Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Catching up with Sci Fi News

Okay, let's just do a science fiction news roundup!

The rebooted Omni-Online has featured Ten science fiction books that "changed the genre forever." While flattered to be included on this list - I'm not sure I deserve to be.

Ray Kurzweil’s “Accelerating Intelligence” site has featured Preparing for Our Post-human Future of Artificial Intelligence -- my rumination about our future in a roboticized world.  Can AI be taught ethics?  And can we arrange things so that doesn’t matter? I suppose this is one of the essays that led to the recent (and weird) analytical listing of some "David Brin" fellow as "top influencer in AI."

In addition, the Kurzweil site offers capsule reviews of my novels: Kiln People and Foundation's Triumph.

News in. Science Fiction author Allen Steele is recovering from major intestinal surgery.  He says that he's "in awe of the state of medical science that can keep me alive when only a decade ago I might have been a write-off. Instead of one year, I'm told I can expect another 10 to 20. Time enough to write a few more novels, at least." See his latest novel, Arkwright

Our gain, pal.  I gotta admit, I am almost as glad of this - for his value to our civilization - as I am for a colleague and friend.
  
My recent posting -- extensively shared by thousands -- offered long, verbatim quotations from epic science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, revealing his amazing prophecy of an America falling into perilous failure mode. But it’s not the only one dragging dead sci fi authors into modern struggles. This article hearkens to “The Trump-like terror lurking in Asimov's Foundation.”

Reminder: there’s a website dealing with "Brin Predictions" that tracks how well I’ve done with forecasts or visions in novels like Earth or Existence.  So hey guys, whenever you see a big hit - or fail - in prediction by me, do feel free to drop by and rank me!

One big hit recently was in nonfiction.  Preparing an update of my “Big Threats” presentation for the Naval Postgraduate School, I came across a 1998 slide discussing methods that nations have used against their foes, in “hot,” in “cold,” and in “cool” wars. And right there listed was “potential subornation of our national leaders by hostile powers.”  I recall back in 98… and again especially  in 2004… mentioning this at the CIA and getting blithe smirks, as if such a thing could never, ever really happen.  Even though it’s ancient in the playbook of dirty rival tricks.  Who’s smirking now, guys.  Um… not me.

Scientist, public speaker, and author David Brin joins Hank Garner’s podcast, talking about Why he wrote a murder mystery first, moving the plot along in science fiction, writing believable stories, the Costner adaptation of The Postman.. and more.


See this 1986 flyer for my first book signing at Forbidden Planet in London.

Robert M. Pirsig, who inspired generations to road trip across America with his "novelistic autobigraphy,"-- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance -- died in April at the age of 88.  I was of an age to immerse myself in the marvel of his book, which seemed a far better approach to philosophical transcendence than the fantasies of Carlos Castaneda… and Pirsig helped me to question the west’s silly obsession with that merchant of smug delusion, Plato.

Indeed, the main character in my story “Senses, Three and Six” (from The River of Time) was inspired to a large degree by  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Proud to be named an advisor on the XPrize Science Fiction Council...using science fiction to accelerate the search for positive change in the world. Click on the bookshelf to read more about the authors, including Greg Bear, Neil Gaiman, Nancy Kress, Charles Stross and others.

==   Sci Fi weirdness in real life: we’re reality TV for aliens! ==

People are prank calling President Trump's new office to report illegal "criminal aliens" — just not the type of "aliens" President Trump had in mind when he created the office.

What a weird species we are.  Seriously? The top Fermi Paradox theory in the "Zoo Hypothesis" category is that we provide reality TV for aliens! I wrote about this satirically in Existence. Only now it seems a decent explanation for Donald Trump - that he was meddled into office in order to boost ratings. Here are other examples:

Oh, my.  This Argentine man is spending a lot to permanently alter his features and become… an elf.

Jiminy. Please don’t click on anything on this page. Just scan to be amazed that sci fi weird tales have a completely new venue in bizarre paranoid scenario-building. I mean yeow! Six of the dead Challenger astronauts are alive and working under their own names, and in prominent public positions. Without even a figleaf theory as to why anyone would have concocted the plot or gone to so little effort to conceal it.  It hurts behind the eyeballs. 

Speaking of which... okay you want weird? “A common parasite that lives in fish eyeballs seems to be a driver behind the fish’s behaviour, pulling the strings from inside its eyes. When the parasite is young, it helps its host stay safe from predators. But once the parasite matures, it does everything it can to get that fish eaten by a bird and so continue its life cycle.”  Actually, this has been known a while.  See this SMBC cartoon that makes a biting point… with which I wholly agree.

Many parasites can change an animal’s behaviour to fit their own needs. Mice infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, for example, lose their fear of cats – the animal the parasite needs to reproduce inside.  Many species of wasps lay eggs in host ants or caterpillars and the host becomes a slave. There’s been some chilling sci fi, of late.

Which leads to: Who were the scariest science fiction villains?

A blog community member, Paul S-B, refers you to these delightful succulents whose bulbous leaves look like dolphins!  

I give one minute answers - by voice, on your phone - to your questions via the Askers App.

== Writer Biz ==

Watch. This inanely meddlesome California law will simply be adjusted or canceled Meanwhile, it will be used as an anecdote against liberal over-regulation. Well, it is! But that’s the point.  It won’t stand. “The legislature recently expanded its autograph law (which formerly only applied to sports memorabilia) to include any signed item worth over $5—including books.  Under that law, sellers must produce a certificate of authenticity and maintain detailed records of every sale for seven years.

Bah, never let it be said that the left is completely lacking in idiots. They just don’t run the movement, as is true on the right.

Two new sci fi shows that look like fun. Well, the trailers are, at least.... One seems a spinoff or steal from Galaxy Quest.   



75 comments:

matthew said...

