What is important. What is real. What you need to know to survive the 21st Century. How to live a million years and want more.
Published on December 3, 2006 By Phil Osborn In Ethics
Some people think that I'm crazy. I nurture this impression to some degree, mostly for amusement value. Or perhaps they are right, in which case I likely wouldn't know, would I? Q. If I were crazy, then would it be better to convince people that I was trying to act crazy? After all, many truly crazy people can maintain a show of sanity day by day, until they lose it or their crazy plans finally bear fruit.

At the recent LOSCON 2006, I was not actually on any of the panels (been there - done that), but they did poorly enough anyway - the ones I did attend. I had pretty much the same criticizms that I had of the previous year's LOSCON, or of WorldCon, also this year, but in Anaheim.

To wit: B..O..R..I..N..G.

Science fiction is supposed to be about speculation, pushing the conceptual edge, taking risks. Instead, nothing new was on the table from the panelists at the panels I observed, while any attempt to broaden the scope of discussion was likely to be taken as an affront to the dignity of the panel - or so it seemed to paranoid old me at the time.

Panels that I attended:

1> The Crazy Years: Will We Survive Or Will We See Nehemiah Scudder? What are the warning signs?

2> Deep Thoat: The Conspiracy To Cover Up Life On Mars - Did the Martian rovers find evidence of past life on Mars? What's this about fossils? Why is NASA silent about strange indications seen in rock formations? What color is the Martian sky?

3> Too Much Data - 24 hour news, bloggers, cell phone cameras, spy satellites, government scanning email, fanzines online. Are we choking on information?

4> Two by Two, Hands of Blue - What secrets or plot threads of the Firefly universe didn't we learn?

5> Who Owns Your Dreams? - Intellectual property rights - protecting your ideas against your employers - do they own your brain?

I suppose there could be other explanations as to why I have virtually no memory of the contents of these panels, but the one I feel most comfortable with is that hardly anything of consequence was said. That said, number 4 was at least amusing, but there was a competing panel just on the other side of one of those mobile dividers which was LOUD, and I was lucky to get any seat at all for that one, but it just wasn't worth it catching every other word, due to the audience roars next door, so I left. I suspect that if I could've heard what the panelists were saying more of the time, I might have put at least one panel in the plus column.

At the Too Much Data panel, I tried to introduce the issue of intellectual property rights, which adds another whole dimension to data overload, but was informed that it was off topic, and, besides, there was another panel which would be dealing with that issue (of which I was aware, BTW). I beg to differ, however, on the issue of whether I was on topic.

The problem is that simply knowing something is no longer enough. You also have to find out what proprietary aspects lurk behind any given piece of useful knowledge, and it's getting rapidly worse.

The OC Register ran a several page article recently, for example, about how businesses in the OC are rushing to patent all sorts of business procedures, many of them in very long standing use, or so obvious that likely anyone in the particular field would think of them independently. Doesn't matter. Like the famous patent that the IBM site used to display - the patent on the process of using a laser pointer to inviegle an animal to chase the light spot - the Patent Office, which now gets a cut of the patent fees for its budget, seems hell-bent on issuing patents on the slightest excuse.

If the patent is owned by a large corporation, then good luck in trying to have it revoked. Yes, it's doable, but it will cost you and you likely won't get anything to compensate you for your efforts. The big corporations are often all too happy to pay a small royalty to patent holders as well, knowing that it may help keep out the competition.

While this hasn't yet worked its way down to the consumer awareness level, maybe it should. Not only are patent wars blocking substantial innovation and encouraging further concentrations of wealth by those who are experts at gaming the system, rather than producing anything useful, they are also raising the price of virtually everything.

To illustrate how zany it gets, there's a drug that I take periodically to boost my hereditarily weak immune system. At one point, in the late '70's, I was on antibiotics nearly all the time, and the antibiotics were failing. Then one of my doctors recommended that I try isoprinosine, which had originally been developed as a potential AIDS drug, right here in the OC. However, the company made the mistake of pissing off the FDA, which essentially declared, in retaliation, that they would NEVER ok isoprinosine, no matter HOW good the results.

