Re: poly: Immortality and Historiography

From: GBurch1 <>
Date: Thu Jan 01 1998 - 06:12:30 PST

In a message dated 97-12-30 15:58:44 EST, Damien R. Sullivan writes:

> > Because these factors will be significantly impacted by effective
> immortality,
> > such a development seems bound to impoverish the future historical
> An
> > offsetting factor may be that posthuman beings will change so much across
> a
> Criticize me if I'm missing a key element here,

No criticism but, for once, Damien, you may have missed the key element at
which I was pointing.

> but the 'solution' seems
> inherent in the problem. They're immortal. They don't need to study
> history so much, because they're the ones who lived it. I think this
> continuity of memory, presumably with high fidelity of public and one's
> own private recrods, could well offset the loss of other people's
> private information. I think private decision information is much less
> important than people not knowing public information.

History will continue to be important in a society of immortal individuals for
two reasons: (1) The incompleteness of contemporary experience; and (2) The
educational needs of later-spawned individuals. A couple of examples may
illustrate my first point. Like many in my generation, I grew up with Winston
Churchill's History of the Second World War as the foundation of my
understanding of the events that served as the hinge of the 20th Century. Due
to the seeming authority of his personal role in the events he described and
the undeniable power of his mastery of the language, Churchill's work molded
our views of WWII. Unfortunately, large parts of it were self-serving
fiction. After his death, people were willing to begin a full critique of his
account. Furthermore, the disclosure of the Enigma materials cast a
completely different light on almost every strategic decision made by the
Allies, including especially Churchill's.

One of my own idols, Thomas Jefferson, provides another telling example on a
more personal level. During his life and in the generations immediately
after, hagiography and counter-polemics of federalists and anti-federalists
obscured a clear view of the real person of Jefferson. One of Jefferson's
most insightful comments, that "a man's letters provides the truest story of
his life" has ultimately provided the key to a more accurate view of the
private Jefferson which has, in turn, cast a more complete light on his public
life and that of his contemporaries. Fawn Brodie's biography of Jefferson
(upon which the film "Jefferson in Paris" was largely based) would simply not
have been possible without access to all of Jefferson's private correspondence
and the letters of other people. Although other factors (one of which you
identify below) might offset the effect of mortality on such candor, as things
have been up to now, it has been the death of the authors of such
correspondence that has made it available to us.

As for the second point, some individuals will continue to be truly newly-
spawned, as opposed to branching threads on the same identity-tree. For those
entity-identities who come into being later, a knowledge of past events, i.e.
history, will be just as important as it is now. They will want an accurate
account of a history to which they were not a party.

> And an economist might say other people could be offered money for their
> perspectives. First-hand historical consultants.

This may well end up having to take the place of the "mortality effect" on
historical candor. I'm thinking of how Robert McNamara has in recent years
made a cottage industry out of revealing his own private knowledge on the
Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Of course, one reason he has been
able to do this is that his bosses at the time are now dead.

In a message dated 97-12-30 13:11:55 EST, Hal Finney writes:

> Some authors have suggested that technological advances will make secrecy
> and privacy a thing of the past. Ubiquitous cameras, even gnat-sized or
> smaller, will be able to peer over our shoulders and snoop into all of our
> affairs. David Brin develops the possible consequences of his idea in a
> recent Wired article and in an upcoming book.
> If so then there won't be any problem, everything will be out in the
> open and there won't be any secrets to make public later. Of course the
> changes to society if this should come to pass would be so dramatic as
> to be virtually impossible to comprehend.
> OTOH it may be that countermeasures will become possible as well, at
> least within restricted regions. Nanotech expert Josh Storrs Hall has
> invisioned a "utility fog" [snip]
> Invisible from the inside, the fog could be an
> opaque barrier to thwart spies. Less advanced methods might use clean
> room technologies to scrub spy cameras from the air, and shielding to
> block EM emissions.
> It will be interesting to see how the offense/defense dynamic plays out
> as spy technology advances.

A chilling/humorous thought has occurred to me considering Hal's comment:
Perhaps the contemporary cold war between celebrities and paparazzi provides a
preview of this future dynamic. I don't believe that most people will desire
"ubiquitous transparency" and that knowledge-gathering measures and counter-
measures will become a major growth industry in the coming decades. "False
light" suits may well be THE major area of growth in legal commerce in this
period. "Spoofing" and selective holes in a subject's technological privacy
cloak will become important factors for future historians to consider in
evaluating data (just as selective destruction of private papers is now -- see
Jefferson's selection of the correspondence with his wife as the sole omission
from the corpus of his letter).

[BTW, I appear to have deleted a reply by Nick Bostrom and Anders' comments on
it. If anyone could forward those to me, I'd appreciate it.]

Greg Burch <>----<>
   Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
           "Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
              be driven into practice with courageous impatience."
                      -- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover
Received on Thu Jan 1 14:04:20 1998

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Mar 07 2006 - 14:45:29 PST