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Transhuman and Human

To the extent Portal 2 is a story, my inner child (or really, story-listener, which we all should be but I think a lot of us forget how to be in adulthood) keeps asking, what happens after Chell is free of Aperture? Unfortunately, I suspect the answer is that, not particularly sane to begin with and stranded in an earth likely empty of humans (or at least depopulated enough that she'll probably never encounter another human being unless GLadOS releases some of those she has in stasis), she either dies of starvation or ekes out an existence alone in the wilderness. An interesting choice: company of a not-very-sane superpowered transhuman and a number of lesser intelligences, or solitude in an emptied world. If we brush some of the details out, maybe this is a choice that all of us make everyday, or a choice our instincts force upon us even if we might otherwise choose solitude. We are all like electrons around a mythical centre; repelled and attracted by various parts of our nature, naturally neurotic. The exploration of this topic in Neon Genesis Evangelion, really a reworking of the classic Schopenhauerian concept of Porcupines in winter that need to huddle for warmth but must be guarded against injury from their spikes, is part of the human condition; would Chell return to Aperture out of lonliness? What kinds of needs remain in the intricacies of the transhumans of Aperture? GLadOS is farther from human than Wheatley, certainly; Wheatley may be foolhardy, but his reasoning is recognisably the jumble of ideas and approaches of a human (and like a human, he's more likely to be amused by paradox than damaged by it). GLadOS and the turrets and cubes are more cathedral-type AIs; is GLadOS's side on this a result of how she transcended or her personality? Also, in the intelligence ecosphere of Aperture Science, it's interesting how experience fails to temper minds like Wheatley; presumably unlike a real EEA, there is little potential for limited failure to impose costs and force a sobering of how he thinks. Maybe. I wonder if such an environment could produce entities capable of leaving the lab for the larger world.

Recent topic from another discussion:

  • Thinning a herd of standards is sometimes needed to allow innovation; it can be so difficult to control/influence a sufficiently large, independent set of systems that stagnancy sets in. Uneasy competition makes this worse. Unix suffered this for a long time. Angbands suffer it today. If a herd thins and thickens many times over its life, I imagine the most innovation happens in the thin times (lightly paradoxical in biological systems? less paradoxical in designed systems?)
A few random topics with commentary:
  • The US continues its warmongering towards Iran. I am very disappointed in this. Iran is defending itself by sentencing spies and threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions continue. I can't fault them for any of this; no doubt the US does have plenty of operatives in Iran stirring up trouble (if you really doubt this, remember Mossadeqh and operation Ajax). Iran's closing the Strait of Hormuz seems like a reasonable response to a US embargo. At this point, although Iran has pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons, I would like Iran to have them to make western aggression less likely. Given how damaging the US embargo of Cuba has been for decades, it's hard to imagine Iran not responding to western efforts to impose something similar on them.
  • ESR's musings on intellectualism provide an interesting framework for understanding types of anti-intellectualism, but reach a complicated (and I think, very wrong) conclusion on whether anti-intellectualism is justified. As a libertarian, the stance is fairly natural; as libertarian subculture frequently repeats, "a democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner", but there's also a distrust of expertise (particularly policy wonks and academes) that threatens the pure philosophy of libertarian conclusions. ESR blames intellectuals for totalitarianism, a lack of great art, and the failures to create a utopia, and asks intellectuals to stop insisting on running things if they want respect. To this, I can only offer rejection, both of his charges of responsibility and his call to humility. We (intellectuals) believe in the ability of science and philosophy to guide society because being smarter gives us the ability to make smarter decisions, see farther, and produce greater works. It is no guarantee of success and never will be, but those who have a strong grasp of policy, facts, and politics should run things, and they should stay in the habit of trying to improve the system. We will offer the fruits of education to everyone, not as a privileged class but by educating everyone to the best of their ability to learn. There will be more experiments with other forms of governance, and some of them will fail. The "Technocratic, credentialist, and statist" people that he fears in power are exactly those that should be in power; why would we want anyone else? An 18-year old (or someone with equivalent world-experience and education) is not equipped to direct foreign or domestic policy. Someone's drinking buddy from the bar, or a random bridge club friend - they're likely not qualified to run a nation (not to say that qualified people don't do these things, but that one should judge people by their qualifications, not how likable and folksy they are). Likewise, we reject blame, as intellectuals, for the wrongs of the world. Intellectuals generally are the people that shaped nations, producing most of the good *and* bad of civilisation. From Kemal Ataturk or the Founding Fathers of the United States to Trotsky, Mohammad, and Mao to Stalin, the ideas were good, mixed, or bad, but the power of the idea is necessary to give structure to society. Prometheus's gifts are grab-bags.
  • An interesting analysis of the lack of ideas people in society representing various parts of the political spectrum. Interesting, although I wonder if Noam Chomsky might be the closest we have to a leftist Ron Paul. I don't have quite the hunger for an isolationist foreign policy the author does though; I'd be willing to consider scaledowns in foreign involvement, but I don't want this taken as a principled commitment so much as a pragmatic willingness. One of the things that I would take as being closer to a principled/inflexible commitment would be reversing the devolution of expertise and services from government/military to private firms, and drastically curbing the military-industrial complex.
  • Cute AlJ survey of minor political parties in the US. The Justice Party and the Green Party are the only among the list that seem particularly likable, and the Amiga Persecution Syndrome seems present among many. The Prohibition Party guy's essay is just about a textbook example about how not to aim for broad consensus :)
  • I thought this bit of news was interesting; that Libya has scrapped Qadaffi-era legislation banning political parties. A few years ago I studied Qadaffi's governmental structure (read his Green Book, etc), and was struck by how the system seemed to be formally sound and full of good ideas, but terribly implemented. It underscores the importance of getting both the formal structures of government right-enough and getting the right traditions (first few years) in place for its implementation. We could easily imagine US poltics being (more of) a disaster had Washington accepted being King or Dictator, although a clear enough understanding of early US history paint it as being fairly disasterous in many ways anyhow. It was good enough to be a solid base for improvement though. I believe that had Qadaffi managed Libya better and actually allowed the political structures he wanted to work the way they were supposed to, political parties would indeed have been an anti-democratic element. The problem is that having people's committees that have no genuine power, and using those committees to surpress a people rather than let them self-govern makes them worse than useless. Compare Qadaffi's Libya to the intricate and reasonably-functioning division of power in the Iranian government; the best systems are where any controversial use of power has some kind of a political cost, and the ability of anyone in government to do things requires some mix of convincing and cost-benefit analysis
    • Let me revise that slightly; by best, I mean best in a parliamentary, Machiavellian (in the true sense, not the uneducated impression people have from having skimmed 「The Prince」 in college) sense. There are better systems possible, but getting them right is much harder.
  • Vint Cerf's essay on how Internet access is not a human right is either half-right or right, depending on how you read him. I support lobbying of groups in every country to have uncontrolled access to the internet, not as a basic right but as a derived one based on what the internet is now. I suggest that there are many classes of derived rights we should fight for (or privileges of all humanity, if we don't like the phrasing of rights), and that it is ok to derive those from other desired privileges-of-all-humanity as well as specific, changable facts.

So much more to write on! I'm trying to keep this down to managable chunks for people though.