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February 11th, 2010
Mike Treder: Many transhumanists are under the mistaken impression that the world they live in operates like a science fiction novel. It doesn't.
This cognitive confusion seems to underlie some of the conflicts between moderate technoprogressives, like me, and the more exuberant types who expect that radical, wondrous changes are always just around the corner—because they read it in a book.
Don't get me wrong. I love reading science fiction. I find it fascinating, compelling, mind-expanding, and occasionally even well-written. But I try to remember the second word in that genre description: fiction.
You see, the real world is not a story. It is not designed to be easily understood, to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It doesn't have a moral. It cannot be edited to improve clarity and flow.
The actual world we inhabit is complex, confused, arbitrary, random, chaotic, contingent, and messy. It's hardly the stuff of a best-selling novel, or at least not the kind that seems to incite such zeal among transhumanists who believe that what they read in a book or saw in a movie must be true.
No, if real life was a science fiction story, it would be very different.
If life was a science fiction story, maverick genius scientists would be able to create powerful new technologies in their basement laboratories. Disrespected by their peers, they would go off on their own—assisted only by pimply geeks wearing glasses and beautiful blonde reporters who stumble onto the scene and fall in love with the protagonists—and they would do what the others said couldn't be done. They would invent it and prove the doubters and naysayers wrong. But life is not a science fiction story. Such things don't happen in the real world. Nanotechnology (or bioengineering, or computer intelligence, or whatever) is instead a slow, laborious, painstaking process that features many more failures than successes, many more dead ends than discoveries, and far too many boring, step-by-agonizing-step procedures to make a good novel.
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