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Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.


The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

More on Free Online Book about Frank Herbert's Ideas about Making Superhumans - AI, AL, Bio, Dark, MA, Myst, Noo, Psych, Rev, Self, SF, Soc, Super

I have one more thought regarding O'Reilly's book on the novels and ideas of Frank Herbert.

One of the reasons I find the early Dune series so interesting and relevant to this site is that Frank Herbert's work essentially features superhumanly capable individuals -- indeed, virtually every significant character who appears in his first few Dune books is superhumanly talented at something.

Seriously, look at the Fremen, Duncan Idaho, the Mentats (human computers), the Bene
Gesserit (women who have complete mastery over their minds and bodies), the Tleilaxu Face Dancers, Alia, the Sardaukar, the Spacer Guild and even the skills of the Atreides military cadres and the charisma of Duke Leto. Essentially, human society in these books is controlled by superhumans, and the fact that Paul Atreides and his son Leto are capable of so dominating these contending factions speaks to the fact that they are inarguably a higher order of superhuman than the others.

This subject is of interest to me because I believe one of the ways in which the field of human development could ultimately be abused is through the evolution of a handful of individuals with superhuman talents who have no appreciable rivals and hence no real restraints on their actions.

I'm not so much concerned with the classic four-color supervillain (indeed, I think if men and women with psychological issues can relieve them by dressing up in tights and engaging flamboyant public displays... then this behavior should be encouraged, especially with anyone who has an extraordinary capacity for mischief =) ) but with people who are either self-centered or even sincerely well-intentioned who have the ability to sweep aside any objectors and impose their own will on the world indiscriminately. This kind of influence can be exerted in many ways, be it through the exercise of political or economic power, cultural influence, or scientific or technological breakthroughs that alter an existing status quo.

I'm afraid that we've gotten a bit too used to dealing with prodigies who do not exert real, perceptable influence on human society, with world-altering minds such as da Vinci's and Tesla's being seen as very rare and influences such as Shakespeare either favoring the existing order, being co-opted into it or being sufficiently beneath notice to be ignored. I should point out, however, that most of our present "great leaders", be they in politics or business, science or technology, or performing, literary or artistic celebrities, range in ability from highly intelligent to mere genius level, and the top few hundred to few thousand of these people exert a tremendous amount of influence over our daily lives.

If the merely human can have such power, we should ask ourselves what kind of impact the superhuman could have. And we should not be deceived by the relatively minor impact of those superhuman or near-superhuman intellects whose abilities were more directly applicable to altering society. Most of da Vinci's most radical inventions, especially his weapons such as the exploding shell and the tank, remained hidden in his Notebooks and were not known to the general public until long after his death. And certain of Tesla's inventions were never developed due to lack of funds and other potentially destabilizing devices, such as his electron beam and
"earthquake device," were never actively utilized in the 19th and early 20th Centuries when they might have truly shaken the world.

And the skills of these and other highly gifted people such as Ramanujan and Sheresheveski may be only the tip of the iceberg of human potential. Indeed, with ever-advancing human development technologies and conceivable resources such as nanotechnology, even fictional characters such as Paul Atreides and his son Leto may be only the tip of that iceberg.

This discussion may seem like pointless philosophizing, but it all comes back to a very simple point. Virtually all the mental and other resources we discuss on this site and related groups have one thing in common; you have to exert yourself, if only to a very small degree, in order to use them. My fear is not that we'll soon encounter a genetic superman who rules the world by the "right" of being the next step in human evolution, but that we'll have a significantly more advanced individual or handful of minds who rule the world because they're the only ones who ultimately care enough to do so.

No matter how well-meaning a particular small group of people may be, there are always ideas and perspectives available to others by virtue of their unique experiences that will be valuable to the rest of the world. We need as many of those people as possible to be capable of contributing if we wish to have the stable, egalitarian, and ever-improving society that most people aspire to.

I am reminded that the paradox facing Paul Atreides in Dune was that he had no equals, no one to counterbalance his own influence as Muad'Dib and that he could see no way out of the legend he had created -- a legend driven by his own vast superiority to virtually everyone around him, despite the fact that he was surrounded by vast numbers of de facto superhumans. His prescience could not be disturbed because these lesser beings simply lacked the capacity to surprise him.

I don't want to deny anyone the right to develop themselves to the fullest degree possible. But there already appear to be so many techniques that could easily be used synergistically with one another, which very few of even the cognoscenti employ with any regularity and which are virtually unknown among (much less used by) the general public. I see a "capabilities gap" opening up (or potentially opening up) firstly between "those who can" and "those who do" and secondarily between "those who do" and "those who haven't got a clue." =) Though this gap has an economic element to it, with floatation tanks in particular having great potential to enhance abilities and multiply the benefits of other techniques and technologies, the chief factor involved is an absence of will in most students in this field.

There is an argument to be made in favor of treating these methods as a mere hobby. You could certainly point out that no one is known to have yet achieved an indisputable "higher order" of intelligence by using these methods, unless you count certain specific areas of ability, such as invention or problem-solving. You could also argue that their impact on your life, even where you have exerted yourself to employ a rewarding technique, has been, while helpful, perhaps not earth-shaking.

I would respond by pointing to an event in my own recent experience. While working on some business matters over the last few months, I began discussing new applications for our company's product with a couple other people. Eventually, one of our ideas has flowered, and it now appears that when this further application is operating in a few months, it will mean the difference between a modestly profitable and well-received product and one that earns millions of dollars in profits.. a year.

(You will excuse me if I make no further explanation of what this product is or what I do for various business and personal reasons -- if you believe I happen to work in the mail room of a business that sells personalized Chia Pets, that's suits my purposes perfectly. =) )

My point, however, is that with a small but effective application of creativity, many people are in a position to vastly improve their situation or that of their family, team, company, friends, school, etc. You do not need to be the President of the United States in order to have an enormous impact on your own life, indeed, you probably have far more influence over your own fate than he does.

I will grant you that becoming a multi-millionaire or famous performer or celebrated artist or writer will require more than a single creative idea (for most people anyway). But that goes back to the absence of will I have been talking about. I see a world in which even in the near term most of us could choose to be earning, say, hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year -- even for those of us who quickly chose to retire. And in which we could all be actively enhancing our talents to a tremendous degree in order to accomplish other goals, in particular goals relating to improving the human condition at a local level or on a very large scale.

The choice is ours. But to make that choice requires more than a moment's resolution. It requires the steady application of effort over days and weeks and months and years. But remember, most of us are working anyway, whether at jobs or at school or as the owners of our own businesses. Or even as dedicated hobbyists. And all of us are alive and conscious if nothing else. Will it really take that much effort to overcome our inertia and utilize procedures that demand so very little from us? Especially when they can be applied to make the truly onerous aspects of our lives that much easier? I think not. And I urge others to take the path that I am trying to take at this time. If not for the world and human evolution, then at least for yourselves.

O'Reilly's book, Frank Herbert, can be found here:

Future Imperative


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