thog teaches the old ways. He does not have to use them. And yet, his students still come and ask for spears and bows. The women still learn to bang the rocks into each other to flake off the sharp bits, and the men learn it too when they do not have a woman to do it.

If Thog is concerned with his inner Simian nature, let him pour water over his fire, throw his spear and bow out, stop making students bring him part of their kill as ‘tuition,’ and see how long he lasts killing animals with unknapped stone. Frankly, I doubt it would be overly long before a bear eats him. A *bear,* who we have long since made our meals rather than the other way around.

In the end, by focusing on the *now* instead of the *then* or the *soon,* we shall persevere. Let us not become Beavers, spending all our time stacking ridiculous wood and blocking the water. Nothing productive ever came from planning.

—Hork,

Professor of Banging Rocks into other Rocks To Make Sharp Rocks

The University of the Woods at the Caves By The Woods





Nice! I’ve bookmarked it http://www.propeller.com/submit/checkstory :D





Thanks for the info. BTW I’ve marked it





You know I must say I was with Klomp’s theories until he began to talk of domesticating animals.  He theorizes that by training and selectively breeding wolves, they may become more intelligent than they are now.  *More* intelligent wolves!  Surely they would rise up and destroy our way of life; it is impossible for ape and wolf to coexist peacefully, and anyone who says otherwise is an evil spirit and must, as you know, be sacrificed to Oh-my-god-that-mountain-is-on-fire Mountain.





Thought you might like to know I emailed this to Kurzweil himself (whose address I found on the singularity website).  Surprisingly, he responded the very same day:
“That’s funny, thank you for sharing.  It IS a very good argument.”





I’d love to see a graph of Morg’s law.  How fast *did* things get sharper over time?  Have we reached the end of Morg’s law, now that we can make things 1 atom thick?





From
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daedalus;_or,_Science_and_the_Future
by J.B.S. Haldane:

“The chemical or physical inventor is always a Prometheus. There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god. But if every physical and chemical invention is a blasphemy, every biological invention is a perversion. There is hardly one which, on first being brought to the notice of an observer from any nation which had not previously heard of their existence, would not appear to him as indecent and unnatural.

Consider so simple and time-honored a process as the milking of a cow. The milk which should have been an intimate and almost sacramental bond between mother and child is elicited by the deft fingers of a milk-maid, and drunk, cooked, or even allowed to rot into cheese. We have only to imagine ourselves as drinking any of its other secretions, in order to realise the radical indecency of our relation to the cow.”





Meanwhile, other hard-working simians. having never heard the arguments of these high-fallutin’ professors, were creating the beginnings of modern commerce:

“Palaentologists recently deciphered the following, painted on a cave wall on the slopes of Kilimanjaro.”
http://www.netfunny.com/rhf/jokes/98/Mar/makeclubs.html

Also, modern physics shows how Morg’s Law continues to subatomic levels of sharpness simply by using one’s branes.





First off, if Thog and Klomp were indeed of the suggested species, then they would not be Simians, they would be HOMOs—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Secondly, the approximate dating of these supposed Homo Erectus cave paintings show this entire charade is obviously nothing more than a devious Neanderthal forgery, clearly intended to sap the vital bodily essence of those of us supporting the Organization of Modern Humans.  How long must we wait before some of our naysayers finally realize that the only good Neanderthal is a dead Neanderthal.  Let us only hope that they awaken to the Neanderthal Conspiracy before it is too late!





It looks like some readers don’t get the obvious metaphor. I’ll spell it out: there will always be people afraid of progress.





Close, Nero, but not quite. There will always be people afraid of /certain types/ of progress.





Thog is correct. Taken to it’s extreme, this sort of “technological growth” could lead to crazy things like studying how simians work biologically and then trying to piece together parts of various simians to produce a sort of super-simian monster. Image if by accident you included an abnormal brain in such a monster what could occur! I shudder to think.
I beg you please follow the strickt traditional interpretations of all things otherwise, we could tilt the delicate balance of nature and start some sort of chain-reaction which would go out of control and destroy the entire universe.





As hilarious and even ingenious as it may be, I don’t think it qualifies as an argument. To begin with, Erectus didn’t paint on caves, write, had academic arguments, kept records of the past or such things. I know the author probably knows it.

Secondly, what is technology without morals, ethics, and a way to direct it for the greater good? A lot of new tech is created for warfare alone I.E. killing and dominance of other humans. In Africa, many still live in the neolithic and not by choice. In many countries the living span is below 30 years. So we may ask ourselves, what is tech good for without a cause and a plan to use it to improve the actual living of mankind? (and not “global industrial efficiency” as of current history).





