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Why archaeologists make better futurists than science-fiction writers
Rick Searle   Aug 13, 2014   Utopia or Dystopia  

Human beings seem to have an innate need to predict the future. We’ve read the entrails of animals, thrown bones, tried to use the regularity or lack of it in the night sky as a projection of the future and omen of things to come, along with a thousand others kinds of divination few of us have ever heard of. This need to predict the future makes perfect sense for a creature whose knowledge bias is towards the present and the past. Survival means seeing enough ahead to avoid dangers, so that an animal that could successfully predict what was around the next corner could avoid being eaten or suffering famine.

It’s weird how many of the ancient techniques of divination have a probabilistic element to them, as if the best tool for discerning the future was a magic 8 ball, though perhaps it makes a great deal of sense. Probability and chance come into play wherever our knowledge comes up against limits, and these limits can consist merely of knowledge we are not privy to like the game of “He loves me, he loves me not” little girls play with flower petals. As Henri Poincaré said; “Chance is only the measure of our ignorance”.

Poincaré was coming at the question with the assumption that the future is already determined, the idea of many physicists who think our knowledge bias towards the present and past is in fact like a game of “he loves me not”, and all in our heads, that the future already exists in the same sense the past and present, the future is just facts we can only dimly see.  It shouldn’t surprise us that they say this, physics being our own most advanced form divination, and it’s just one among many modern forms from meteorology to finance to genomics. Our methods of predicting the future are more sophisticated and effective than those of the past, but they still only barely see through the fog in front of us, which doesn’t stop us from being overconfident in our predictive prowess. We even have an entire profession, futurists, who claim like old-school fortune tellers- to have a knowledge of the future no one can truly possess.

There’s another group that makes a claim of the ability to divine at least some rough features of the future- science-fiction writers. The idea of writing about a future that was substantially different from the past really didn’t emerge until the 19th century when technology began not only making the present substantially different from the past, but promised to do so out into an infinite future. Geniuses like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were able to look at the industrial revolution changing the world around  them and project it forward in time with sometimes extraordinary prescience.

There is a good case to be made, and I’ve tried to make it before, that science-fiction is no longer very good at this prescience. The shape of the future is now occluded, and we’ve known the reasons for this for quite some time. Karl Popper had pointed out as far back as the 1930’s that the future is essentially unknowable and part of this unknowability was that the course of scientific and technological advancement can not be known in advance.  A  too tight fit with wacky predictions of the future of science and technology is the characteristic of the worst and most campy of science-fiction.

Another good argument can be made that technologically dependent science-fiction isn’t so much predicting the future as inspiring it. That the children raised on Star Trek’s communicator end up inventing the cell phone. Yet technological horizons can just as much be atrophied as energized by science-fiction. This is the point Robinson Meyer makes in his blog post “Google Wants to Make ‘Science Fiction’ a Reality—and That’s Limiting Their Imagination” .

Meyer looks at the infamous Google X a supposedly risky research arm of Google one of whose criteria for embarking on a project is that it must utilize a radical solution that has at least a component that resembles science fiction.”

The problem Meyer finds with this is:

 ….“science fiction” provides but a tiny porthole onto the vast strangeness of the future. When we imagine a “science fiction”-like future, I think we tend to picture completed worlds, flying cars, the shiny, floating towers of midcentury dreams.

We tend, in other words, to imagine future technological systems as readymade, holistic products that people will choose to adopt, rather than as the assembled work of countless different actors, which they’ve always really been.

Meyer’s mentions a recent talk by a futurist I hadn’t heard of before Scott Smith who calls the kinds of clean futuristic visions of total convenience, antiseptic worlds surrounded by smart glass where all the world’s knowledge is our fingertips and everyone is productive and happy, “flat-pack futures” the world of tomorrow ready to be brought home and assembled like a piece of furniture from the IKEA store.

I’ve always had trouble with these kinds of simplistic futures, which are really just corporate advertising devices not real visions of a complex future which will inevitably have much ugliness in it, including the ugliness that emerges from the very technology that is supposed to make our lives a paradise. The major technological players are not even offering alternative versions of the future, just the same bland future with different corporate labels as seen, here, here, and here.

It’s not that these visions of the future are always totally wrong, or even just unattractive, as the fact that people the present- meaning us-  have no real agency over what elements of these visions they want and which they don’t with the exception of exercising consumer choice, the very thing these flat-pack visions of the future are trying to get us to buy.

Part of the reason that Scott sees a mismatch between these anodyne versions of the future, which we’ve had since at least the early 20th century, and what actually happens in the future is that these corporate versions of the future lack diversity and context,  not to mention conflict, which shouldn’t really surprise us, they are advertisements after all, and geared to high end consumers- not actual predictions of what the future will in fact look like for poor people or outcasts or non-conformists of one sort or another. One shouldn’t expect advertisers to show the bad that might happen should a technology fail or be hacked or used for dark purposes.

If you watch enough of them, their more disturbing assumption is that by throwing a net of information over everything we will finally have control and all the world will finally fall under the warm blanket of our comfort and convenience. Or as Alexis Madrigal put it in a thought provoking recent piece also at The Atlantic:

We’re creating a world that seamlessly, effortlessly shapes itself to human desire. It’s no longer cutting through a mountain to prove we dominate nature; now, it’s satisfying each impulse in the physical world with the ease and speed of digital tools. The shortest way to explain what Uber means: hit a button and something happens in the world (that makes life easier for you).

To return to Meyer, his point was that by looking to science-fiction almost exclusively to see what the future “should” look like designers, technologists, and by implication some futurists, had reduced themselves to a very limited palette. How might this palette be expanded? I would throw my bet behind turning to archaeologists, anthropologists, and certain kinds of historians.

As Steve Jobs understood, in some ways the design of a technology is as important as the technology itself. But Jobs sought almost formlessness, the clean, antiseptic modernist zen you feel when you walk into an Apple Store, as someone once said whose attribution I can’t place – an Apple Store is designed like a temple. But it’s a temple that is representative of only one very particular form of religion.

All the flat-pack versions of the future I linked to earlier have one prominent feature in common they are obsessed with glass. Everything in the world it seems will be a see through touchscreen bubbling with the most relevant information for the individual at that moment, the weather, traffic alerts, box scores, your child’s homework assignment. I have a suspicion that this glass fetish is a sort of Freudian slip on the part of tech companies, for the thing about glass is that you can see both ways through it, and what these companies most want is the transparency of you, to be able to peer into the minutiae of your life, so as to be able to sell you stuff.

Technology designers have largely swallowed the modernist glass covered kool-aid, but one way to purge might be to turn to archeology. For example, I’ve never found a tool more beautiful than the astrolabe, though it might be difficult to carry a smartphone in the form of one in your pocket. Instead of all that glass why not a Japanese paper house where all our supposedly important information is to constantly appear? Whiteboards are better for writing anyway. Ransacking the past for the forms in which we could embed our technologies might be one way to escape the current design conformity.

There are reasons to hope that technology itself will help us breakout of our futuristic design conformity. Ubiquitous 3D printing may allow us to design and create our own household art, tools, and customized technology devices. A website my girls and I often look to for artistic inspiration and projects such as the Met’s 82nd & Fifth as the images get better, eventually becoming 3D and even providing CAD specifications make allow us access to a great deal of the world’s objects from the past providing design templates for ways to embed our technology that reflect our distinct and personal and cultural values that might have nothing to do with those whipped up by Silicon Valley.

Of course, we’ve been ransacking the past for ideas about how to live in the present and future since modernity began. Augustus Pugin’s 1836 book Contasts with its beautiful, if slightly dishonest, drawings put the 19th century’s bland, utilitarian architecture up against the exquisite beauty of buildings from the 15th century. How cool would it be to have a book contrasting technology today with that of the past like Pugin’s?

The problem with Pugin’s and other’s efforts in such regards was that they didn’t merely look to the past for inspiration or forms but sought to replace the present and its assumptions with the revival of whole eras, assuming that a kind of impossible cultural and historical rewind button or time machine was possible when in reality the past was forever gone.