I knew that I knew Chuck from "Senses Three and Six" from somewhere. Thanks for connecting the dots, Doc. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" was a big deal to my 13-year-old self.

I still think that S3&6 is one of your stories most ripe for the Hollywood treatment. Been telling you that for years and years. Fingers Crossed.

Jacob said...

I think that review of Kiln People was off base. Rather than defusing the tension by replacing a person with a dit, I felt greater tension. A "hero immunity" author is much more likely to kill off a dit than a main character. A "heroes are doomed" author is much more likely to leave a dit alive to make the story more poignant. Either way, I was more excited to see how things worked out for each line.

David Brin said...

A great point Jacob! And thanks Matthew, I agree. Now if only...

LarryHart said...

I agree with Jacob on "Kiln People". There is tension in the fact that the dit can die much more easily (for the author, I mean) than a human character. Some of them do die. In fact, Greenie is supposed to die on a schedule, independent of the danger in the story, so...well, I've spoiled enough already.

And sorry, Dr Brin, but I know you too well. I knew before the reveal that *NO SPOILER* was a "rig" in much the same way I knew that *NO SPOILER* was a hoax in "The Postman". In both cases, it's not so much that I really knew, but that I had an uncomfortable feeling, and then looked for clues that my guess was wrong, and didn't find any.



LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

This article hearkens to “The Trump-like terror lurking in Asimov's Foundation.”


Hey, did I call this one during the election, or what?

https://www.yahoo.com/news/trump-terror-lurking-forgotten-sci-170909712.html


Not only do these books warn of the Dark Ages that follow an Empire collapsing in on itself, and of the need to keep science and education going in those circumstances, but it also includes one of the most Trump-like menaces in all of literature—an oddly persuasive, power-mad nutcase who calls himself the Mule.

David Dorais said...

Dave, the Seattle City Council just passed-today-- a tax on sugary drinks. There is already talk of a initiative to overturn it. Liberal over-reach or compassionate pols wanting to lower healthcare costs?

Alfred Differ said...

If I recall the details on Toxoplasma gondii correctly, the fear mice have of cats isn't just turned off. They find cat urine a turn on.

When I learned this possibility it gave me a new perspective on people who dress up on those furry costumes for conventions.

My mother turned into a crazy cat lady in later years. Way too many cats in the house. Made me wonder about her too. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Time to set up a...

Certificate of Authenticity web service that Maintains Detailed Records

These nutty laws usually start as things that sound good. WE MUST PROTECT PEOPLE FROM FRAUD! Legislators are moved, but I wonder about the people who push them to do it.

So... is it unethical of me to feast upon this?

Navigator Prime said...

The vision for the Navigators is as neutral, impartial collectors, dispersers, and purveyors of information, mapping data, and as a trusted storehouse of value, having special observation status could be problematic.

Navigator Mission Statement: Practice, perform, and promote expertise in virtual tools for governance, cryptofinance, and cryptoinsurance as a service.

In 2017, the Navigator Prime has announced plans for the Navigator Society to use Bitnation Pangea as an initial tool for governance, crypto-insurance, & crypto-finance.

As the Navigator Society develops expertise in these 3 disciplines, it will began contracting services to other virtual organizations.

The Test of The Navigator 
"The best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering. A nation cannot suffer, it cannot feel pain, it cannot feel fear, it has no consciousness. Even if it loses a war, the soldier suffers, the civilians suffer, but the nation cannot suffer. Similarly, a corporation cannot suffer, the pound sterling, when it loses its value, it doesn’t suffer. All these things, they’re fictions. If people bear in mind this distinction, it could improve the way we treat one another and the other animals. It’s not such a good idea to cause suffering to real entities in the service of fictional stories." 
~ Yuval Noah Harari  (2017.03) 

Q

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Certificate of Authenticity web service that Maintains Detailed Records"

here (NZ) that regulation would have been published for (rude) comments before being voted on

David Brin said...

Navigator, I can think of few prominent recent pundits who are more perceptive... and who are more relentlessly wrong about everything... than Yuval Harari.

David Brin said...

A living human being may spend his whole life earnestly improving. He or she may become among the wisest of our wise. Then they die.

The one thing that can improve... and after 6000 years of feudalism, we finally did start to do it, is civilization. We are better, stronger, more perceptive and knowing and -- yes -- wise -- than all our ancestors. As the best of those ancestors would have wanted! This is not because of some leftist historical teleology imperative. Nor is it the right's insane teleology of so called "cyclical" history. It is the result of several Enlightenment inventions like reciprocal accountability, that foster positive sum games. Those games mean that a civilization that outlives human members can grow wiser than the sum of the parts.

Indeed, that may be the underlying reason why some fanatics despise this concept. They want the individual human soul to be the only thing that matters. Zero sum. You get to be a lord or a peasant. You get to be "saved" or spend eternity in some sadistic hell. But if there are positive sums, then there is something better, greater, more important than one egotist's soul.

I believe that. I have an ego the size of the sun. And I openly admit that I am relatively unimportant. There are things worth dying for. And we are building them.

Alfred Differ said...

All these things, they’re fictions.

Pfft! Garbage. They are constructs and lack agency, but they are quite real. Some of them even seem to be aware, so I’m not 100% sure about their lack of agency. I’ve learned to settle on recognizing some as ‘not human, but of humans’ for the constructs in which we are embedded. Family, Community, Nation, Faith Group, etc. If humans can suffer, so do our constructs… though not AS humans.

There is an argument used by some classical liberals against the existence of social justice as a potential guide for our policies and actions. They argue that we can’t know what is just at the social level. Instead we assert that we know, but risk asserting what we as individuals believe to be correct at the social level. They have a valid point in this, but some go too far and argue against social constructs existing. Utter nonsense demonstrated by how humans surrender a piece of their sovereignty to these constructs. Husband and Wife surrender some to each other and become Family. Etc.