So, isoprinosine can't be marketed or sold in the U.S., altho it's perfectly legal to possess or use it for personal consumption. And, years of research since its introduction seem to indicate that it only works for perhaps 60% of the population. However, I'm in that 60%. For me, it's a miracle drug. But, once the patent expired, then it was no longer worth while for the company to continue its marketing efforts, faced with cheap knock-offs from China or Zimbabwe or whereever, and so for several years now isoprinosine has been getting scarcer and much more expensive. I had to shop several farmacias in TJ the last time I took the bus down to get some. The internet sources are twice as expensive, even so.

Also, while, for 99.9% of the population, isoprinosine has no side-effects at all, it does raise serum uric acid levels substantially. Thus, it can trigger gout in vulnerable individuals. So, I'm guessing that, in spite of the warnings, there were likely lawsuits on the isoprinosine downside.

Then there's the treatment for burns, involving sticky salves and ointments, that was SOP until about the 1970's, when we finally discovered that we were doing it ALL WRONG! You don't smother a burn with salves. You let it air as much as possible. In fact, the FIRST thing you do is put ice on it, which reduces the progress of inflamation. Simple, huh? But for at least a century , during which time there was ample time to notice something that basic in medical practice, it nonetheless went unnoticed.

Why? Because, due to our patent structure, there's no way to generally finance research unless you can patent the results.

Similarly, the BEST treatment in most cases of simple itching, as due to allergy or dry skin, is to run HOT water on the affected area, until the buzzing sensation goes away. NOT scalding hot water, for the idiots who are somehow managing to read this, and will now rush to plunge their scratchy firstborn into a boiling kettle - just HOT, about as hot as you can stand without burning yourself. In fact, from personal experience of many years of living in North Georgia, where poison oak is the natural ground cover, I can tell you that (1) Caladryl and epson salts or boric acid in cool water DO NOT WORK AT ALL. In fact, they are the perfect agents for SPREADING the inflamation, whereas the HOT water treatment not only stops even severe itching for hours afterwards, but also clears the inflamation up very quickly, without spreading it - assuming that you're using a shower or other running water anyway to carry off the poison.

Again, occasionally I've run accross a doctor who has at least heard about using hot water (most skin specialists know about it, but still don't prescribe it), but it's easier and has lower liability to send the patient to get a pill or ointment. And who is going to make money on the hot water cure?

Bottom line, for me personally, the legal structure of intellectual property is a life and death issue. If I don't periodically boost my immune system, I will die. And, in general, the impact of the patent regime is to more and more complicate things for innovators directly, and for all of us in consequence.

Still seems abstract, huh? Just wait a bit. Google on "Ajax patent." This may be a sort of trial balloon, but it's scary as hell. The "Ajax" technology is what drives those super fast responses on goolgle, yahoo, etc., and it all rests on a single JavaScript technique that now has a patent attached to it, meaning that virtually anyone running a similar fast site could be shut down, or forced to use much slower technology. Suppose MicroSoft buys the Ajax patent and together with a dozen or so other key internet technology patents, "offers" a browser that virtually requires those technologies, meanwhile forbidding competitors to use them?

And are YOU willing to go out on a limb then to criticize MicroSoft, when you might find that they have decided not to offer you their browser this time? Can you wait twenty years for the patent to expire, while they accumulate 5,000 more patents?

So, the "safe" thing to do may be to shut up and play nice, however MicroSoft or whoever owns the keys to the kingdom defines it, or find yourself on the outside of everything. Potentially, every piece of information now has a burgeoning new dimension that could cost you or make you money but in general adds to the cost of knowledge itself, imposing at minimum a kind of new transaction fee, charged, once again, by those who are gaming the system, and potentially turning it into a negative sum game.

On a side note, since we are presumably all speculative thinkers here, what about virtual intellectual property? Does "Second Life" have a patent office yet? I'm betting that they will, and then we will see the first (or maybe I'm behind the curve here?) court battles spilling over from virtuality into "reality," as there is already an established exchange system in place between them, as well as a Reuters news branch with a full-time Second Life reporter assigned to it. I'm betting that the courts in the "real" world will treat copyrights as applying just as much in the virtuality. But what if the players "listening" to the music are avatars running on a program, with no direct human participation? And what if you patent something via a Second Life patent office?