Looking to the past, as opposed to trying to raise it from the dead, has other advantages when it comes to our ability to peer into and shape the future.  It gives us different ways of seeing how our technology might be used as means towards the things that have always mattered most to human beings – our relationships, art, spirituality, curiosity. Take, for instance, the way social media such as SKYPE and FaceBook is changing how we relate to death. On the one hand social media seems to breakdown the way in which we have traditionally dealt with death – as a community sharing a common space, while on the other, it seems to revive a kind of analog to practices regarding death that have long past from the scene, practices that archeologists and social historians know well, where the dead are brought into the home and tended to for an extended period of time. Now though, instead of actual bodies, we see the online legacy of the dead, websites, FaceBook pages and the like, being preserved and attended to by loved ones.  A good question to ask oneself when thinking about how future technology will be used might not be what new thing will it make possible, but what old thing no longer done might it be used to revive?

In other words, the design of technology is the reflection of a worldview, but this is only a very limited worldview competing with an innumerable number of others. Without fail, for good and ill, technology will be hacked and used as a means by people whose worldviews that have little if any relationship to that of technologists. What would be best is if the design itself, not the electronic innards, but the shell and organization for use was controlled by non-technologists in the first place.

The best of science-fiction actually understands this. It’s not the gadgets that are compelling, but the alternative world, how it fits together, where it is going, and what it says about our own world. That’s what books like Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy did, or  Frank Herbert’s Dune. Both weren’t predictions of the future so much as fictional archeologies and histories. It’s not the humans who are interesting in a series like Star Trek, but the non-humans who each live in their own very distinct versions of a life-world.

For those science-fiction writers not interested in creating alternative world’s or taking a completely imaginary shot in the dark to imagine what life might be like many hundreds of years beyond our own they might benefit from reflection on what they are doing and why they should lean heavily on knowledge of the past.

To the extent that science-fiction tells us anything about the future it is through a process of focused extrapolation. As, quoting myself, the sci-fi author Paolo Bacigalupi has said the role of science-fiction is to take some set of elements of the present and extrapolate them to see where they lead. Or, as William Gibson said “The future is already here it’s just not evenly distributed.” In his novel The Windup Girl Bacigalupi extrapolated cut throat corporate competition, the use of mercenaries, genetic engineering, and the way biotechnology and agribusiness seem to be trying to take ownership over food, along with our continued failure to tackle carbon emissions and came up with a chilling dystopian world. Amazingly, Bacigalupi, an American, managed to embed this story in a Buddhist cultural and Thai historical context.

Although I have not had the opportunity to read the book yet, which is now at the top of my end of summer reading list, former neuroscientist and founder of the gaming company Six to Start, Adrian Hon’s book The History of the Future in 100 Objects seems to grasp precisely this. As Hon explained in an excellent talk over at the Long Now Foundation (I believe I’ve listed to it in its entirety 3 times!) he was inspired by Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Object (also on my reading list). What Hon realized was that the near future at least would have many of the things we are familiar with things like religion or fashion, and so what he did was extrapolate his understanding of technology trends gained from both his neuroscience and gaming backgrounds onto those things.

Science-fiction writers and their kissing-cousins the futurists, need to remind themselves when writing about the next few centuries hence that, as long as there are human beings, (and otherwise what are they writing about) there will still be much about us that we’ve had since time immemorial. Little doubt, there will still be death, but also religion. And not just any religion, but the ones we have now: Christianity and Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism etc. (Can anyone think of a science-fiction story where they still celebrate Christmas?)

There will still be poverty, crime, and war. There will also be birth and laughter and love. Culture will still matter, and sub-culture just as much, as will geography. For at least the next few centuries, let us hope, we will still be human, so perhaps I shouldn’t have used archeologist in my title, but anthropologists or even psychologist, for those who can best understand the near future best understand the mind and heart of mankind rather than the current, and inevitably unpredictable, trajectory of our science and technology.

Rick Searle, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, is a writer and educator living the very non-technological Amish country of central Pennsylvania along with his two young daughters. He is an adjunct professor of political science and history for Delaware Valley College and works for the PA Distance Learning Project.



COMMENTS

Sorry Rick, but I have seldom - if ever - seen such a vast array of artificial strawmen, set up for an author to knock down, in order to denigrate what he clearly does not understand.  Your portrayal of physicists - as believing in a predictable future - is not even true in theory and has not been for a hundred years.

Likewise the notion that most “futurists” claim that they predict, is contrary to almost all public statements… even by the 50% of “futurists” who are dizzy flakes.

You are even more bizarrely off base when it comes to science fiction, of which you’ve clearly read very little.  Find for me the SF author who makes even one of the claims that you ascribe to us.  I’d be interested if you can cite even a single example. 

Elsewhere I discuss our role as laying down what Einstein called gedanken-experiments or thought experiments that are meant to help readers enjoyably explore possibility space. The best hard SF lays out plausible scenarios that illustrate potentialities.  At one extreme, these portrayals can so stir the readers or viewers that they emerge determined to act, to stave off the portrayed scenario.  In such cases you get self-preventing prophecies (SPP) that are the most powerful form of science fiction.  Indeed, we may be alive - and free - in part because “1984” and Soylent Green and Dr. Strangelove were SPPs.

See http://www.davidbrin.com/1984.html

This endeavor is unexplored and unconceived by Rick, even though it is far more reasonable a role for authors to aim for than predicting or making the future.

But indeed, some degree of prophecy does happen.  HG Wells scores very highly, so did John Brunner and yes, Verne.  My own fans run a wiki tracking my apparently successful forecasts: 

http://earthbydavidbrin.pbworks.com/w/page/15607657/Predictions

The shrug that all the eternal “human verities” of death and angst and spiritual agony will for sure remain the same is the common proclamation in 500 lit/enlish departments but humanity need not obey such a dour chant.  We’ve disobeyed the priests before, as when Ben Franklin science-fictionishly put rods on roofs and firmly ended the seemingly eternal power of gods to capriciously smash all our works, suddenly, with lightning.  Sorry, but the list of counter examples is long, and I will bet my money on our ability to keep defying “eternal” verities.

Alas, sorry Rick. You write well and with erudition, but your piece is cockeyed and counterfactual, top to bottom.  Indeed, it is vastly more fantastic than much of the art that you criticize. And for THAT… I congratulate you.

David Brin
http://www.davidbrin.com

@David:

I’ll try to take this from though the top- though admittedly it’s been a long day.

As for: “Your portrayal of physicists - as believing in a predictable future - is not even true in theory and has not been for a hundred years.”

Physicists may or may not hold that the future is predictable, but they do hold that the future is determined - which I think is my point. For examples see Lee Smolin’s critique of this determinism in his recent book Time Reborn, or a good and also recent argument on the determinism side by Max Tegmark - Our Mathematical Universe.

We’ve had a physicist fetish since the 1940’s - what other group is commonly looked to as prophets on the human future e.g. Stephen Hawking. It seems to be a risk inherent to the profession that physicists think they can predict the near future as if that arose from their ability to predict the motion of billiard balls or the deep past and future of the universe. It is a fetish which I believe is misplaced though some like Martin Reeves do it so well even I am almost converted.

As for:

“Likewise the notion that most “futurists” claim that they predict, is contrary to almost all public statements… even by the 50% of “futurists” who are dizzy flakes.”

Is Ray Kurzweil a “dizzy flake”? He’s the kind of futurist I was thinking of. Vernor Vinge seems to have more of the view you are talking about, but even he thinks he already sees the end of the story- which isn’t possible.

In response to:

“Elsewhere I discuss our role as laying down what Einstein called gedanken-experiments or thought experiments that are meant to help readers enjoyably explore possibility space. The best hard SF lays out plausible scenarios that illustrate potentialities.”

I think this was what I said was precisely what I liked about science-fiction- i.e. The Wind Up Girl.

I am glad you have a website devoted to your prescience. You did get a good deal right about the near future, but should perhaps be more humble. There is always a great deal of luck involved in such things, and prophets are always right until what they failed to anticipate proves them wrong. And eventually all of us are proven wrong.

