Saturday, August 20, 2016

Science Fiction! Science Fiction!


An apropos moment for a SF'nal posting, as I report to you all from the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City, MO. Many fascinating people saying an doing interesting things. Lots of discussion of "da future." And congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Hugo Award! But that will wait a bit. For now...

 Something is missing. Sure SciFi has taken over popular culture -- especially cinematic, TV and web dramas -- a tsunami that has relegated grownup, literary SF (that explores deep ideas) to quaint backwaters, seeming a bit of a revered grampa.

But what's truly missing is connection to our past. No, I am not talking about silly-feudal fantasies, that bear almost no relation to our ancestors' real challenges and grueling lives. Rather, the oral rhythms and voluptuous wordplay of true, epic poetry! 

Now that tradition - beloved of our forebears - has a pulsing, with-it revival in science fiction!  Frederick Turner's wonderful Mars colonization canto led the way.  Now he expresses some of our deepest fears... and can-do spirit of hope... in "Apocalypse" wherein he puts into throbbing iambic beat a blending that Suzette Haden Elgin, Ray Bradbury, Marge Simon, Jonathan Post and many other SF poets aimed for with the Rhysling Awards ... and that some of the best hip hop guys* have stabbed-at. 

Only Fred creates an epic so fluidly readable you'll call it a compelling novel... that just happens to sing. Baen Books will start a ten-week electronic serialization of the poem on its very popular subscriber website. Ilium will simultaneously issue the book in inexpensive but handsome hardback and paperback editions.


== SF on the near horizon of reality! ==

What about a future where you could be sued by a door demanding micropayments? A prescient scene from Philip K. Dick's 1969 novel Ubik

"...he therefore vigorously strode to the apt door, turned the knob and pulled on the release bolt. The door refused to open. It said, "Five cents, please." He searched his pockets. No more coins, nothing. "I'll pay you tomorrow," he told the door. Again he tried the knob. Again, it remained locked tight. "What I pay you," he informed it, 'is in the nature of a gratuity; I don't have to pay you." "I think otherwise," the door said. "Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt." In his desk drawer he found the contract; since signing it he had found it necessary to refer to the document many times. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory feee. Not a tip. "You discover I'm right," the door said. It sounded smug. From the drawer beside the sink Joe Chip got a stainless steel knife; with it he began systematically to unscrew the bolt assembly of his apt's money-gulping door. "I'll sue you," the door said, as the first screw fell out...

And yes, my work in micropayments may help make this (shudder) happen.

== Recent Science Fiction ==

Time Salvager, by Wesley Chu is a dystopian far future action tale. Humanity has largely abandoned a toxic Earth and established colonies in the outer solar system. But society has fallen through a Great Decay; brutal wars and a devastating plague have left civilization short of resources. Their only hope lies with time traveling Chronmen -- who undertake dangerous raids into the past to recover precious artifacts and power sources. To avoid timeline anomalies, they arrive just before known disaster strikes. Struggling with demons from his past, hard drinking Chronman James Griffin-Mars sets off on a final mission, and breaks the Time Laws, bringing back a female scientist from Earth’s past. They become fugitives, escaping the reach of the authorities and powerful megacorporations, even while seeking to save Earth. Time Salvager, the first of a trilogy been optioned by Paramount, with Michael Bay to direct.

 Infomocracy, by Malka Older This political thriller envisions a near future where nations are dead, borders are open, and war is a thing of the past. A new world order in the form of micro-democracy has taken hold. Global elections focus around “centenals,” groupings of 100,000 people who select governments led by corporate giants (PhilipMorris, Sony-Mitsubishi) or ideological parties (Policy1st, Heritage, Liberty). The coveted prize for the regime winning the most centenals worldwide -- the Supermajority. Information rules -- for every aspect of life (and the elections) is moderated by the all-powerful search engine known as “The Information.” A major election is underway, when sabotage shuts down Information and global communication. Mistrust grows as our main characters gather intel on propaganda, misinformation and fraud in a system that fails to live up to its idealistic promise. See an extensive review by Annalee Newitz: 

The Big Sheep, by Robert Kroese, is a noir/science fiction/mystery/humorous offering, drawing upon flavors of Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep) and Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). The novel is set in 2039 in a divided, post-Collapse Los Angeles, with a Disincorporated Zone left to the rule of gangs and warlords. But there are aircars! When a genetically altered, oversized sheep goes missing, PI “Phenomenological Inquisitor” Erasmus Keane and his Watson-like assistant Blake Fowler set out to investigate. Things get complicated when they take on a second case, helping celebrity-actress Priya Mistry unravel just who is threatening to kill her. But the next time they meet her, she has doesn’t recognize them. A fun, witty read.

 Central Station, by Lavie Tidhar, is set amid the rundown neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, aswarm with masses of poor refugees, cyborgs, robotniks begging for spare parts… as well as data vampires, robot priests and digital entities known as ‘Others’. Rising above the center of the teeming city is the towering Central Station spaceport, a link to the interplanetary colonies where much of humanity has gone. Brain nodes connect nearly everyone to the incessant chatter of man, machine and AI in the vast memory stream -- the ‘Conversation’. And certain genetically-modified children possess near magical powers to read minds and tap into the torrent of data streams. Tidhar presents a richly constructed future in this beautifully crafted world.

== Brin News ==

Just released: The audio version of my new short story collection, Insistence of Vision -- with stories that overflow with drama, strangeness, danger and hope -- nicely narrated by my friend, Stephen Mendel. 


A fan with both a whimsical sense of humor and a scrupulous eye for detail – William Taylor – has begun setting up Wikipedia entries for some of the races in my Uplift Universe. First up: the Hoon, featured in the Brightness Reef Trilogy.  Get in touch with him if you want to help. 

Trent Shipley's new (moderated) David Brin fan site, is just starting out but has big Ambitions. He is seeking  contributors. of fan fiction and art,* encyclopedia style articles (original), thought pieces, reviews and “anything else that can remotely be justified as Brin related.” Send questions to editor@davidbrinfans.org. Of course those wanting an encyclopedic approach should get their hands on Contacting Aliens!

The Walter Day company has issued a series of way-cool “Sci Fi Author trading cards.”  Mine has just been released, and I am honored to announce that my number is… is… 42!  Sorry, Douglas Adams! There’s also an interview at the site.

Here's another reader's choice poll! Science Fiction authors rankedOh, just a gentle reminder... but you sci fi fans could vote and affect these rankings. According to your own taste and standards, of course. Just sayin....

