7 Questions [Updated]

Here are 7 questions that I would like to ask to the following people: Michael Anissimov, Jamais Cascio, Tom McCabe, George Dvorsky, Steven Smithee, Randall Parker, and ‘Reason’ of Fight Aging.

Guys (no girls in my blogroll, sadly), you don’t have to reply if you don’t feel like it, but if you want to, just post the answers on your blog (I’ll link back to the entry) or in the comments here. Anybody else who wants to participate by answering one or many of the questions is welcome to do so in the comments. Thanks!

1. What would you nominate as the best idea that anybody has ever had? Why?

2. What non-fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

3. What fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

4. What technology has most changed your life in the past 10 years and why? What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on your life in the next 10 years and why?

5. What piece of music would you want with you on a desert island (that has a functioning stereo, of course)?

6. What is the most interesting thing you are working on/reading about/writing about these days?

7. Looking ahead, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Why?

Update: ‘Reason’ from Fight Aging has answered my questions here. Michael Anissimov has given his answers in the comments below (keep an eye out for his upcoming book!), as well as Jamais Cascio. Someone going by the name of ‘Infidel753′ gave his answers over on his blog. Also in the comments are answers by Jeremy Sheperd, Dustin Parsons, and Zach. George Dvorsky also replied on his blog. Many thanks!

My own answers can be found below.

1. Natural selection by Charles Darwin, because it changed everything, and after it life finally started to make sense.

2. Ending Aging by Aubrey de Grey and Michael Rae. There are many other books that are better written, more fun to read, or are less speculative, but at this moment in time, few books contain ideas that could as radically change the human experience. Even if it turns out that de Grey got some details on how to get there wrong, his ultimate goal is worth pursuing with all we’ve got.

3. The Magus by John Fowles. Simply an enjoyable, intelligently written novel with lots of clever twists and turns, and a lot of heart. Runner up in the science fiction genre: Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks.

4. The internet, no doubt. Thanks to it, I learned English, discovered a lot of music and literature, became interested in topics that I probably would never have cared about otherwise, and earn a living by working for a company that is located in another country.

I expect biotechnology to change everybody’s life quite a bit, but I’m not sure exactly how much it will impact me in the next decade. Considering my line of work, I expect the growing environmental awareness tide and all that this implies to be what touches me most. Things like solar power below $1/watt, viable electric vehicles (because of improved battery and hypercapacitor technology), wave farms, deep geothermal, etc. These things won’t just reduce pollution, they’ll also affect everybody via changes in the world’s economy and politics.

5. It would probably have to be the Goldberg Variations by J.S. Bach. I have two recordings by Glenn Gould and one by Tatiana Nicolayeva, and I love them all. Even after hundreds of listens, I’m still discovering new things and getting lost in them.

6. I’m currently reading Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts, 5th edition), and it is fascinating. I look at the world in a whole new way because of it.

7. I’m an optimist. Despite all the problems of our current era, we’re still in a better place than humanity has ever been (if you look at the past realistically and avoid the ‘golden age’ lens). More literate people with more access to the world’s knowledge, fewer people living in servitude and poverty, fewer dictators and totalitarian regimes, longer life expectancy and more ways to combat disease and suffering, fewer barriers between cultures, etc. And we’re just starting to have the means to really improve things…

We have to fix the negative side effects of our industrial civilization, keep working to fight un-reason and superstition, and look ahead to prepare against future threats to our survival, but overall I’d rather be alive here and now than at any time in the past.

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18 Responses to “7 Questions [Updated]”

  1. Jeremy Shepard Says:

    1. Probably the idea that we can scientifically defeat aging from a biological perspective. I don’t know who deserves credit for this (Aubrey certainly doesn’t a ton), but I can’t think of anything more ambitious or monumental than if it is a success.

    2. An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Weinberg. Most people aren’t nearly as simple-minded as they allow themselves to be. Learning an efficient way to think would go a long way toward fixing many problems.

    3. Gates of Fire by Pressfield. If people would read this book, they might realize they have no place laying around bitching and moaning. Do something with your life.