I stand by my claim - if someone wants to understand the future read a little less science-fiction and stop thinking almost exclusively in terms of technology. Learn more about history, religion, geography. If it doesn’t allow you to predict the future, you will at least be able to understand the news because the current world can not be reduced to a technological narrative.

One of the best persons at this was a person we both admire - H.G. Wells who was indeed uniquely prescient. He was a deep student and author on world history.Indeed, you yourself rely more than most science-fiction authors and futurists on history. Or to quote Churchill - “To see forward look back.”

Rick, you keep doing what has become the theme of an increasingly immature century—at least among Americans—the trait of “doubling down.”  That is, when called out for an error, you just shout it louder.

“Physicists may or may not hold that the future is predictable, but they do hold that the future is determined…”

Um… no?  In fact no.  In fact not even remotely true?  In fact, hilariously and diametrically OPPOSITE to true!

Where do you get this cartoony silliness?  Your stunning and willful misinterpretation of Smolin and Tegmark and etc, to suit your pre-determined narrative is reminiscent (and I am sorry to be insulting) of the truthiness we get from Fox News.  Entertaining, but in no way correlated with reality.

Your “Physicist fetish” snark reveals nothing but your own jealousy syndrome.  Physicists are the first ‘high priesthood’ in our species’s history to downplay their role as arbiters of truth, to bring uncertainty and contingency and humor into all that they do, especially when interpreting fundamentals of the world… which, ironically, they have brought within human grasp vastly better than all previous “priesthoods” combined.  Show me one other that ever behaved as humbly or as well.  Or that has devoted itself so intently upon sharing everything they know, along with a sense of cosmic beauty and wonder and curiosity, as quickly as possible.

Indeed, the very standards by which you fault physicists were taught to you… and to all of us… by physicists! You fault them for not living up to those standards… yet you display utter ignorance about them.

Moreover, scientists are by far the most competitive of all creatures.  Mostly courteously and calmly, but vigorously.  It is how science works and how it has advanced more swiftly than all other realms of human endeavor. Hence, they are perpetually pouncing on each others’ errors… far better than you have done.

You tell me I should be more “humble.”  What bull.  Sorry, but YOU took it on yourself to slag both science and science fiction, making absurdly and diametrically counter-factual (and slanderous) proclamations that you could never back up. Yet you lecture ME about humility?  When my sole arrogance was to cite my fans’ prim score-keeping as one of many counter-examples to your accusations?

Dig this well: counter-examples to accusations can NEVER be accused of failure of humility.  It is unfair and illogical. Please read this paragraph as many times as it takes for the meaning to stick.  I don’t care what else you skim.  But grasp this simple concept. You need to grok this core lesson.

“I stand by my claim - if someone wants to understand the future read a little less science-fiction and stop thinking almost exclusively in terms of technology. Learn more about history, religion, geography.”

What I find hilarious is that you actually believe you are being original here, or attacking anything other than an empty, null set strawman of your own making.  I know of no one who ponders the future “exclusively in terms of technology.”  In fact, I hereby challenge you to find ONE example of such a person—of note—and especially in the top tiers of the science fiction community.  One.  Please.  Just one.  Even one.

All you do is repeatedly make yourself look silly, proclaiming to the world, “I have read NONE of the good science fiction!  Yet I can sling mud about it!”  That is an accurate paraphrasing of your absurd stance.

HG Wells was one of my heroes.  My works and those of KS Robinson, Nancy Kress, Ursula LeGuin, Greg Bear and so many others are informed perhaps 25% by sci-tech trends and over 60% by history, culture and the grand, sweep of the human story.  Such a grounding is essential in one of my other fields, exploring SETI and the notions of potential other sapient life.

The fact that you are screeching at a strawman of your own polemical convenience started out as vaguely amusing to me.  Now it is getting tedious and pathetic.

Hey.  Me and my fellow explorers of tomorrow aren’t anywhere near where you are aiming your mud.  Our eyes are waaaaaay over here.

-david

PS it is human nature to skim missives that you find unpleasant.  I recommend in this case that you read every word, which you clearly did not do, the first time.

@David:

Again I will take this from the top:

“Where do you get this cartoony silliness?  Your stunning and willful misinterpretation of Smolin and Tegmark and etc, to suit your pre-determined narrative is reminiscent (and I am sorry to be insulting) of the truthiness we get from Fox News.  Entertaining, but in no way correlated with reality.”

I certainly wish you would take a more civil tone, but I have learned not to expect it.

Anyway, here’s Eisenstein on determinism:

“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Here’s a good talk by Smolin decrying determinism in physics and its social effects:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Hi4VbERDyI

People often think that Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle means that the future is undetermined. It ain’t so – the universal wave function is considered by many to be determined. 

“Physicists are the first ‘high priesthood’ in our species’s history to downplay their role as arbiters of truth, to bring uncertainty and contingency and humor into all that they do, especially when interpreting fundamentals of the world… which, ironically, they have brought within human grasp vastly better than all previous “priesthoods” combined.  “

The fact that you are willing to characterize physicists as a “high priesthood” is itself telling, and troubling. Do you find the prospect of nuclear holocaust “humorous”? That is what they have brought us in addition to all the good things you mention? If physicists are a priesthood they are the first really dangerous one giving us the keys to destroy ourselves.

I agree with you that science is the best tool we have come up with ever for increasing human knowledge and improving our lot- I actually love science. But science when uninformed by epistemological humility is also the most dangerous tool we have invented. Science advances less by increasing our knowledge then by expanding the range and depth of our questions.

“I know of no one who ponders the future “exclusively in terms of technology.”  In fact, I hereby challenge you to find ONE example of such a person—of note—and especially in the top tiers of the science fiction community.  One.  Please.  Just one.  Even one. “

Okay, look- writing is typically geared to an audience and mine was- namely this one. 9 out of ten of the articles on the IEET approach the future in terms of technological change almost exclusively. The rhetoric of post humanism seems to assume that most of what counts for human affairs now won’t in the future. I was merely asking to broaden our scope.

As for futurists who deal with the future almost exclusively in terms of advancing science and technology I’ve mentioned the most influential futurist today- Kurzweil.

Again, reflecting the audience here it has obviously been shaped by the reading and watching of a certain type of science- fiction. A good example of being influenced thus was the writings of the late Dick Pelletier. And on reflection perhaps I was inspired to write this piece from reflecting on the man’s tragic experience.

In any case, I am working on a piece now on the science-fiction I believe is helpful when thinking about the future. Those interested can follow if they so chose.

Rick your original screed was a mountain of slanders hurled at the folks who have helped to prevent the repeated failure modes of 6000 years.  Who have prevented any High Priesthood from declaring and death-enforcing fealty to some specific Truth. Who established standards of tolerant diversity and courteous, collegial argument — the very standards that YOU attempt to accuse them (and me) of violating.  Were you capable of irony or perspective or even a little re-evaluation, perhaps I could still treat you with respect…

…but all you seem capable of doing is doubling down and doubling down again, on the most wrong-headed, adle-pated screech of nonsense I have read in a year.

Dig it: ALL previous cultures engaged in prophetic divination as if the future were ordained, and hence futile to evade or to mold or divert in better directions. Modern science replaced obligate-predictive divination with contingent exploration and basing policy on best plausibilities, with continual corrections based upon new inputs.  To the extent that you prescribe this, you were TAUGHT these values by this new quasi-priesthood, a mertitocracy that welcomes all kinds and is a fizzing cauldron of joyful competition, free of ex-cathedra prescription…

… which you attempt to slag as behaving like the real priesthoods of old.  Were you capable of even a glimmer of irony… but I already said that.

“the universal wave function is considered by many to be determined.”

Sorry, but you are a dope. There really and truly is no other way to respond to such a double-down howler. And you are doubling down on things you have absolutely no clue about, having skimmed books that you clearly do not even remotely understand.

“The fact that you are willing to characterize physicists as a “high priesthood” is itself telling…”

Yes, but not in the way you proclaim.  I deliberately chose that phrase to test you.  You know that all societies have had sages to whom they would turn and ask “what’s going on?” 

