[extropy-chat] Runaway consumerism explains the Fermi Paradox.

Harry Harrison xyz at iq.org
Thu Jan 12 01:20:34 UTC 2006

On Thu, 12 Jan 2006 07:24:14 +1100, "Julian Assange" <me at iq.org> said:
> Dear Unsheeple,
> What do guitars, lollies, lipstick, tamagotchis, padded bras,
> pornography, movies, opium, Ever Quest, and 98% of any Australian
> newspaper in common? They are all technologies of emmotional
> manipulation which distort our perceptions for the benefit of their
> masters. Language centres in our neocortex may claim to "know" they
> are fake, but these words only feebly supress those primitive areas of
> the brain which give rise to our feelings, colour our memories and
> command our attention. These non-verbal areas of the brain haven't yet
> evolved to deal such sensory sophistry. For them, sensing IS believing.
> Hence the feelings in a young woman's breast buffeted by the flashing
> lights and impossibly sonorous tones of the amplified rock star; master
> of a 20 KiloWatt Adam's apple and by inference a super man having the
> chest cavity of God. Hence the dilated pupils and other organs of a man
> glancing at photons from the gentle curves of pigments on matted wood
> fibres, a pattern of vision that once meant love was not only in the air
> but ready and willing, prostrate on the ground. Hence the wariness of
> the horror movie attendee when returning home and opening the door of
> what was, and infact still is, a pefectlty innocent closet. Hence
> understanding
> Neighbors instead of neighbors and having Friends instead of friends.
> Hence the poker machine addict. Hence the dramatic rise in the economic
> take of powerful industries built around using advances in technology to
> stuff our heads with false feelings and memories. Not content to be zero
> sum, in exchange for our wealth and time these industries generally
> leave us less able to function by decalibrating our emotional and
> intellectual repore with reality.
> "But, I like it you cold hearted Lutheran, you Stoic, you stone mason,
> you Zeno loving stick in the mud!". Well naturally, since the whole game
> is to manipulate your feelings, it is not suprising that you have
> positive feelings about your perceptual opium, is is, after all, what
> keeps you going back to your dealer.
> Such deceptions, previously known as "Art", as in "Artifice" or
> "Artful" have a long history of successful human parasitation. But the
> industrial control of and rapid advances in the ability to successfully
> falsify sense data has no historical analog. I have gloomily argued
> that a possible explanation for the Fermi Paradox (why don't there seem
> to be any aliens, dude) is the existence of a developmental ceiling
> created by technological advances flowing into the perceptual
> manipulation industry till it gobbles up through diversion and wealth
> destruction all economic growth.
> Geoffy Milner from the University of Mexico recently wrote this cool
> essay for The Edge on the same topic:
> Runaway consumerism explains the Fermi Paradox.
> The story goes like this: Sometime in the 1940s, Enrico Fermi was
> talking about the possibility of extra-terrestrial intelligence with
> some other physicists. They were impressed that our galaxy holds 100
> billion stars, that life evolved quickly and progressively on earth, and
> that an intelligent, exponentially-reproducing species could colonize
> the galaxy in just a few million years. They reasoned that extra-
> terrestrial intelligence should be common by now. Fermi listened
> patiently, then asked simply, "So, where is everybody?". That is, if
> extra-
> terrestrial intelligence is common, why haven't we met any bright aliens
> yet? This conundrum became known as Fermi's Paradox.
> The paradox has become more ever more baffling. Over 150 extrasolar
> planets have been identified in the last few years, suggesting that
> life-hospitable planets orbit most stars. Paleontology shows that
> organic life evolved very quickly after earth's surface cooled and
> became life-hospitable. Given simple life, evolution shows progressive
> trends towards larger bodies, brains, and social complexity.
> Evolutionary psychology reveals several credible paths from simpler
> social minds to human-level creative intelligence. Yet 40 years of
> intensive searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence have yielded
> nothing. No radio signals, no credible spacecraft sightings, no close
> encounters of any kind.
> So, it looks as if there are two possibilities. Perhaps our science
> over-
> estimates the likelihood of extra-terrestrial intelligence evolving. Or,
> perhaps evolved technical intelligence has some deep tendency to be
> self-
> limiting, even self-exterminating. After Hiroshima, some suggested that
> any aliens bright enough to make colonizing space-ships would be bright
> enough to make thermonuclear bombs, and would use them on each other
> sooner or later. Perhaps extra-terrestrial intelligence always blows