And finally...


Just got crackpot email from a fundie whose Book of Revelation (BoR) yammer came with an interesting twist - that Satan is behind all UFO sightings! 


There's a feral-crude SF'nal cleverness about this scenario: When the Rapture takes a select cream of 144,000 pure Christians bodily to heaven - (out of the world's 7 billion ensouled human beings) - corrupt media will foist an alternate explanation - UFO abduction! Otherwise, everyone would see the obvious and quickly confess-convert. (Duh?) The whole BoR scenario collapses in a fit of logical self-interest and the whole 'kill almost everyone else and send them to perpetual torment doesn't work! No need for sky scorpions, moon-eating dragons and the other maniacal BoR stuff Patrick Farley so well conveys in Apocamon.  (Seriously. If you read one web comic, read that one. It reveals a book that far too few modern citizens have actually looked at, in appalled disbelief.)


Only dig it. This cleverly explains how UFOs manage to stay blurry, just at the edge of clarity, even as the world fills with folks with HD cameras - because Satan and his angelic collaborators are masters of illusion!

Still, clever as this twist may seem, it's pathetically illogical, since everyone on Earth could see who was 'abducted' and draw obvious conclusions, whatever the media say. Sorry, you hate-spewing, nasty BoR junkies. It still won't work. Your scenario is probably the most sadistic thing ever conceived by any human mind. Diametrically opposite to every “red-letter” passage spoken by Jesus, the BoR is truly, the Christian Bible’s “satanic verses.”

But hey!  Twist this yet again! Suppose actual UFO aliens wanted to kidnap a hundred thousand humans and mess with our heads so that we won't go alien-hunting, but instead turn on each other? Simple!  Snatch up only fundamentalist Christians!  Rapturists will go all 'left behind' on us and we'll be too busy to send the air force hunting the real culprits.

Did I just give UFO-teaser-jerks the idea? Rats! Though I deal with their asses a dozen different ways, in EXISTENCE.

And that oughta hold you, for a while.
  

50 comments:

Jumper said...

http://jumpersbloghouse.blogspot.com/2007/10/i-was-ufo-hoaxter.html

One friend got very angry when she read this. That reaction bemused me. I can't say I felt bad, exactly; after all I achieved what I had set out to do. It would be completely wrong to think I was disrespecting the guy's experience, though. On the contrary, I envied him.

ZarPaulus said...

I get the feeling that those guys crowing the end of the nation-state don't get out much.

I may be an autistic introvert, but I know that the majority of people are territorial and clannish. They're more likely to ally with people they regularly meet in person than those they only know online, extroverts don't as much of a dopamine high from the latter type of interaction as they do from the former.

Tony Fisk said...

And now, for something completely different.

Ooooh, Spanish spam
Clickbait is falling from this Spanish spam.

Epic verse reminds me of the old song "I thought love was science fiction"
The song isn't about sf, and ends with "I've thrown all my books away", but the song would work just as well if it started with "I sought love in bodice rippers", so it's worth a mention. Maybe.

More to point, Poul Anderson's King of Ys contains a chapter describing a festival in rhyming couplets.

Tony Fisk said...

Ah. It would appear the spam got removed. Oh well.

Paul SB said...

Jumper,
Nice little story. I can't help but think it could be the seed for some work of fiction, maybe something along the lines of Rashomon, where different characters perceive the situation from very different points of view (perhaps you could have a couple aliens watching the whole thing, and disagreeing whether the light on the kite was a case of the Earthers emulating them, or some kind of fraud).

ZarPaulus,
I grew up in a very religious city, and in my experience, those BofR people got out far too much. They got out to spread their poison everywhere. They were all over street corners, knocking on people's doors, writing in to the local paper, and especially at the City Council. Granted, they didn't listen to anyone who wasn't firmly in their camp, so getting out wasn't going to do anything to broaden their perspective, anyway.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Guys
I have read that essay series by McCoskey – I found it to be deeply unconvincing
The whole idea that a change in how the “bourgeois” were treated just does NOT ring true by that time there had been a large number of societies –
Some very successful like the Hanseatic League that had been ruled by the “bourgeois”

IMHO
The thinking and writing about this era has been done by people who work with words (and software)
Thinking about it from the point of view of somebody who works with material things I see a different picture

Societies right from the stone age have had “tool boxes” – animals/plants/techniques that enable them to live and prosper
The absence of some plants and animals (most notably the pig) from the Maori toolkit shows that the Maori that colonised NZ did not have communication with their previous home

As humans have advanced our toolboxes have grown –
In the 1600’s and 1700’s a lot of things that were previously expensive became a lot cheaper and commonplace –
Adam Smith mentions pins and pin making in the Wealth of Nations
The new manufacturing methods having dramatically dropped the costs
Tools to make things and tools to measure things were rapidly expanding during this period,
verniers, micrometers, clocks
Things like mechanisms were in if not common use but common enough that people became accustomed to using them
The steam engine had a lot of its development in Scotland – the people in Scotland were “exposed” to more steam engines before anybody else
This resulted in the idea that only a Scot could become an engineer – that survived until StarTrek
Iron tools and devices became much more common – this becomes a positive feedback process
A wood working chisel would have gone from something almost precious to something anybody could own and use
Furniture – up until the 1300’s there were beds and boxes – tables were made by putting planks on trestles – people sat on the boxes
As time went by the new-fangled chairs, tables, wardrobes started off with the rich
During the 1600’s and 1700’s the numbers exploded

Transportation
There is no “new technology” in a “Navigation Canal” but once built a single horse could take 40 tonnes at the same or higher speed than ½ tonne on a wagon

Agriculture
The “four field” crop rotation started in Belgium in the 1500’s and was spreading to Britain in the 1600’s
With increased yields
The “Enclosure” movement while normally thought of as something from the 1800’s was actually ongoing from the 1300’s

The explosion in wealth during that period and following it was simply down to the fact that our “toolbox” had expanded to the extent that a lot of synergies became possible

Zepp Jamieson said...



Neil Gaiman's acceptance speech was fiery:

"It meant a lot to see Sandman Overture nominated for a Hugo award, and was disappointing to see that it had been dragged into the unfortunate mess that the pitiable people who call themselves Puppy had attempted to inflict on Worldcon and its awards. I would have withdrawn it from consideration, but even that seemed like it would have been giving these sad losers too much acknowledgement. I am proud it won, and prouder by far of the amazing work that JH Williams, Dave Stewart, Todd Klein, Dave McKean and Shelly Bond did. Thank you."

