[Exi-east] "Geoethical Nanotechnology"

Simon Levy levys at wlu.edu
Sun Jul 10 18:55:31 UTC 2005


Just a reminder: ExI-East and (to my knowledge) the other regional lists
are strictly for soliciting/announcing get-togethers and other brief,
regional event topics.  So although I find this nanotech discussion
interesting, I politely request that you remove ExI-East from the To:
list.  And I look forward to seeing you in person at
Extropian/Transhumanist events.


On Sun, 2005-07-10 at 14:34, Perry E. Metzger wrote:
> Natasha Vita-More <natasha at natasha.cc> writes:
> > > It is sad to see people who once wrote eloquently about libertarian
> > > approaches to the world giving even lip service to words like "global
> > > regulatory framework".
> [...]
> > why would you hang your future so tightly to any one political
> > theory when no one political theory is substantially adequate to
> > intelligently address the rate of change and the effects of change and
> > how the world can function in order to protect individuality and
> > freedom.
> Why would I hang my future on such inadequate tools as reason and the
> scientific method, when no single method is substantially adequate to
> intelligently address the rate of change and the effects of change?
> Why not try to absorb the best ideas from shitoism, scientology and
> astrology as well?
> Dismissing my view as just one "political theory" among many is, to
> me, rather similar to dismissing evolution as one theory among many
> equally valid ones (like creationism).
> The fact that you even bother to ask the question about why I "cling
> tightly" to my views shows you don't understand my views. I don't mean
> to offend, and I'm sure you did not mean to offend, but I suspect
> neither of us can help but offend the other. Our views are
> irreconcilable because there is a massive gap of method between
> them.
> For my part, I have a theory about how autonomous agents with bounded
> rationality interact. Based on that theory, one can make predictions
> about the world and attempt to falsify the theory. The attempts to
> falsify it have, so far, failed, thus giving me substantial reason
> to trust the theory. Moving forward from that trust in the theory,
> I've made predictions for myself about where efforts involving words
> like "Geoethical" and "global regulatory framework" lead. Thus, just
> like the doctor who has a definite view about the efficacy of rubbing
> linseed oil on the feet of someone with a staph infection versus
> giving them antibiotics, I have a definite view about what a "global
> regulatory regime" will do to the health of the world, and most
> especially, what it will do to (and not for) me.
> To you, of course, my views are just one among many sets of views you
> have heard. Indeed, I'm hardly the only person who claims my views are
> based on the scientific method and reason -- the Marxists claim
> similarly after all. Many other people have told you many other
> things, often quite contradictory things. Sadly, although you may
> think otherwise, you have chosen not to try to evaluate these views to
> assess their truth, but rather to pick based on other methods. Perhaps
> you embrace the ones that seemed most emotionally resonant to you, or
> perhaps the ones presented by the people who were most attractive, or
> perhaps the ones that you were told were true very early in your life.
> That you have done this is not particularly surprising -- many people
> do that sort of thing. That's why we have a majority of the world
> population that is religious, after all. Perhaps you take the
> fashionable view that one must seek "middle ground" -- that always
> sounds pleasing to the ear, and certainly is the careful thing to say
> at Washington cocktail parties. "We are in a new era -- we will need
> new methods!" sounds ever so euphonious.
> Were it not for one small thing -- reality -- there would be no need
> for a conflict between our views about what you dismiss so off-hand as
> mere "political theory". Reality, however, throws a small monkey
> wrench in the machine.
>     "[...]reality must take precedence over public relations, for
>     nature cannot be fooled. "
>      -- Richard Feynman in his minority report on the Challenger Accident 
> I see the system of the world as amenable to reason, and using that
> method, I've been convinced that there are rules about the way
> societies of interacting agents can function. Ideas like Pareto
> optimality do not depend on particular times and places, just as the
> laws of physics don't depend on particular times and places.
> One can predict, with near certainty, the probability amplitudes for
> particles using Quantum Mechanics.  Using the principles of
> evolutionary theory, you can predict, with near certainty, that a
> mutation that prevents a creature from reproducing will not be passed
> on to offspring, regardless of what effect it might have on the
> survival of that particular organism. Similarly, I can predict that
> attempts to regulate the exchange of goods and services between
> voluntary actors necessarily reduce global utility. Similarly, I can
> predict that attempts to construct regulatory frameworks will
> necessarily have perverse consequences because they do not take into
> account, among other things, the fact that the regulators necessarily
> are independent actors with their own utility functions to maximize.
> This is not a mere "political theory". This is an understanding about
