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January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
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Rick Searle: on 7/6/14 at 3:04am UTC, wrote Hello Laurence, I posted an article giving some publicity to your piece: ...

Jonathan Dickau: on 6/7/14 at 2:22am UTC, wrote Hello Laurence, I enjoyed your essay. You do not pretend to offer a total...

Anonymous: on 6/4/14 at 4:35am UTC, wrote Hello Mr. Hitterdale, My name is Margarita Iudin. I read your essay...

Ross Cevenst: on 5/31/14 at 8:36am UTC, wrote Hi Laurence, I really like your broad principles. Indeed the point you...

Peter Jackson: on 5/30/14 at 17:21pm UTC, wrote Laurence, Your essay gave me great food for thought. I prefer practicable...

Ray Luechtefeld: on 5/29/14 at 18:37pm UTC, wrote Hi Laurence, Thanks for your essay. I agree with the views you express. ...

Tejinder Singh: on 5/29/14 at 13:11pm UTC, wrote Dear Laurence, A very useful and nice essay, with food for thought. I...

Edwin Klingman: on 5/28/14 at 21:55pm UTC, wrote Dear Laurence, Thank you for your close reading of my essay and your...


Zeeya Merali: "Do we live in a giant Sudoku puzzle? Are real numbers really real? Does..." in The Sudoku Universe, Why...

Georgina Woodward: "Joe, your credo has very limited explanatory power and is therefore of very..." in Quantum Dream Time

Joe Fisher: "Dear Georgina, You wrote: “I agree that there have been surfaces prior..." in Quantum Dream Time

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Yelena Hopper: "Its a decent approach to present a few thoughts in material science yet you..." in We Are All Connected

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Defining a ‘quantum clock’ and a 'quantum ruler' could help those attempting to unify physics—and solve the mystery of vanishing time.

Our Place in the Multiverse
Calculating the odds that intelligent observers arise in parallel universes—and working out what they might see.

Sounding the Drums to Listen for Gravity’s Effect on Quantum Phenomena
A bench-top experiment could test the notion that gravity breaks delicate quantum superpositions.

Watching the Observers
Accounting for quantum fuzziness could help us measure space and time—and the cosmos—more accurately.

Bohemian Reality: Searching for a Quantum Connection to Consciousness
Is there are sweet spot where artificial intelligence systems could have the maximum amount of consciousness while retaining powerful quantum properties?

November 24, 2017

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: A Rope over an Abyss by Laurence Hitterdale [refresh]
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Author Laurence Hitterdale wrote on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 11:28 GMT
Essay Abstract

Recently scientists, philosophers, and others have presented divergent views about the possibilities for human life in this century. Some point to potentialities for transcending age-old limitations and afflictions, including even death at the end of what we have come to consider a normal human life span. Other writers, however, warn of catastrophes which could threaten the continuance of civilization and perhaps the existence of humanity. Some thinkers from each group, and other thinkers also, emphasize that the next few decades appear to be a critical turning point. Humanity seems poised between an extraordinarily fulfilling future and a future of extraordinary calamity or non-existence. Although the initial reaction might be to dismiss all three of these scenarios as exaggerated speculations, both contemporary circumstances and the contrasts between the present and the historical past indicate the likely correctness of the severe opposition between extreme possibilities. If that vision is correct, then an ascent to a better future looks to be more difficult to bring about than a descent into disasters. At this juncture for global civilization, the overriding obligation on both individuals and institutions is to work to avoid disaster. If that effort succeeds, humanity will buy time for the development of a better future.

Author Bio

Laurence Hitterdale holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland. Having worked for both business firms and academic institutions, he is currently a professor of information systems at Glendale College in California. His philosophical work is focused on ontology, philosophy of cosmology, and philosophy of mind.