Three cheers for Mr. Gaiman! And congrats to all the winners!

donzelion said...

@Dr. Brin (when you return) - "Twist this yet again! Suppose actual UFO aliens wanted to kidnap a hundred thousand humans and mess with our heads so that we won't go alien-hunting, but instead turn on each other? Simple! Snatch up only fundamentalist Christians!"

I'm thinking that at some point in the near future, they could do something even easier: launch a virus that deletes a bunch of social media profiles for fundamentalist Christians, and blocks their mobile phones. The ones not deleted will assume that their friends were taken up... Hmmm...that sounds like a short story idea. Or maybe some punk reprograms AR goggles, "erasing" all the rapturees for a lark...

Tony Fisk said...

Well done to all the 2016 Hugo winners (and, from a quick glance at the listings, there were a lot of winners.)

The pupae appear to have had it in for the graphic novel section in particular this year (I suppose it was a reaction to having all them girl things in it last year). I had wondered if allowing Sandman in the nominations was a specific tactic in anticipation of a withdrawal, with pup #6 waiting in the wings.

donzelion said...

@Duncan - thanks for reading through the McCloskey essays; she's on my list care of Alfred's referral, but it's a long list. That said -

"The explosion in wealth during that period and following it was simply down to the fact that our “toolbox” had expanded to the extent that a lot of synergies became possible"

That seems logical.

I'm a fan of the miniseries, "How we got to now" - a study of the unsung 'tinkerers and crackpots' who implemented much of the industrial revolution and beyond, often competing with friends and colleagues, tweaking a little here, adding something new there, occasionally making a break through, typically sharing the results in writing (either for profit, or simply to boast). I do not know of anything comparable in Chinese or Middle Eastern history, though I do know of periods in which bourgeois exercised tremendous power over their governments (but alas, such epochs did not endure).

Paul451 said...

Main article:
"Just got crackpot email from a fundie whose Book of Revelation (BoR) yammer came with an interesting twist - that Satan is behind all UFO sightings!"

Not a new concept. That's been a standard view amongst many of the fundies for decades. I recall (accidentally) buying a second-hand fundy-SF novel with that theme in the '80s. (The wider idea is that the Antichrist/Beast will be a seemingly benevolent alien who unites the world in a single government.)

Paul SB said...

Duncan,
It sounds to me like you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned feedback loops. The "tool kit" concept is actually old school stuff with paleoanthropologist, and well supported by the data. One thing about feedback loops is that they can hit periods of growth that look very much like exponential growth. Technological changes adding to the tool kit seemed to happen very slowly five centuries ago, but today are happening so fast most people can't keep up.

Having said that, it is just as unsurprising that people who have a lot of experience with things mechanical would tend to find material causes more convincing than ideational causes. Thus materialistic explanations "made sense" to people who had grown up when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Now we are entering the Information Age, and probably before then end of this century ideational explanations will be all the rage. Being the eternal fence-sitter, I can see room for both infrastructure and superstructure in causation.

Think about that idea of a toolbox, but as an analogy for the ideas that are going around. If nobody imagines progress, nobody seeks it, right? All those things that got cheaper and easier to come by, making them available to more people (and more people being able to feed themselves due to innovations like the four field crop rotation) allowed for something ideational to increase like never before. I'll use the French term - joie de vive. People who invent things generally enjoy what they are doing. They are not doing all that science and engineering stuff (or even art and literature) so much impelled by "mother necessity" as by the joy of tinkering and discovering. For some people it is about boasting, but I think life has changed for humans very dramatically in an ideational sense in those last five centuries. That change has been feeding back on itself in a loop. One of the consequences is the huge growth in the entertainment industries in the last century. And yes, technology made that possible, but the desire helped to drive the technology. What you have is a loop that involves both the material and the ideational.

Paul SB said...

Paul 451,

The younger brother of my best friend from high school tried to convince his congregation that some ufos might actually be angels and not manifestations of Satan. He was pretty roundly ridiculed, to the point that he eventually stopped talking to most of the people at church, only going long enough for the services and leaving immediately after. Dr. Brin is a far more well-traveled individual than I am, but there seem to be some elements of American culture not common on the Left Coast he hasn't had the misfortune of experiencing. I wish I were in that boat myself. : /

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

But hey! Twist this yet again! Suppose actual UFO aliens wanted to kidnap a hundred thousand humans and mess with our heads so that we won't go alien-hunting, but instead turn on each other? Simple! Snatch up only fundamentalist Christians! Rapturists will go all 'left behind' on us and we'll be too busy to send the air force hunting the real culprits.

Did I just give UFO-teaser-jerks the idea? Rats


If only the UFO-aliens would get the idea to fake-Rapture the Republicans in congress, the Supreme Court, and running for president! The fundies would have to believe those people had been taken up to God, and meanwhile, for the rest of us, the effect would be just as good as if the real Rapture had occurred.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

Epic verse reminds me of the old song "I thought love was science fiction"
The song isn't about sf, and ends with "I've thrown all my books away", but the song would work just as well if it started with "I sought love in bodice rippers", so it's worth a mention. Maybe.


Or "I ought love a Schuyler sister", which could be a line from "Hamilton".

Ioan said...

Thought you guys might find this interesting

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-07/china-pushes-plan-for-oceanic-space-station-in-south-china-sea

By comparison, the Mariana Trench is 11 km deep.

Paul451 said...

Re: Fundy SF.

If I recall, it wasn't a bad book. I'm vague on the details, but IIRC, the lead character was an "atheist" who stumbled onto the UFOs-are-demons conspiracy, his fellow atheist-scientists wouldn't believe him and he ended up falling in with a group of Fundy conspirators. I vaguely remember that the climax (after the seemingly-angelic head-alien landed) was the Hero sneaking into the UN building where the head-alien was giving his big "One World Government" speech, and performed an exorcism which revealed the alien's true form (Satan, natch), resulting in the Hero being killed by the alien, but the global public seeing the alien's true form (and murderous true nature) before the feed was cut. [Somewhere between Clarke's Childhood's End and Greeley's The Final Planet?]

The plot wouldn't be out of place in a standard mainstream Hollywood B-grade supernatural thriller.

(I've also read a couple of Left Behind type post-Rapture novels, though not the actual Left Behind books. Most are generic post-Apocalypse actioners, where the only real sign of their intended audience is the bizarre depiction of "left/liberal/atheist" characters. (And honestly, it's worth reading some of these books for that alone. "That's what they think of us?"))

