[ExI] Cosmopolitanism, collective epistemology and other issues

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Fri Jul 15 07:36:17 UTC 2016

On 2016-07-14 17:17, William Flynn Wallace wrote:
> Douhat is right and wrong at the same time.  I have no problem seeing 
> the intellectual elite as a tribe, as long as my tribe is not insular 
> or dismissive of others or afraid of them.  My tribe shares the ideal 
> of, for example, double blind studies as best in many researches, a 
> standard not shared by some other tribes, or maybe not even 
> understandable to some.  Egalitarian does not mean equal in all things.
> And some things in some cultures, including our own, can be just wrong.

I don't think Doutat claims every culture is as good as every other 
culture. Rather, that real cosmopolitanism means moving out of one's 
comfort zone and experiencing other cultures through interaction.

I am very comfortable dealing with fellow academics, no matter from 
where: they are actually quite similar to me, even if they are 
Argentinian psychoanalysts or Chinese economists: there is a globalized 
academic culture that helps us interact (and maybe allows us to focus on 
research issues rather than each other's strangeness). Maybe I am 
missing some radically different academic cultures from Subsaharan 
Africa, Arabia or Mongolia, but I doubt it: it is an internationalized 
culture and to a degree a tribal affiliation. But trying to explain some 
of our stuff to a politician... ugh. Suddenly there is a barrier in 
culture, mental toolkit, and sometimes tribal affiliation. I found it 
easier to deal with Japanese senior civil servants than a Swedish 
politician. Yet interacting with the politician may have given me more 
cultural understanding than the chats with the Chinese economist.

David Brin suggested that the unique aspect of Western culture was not 
just fascination by other cultures (that can be found elsewhere) but a 
deeply ingrained idea that other cultures might have figured out things 
we haven't, might have better solutions we ought to pick up on, or that 
we need to reinvent ourselves to avoid being bad. This is very unique 
(and not even particularly popular inside our culture). I think it is 
tremendously important, a key reason we got not just modern science and 
technology but also significant moral improvement (from abolition to 
human rights frameworks to gay rights) and transhumanism from this culture.

This memeplex of "we could be different" is to be cherished and 
protected. Being cosmopolitan does not mean one becomes relativist, but 
rather that one has enough experience in the world that one becomes a 
connoisseur of ideas, life patterns and alternatives.

This might be why I am not entirely happy with just being pretty good at 
networking within a large chunk of global civilization: I want to be 
able to network with the rest of it too.

Dr Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

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