Download Essay PDF File

Alan M. Kadin wrote on Apr. 21, 2014 @ 19:44 GMT
Dr. Hitterdale,

I read your essay with great interest. I agree with your suggestion that climate change be placed atop the global agenda. However, my view is that there is an "the elephant in the room" regarding climate change (and indeed, all other environmental and resource questions) that no one wants to acknowledge. Human population has overshot the sustainable global carrying capacity, and the top item on the global agenda for the next several centuries should be how to decrease back to a sustainable level. You may be interested in reading my essay ("Just Too Many People: Towards a Sustainable Future Earth").

Alan Kadin

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 19:22 GMT
We would all agree that humanity faces a number of global problems, and that the main problems are interrelated. Thus, it is a difficult to decide which issues to take as direct priorities so that we can make the most progress on the full set of critical problems. I reached my decision about prioritization by asking what needs to be done and what can be done in the future. My approach was to compare problems and to look at their relationships. From this perspective, it appears that we would make the most progress on the totality of issues, including population size, by taking one or two other issues as global priorities. Demographic statistics are complicated, but some recent trends are relevant and encouraging. Another way to say this: If the world’s human population were now much less than it is, we would still need to address critical problems which we are not addressing. Regardless of what might have been done or what should have been done years ago, world population is how as large as it is, and in the near term it will increase somewhat. The feasible course for the future is to do what we would have to do anyway. Population might stabilize or even decline after 2050. The task before humanity in the next few decades is to reach 2050 safely.

Gordon Watson replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 20:07 GMT
Dear Laurence,

You certainly grabbed my attention with your closing paragraph!

First with this: "My first inclination would be to delete it."

But then with the seeming 'uncertainty' in this: "When I suppose myself thinking this way, I conclude that I would read the message carefully, study it, make some changes, and send it on. I also conclude that then I would stand up and do...

view entire post

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 23:41 GMT
You raise a very important and interesting question. Assuming that we accept the general framework I sketched in my essay, then I would proceed to the following more specific suggestions. I would begin with the report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, “Now for the Long Term”, available at There are three good reasons to start with this report. First, the document has been completed, so we do not need to begin at some earlier stage of study, writing, or policy development. Secondly, given the prestige and credibility of the Oxford Martin School, we shall not need to argue that the report and its recommendations must be taken seriously. Thirdly, the vision set forth in “Now for the Long Term” is basically correct. Much of it is really indisputable. The implementation steps are contained in “Part C: Practical Futures: Principles and Recommendations”. At this point individuals would need carefully to consider how they can be most effective in promoting the initiatives. Many of us might find the C20-C30-C40 Coalition to be an appropriate focus for our efforts. Because the C40 segment of this coalition builds on the already existing C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, those of us who live in or near member cities can support the efforts of the cities, urge further efforts, and press other cities to adopt similar measures. This is something I can do. Other people can do the same. Furthermore, as I suggested in the essay, it is important to multiply one’s efforts by asking additional people to join the effort.

John Brodix Merryman wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 00:29 GMT

I agree humanity appears to be at a crucial juncture in its history, but I think you are focusing on effects, rather than causes.

We have been effectively expanding and growing since we first controlled fire and used sharpen stones as tools. Now we are at the limit of our ability to push our physical limits and if we wish to continue to advance, we have to learn to live within limits as a fundamental philosophy. To do that we need to first examine the premises on which this civilization is based and see if some of those assumptions driving us onward and upward might need reevaluating. This is the approach I take in my own entry.


John Merryman

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 19:26 GMT
Rather than saying I am focusing on effects rather than causes, I think it might be more accurate to say that I am trying to identify the factors which are most likely to be effective in achieving a good outcome. These factors will admittedly not be ultimate causes, but rather factors located somewhere in long chains of cause-and-effect. Examining and then, where necessary, changing the basic premises of civilization would be helpful, if it could be made to work. Perhaps, however, we do not have time for a remedy like that. People might not be very likely to agree on what we ought to do here and now, but people will be far less likely to agree about philosophical reasons about what we ought to do. What we have to do will be difficult enough. We should not make it even more difficult by trying to get agreement about the deep reasons for what we need to do.