Treating them as fictions dismisses a huge behavior set that helps to define what humans are. In defense of my own humanity, therefore, I reject the assertion that they are fictions.

LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

If I recall the details on Toxoplasma gondii correctly, the fear mice have of cats isn't just turned off. They find cat urine a turn on.


I can't vouch for the specific detail there, but I have heard that cats spread a disease that makes you like cats, and that affected mice will run toward the cat instead of away from it.

I know my wife had this disease before I met her, and she spread it to me. :)

LarryHart said...

David Dorais:

Dave, the Seattle City Council just passed-today-- a tax on sugary drinks. There is already talk of a initiative to overturn it. Liberal over-reach or compassionate pols wanting to lower healthcare costs


I'm not sure sin taxes really qualify as "liberal". I see them more like a cheap way for a municipality to raise taxes on a commodity that many people use, but that people will be ashamed to publicly defend, and that most users will (if grudgingly) pay the tax rather than do without. If a few people are encouraged to cut down on harmful behavior, that's all well and good, but the real goal is the revenue.

LarryHart said...

Navigator Prime:

"The best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering. A nation cannot suffer, it cannot feel pain, it cannot feel fear, it has no consciousness. Even if it loses a war, the soldier suffers, the civilians suffer, but the nation cannot suffer. Similarly, a corporation cannot suffer, ..."


This is exactly why it is so wrong to consider corporations to be "persons" in the same sense that live human beings are persons.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin and Alfred Differ,

I understand that constructs like "Western civilization" may be more important to maintain than any individual. But I can't help worrying about the other side of that coin. Societies like North Korea's maintain that the individual has no value other than what he can do for the state. I find the falsehood of that to be self-evident.


Zepp Jamieson said...

Doctor Brin said: " While flattered to be included on this list - I'm not sure I deserve to be."

Postman is a fine novel, but just off the top of my head I can think of three post-apocalyptic novels by Arthur C. Clarke alone that deserve consideration. Then there's "Forge of God", "This Is the Way the World Ends", and my personal favourite, "A Canticle for Liebowitz". You've got a lot of great competition there.

Zepp Jamieson said...

LarryHart wrote "Greenie is supposed to die on a schedule, independent of the danger in the story, so...well, I've spoiled enough already."

All dits die. Not a spoiler, since you learn that by page 30. We need a Game of Thrones with dits. "All Dits Must Die", four episodes, three minutes each. Or is that a crackpot idea?

Tony Fisk said...

My inner cinematic treatment of "Kiln People" has the following utterance as the clays awaken:

"Aw hell! Why do *I* always get to be the green!?"

Favourite (?) wasp is a beguilingly jewelled species that rides its cockroach slave meekly to the larva's larder. First jab causes cockroach to first clean itself and then wait for it's owner to return from preparing the chamber. The second (delivered later and much more precisely) enslaves. The really odd thing is that the toxin used to achieve this feat isn't directly harmful to the cockroach. If the wasp doesn't return, the cockroach will recover.

I recall Octavia Butler wrote a story about an alien illness that compelled its human host to spread it, and there's that weird old film "What's so Bad About Feeling Good" that involved a toucan vector to a hippie virus.

Jumper said...

Alfred's theory leads to killing people in order to never change Israel's name.

I wonder what China thinks.

Tony Fisk said...

@Zepp Short stories, perhaps, but post-apocalyptic *novels* aren't something I associate with Clarke. Which ones are you thinking of?

The conversation about dit mortality reminds me of something in "Wonder Woman", which I just saw on the Tuesday cheap. 'Young' Diana has an indeterminate lifespan, as is apparent from near the beginning. Hence, it also became apparent that other characters were going to be coming and going as quickly as companions of Doctor Who (and in much more violent fashion) I do wish someone in Hollywood would spend a shekel or two on plots. ("Who's that? Oh, just the writer." - Shakespeare in Love)

Ditto morghulis.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Tony Fisk asked: "Short stories, perhaps, but post-apocalyptic *novels* aren't something I associate with Clarke. Which ones are you thinking of?"

Childhood's End, The City and the Stars, and Against the Fall of Night. All three are masterworks. Postman is in their league, but not better than them.

Navigator Prime said...

The unexpectedly adverse reactions to the Harari quote has been a surprise for me.

When I read it I do not hear a glorification of individual ego over civilization or post-enlightenment society.

What I do hear is a caution that what societies we create are flawed to the extent that they create unnecessary suffering.

Granted, the measurement of suffering, and even the clarification of what is suffering, most needs serious study. That is happening now in the various neurological disciplines.

Navigator Prime said...

At least the key concept of reciprocal accountability got a nod.
:-)

Navigator Prime said...

Yuval Harari has woven a story of humanity's past and future that is getting wide attention.

Since stories are as much about weaving shared ideas of what is 'real' as they are about reporting shared ideas of what is 'real', a debate with other story weavers would be illuminating.

Darrell E said...

Tony Fish,

Can't say of course what novels Zepp may have in mind, but one that comes to my mind is The Songs Of Distant Earth. A favorite of mine from Clarke. It was a novelization of a short story that he originally wrote in the '50's. The basic story is that Sol has gone nova and a ship carrying all that could be saved from earth arrives at a small utopian colony world colonized from Earth in an earlier era in order to rebuild the ablative ice shield that protects the ship while traveling at interstellar speeds. It is a very poignant story.

My wife and I once adopted a beautiful, black, female kitten, still the most beautiful cat I've ever seen. I suggested the name Kitani, which stuck. Kitani was the name of the wife of a major character in TSODE. She actually had no active part in the story, she was in hibernation the entire time. But she was described as an exceedingly beautiful black woman and I liked the name on first read.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin in the main post:

The rebooted Omni-Online has featured Ten science fiction books that "changed the genre forever." While flattered to be included on this list - I'm not sure I deserve to be.