Suppose that the gamers have signed a contract to abide by the "local" laws, including the patent and copyright laws regarding intellectual property within the virtuality. Copyright might well apply anyway, assuming that the courts could prove jurisdiction. I mean, if you produce some work of fiction or art, it really doesn't matter if it's done in Times Square or in a virtuality. It's just as real. But if you concoct a set of spells that only work in a particular virtual world and then you take out a patent on them, the other players may well find themselves in jeapardy for patent violation.

(An aside: I called in to KPFK last week - 3rd week of December now of 06 - to ask the guest of "Sam Brown's For the Record" if he was doing any business yet in Second Life, or thinking about it, or if anyone else he knew was. This guy was a major music promoter of some sort. However, Sam's fem assistant had never heard of Second Life, and had not a clue as to MUDDs, etc., and decided not to allow me on to ask my question. She wasn't nasty about it, just clueless... Not sure which is worse.

I'm sure that with "live" Power Point meetings taking place in Second Life, there has to be at least interest in concerts and "live" music shows, as well as local "radio" broadcasts, and the numbers are certainly there to make it look feasible for a promoter to get involved. However, it will have to wait for the rest of humanity to catch up, once again.

I recall all too well being refused access in the late '70's by another fem talk show host - Anita Frankel - on KPFK, who was convinced that personal computers were pernicious nonsense, just another male techno-toy. My message at the time was essentially that any minority kid who really wanted to make it big should be getting into computers and looking at designing software. And I was totally right.

The market was wide open and anyone who simply dedicated him or herself totally to learning everything about any of the popular machines could in fact write a killer app at home. Ten-year-old nerdy kids were making big bucks. There were no age, color or sex barriers. I told this to several of the guys at the warehouse where I was working at the time, and one guy - a Puerto Rican hustler type who was shop steward on our shift (and part-time bookie) - took me up on the idea and made some serious money with his horseracing predictor, written in BASIC on his Radio Shack TRS-80. Meanwhile, a 12 year old kid who hung around Data Equipment Supply in Downey - the company that provided the free computer training for the Sheenway/Richard Prior Computer Gang Project - came in one night while I was there with a cassete tape of the first Adventure game for the Vic 20. A few years later he was turning down full scholarships from every major university because he couldn't afford to quit his programming business. So, thanks, Anita, from all the guys and gals who ended up dead or in deadbeat lives because you couldn't think past the end of your nose.

And thanks, too, to the "computer expert" at KPFK who quite systematically and deliberately blocked the station from getting into computers at all for over a decade, based on her idea - apparently from her own ancient and irrelevent experience on military mainframes - that personal computers were all a plot by the CIA to get information on us. Or, the "computer expert" at the major Montessori organization in Atlanta who prevented anyone from even showing computers at their conferences lest the unwary director get sucked into "computerizing our kids." Or the prominent local Montessori director in Irvine who personally blocked me from having contact with local Montessorians, lest I corrupt them with my evil computer ideas.

And, throughout the entire '80's, computers were blocked out of primary and secondary education by the opposition by mostly female teachers, again convinced that they were just a male fad. Then they suddenly became "fashionable" - which is, of course not at ALL the same thing as being a mere male "fad."

It's ironic that the first computer programmer, Ida Lovelace, was a woman. Of course, she had a very pragmatic interest in writing both the first programming language and the first programs, as she was convinced that she could use the Babbage Machine to predict horse races.

The unfortunate thing, together with all the lost educational opportunities, is that the computer lines that lost out were the really good ones, especially the Amiga, which was about fifteen years ahead of the PC. But when these same females who treated the early adopter males as though they were nut cases through the '70's and '80's finally got on board big time in the '90's, they went with the best marketers, in their three piece suits and BMWs, which happened to also have the absolute worst hardware and software - namely MicroSoft and the PC. We will never stop paying for that idiocy, which has already cost several trillion dollars, enough to cure AIDS, feed ALL the hungry, house ALL the teaming hordes, and educate ALL the children of the world - ALL lost to "fashion."

