Being one of a number of reasons why I haven’t had time to post anything lately…

From my first stab at Archiphiloterary Critique. Thank any gods you like that you don’t have to read the other 5,300 words.

…Clear draws a number of parallels between Banks’s “Culture” and Constant’s “New Babylon” Rightly so: the parallels are real and obvious. But perhaps that isn’t so remarkable. There’s no limit to the number of roads ending in dystopia: every scientific and technological breakthrough carries its own unintended consequences, any of a million butterflies could flap their destructive little wings and cascade us toward apocalypse. The number of different ways we might fuck up proliferates endlessly down the x-axis, a conic section ever-widening into the future. That’s not even pessimism; it’s just entropy. Things fall apart.

Utopia, in contrast, involves turning the cone around and swimming against the current: grabbing that weedy proliferation of catastrophe and pruning it back down towards some kind of optimum state. There aren’t quite so many of those; we Humans have basic needs and finite sensibilities, and there aren’t that many ways to keep the dopamine flowing sustainably. (Assuming you want to stay Human, of course. If you’re not so constrained— if you’re willing to throw away the brain stem and the amygdala and all that neural circuitry with a few hundred million years of fine-tuning behind it— why, it’s a whole new ball game. You could turn people into creatures that thrived on pain, rewrite our aesthetic algorithms until the presence of soot and cancer and nuclear glasslands filled us with joy. Now there‘s an ambitious architectural undertaking.)

Any particle in a shotgun blast can get us into the future; but if you’re aiming for Utopia, either in the world of sixties architecture or nineties space opera, there are far fewer degrees of freedom to work within. So perhaps there’s no great synchronistic connection between Banks and Constant; perhaps all Utopian foresight converges on a single point…

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday October 15 2013at 05:10 am , filed under ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

26 Responses to “Being one of a number of reasons why I haven’t had time to post anything lately…”

  1. For what it’s worth, that bit about taking arms against a rising tide of troubles (to paraphrase) is pretty much what I use for a theology. Limitless possible futures are before us, and to make happen as we desire towards a goal of “better” or even “pretty darn good” is possibly god-like or at least heroic, if you’re starting from hip-deep muck at the edge of a limitless expanse of fathomless crap.

    But rather than say “took the words right out of my mouth where they lay unspoken on the tip of my tongue”, let me say “actually, that was pretty inspirational in a surprisingly uplifting way”.

    Could it be the ancestral background asserting itself? ;) or are you taking a break from “whenever I feel my will to live becoming too strong, I just go read some Peter Watts”?

  2. Will read it once access to larger vocab returns (sleep dep). In the meantime:

    Ancient Confession Found: ‘We Invented Jesus Christ’

    http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/10/prweb11201273.htm

  3. looks delicious.

  4. aaand, your favourite microbial sf organism just made it ashore:

    “The last oarfish we saw was three feet long.” Because oarfish dive more than 3,000 feet deep, sightings of the creatures are rare and they are largely unstudied, according to CIMI…”

    http://bigstory.ap.org/article/18-foot-long-sea-creature-found-calif-coast

  5. Ah, a broader version of Tolstoy’s line from Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    Banks was (damn, I hate using the past tense there) wonderfully ambivalent about the Culture-as-Utopia, tossing up one character after another to question it or just walk away. There was even the horrible little island cult in _Consider Phlebas_ if you wanted to see just how bad inhabitants of a Utopia could make things for themselves if sufficiently determined.

  6. I recommend Elizer Yudkowski’s work on Fun Theory, which is largely about writing utopian fiction, except fun. “Eutopia,” as he calls it.

    Something about the Future will shock we 21st-century folk, if we were dropped in without slow adaptation. This is not because the Future is cold and gloomy—I am speaking of a positive, successful Future; the negative outcomes are probably just blank. Nor am I speaking of the idea that every Utopia has some dark hidden flaw. I am saying that the Future would discomfort us because it is better.”

  7. My thinking is that there’s a sad irony. The forward thinkers are waiting for the future to “happen” while the shall we say scared of the future are making it happen. The problem, many of the rest of us might find their vision of Utopia dystopic. “Welcome to planet Moroni.” I’m thinking ST: TOS covered that with the one where everyone goes wild at noon for an hour or whatever that plot was.

