21 April 2008

Michael's questions

I've been looking at the blog of Michael Graham Richard, who wrote a comment on my posting about prayer (below this one). His most recent posting is a list of seven interesting questions which he invites readers to answer.

1. What would you nominate as the best idea that anybody has ever had? Why?

I'd have to nominate Darwin's theory of evolution via natural selection. It confronted us with the most revolutionary insight in human history so far: the insight that we humans are animals, blood relatives of the other great apes and ultimately of all the life on this planet. It's the underpinning of most of modern science. It permeates the way scientifically-literate humans understand the universe.

2. What non-fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

My choice is Ending Aging by Aubrey de Grey (see my review here). Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near is more profound in its vision of the long-term human future, but Ending Aging calls our attention to the most profound achievement that could be brought about by a concerted effort right now. In an important sense there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who have gotten it through their heads that ending aging and death is imminently possible and those who haven't.

3. What fiction book do you think everybody should read? Why?

There are so many one could choose! And tastes in fiction are inevitably idiosyncratic. But I'd go with Household Gods by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove. It's the story of a modern American woman who is transported back in time and lives for over a year in a border town of the Roman Empire. Clearly well-researched, it gives you both a real appreciation for Roman civili-zation and an understanding of the vast gulf which separates the modern world from even the most advanced pre-modern cultures. Close runner-up: the best science-fiction novel I've ever read, The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

4. What technology has most changed your life in the past 10 years and why? What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on your life in the next 10 years and why?

For the last ten years, without question, it's the internet. For the next ten years, I expect it would be either further refinements of the internet, or (if they happen) major advances in anti-aging technology. I'm only 47 now, but there are people I care about who are older.

5. What piece of music would you want with you on a desert island (that has a functioning stereo, of course)?

My answer to this would vary endlessly depending on what I'd just listened to before hearing the question.

6. What is the most interesting thing you are working on/reading about/writing about these days?

Reading about: the various technological innovations that point the way to the Singularity.

7. Looking ahead, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Why?

Definitely an optimist. Almost every aspect of human life is getting steadily better and better, and the trend is accelerating. I expect it will continue to do so.



Blogger FranIAm said...

Fascinating. I will have to ponder this a bit before deciding to take the questions on myself.

That said, I do have a couple of things to say to your replies, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

"It permeates the way scientifically-literate humans understand the universe." I hope you are not leaving me off that train! (my lame attempt at humor, best not tried at 7.30am, but being done anyway!)

I think you and I may be of one mind when it comes to those who view science as some cluster f*ck that happened in 7 short, tidy days, 5000 years ago.

Onto another item - this one brings forth a question from me..."hose who have gotten it through their heads that ending aging and death is imminently possible and those who haven't." You may have written about this on your blog before and I have not seen it, but why the desire to not age and/or die? I am not being a smart ass, truly curious. Point me to whatever posts I should read via the comments or email me. My address is on my blog.

That said, I will go read what I realize is a link to the de Grey book and that may answer my questions.

"But I'd go with Household Gods..." Another book to add to the Los Angeles freeway 83 car pile up that is the books on my nightstand! It sounds interesting and I am endlessly fascinated with Roman history.

I love the The Mote in God's Eye- great book.

So you are an optimist. See- we do have things in common. I love that.

The world would be so much more screwed up if we were all the same.

Thanks for indulging me.

21 April, 2008 04:33  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

why the desire to not age and/or die?

I don't want to die of old age for the same reasons I don't want to die of cancer or smallpox or anything else. Life is good. I want it to continue. If I die, there's too much of the future that I won't get to see and experience. That's just as true whether I die forty minutes from now or forty years from now.

We need to start recognizing aging for what it truly is: a degenerative disease, and a rather horrible one at that.

Several people have told me that they would not seek to avoid death by aging even if it were possible. I frankly don't believe them. All of those people would seek to be cured of any other deadly disease that struck them. In principle there's no difference.

21 April, 2008 07:07  
Anonymous Blurber said...

I'd have to agree with #1. Richard Dawkins gives another good reason why Evolution by Natural Selection is such a good idea - its Explanation Ratio. This is summarized at http://masterblurber.blogspot.com/

21 April, 2008 08:55  
Blogger FranIAm said...

We could have an interesting debate on this but it could turn exhausting.

As you might infer, I see otherwise.

That is why my life is my life and yours is yours. If you wish for that and can achieve that, I wish you well. That sounds smarmy, but I promise you it is not.

While I love the life I have today and am in no hurry to have it end, I am very clear about end of life issues.

No keeping me alive by any extraordinary means.

There are many others of my faith who see otherwise.

I am very clear about this one.

Anyway, I am glad for our exchanges as always.

21 April, 2008 09:01  
Anonymous Michael G.R. said...

FranIAm, I suggest you have a look at this:


It's a fairly good introduction.

There's a longer one here:


And the book can be found here:


Judge for yourself. Just make sure you consider the ideas on their own merit and don't get distracted by Aubrey's beard or whatever.

As for not wanting to die, I think nobody wants to die. They just rationalize it once they think it's inevitable. But if you could live indefinitely, as healthy as you are in your 30s, why not? You live one day at a time; you you are well and having fun today, you'll want to live until tomorrow.. and so on.

21 April, 2008 11:23  
Blogger FranIAm said...

Hi Michael - thanks for the links, which I am about to go check out!

22 April, 2008 03:31  
Anonymous handmaiden said...

1. I'm with you on the Darwin thing. Not only has it influenced Science in a big way but Secular Humanism also, which I am a big fan of.

2. Until a few months ago I never considered not dying.
But somebody keeps bringing it up. :)
I guess I'm going to have to read the book.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction books but I do listen to a lot of lectures on audio tape put out by The Teaching Company. I have to say the very first set of 24 lectures I listened to titled, "The birth of the Modern Mind: The Intellectual History of the 17th & 18th Centuries." given by Professor Alan Kors. Helped to set me me on the intellecual & philosophical course that I now follow.

3. I love most of the Classic fiction writers of the 19th & 20th centurys. So, It's hard to pick just one. I also love short stories.
I'd recommend a big book of selected short stories featuring a variety of classic Authors to get a taste of their individual styles.

4.The computer of course. It opened the world up for me.

5. classical

6. The play I'm in that's set to open the end of May.

7. an optimist. I choose to have faith in the abilities of humankind.

Well, that was fun.

22 April, 2008 07:59  

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