John Brodix Merryman replied on Apr. 24, 2014 @ 18:32 GMT

I guess the premise I'm operating on here is paradigm shift. When the old order breaks down, the population will be aroused from its current slumber. As I see it, the powers that be have been kicking the can down the road for a long time and the end result will only be that much more monumental, when it gets too big to kick anymore.

The story goes that Paul Volcker cured...

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 01:03 GMT
Hi Laurence,

A really interesting essay. I felt the ending was not as powerful as the rest of the essay because you seemed to talk yourself into doing something but not very much. There is a saying every little helps but I fear that it may not be enough given the enormity of the environmental problems. (Sorry we are supposed to be optimistic.) Good luck, Georgina

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 20:55 GMT
Thank you for your kind and helpful thoughts. I shall comment on your essay on the Web page for your contest entry. Here I reply only to your comment. I was trying to be realistic, rather than either optimistic or pessimistic. In my view, this respect for reality should extend to assessment of the problems, proposals for solutions on a global scale, and resolutions for personal action. Specifically with regard to what you say about the last section of my essay, I have two further thoughts. First, it is literally true that most of us can have little effect on the course of history. This is true for me, and it is also true for most, though perhaps not for all, people who might read our essays. I mentioned climate change in my essay. I do think it is a global problem of highest significance, but I do not believe that even this problem by itself amounts to a half or a quarter of the aggregate of difficulty that humanity faces. This estimate indicates something of the seriousness of the human predicament. When I think specifically about climate change, I recall Al Gore’s efforts. So far, despite what he has done, little has happened. And he wrote a book on the subject, was Vice President of the United States, and received a Nobel Prize. Each of us might well ask whether we could have more of an effect, when Al Gore’s effect has amounted to so little compared to what is need and compared to what he wanted. This brings me to the second of my two further thoughts. In a way, as you say, what I propose doing might seem to be not very much. But if you think again about my suggestion, I propose to plant a seed, which is all that I realistically can do. Moreover, if the seed really does take root and grow, the result just might be something of what is needed. I personally do not know President Obama. Nor do I know any other person of significant influence or stature at the global level. But perhaps I do know someone who does have that kind of access. If none of my acquaintances has access to decision makers, then perhaps one of their acquaintances might. You can see where this is going. That is the point I am making in the last section of the essay. One has to be personally committed to the need for serious changes in the way that the human global system is run. Many people have said this before; it is nothing new. What might be new is the idea of additional steps. One has to be personally committed to the need for getting other people also to have that commitment. Moreover, the commitment has to be iterated beyond that. One wants to convince others, who will convince others, who will convince others. . . . It might work. And I can start it; or if others have already started, I can continue the effort.

Anonymous replied on May. 3, 2014 @ 22:12 GMT
Well said.

30 years ago ecologists and environmentalists were warning about global warming. I had ecology lectures at that time and read the Gaia atlas of planet management by Norman Myers (1984). We were told that by the time there was the proof needed to show it beyond doubt it would be too late. It was frightening and I did my bit to tell friends and family. Do I think it made the slightest difference? No. When my kids were quite small I bought Al Gore's book and video for my family. We watched it, worried about it, bought a copy for our relatives to share and then life went on.

Nowadays I am more cynical, or less naive. I think perhaps to overcome inertia requires lives to be personally impacted by the changes, being flooded out, having land undergoing unusual drought, having a home destroyed by unusually prevalent tornadoes, seeing friends or neighbours undergoing those kinds of tragedies or seeing them benefiting from the "green" lifestyle choices they have made.

How to start a movement Looks easy, good luck to you.

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Georgina Woodward replied on May. 3, 2014 @ 22:16 GMT
That Anonymous was me.

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Member Dean Rickles wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 01:57 GMT
Dear Laurence,

I think your three strategies are certainly the most sensible in all of the essays in this competition, especially the idea that only "present humans" (with all of their defective qualities included) should be invoked in any 'steering solution'. My own essay drifted somewhat from this (but did attempt to use 'presently interveneable' human characteristics). I also agree with the idea of privileging disaster avoidance, despite its less savoury nature.