    4. Definitely the internet for the past ten years, and probably for the next ten years ahead. As much as I hate it at times, it does have it’s purpose.

    5. Blood on the Tracks. Dylan.

    6. Eh, finishing my degree in Molecular Biology. It’s getting time for finals, so I guess Microbiology and Genetics. Yeah.

    7. I’m an optimist, I suppose. I find little use in either outlook. Worrying or being cynical about the future negatively impacts life in the present and longing for some utopian paradise to come is a waste of time unless you work now to make it happen.

  2. Zach Says:

    1. Cantor’s Diagonalization Argument. It’s obviously not a world-changing idea (writing wins that, in my opinion), but it gets my vote for being so incredibly elegant and clever and giving such a remarkable and surprising result.

    3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. It’s beautifully written, powerful and a challenging read.

    4. The internet, probably for the next 10 years as well.

    5. The Goldberg Variations for me as well, for the same reasons you gave.

    6. My Math Analysis II class – at the moment we’re putting together all the machinery needed to state and understand Stokes’s Theorem.

    7. An Optimist, again for all the reasons you gave.

  3. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    “2. An Introduction to General Systems Thinking by Weinberg.”

    “3. Gates of Fire by Pressfield.”

    Thanks for the recommendations, I’ll check them out.

    “5. Blood on the Tracks. Dylan.”

    I love that one too. Do you have Live at the Albert Hall, 1966? I particularly love the second part of the set with The Band.

    “6. Eh, finishing my degree in Molecular Biology.”

    Are you planning to work in longevity research?

    “7. I’m an optimist, I suppose. I find little use in either outlook. Worrying or being cynical about the future negatively impacts life in the present and longing for some utopian paradise to come is a waste of time unless you work now to make it happen.”

    Yeah, I realize my question was ambiguous. I meant it more as ‘knowing what you know, are you…’ rather than just ‘are you blindly optimistic/pessimistic about the future?’.

  4. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    “Cantor’s Diagonalization Argument”

    I had a quick look at Wikipedia, but I think it’s above my current math level. I think I’ll have to come back to it :)

    “3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.”

    Another one I haven’t read. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll add it to my list.

  5. Jeremy Shepard Says:

    “Do you have Live at the Albert Hall, 1966? I particularly love the second part of the set with The Band.”

    No, thanks for mentioning it. I’ll check it out.

    “Are you planning to work in longevity research?”

    Yes, I do plan on working in longevity research in one way or the other.

  6. Infidel753 Says:

    I took a shot at these:

    http://infidel753.blogspot.com/2008/04/michaels-questions.html

  7. Michael Anissimov Says:

    1. Eliezer’s seed/Friendly AI idea, because it could make the world a much better place.

    2. Everyone should read my upcoming book. ;)

    3. There is no fiction book so important I think everyone should read it. Anyway, I think appraisals of fiction are highly personal and subjective.

    4. Internet, Internet.

    5. Any Motoi Sakuraba.

    6. I am writing a book that is pretty interesting.

    7. Neither, each implies taking an attitude in the absence of evidence. Making a generalization about optimism/pessimism is impossible. If anything, studies have shown the pessimism is more rational. See the “Heuristics and Biases” volume.

  8. Michael Anissimov Says:

    7. Knowing what I know about the future, I am pessimistic, for the theoretical reasons given in “Basic AI Drives”. I believe there is a tremendous tendency among humans to be blithely optimistic, both for social and affective reasons. More concretely, our ability to destroy is increasing while our wisdom stays constant.

  9. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    “2. Everyone should read my upcoming book. ”

    When does it come out?

  10. Michael Anissimov Says:

    6-12 months.

  11. Jamais Cascio Says:

    Sorry for the delayed reply. It’s been a busy time.

    1. Democracy — the notion that well all have a say in our own future.

    2. I’ll follow Michael’s lead and promote my own upcoming book. No set due date, but likely 12-18 months.

    3. The Epic of Gilgamesh — if only to see the origins (or nearly so) of some of the dominant concepts of authority and heroism.

    4. Written language. My professional life, my personal relationships, and my method of working through an understanding of the world all have, over the past ten years, come to depend upon my capacity to use written language. Over the next ten years, I would expect this to hold true, although I’d also be willing to put “cities” here.

