Over at Less Wrong, Eliezer is having some fun with the suspicious LHC shutdown meme.
The Connection Between Stimuli and Pleasure/Pain is Arbitrary, an Objective Fact that Has Relatively Little to Do with One’s Personal Tech Habits
Indeed, Retrevo's findings are so disturbing that I wonder whether the roboticists are right to suggest that sex should be a matter of adjusting one's own chemistry rather than attempting to consort with another human. To wit, in the words of blogger Michael Anissimov, one of the "leading thinkers in the radical tech community" who were invited to pontificate in the lustrous pages of H Plus magazine: "The connection between certain activities and the sensation of pleasure lies entirely in our cognitive architecture, which we will eventually manipulate at will."
I am haunted by the drastic prognostications by the salivators over The Singularity about the future of sex. Indeed, some words of Anissimov are rattling around my head like those of a particularly angry former lover. Speaking of this beautiful future, he said: "I could make any experience in the world highly pleasurable or highly displeasurable. I could make sex suck and staring at paint drying the greatest thing ever."
I'm not trying to sell a particular future. It is a physical fact about our brains that the connections between stimuli and pleasure/displeasure are arbitrary and exist mostly for evolutionary reasons. There is no fundamental reason why we won't eventually be able to play around with them. This is a fact that has existed in the abstract since the dawn of brains -- I didn't make it up. Ever since the first nervous systems evolved, their pleasure/pain-stimuli connections had to be directed by evolution and natural selection.
The point of my comments in that sex article is that these connections are arbitrary and we will eventually modify them if we wish, because the mind is not magical, it's "just" a machine. Matyszczyk's slightly uncomfortable reaction to this objective fact shows that he hasn't been exposed to it enough. The alternative to my position is projectionism -- pretending that certain features of reality, like sex, are inherently fun rather than fun because evolution made it that way. There is nothing wrong with understanding that things are fun or not fun primarily because we evolved to interpret them as such. No activity is inherently anything. Amusement parks are not inherently fun, they're just fun because of the complex interactions between external stimuli and our brains. An alien from the Pleiades, or even certain human beings, might find an amusement park horrifying.
Drawing a connection between realizing the arbitrary linkage between stimuli and pleasure and the report he cited, which simply suggests that 35% or something of people under 35 check Twitter "after sex", is foolish. One is an abstract philosophical/cognitive science issue, the other has to do with technophilia among people under middle age. I can be a person who realizes the arbitrary linkage between stimuli and pleasure and be the most "human-like" dude you can imagine, like one of the inhabitants of Zion in that incredibly lame party scene at the beginning of the second Matrix movie.
It is also very foolish to suggest that just because someone offers their thoughts on sex after the Singularity, that one is "salivating" over the Singularity, or whatever. I have a very well-rounded and healthy life, similar to many of the "well-adjusted" stiffs who squirm awkwardly in their chairs whenever conversation moves to topics more abstract than the latest tech gossip, the latest episode of Mad Men, or the wine and food. I have no idea if Matyszczyk really thinks like that, but condemning me to "salivation" for spending 10 minutes writing down my thoughts on sex after the Singularity is not a good sign. There seems to be some assumption that if someone is interested in any significant way in a non-mainstream topic, then they must be "obsessed" or "salivating" over it. It seems like a not-so-subtle way of socially punishing people who have the gall to focus on non-mainstream topics.
Indeed, I don't even see what's so wrong about checking Twitter "after sex". The statement elicits a mental image of someone dashing right away from sex to checking Twitter, but that is misleading. This is just shock imagery that makes it easier to promote your study. Maybe you're someone that has sex several times a day, and if you spent half an hour each time after sex staring into your partner's eyes and chatting lovingly, you would never have a chance to really check out Twitter. Maybe older people make a bigger deal out of sex because they have it less often. If it isn't offensive to start reading a book or (heaven forbid) watch television 5-10 minutes after you're done getting it on, then why the hell is it such a huge deal to check out Twitter? Maybe people actually like to move on to other things after they have sex, because they're like, not as horny any more, because they just (surprise!) had sex. Jesus Christ.
Apparently they talked about the "Singularity" at Worldcon. Here's the summary from Wired:
There was an interesting side discussion about an alternative form of "bootstrap singularity" where humans gradually modify themselves to a point of no-return, but at a pace that still allows the culture to maintain a sense of continuity of identity. Ideas about what type, rate and breadth of change would constitute a singularity were bandied about, leading one panelist to observe that that the singularity, like puberty, might only be recognized after it as happened. We will not see it coming.
I read several summaries of this that all basically said the same thing. I don't have a transcript of what they said, so let me try to say it like they might have said it...
Lots of sci-books I have read and sci-movies I have seen have had enhanced humans as the protagonists, therefore enhanced humans will surely come about before weird enhanced networks of humans with brain-to-brain interfaces, artificial intelligences, or other exotic outcomes that are hard to write stories about or get nerds excited about. Because everything in the human world happens relatively gradually, we can expect that the Singularity will happen relatively gradually as well, as in the introduction of products like the iPod to the world population. Therefore, since everyone will have those products that make you superintelligent at roughly the same time, we won't even notice it happened. Everything will be awesome and just like Accelerando by my favorite author Charles Stross. A Singularity that went too fast to preserve our continuity of identity as a culture would suck, therefore we will definitely make sure it doesn't happen.
Did I get it about right? I hope so.
If a Singularity goes slowly, it will be because a singleton designed it that way.
Some of you may have seen this already, but here it is anyway. Doctorow is more relevant than ever, with comics like xkcd openly worshipping him.
In case cryonics, regular exercise, and contributing to life extension research aren't working for you, here are another 100 ways to avoid dying.