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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, October 25, 2005

Master Races Versus the Demographics of Genius -- AL, CPS, Soc

A question: What if "superhuman" capabilities are the easily available birthright of every human, and we are simply training ourselves to be consistently less than we could be?

To put it another way, in the Golden Age of Greek philosophy, there were at least seven world class geniuses living in Athens at the same time: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Euripedes, Pericles and Phideas. And a number of lesser geniuses. Athens had a little over 100,000 citizens. Do you know what you get when you multiply seven great geniuses by 60,000 (the difference between over 100,000 and over 6,000,000,000, the world's present population)? 420,000.

So, given our tremendous advantage in resources and technology over ancient Athens, we should have at least 400,000 or so world class geniuses running around the planet. Oddly, we appear to have fallen considerably short of that target.

So my point is: Why shouldn't we be embracing every possible mental and personal advantage available to us? Why shouldn't we be living in a world that looks like ancient Athens writ large in the modern era? If not a world far better than that?

It's funny that science fiction often features imaginary master races or artifical intelligences seizing power of the common run of humanity. Whatever the potential of the beings featured in popular culture -- in movies such as Gattacca, The Matrix, X2, Terminator, etc -- we should remember what "normal humans" have already been capable of. If the world were doing half as well as golden age Athens with at least 200,000 great geniuses puttering around out there, they would have already stood the planet on its head.

An curious aspect of the above thesis is how much hostility the idea often receives among moderately well-educated citizens of advanced nations. Perhaps the idea is too shocking. Or perhaps some people feel that they have never been geniuses and (however erroneously) that they could never be geniuses.

Still, I have some comments on this observation from at least one earnest critic, so I thought I'd add his comments below, along with my response.

"If the world were doing half as well as golden age Athens with at least 200,000 great geniuses puttering around out there, they would have already stood the planet on its head."

Issue A: You can't meaningfully compare the average intelligence of the entire
world now against that of a single city, centuries ago. Geniuses aren't seeded
in an equidistant fashion.
Comment A: Perhaps not, but does that matter? If Phideas, the master architect of the Parthenon, made colossal strides in the development of architecture and engineering with its construction... does it really matter if the people of Athens actually had a lower average intelligence than we do here in the U.S.? Wouldn't that fact just make his accomplishments that much more impressive? (And I doubt they were all that dim, by any reasonable scale. There were also other, lesser geniuses in Athens at the time, making major breakthroughs in fields such as sculpture. And their educational methods were obviously pretty fruitful.)

More to the point, if the people of Athens were in some ways more enlightened than we are, and producing more geniuses, despite all our advantages in terms of wealth, knowledge and technology -- shouldn't we be trying to figure out how they did all that? And replicate it? If not improve on it? :)

Issue B: Being a genius ain't all it's cracked up to be.
While some great minds have certainly faced persecution or other trials in the past, our lads there in Athens seemed to enjoy their lifestyle well enough. And those are exactly the kinds of people who can contribute more to the welfare of society. Would it really hurt if the world contained, say, 400,000 world-class geniuses?

For an example of someone living who might fall into this category, Dr. Nakamatsu of Japan has created well over 1000 inventions (those may just be the ones he's patented). These include a number of minor innovations, such as the hard disc, the floppy disc and the disc drive.

Imagine what 400,000 people that productive, working for the interest of the entire world, could accomplish.

Or, in a more negative scenario, working hard to crush their rivals and dominate the globe. Perhaps because people of good will chose to ignore the opportunity to improve education for the good of all, and instead let people with a different agenda take the lead in this "super- education."

Which wouldn't be all that hard, mind you. The Socratic Method has been around for about 2300 years, but people haven't made much use of it since the decline of Athens. Throw in all the other methods for improving intelligence, learning and/or creativity than have been devised over the last couple millenia, and someone could do quite a job of manufacturing brilliance.

Future Imperative


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