December 16, 2000
1:37 PM   Subscribe

Did you read 'One-Half of a Manifesto' by Jaron Lanier in the December Wired? (The original post is better because of the Reality Club.) I thought he was dead-on in his assessment of 'cybernetic totalism'. His argument takes some of the boogey (as in man) out of Bill Joy's neoapocalytic treatise. (Incidentally, this article also turned me onto EDGE.) (more inside)
posted by Sean Meade (10 comments total)
I discuss Joy's ideas in an article on my website.
posted by Sean Meade at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2000

Don't have anything really worthwhile to add but just thought I'd say that if you've ever wondered about why the phrase "get over yourself" was created, Jaron Lanier strikes me as a plausible explanation.

(In fact, the EDGE crew as a whole strikes me the same way.)
posted by rodii at 6:16 PM on December 16, 2000

Technologies often dominate the philosophy of its day and gets drawn upon for models and analogies.

The universe is like a clockwork, the heart is like a heat pump, the soul is like electricity.

Today it's computers. The genetic code is like a computer program, the mind is like a computer, the universe is a like a computer.

But it's only an analogy, it always breaks down at some point. Today it's computers but tomorrow it'll probably be something out of biotech.

posted by lagado at 5:15 AM on December 17, 2000

I'm kind of stunned by your remark, rodii -- not about Lanier, but about "the whole EDGE crew." Of course, I don't begrudge you your opinion, but I'm curious about it. I don't think there's really an "EDGE crew." publishes interviews and articles by a wide variety of people, some of whom probably DO need to get over themselves. Others were never under themselves to begin with.

Some of the most thought-provoking stuff I've ever read online has been on
posted by grumblebee at 8:23 AM on December 17, 2000

Don't get me wrong, grumblebee. I practically worship some of these people as individuals (Lynn Margulis and Mary-Catherine Bateson are among my personal heroes). But there definitely is an "EDGE crew," by design. EDGE is basically a self-sustaining hype engine for John Brockman, who is a literary agent for scientists who write popular books. He put together a "package" (er, I mean book) called The Third Culture a few years back that, although it has some good discussion in it, has waaaay too much stuff like:

Alan Guth: Lee Smolin is a wild man! He's way out there. But he may just be right!

Richard Dawkins: I don't understand what Lee Smolin is saying but he knows his Darwin!

(example made up but in character)

There is so much of this backpatting that the whole thing becomes pretty much a circle jerk (try to imagine that image :). I'm glad that scientists are trying to communicate with the public, but I'm uncomfortable with the idea of a coterie of celebrity scientists effectively functioning as the public face of science, when most science is really done by relatively faceless researchers in the trenches.

To give you an example from my own field, Steven Pinker has gotten rich and famous repackaging the work of hundreds of researchers, plus a tiny bit of his original work. He's good at what he does, and I don't begrudge him the recognition, but I do think his has clout with the public that he just hasn't earned. I can't say the same for the EDGE crew, but I do think their prominence has more to do with their willingness to do the hype-machine thing than it should. If you read EDGE, try something like Honeyguide for a less hype-ridden supplement.

Another overly-long post, sorry. I didn't mean to distract from Sean's orginal purpose for this thread.

posted by rodii at 9:34 AM on December 17, 2000

the things i like about EDGE are 1. smart people; 2. the reality club that gives some discussion; 3. the communication of really important things that affect worldview, like metaphors for culture, discussion of democrary, and communicating about quantum computations implications for metaphysics.

i'm happy to grant that many of them are part of a mutual admiration society.

lagado, Lanier's point is your point, along with the concern that some people are totalist about the metaphor and too reductionistic. Kurzweil is one, and Joy accepts K's conclusions, and there's another one in Lanier's reality club (i forget his name).
posted by Sean Meade at 1:48 PM on December 17, 2000

Haven't read over all of the Edge interviews, but David Deutsch (the quantum computation guy) is on some pretty serious crack.
posted by grimmelm at 2:40 PM on December 17, 2000

Rodii, you're probably right about the mutual backslapping. I guess there's just so much interesting stuff on that site that I hadn't noticed that particular aspect.

But I DO take issue with you on the following:

Steven Pinker has gotten rich and famous repackaging the work of hundreds of researchers, plus a tiny bit of his original work. He's good at what he does, and I don't begrudge him the recognition, but I do think his has clout with the public that he just hasn't earned.

I'm NOT a huge Pinker fan, but I do think he's earned his recognition. Why? Because he can WRITE. Most of his colleagues can't. I've read several of his books (and books by people with opposing views), and I've always found him to be pretty meticulous about citing references, giving credit where credit is due, etc.

We lay-people don't credit Pinker (and other pop-science writers) with coming up with the ideas; we credit them with EXPLAINING the ideas. Which is a skill, a craft and perhaps even an art.
posted by grumblebee at 6:41 PM on December 17, 2000

By the way, I love Honeyguide, but you can't really compare it to edge (whether you like edge or not). It's a blog. It publishes links to other sites and pithy comments on those links. Edge publishes mostly original content and has few offsite links.
posted by grumblebee at 6:44 PM on December 17, 2000

(Not equating Honeyguide to Edge, just pointing out that it has links to more in-the-trenches science. It's just an a source for information on little-picture science, which I think is ultimately more rewarding than the gassy, abstract, often Usenet-level (not a compliment) discourse on Edge. As Voltaire reminds us, if only we would listen, "a witty saying is not an argument." But anyway.)

As I say, I don't begrudge Pinker the recognition, but he essentially functioning as a pop-science writer in his popular books, and that shouldn't enhance his credibility as a scientist. I have serious issues with the way he argues, by the way--he's often terribly unfair to his opponents--but I won't burden this poor thread with that.

BTW, Sean: I read Lanier's semimanifesto on Edge, and while I still find a lot that bugs me, I agree the Reality Club format is great. I *was* annoyed that Lanier dismissed Rodney Brooks' reaction to Lanier's caricature of his position by, essentially, repeating the caricature and saying "hee hee hee, dumb computer scientist." Brooks has earned more respect than that.
posted by rodii at 6:55 AM on December 18, 2000

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