    5. John Cage, 4’33”

    6. Reinterpretations of sustainability, politics, and human futures through the context of resilience.

    7. Annoyingly optimisitic.

    5.

  12. Dustin Parsons Says:

    1. What would you nominate as the best idea that anybody has ever had? Why?

    I had a hard time coming up with this one but after reading fightageing.org’s answer I think they’re right. The Scientific Method is and idea that has penetrated throughout every society, it influences our achievement as a species as well as our individual understanding of ourselves, it has granted us knowledge of the unknown and the ability sculpt the very fabric of our universe. Without the Scientific Method I think all other answers for this questions would not exist.
    ———————————————————————

    2. What non-fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

    The Singularity is Near – I actually don’t think everyone needs to read this (it’s going to happen either way) but I enjoyed it most people reading this blog probably will too.
    ———————————————————————

    3. What fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

    The Dark Tower series by Stephen King – Okay, so I named 9 books instead of one, sorry. They’re just that good.
    ———————————————————————

    4. What technology has most changed your life in the past 10 years and why? What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on your life in the next 10 years and why?

    Again, along with everyone else, I’m going to have to say the Internet for both. What I don’t think most people don’t consider when concerning the internet 10 years from now is how vastly different it will be. With an exponential growth of technology the internet in 10 years could very well be more like a holodeck from Startrek than what we’re used today.
    ———————————————————————

    5. What piece of music would you want with you on a desert island (that has a functioning stereo, of course)?

    I think I would get tired of any ONE thing after a while; but if I had to choose, it would be Sigur Ros
    ———————————————————————

    6. What is the most interesting thing you are working on/reading about/writing about these days?

    Trying to finish up two short films and get them into some festivals.
    ———————————————————————

    7. Looking ahead, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Why?

    Optimist, maybe too much so. I see the Singularity, and everything leading to it, as beneficial progress which will help humanity on a whole to achieve greater knowledge, a better quality of life, and hopefully, will continue to bring prosperity and happiness to us tiny humans.

  13. Jamais Cascio Says:

    Again, along with everyone else, I’m going to have to say the Internet for both.

    *Ahem*. Almost everybody else.

  14. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    “1. Democracy — the notion that well all have a say in our own future.”

    It’s indeed powerful, and probably goes hand in hand with capitalism and meritocracy. Not perfect, but better than totalitarian regimes for sure.

    “2. I’ll follow Michael’s lead and promote my own upcoming book. No set due date, but likely 12-18 months.”

    Did you ever write about it? I might have missed it… What will it be about (I think I have a good idea, but you never know)?

    “3. The Epic of Gilgamesh — if only to see the origins (or nearly so) of some of the dominant concepts of authority and heroism.”

    Interesting. I’ll add it to the list.

    “5. John Cage, 4′33″”

    Not a music fan, eh? Or just going for a clever answer? ;)

    “7. Annoyingly optimisitic.”

    In my experience, people seem to go through optimistic-pessimistic-optimistic stages. At first, everything’s gonna be fine, don’t worry. Then they learn more, and the sky’s falling and we’re all doomed. And then if they keep learning, they can better put things in perspective and see where we’re going, and optimism comes back. It doesn’t guarantee a happy ending, of course, but it helps to be able to visualize it.

  15. George Dvorsky Says:

    I’ve posted my answer at my blog.

  16. Jamais Cascio Says:

    Admittedly, the John Cage reference was a bit of snark, but (a) “Reason” already offered the practical answer, and (b) I can easily imagine going crazy only having a single piece of music available.

  17. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    Well, I guess if I really hadn’t wanted clever answers, I should has just asked: “What is your favourite piece of music?”

    It was an attempt to try to get to know you guys better, and maybe learn some shocking truths (what? Jamais’ favourite is Guns N Roses?!?) ;)

  18. Miss Priss Says:

    My dear Mr. Richard, for obvious reasons, your Guns N’ Roses quip caught my eye — as has the fact that, for not-so-obvious reasons, I’ve been getting hits from this excellent website. You’re a very fine writer, sir, and a handsome young man.