I used that phrase in order to COMPARE them to all others who held that function, and the comparison is night vs day, with our current sages competing vigorously to get on TV and joyfully explain the innermost “secrets.”  No clade in history has ever been more anti-secrecy and pro-education and vigorous in promoting freedom of inquiry.  I call them high priests in IRONY!  But you have proved yourself incapable to that kind of perception.

“the first really dangerous one giving us the keys to destroy ourselves.”

So states the guy who says we should know more history.  Subjectively, all cultures thought their priests had exactly that destructive power.  Even objectively, the priests of Baal and Marduk and the Aztecs killed, overall, far more than died at Hiroshima, and deliberately and relentlessly.

Indeed, your misunderstanding of the true effect of nuclear weapons… which saved our entire generation from the gigantic, conventional WWIII that was due, in the 1970s… is truly pathetic.  The Bomb shook us into taking the first major steps toward human maturity.

“But science when uninformed by epistemological humility is also the most dangerous tool we have invented.”

That you should — knowing no science and no scientists, dare to spew such stuff is offensive.  Scientists - the top ones - tend to be the most diverse-minded, broadly-read, eclectic and grounded humans that our species ever produced.  ALL of the top scientists I ever knew had artistic hobbies that they performed at near professional level.  I watched Einstein give a violin concert when I was four.  He was no exception. I discussed roman history and its modern correlations for 2 hours with Murray Gellman.

Nor does that even get to top science fiction authors, whose left pinkie fingers know more history and anthropology and alternative cultures than you will know in a lifetime. I’d love to see you try any of those topics - or epistemology - with Nancy Kress, Ursula LeGuin, KS Robinson, Vernor Vinge, Gregory Benford, and so on.  You are clueless.

Dig it: scientists invented epistemological humility. May I repeat that till it sinks in?
No one else invented epistemological humility. Scientists invented epistemological humility. They invented epistemological humility.  and They invented epistemological humility.  A trait which you have shown not a scintilla of a trace-of.

“9 out of ten of the articles on the IEET approach the future in terms of technological change almost exclusively.”

You are a sophist of the first order.  IEET is specifically about the topic of technological change and our ethical approaches to it.  And even so, you are citing articles, not people.  Name the top scientists and science fiction authors whose broadest and most general works on human destiny ignore input from history and so on.

Even Ray Kurzweil, who I admit is at the extreme end of techno determinism - does not give you your “even one example.”  You are beyond unfair, even to him.  Name a period of history or a realm of philosophy, and he will know more about it than you do.  I would put money on it.

I am done here.  You have displayed not a single instant of curiosity, re-evaluation, irony, or anything other than doubling down on a strawmanning stereotype of stunningly-laughable simplistic fabrication.  It is clearly your beloved tar-baby and I will leave you to it.

Perhaps, someday, you might read some actual, first order science fiction. Or learn some actual science.  Or history.  But I will give up on attempting to lure you out of the fester of your subjectivity.

For a guy who lauds scientists:

“Who established standards of tolerant diversity and courteous, collegial argument — the very standards that YOU attempt to accuse them (and me) of violating.”

You are surprisingly thin skinned and rude-

“Indeed, your misunderstanding of the true effect of nuclear weapons… which saved our entire generation from the gigantic, conventional WWIII that was due, in the 1970s… is truly pathetic.  The Bomb shook us into taking the first major steps toward human maturity.”

There must be a scientific revolution underway that I am too stupid to notice. For now we can prove counter-factuals!

I’ll give it to you- I love both Ursula LeGuin and KS Robinson who might actually understand and likely agree with me.

“I am done here.  You have displayed not a single instant of curiosity, re-evaluation, irony, or anything other than doubling down on a strawmanning stereotype of stunningly-laughable simplistic fabrication.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

The fantastic suggestion that Stan Robinson would agree with a scintilla of your fantastic and whole-cloth-made-up fabulations about science indicates that you either lie about ever having read a thing that he wrote, or you truly are the “imaginative” one here. Even LeGuin, whose left wing cred is unimpeachable, would deem them to be ravings. 

Try Atwood.  You might draw some comfort there.

For you to talk to me about rudeness is supreme irony, Rick. You slagged all of my life’s professional and private fields of endeavor—and the men and women I most admire in the world, who have been primarily responsible for all the good things that you take for granted, as well as the entire value system that you (again with supreme though unknowing irony) use as the basis for your utterly baseless attacks…

... and then you accuse me of rudeness when I respond as a member of any minority group would, to such an outrageous attack. 

But it was the doubling down.  The fact-free but confident ravings that opposite-to-true assertions are reasons to slander, even when shown they are preposterous!

And finally the “rudeness” whining.  Sorry Rick, you deserved every word.  But it truly isn’t your fault!  It is the fault of your teachers and peers, in Junior High School.  That is when this sort of manifesto of inferiority-complex, ingrate jealousy-sophistry is normally slapped down with the contempt that it deserves.

Gosh, you’re a prickly one. In a nutshell, all I was saying is that persons with a good grasp of the past are likely to be better at predicting the future than those who focus too much of their speculation on technological change- a group that includes a certain breed of science-fiction writers and futurists. I also wanted to get away from conformists views of the future that are sold to us by tech companies. Again, something we might do by turning to the past.

Persons can agree with that interpretation or not, but I doubt you will have won anyone over to your side of the argument by slinging insults at me like a bully in grade school. Intimidation only works on cowards.

Oh, for those interested. Here’s my review of KSR’S 2312:

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2013/07/28/welcome-to-our-future-2312/

And ULG’s classic The Dispossessed

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2012/01/19/the-dispossessed/

I greatly encourage even those who aren’t big fans of science fiction to check them out. I loved them both. Another great and more recent sci-fi writer is Charlie Stross- he’s hilariously funny and makes a great intro to science-fiction. Loved his Accelerondo:

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2012/05/05/accelerando-i/

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2012/05/12/accelerando-ii/


Fini.

 

Rick, that is most definitely not “all” that you said.  Moreover, almost any top practitioner of science fiction—or indeed physical science—almost certainly knows more history, anthropology, comparative philosophy/religion and about other cultures than you (evidently) do.

Those fields, and not technology, are the principal grist for what we exploratory-gedanken science fiction authors write.  Which you would know, had you cracked open more than a scant few top works in the genre that you chose to slander… or did anything more than skim the few that you cracked open.

BTW your reviews—cited above—do nothing but show how determined you are to cram brave thought experiments into your preconceived agendas. They convinced me to stop wasting any more time on you.

What a sadly narrow person, for such a broad and exploratory time.

re “persons with a good grasp of the past are likely to be better at predicting the future than those who focus too much of their speculation on technological change- a group that includes a certain breed of science-fiction writers and futurists.”

Most good science-fiction writers and futurists have also a very good grasp of the past.

David,

If you actually read the piece you see that I spend far more time talking about corporate futurism than science-fiction and almost the exact same amount of space DEFENDING science fiction as attacking it.

I understand your critique of the piece and actually mostly agree in the sense that the best science fiction is mindful of history and might almost be considered a form of speculative anthropology. It’s not focused on “gadgets”- one of the best pieces of science-fiction ever written had no gadgets in it - A Canticle For Leibowitz.

I have no preconceived “agenda” I simply like to write and write what I think and feel. I am a fox not a hedge hog.

I care little for your personal opinion of me but it is necessary for me to respond to your behavior by insisting upon civility. As in science challenges are helpful and necessary for clarification and growth and I welcome them. These points are arrived at quicker if I don’t have to take time out to demand that you talk to me like a fellow human being, which I have to do because if you do it to me I am not the first or the last.

Giulio:

Next time I’ll be more careful with catchy titles.

“Most good science-fiction writers and futurists have also a very good grasp of the past.”

I completely agree with that:

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2013/12/29/preparing-for-a-new-dark-age/

And so it settles down to (1) I didn’t mean it! and (2) stop being MEAN to me! 

I was gruff.  Maybe rough.  Maybe a bit too much, for dramatic effect.  But scanning back, I see nothing that rose above the level of “that’s bullshit, Rick.”  And that completely accurate portrayal of your public assault on all of my professions was all that you should have expected. 