  8. Whoever: Ancient Confession Found: ‘We Invented Jesus Christ’

    That’s fascinating — and wondrous, if the evidence is conclusive — but I’m extremely skeptical that any project designed to pacify the whole Jewish culture would leave deliberate clues to tell “educated Romans” that it was all a hoax. It’s not as though there were no educated Jews back then; it’s not as though there wasn’t any information exchange between the groups. Turning the whole exercise into an in-joke makes about as much sense as letting the Tea Party shut down your government.

    h4nd: aaand, your favourite microbial sf organism just made it ashore:

    Actually, stories about giant oarfish from the fifties and sixties was one of the things that inspired me to write Starfish in the first place.

  9. You could turn people into creatures that thrived on pain

    Sometimes it feels like we’re already there.

    Wouldn’t mind reading the full 5000 words, speaking of self harm :)

  10. Personally, I’m a fan of Rajaniemi’s Sobornost for a slightly different utopia.

    Especially if I get to be one of the immortal cyborg gods.

  11. @PW

    I agree. I doubt its authenticity. Did some research many years back and was convinced that there was at minimum a person by that name crucified. Doesn’t mean that there wasn’t embellishment, but motive for that would seem to lean toward those under the boot.

  12. Ooo! Another possibility: the Romans tried to take credit for the movement so as to alleviate someone’s concerns (“Everything’s fine. What rebellion?”) or as any feline can tell you with a simple look after the rare stumble, “I meant to do that.” There’s always a way around historical documents like that, I suppose.

  13. Utopia is boring.

    I for one would welcome reading a SF in which weakly godlike AI(Culture minds) with ‘funny’ sense of humor conspired together to put mankind under intense evolutionary selective pressure that’d weed out all the non-hacker genes, ease off population pressure, make eugenics and transhumanism not optional but essential, force people to confront the essential truths, force the scales to drop from humanity’s eyes.

    Banks had to go to ridiculous lengths to provide some culture-related drama.

    A world full of bioengineered vampires, ravenous wildlife, xenomorph-like parasites, novel and interesting diseases .. there’d be no need to go look for drama.

    Drama would be liable to crawl up the sewer and eat your from the inside while you tried to defecate.

  14. “Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.”


  15. That’s fascinating — and wondrous, if the evidence is conclusive — but I’m extremely skeptical that any project designed to pacify the whole Jewish culture would leave deliberate clues to tell “educated Romans” that it was all a hoax.

    Atwill has been comprehensively debunked:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/4664

    His theory, if true, would have been fukken hillarious though.
    It’s more like – Jesus was another smart, halfway bicameral guy who maybe wanted to make people feel better or whatever.

    Jaynes seemed to be onto something. But if he was, it could be like with the guy who noticed continental drift – decades before he is appreciated.

    So.. thoughts are largely unconscious.
    Imagining right brain hemisphere evolved to communicate insights via auditory hallucinations doesn’t seem far-fetched.

    If people can have multiple, thinking personas in their head..

    I believe some ancient prophets were simply people(haven’t finished J.book yet – he probably says this) who, by had long-time and consistent voices. And their voices have truly been profitable to some of the prophets.

    Jaynes himself admits to once hearing voice giving very good philosophy advice.

    What I’m curious is whether there are any extant modern day prophets who hear voices, or if they’re frauds.

    Also: don’t look for conspiracy where if need for comforting memetic illusions suffices.

  16. Damn you, jackd, you beat me to it! Still, I can add this:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Karenina_principle

  17. @Y

    The AI would probably create artificial prophets too just to harass the people too comfy with the other dystopic wildlife. :)

  18. Pretty sure that’s spam: red dresses.

    “Panama…Pana-ma-ha.”

  19. Peter Watts: You could turn people into creatures that thrived on pain

    I think evolution did this already, lol ;)

    As to Jesus-as-Roman hoax, that’s just too good to be true.

  20. Now that I think of it, there’s a problem with the Jaynes’s theory.

    Sub-saharan Africa and various primitives tribes in there. People there were never under the selective pressures against bicameralism that Jaynes postulates happened in his bicameral kingdoms and such.