And then, of course, there is the World Wide Web. Google on Xanadu and AutoDesk if you want to get an eyeful about what we easily could have had (Note that the wiki on xanadu contains some errors, among others, implying that 1993 came before 1992), or go to this site for some salient articles. The gist is that Xanadu makes the Web as we know it look like a crude toy. It was one of the largest non-commercial software projects and almost certainly the longest running such project in computer history. It was a work of genius.

In 1991 or 1992, AutoDesk bought the rights to Xanadu and was committed to producing an actual product, up until the bankers became nervous about the fact that AutoDesk - then one of the top ten software manufacturers in the world - had no management heirarchy. Everyone just did what they wanted, and the result was loads of brilliant, workable, profitable software. So the banks installed a woman from their list of 400 or so qualified managers who could be counted upon to regularize a company, make everything safe and accountable, bring everything under - exactly the opposite of what a company whose very lifeblood was creativity needed. She cancelled Xanadu, only a year or so before the first Web implementation appeared on the internet.

The astronomical loss to AutoDesk is dwarved by the loss to the rest of us. Imagine a Web without spam, where proprietary information was available for a relative song, in which you could know about any references not just from, but also to your blog or site. A Web in which any user could easilly design custom links and search systems, bringing you critical data automatically according to your personal preferences. All lost.

The battle in which we are intimately but often unknowingly joined is one that I identified in the late '70's as the war of corporate state top-down control systems to regain hegemony over the personal empowerment inherent in the new information technologies. When I first realized the potential of the personal computer, almost immediately I foresaw the other half of the picture. The forces of reaction are winning too many rounds these days for me to be at all sanguine about the outcome.

What battles have we lost so far? Immediately coming to mind:

1> Xanadu

2> JAVA

3> The Amiga

Xanadu would have meant a Web that was a hundred times as useful and empowering. JAVA was the application that could have potentially filled in for the missing pieces from Xanadu, but was deliberately torpedoed by MicroSoft, in violation of their own contractual agreements with Sun Microsystems. And the Amiga gave us at least a decade advance in general computing power, especially in terms of user control. Together, the synergy with all the human projects aimed at building a better world that even the weak systems we have struggled to make useful has demonstrated would have put us overall about 20 years into the future, in terms of advances in medicine alone.

But, the forces of top-down coercion have never been very concerned about the costs of their ravening hunger for power. Look at the human history of wars and pogroms. Then ask how many billions of people have and will die or live relatively miserable lives because of that 20 year loss.

Think about that the next time you see yet another article about the wonderful philanthropy of the Gates... Or, breaking news: see the Los Angeles Times expose'. A discussion of this article today (1/13/07) on NPR focussed on the fact that the vast majority of funds in the Gates Foundation or most non-profit do-gooder NGOs does not go directly to the alleged target needies, but rather to investments, supposedly aimed at keeping the foundation solvent, but in fact also funding both the huge salaries that top level functionaries typically pull down to compensate them for being so nice, as well as the companies whose stock they buy.

And of course, we have won a few.

1> The simple availability of personal computers (see my article on how I instigated the Sheenway Computer Gang Project in the late '70's, specifically for the purpose of undercutting attempts to make possession of a computer illegal, unless you got special permission from the government. Yes, there actually were "progressives" calling for banning computers from classrooms and requiring licenses for home use. )

2> The collapse of the Soviet Empire, which I predicted in the late '70's as a consequence of the information revolution.

3> The Web, weak as it is compared to what could have been.)

Anyway, back to the main thread here...

For a real-world example of intellectual property gone completely amok and virtually destroying the host society, I refer to Fukayama's classic "Trust," in which he cites the example of France prior to the revolution, where you could get a patent on virtually anything, just by paying the court. And, having a patent on wearing a red cockade at noon on the 3rd Sunday of the month on the Rue de Idiocy, you could righteously sieze, arrest, and haul into court any scoff-law scalawag who dared violate your intellectual rights by doing the same, and then collect your cut of the huge fine - the court getting the rest, natch. This, according to Fukuyama, virtually destroyed France, killed their early lead in manufacturing and industry, giving it to Britain, and paved the way or the revolution, and France STILL hasn't recovered from the destruction of general personal trust in society.

