[LINK] Charlie Stross: Federov's Rapture

post by jfm · 2011-07-01T17:18:15.710Z · score: 2 (5 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 14 comments

Federov's Rapture at Charlie's Diary

This is a follow-up to his article on Singularitarianism last week, which was also discussed here.

His own introduction:

Last week I did a brief hit and run on the concept of the Singularity. Today I'd like to raise awareness of one of the taproots of Extropian thought — specifically, the origins of modern singularitarian thinking in the writings of the 19th century Russian Orthodox teacher and librarian, Nikolai Fyodorov (or Federov).

I'm not sure if the point is really anything more than guilt-by-association, because he doesn't really make a complete argument for anything in particular.

14 comments

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comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-07-01T19:08:13.546Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a weaker argument than the last one (which wasn't that strong to begin with). The only way Transhumanism's roots in Russian religion is relevant to evaluating it is if one suspects that modern Transhumanists share any of Fedorov's wrong beliefs. Other than Transhumanism itself, I mean, because assuming it's wrong is begging the question.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-07-02T03:54:07.966Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pythagoras was a vegetarian; does it follow that all geometers must be vegetarians?

comment by atucker · 2011-07-02T04:50:00.594Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good historical figure pick, but I think a more similar associative trick would be "Pythagoras was a vegetarian, so modern vegetarians come from an ideology that didn't believe in irrational numbers and is flawed".

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-07-02T22:30:49.267Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Arguably, the Enlightenment is an exaptation of ideas developed in the Protestant Reformation, such as the competence of individuals to make moral and philosophical judgments for oneself, as opposed to requiring judgment to be rooted in the teachings of tradition, as was (and is) taught by the Catholic Church (and, for that matter, Orthodox Judaism).

The Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther. Luther was viciously, obscenely antisemitic, publishing a number of works such as The Jews and Their Lies and Vom Schem Hamphoras that denounce Jews every bit as viciously as ever Hitler did.

Therefore, laying claim to the heritage of the Enlightenment is inherently antisemitic.

comment by atucker · 2011-07-03T01:37:00.651Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even better.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-07-01T18:10:28.382Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As one of the people here who is less sympathetic to transhumanist views... yeah this looks like guilt-by-association with some interesting historical tidbits thrown in. The history is interesting. The argument made, not so much.

comment by XiXiDu · 2011-07-02T13:48:16.028Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The singularity as faith (extended abstract)

Selmer Bringsjord and Alexander Bringsjord, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Belief in The Singularity is Fideistic

We have on hand a framework for classifying the bases of belief in things that are at once weighty and unseen. Here, we apply the framework to belief in The Singularity, and conclude from this application, and the absence of both rationalist and empiricist evidence in support of this belief, that believers in the doctrine are fideists. While it’s true that fideists have been taken seriously in religion (e.g., Kierkegaard in the case of Christianity), even in that domain the likes of religious believers like Descartes, Pascal, and Leibniz find fideism to be little more than wishful, irrational thinking — and at any rate it’s rather doubtful that fideists should be taken seriously in the realm of science and engineering.

Link: singularityhypothesis.blogspot.com/2011/07/singularity-as-faith.html

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-07-02T17:08:50.273Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even if Singularitarianism has no evidence base (which I'm not saying is the case), that's not enough to show that Singularitarians are fideists. According to Wikipedia, "Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths..."

If Singularitarians believe that they have enough evidence to justify their position (most of the ones on here do believe that, as far as I can tell), then they aren't fideists even if they're wrong. A fideist would believe that ey didn't have evidence and didn't need it; most Singularitarians believe that they do need it and do have it. So they can't be fideists; the worst they can be is wrong.

comment by AlephNeil · 2011-07-02T20:26:08.408Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah well, it's Selmer P = NP Bringsjord. He's a complete joke!

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-07-02T20:45:34.816Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is indeed evidence against his credibility, if not particularly strong evidence for me. I don't know enough math to know directly that saying P=NP is a joke; I only believe it is because the math community says so.

comment by AlephNeil · 2011-07-02T20:55:09.423Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Merely saying it wouldn't be so bad, as long as there was some substance behind the assertion.

But basically his argument boils down to this:

"If you dunk two wooden boards with wires poked through them into soapy water and then lift them out, the soaps films between the wires are the solution to an NP-hard problem. But creating the boards and wires and dunking them can be done in polynomial time. So as long as physics is Turing computable, P = NP."

This is a fantastically stupid argument, because you could easily create a simulation of the above process that appeared to be just as good at generating the answers to this problem as the real soap films. But if you gave it a somewhat difficult problem, what would happen is that it would quickly generate something which was nearly but not quite a solution, and there's no reason to think that real soap films would do better.

The fact that Bringsjord got as far as formalising his argument in modal logic and writing it up, without even thinking of the above objection, is quite incredible.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2011-07-02T21:11:26.360Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So far as I understand your comment, Bringsjord loses a lot of credibility. Thanks for explaining his argument from behind the paywall in your link. Also I looked at more of his paper on Singularitarians being fideists, and he says in the paper that there are arguments for the Singularity and he's going to "debunk" them. I'm starting to think he doesn't know what the word "fideist" means.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-07-02T22:24:54.221Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Note: this reply is not aimed at XiXiDu in particular.)

I agree with Normal_Anomaly's sibling comment. If the Bringsjords are saying that "S is for these reasons probably false, so belief in S can only be fideistic", then they should just give arguments against S.

But the fact hinted here that humans haven't gotten to human level AI yet

a sharp toddler of today makes a mockery of any computing machine with designs on natural-language communication

does appear to be evidence that human-level intelligences are not good at AI theory, thus not good at fooming quickly.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-07-02T18:00:38.913Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The article is a comment hook.

Does he think transhumanism is bunk? Maybe, but he doesn't say so. Does he think it's a scientifically realistic extrapolation? Maybe, but he doesn't say so. Does he think it's a cool idea for writing fiction around but not scientifically plausible? Maybe, but he doesn't say so. All of the above? None of the above? Maybe, but he doesn't say so. I would have to already know his views (which I don't) from other sources to be able to read them into this article, and even then, I would be reading them in, not finding them there.

If he had said any of these things straight out, that would have framed the subsequent conversation as "What Stross Said: Right or Wrong?" Instead, by creating a frame for conversation instead of asserting his own views, whatever they are, he gets a comment column full of friendly exchanging of views that everyone who participates enjoys participating in. By posting comment hook articles and largely playing King Log in the comment threads, he creates and nurtures that community, which is what the blog is for.

In the particular article, I would have appreciated in the comment thread some talk of evidence, and some near-mode talk of death and disease, but the fact that there is none is really a fact about the community around the blog. I did spend the obligatory five minutes trying to think of a way to post something along the lines of the evil of death, disease, and suffering being absolute no-brainers for any atheist materialist, and about how tracing an idea back to religious roots is pretty much like tracing humans back to apes, but I failed to compose anything that would have fitted into the conversation. That is my failing, not theirs. What I would have had to do is solve the problem of Archimedes and the chronophone. What could I write there that would not sound like a proselytising Christian writing here? Having a bottom line that "you're wrong!" and sending in the soldiers is not the way.