poly: Egan's Diaspora

From: Robin Hanson <hanson@econ.berkeley.edu>
Date: Wed Mar 18 1998 - 18:44:08 PST

I finished reading Egan's recent novel "Diaspora" this last
weekend, and I realized it exemplified for me the best and
worst of science fiction.

The best, because Egan has some wondeful speculation about
the growth of intelligences in virtual reality, of alien
physiology, and of higher-dimensional universes. In these
areas, Egan is very careful to describe as self-consistent
a scenario as possible, thinking through as many implications
as possible. In such hard SF, Egan is as good as the very

The worst, because Egan has IMHO a very poor intuition about
larger social processes. He has some nice thoughts on social
conventions for conversation and stuff in virtual reality.
But regarding the actions of larger groups of people, he
treats them as if they were just like individuals, and unusual
individuals at that.

Egan has the actions of city size groups of people and larger
being determined their style and philosophical positions, without
regard to resource constraints or any problems coordinating the
actions of members.

Population explosions are not a problem because well that just
goes against their philosophy; they'd be no better than bacteria
then. Alien star systems are treated hands-off, because they all
have a good ecological conscience. They fly off to visit the
universe, and build scientific experiments, because its all just
so interesting out there. And others stay home because that's
what interests them. Copies of each of them live or die according
to odd personal philosophies about when lives are worth living.
Whole civilizations just kill themselves off when they finally
get bored enough. And thousands of civilizations can share a
universe for a long time with lots of resources around for
newcomers to grab if they want, welcome new neighbor.

There is no discussion of how large societies implement these
philosophies against the possible dissention of members, no
attention to resource constraints and the costs of actions,
nor any sense that there are selection effects so not all abstract
philosophies will be equally represented farther down the road.

In general, what's good and bad about Egan is what's good and bad
about hard science fiction. Wonderfully thought-out speculation
on hard science bundled with laughable assumptions about social
processes. Sigh. They need more people like me, naturally. :-)

Robin Hanson
hanson@econ.berkeley.edu http://hanson.berkeley.edu/
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 Thu Mar 19 02:48:48 1998

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Mar 07 2006 - 14:45:30 PST