I'm hoping your essay does very well.



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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 19:51 GMT
I appreciate your encouraging remarks. As you say, I do believe that we can only rely on “present humans” to bring humanity through the next few decades. Any particular proposal for futuristic improvements might sketch something which is not even possible. Of the many such proposals, most will never happen. Surely, in the next few decades, none will happen in time. I shall comment on your essay on the Web page for your contest entry.

Member Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 02:53 GMT
Hello Laurence,

Great essay laying out the fork in front of us.I am in 100% agreement that the first thing we need to tackle is global catastrophic risks.

One question your essay brought to my mind is why not a fourth option other than disaster, paradise, or business as usual. Why not a move away from complexity. This is what has always happened in the past e.g the Middle Ages. As Joseph Tainter pointed out in his The Collapse of Complex Societies, such periods of retrenchment are actually healthy adaptations for societies. Are there reasons you think such a retrenchment is impossible now?

Best of luck!

Rick Searle

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 19:39 GMT
I agree that it is necessary to move from complexity to simpler systems. However, in terms of the logic of the situation, I don’t see a move away from complexity as a fourth alternative. The three alternatives of getting better, getting worse, or staying about the same appear to exhaust the possibilities, although that exhaustiveness might be more definitional than informative. The unexpected news is that the middle ground of staying about the same is unlikely. That assertion does require evidence and argument, and I tried to argue for it. I would classify a move away from complexity as a strategy to achieve a desirable result, rather than as a result in itself. This classification does help us clarify our thinking, but more important is the need for greater simplicity. You and I agree on that main point. It is worth adding that we now depend so much on complex systems that any move to greater simplicity will be a complex task, not a simple one. This sounds somewhat paradoxical, and perhaps is so. But I agree that we have to reduce the risk. In some cases, simplification is one way to do that. Another strategy is the provision of redundant systems. If we are concerned about the failure of complex systems, we might need backup systems to replace the failed structures, if and when something goes wrong.

James Lee Hoover wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 03:09 GMT

A "Rope over the Abyss" is a good metaphor for working at a common good or cause, something I mention less figuratively. This is a well-constructed essay, clearly and deliberately approaching our problem.

I also like your quote from "Tale of Two Cities," which perhaps aptly represents the polarization of many countries in cross purposes. Steering the Future in a world slowly approaching a precipice of ruin is a daunting task, but your effort is quite broad in its scope and complete in its description.


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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 19:05 GMT
I think we are in general agreement about the nature of the predicament and about what needs to be done about it. I appreciate your kind words about my attempt to describe the current situation.

James Lee Hoover replied on May. 20, 2014 @ 19:04 GMT

The time grows short, so I'm revisiting and rating. Common good motivation, and looking beyond our solar system and stagnant ideas and looking within, using imagination and capacity like Einstein is my solution

Have 'you had a chance to see my essay?


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Anselm Smidt wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 15:39 GMT
Sie sagen, was ist schon

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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 16:58 GMT
Dear Doctor Hitterdale,

Your abstraction filled essay was quite engrossing to read and I do hope that it does well in the competition. I only have one minor quibble about it, and I do hope you do not mind me mentioning it.

You wrote: “According to some thinkers all of this is about to change. We human beings are within a few decades, or maybe a century or so at most, of something called “The Singularity”.

As I have gone to enormous lengths to explain in the clearest language possible that I employed in my splendid essay, REALITY, ONCE, Everything real and imagined in the real Universe is unique, once. It has always been singularity Doctor. It will always be singularity because only singularity is real.

Glad to clear that up.

Best regards,

Joe Fisher

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George Gantz wrote on Apr. 23, 2014 @ 22:36 GMT
Laurence -

Thanks for the well crafted essay! Some in this contest are not so easy or enjoyable to read.

I was amused to see that you and I both used the same quote from Martin Rees. There are other parallels between our essays and I hope you have a chance to read mine, The Tip of the Spear. I think we agree on the current risks and opportunities, and I would agree that avoiding catastrophe should be a first priority. But I also think there is a broader picture to be drawn from evolutionary and complexity theory - and a need to build consensus for a shared moral framework.