> itself up. Fermi's Paradox became, for a while, a cautionary tale about
> Cold War geopolitics.
> I suggest a different, even darker solution to Fermi's Paradox.
> Basically, I think the aliens don't blow themselves up; they just get
> addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or
> colonize space because they're too busy with runaway consumerism and
> virtual-
> reality narcissism. They don't need Sentinels to enslave them in a
> Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today.
> The fundamental problem is that any evolved mind must pay attention to
> indirect cues of biological fitness, rather than tracking fitness
> itself. We don't seek reproductive success directly; we seek tasty foods
> that tended to promote survival and luscious mates who tended to produce
> bright, healthy babies. Modern results: fast food and pornography.
> Technology is fairly good at controlling external reality to promote our
> real biological fitness, but it's even better at delivering fake fitness
> — subjective cues of survival and reproduction, without the real-world
> effects. Fresh organic fruit juice costs so much more than nutrition-
> free soda. Having real friends is so much more effort than watching
> Friends on TV. Actually colonizing the galaxy would be so much harder
> than pretending to have done it when filming Star Wars or Serenity.
> Fitness-faking technology tends to evolve much faster than our
> psychological resistance to it. The printing press is invented; people
> read more novels and have fewer kids; only a few curmudgeons lament
> this. The Xbox 360 is invented; people would rather play a high-
> resolution virtual ape in Peter Jackson's King Kong than be a perfect-
> resolution real human. Teens today must find their way through a
> carnival of addictively fitness-faking entertainment products: MP3, DVD,
> TiVo, XM radio, Verizon cellphones, Spice cable, EverQuest online,
> instant messaging, Ecstasy, BC Bud. The traditional staples of physical,
> mental, and social development (athletics, homework, dating) are
> neglected. The few young people with the self-control to pursue the
> meritocratic path often get distracted at the last minute — the MIT
> graduates apply to do computer game design for Electronics Arts, rather
> than rocket science for NASA.
> Around 1900, most inventions concerned physical reality: cars,
> airplanes, zeppelins, electric lights, vacuum cleaners, air
> conditioners, bras, zippers. In 2005, most inventions concern virtual
> entertainment — the top 10 patent-recipients are usually IBM,
> Matsushita, Canon, Hewlett-Packard, Micron Technology, Samsung, Intel,
> Hitachi, Toshiba, and Sony — not Boeing, Toyota, or Wonderbra. We have
> already shifted from a reality economy to a virtual economy, from
> physics to psychology as the value-driver and resource-allocator. We are
> already disappearing up our own brainstems. Freud's pleasure principle
> triumphs over the reality principle. We narrow-cast human-interest
> stories to each other, rather than broad-casting messages of universal
> peace and progress to other star systems.
> Maybe the bright aliens did the same. I suspect that a certain period of
> fitness-faking narcissism is inevitable after any intelligent life
> evolves. This is the Great Temptation for any technological species — to
> shape their subjective reality to provide the cues of survival and
> reproductive success without the substance. Most bright alien species
> probably go extinct gradually, allocating more time and resources to
> their pleasures, and less to their children.
> Heritable variation in personality might allow some lineages to resist
> the Great Temptation and last longer. Those who persist will evolve more
> self-control, conscientiousness, and pragmatism. They will evolve a
> horror of virtual entertainment, psychoactive drugs, and contraception.
> They will stress the values of hard work, delayed gratification, child-
> rearing, and environmental stewardship. They will combine the family
> values of the Religious Right with the sustainability values of the
> Greenpeace Left.
> My dangerous idea-within-an-idea is that this, too, is already
> happening. Christian and Muslim fundamentalists, and anti-consumerism
> activists, already understand exactly what the Great Temptation is, and
> how to avoid it. They insulate themselves from our Creative-Class dream-
> worlds and our EverQuest economics. They wait patiently for our fitness-
> faking narcissism to go extinct. Those practical-minded breeders will
> inherit the earth, as like-minded aliens may have inherited a few other
> planets. When they finally achieve Contact, it will not be a meeting of
> novel-readers and game-players. It will be a meeting of dead-serious
> super-
> parents who congratulate each other on surviving not just the Bomb, but
> the Xbox. They will toast each other not in a soft-porn Holodeck, but in
> a sacred nursery.

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