I could also discuss the potential killer app that will blow everything else away in the long run - credibility. But then, I would shooting myself in the foot is I did, as I'm the only person who knows how to create that market... so far.

And then there's Vinge's projected world of his "Rainbows End." ( I, BTW, had an article published on the very technology which dominates "Rainbows End" in 1992 or 1993, and I also entered for consideration in IEEE the term "Overlaid Reality," as opposed to the value-loaded term "Augmented Reality." Only beating Vernor by 13 years...) But clearly, the degree of aumentation or overlay will be based on how much you can pay, and who owns the intellectual rights to the reality you want to live in. Ultimately, some of us will be choosing which virtual reality to upload into as well, and, in some cases choosing to forget that it's only virtual, for the true immersive thril factor.

On that note, recall that MicroSoft bought the single largest collection of period photos at some point in the '90's. This enormous collection had been available for a fee, presumeably, to the general public. These are photos of every aspect of Americana and the world, going back into the 19th century. Now they are literally being stored in a salt mine, allegedly being cataloged, presumeably scanned, possibly censored by MicroSoft employees. Note that owning the photos means that MicroSoft also has a virtually perpetual copyright in the material as well. Physical possession means that the only way that you will be able to see any piece of this massive collection will be via copyrighted collections, no doubt backed up as needed with additional legal cover in the form of user access agreements.

Now consider the fact that MicroSoft is embarked on a HUGE project called "Virtual Earth." At present, this is being presented as a 3D exploratorium, allowing the user to move around major sites all over the globe, from a bird's eye to a pedetrian vantage. The REAL plan, however, I'm betting, is to ultimately create a 4D Virtual World, something that I've been talking about for 25 years. At some point, the computing power will be at the point that given the data, a fairly complete VR history can be generated for the user, eventually in RealTime. NOW do you see why that photo collection is so valuable?

Having the real photo data, together with the computer's ability to interpolate and interpret the scanned images, will give MicroSoft a HUGE edge in creating the visual database from which the historical Virtual World will be generated. Once generated, and as the augmentation/overlay tek comes along, users will likely get a discount of some kind for the MicroSoft augmented reality if they allow continuous or on-demand uploads of their personal experiences to the VW database.

Thus, you will be able to step back into the past of someone you just met, experiencing their life prior to - and after - your casual encounter. Walking into a city square, you will be able to run time back to any point in the past, seeing the historical city at any date, as well as having the ability - for the time when augmenting was running - of seeing individual people from days, weeks, decades ago. Watch your dad propose to your mom and drop the ring. And that's just scratching the surface...

If you can afford it. Regardless of how cheap the basic services are, the people on the inside at MS will be capitalizing bigtime on their position. If you think Bill Gates is rich now, wait until this stuff comes on line. NOBODY will want to live in mundane, unenhanced reality. Not when you are effectively ten times as smart with the augmentation. When you can not merely remember your whole life, day by day, in perfect detail, but you can step back to any point and explore why it happened that way, what your friends were really up to, and set smart agents to collate and analyze patterns in your behavior, look for lost opportunities, predict new ones, avoid problems.

Now consider what a wonderful, outstanding job MicroSoft has done so far with its products. (I jest.) How will you feel about them when 99% of your life is branded MS?

But there is hope. Maybe the radical Muslims will win and we will thereby escape being eaten by the borg. (I jest again.) Back to the con report...

Like some of the LOSCON panels, upload paradise can be B O R I N G. Especially if it's modeled after the images of paradise in the Koran or Bible. It's challenge and the issues of life and death, winning or losing against the odds, personal aptitude and character that we find interesting and worthy of our participation. Thus, many participants may well choose to forget that the VR is a VR, or decide to turn off the backups for a duel to realdeath, like the anti-hero of the movie "Crank" (which, BTW, IMHO has the BEST sex scene of any movie I've ever seen) trying to get the adrenalyn pumping.

