Re: poly: Rapture of the Future

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Wed Jan 07 1998 - 10:07:12 PST

Tim May wrote (On 12/31/97):
>I think SF writers generally do a better job of thinking about the future
>than "we" do. Mainly because they are:
>a. Motivated by greed (or whatever PC term one wishes) to construct a
>plausible, consistent world. World-building, where world=future.
>b. By immersion in this world for months or even years of intense thinking,
>even dreaming. Most of us are willing to only commit a few hours of thought
>to some of these scenarios, not nearly enough time. ...
>There are counterexamples, of course (Drexler for one).)

I disagree with Tim here. SF authors do a good job of telling engrosing
ballads, but the best of them are well aware that this is far from the same
thing as envisioning the future. Ballads are biased toward describing worlds
where a few core actors are pivotal regarding huge changes, and where the core
dymanics is based on the most familiar and morally-colored actions: love, war,
rivalry, political intrigue, etc. In reality big changes are more gradual,
depend less on small pivotal groups, and are best understood in terms of less
personal and popularly-familiar social processes.

Also, the SF authors you like are the top tail of a huge distribution of crap.
I think our top tail compares favorably, once you've normalized the
distributions. (And these tails have a non-trivial intersection.)

>"Rapture of the Future." ... whizzy
>stuff a thousand or more years off can be so _intoxicating_ that the effect
>is to make the current world seem *mundane* and *boring*.

Some people think too much about the future. But a huge population out there
arguably thinks too little about it. Overall I don't think there's a net
bias toward thinking too much about the future. You're just focusing on one
tail of a distribution again.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614
Received on Wed Jan 7 17:59:34 1998

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