RE: Michael Anissimov's 'Shock Level Analysis'

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Wed Jan 16 2002 - 17:33:25 MST


I agree with your sentiments fully, however I also find a huge amount of
humor value in Anissimov's essay.... It's been a while since I laughed out
loud in front of the computer like this ;-D ... for this I am grateful!!

I mean, on the one hand we have,
"Amish ... Humans who live like animals."
(Now, now. The Amish actually *don't* live at all like nonhuman animals...
this is silly...)

And on the other hand,
"...the human embodiments of the Singularity. ... The only activities this
person engages in are those that will bring about a quicker Singularity.
Sex is only used as an anti-stress mechanism. ..."

Uh oh. I thought I was SL5 but recently I caught myself using sex for a
purpose other than as an anti-stress mechanism. I guess I'm gonna be
demoted... darn...

well MY goodness!!! ;>

The problem with this sort of thing is that it makes the whole
Singularitarian idea look awfully silly. And worse than that, as Eli says,
it makes Singularitarianism look like an attempt to boost up one segment of
human society at the expense of another, which is really not what it's

Compared to what will come after the Singularity, we're ALL "living like
animals" -- and none of us are in any strong sense "human embodiments of the
Singularity." (No, not even you, Eli ;) Knowledge of the splendor of what
will come after should make us *humble* about the severe limitations of our
human brains and bodies, not egotistical because we understand a *little*
more about the future than most people... or most nonhuman animals ;>