The Postman is one of my favorite books. I've read it multiple times and always enjoy the experience. But "changed the genre forever"? I mean no insult when I say I don't know that it quite meets that standard.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

"Tony Fisk asked: "Short stories, perhaps, but post-apocalyptic *novels* aren't something I associate with Clarke. Which ones are you thinking of?"

Childhood's End, ...


I don't think of "Childhood's End" as post-apocalyptic in the same sense of "The Postman" or "Road Warrior" or any number of stories I associate with that description. I mean, I know what you're getting at, but in that sense, it's more "pre-Apocalyptic". When I think "post-Apocalyptic", I think of the apocalypse in question having already happened at the start of the plot.

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

Yes, good intentions often lead to bad legislation, but:

"So... is it unethical of me to feast upon this?"

I would say this is an unhelpful attitude. Better to point out the flaws, calmly, pointedly, but not mockingly. Feasting upon such things lowers you to a level that is also easily mocked, and the whole debate turns into children in mutually hostile camps sticking their tongues out at each other and treating serious business like sports fandom. Haven't we had a very recent encounter with that? Oh yeah...


Navigator Prime,

The neurological disciplines is where this is happening most effectively, but this has been going on for a long time in many disciplines - psychology, sociology, anthropology, even endocrinology (the application of /stress/ to the endocrine system goes back to Hans Selye in the 1930s, anthropologist Franz Boas brought the idea of the placebo effect to modern science in 1904, etc). But neuroscience is the most effective of these pursuits today, partly because the technology has wowed the public, partly because there are so many good scientists doing such good work, and science writers letting people know about it, and to a huge extent that even most people who consider themselves to be the most dogmatically religious, and but that bull that science and religion are totally against each other, see that science makes legitimate truth. It's something we see every day when the electric-powered alarm clock wake sue up in the morning, with or without Jesus power, when our cars get us to work, when doctors save lives (though on the news they always thank God when a doctor saves their lives or saves their babies).

Neurology is great stuff, but you get the most bang for your buck combining it with several other sciences - and a strong moral fortitude.

Zepp,

Maybe it's early and I'm reading your sentence wrong, but "A Canticle for Leibowitz" wasn't Clarke, it was Walter Miller (I almost typed Arthur Miller - Freudian typo?)

Darrell,

Have you heard the "soundtrack" that Mike Oldfield wrote for TSODE? I don't know if he's your style of musician, but I thought the idea of writing a soundtrack for a novel was creative. Unfortunately, no one can read a book in an hour, so you would end up playing it over and over until you were sick of it. : [

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQtIRr0_UYU&list=PLCyc012TCafsfZail2F84fbo80Zg9SChu

Zepp Jamieson said...

Darryl E wrote: "My wife and I once adopted a beautiful, black, female kitten, still the most beautiful cat I've ever seen. I suggested the name Kitani, which stuck. Kitani was the name of the wife of a major character in TSODE. She actually had no active part in the story, she was in hibernation the entire time. But she was described as an exceedingly beautiful black woman and I liked the name on first read."

Perfect!
We presently have two black cats, Spook (very aptly named) and AgathaHeteroDynamoHumm (Aggie). Should we get another, we'll name it Kitani.

Zepp Jamieson said...

@LarryHart: "Childhood's End" was an emotional and psychic post-apocalyptic novel. What gave the novel its deep impact was the efforts of regular people to deal with they fact that they were now obsolete and had no future as humans. Perhaps his finest work. The TV adaptation, well made, failed because it didn't really capture that.
There's a novella that falls in that same category, "Seventy Years of DecPop" by Philip Jose Farmer.

Zepp Jamieson said...

@Paul SB: I wrote that a bit ambiguously. Forge of God was by Greg Bear, This Is The Way the World Ends was James K Morrow, and Canticle, as you say, was Walter Miller.

raito said...

Dr. Brin,

You hit upon one of the sayings of Japanese swordsmanship. "A man spends his life learning the sword. Then he dies." It was meant as a caution to those who keep their knowledge to themselves.

Another way of putting it, in a more Western way, is 'Be shoulders worthy of standing on.'

From last time,

PaulSB,

No, I don't think it's testosterone at all.

As for post-apocalyptic go, I suppose most of my favorites include the apocalypse. If you like that stuff, there's always the listings at http://www.apocalypsebooks.com

In addition to the usual ones like Alas, Babylon, I like lesser-known ones like Killbird.

LarryHart,

I still think we're not talking about the same subject at all. But I'm not cure how to convince you of that. 'Bargains', especially between individuals, don't come into it at all. Nor am I sure how it plays into the death of democracy. It's probably one of those things that would become apparent after five minutes and beers, rather than blog comments.

But there's definitely populations who feel abandoned.

I'm basing my observations on having lived in an (for where I am) impoverished area. 2/3 of the people were on public assistance of some sort. It was the first time I have a place to myself without a roommate, and it was the only place I could afford. Culturally, my neighbors and I were miles apart. They couldn't comprehend how I could do things the way I did. I could comprehend why they did, but didn't quite get why they'd want to be that way (not that all of them did).

And I've been recently interacting with some of the same sorts of people in my recent political forays regarding our fair city's decisions to leave them behind in various ways. The city sold the fiber network under a contract that means that the poor sections of the city will never see it (meaning their children won't benefit from it). And the new elementary school boundaries leave one school holding the bag on free lunch, as there's no good way to reconcile having all the poor people living in one area with diluting them across the schools (which some studies indicate works well). Well, there are ways, but none that the city is prepared to accept. Some of the lower middle class rural white families that have been here for generations don't even want to admit that 'those people' exist. Or that I, upper middle class suburban white male, exist.

LarryHart said...

@raito,

"Bargains" enters into it as in "Hey, maybe if you don't leave me and my family behind, I won't have reason to be disruptive." I'm talking about the difference between being disruptive as a response to a perceived injustice vs being disruptive just because one has developed a taste for it. The former has conditions under which the disruption will end. The latter does not.