A thick skin is called for, when you pick up the post-modernist cudgel and resume the decades old attack upon science and rational thinking and technological/educational/exploratory adventure that has wrought the greatest age of progress the world ever knew.  You will need a thick skin whenever you raise that banner, nowadays…

...because modernists are done apologizing.  We invented the moral codes of contingency, diversity, accountability, falsifiability, competitive exploration etc that you and half a million campus pedants attempt to use against us with fatuous untruths… and we’re getting sick of watching you use us as strawmen to beat up.

Expect us to fight back, now.  Your nostalgia-mongering represents a force that is no less inimical to human hope than the right-wing’s anti-science campaign… trying to drag us into another dark age.

Brin, you are ruining my Sabbath. I think the problem you have with my writings is that you think they are aimed at you, when the reality is I do not think of you at all.

You say “we” invented as if YOU somehow played a role in bringing about modernity- the hubris. You inherited this world just as I did and we both reflect its values. If we differ on the direction it should take it is quite an error on you part to think that I want to take it “BACKWARDS” and you have ownership over what it means to move “FORWARD”.

@Rick re “Most good science-fiction writers and futurists have also a very good grasp of the past.] I completely agree with that.”

So why do you say the contrary? (“those who focus too much of their speculation on technological change- a group that includes a certain breed of science-fiction writers and futurists.”)

“A certain breed of” is undefined, but if you mean that most science-fiction writers and futurists ignore the lessons of the past, then you are wrong.

“There will still be poverty, crime, and war. There will also be birth and laughter and love… those who can best understand the near future best understand the mind and heart of mankind rather than the current, and inevitably unpredictable, trajectory of our science and technology.”

This is a good description of some of the best science fiction literature. Also, who says that one can’t understand BOTH sci/tech and the mind and heart of mankind? Again, the best science fiction writers do.

@Giulio:

A certain breed does not mean most, but certainly many.

“Also, who says that one can’t understand BOTH sci/tech and the mind and heart of mankind?”

Not me- this is exactly what I said Adrian Hon was doing… so yes you can do both.

*knock – knock*  Is it safe to come in?

OK, I am not here to take sides, just to offer my opinion on the article. We are all inclined to occasionally and perhaps subconsciously build “strawmen” to make our case and argument and viewpoint – this is something we need to be aware of and be vigilant.


@ Rick…

Determinism and physicists..

I would dare to say that physicists seek to uncover “deterministic” process and truths through physical laws that aim to complete our understanding of the Universe, it’s origins and where it might be headed. Yet it is “irregularities” due to complexity, not necessarily probabilities, which regardless of these deterministic processes manifest our material evolution – without gravity, (described as Higgs’ field, Quantum gravity or whatever), and without non-uniformity due to complexity the Universe could never have materialised to where it is now from the quantum to gas clouds to stars…and etc.

Indeed there is no point for a physicist committing to any hypothesis that does not comprise belief in deterministic process, else there could be no predictive deductions from constructing experiments and math? Yet I don’t think there is any scientist of other who believes in fatalism and the outcome of any complex system as deducible with foresight?

Consumerism and Corporatism..

“Another good argument can be made that technologically dependent science-fiction isn’t so much predicting the future as inspiring it. That the children raised on Star Trek’s communicator end up inventing the cell phone. Yet technological horizons can just as much be atrophied as energized by science-fiction.”

“I’ve always had trouble with these kinds of simplistic futures, which are really just corporate advertising devices not real visions of a complex future which will inevitably have much ugliness in it, including the ugliness that emerges from the very technology that is supposed to make our lives a paradise. The major technological players are not even offering alternative versions of the future, just the same bland future with different corporate labels as seen, here, here, and here.”

“It’s not that these visions of the future are always totally wrong, or even just unattractive, as the fact that people the present- meaning us-  have no real agency over what elements of these visions they want and which they don’t with the exception of exercising consumer choice, the very thing these flat-pack visions of the future are trying to get us to buy.”

Your concerns regarding our “Flat pack”/Glass composite techno-fetish future, and the points you are making regarding consumerism and corps attempting to shape and sell our future to us I can fully understand, although do not necessarily agree with this viewpoint, as ultimately, and for the most part, and regardless of Google – punters/Demand side decides the utility/usefulness and rejection of personalised future dream commodities. Steve Jobs, (people don’t know what they want until you show it to them! – partially true), in my opinion, was an entrepreneur yet not an innovator, (these he merely hired and dominated and perhaps even oppressed/constricted?) And is a poor example of a corporate shaping the future, (although yes, many will disagree and say that touch screen interface technology and smart phones was all down to Apple – right?)


“If you watch enough of them, their more disturbing assumption is that by throwing a net of information over everything we will finally have control and all the world will finally fall under the warm blanket of our comfort and convenience.”

As I have stated previously I personally “want” this sterile Star Trek information filled future, that provides for abundance, well-being, good heath, prosperity, security and happiness. I also speculate that Humans goals to manipulate matter and materials at the atomic level, including bio-tech and use of the understanding of complexity and “deterministic” process/mechanism is not merely a pipe dream but will soon become reality, and some of it already is a reality.

The hypothetical food replicator is a commodity that may well be “force fed” to us ignorant masses from the annals of sterile Sci-fi, yet I cannot see any Human rejecting such technology if it eventually manifests? (This is despite of the practicalities of such technological machines as potentially possessing highly destructive nuclear fission/fusion bombs in the kitchen – and yes even these safety concerns were not overlooked in the ST franchise).

However, let me say that your concerns seem to be primarily driven by notions of consumerism as controlled by Capitalists and the status quo of Capitalism – which I agree would have desires/machinations to shape some inescapable consumerism ideology driven by products and produce in a supply side and profit driven social order – where such commodities are “necessary” to sustain well being. Yet what if we can eventually remove the “Hand of Greed” from the consumer market, (Brin), or eventually establish a Resource Based Economy where Human basic needs are not controlled by profiteers – then it matters not that we all use the same technology, or even wear similar clothes? (was Gene Roddenberry a Marxist?)

Thus..

“We tend, in other words, to imagine future technological systems as readymade, holistic products that people will choose to adopt, rather than as the assembled work of countless different actors, which they’ve always really been.”

You said it, and it will always be so… Humans will inspire creativity and artistry and draw all sorts of futuristic creativity from imaginations both future and retrospective?

Transparency

“All the flat-pack versions of the future I linked to earlier have one prominent feature in common they are obsessed with glass. Everything in the world it seems will be a see through touchscreen bubbling with the most relevant information for the individual at that moment, the weather, traffic alerts, box scores, your child’s homework assignment. I have a suspicion that this glass fetish is a sort of Freudian slip on the part of tech companies, for the thing about glass is that you can see both ways through it, and what these companies most want is the transparency of you, to be able to peer into the minutiae of your life, so as to be able to sell you stuff.”

Again, I understand your concerns regarding exploitation of information and consumerism. These are valid concerns NOW, and not merely for some Sci-Fi future. I would encourage you to continue the debate, as this is very important – consumers may well reject such future technology, although as I said above, I welcome the information technology age, and information will also be an essential tool for increased (informed) democracy and collectivism. However, I still have concerns regarding “privacy” and laws – we will definitely need laws to protect us and our freedoms well into the future?

“Technology designers have largely swallowed the modernist glass covered kool-aid, but one way to purge might be to turn to archeology. For example, I’ve never found a tool more beautiful than the astrolabe, though it might be difficult to carry a smartphone in the form of one in your pocket. Instead of all that glass why not a Japanese paper house where all our supposedly important information is to constantly appear? Whiteboards are better for writing” anyway. Ransacking the past for the forms in which we could embed our technologies might be one way to escape the current design conformity.”

This is an interesting point regarding protection of privacy and encryption techniques. David Brin also includes technology protections for privacy and anti-surveillance in his book “Existence”. There is much scare mongering regarding the emergence of quantum computers rendering our entire economic system of encryption redundant and beyond repair, some even speculating this will lead to world-wide chaos. Yet although our encryption technology is firmly embedded in most online systems, the same quantum computers will no doubt be utilised to improve encryption techniques? Yes. Transparency is very much a technological concern.