Looking forward to additional exchanges! - George

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 18:53 GMT
Thanks for the compliments on the writing. For purposes of dealing with the current human predicament, we obviously need a moral consensus that we need to avoid catastrophe. And we need consensus, both moral and intellectual, on the steps to take to achieve our goal. I don’t think, however, that we should try right now to build a consensus on the ultimate or philosophical principles of morality. I don’t think there is time for that, and people can often agree on what to do practically, even though they disagree on the deep reasons for what they do. If things work out as we hope, then there will be time to discuss deep principles, and perhaps then a consensus can be achieved.

Wesley Wayne Hansen wrote on Apr. 25, 2014 @ 16:37 GMT
Boy, this is a really nice piece of work, Laurence. You kill two birds with one stone: you submit a formidable essay to the essay contest; you provide a valuable document for all other contestants to forward to their email contacts! So you win no matter what happen . . .

In this regard, perhaps you would take a friendly recommendation and send a copy of your essay to Charles Krauthammer, his friends at Forbes magazine, and the sole resident of Planet X, Freeman Dyson. Perhaps they would all benefit . . .

With regards,

Wes Hansen

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on Apr. 27, 2014 @ 18:38 GMT
Thanks for the very positive response. Because the topic is such a serious one, I am trying to stimulate people to take action. It doesn’t matter whether a person writes a different message or uses mine as a template. Either way, the purposes are to connect people who are aware of the seriousness of the situation and to convince those with power and authority that action is imperative.

John C Hodge wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 15:29 GMT
I agree that "… we can rely only on human character and

motivations as we now find them…" to solve the problem. see Steering humanity's growth by John C Hodge

Avoiding negative outcomes such as the approach to avoid the Tragedy of the Commons triggers regulation by a central authority. This leads to over-regulation and invites disaster.

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Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on May. 3, 2014 @ 22:40 GMT
Dear Laurence Hitterdale,

Thanks for a sober appreciation of the problem. I think the Singulartarians and other technology cultist's are simply exhibiting their complete misunderstanding of what consciousness is. They think it's an artifact that emerges from Lego blocks, so more and faster Lego blocks are all we need. Don't hold your breath.

And as you point out, no amount of life extension will amount to immortality, i.e., deathlessness. I tend to think that "it is implausible to suppose that the natural limits on technology are much tighter than they seem to be." But steady progress in technology will not yield transhumans, only greater efficiencies in most areas and, hopefully a few new lasers or MRIs -- even a new Internet. But technology won't make us gods. So I fully agree with your second strategic principle that we can rely only on human character and motivations as we now find them.

Finally I agree that you can't steer from outside, but only by steering yourself in the best direction you can conceive.

"Grand solutions, whatever they may be for others, remain only fantasies for me."

That is compatible with my essay, which I hope you will read and comment on.

Good to see you here again,

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on May. 19, 2014 @ 17:54 GMT
I appreciate your comments. Because we appear to be largely in agreement about the topics you mention, it is not necessary for me to say anything more here. I have commented on your essay on the page where it is posted.

Edwin Eugene Klingman replied on May. 28, 2014 @ 21:55 GMT
Dear Laurence,

Thank you for your close reading of my essay and your comments and questions.

I agree with your answer to your first question about freedom and social stability: the goal is to achieve social stability while doing the best we can to achieve as much freedom for individuals as possible. You have correctly interpreted the "cost function" statement.

The second question is harder to answer. You indicate that those who successfully market their ideas may succeed in promoting their own inferior ideas above better, less well marketed (or less well-funded) ideas. You identify this as a problem associated with economic freedom, but I find exactly the same problem occurring in academia, where "wealth" is more a matter of "prestige" (and the accompanying funding), but ideas are still marketed unequally.

In general I do not see a solution of this that does not involve gatekeeping by a "master" class, controlling the expression of the beta class. It's a tough problem.