Paul451 said...

Come to think of it, the interesting thing about the post-Rapture novels is how obsessed they are with violence and violent-sex. I mean, sure it's meant to be the hated atheist/liberal characters committing the acts, but the authors spend a lot of effort giving you the full picture. Those scenes are crafted with love.

(The UFO novel wasn't anywhere near as bad. As I said, pretty standard Hollywood. Replace the fundies with a disgraced Catholic priest, throw in a love interest for the Hero-Scientist, maybe a paranoiac nerd-hacker, and you're golden.)

Paul SB said...

Paul 451,

If you want to know what THEY think of US, you might try reading one of the actual Left Behind books, as those are the paragon the others imitate. The ones you read might turn out to be the poor imitators that the more respectable loonies wouldn't go anywhere near. Like hunting down blurry R.A. Fox prints in antique stores when you could be looking at the Parrish originals in all their layered glory. I may be comparing champagne to swill here...

As far as the violent sex goes, it's like those really loud anti-gay people who are deep in the closet themselves. They are people who have their obsessions, and can't imagine anyone else not sharing their perversions, so they project.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: The explosion in wealth during that period and following it was simply down to the fact that our “toolbox” had expanded to the extent that a lot of synergies became possible.

I think you are missing the point. Of course the toolbox expanded. The question to ask is “Why?”

Social forces existed through most of recorded history and probably the entire agricultural era that opposed expansion from above (the aristocracy) and below (the peasantry). Economic historical data shows change is usually so, so slow that Malthus' point about population growth works. Through most of history one could safely assume that trade was inherently zero-sum because there wasn't any real evidence that it wasn't. One man's gain came at another man's loss. The aristocracy could protect their interests because they were the ones to lose the most. The peasantry could resist change because they knew full well where princes and priests would make up for their losses. Swords and jails from one side and pitchforks and torches from the other. As if that wasn't enough, the bourgeois sealed the trap by believing their trade WAS zero-sum. Who is going to innovate in such a world when the rhetoric they use says it is sinful to do so?

The Great Enrichment required an expansion of our toolkit, but something caused a change to the rhetoric. What was it? McCloskey argues against all the material causes economists have put forward over the decades. Apparently they don't like to think ideas matter so much. Utility theories can't be easily quantified if you have to account for what trades think about each other AND their preferences. She argues the material causes fail when evidence is examined. All that's left are rhetorical changes and there are two huge ones that arrived in NW Europe at about the right time. They were more sociological than psychological. They were about how we accorded dignity to innovators and freed them to have a go of it.

The aristocrats didn't agree to the rhetorical change in any real sense. Neither did the peasants for a long time. Among the Dutch, though, the Spaniards had killed off most of their aristocracy during the Dutch Revolt. Oops. No swords and jails and the peasants can be bought off cheaper than princes. With the consequences of the Reformation underway, even the priests were weakened. History shows the Dutch held off the Spanish Empire for many decades and NO ONE in Europe failed to notice that. Heh. Turns out rhetoric matters.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: I do not know of anything comparable in Chinese or Middle Eastern history, though I do know of periods in which bourgeois exercised tremendous power over their governments (but alas, such epochs did not endure).

In the most recent book, McCloskey points out a number of false starts and points out what she thinks was missing. For example, Renaissance Italians were aristocracy lovers, thus kept with the zero-sum belief regarding trade. The Chinese are the original innovators of most everything Europe believed they invented many centuries later, but the Chinese managed these things every so well ensuring they changed things slowly. Innovators were not accorded dignity unless they accepted this management, but then it was for participation and not for the invention. Middle Eastern traders had a legitimate chance, but clung to the zero-sum assumption. There is a story out there that one of them was the first to find a way to refine aluminum. Obviously the technique wasn't pursued.

McCloskey's story requires a divided, competing aristocracy to provide shelter for innovators. The Chinese were too unified. The Europeans most certainly were not and the Dutch were well known as a shelter. England's Civil Wars and invasion by the Dutch in the 17th century made for another weak aristocracy which eventually led to them 'going Dutch' in the cultural sense. Got Envy? 8)

The main thing McCloskey's story requires is that innovators be socially honored instead of vilified. Make that happen and then free them and she argues things progress from there. The toolkit expands because that's what innovators do. Empires rise and fall, but who cares about that. Look at what happens to the peasants she says! They stop starving to death in famines that typically arrived about every decade. Where they agree to the Bourgeois Deal (a matter of rhetoric), they stop starving. One doesn't have to understand game theory and what positive sum deals mean. The children survive! Population explodes! Where are the bourgeois going to hire all the people they need as they begin to serve large markets not trapped by Hanse guilds? Hmm... They reach down to the peasants who realize that this kind of service was a FAR better deal that working the farms. Dickens be damned for his propaganda.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB: If nobody imagines progress, nobody seeks it, right? I'll use the French term - joie de vive. People who invent things generally enjoy what they are doing. They are not doing all that science and engineering stuff (or even art and literature) so much impelled by "mother necessity" as by the joy of tinkering and discovering.

I respect your fence sitting, but I might toss things at you to see if I can knock you to one side. 8)

There is no doubt the material stuff has to be possible. Anyone defending McCloskey's argument, though, will point out that the missing piece was ideational no matter how much the believers in material causes wish otherwise.

In this particular case, the things NOT being imagined were as follows. Innovators were doing something virtuous. Innovators could improve the world without intending to improve the world. Those are two very large ideational hurdles. Merchants were believed since ancient times to be in it for themselves and damn the consequences caused to other people. Where is the virtue in that? Where can one find a path toward betterment for the world in such selfishness? Many people today STILL are loyal to this idea and can point to excellent examples confirming their faith. It turns out to be wrong, though. Seven billion+ humans alive on Earth and not starving to death confirms it.

The bourgeois care about far more than the virtue of prudence. Every courteous sales clerk and shop owner shows a possible example. Entrepreneurs definitely do.

The bourgeois made for a better world without intending to do so because evolutionary processes apply in markets where betterments are tested for fitness. There is a natural selection process that has been working on humanity's body of knowledge for a few centuries now. It's even more powerful than the one working at the heart of Science, but of a similar nature.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Alfred
That is just silly - there have been trade networks for thousands of years,
And they were NOT considered as zero sum!