Hi Cygnus, glad you could join us. Though I think I am the only one here now, Giulio, I think, had only stopped by for a short visit, and it seems David Brin does not enjoy my company.

On physics- I personally do not believe in determinism, but most of modern physics seems to assume it. There are physicists trying to find a way out of determinism i.e. Lee Smolin, but his position does not seem to be going anywhere. My guess is that if indeterminism is going to be found it will be found as an emergent property of the universe – like life itself. I guess we’ll see.

Here I feel more on solid ground:

“The hypothetical food replicator is a commodity that may well be “force fed” to us ignorant masses from the annals of sterile Sci-fi, yet I cannot see any Human rejecting such technology if it eventually manifests? (This is despite of the practicalities of such technological machines as potentially possessing highly destructive nuclear fission/fusion bombs in the kitchen – and yes even these safety concerns were not overlooked in the ST franchise).”

Yes, yes, a food replicator would be great for humanity but here’s the danger I see in the visions of a flat-pack future if we’re not careful. If I understand the replicator in Star Trek it just rearranges atoms, but imagine a replicator where when you need something it had to get that energy from somewhere else, may be through some horrible process, which was deliberately hidden and which required great effort on your part to find out what exactly it had done to bring you your fish and chips or bottle of wine or whatever.

That’s the system we have right now. That dinner you ate tonight that seemed to appear out of the ether came from somewhere real and some of the parts of that reality you would no doubt find ugly or unjust. That sleek phone in your hand didn’t materialize in the shrine of an Apple store like the Eucharist but was brought to you by human hands.

Now I know companies when they present these sleek futures filled with upper middle class families leading happy lives aren’t going to tell you that, but it seems to me we should be asking what’s BEHIND this world and its shinny glass? It seem transparent but in fact it is opaque. The replicator needs to be real not a prop.

Of course, something like 3D printing might solve these problems, but I want to know the details and not just be swept up in the hype.

“Yet what if we can eventually remove the “Hand of Greed” from the consumer market, (Brin), or eventually establish a Resource Based Economy where Human basic needs are not controlled by profiteers – then it matters not that we all use the same technology, or even wear similar clothes? (was Gene Roddenberry a Marxist?)

You know some Silicon Valley tycoons- I’m thinking Peter Diamandis- often talk in this “after the singularity we’ll have enough wealth that wealth won’t matter anymore”, but it’s a weird sentiment to hear from people who keep amassing billions upon billions. In other words, I don’t believe them. We could spend the rest of our days hoping that come the revolution all of this will be sorted out, but in the meantime the system we have continues to shape and mold our world to its own assumptions. I don’t think tech-companies are going away, nor is modernity and I wouldn’t want it to, so I personally would like a little more diversity, more experimentation in terms of aesthetics, yes, but also in the way technology is organized and used. Maybe somewhere there will be found an alternative to the current system that’s been sitting under our nose. At the very least we’ll be able to retain elements of our humanity that many now hanker for the return of – connections with food and time etc. 

I suppose one of these days I’ll get to reading Existence….

Dang.  I was accuse of bullying because I kept objecting to Rick’s utter pattern of always doubling down.  Modifying nothing, doubting nothing, even in the face of true reason for re-evaluation.

“On physics- I personally do not believe in determinism, but most of modern physics seems to assume it.”

Yes, the above is completely true.  It is true that things DO seem that way to Rick Searle.  And as a person who knows almost no scientists, and has skimmed a couple of books, that “seems” is more than adequate! Alas, I (a physicist who knows well over a hundred other physicists) tried to explain to him that this “seems” is, in fact, diametrically opposite to true. But no matter.  Because the subjectivity that Rick espouses trumps any mere facts.

What irony!  Nothing could be more deterministic than him declaring something that is opposite-to-true, and sticking by it.

And of course, that is the crux, here. In 99% of human cultures, truth was decided by a ruling caste and interpreted and proclaimed by an arbiter priesthood.  The scientists and science fiction authors who Rick denounces are the ones who invented cheerful contingency, the use of gedanken-scenarios, the welcoming of competitive models and theories and the willingness to test them, then test the winners, then encourage a new wave of bright young challengers to test yet again.  Indeed, science fiction is ABOUT trying the next idea on for size, then trying the next.

How ironic that he speaks of “revolution” while dissing the true revolutionaries and returning to patterns of thought that were with us since time-immemorial, and never did us the slightest good.

“I suppose one of these days I’ll get to reading Existence….”

Seriously?  Given the confirmation bias with which you read Smolin and Tegmark et al, I doubt you’ll take away much from any of my novels, Rick.  One firm prediction, though.  Whatever your politics (and I only have clues, so far) I’ll wager you will come away convinced I am in the opposite camp.

Seriously, I am going to try to stay away now.

David,

Please enlighten me. What does did Einstein mean when he said?:

“People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

If there is no distinction between past and future and the laws of nature are time symmetrical how is it that the future is not already determined? And please tell me this based on current science not some hoped for unification of gravity and quantum mechanics.

If I have a conformation bias it is that the future not be determined, so I am actually listening to what the physicists say.

Wow I didn’t know Eisenstein said that! Is it in Potemkin?

Note to self- do not use automatic spell check when running out the door. But perhaps your the person I’m looking for,  Giulio, can you answer my question on physics and determinism?

@ Rick.. You are crafty!

I hope you get a response here because I wish to see how this plays out.

Perhaps Einstein was having an “Eisenstein” moment, albeit not merely as sentimental.

However, if I understand you correctly, you seem to be conflating the illusion of time with determinism and thus the notion that the future already exists?

I think even I can provide and argument against this and in despite of Einstein or the math, (how arrogant of me!)

In the meantime, you may find this article and debate interesting?

Causality (A Convenient Construct)

ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/goertzel20100207

 

@CygnusX1:

Not sure how crafty I am, but it does seem to follow that if the future is already “there” then we have no real freedom on its shape.

I used to think that multi-verse theories were a way out of this dilemma but then kept coming across the idea that the wave function itself was determined. Or let me put it to you this way, quantum superposition when interpreted through the most expansive notions of the multi-verse mean that you make EVERY possible choice and all futures that arise from those choices become real. If I HAVE to make ALL choices it no longer seems to make sense to say that I make any “choice” at all.

I actually think that our natural aversion to such determinism might be a better guide than it has usually been in signaling that something is wrong with the science, and I think the integrity of our moral and political world’s depend on us clinging to a notion of freedom despite the science, but in the end, I’ll have to come down where the science comes down.

I am not sure Goertzel’s Cosmism can help me here, any thoughts? I am waiting for a physicist to set me straight.

@ Rick..

That’s why God created Compatibilism?

Trust you to bring the multi-verse into this! Although I detect some sleight of hand in your logic, ie so many choices = no choice .. Hmm?

What about Roger Penrose “Objective Reduction” (OR)? A most rational hypothesis that wave function collapse does not require an “Observer”, (which makes absolute sense if you rationalize how many observers there are in the Universe, OR you subscribe to Cosmism/Panpsychism)?

So you didn’t like my comment about causality, Arithmetic and math? I still stand by it - BODMAS we call it here in UK.

I think all scientists subscribe to causality despite what they propose?

 

@CygnusX1:

Trust you to bring the multi-verse into this! Although I detect some sleight of hand in your logic, ie so many choices = no choice .. Hmm?

Oh, no sleight of hand here. As I understand multi-verse theories (and as I have said more than once I am aware that this understanding could be wrong) one of their benefits is that you don’t have to explain why the universe is one way rather than another, why the cat ends up being alive rather than dead. If the multi-verse in certain variants is true then it has very troubling consequences for human freedom. Any choice you have made is explained by the fact that you have made every possible choice.

Robert Schlafly had a brilliant, Swiftian take on this over at FQXi which I wrote about. His original essay is here:

http://fqxi.org/community/forum/topic/2035

And it shows how absurd the world would be if the individual constantly split into world’s where they committed every virtuous and every vile act.