” had academic arguments”

Arguing about wheter or not you should spend time learning new methods of x would count as academic argument. After all, if we focus on making type a tools, we can get more fish, but they aren’t as good for hunting so if we switch back it will take longer.

I’m not sure if they are smart enough to do that though.

“Secondly, what is technology without morals, ethics, and a way to direct it for the greater good?”

Raw hardware.

” A lot of new tech is created for warfare alone I.E. killing and dominance of other humans.”

Most is for civilian use though. Military drives tech development in some fields because of the constant need to be better than your opponent, while for civilians, have last years operating system won’t result in your gruesome death.

“Africa, many still live in the neolithic and not by choice. “

I’m almost positive that except for hunter gatherers, they don’t use stone tools in Africa anymore.

“In many countries the living span is below 30 years.”

No country has a life expectancy less than 30, only one has a life expectancy less than 40 and only 17 are below 50.

“So we may ask ourselves, what is tech good for without a cause and a plan to use it to improve the actual living of mankind? “

Given that current technoloy is enough to allow use to reach 80 years average in some places, it isn’t technology that is the problem, but organization. It isn’t even wealth- you can get a life expectancy of 74 with just $1,000 per capita (Vietnam). Did I mention world per capita income is $10,000





You could say the technology of visual representation of words is a remote brain-to-brain interface.





“I’m almost positive that except for hunter gatherers, they don’t use stone tools in Africa anymore.”
It’s not that that defines it; it is illiteracy and level of life.

“Most is for civilian use though. Military drives tech development in some fields because of the constant need to be better than your opponent, while for civilians, have last years operating system won’t result in your gruesome death.”

But it is unnecesary. Many resources that could be put for better use are used instead to create weapons of destruction; that set countries where they are used backward socially and economically. It is counterproducent to produce bombs, which then destroy buildings, cities and lives when that could be used to research and develop medicine, or even food, architecture, engineering, etc.
In other news, most weapons are not ever used. Which means that in pther words you are building them for nothing. More over, no country is going to invade western europe or USA; their armies are set to secure economic interests abroad, not to protect their sovereignity.

“No country has a life expectancy less than 30, only one has a life expectancy less than 40 and only 17 are below 50.”
Well, reliable sources (known example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy) do show that at least one country is near 30 average life expectancy. Ans this life expectancy do not cover infantile mortality that has a mountrous rate at those countries.

“Given that current technoloy is enough to allow use to reach 80 years average in some places, it isn’t technology that is the problem, but organization. It isn’t even wealth- you can get a life expectancy of 74 with just $1,000 per capita (Vietnam). Did I mention world per capita income is $10,000”
Yes, but wealth in the current system is not invested in áreas to further development, I.E., it is not directed to improve the level of life of the population, but instead it is run by corporations whose only aim is profit; improving the quality of life of some sector is not a goal, but a secondary effect. There is no much capital willing to invest on the poor areas by the companies because simply there is not a lot of capital to extract. Development is thus slow or null, and population keeps growing so the conditions do not improve.
That proves that technology won’t do all things by itself, it merely provides a medium; a tool, indeed powerful, but the purpose for which it is used must be somehow focalized and directed, and that is a different issue.





I had this picture saved on my hard drive and was reminded of it but when I dug it up I found out it was from the same site.
http://dresdencodak.com/2009/09/22/caveman-science-fiction/





“As hilarious and even ingenious as it may be, I don’t think it qualifies as an argument”

Google argument.  Or in a nutshell it makes an argument via a thought experiment involving human ancestors facing a kind of singularity involving their evolution into us.  It is an argument to refute common critiques of the singularity idea by applying them to this previous “singularity”.  It is an effective argument. The appropriateness of the analogies used will likely be proved or disproved this century.


“Yes, but wealth in the current system is not invested ... That proves that technology won’t do all things by itself, it merely provides a medium; a tool, indeed powerful, but the purpose for which it is used must be somehow focalized and directed, and that is a different issue. “

Missing the point.  Tech does not need to be focused nor ubiquitous nor planned nor “optimized”.  It does not even have to be really useful.  It only needs to evolve over time.  The whole point of all this is the singularity and trans-humanism.  If the singularity happens then technology will in fact “do all things by itself” as it becomes self-sustaining at the point that beyond human AI is created and there is enough room for improvement left for a singularity event.





I’m translating this in italian, I’m sure the transhumanist community here will enjoy it as well (sadly english isn’t all that well known in Italy).
It sounds like something Terry Pratchett would write if he was a transhumanist :D

Excellent job.
Also, I love your drawings.





this is indeed Pratchetterial material. and is so amazingly amazing I think I’d like to steal it.





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