Think "rebel with a cause" vs "rebel without a cause.".

I said "failure" rather than "death" of democracy, and I was lamenting that if a critical mass of citizens have become so dispirited that they will willingly vote against the interests of the society they belong to, then democracy as a form of government has failed in two ways. It has failed its citizens in the first place, and it fails to function because voting as a mechanism is broken.

Berial said...

Incoming horde alert. Looks like Stonekettle Station just linked to your previous post on Facebook. I doubt they'll even notice the 'onward' notification.

Berial said...

Or not. Guess I was wrong. Not about Stonekettle Station linking to you but about hordes appearing to post. Sorry.

Darrell E said...

Paul SB,

I had forgotten about that album, but you've jogged the old memories. Yes, I have listened to it but it has been many years. I don't remember the music itself very well but I remember what I thought about it. OK, but not something that would ever become a favorite. I'll have to dig it up and give it another listen.

Zepp Jamieson,

AgathaHeteroDynamoHumm? Very nice! There is obviously a story behind that. "Spook" is an excellent cat name, particularly for a black cat. Cats are spooky in two ways. They are good at engendering a feeling of being spooked in others and they themselves are so easily spooked by anything sudden or out of the ordinary.

Alfred Differ said...

@LarryHart | it is so wrong to consider corporations to be "persons"

Yah. I agree with that. They aren’t persons, but they are OF persons.

I’ve been thinking on this topic since I started hanging around with libertarians. I think some of them make the error of extremes. They go too far in the direction of individualism and ignore the long history of our species to create social constructs and surrender (at least partially) ourselves to them. Persons certain can suffer, but so can a family in a way that isn’t reducible to the suffering of the individuals in the family.

When our constructs suffer, the individuals often do. When individuals suffer, our constructs do too. However, I think there is an irreducible element in the suffering of our constructs and that is why we recognize a number of virtues that target social behaviors. Loyalty to an identity group, whether to a faith group or a sports team, is often recognized as ‘good’. Why? What purpose could it serve? Whether I know it or not (it might not be knowable), I can see the behaviors that reward ‘faith/loyalty’ and ask why these behaviors survive from generation to generation. My conclusion (so far) is that they are part of being human, thus ‘human’ means more than individualism can encompass.

I’ve said this before around here. If an alien dropped by and abducted one of us to add to their zoo, the sign outside the cage would say Terra/Human, but the person inside would only be partially human. We are social creatures. Remove us from our context and we are diminished. If they want their zoo to have complete humans, they need to have enough of us to create our macro-entities. Families, bands, tribes, nations, and civilizations are only some of them. We aren’t just individuals who get along socially. Our emergent constructs have irreducible elements in them.

Zepp Jamieson said...

On AgathaHeteroDynamoHumm:
She was originally named for the Girl Genius protagonist, and caught us all by surprise by going into heat at the age of 4 months. She was, to put it mildly, yearning and voracious. Which reminded us of a certain Frank Zappa song...

Alfred Differ said...

Jumper,

Alfred's theory leads to killing people in order to never change Israel's name.

It can if one takes it to an extreme and history is full of examples. I prefer to err in the direction of individualism, but not to ignore our history of joining groups and surrendering part of our sovereignty to them. Erring to one side helps minimize the death toll when we screw up. Smaller identity groups and power blocs are at risk that way.

The blood runs thickest when an individual rises up and convinces the group to believe that what the leader thinks IS what the group thinks. The minds involved become coherent in the sense of a laser (my effort at an analogy relating to Kiln People), but the group is diminished to the imagination of the leader. Death and Horror are much easier to achieve that way. Ugh.

Thank goodness some of us are crotchety contrarians screwing up group coherency.

locumranch said...


'The Cool War', published by Fredrick Pohl, 1981.

'Cancelled' episode, South Park, which argued Earth as a reality TV show produced by aliens, aired 2003.


On a lighter note, my prophecy lurches toward Bethlehem to be born:

Shortly after the election of a 'moderate' (less theocratic) government, Iran organises a 'fundraiser' of a terrorist attack, reinforces Shia theocracy, blames the reported bombings on a Sunni & Saudi-supported ISIS & prepares enter the Syrian conflict on its way to the Saudi Arabian Gulf of Aquaba, meaning that Iran no longer fears NATO intervention due to the implied presence of Iranian nukes.

Kiss Saudi Arabia goodbye, folks, and forget everything you thought you knew about the Middle East, as the Shia embark on a new era of ethnic cleansing.


Best

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | I would say this is an unhelpful attitude.

Heh. You think I might have trouble surrendering this source of income later after I’ve put all the work into building the service and establishing a client list? Maybe I might use my vote to preserve my special source of income? Nah. I assure you I could stop. Any time I wanted to. Yep.

Seriously, though, it is things like this that make me a libertarian. It isn’t that government is bad. It’s that it can do things for people who want things done. All of our wants have consequences. Some are seen. Some are unseen. Some are seen and unseen at the same time because we fail to connect cause and effect. People WANT things done, but do they ponder the deep consequences? Do they trust each other enough to listen to and consider imagined dangers? Nah. My opponents are obviously intellectual ignoramuses. I’m right. They are wrong. If bad consequences arise from my policies, it is obviously explained by their attempts to undermine the good I would bring to the world. Pfft.

Yah. I know. Take that too far and the baby gets thrown out with the bath water.

Alfred Differ said...

There are two historical centers of power in the Middle East that can still operate as such in the modern world. The Ottoman core centered on the Bosporus and the Persian core in the mountains that form the land bridge between South Asia and the Mediterranean. Both are bridges along an ancient trade route and both are expensive to attack.

Saudi Arabia isn't one of them. It's current level of power is an historical aberration that will eventually be corrected when our markets move on. It would be wise to avoid clinging too hard to this aberration, because the Sunni/Shia conflict will continue with different players in the places where it was usually fought through history. The land of two rivers was fought over by both cores. It will be again some day.