I won't be shocked if Anissimov's ass-tute analysis winds up in "Wired" ;-p

Don't worry ... be happy...
-- Ben G

> -----Original Message-----
> From: []On Behalf
> Of Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
> Sent: Wednesday, January 16, 2002 4:55 PM
> To:
> Subject: Re: Michael Anissimov's 'Shock Level Analysis'
> Nat Jones wrote:
> >
> >
> >
> > A fun read. Thanks Michael. Anyone on this mailing list fit the
> following
> > description, if only in spirit, of an SL5'er?
> What is this strange fascination that the word "SL5" seems to exert over
> people? Why do so many people, confronted with SL0 through SL4, feel this
> impulse to top it by coming up with SL5? Oh, never mind. Anyway...
> To be a Singularitarian, or even just a good-old-fashioned transhumanist,
> is to tap into some very powerful ideas. It is an unfortunate but true
> fact that humans tend to malfunction in the presence of powerful ideas, so
> if you want to incorporate powerful ideas and remain rational, those ideas
> have to be balanced by self-awareness and mental discipline. At the core,
> all of this is about *intelligence*. Intelligence is more important than
> fanaticism. You can only permit yourself that degree of fanaticism that
> does not, at your current level of mental discipline, interfere with your
> intelligence. An extreme effort in the service of a counterproductive
> goal is worse than nothing.
> The absolute primacy of rationality and intelligence is what must be
> preserved, above all, as Singularitarian ideas begin to reach out beyond
> the core audience of scientifically literate aggressive rationalists.
> Compromise that in the name of "recruiting" and the reins will simply be
> torn out of your hands by the people you tried to recruit. It has
> happened before and may happen to us even if we do everything *right*; we
> cannot afford to make deliberate compromises.
> The powerful ideas have to be coupled to equally powerful drives toward
> rationality, or the actual *goal* isn't going to get done. And I do not,
> by the way, believe in the model of a few rational people remaining sane
> in order to provide the strategic direction for a larger group of insane
> fanatics; I am not aware of any historical instance of this model
> working. Everything I know about human nature says that the insane
> fanatics would drop the rationalists like a rotting moose carcass and
> promote the most insane of their number. Rationality has to be for
> *everyone*, the whole membership; if you recruit someone that is not a
> scientifically literate aggressive rationalist, then you have to make sure
> that your literature tells people "We think rationality is good... try and
> make yourself more rational." You have to preserve the part of the
> message that says: "Unlike other ideas, Singularitarianism doesn't say
> it's a sin to be skeptical or to question the leaders." Because while
> some people may take this for granted, everyone else may not.
> Now I am an extremist, by anyone's standard, and I know it. I make no
> excuses about having devoted my life completely to the Singularity; I have
> done so, I admit it, I'm proud of it, and I'd do it again in a minute.
> The six billion lives that I *know* are at stake, to say nothing of all
> the future lives that may someday come to be, outweigh my own life by an
> indescribably enormous factor. I do acknowledge that I need to have fun
> every now and then in order to stay in mental shape, but this is not the
> same as living a "normal" life in which fun is pursued for its own sake.
> And it may be that fun pursued for the sake of efficiency is not as much
> fun as fun which is pursued for its own sake. It may even be that this
> makes me less efficient. *But*, and this is the key point, to pursue fun
> for its own sake I'd have to change my actual picture of the world, and
> I'm not willing to do that because it would compromise *rationality*. I
> will not compromise rationality even if it makes my life more efficient!
> If I keep to the rational course, then eventually I expect to discover
> some way to have utilitarian fun that is just as healthy as intrinsic
> fun. I'm not going to lie to myself, because that would cut off the
> possibility of future progress, even if it delivered a small (or a large)
> short-term benefit. If you're going to be a good fanatic, then you have
> to remember that good fanaticism is just a very intense effort, and effort
> has no intrinsic worth. Dedication proves nothing. It has no value on
> its own. It is nothing to be proud of. It is useful only insofar as it
> achieves the actual goals, and to compromise rationality removes the
> possibility of achieving those goals. Now I do think that complete
> dedication is, in fact, very useful, and for that reason I am completely
> dedicated, but "dedication" is not the point. It's not something to be
> proud of for its own sake.
> If you're going to be a Singularitarian fanatic, then you have to remember
> that the Singularity is more important than your own fanaticism. I expect
> this sounds obvious to most of us, but it is not, in fact, obvious. The
> vast majority of fanatics talk and act as if fanaticism is inherently a
> sign of moral worth. The vast majority of fanatics do not know how to
> safely handle this mental plutonium in order to use it as fuel, which is
> why extremism, even extremism in altruism, has such a lousy reputation
> among rationalists.
> Unlike most other aggressive rationalists, I don't think that extremism is
> bad, I just think it has to be handled carefully. But if you *don't know*
> how to do that, then you really would be better off distrusting your own
> passion, even if it means less mental energy and getting less work done.
> You can always come back to the problem later, when you have a little more
> practice at rationality.
> If you're going to be an extremist, you have to be aware of the forces
> underlying human nature. And you have to dodge them, successfully, even
> at the price of diminishing your own extremism if that's what it takes.
> At this time, and from the "Shock Level Analysis" page, I don't think
> Michael Anissimov dodged successfully. There are some obvious PR
> problems, but PR problems generally go away with sufficient writing
> experience. The main thing that I think represents a real problem is the
> "us vs. them" mindset - what I usually call the "group polarization"
> dynamic, the tribalism instincts from evolutionary psychology.
> People are not divided into groups by future shock level. At most, you
> can use FSL to divide your readers into audiences. You should not use it
> to divide humanity into tribes, place your own tribe at the top, and heap
> hatred on the rest. That'd be too... human. Seriously. The original
> "Future Shock" essay I wrote contains an explicit admonishment against
> dividing people into feuding tribes by FSL, and this is exactly why;
> because I know something about how human psychology works, and I know that
> if I establish an ascending scale that could theoretically be applied to
> people, even if it's meant to be applied only to audiences in a specific
> context, then people are going to see a social hierarchy, and they're
> going to try and place themselves at the top. (Hence all the attempts to
> top the scale with SL5, of course.)
> For example, let's take Anissimov's description of SL -1 and SL -2.
> There's some pretty darned hateful language in there, which I will avoid
> quoting permanently in the SL4 archives, in case Anissimov decides to
> change it. The point is: Why hate? What does it accomplish? What good
> does it do? It sure doesn't help you outthink an opponent. It is
> instinctive to hate, and it may even be politically useful to the
> individual to whip up hate against opponents (it worked for McCarthy), but
> the point is that it doesn't accomplish anything useful in terms of the
> actual *goal*.
> I wrote the original Shock Level essay very carefully in order to
> establish that I was not establishing a new social hierarchy and putting
> myself at the top. That would be stupid, boring, and very human, and is
> unworthy of anyone with the slightest smattering of evolutionary
> psychology. And now, not to mince words about it, someone has gone out
> and done *exactly this* and it looks every bit as awful as I thought it
> would.
> The Singularity needs more people who are willing to dedicate themselves
> completely and to hell with the usual reserve; with this I agree. But you
> can't just take that dedication and not take the other things that go
> along with it and keep it rational.
> -- -- -- -- --
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
> Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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