Thanks for participating. I always enjoy our discussions.

Best regards,

Edwin Eugene Klingman

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James A Putnam wrote on May. 12, 2014 @ 02:04 GMT
Laurence Hitterdale,

I appreciated this entry very much. It was well written and definitely fit the subject matter of this contest. Your current rating is the same as mine, but, I think yours rates higher. Thank you for submitting it. Good luck in the contest.

James Putnam

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on May. 26, 2014 @ 18:29 GMT
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I have read your essay, and commented upon it at your contest Web page.

Anonymous replied on May. 26, 2014 @ 20:33 GMT
Author Laurence Hitterdale,

I didn't say much because I thought it was complete with nothing to justifiably criticize. I liked it. Our choices for subjects is very different. I would like others to listen to me, but, I think it is essential that contestants read what the professionals think. At the time I judged that your essay needed to be higher to gain visibility. I pushed you up. You stayed up because your essay is appreciated. I have done it for several others. This is my sixth contest. The way the contest ratings actually function is less than ideal to the point where I think it becomes obvious that corrective action is sometimes necessary for the good of the contest. You earned a PHD in philosophy. You should be heard. I appreciate that you visited my website and have considered my viewpoints. I thank you for the time and effort. I expect my essay to be judged from the reader's point of view. Whatever you think is right, high or low, is accepted and appreciated. I won't know the vote anyway unless told. Good luck.

James Putnam

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Member Daniel Dewey wrote on May. 13, 2014 @ 12:04 GMT
Hi Laurence,

Nice work! I enjoyed your essay, and I think your priorities are in the right place.

I wanted to comment to point out another suggestion that could fit into your email message at the end. It seems to me that an important aspect of public life, beyond making concrete suggestions like setting market prices for energy and encouraging efficiency, is in fully explaining the reasons and values that lead you to do those things, and bringing them into the public and political conversation.

For example, finding a way for our responsibilities to future generations to be built into our legal structure might be helpful, or establishing publicly funded organizations to tackle the kinds of long-term issues that you outline in your essay.

Overall, very nice; I look forward to your thoughts.



Crucial Phenomena

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Author Laurence Hitterdale replied on May. 26, 2014 @ 20:10 GMT
Thanks for the encouragement. I agree with your suggestion that explaining the grounds for proposals is an important part of the process. Moreover, I think it is essential to build policies into legal structures and ongoing institutions. We cannot rely on repeatedly trying to convince people to act if supportive social frameworks are absent. I did not talk about the stage of building institutions, because I see myself as working at an earlier stage of the process.

I did read your excellent essay, and I have commented on it at your contest Web page.

Eckard Blumschein wrote on May. 13, 2014 @ 16:36 GMT
Lawrence Hitterdale,

The man who created socialism dealt with capital because he didn't get a professor post. He is known for his manifesto: The philosophers did only describe the world differently; let's change it instead.

While your essay doesn't focus just on peace as does mine, we nearly agree on how such steering works. I see discoveries, inventions, and what Nobel called ideal direction rather than political decisions the primary and ultimately decisive contributions toward coping with the potential of humanity.

Your metaphor of the rope over an abyss did not completely satisfy me because it lets me ask for the safe point where the rope ends. You will certainly take the same perspective as did Popper and do I; the future is open. Otherwise it couldn't be steered. Are you aware that this view contradicts to the tenets of modern physics?

Isn't the name fqxi an obligation to deal with truly basic questions? Kadin's perspectives of humanity is different from those of individuals or groups.

Facing hostility by time-traveling physicists, I am also blunt enough as to identify a basic reason for what you called the abyss; Ethics and human rights require to be slightly adapted. Do you agree?


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Eckard Blumschein replied on May. 13, 2014 @ 16:39 GMT
Sorry, Lawrence should read Laurence.

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Ajay Bhatla wrote on May. 14, 2014 @ 05:13 GMT

"I would stand up and do what I can" is a thought I cannot agree with more. I admire the thoughtful way you reached it. Hope you will allow me to use your logic with others.