Stross (Charles) runs headlong into this problem in the three of his novels I've read so far - "Accelerando," "Glass House," and "Iron Sunrise." When you can live forever without lifting a finger, what's the point of lifting said digit? In the first two of them at least, he chooses to backtrack from the Singularity, having his characters choose to return to a retro reality, artificial as it obviously is.

Maybe "BOREDOM" should be added to the list of potential solutions to the Fermi Paradox. If you've totally run out of things to do, and the idea of simply erasing your memories and starting over in a VR seems pointless after the ten millionth time, then perhaps it's time to check out. After all, there's no guarantee that the universe has to entertain us, or that life itself has to have any meaning beyond its own propagation, is there? (And, bringing in GOD to solve the problem is a cop-out. HE faces the same problem, however many other dimensions He extends himself into.)

Like I said, I truly can't recall what was discussed at the "Too Much Data" panel, but if there had been anything new or interesting, I would have probably remembered it. So, I'm assuming that it was another mundane NPR panel that somehow materialized at LOSCON...

Ditto for "The Crazy Years," and double ditto for the panel "Who Owns Your Dreams," which didn't present anything that one couldn't have heard at a mundane public legal workshop. Nothing wrong with the information, or the expertise of the panelists, but why waste CON time on a mundane panel?

The "Deep Thoat: The Conspiracy to Cover Up Life on Mars" panel was moderately entertaining at least, as panelist Martin Young, the consumate philosopher and logician (he TEACHES logic - www.madwizard.com), got into it with author and fellow panelist John Dechancie, not on any particularly substantive issue regards Mars or Martians, but on the whole issue of objective* vs. subjective reality, with Dechancie taking the subjectivist position. When John started in on "deconstructing," Martin got out of his chair and sat on the floor behind the table, clearly not wanting his personage to be associated with the procedure. Occasionally he would spin his hat into the air to let us know that he still existed, I surmise, despite John's efforts.

* B4 Martin nails me for innacuracy, I suppose I should be more precise in reporting his position versus Dechancie's. Dechancie took the position that the canals on Mars perhaps actually existed, up to and until people stopped believing in them. Martin stated that he agreed that our concept of reality is a social construct, but went on to insist that there is still an objective reality. I.e., our social construct can be right or wrong to various degrees, but that rightness or wrongness in no way alters the nature of the actual ground of reality. I think that at some point I tried to introduce decision theory, either directly or indirectly, and because I was ten steps ahead of the argument, once again I was treated as the local nutcase.

You can check out some of my other articles for my take on the aspect of epistemology that is typically ignored - the relative weighting of outcomes. Ignoring it is convenient for the ivory tower neo-Platonic purist, but it leaves you with no actual way to procede. For every outcome there are an infinite number of explanations. Just stick "BLAME GOD" in at random points. How is it that we narrow them down to the level that permits us to ACT?

A finite decision tree is essential for thought itself. We constantly narrow our focus in order to chose a path, to move forward - or so it seems anyway. There's always the possibility that we are in fact in a simulation. After all, there's presumeably only one "reality," but there are an infinite number of possible simulations, right? So, without any sure way to ascertain whether we're in a simulation or not, the probabilities are balanced - INFINITELY - in favor of the hypothesis that we're in the "epistemology machine."

What get's us out of that box is decision theory. We can't DO ANYTHING about a simulation run by presumeably someone else. But, on the other hand, if it's NOT a simulation, and there is something of REAL value, whether or not we can prove the point right this moment, the possibility of these two things is sufficient to completely overbalance the assumption that we're trapped in a VR game. Try making the contrary assumption if you don't believe me... Assume that nothing is "real" (actually it is, regardless. A simulation is a real simulation.) Maybe you're dreaming... Maybe you're in a straight jacket hallucinating all this... Maybe you were slipped TCP in your drink and are being raped in a cheap hotel room... Make whatever assumption you want...

Now what are you going to DO with it?

Which brings be back to panel #2 - Deep Thoat: The Conspiracy To Cover Up Life On Mars. My intended point was to demonstrate that the elements of cost and risk and outcomes are integral to epistemology in general. We do not have infinite time nor infinite resources of processing power and memory, and we never will. Thus, we constantly make evaluations as to which alternatives to take seriously, not on a basis of pure logic or deductive reasoning, but on the weighing of the implications of our choice of focus.