    Still, it could be that there always was ev. pressure towards modern consciousness due to it’s greater flexibility, and that bicameralism disappeared elsewhere too, but perhaps lingered longer.

    Just like the ‘males who were not fine with the human self-domestication*’ from whom R.KMorgan’s thirteenths were derived.

    Existence of such, iirc, was postulated by some anthropologists to account for widespread legends of man-like demons. Can’t remember which one and what’s the book called.

    *Pretty sure that’s the case. I mean, you can discern the less-self-domesticated by looking at violent crime rates.

    Far higher crime rates are observed in ethnic groups whose ancestors have been not been living for centuries in cultures practicing law enforcement.

    Of course, the post-modern person has to believe it’s all due to discrimination and bad enviromental influences, because to say we are not all only slightly variable blank-slates is tantamount to wearing a ‘horrible racist’ T-shirt.

    893,000 deaths due to violent crime is ..well.. a large number, even over an almost twenty-year period.

  21. Whoever: Pretty sure that’s spam: red dresses.

    Yeah, not sure how that happens occasionally; comments from previously-unproven sources are supposed to get held for moderation by default.


  22. Yeah, not sure how that happens occasionally; comments from previously-unproven sources are supposed to get held for moderation by default.

    Could it be that someone changes the name or content after posting it?
    If the spam-filter checks what is first posted, and not whatever is left after editing.

  23. Y. :Of course, the post-modern person has to believe it’s all due to discrimination and bad enviromental influences, because to say we are not all only slightly variable blank-slates is tantamount to wearing a ‘horrible racist’ T-shirt.

    Well, maybe that’s because of the long history of using bad ‘science’ to justify racism. Why shouldn’t people be skeptical about evo-psych just-so stories as an explanation, as opposed to more immediately demonstrable effects of centuries of discrimination, crippled educational and economic opportunities, and deliberately skewed drug law enforcement? It doesn’t help to use phrases like “ethnic groups whose ancestors have been not been living for centuries in cultures practicing law enforcement” in a way that ignores both thousands of years of complex cultures with laws in Sub-Saharan Africa and the fact that until very recently Europeans and Asians were just as violence-happy and had decidedly flimsy legal structures.


  24. until very recently Europeans and Asians were just as violence-happy and had decidedly flimsy legal structures.

    This assertion calls for some numbers. Pre-civilized societies had very high overall murder rates,

    See:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Before_Civilization

  25. BTW re: “fabricated Jesus”… try reading Luke as if it were history. Jesus comes preaching tolerance to the Romans along with striking out against the corruption of the Priesthood. He gets killed for it, despite the best efforts of the Roman administrators to leave him alive. Excluding any claims to the miraculous it is pretty straightforward. The other gospels found in Ethiopia (Nag Hammadi) add a lot more detail to his life and his real preaching which was highly heretical to the orthodoxy of his time and later even more so to the Nicene council. Jesus wasn’t fabricated so much as he was suppressed. Not entirely surprising since it was close to a cross between the Kaballistic & the Tantric, and his favorite disciple turn out to have been Mary Magdalene if we choose to not doubt the Gospel of Thomas fragments. … which is what the Masons have been saying all along. The real fabrication was his death, thus. And if he didn’t die there was no resurrection, and without that supposed miracle he’s basically some hippie preaching free love and collaborating with the Romans to depose the priesthood and move Palestine into the same Romanization track as seen in Iberia & Gaul. Instead the priesthood demanded his death, his crucifixion was intentionally botched and his “corpse” was spirited away into exile.

    okay, I got no supporting evidence other than Nag Hammadi & the Masons, but I think that’s more than Atwill has. ;)

  26. The whole Romans Invented Jesus thing is pretty garbage, it was just some eschatological Jewish holy man spreading a meme a tad too effectively, and it ended up having to be subsumed into the ruling class after earlier attempts to stamp it out failed. His teachings were directly subversive towards the Roman state, and their way of dealing with this subversiveness was to do a little bit of judo and redirect the anger towards more traditional Jewish people.

    And I’m really unconvinced about this whole bicameralism thing, it (a) comes off flimsy evidence, and (b) smacks of a neo-colonialist excuse to dismiss non-europeans as a pack of philosophical zombies that can be freely exploited without guilt until they have been satisfactorily enlightened by western memes.