Entire civilizations - like the Hanseatic League operated as trade systems

They knew that it was not "zero sum" back in the Ice-Man's time,
The Church may have looked down it's collective nose at traders but the people trading knew different
It's NOT the merchants that benefit from trading it is also their customers and suppliers

Innovators have been rewarded by their princes for millennia

The issue is that you think that innovation increased incredibly quickly from a low baseline

That is simply not true - every generation has advanced on the previous ones, at least since the adoption of agriculture

It is well worth reading Peter Turchin's "Ultrasociety" to give a better idea of human history,

Venerable institutions like Kingship are actually quite young - and developed fast, the Germans were pre-kings during their first encounters with the Romans - in two generations they had reached that route

We have this idea that societies used to bimble along - with people doing what their fathers and grandfathers did
That is simply wrong - changes kept coming
But during the 1600's and 1700's the human toolbox had grown to the extent that positive feedback opened a LOT of new opportunities (and new tools)







Duncan Cairncross said...

Alfred

This post from "Wait but Why" shows history using the lives of famous people

Just look at this and think of the life and times of these people
http://waitbutwhy.com/2016/01/horizontal-history.html

How few lifetimes were involved as society changed

Jumper said...

Zealotry. Try this instead:
https://www.amazon.com/Cathedral-Forge-Waterwheel-Technology-Invention/dp/0060925817

David Brin said...

Humans used to bumble along. There were many kings for 6000 years. And enecdotes notwithstanding... the lords and priests mostly got in the woy of progress and suppressed it.

Robert said...

Dr. Brin, I thought you'd be amused someone has been reading your science fiction short stories and proposes using second-stage rockets to slowly expand the ISS, or possibly even build new space stations. I'm sure you can see the advantages and even some drawbacks in doing this... and while this might not be the huge tanks that the Space Shuttle used to get into orbit, it does have merit.

Though I suppose if this works, it might even result in more large tanks being built, just to send them into orbit to build larger and more complicated stations. :)

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: And they were NOT considered as zero sum!

What evidence do you have for that?

Obviously trade is ancient. In hindsight we know it wasn’t zero-sum because the people who did it were able to support larger populations and there is plenty of evidence that human population grew from a ‘several’ million at the end of the last glaciation to at least half a billion before industrialization. Our toolkit for agriculture enabled that and every one of those tools is an innovation of some sort.

What isn’t obvious is that people thought trade was positive sum. There is decent evidence that many thought it was barely tolerable in the ethical sense. Aristotle said as much. Prudence was the most profane on his list of virtues.

Innovators have been rewarded by their princes for millennia

No. They were not unless the innovation was related to the prince’s need to display courage on the battlefield. In those cases, the innovators weren’t traders. They were boffins.

I’m aware of Peter Turchin’s argument and think there is some merit to it, but I haven’t read it in detail. However, getting us all to be cooperators doesn’t necessarily make us accepting of innovation. For example, China’s (essentially) free-trade zone was about the size of Europe and lasted for centuries, thus tariff-free trade was enabled. The Chinese did NOT innovate at the frenzied pace Europe did centuries later, though. If anything, innovation slowed down once China unified. A lot of their most interesting innovations came early… when they were uniting. That suggests coerced unity encourages cooperation, but discourages innovation.

We have this idea that societies used to bumble along - with people doing what their fathers and grandfathers did. That is simply wrong - changes kept coming
But during the 1600's and 1700's the human toolbox had grown to the extent that positive feedback opened a LOT of new opportunities (and new tools)


There are two problems with this. If the changes keep coming, they also kept fading. They were often suppressed from above and below. Many thought it was practically sinful to try because it was equivalent to trying to hurt others. Look at how people of the time described merchants to see this.

The other issue is that the toolkit was larger in China in 1600 and maybe even 1700. Why no burst of enrichment there? NW Europe did something the Chinese did NOT do.

A.F. Rey said...

[quote] For example, China’s (essentially) free-trade zone was about the size of Europe and lasted for centuries, thus tariff-free trade was enabled. The Chinese did NOT innovate at the frenzied pace Europe did centuries later, though. If anything, innovation slowed down once China unified. A lot of their most interesting innovations came early… when they were uniting. That suggests coerced unity encourages cooperation, but discourages innovation.[/quote]

That may have more to do with the particular coercer than with anything inherent in coerced unity.

As I recall, the first Emperor of China had all the scholarly books burnt when he gained control, along with anyone who objected to the burning. This alone would hobble innovation for quite a while.

Jumper said...

Seems like everyone is forgetting the advances which came from Baghdad, and which, even though it was smashed by the Mongols, its innovations, and the idea that learning produced essentially miracles, took root all over the region, especially Egypt. Not to mention the precursor, the enriching immediately prior to that of Indian math reaching Persian civilization.

Alfred Differ said...

@A.F. Rey: Indeed. I seem to recall a later rule barring the printing of the character that represented the Emperor. Execution awaited those who failed to remember.

One need not defend China's history in detail, though, to accept the fact that they were ahead of Europe in many ways for many centuries up until they weren't. That cross-over period is very recent and has a lot to do with whatever odd thing happened in NW Europe.

Alfred Differ said...

@Jumper: It is easy for people to talk only about the parts they know, right? When I used to teach astronomy in college, the texts would skip from Greek material in one chapter straight to Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo in the next. I would always purposely diverge and spend some time with various Arab and Persian contributions in between. Look at images of various astrolabes and you’ll find something neat about the ones used by Arab sailors. Some of them had an alternate coordinate system on them that we would call ecliptic coordinates. One only needs these markings if one takes a multi-century view of instrument making and one wants to account for the precession of the Earth. That is an innovation that took hold among their traders and indirectly enriched them, but one needs a continual flow of such advancements to match what NW Europeans did starting in the 17th century for the Dutch and the 18th century for the English.

Jumper said...

The advance was the awareness of the field of design itself.

donzelion said...

Interesting debate between Duncan v. Alfred. I think I see myself as a fence-sitter here as well: the tools cannot be separated from the ideas, and the one did not generate the other, so much as they co-evolved.

Alfred - "There is decent evidence that many thought [trade] was barely tolerable in the ethical sense."
A quibble there - in Muslim cultures, trade was among the highest social functions (the Prophet himself was a trader). As was science. China and the Middle East never stopped producing ideas, so much as the rate of production in Europe increased remarkably just before the Renaissance; that production created tools that were used in the industrial era.

"Innovators have been rewarded by their princes for millennia"
This is quite accurate, but how were innovators rewarded, and which innovations resulted in rewards?