Those people who are believers - in Art Bell or Lord Krishna - have chosen a specific kind of strategy, if by default. Having generally failed in their attempts to fit the percieved world into a satisfactory rational scientific mold, they conclude that further attempts in that direction will be wasted, futile, and painful. So, why not believe in whatever will make you happy? God is watching over you. Present travails are merely a test, and if you only believe in his power, you will surely pass. No matter how bad things appear to be, God is right there with you, and it will all come out right in the end.

Or, things are truly screwed up. There is no hope, as we will all die, either comfortably because our brain is failing us and we don't worry about anything at all, or in terror and misery. Either way, all we will have at the end is our memories (if we're lucky). An asteroid could wipe us all out and all human history and so-called achievment would instantly be as nothing. Happiness is a delusion anyway. If that's your take on reality, then you will likely choose fantasy as a supposed alternative.

Of course, it's reasonable to assume that disconnecting from reality will have a cost. Assuming that there is a real world (and you DO assume that, whether you want to or not, in your every thought and action), then any real success will probably come via engaging that world in a rational manner, treating things in general including people and our own thoughts for what they actually are. Our emotions reflect our real view of things, and thus, the plunge into subjectivist fantasy, the deliberate turning away from reality, are an implicit admission that we are weak, helpless and doomed.

Naturally, that belief in turn comes with the concomittent emotions of terror mixed with apathy and depression. Not exactly what we generally identify as "happiness."

Anyway, I was trying to cut through several layers of analysis to demonstrate that decision theory, the systematic weighting of outcomes as a tool of epistemology, is not just useful, but essential and unavoidable in choosing what sorts of things to believe.

And NEXT, that societal instrumentalities, our laws, mores and belief systems, introduce elements that can systematically distort our decision matrices, as in the failure I noted above to notice that the burn therapy in use for a century or more was exactly the wrong thing to do.

What else.... I DID find a number of entertaining and stimulating intellectual conversations this time around, unlike last year's LOSCON. And the Lux Theatre did a great job doing a simulation of a radio show with Humphrey Bogart playing the Blade Runner from the movie.

So, nothing earth-shaking, but still a great way to spend the holidays.

Those people from our local Orange County Science Fiction Club who attended LOSCON had somewhat different experiences, appearing to stem from their choice of panels. Most of them seemed to have largely gone to panels having to do directly with the art and craft of science fiction writing. THIS is something regarding which the panelists might actually be authorities and innovators and so it doesn't surprise me that those panels were a bit more exciting.

Perhaps, instead of trying to shoehorn panelists into panels having little direct connection as such to science fiction, it might work out better to bring in people who were truly experts in the field and also sf fans, but I note that many of the panelists on the panels I observed were clearly quite knowledgeable about their panel's subject matter, so that may not be the fix-all. What seems to be missing most is the Futurist element.

There is a strong element of traditionalism in fandom. I note that this LOSCON had religious services scheduled for various faiths. Then there are things like Regency Dancing, which, like the Ice Cream Social and the Masquerade and the Costume Contest, were actually introduced into science fiction cons very early on "~to create an attraction for the wives and to give them something to do." That approximate quote is from one of the very prolific early sf "hard science" authors, Bob Shaw, who was there when it happened, and dropped that piece of historical contra-PC data during his interview by Warren James for Hour 25, I believe, just a year before he died.

I.e., raw sexism to the core. Not exactly very progressive or futurist. Mind you, I have no objection if that's what people want to do. At this year's LOSCON, in fact, there were a bunch of scheduled classes on knitting! Again, no objections in principle. However, with all the unanswered questions about humanity's future and place in the universe and how we're going to solve all the problems we know about, plus the ones we haven't thought of, and all the opportunities for exciting innovations in social arrangements, games, experimental interaction, doesn't it seem just a bit discouraging that we would choose to lose that opportunity in order to knit. Or knot. (Couldn't resist...)

Comments
No one has commented on this article. Be the first!
Meta
Views
» 1805
Comments
» 0
Category
Sponsored Links