The multi-verse isn’t really solid science at this point - which I am happy about- because in certain forms it not only destroys human freedom but might destroy the scientific-method itself- these universes would likely not be observable and what kind of scientific theory has to make reference to everything that happens to explain any particular thing that happens. Poor Occam would roll in his grave.

I am not a Cosmist or adhere to Panpsychism and am, would you believe it, a materialist at least as far as explanations I feel I must agree to to remain rational. At the same time I realize the vastness of our ignorance and feel the deepest questions reside there.

Sorry about my silence on your BODMAS example- I hadn’t really read beyond the post itself. Here we call it The Order of Operations sometimes rendered “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”. I think I understand you example to mean that things have to have an order to have the “right” outcome. The thing about math though is that it is also symmetrical, yes? You can arrive where you started by rolling the whole thing backwards- which is how you check if a problem is correct- so I’m not sure if it helps. The ending continues to be embedded in the beginning and the beginning in the end. I guess I am waiting for someone to throw the lifesaver of entropy and the second law out to me and reel me in.   

@Rick re “Giulio, can you answer my question on physics and determinism?”

I can try.

The question is: “If there is no distinction between past and future and the laws of nature are time symmetrical how is it that the future is not already determined? And please tell me this based on current science not some hoped for unification of gravity and quantum mechanics.”

Classical (non-quantum) physics is deterministic and reversible (irreversible thermodynamics is often explained away statistically within the deterministic and reversible framework of classical physics).

But quantum physics is non-deterministic and irreversible (the random collapse of the wave-function). This is not “some hoped for unification of gravity and quantum mechanics,” but the current mainstream interpretation of quantum mechanics. So since quantum mechanics is believed to be the most fundamental physical theory, current science says that reality is non-deterministic and irreversible.

Let’s forget quantum physics and go back to classical physics.

The laws of classical physics are deterministic and reversible, so the future is already determined. But already determined doesn’t mean predictable in practice. If the universe is the fastest machine that can compute itself, then you can predict tomorrow’s weather, but the computation will take more than one day, so tomorrow’s weather is determined but can not be known in advance.

Continued - It’s easy to show that the universe is the fastest machine that can compute itself:

Assume that the statement is false. Then in principle you can build a machine able to predict, today, the color of the shirt that you will wear tomorrow. But then you can choose to wear a shirt of another color tomorrow.

@ Rick..


“And it shows how absurd the world would be if the individual constantly split into world’s where they committed every virtuous and every vile act.”

Absurd is the word - I don’t buy it. Sure I subscribe to the belief in multi-verses or multiple Universes, yet not “Many worlds interpretation”. The laws of physics as we Human minds interpret them are still scant even for our Universe, the possibilities for others may be totally alien and not be able to sustain even materialism. And the one I especially favour is the Universe of coherence and seething “potential”, quietly waiting to go BANG!

“I am not a Cosmist or adhere to Panpsychism and am, would you believe it, a materialist at least as far as explanations I feel I must agree to to remain rational. At the same time I realize the vastness of our ignorance and feel the deepest questions reside there.”

What if I said that Consciousness is as much an illusion as the “Flow” of time - does that help?


“Sorry about my silence on your BODMAS example- I hadn’t really read beyond the post itself. Here we call it The Order of Operations sometimes rendered “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”. I think I understand you example to mean that things have to have an order to have the “right” outcome. The thing about math though is that it is also symmetrical, yes? You can arrive where you started by rolling the whole thing backwards- which is how you check if a problem is correct- so I’m not sure if it helps.”

Yet the question/issue is not about symmetry but about causality? Does a physicist bend the rules or discard the Order of Operations to do his math? If he does he can’t be trusted can he?

“The ending continues to be embedded in the beginning and the beginning in the end. I guess I am waiting for someone to throw the lifesaver of entropy and the second law out to me and reel me in.”

Ah yes.. “All of this has happened before and will happen again”, Alpha & Omega, the osbourous, (don’t get me started on that). I like to believe in the “re-cyclable” Universe, although logic tells me that IF the Universe ever attains heat death, (and ask yourself what would be required for this to be successful and ultimately overcome gravity), that it will be the grand finale/lights out - a very cold and dark future?

Yes indeed, still waiting - however this does not help explain your original question why the Past, Present and Future are already mapped out, (and I don’t believe it is!)

In the meantime, here’s another gem from Ben - thought provoking stuff eh?

Why Time Appears To Move Forward

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/goertzel20120223

ps. Hope I spelled osbourous correctly. I did a search and information regarding this is strangely lacking from Google - or is this merely my superstition?

—-


pps.. Reasons to be cheerful, (about the future), part 2..

“C.W. Rietdijk
Two years later, C.W. Rietdijk and Hilary Putnam were not so cautious about proving determinism using special relativity.
Rietdijk was unequivocal. His article in the journal Philosophy of Science was titled “A Rigorous Proof of Determinism Derived from the Special Theory of Relativity.” He says,

A proof is given that there does not exist an event, that is not already in the past for some possible distant observer at the (our) moment that the latter is “now” for us. Such event is as “legally” past for that distant observer as is the moment five minutes ago on the sun for us (irrespective of the circumstance that the light of the sun cannot reach us in a period of five minutes). Only an extreme positivism: “that which cannot yet be observed does not yet exist”, can possibly withstand the conclusion concerned. Therefore, there is determinism, also in micro-physics.
(Philosophy of Science, Vol. 33, No. 4 (Dec., 1966), pp. 341-344)”

http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/special_relativity.html


Now.. can you uncover anything wrong with this deduction?

 

 

Giulio,

Thanks much for responding to my question. I am not sure though that ”since quantum mechanics is believed to be the most fundamental physical theory, current science says that reality is non-deterministic and irreversible. “

Here for example is the physicist Brian Greene:

“The downfall of Laplace’s vision, however, does not leave the concept of determinism in total ruins. Wave functions – the probability waves of quantum mechanics- evolve in time according to precise mathematical rules, such as the Schrödinger equation (or its more precise relativistic counterparts, such as the Dirac equation and the Klein-Gordon equation.) This informs us that quantum determinism replaces Laplace’s classical determinism: Knowledge of the wave function of all the fundamental ingredients of the universe at some moment in time allows a “vast enough” intelligence to determine the wave functions at any prior or future time.”

“The probabilistic aspect of quantum mechanics significantly softens Laplacian determinism by shifting inevitability from outcomes to outcomes-likelihoods, but the latter are fully determined within the conventional framework of quantum theory.” (Elegant Universe 155) 

And here’s the most recent academic paper on the subject I could find:

http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.1811

It seems determinism has us in a pincer coming from the levels of both big and small.

@Rick re “The probabilistic aspect of quantum mechanics significantly softens Laplacian determinism by shifting inevitability from outcomes to outcomes-likelihoods, but the latter are fully determined within the conventional framework of quantum theory.”

This is correct, but in most mainstream interpretations of quantum physics (beginning with the Copenhagen interpretation), outcomes-likelihoods have nothing to do with reality. There are many possible outcomes compatible with the laws of physics, then upon observation (whatever that is) one is chosen at random (collapse) and the others vanish. Alternative interpretations like Everett’s MWI are deterministic, but in a universe much wider than our standard model of reality.

@CygnusX1:

“Absurd is the word - I don’t buy it. Sure I subscribe to the belief in multi-verses or multiple Universes, yet not “Many worlds interpretation”. The laws of physics as we Human minds interpret them are still scant even for our Universe, the possibilities for others may be totally alien and not be able to sustain even materialism. And the one I especially favour is the Universe of coherence and seething “potential”, quietly waiting to go BANG!”

That’s Schlafly’s point. The first time I read his essay I almost leapt at his throat, but then it hit me that he was writing a satire of parallel universe interpretations of quantum mechanics. I am deeply suspicious of parallel universes. Personally, I subscribe to Copernican Mediocrity. The deeper we have gone the more we have realized just how small a place in existence we occupy – the geocentric “universe” became a solar system then a galaxy then 100s of billions of galaxies. I see no reason we should believe our universe is the only one or the Big Bang “has a sign on it that ‘this happened only once’. “ I am afraid that we might not be able

“What if I said that Consciousness is as much an illusion as the “Flow” of time - does that help?”

