Re: poly: Egan's Diaspora

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Thu Mar 19 1998 - 11:22:37 PST

Hal F. writes:
>It did seem strange to see that these civilizations were exempt from
>the evolutionary drive to expand, especially when most people are
>uploads who can effortlessly clone themselves.
>However, I wouldn't say this is completely impossible.

Few things are impossible. But if Egan had characters doing things he
thought looked very hard to himself and his readers, such as levitating
cities or some such, Egan would bother to explain how this can happen.
I'm left to conclude that Egan doesn't see these social things as hard,
or doesn't think his readers do.

>First, there was a general belief that if anyone adopted an
>expand-at-all-costs philosophy, the result would be destruction for
>everyone. People know that taking the first step down the road towards
>expansion will inevitably lead to resource exhaustion. They can use
>their intelligence to anticipate the consequences of their actions.
>The effect may be similar to an iterated prisoner's dilemma game where
>people know they are going to be playing for a long time. In such a
>situation it is reasonable to find people consistently adopting the
>cooperative strategy.

This approach to managing cooperation requires that people have complex
strategies in mind for how they will retailiate against someone who
deviates by reproducing more than some limit, or against someone else
who fails to retailate against someone who violates some limit or fails
to, ... etc. And it requires great abilities of people to monitor each
other's reproduction and retaliation behavior. The more people there
are the harder this gets.

If this was what was going on at some point someone should consider such
a consequence in making a choice, rather than appearing to make all choices
about copying based soley on odd personal philosophies. Resource constraints
should somewhere be considered by someone, rather than everyone just doing
what seems the most fun.

A similar set of monitoring and threats would have to apply to using lots
of resources for non-copying stuff.

>Although both positions seem almost ridiculously cautious by our
>standards, this is a natural projection of our own cultural evolution
>from the rapacious colonial period into our present state of cultural

I'm not convinced we are actually very culturally sensitivity now.
When it's cheap, we do a few things. But when big bucks are on the line,
we're nearly as rapacious as ever.

>> They fly off to visit the
>> universe, and build scientific experiments, because its all just
>> so interesting out there. ...
>It doesn't seem so unlikely that some people will want to go out and
>explore, and others want to stay home.

I meant no one expresses any desire for the resources available out

>> Copies of each of them live or die according
>> to odd personal philosophies about when lives are worth living.
>I don't think we can predict what the philosophies will be among people
>who can freely make copies of their minds. It may well be that it seems
>less important to keep "this" copy running when you know there are a
>bunch more out there.

Sure we can predict. Egan's characters never seem to consider any
costs to making copies, and in such a situation those who copy more
freely should come to dominate.

>I think the real issue is, can reason win over evolution? ...
>It seems that the evolutionary answer is no, ...
>But this is only an "asymptotic" analysis. ... So I do think
>there is some wriggle room and that authors can get away with postulating
>non-aggressive, non-expansionary but voluntary societies.

If you make enough arbitrary assumptions, you don't have hard SF anymore,
you don't have fantasy even, you don't even have an intelligible story.
The best hard SF makes a few novel/implausible assumptions, and then tries
to be as realistic as possible given those assumptions, eventually showing
the implications of those assumptions. Egan meets this criteria regarding
physical science, but fails completely regarding social science.

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 Thu Mar 19 19:25:58 1998

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