Technology and magic

People are wrong in many curious ways. A new one I noticed is assuming that a goal is silly, because people in the past tried to achieve it in silly ways.

The thinking, if it can be called that, goes like this: “The means were absurd, therefore the goal is absurd.”

For example: “Anti-aging and longevity research is the elixir of life for modern people who don’t believe in magic”. Sure it is. The problem with the elixir of life wasn’t that prolonging human life would be an absurd or impossible goal, but that the means of alchemy were (probably) wildly inappropriate to achieving it.

The feasibility and appropriateness of a goal is a separate question from the efficacy of any particular means of pursuing it.

To keep with the example of alchemy, transmutation is possible. In nuclear reactors.

Many things that people tried to do in silly ways in the past are now in fact routinely done by other means.

It was absurd to attempt to fly using ointments, going simsalabim at carpets, and jumping off cliffs with feathers glued to one’s arms, but we have airplanes these days. So, y’know – wanting to fly wasn’t the problem.

Seeing things and talking to people on the other side of the planet, accessing all human knowledge at will, seeing naked ladies doing unspeakable things from the convenience of one’s home – the magical black mirror in your pocket does all that now. It’s also a very different kind of black mirror than people imagined.

The fact that communists were (are) murderous cretins who make everything worse – especially for the working classes they pretend to represent – doesn’t mean that social problems aren’t worth addressing.

For a particularly edgy example, consider human genetic enhancement. Historically, it was super bad – violence based on junk science that was merely a cover for venting private hatreds. But embryo selection, gene editing – these things are radically different on a moral level, provided we understand what we’re doing well enough. Granted, that is not nearly the case yet, but the Chinese selflessly volunteered to provide data by experimenting on themselves, so… xixi.

Trying to cure serious diseases with leeches and incantations was pretty stupid, but curing serious diseases is actually possible and a good thing. People can see it retrospectively on already (somewhat) solved problems, but fail to extend the logic forward to the things we’re still figuring out – to them, those are silly or impossible. In fact, they’re being silly and impossible.

“It’s a bad goal because someone tried to do it badly in the past” is a hitherto overlooked fallacy (failacy?) that deserves a name and canonization. Check my Latin, which hasn’t been used in a decade, but perhaps “Malo modo, ergo mala res” – “In a bad way, therefore a bad thing”. Even better: “Male, ergo malum” – “Badly, therefore bad.”

Yes, I’m aware “Male, ergo malum” is also a feminist catechism. Anyway.

Don’t mistake incidental properties of the means for essential properties of the goal.

The thing isn’t absurd, the means were inappropriate, and that’s a very different thing.

Our goals haven’t changed – but we have become better at figuring out non-crazy, actually effective ways to achieve them.

Ironically, when the key to doing the thing for real is science – which is pretty much always – defending the supernatural notions is directly counterproductive to achieving the thing.

You kind of need to stop believing in magic in order to do magic properly.

People were so emotionally invested in cargo cult (carg occult) ways of pursuing the things, they shot down whoever tried to do it in the way that actually works. Who knows how many centuries it cost us.

You can be disenchanted about the methods, but not about the goals. If anything, knowing what didn’t work is a step in the right direction.

This carelessness, in which the baby of grand aspiration is thrown out with the bathwater of ancient superstition and organized silliness, causes a lot of the modern sense of meaninglessness and ennui. But it’s a simple mistake.

What is worse is that whenever and wherever people work on interesting things, out of the woodwork crawl the dismalists, demoralizers, party pooper whisperers of despair, the Grima Wormtongues, technopessimists who among other fine examples only recently insisted that “The dream of human flight is vain and will never be realized”, “Nobody will ever need a personal computer”, “The internet will never be big”, “Travelling over 30 km/h isn’t survivable for humans” and a million such idiocies besides. Now they’re doing it with Mars, longevity, Tesla, cryptocurrencies, advanced nuclear reactors, the very possibility of interstellar travel, and every other promising technology and interesting thing in the world. Why? I suspect why.

Basically this:

People who lost hope trying to get others to give up hope too. The insistence that nothing interesting or exciting is possible is always coming from a place of insecurity, it is a coping mechanism. Losers trynna shit on the things they gave up on. They know they’ll never do anything interesting, so they hope nobody else does either – and try to discourage them to ensure it. Screw them.

We’ll conclude with a quote from Elon Musk: “Engineering is true magic. Or at least the closest thing to magic that exists in the real world.”

As Arthur C. Clarke said, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. To which I add, you don’t get there by pursuing magic, you get there by pursuing technology.

Always remember: we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the wonders we can achieve in this universe.

Buy me a beer.