[extropy-chat] Futures Past

The Avantguardian avantguardian2020 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 10 08:50:53 UTC 2005

--- Damien Broderick <thespike at satx.rr.com> wrote:
> The announcement that
> the project was 
> complete was made in advance of expectation, true,
> but they were disguising 
> the unwelcome fact that it *wasn't* complete.

To Damien, Harvey, Greg, and all the other science
fiction writers, futurists, and transhumanists out
there. I can sympathize with those of you that have
kept the faith for so long only to see the precious
years of your life tick away as the deadlines you set
for your predictions come and go without the hoped for
After a childhood spent earning easy grades and
freakishly high test scores, I thought I was going to
waltz into the lab and have a vaccine for AIDS before
breakfast, the cure for cancer by lunch, and put an
end to old age by dinner. In retrospect I was
completely, utterly, and horribly naive. 

I felt your angst acutely as my own, when in the past
decade my youthful exubrence as an optimistic young
scientist crashed headlong into the inertia of "the
system". A mindless morass of politics, bureacracy,
and luddism has made me feel like I am making all the
progress of a bottle-rocket in jello.

I had always envisioned progress in science as some
idealistic relay race where each generation of
scientists carry forward the torch of enlightenment
and pass it on to the next. The reality of the
situation however is more like a swarm of ants
bringing a raisin to their nest. Ants on every side of
it, pulling it this way and that, and inevitably by
some stroke of design and no small amount of fortune
there happen to be more ants pulling on the side
facing the nest.

So after many false starts and a long meandering
struggle, the raisin finally reaches the nest. Then
there is a scramble as the ants, even the ones that
were blindly trying to pull it away from the nest,
jump on top of the raisin as if to say to their
brethren (sisters technically), "Behold, *I* have
brought this bounty to you!"

What do I mean by this? Simply that all singulatarian
rhetoric aside, progress cannot, does not, and will
not ever happen on its own. People speak of progress
as if it were something of a foregone conclusion. As
if great inventions and technological marvels leap up
and assemble themselves of their own accord.

As a student of science, let me tell you, true
innovation is hard. It requires a near miraculous
conjunction of necessity, creativity, determination,
precedent, and funding. After a mere five years in
academic science, it no longer surprises me how slow
technological progress can be, it is instead
surprising that despite a system that fights progress
every step of the way, any gains are made at all.

As a student of history, let me tell you that progress
is NEVER a foregone conclusion. Civilization is and
always has been on the precipice of collapse. And
collapsed it has many times. Only to be rolled back up
to its heights again by humanity in a different time
and place like Sisyphus of myth. The forces of entropy
are against us and backsliding to the bottom is a
hundred fold easier than pushing that boulder we call
humanity one inch higher up the mountain of progress.

So what is my point in all this? Simply that your
disappointment at our rate of progress should be
tempered by the understanding that every inch of
progress we have made since we huddled together in
caves afraid of the dark was hard won. Furthermore
that we have climbed so far up the mountain during
this last run of progress that the footing is very
treacherous. One miss-step and we could blast
ourselves into a dark age that would push the
singularity back another two millenia if it didn't
extinguish us completely.

So before you chide yourself because your crystal
balls were murky and dark, and the things you have
foretold have not yet come to pass, be thankful that
your predictions have been more acurate to date than
that of the chiliasts. And know this: it is only
because of your labors that humanity even knows in
what direction progress lay. Without the compass of
your imaginations, the impetus of your inspiration,
and the clarity of your vision, we would still be
wandering aimlessly in search of our next meal
somewhere at the base of the foreboding mountain
called progress.

The Avantguardian 
Stuart LaForge
alt email: stuart"AT"ucla.edu

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying." - Woody Allen

"Our hope of immortality does not come from any religions, but nearly all religions come from that hope" - Robert G. Ingersoll

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