> how the world works. It is testable in the real world, as all good
> theories are. It makes falsifiable predictions, and those predictions
> come out correct. It says things like "if you try to `help the poor'
> by imposing price controls on apartments, you will get apartment
> shortages", and lo, it happens in the real world. It says "if you
> attempt to prevent people from selling liquor, all you will do is make
> liquor less safe and create violence", and lo, it happens. You can
> even conduct simple demonstrations to people in Econ 101 classes by
> handing out pens and sticks of gum to the students and allowing them
> to trade freely or constraining trade, and things work out just as
> predicted. Want to know what will happen if you print lots of money?
> You'll get inflation. Want to know what will happen if you set a
> minimum wage of $10 an hour? You'll get unemployment.
> Quite pathetically, I "cling" to this "political theory" -- "just one
> theory among many in a shifting world!" you insist.
> I am the sad man, the pathetic man, the man who tries to understand
> aerodynamics rather than waving my hands over a carpet and imagining
> it might float. I am the man who claims that regulation will not work
> because my stupid annoying theory which has been tested repeatedly
> tells me so. I get in the way of the progressive, modern viewpoint. I
> speak of utility functions, demand curves and other horrible
> abstractions, but what right minded person would want to speak of such
> things? They are annoying and unfair, not to mention boring.  The
> "reality based community" tells us that we can't make a new law have
> any arbitrary effect we desire, because in the real world behavior is
> constrained, just as we can't make a mass in free space suddenly make
> a right angle turn.
> Horrible, unfair and annoying, isn't it? You have so many desires, and
> the world thwarts them!  "If only the selfish would help Africa more!"
> you say. "If only that evil company would give their employees health
> insurance!" you think. "If only the government would just DO SOMETHING
> about poverty!"  you cry. And yet, somehow, when the government forces
> people to do what you want rather than what they want, the bastards
> refuse to conform to your expectations. Perverse of them, isn't it?
> And, since you will not open your eyes, also inexplicable!
> To the person who asks how the world works, the world provides
> horrible limitations. They are forced to shake their head sadly at
> their friends' cocktail hour musings about how much better the world
> would be if only some pet law were passed. Their world has no such simple
> "magic wand" solutions. It is a boring world, a world of equations,
> and rules, and hard won insights. It is not the exciting world of the
> Live 8 concert where if we all only hold our hands and believe, a
> major global problem can be fixed while thrilling music is played. On
> the other hand, it is a world that has a serious advantage -- if you
> pay attention to it, the things you design might actually work.
> The person that understands the world is not completely powerless
> against it. While friends stand by, frustrated that no matter how
> often they chant at the carpet it does not float and whisk them to the
> other side of the world, the enlightened person sits down and studies
> physics and builds an airplane. This annoys their friends, who
> secretly call them a "geek" and sneer, but mysteriously they tend to
> ride the resulting airplanes none the less.
> At any rate, I wish you all great luck with your "Geoethical
> nanotechnology" conference and the search for a "global regulatory
> framework". I'm sure you will also make great progress on the squaring
> of circles using compass and straightedge alone, the factoring of
> prime numbers, and the curing of public health problems through
> nationalized health care. Remember always that the most important
> thing about the world is belief, and if you only believe hard enough,
> your fondest wishes will come true.
> And please, don't mind me. I'm naive. I don't understand people in the
> real world. I don't know how political power works, and have no idea
> what horrors people like you defend me from by putting a friendly,
> marketable face on unpalatable ideas like transhumanism. Proceed
> apace, and ignore the intrusion from the peanut gallery.
>    "Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars -
>    mere globs of gas atoms. I too can see the stars on a desert
>    night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of
>    the heavens stretches my imagination -- stuck on this carousel my
>    little eye can catch one million year old light. A vast
>    pattern - of which I am a part... What is the pattern, or the
>    meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a
>    little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any
>    artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present
>    not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if
>    he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane
>    and ammonia must be silent?"
>     -- Richard Feynman, in a footnote in "The Feynman Lectures on Physics"
> Perry
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Simon D. Levy
Assistant Professor
Computer Science Department
Washington & Lee University
Lexington, VA 24450

540-458-8419 (voice)
540-458-8255 (fax)
levys at wlu.edu

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