Patronage was usually the key driver of innovation (and one imagines princes who lacked a 'court genius' cynically disdaining the whole affair). Yet this is a slow process, as it typically means that only the largest powerbrokers in a feudal system have extra resources to patronize their 'court jesters, dancers, and philosophers.' With each philosopher fighting for a seat at the table (singing for their supper), what would they gain training new philosophers who might surpass them? One might build on the work of someone else, and even write a new book 'adding' to someone else's work, BUT doing so was about defending one's prestige rather than advancing science itself.

In pre-Renaissance Europe, just after the Black Death, a relatively weak feudal state emerged in many corners of the continent, esp. Italy. Scholars could find jobs to feed themselves by selling ideas to many different powerbrokers, who each lacked the means to support a crop of experts (the church already took so much...). Simple necessity at work, plus, later on, the printing press making it feasible for many to play this gambit. However, selling secrets to multiple lords meant that scholars could learn your secrets, and contest them - creating the basis for competitive science.

The great distinction between Europe and other regions (esp. China and the Middle East) is that no imperial authority united the continent to restore the stultifying patronage system through an entrenched feudal order. Indeed, those corners of Europe that did nominally 'unite' became backwaters of innovation (who controlled printing presses in Hapsburg territory?).

donzelion said...

@AF Rey - "As I recall, the first Emperor of China had all the scholarly books burnt when he gained control, along with anyone who objected to the burning. This alone would hobble innovation for quite a while."

This is likely a myth, initially created by the Han dynasty to critique the excesses of the Qin dynasty which they replaced - and then embraced by Confucians themselves to critique many dynasties in China. But most Chinese dynasties, once entrenched, restored a 'patronage' system (whereby geniuses and innovators were rewarded as an employee of a prince, to the extent a prince wanted to reward them). Folks seeking the sorts of jobs that went to 'court philosophers' in other countries were required to master Confucian writings with perfect calligraphy, but any additions to the canon were incidental to their day jobs.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Alfred
to accept the fact that they were ahead of Europe in many ways for many centuries up until they weren't

Yes - they were ahead in many ways
But if you read Turchin there are two aspects
Cooperation and Competition
The Chinese did NOT have the Competition
China is a single country with inland waterways (rivers) for transportation and the mountains around the borders
This gave a massive killing advantage to a centralized authority - which means that there was no advantage in competing - or rather they competed in different ways

Europe is not a monolith - with mountains, broad fast running rivers, and seas Europe is almost impossible to operate as a single unit without modern technology

Jumper
The summary of that books says exactly what I said - improvement is a continual thing NOT a sudden surge
I am fighting with my base Scotsman over actually buying the book $16 for an e-book!

Dr Brin
I really would like you to read Turchin's book -
You are perfectly correct about the role of the aristocracy and royalty but the details he has about the actual timelines are a bit of an eye opener

donzelion said...

@Jumper re Baghdad - very much the model of Muslim innovation that I was referring to, and it is proper to bear it in mind. The idea wasn't so much that learning produced miracles (though where that idea crept up, religious authorities quickly arose to challenge the learned), so much as that knowledge and innovation were good things in and of themselves.

@Alfred - "one needs a continual flow of such advancements [astrolabes, mathemtical advancements, etc.] to match what NW Europeans did starting in the 17th century for the Dutch and the 18th century for the English."

I would start what Europeans did in the 15th and 16th centuries - the NW Europeans (and I'd surely include the French in that mix) sat on the sidelines while the Spanish & the Ottomans bankrupted themselves fighting over the Mediterranean (which is also why Italy became more of a backwater as competing factions vied for primacy in the region). The Spanish squandered mountains of silver, the Ottomans the vast wealth of the Silk Road, and both deadlocked in the Med, while the periphery grew dominant - especially because they lacked the physical gold of their rivals, and had to make due with alternatives (which were much harder for feudal lords to dominate and hoard, passing out largesse to their preferred sycophants).

donzelion said...

@Duncan - you are now selling me on Turchin's book, which is now added to my list. Especially since I'd started to add portions on rivers & geography to my overlong commentary (on why Europe never centralized the way China did) and then removed them (because I was waxing verbose), but instinctively, that is a critical difference.

Still, I think 'patronage' is the key. In Europe, China, and the Middle East, a smart person with a scientific inclination looked for a patron to support their efforts. In Europe, alternatives evolved that were far more effective in sustaining those efforts, and which, once in place, pragmatic exploitation of those developments became increasingly common.

The relevance today, as I see it, is that if we fail in the enterprise of our Enlightenment forebears, we revert to an oligarchy that will once again stifle innovation (or at least, revert to monumental buildings named after oligarchs as the measure of achievement) - just as the patronage system stifled it in Europe, China, the Middle East, and pretty much everywhere else. Which is why I find this debate fascinating.

William Taylor said...

Re Hoon and Wikipedia. The Rousit were to be next, but I need help. I don't know how to create a new Wikipedia listing using my very old and un upgradable 7 laptop.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: Regarding Muslim cultures, McCloskey makes your point about the role of traders, but then goes on to point out that the traders weren’t actually honored in the way the Dutch and English eventually did. The hegemony of Muslim nations/tribes depended upon trade and they treated traders far better than most, but it is the innovators who make the difference. Innovators are the ones who destroy existing power and trade structures. In today’s language, they destroy jobs and might make up for it… maybe… with other jobs or lower prices. Muslims get high marks as far as I’m concerned, but McCloskey argues they had to honor the creative destroyers too, which they didn’t enough to matter.

One way to think of the Renaissance is as an opening of a part of Europe to foreign ideas. However, the Venetians didn’t exactly honor innovators either. The honored profit taking, but went for a guild structure turning merchants into princes in any practical sense. Renaissance innovation wound up serving the aristocracy and you can see this in how it failed to serve peasants, not that anyone intends to serve peasants. Traders got richer and ideas flowed in, but real incomes for the average people didn’t budge much. That’s what happens when innovation serves aristocracy.

The way I’ve been taught to think of it goes like this. Traditionalism serves existing power structures, whether they be princes, priests, or merchant guilds. Innovation upsets their apple carts and serves who exactly? In the thick of it, power brokers would argue innovation serves ONLY the person trying to upset the cart. Why would they think an innovator was anything other than an upstart or usurper? Only in hindsight do we see that innovators unintentionally serve the poorest as well as themselves. Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand works through them much like any other trader, but magnified.

Alfred Differ said...