    If I may briefly, I’d like to clarify a minor point from the comments above:

    Democracy in the sense of vox populi, or majority rule, does not go hand in hand with capitalism. By its very definition, majority rule means that the rights of the minority can be overruled by the will of the majority; so that if the majority decides that it’s okay to tell you that you cannot open your liquor store on Sunday, or if the majority agrees that it’s okay that people not be allowed to smoke cigarettes in your place of business, or even in your own home, regardless of what you, the owner, actually thinks, then those rules are instituted. Of course, this dicey policy of democracy becomes even more dangerous when the majority decides that one race of people is superior to another, as many ethnic groups in the world do indeed believe.

    In fact, however, the framers of the United States Constitution as well as the Enlightenment thinkers who most influenced them, including, most importantly, John Locke and Adam Smith, had no love of democracy — for precisely the above-stated reason: the rights of each and every individual are absolute and not subject to the will or whim of majority rule.

    Quoting from Philosophy Who Needs It, “An Untitled Letter”:

    There is no difference, the word “meritocracy” suggests, between freedom and tyranny: an “aristocracy” is tyranny by a politically established elite, a “democracy” is tyranny by the majority — and when a government protects individual rights, the result is tyranny by talent or “merit”; and since “to merit” means “to deserve,” a free society is ruled by the tyranny of justice.

    Which is a contradiction in terms. Thus, by virtue of its last five letters, the word “meritocracy” becomes a conceptual void. It “equates the men of ability with political rulers, and the power of their creative achievements with political power.”

    People of merit, in other words, do not legitimately rule others any more than a political elite or the will of the majority.

    Capitalism, on the other hand, is an social-economic system, which specifically is the economic manifestation of the inalieanble right to life, property, and free exchange. Capitalism is in this way the economic manifestation of freedom.

    Capitalism’s most important component is the right to private property. In this sense, as in all others, capitalism is the opposite of democracy and/or socialism. The distinguishing feature of democratic socialism — in any of its multifarious guises, the most popular of which today is environmentalism –is “communal” or governmental ownership of the property. In legal language, property is the right of use and disposal. With regard to property, there is politically only one fundamental question: do you rightfully own everything that is yours?

    Democracy (and socialism) answers that question unequivocally: No; you most certainly do not.

    At any given time, there are only two possible options when it comes to your property: either it is yours by right, in which case it is private, or it is yours by permission, in which case it is public — meaning: it can be expropriated lawfully by others, whether by democratic vote or otherwise.

    But private ownership of the means of production is the only possible way to ensure a tenable system of cooperation and the division of labor. Economics is the science of production and exchange. In order to live, humans must produce. But production doesn’t just refer to agriculture. Productive work is any kind of work geared toward survival — survival in the fully human sense of the word, including therefore arts, sports, industry, and so on.

    Are humans free to produce, exchange, and exist, or do government officials have proper authority and jurisdiction over the lives of the individuals who make up a society?

    Democratic socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, neo-Marxism, environmentalism, whatever you want to call it, says we do not absolutely possess the right to our own lives, and that government bureaucrats or “the will of the majority” do have proper authority and jurisdiction over the minority.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that fundamentally there’s only one way to achieve political freedom, and that is by recognizing each and every individual’s natural right to life, which right, by extension, means the right to property. One cannot, in any meaningful sense, be said to be free if the things necessary to sustain life can be voted away by majority rule. Those “things” are called property.

    “The right to property is a right to action: it is not the right to an object, but to the action and the consequences of producing or earning that object. It is not a guarantee that a man will earn any property, but only a guarantee that he will own it if he earns it. It is the right to gain, to keep, to use and to dispose of material values” (VOS, p. 125).

    Democracy, i.e. vox populi, i.e. majority rule, has the power to negate that principle. And that principle is the crux of human freedom.

    Democracy does, however, have one proper — and secondary — place in government: what some have termed “the selection of personel,” which refers to the government officials whose job it is to institute the inalienable principles of life, liberty, and property. But those principles are absolute and therefore are not subject to vote or majority rule.

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