David Brin said...

Weeks ago I posted about "Jerry Brown, leader of the Free World." And now others are noticing.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/06/an-american-leader-is-in-china-right-now-signing-all-these-climate-deals-it-is-obviously-not-trump/

See my posting about Jerry Brown, President in Exile.
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2017/05/a-world-cyber-collapse-and-jerry-brown.html

David Brin said...

Zepp,&LH where The Postman stands out is it is one of the only PA stories that is about citizenship and the power of the commonfolk.

Navigator, Harari’s talk about dataism, the impossibility of AI values and calls for renunciation of hyper technology are misguided and shortsighted.

David Brin said...


Argh. Locum has gone even crazier. Um, fellah, did you notice the nuclear armed Sunni nation that sits just east of Iran, with a bigger population and a 10x bigger army? Yes, India would have to make clear she’d stay out of it. But 20% of India’s population is Sunni and they have good relations with Bangladesh and Indonesia (both Sunni) and no reason at all to help Iran. Pakistan – combined with the experienced and large Egyuptians and the weapon rich Saudis – possibly backed by the Israelis…. Oh yeah, all of that would crumble before the Iranian militias!

Your scenario is insane. It is mental gyration intended to justify your cult’s pre-emptive war of psychotic aggression against Iran with its vastly more modern and democratic civil society than any (even one) of our “Sunni allies.” Thousands of Americans died of sunni-led terror and it happens monthly in Europe. Show us the Great Big Wave of Shia Terror.

If we help them, the young people of Iran will ease the old fart mullahs aside. And THAT is what the Trumpists, mullahs and Puitn all dread. You are a warmongering loony.

David Brin said...

Mind you, Bahrain and Qatar could go Shia, with their long-repressed majorities and Saudi could see populist quakes along its shiite coast. Oh! Crushed majorities might actually get freedom! How horrible!

Zepp Jamieson said...

Doctor Brin wrote: "[Postman] is one of the only PA stories that is about citizenship and the power of the commonfolk."

Indeed so. Niven and Pournelle took a similar tack in their PA work, but yours was notably superior in my estimation.

Zepp Jamieson said...

Doctor Brin wrote: "Crushed majorities might actually get freedom! How horrible!"
History suggests that it could well be horrible. It's not always the case (South Africa, thanks mostly to Mandela) but usually the empowered group is vindictive and often vengeful.

Alfred Differ said...

Do you think all American citizens would sit on the sideline regarding Qatar and Bahrain? Most would (no doubt), but it doesn't take many of us acting as though we were sovereigns to change conflicts. Dig into what happened in Ukraine and you'll find some American citizens acting through an NGO or two or three.

I think of us more as a pot of stew than as a melting pot and I'm optimistic about that because we identify as all the components of the stew. Many of us are Muslim. Some Shia... some Sunni.

The joke version is of course... "Hey! I resemble that remark!"

matthew said...

I'm very interested in donzelion's take on the shunning of Qatar. DZL has a level of insight into Saudi motivations that greatly impresses me (and changes my mind occasionally). A nice counter-balance to some of David's conspiracy theories (which also change my mind sometimes).

I'm not interested in what locum has to say about the matter, save as a sort of anti-oracle. Whatever locum thinks is pretty much guaranteed to be wrong. If I find myself agreeing with him, I will immediately look for my mistake.

LarryHart said...

Zepp Jamieson:

Doctor Brin wrote: "Crushed majorities might actually get freedom! How horrible!"
History suggests that it could well be horrible. It's not always the case (South Africa, thanks mostly to Mandela) but usually the empowered group is vindictive and often vengeful.


I think Dr Brin's sarcastic "How horrible!" was meant as "How horrible for us!" If the oppressors get their comeuppance, that's more of a local issue.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Zepp,&LH where The Postman stands out is it is one of the only PA stories that is about citizenship and the power of the commonfolk.


I'm only arguing semantics now, but to me, "changed the genre" suggests spawning of imitators, maybe even to the extent that "post-Apocalyptic stories from now on almost have to give a nod to citizenship and the power of the commonfolk." If one book is a stand-alone example of a variation on the theme, it can perhaps transcend the genre, but it's hard to see that it changed the genre.

Zepp Jamieson said...

LarryHart wrote: I think Dr Brin's sarcastic "How horrible!" was meant as "How horrible for us!"

Could might be. The subtleties of tone are somewhat lacking in this medium.

Tim Wolter said...

It has been so many years since my Sci Fi loving son and I discovered the London Forbidden Planet. I had to check and see that they are still around.

They are. And in fact seem to have grown into a chain.

Nice to see Sci Fi thriving at least in some micro climates.

T.

LarryHart said...

@Tim Wolter,

I've heard of Forbidden Planet as a comics shop, but I pictured it in the US. Maybe there are some stateside shops using that name. Or maybe it was one of the many British comics pros who I remember talking about it in the first place.

Alfred Differ said...

So... next time someone does a Jovian aero-breaking scene in a movie, they should have some excellent reference material from Juno. 8)

https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap170607.html

Navigator Prime said...

David Brin, Thank you for your response on your perspective of Harari's positions on dataism, the impossibility of AI values and calls for renunciation of hyper technology.

I look forward to your future blogs examining your perspectives on these concepts and the reasons for your differences.

Jumper said...

I expect commercial interests to push fake AI prior to the real deal. Look at how much they invoke cuteness as a substitute for real product. Teddy Ruxpin.

Is there also an uncanny valley of the mind?

Paul SB said...