@Duncan: Europe is not a monolith - with mountains, broad fast running rivers, and seas Europe is almost impossible to operate as a single unit without modern technology

I’m not buying it. The northern plains of Europe (Paris to Moscow) are damn near impossible to defend in any era. Any well motivated feudal lord should have been able to move up rivers that drain into the North Sea like the Rhine and many others and consolidate power blocs that equate to trading blocs. Look at old maps of Germany and you’ll see it didn’t work that way until powerful emperors swept away petty princes. Look to the behaviors of Russians and you’ll know a people who are used to getting invaded across those plains AND from what is modern Ukraine AND from central Asia. About the only direction they didn’t get attacked recently was from the north because maybe it is so cold in that direction. However, the Rus are a Nordic people, so maybe the compass for attacks is complete.

There ARE mountains are unwise to cross with attacking armies, but they protect a nation’s flanks at best. However, European history is awash in the blood of invaders and defenders who simply went around. Attacking Balkan tribes is folly, but they did that too. Only some of Europe is hard to take and hold, though. The fact that unity did not occur along the northern plains is an oddity historians have to explain. The fact that the Chinese DID manage it also requires explanation. I suspect it is related to how China is almost a geographic island due to the way the mountains on its borders are arranged. They had fewer compass points to watch for external attack, but more importantly, for external support of an internal schism.

The problem that I see with (my admittedly weak understanding of) Turchin’s argument here is that even competition in the form of war failed to propel Europe to richness. Cooperation within unified nations did too. Everything did until they did the oddest thing ever to happen on the planet with no intention of helping the poor… yet they did.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion: Regarding patronage, I see it as a brain drain. Come serve me as a boffin! Achieve social honor in service to me! Sing my praises in your book dedications and I will include you in the Great Chain of Being as a link close to me!

Pfft.

The relevance today, as I see it, is that if we fail in the enterprise of our Enlightenment forebears, we revert to an oligarchy that will once again stifle innovation (or at least, revert to monumental buildings named after oligarchs as the measure of achievement) - just as the patronage system stifled it in Europe, China, the Middle East, and pretty much everywhere else. Which is why I find this debate fascinating.

Some would argue (McCloskey essentially does) that the Intelligencia committed treason beginning in 1848 when they started arguing for socialism in hard or soft forms. The smartest and educated among us became less than enamored with the Enlightenment Project after the failed revolutions of 1848-49. Did Marx honor market innovators? Did he recognize the unintended benefit the proletariat received? What of the Marxians after him? McCloskey refers to the educated clade within the bourgeoisie as the Clerisy and argues that many of them turned against Liberalism arguing instead for a designed approach as the only ethical path of progress…. with them as Designers of course.

Pfft.

donzelion said...

@Alfred - "The northern plains of Europe (Paris to Moscow) are damn near impossible to defend in any era." "Only some of Europe is hard to take and hold, though."
Certainly enough feudal lords tried and failed. Winter accounts for why so few succeeded.

It's not 'mountains as physical barriers,' so much as 'winter is coming - and near mountains, it can come early.' From the time it takes to muster an army, feed it, move it out, keep it fed, start the conquest, and finish the job or get them home before they all starve to death, a would-be conqueror contended with meteorological challenges in Europe that they would not face in much of China or the Middle East. That made waging conclusive war difficult, and extend fights for decades that might otherwise be quickly finished in other regions. In such a climate, all a castle needed to do was delay an advance by a few weeks to achieve its purpose. And there were quite a few.

"[China] had fewer compass points to watch for external attack, but more importantly, for external support of an internal schism."
Bear in mind that about half of China's current territory became China as a result of conquest by its northern neighbors ("Inner" Mongolia and Manchuria).

But I'm not making Turchin's argument; haven't read it yet.

donzelion said...

@Alfred - yeah, I think we agree on our views of the merits of a patronage system.

"Did Marx honor market innovators?"
Not in any formulation of Marx I've heard. Marx's view of technological innovation, as I understand it, asserts that if owners of the mode of production adopt better machinery, it will grow the ranks of the army of workers and make their plight that even more dire.

But Marx is hardly the only exponent of Enlightenment thinking.

Indeed, liberalism (small 'l' liberalism, as in classical liberalism, rather than any specific party or movement) accepts "Design" as a component in human endeavors, in the sense that human institutions and allocations of wealth arise from human decisions, rather than divine or natural causes.

Both "conservatives" (actually, traditionalists) and Marxists would be in tension with liberals. Traditionalists view "wealth" as a gift from God, and any redistribution would violate God's will (most conservatives today do not accept that notion entirely, but many religious conservatives slip into it through mental habits). Marxists view "poverty" as a curse from capitalists, and any redistribution would merely be scraps from their table, prolonging subjugation to their will. Both sides are anti-liberal, in the sense that they disdain the human agency involved in the process.

Paul451 said...

William Taylor,
Re: Uplift and Wikipedia

I suspect your articles will be deleted within a few months. There's a large faction of regular editors, and supporting admins, who dislike these kinds of in-universe articles because they lack external sources. Unless there are sources other than David's books that have written/speculated about the races, technologies, etc, of the Uplift novels, then it will be considered "Original Research" or just "Fan Work" and hence not suitable for Wikipedia.

You may be better off offering to supply the material you've produced to Trent Shipley's fansite instead.

(The only format to sometimes survive a Wiki-purge is when you create a single article, "Species of the Uplift Universe", rather than trying to create a separate article for each species. But I'd start with establishing the details on another site, like Trent's, first, then try to create something on Wikipedia that cites those external sites as a source.)

"I don't know how to create a new Wikipedia listing"

Type the new article name in the search box. If it doesn't match an existing article or redirect, you'll get a "There were no results matching the query" page. Click on the red-linked "You may create the page 'Article Name'."

Paul451 said...

Alfred: "The fact that unity did not occur along the northern plains is an oddity historians have to explain. The fact that the Chinese DID manage it also requires explanation."
Donzelion: "It's not 'mountains as physical barriers,' so much as 'winter is coming - and near mountains, it can come early.' [...] That made waging conclusive war difficult"

Further to Donzelion's comment: It's not just that natural-barriers protect you from others, but that they protect others from you. In Europe, it was too easy for an ambitious prince in one part of Europe to stretch beyond their region, beyond Europe, even over water, rather than focus on just unifying the northern plains (for example, or any other "natural" location for a contained empire.) So you see the ambitions of the European empires throughout history shift and flow anywhere from the Middle East, north Africa, England, Russia, etc. There's just too much temptation, too many choices. It's too easy.