I reached the same position a few years ago. When a good friend introduced me to FQXi just 2 days before the 2014 competition deadline with the plea for me to enter this competition, I jumped at the chance.

My essay (here) takes this thought a long way forward. I can only do a bit alone. Can I empower others to amplify the doing? My answer is 'yes, I can, by putting science in the hands of more and more people as just another tool, recognizing the value of which, more do, hopefully, say "I will stand up and do what I can".

Looking forward to your comments on my essay.

- Ajay

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Robert de Neufville wrote on May. 15, 2014 @ 06:15 GMT
You make a convincing case that this is a pivotal time, Laurence. You put it well when you say "it will be the best of times—unless it is the worst of times".

I think we need something to shock us from our everyday way of doing things, so I particularly liked the message you imagine sending yourself. My own view is that working toward changing public policy—and changing the incentives we face as individuals—is probably the most important thing we can do.

If you get a chance, I would love it if you took a look at my own essay, which touches on similar themes. Good luck in any case in the contest!


Robert de Neufville

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KoGuan Leo wrote on May. 27, 2014 @ 14:34 GMT
Dear Laurence,

I enjoyed reading your excellent essay. I share similar view that we are in a turning point: survival or extinction.

You wrote: "First, avoidance of a negative outcome must take priority over the production of a positive outcome."

I agree with this statement. If I may say I propose both "avoidance of a negative outcome" and "the production of a positive outcome". Please read my essay "Chinese Dream is Xuan Yuan's Da Tong".

I rated this essay the highest score 10.

Best of luck,

Leo KoGuan

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Member Marc Séguin wrote on May. 27, 2014 @ 20:06 GMT

Yours was one of the first essays I read, but I didn't take the time back them to comment on it.

I really appreciated your arguments, in particular the statement near the end of your essay that "we [cannot] solve the problem of climate change without also making progress on many other natural and social problems that humanity faces [...] a global effort focused on one serious problem (i.e., climate change) will put in place both institutional structures and habits of mind that will be required for many other tasks in the coming decades."

I am glad your essay has been well received. I believe it belongs in the finals, and I have rated it accordingly. Good luck!


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Member Tommaso Bolognesi wrote on May. 28, 2014 @ 11:32 GMT

your essay reveals a precise, analytical mind, and an ability to organise into a logical structure a topic that does not easily lend itself to such a treatment.

I appreciated the psychological annotation about our inclination to consider ourselves as special, and our present times as a crucial passage in history. But exactly because of the illusory nature of these opinions, I disagree with the picture that is given of the post-singularity.

What I mean is that the only fact we cannot deny is the acceleration of technological progress, and of the other usual parameters related to population growth, pollution, etc.

But the expectation that, after possibly surviving the next `change of phase` (or the Singularity) in the most desirable way, and after entering a new phase of prosperity, the future will stabilise into such positive, steady-state scenario, would be totally unjustified. I believe it is perfectly natural to expect that changes of phase will keep occurring, periodically, in the future, as they did in the past. New singularities might, for example, correlate with space colonisation steps, on various cosmic scales, or with alien life encounters.

I am not exactly sure about your position on this this multi-singularity conjecture (but `change of phase` is perhaps a better term for what I mean), since you do not seem to mention it explicitly. I am curious about your opinion, especially in case you disagree with it :-]

Best regards


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Member Tejinder Pal Singh wrote on May. 29, 2014 @ 13:11 GMT
Dear Laurence,

A very useful and nice essay, with food for thought. I agree with your proposal of preventing disasters as an important step in the steering. More broadly, I have been thinking that many of the essays in this forum, when put together, provide a significant and comprehensive steering strategy, if only those who matter will pay heed to these ideas.

Best regards,


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Ray Luechtefeld wrote on May. 29, 2014 @ 18:37 GMT
Hi Laurence,

Thanks for your essay. I agree with the views you express. One item I found interesting was the description of transhumanist interests in improving human "intellectual, physical, and psychological" capacities, largely because of what is not mentioned - like the capacity for caring, justice, and honesty. It is these qualities of kindness, mercy, consideration, etc., that I think are most in need to avert a catastrophe.