If it’s an illusion then perhaps its related to the illusion of time’s flow. Is there a point when illusions come to seem so “real” that they are no longer illusions?

“Yet the question/issue is not about symmetry but about causality? Does a physicist bend the rules or discard the Order of Operations to do his math? If he does he can’t be trusted can he?”

Isn’t the Order of Operations a convention, like reading left to right? Things like the associative, commutative properties and the like are characteristics of numbers not BODMAS. I feel like we’re in danger here of going down the path to asking if mathematics is real or why it’s so effective in representing nature- and I’m scared (wink). 

“I like to believe in the “re-cyclable” Universe, although logic tells me that IF the Universe ever attains heat death, (and ask yourself what would be required for this to be successful and ultimately overcome gravity), that it will be the grand finale/lights out - a very cold and dark future?”

When I was younger I was attracted to the cyclic-universe, but there seems to be very real evidence for it with expansion speeding up. But the cyclic-universe is unnecessary if there are multiple universes. A pessimist like Lawrence Krauss constantly reminds us about heat death – but we’ve got way longer in front of us than behind us- TRILLIONS of years- plenty of time for life to play itself out in this universe whatever its ultimate fate.

Giulio,

Okay, so I can see at least 3 possible reads on quantum indeterminism plus the fact that: “quantum mechanics is believed to be the most fundamental physical theory”

1) Quantum indeterminism is correct and the determinism of classical physics obscures an underlying non-detrmined reality.

2) Everett’s MWI is the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics and the universe at both the quantum and classical levels is non-determined.

3) Quantum indeterminism like other quantum effects is “washed out” at the classical level and therefore the world at the scales we
experience is determined.

Have I missed any? I would like to take what’s behind door number 1, but the fact that 2 and 3 haven’t been ruled out completely makes me a little nervous.

Rick:

1) (Einstein’s nightmare) seems correct according to current knowledge and understanding.

2) is incorrect: Everett’s MWI is fully deterministic (but that doesn’t change the fact that reality appears undetermined in a single branch of the multiverse).

3) is also incorrect, because it’s easy to amplify quantum effects to the macroscale, for example with a bomb that goes off only if a quantum spin is measured as up.

I would add:

4) - (a generalization of 2) the undetermined reality that we can see may be a projection of a wider reality that we can not see (yet), which may or may not be determined.

Giulio,

Thanks- I really should not try to write things while the kids are jumping on me.

#2 should have read:

“Everett’s MWI is the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics and the universe at both the quantum and classical levels is DETERMINED.”

Does that change anything?

So, if I understand your take- reality at the classical level likely only APPEARS to be determined due to the fact that for the most widely held theories of the more fundamental/quantum level reality does not appear to be deterministic.

Is that correct?

For those hoping reality is not deterministic they should hope that the project to extend multiverse theory beyond Level 1 into Level 2, 3 and 4 according to Tegmark stalls.

http://utopiaordystopia.com/2014/07/19/plato-and-the-physicist-a-multicosmic-love-story/

Yes?

OK - This is beginning to shake my foundations and understanding of everything - RICK!! Arrrgh

I now have a model in my head of a massive fractal exploding from a singularity and inflating and still accelerating towards the extremities of it’s boundaries (where and only where a future really is being created), whilst my entire existence is now reduced to a minuscule fragment etched in the fabric of Space-time.

Fatalism!!

What have I left, only the comfort of not knowing what my minuscule future has in store for me?

There must be a way out of this dilemma, what point is there in attempting to change future events at all?

Suggestions anyone?

(and no, cold comforts of clones in other Universes just now realizing the same as me does not help!)

 

Ummmm, sorry Cygnus I thought I was just talking a little physics smack with my homies.

There are some positive things you could take away. For one the quantum determinism of Everett’s MWI isn’t the standard interpretation so maybe we’ll be saved by quantum indeterminism after all.

But if Everett was right at least you’ll be immortal: one of the reasons he was attracted to the theory is that in at least one version of the multi-verse that contains every possibility he (you) won’t die. Of course, you’ll also, in other universes have committed every vile act known to mankind. A small price for living forever! (Gulp!)

“When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of recollecting my past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two… five, ten… fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction & expansion: ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure & pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes & details.

“This was the first knowledge I attained in the first watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.

“When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the passing away & reappearance of beings. I saw — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — beings passing away & re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: ‘These beings — who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech, & mind, who reviled the noble ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings — who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech & mind, who did not revile the noble ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views — with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.’ Thus — by means of the divine eye, purified & surpassing the human — I saw beings passing away & re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior & superior, beautiful & ugly, fortunate & unfortunate in accordance with their kamma.

“This was the second knowledge I attained in the second watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.

“When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, & attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. I discerned, as it had come to be, that ‘This is stress… This is the origination of stress… This is the cessation of stress… This is the way leading to the cessation of stress… These are fermentations… This is the origination of fermentations… This is the cessation of fermentations… This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations.’ My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’

“This was the third knowledge I attained in the third watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose — as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, & resolute. But the pleasant feeling that arose in this way did not invade my mind or remain.”

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/buddha.html

@Rick re “So, if I understand your take- reality at the classical level likely only APPEARS to be determined due to the fact that for the most widely held theories of the more fundamental/quantum level reality does not appear to be deterministic. “

Yes, more or less. I think reality may have an irreducibly random core. We may find new fully deterministic models of the universe, with wider and wider scopes of applicability, but without ever conquering all the small regions where determinism breaks down. More here:

http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/prisco20121206

Thanks much, Giulio, you have been very helpful in clarifying my thinking on this.

@CygnusX1:

Sometimes I think all that we are doing is proving scientifically a landscape already mapped out by Hinduism and Buddhism.

You might like this:

http://bloggingheads.tv/videos/30344?in=37:40&out=43:08

Although none of that means that I’m about to go all Deepak Chopra on you.

And maybe fatalism is not the right reaction even if the multi-verse and parallel worlds are someday put on a solid scientific footing. Tegmark, for example, is very interested in catastrophic risks to human survival and has just launched “The Future of Life Institute” devoted to such things:

http://futureoflife.org/

Not sure how that fits together with the multiverse and parallel worlds but I’m open to being philosophically convinced.

@ Rick..

As an advocate of freedoms, such like many others, I support freewill and the burden of responsibility and accountability as established over many generations. I cannot deny the determinism that physics proposes, yet neither can we humans deny our inherent will to power and aspirations of dreams manifest through our actions and tenacity.

Thus Compatibilism, for me, has always been the “middle way” and Libet’s “veto function” experiments have established this as both logical and valid. I have always shunned the notion of Hard determinism and find it both abhorrent and crippling - presently I feel like my entire future is encased in amber like that mosquito in the movie “Jurassic park”?

Thus Buddhism, (particularly), provides some solace at this stage. Yet the item I posted above instructs not merely in lessons for humility, acceptance, compassion and integrity but also for morality in the face of such overwhelming force of pre-determined destiny - and so we may yet still have will and powers to consistently maintain our ethics and practice our morality across all unfolding of these “many worlds”, (if you believe in such)?

For sure ALL Transhumans are also “locked in” to this same Universal dilemma, no doubt some Posthuman demi-gods too despite their possibility for mind bending powers of omnipotence - seems their only way to escape is to race as fast as the Universe is expanding to it’s event horizon and either reside there or surpass these limitations somehow?

I have not totally given up hope for free will to power nor freedoms and social justice. And sure, quantum in-determinism supports our freedoms right here, right now despite being apparently “locked in” to this classical model of space-time.


There are but two ways out of this dilemma that my lame brain can fathom at this stage..

1. Separate time from space, rather regressive and radical thinking and who would really wish to do this? - not me.

2. Subscribe to MWI unconditionally and pursue a “Self-centred” timeline towards aspirations and dreams, and with tenacity, (Am sure once you have resolve all other Universal clones will resign to do the same)?

So on reflection, and including your suggestions for moral retrospection, perhaps we have enough free will and powers to guide ALL or at least “many” of these other worlds and take solace in this at very least?


Thanks for the link, I will watch it later

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