With China, there was Central And Eastern China, and then large stretches of low value land (and deserts and mountains) between China and anywhere interesting. There's no temptation for an ambitious prince from central-west China, for example, to look north/south/west to expand his would-be empire. Trade, sure, why not. But to send an army over the Himalayas to take Indian territory? Or west over the deserts and mountains to take Persian land? It's might be possible, but it's a hell of a lot more tempting and profitable to send that same army down-river to the east to take land and riches from whichever of your Chinese rivals seems weakest. And those rivals know it and will likewise focus on you. So there's millennia of cultural assumption that only areas within China itself are worth conquering. (Note that the only group to buck that assumption were the Mongols, who arose within one of the "deserts" around China (vast low fertility grassland), and hence when they were ready to expand, any and every direction was equally full of riches.)

Europe never had that "natural" focus of power. (Or rather all the natural foci are wet. The Aegean sea, the Baltic, the North Sea/English Channel, and especially the Mediterranean itself.) From the point of view of any historical empire, there's no such thing as "Europe" except for map-making convention. So there's millennia of cultural assumption that a "real empire" expands into Asia and Africa. Too much temptation to overreach before consolidating close to home.

Culture, IMO, followed from that, rather than caused it.

"Did Marx honor market innovators?"

A comment David has made before (in sort-of-defence of Marx) is that Marx appeared to believe that the technological revolution he was experiencing was once and done. Once the mills and factories were built, cities industrialised, steam everything everywhere, then industrialisation would be finished and that would be the new post-feudal norm. So his focus was on trying to figure out the best "natural" ownership structure of that fixed and final manufacturing infrastructure. He didn't see a need for continual innovation, because he assumed that industrialisation was (technologically) pretty much finished, now was just the matter of implementation and managing the transition.

Marx treated industrialisation like many geek-writers treat "post-Scarcity society", as a singular event that creates a new norm, rather than a continuing process.

Paul451 said...

Re: Alfred and Duncan's innovation debate.

If we accept Alfred's claim that cultures have to "honour destructive-innovation" more than simply "believing in positive-sum trade", in order to prevent a suppression of innovation: If, one day, you became the founding God-Emperor of a new empire (or you're thrown back in time and through your knowledge of gun-powder and double-entry bookkeeping, you are able to overthrow a couple of weak kings, their corrupt aristos and priests, and carve out a nice empire for you and your allies) and for reasons of either technological-necessity or just old fashioned patrilineal selfishness you really, really, really didn't want to stop being Emperor...

How would you design a system that would not only protect your power (and that of your heirs and La Familia Real), but also prevent technological stagnation?

You need to suppress disruption to protect your power, which means you need to encourage a culture of "loyalty" to the way things are (and hence dishonour those who seek change, "Traitors!", "Blasphemers!"), but you need that unstructured disruption to encourage and temper innovation.

While you personally might actively seek out and sponsor innovations, it's unreasonable to expect your heirs and grandheirs to understand that need, particularly once the first round innovations become embedded. What cultural artefact or artifice could you create in your lifetime that would persist beyond it, that would encourage destructive-innovation while protecting your own legacy?

I'm... asking for a friend.

(The only thing I can think of is something like the biblical 50yr debt Jubilee that David often brings up. Create an "event" to be held once every second generation (50yrs), where all-comers are summoned to bring out their most innovative ideas and inventions -- from maths to philosophy, techniques to technology, the very ideas of laws and governance -- and by the end of the Jubilee a radically new "norm", a new powerbase/bureaucracy, new privilege & patronage, a new system of laws, will be created. You make it a "game". Part festival, part competition for power. Every prior title and formal privilege is revoked on the fiftieth year, to be recreated on the fifty-third year to Whomsoever Shall Earn It At The Emperor's Jubilee! Likewise, the Emperor/Empress may create a major symbolic upheaval for him/herself to celebrate and mark each Jubilee, changing the site of the Capital, making a major change to the official religion, changing the pattern of inheritance, whatever whim strikes a particular Emperor's fancy. The idea is that those given power by the Palace -- from Lords to guilds -- know they can keep it and can hand it to their children. But those children will grow up knowing that privilege can't be automatically passed on to the third generation, instead they must re-earn it in order to protect their own line. Moreso, there'll be no dishonour in innovative thinking, you are just "practising for Jubilee". Like the "loyal opposition" within the Parliament of a Constitutional Monarchy, disloyal to "the government", but loyal to the broader meta-government. Likewise, within an existing inter-Jubilee power-structure, local Lords might indulge in an out-of-season mini-Jubilee amongst the lower classes to solve local problems (or distract from them); they'll need to build up credit for the real-thing, after all, when their own power is at stake. The reason I suspect this Innovation And Power Jubilee would persist is because there'll too much demand from untitled nouveau riche for the chance of peaceful usurpation of their weak, entitled superiors. "It's my Right to compete!" Too much potential dishonour in suggesting cancelling the next Jubilee. "Are you afraid of being unable to compete? Coward! Cheat! Unworthy!")

donzelion said...

@Paul451 - "What cultural artefact or artifice could you create in your lifetime that would persist beyond it, that would encourage destructive-innovation while protecting your own legacy?"

I'd go with a university, as it is one of few mechanisms that (a) rewards the pursuit of technological and scientific advancement, (b) feeds the practitioners pursuing it, and (c) can thwart efforts by political authority to crush it but is itself outside the political order. Or rather, a university system - one needs the universities to compete with one another in more important ways than mere sport - many societies that stagnated had a single university to train their administrative/spiritual cadres (Egypt's Al-Azhar, Morocco's Fez, and many European entities that evolved into countries) . Gradually, a system of universities would impose expectations to attain some meritocratic credential, rather than merely reverting to hereditary bases of power. The rest of the structure would arrange itself around the university as a focal point of power.

And I would ban any university from receiving public support unless they require all students to take a handful of courses outside their field (e.g., scientists must also learn a little history, theologians must learn a little science). That would reduce instincts towards monastic quietism quite common among academics.

vilyehm teighlore said...

Re Paul451
"...they lack external sources."

I had thought Dr. Brin himself was the external source. Everything was approved by him before it went to Wikipedia. It's not a secret that our good Dr. wrote the Uplift novels without a pre-ordained Bible. He has stated that there is currently very little chance of there being a second edition to Contacting Aliens.

We'll see what happens.

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