Re: poly: Egan's Diaspora

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Thu Mar 19 1998 - 12:51:20 PST

Curt Adams writes:
>First of all, the subjects of "hard" sciences aren't changing much.
>Escape velocity from Earth is essentially the same it was 9,000
>years ago, but the nature of societies has changed radically.
>Extrapolating that buckyballs will still have the same properties
>in a few thousand years is quite reasonable; extrapolating political
>systems and market arrangements is not.

The mechanical fracture properties of the first Model T engine valves
will also remain unchanged for thousands of years, but it is already
of little or no interest to us. Conversely, most features of our
society would be relevant to someone running a simulation of people
like us in situations like ours, even if that simulation is run a
million years from now.

For both physics and societies, you can choose to say specific things
whose relevance is very context dependent, or you can choose to say
general things which you expect to stay relevant for a long time to

>Second, social sciences are quite poor at making extrapolative
>predictions. What's the effect on the relative preponderance
>of dictatorial governments if average lifespan doubles? ...

The ability to make predictions depends carefully on aligning the
questions you ask with your general understanding. Consider this
physics question: what atomic element will be closest to the
center of mass of the earth moon system in 1000 years?

Anyway, prediction contests between economics and physics seem
beside the point. My point is just that we do know lots of things
about societes, and fiction which ignores what we do know
is less "hard".

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 20:54:40 1998

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