I found that your essay resonated with my essay on computationally intelligent personal dialogic agents. I developed a prototype as part of a National Science Foundation CAREER award, and have shown that it can "nudge" human interactions in the midst of conversation toward more productive and effective ends. I believe it can help to prevent the kind of disasters you discuss.

I'd appreciate a rating on my essay, if you can do that, since I am a bit short on ratings. Also, if you know of someone that might be interested in collaborating on the further development of a dialogic web, please have them contact me. My gmail username is my first name, then a period, then my last name. Thanks,

Ray Luechtefeld, PhD

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Peter Jackson wrote on May. 30, 2014 @ 17:21 GMT

Your essay gave me great food for thought. I prefer practicable dooable solutions to idealism so gelled with your "Grand solutions, whatever they may be for others, remain only fantasies for me." Yet my recent experiences suggest that alone is inadequate.

Considering the poor understanding we have of nature, and physics riddled with inconsistencies and anomalies do you think it's not possible that one day somebody will come up with a new coherent solution? There must be some answer unifying out understanding of physics which allows allowing both ' production of a positive' and 'avoidance of a negative' outcomes, not just for for climate change but dozen of other areas at once. Surely it may be fatal to rule that out?

So if someone stumbles across such a major advancement in understanding, what should they do? I'm sure you wouldn't say; 'cycle to work', so how can they gain attention for a solution, by definition 'unfamiliar' when science is 'belief lead' and all such departures rejected a priori?

Shouldn't we work to create the conditions where we ARE able to see and assess the value of such possibilities? The Estep-Heokstra essay expresses it well as needing better ways of thinking. Are not positivity and ambition first required? Or do you consider such advanced beyond us.

I hope you'll read and comment on my own essay allegorically offering a palatable glimpse of work in that direction. Yet it seems perhaps that even self apparent geometrical proofs, evidence and more coherent ontologies are powerless in the face of old beliefs. Is there a solution?

Thank you kindly. Very best wishes.


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Ross Cevenst wrote on May. 31, 2014 @ 08:36 GMT
Hi Laurence,

I really like your broad principles. Indeed the point you make that there will be no singularity or transhumanism if we do not manage to solve more immediate human difficulties is one that often escapes those who opt for the very optimistic view. While its true that some people find the future frightening, a failure to protect humanity is of far greater threat to futurist goals than any 'luddite' outrage. Agility and wise choices are preferrable to pure speed in 'progress'. With all that said there is some brilliant opportunities for humanity and Earth just over the horizon.

In my estimates an letter writing campaign probably isn't going to make a significant dent. However, I think a good start is to do what we can to support the CSER and other initiatives whose work seems to take our species' survival seriously. And don't underestimate your own contribution here, it matters!

Thanks and I hope you might also share your thoughts with me on my own entry. It draws on a partly fictional format, but I think it draws on a similar understanding to yours - of seeing both the serious opportunities and serious threats in humanity's future. I hope you get a chance to view and rate it before ratings close! Thanks and good luck!

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Anonymous wrote on Jun. 4, 2014 @ 04:35 GMT
Hello Mr. Hitterdale,

My name is Margarita Iudin.

I read your essay without rating it. I stop rating essays because I feel confused about how the authors rate each other.

These are my remarks

1. what the persistence of human civilization does mean for you

zoom in

The Quaternary, glacial-interglacial periods, questionable conditions for the...

view entire post

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Jun. 7, 2014 @ 02:22 GMT
Hello Laurence,

I enjoyed your essay. You do not pretend to offer a total answer, but as a strand in a greater rope across the current abyss, you are strong. I'll have more to say when there is ample time.

All the Best,


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Member Rick Searle wrote on Jul. 6, 2014 @ 03:04 GMT
Hello Laurence,

I posted an article giving some publicity to your piece:

All the best!

Rick Searle

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