Alfred,

"Yah. I know. Take that too far and the baby gets thrown out with the bath water."
- I'm afraid that's exactly what's happening, and not just in the minds of faux ranchers. I have argued for ages that most people in the US take the lies told in church much more seriously than they should because the Reformation was a long time ago, so they don't have any grandparents around that can tell them how real and bloody their own religion can get outside of history books written by "educated" people - which I have been told by many a church-goer are evil by definition. Likewise the US has been a democracy for so long that dictatorship is just a figment of history books to many people here, but the anti-government paranoia - often fed by the frustrations of any bureaucracy - feels all too real.

BTW - your picture doesn't look anything like a stew. But stew is good. If it was one homogenous pot of plain pea soup, it would get dull real fast. I liked most of the muslims I worked with when I was in college, and not one tried to convert me - though I don't think any of them could figure out what religion I am. That might be because I look at pros and cons in everything and don't just choose one side and get stupid about it. Then at other times I just keep my mouth shut. I was at a barbecue with a bunch of teachers the day the London attack happened, and they were going on and on about those evil muslims and how we have to secure our borders. I could have said something about the number of mass shootings in America that were not done by muslims, or the problems of getting hot under the collar by what's in the news and ignoring what isn't (the spotlight fallacy), but I need some of them to write me letters of recommendation, and the host has a garage full of guns and a family history of depressive disorders. I pretty much kept my mouth shut. At least here I can speak my mind without fear of being shot.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul SB | so they don't have any grandparents around that can tell them how real and bloody their own religion can get

Well… without picking on anyone in particular, I encourage you not to worry too much. You might not see the family members educating their children of the dangers, but it is happening. My own mother was quite hostile to religious concepts. My father wasn’t as much. With him it was disgust. Needless to say, none of their children are believers. I’ve tried not to be hostile or disgusted with the people who are believers, but some of their ideas still strike me as toxic. I also know a ‘kid’ (they all seem to be to me as I get older) who used to work for me. His family is full of believers, but he is hostile. I had to help him tone down in the work place, but he has since left and I’m still FB friends with him. I now have some idea of why he is hostile. He didn’t need family reminding him of the dangers. He served in the Army and is quite bright. He figured it out for himself.

On the flip side, I also know some believers who aren’t dangers to us. One of them takes the ‘personal ministry’ thing very seriously and without hypocrisy. I went out of my way to help him do what he could for kids who needed help and made darn sure he got some of the social rewards he deserved for his efforts. Another is a relatively gentile person battling his own inner hell, but outwardly he is a professional comedian and worth knowing. Both of them know where I stand regarding a number of beliefs, yet they manage to do more than tolerate me. They aren’t a danger.

your picture doesn't look anything like a stew

Heh. I’m pretty white. When I was a kid and my father was stationed in Iceland, my hair was very blonde and I got mistaken more than once as a native. I have my genetic results, though, and my ancestors mostly followed the coast up from Iberia to Britain as the ice receded. Any Baltic influences are recent. I’m still part of the stew, but you’d have to see the context around my picture to see it. I lived in Oxnard where my failure to learn Spanish as a kid is a hindrance today. My immediate community is very bilingual and I like it that way.

I pretty much kept my mouth shut.

Yah. It’s probably a good thing you don’t score as predominantly a ‘Director’ type. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut too, but I’m not so good at keeping my disgust off my facial expressions. I gave up playing poker against anyone with decent talent long ago. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Jumper,

I not sure there is a good definition for AI yet, so I’m not sure what will count as fake. I have no doubt you are right about the marketing of robots as if they were intelligent, but I suspect that will be a bit like those potato chip bags that say they are healthy to eat. Readers realize that they are ‘healthier’ than some of the others, but that doesn’t mean we should eat them. They just won’t kill you as fast. 8)

I’m quite sure there is an uncanny valley of the mind. Try to talk to an autistic kid who isn’t on the severe end of the spectrum. You’ll encounter the effect. It is very disorienting.

In the long run, I think the marketers will learn to distinguish the types of AI. Expert systems are more slave like and we will recognize them as such when they are available. For examples, look to any science fiction movie with androids that are designed to serve sexual needs. Do they think? Are they people? If not, they are just tools like our other expert systems and we won’t feel a moral twinge. If they are… oops… and the story picks up there. 8)

Tim H. said...

In my experience, most believers are convinced that incorrect and non-believers are Hell-bound, but won't take explicit action to speed us on our way. A small, arguably heretical percentage will, none I know personally.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: Navigator's point: "The best test to know whether an entity is real or fictional is the test of suffering." Your point: "This is exactly why it is so wrong to consider corporations to be "persons" in the same sense that live human beings are persons."

Lawyerly response: Can it own property? Can it be taxed? Can it be sued? Can it be subjected to regulations? If yes to any of the above, then it can 'suffer.' And thus is a 'person' of some kind.

Is a legal person the same as a natural person? No. Does it have rights that a natural person does not have? No, but it does have certain special powers (like immortality). Does it have all the rights that a natural person has? Open question. Some parts of the U.S. constitution confer rights on 'all citizens,' other parts on all 'persons,' and other parts, specific subgroups of people. More parts of the Bill of Rights, esp. concerns about 'due process,' limit what the government does, rather than defining which persons get which rights.

Determining that a corporation is NOT a person means shifting corporate assets from the 'entity' to the individuals. We can turn back the clocks to the 15th century (where only the Catholic church could 'incorporate') - but aside from diseased imaginations of nostalgic romantics, do we really want to?

donzelion said...

"Bah, never let it be said that the left is completely lacking in idiots. They just don’t run the movement, as is true on the right."

Be careful taking Pacific Legal's claims seriously.

Several of Governor Brown's most insane ideas in the 1970s. A cap on medical malpractice for wrongful death of $250,000! That is insanely high...in 1970s. Nowadays...it's zealously defended by the same folks who hated it as leftist moonshots. This law may prove similarly insightful, while it seems silly now.

The mechanism is similar to any number of anti-fraud provisions, and basically expand bans on trading in counterfeit sports memorabilia into broader categories. The penalties aren't unusual. Requiring that a certifying authority get involved before a person sells an 'original baseball card' or other item may add a few pennies to the transaction once those pieces are in place.

A bookseller, like Book Passage, might bypass the law simply by signing a sublease for space to a book author or publisher when they want to record sales - instead of "Bill" selling the books, Bill authorizes others to use his store to sell their books.

Bill loses the secondary market (he cannot sell autographed books after the author leaves without additional recording). Little else.

That would add a few dollars for certifying that a book left behind by the author was actually signed by that author - but Bill can charge a premium for those 'signed' books anyway. Now he just needs to do the work of verifying that it actually was in fact 'signed' by the author, instead of just some other person who popped a signature on a page and asked to charge an additional $10.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

Lawyerly response: Can it own property? Can it be taxed? Can it be sued? Can it be subjected to regulations? If yes to any of the above, then it can 'suffer.' And thus is a 'person' of some kind.


I get that a corporation fills the role of "person" in certain legal senses, which is kinda the whole point. And no, I'm not arguing against limited liability or any such legal aspects of incorporation.

What I resist is the current tendency to take that interpretation too literally and treat corporations as equal to (if not greater than) citizens. A corporation who loses money might "suffer", but it does not suffer in the literal sense that a human being does when he loses an important body part or a loved one or all hope for the future. Natural persons are expected to vote with an eye toward compassion, empathy, and good citizenship, as well as their own self-interest. They have to value the harm in human suffering differently from the simple monetary loss inflicted thereby. Corporations by law may not do so even if they "want" to. To pretend that corporations can then have an equal citizenship role with natural persons is a dangerous fallacy.

Norman Goldman jokes that Exxon is the Secretary of State. I used to refer to Joe Lieberman as the Senator from Aetna. But those are cynical jests, not meant to accurately describe reality, let alone a blueprint for an improvement.

Alfred Differ said...

@donzelion | Publishers will probably have to get involved. Proper certification will require that we can uniquely identify each signed item and that these identities be registered in repositories we can all reach. It wouldn't be hard to do, but there are interesting consequences. People who don't want to be tracked will be very curious as to how we identify them? Printed UUID's, RFID's, or what?

Altering a mass produced book at an actual signing will be seen eventually as not secure. It will happen when duplicates show up in the repository.

Darrell E said...

donzelion said:

"Determining that a corporation is NOT a person means shifting corporate assets from the 'entity' to the individuals. We can turn back the clocks to the 15th century (where only the Catholic church could 'incorporate') - but aside from diseased imaginations of nostalgic romantics, do we really want to?"

??? Surely we are clever enough to come up with a solution that is NOT legally defining corporations as persons with the rights they currently have OR turning the clocks back to the 15th century, AND that will work better for achieving a better society for as many people as possible than what we have now? That's rhetorical by the way. There is no doubt in my mind that we are and that we can. There certainly is nothing that constrains us to the two options you portray.

donzelion said...

Darrell: "Surely we are clever enough to come up with a solution that is NOT legally defining corporations as persons with the rights they currently have OR turning the clocks back to the 15th century..."
Well, doing so requires refining exactly what the problem is with the status quo before assuming some other system or status is preferable. There are many who assume that everything is broken, and thus, must be destroyed to be rebuilt 'better.' I am not suggesting you are one of those, but the folks who do come from that context are not helpful to improving where we are. Indeed, by opposing reasonable measures and demanding unreasonable fantasies, they oppose actual improvements. So long as you're not wedded to a fantastic notion of how the world can and should work, there's plenty of common ground to build upon. For example...

LarryHart: : "What I resist is the current tendency to take that interpretation too literally and treat corporations as equal to (if not greater than) citizens."
OK...then perhaps restraining certain corporate 'rights' that some have extrapolated to them, but others have not (e.g., overturning Citizens United). There was a fairly large contingent of 'liberals' who wanted to rollback corporate personality - a deliberately constructed front that serves no useful purpose whatsoever (but was imminently effective at preventing more useful conversations).

"Corporations by law may not do so even if they "want" to."
That's not exactly the case, and the inexactness matters. Corporations are allowed to take into account other concerns than maximizing shareholder value at any point in time. It's just that when they do so, there's a different element of scrutiny applied to what they actually do than when they are exercising 'business judgment.'

Few pretend corporations can have an equal citizenship role with natural persons. The problem isn't corporations asserting citizenship rights (I don't know of any corporations that tried to 'vote' for example), but corporate formalities being exploited to achieve the ends of a few citizens. If the problem is the corporation as a concept, then the solution is to dissolve separate personality. If the problem is the corporation as implemented, then solutions run the gamut from restraining certain rights that are extended to corporations to ... many other courses of action.

donzelion said...

Alfred: "Publishers will probably have to get involved."
Not necessarily a bad thing. When an author signs a work, if it sells at a premium because of that author's signature, publishers, or some other intermediary will have to step in to distinguish a work signed by a real world author form a work signed by a rubber stamp robot. No big deal.

"Proper certification will require that we can uniquely identify each signed item and that these identities be registered in repositories we can all reach."
That's a possible solution, and may be the eventual solution, but it hasn't been proposed yet. There's no unique identifier for sports memorabilia that I know of yet. There's also a much smaller secondary market for counterfeit sports memorabilia...

"Altering a mass produced book at an actual signing will be seen eventually as not secure. It will happen when duplicates show up in the repository."
I don't know if books are the primary intended target of this law on collectibles, but the situation would apply to anything else: once a 'mass produced' book is signified by someone as being 'not mass produced, but distinct and original' (e.g., after it is signed by an author), it will become something new - something collectible. There's no easy way to account for what it is precisely that collectors value - but if 'authenticity' is one of the things people do value, then verifying that a thing is what it purports to be through some reasonable, anti-fraud measures doesn't appear 'silly' to me.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

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