Re: John Milton on SIAI

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Sun Nov 14 2004 - 14:38:03 MST

Damien Broderick wrote:
> from Paradise Regained:
> "Thou neither dost persuade me to seek wealth
> For empire's sake, nor empire to affect
> For glory's sake, by all thy argument.
> For what is glory but the blaze of fame,
> The people's praise, if always praise unmixed?
> And what the people but a herd confused,
> A miscellaneous rabble, who extol
> Things vulgar, and, well weighed, scarce worth the praise?
> They praise and they admire they know not what,
> And know not whom, but as one leads the other;
> And what delight to be by such extolled,
> To live upon their tongues, and be their talk?
> Of whom to be dispraised were no small praise--
> His lot who dares be singularly good.
> The intelligent among them and the wise
> Are few, and glory scarce of few is raised.

Having pointed out this problem, how did Milton intend to fix it? Was
he just pointlessly rubbing in the fact that most people, by an accident
of birth, don't have the raw talent to become famous poets? Or so it
was back in the days when poetry rhymed or at least rhythmed; today,
alas, anyone can be a famous poet, and that is not so much an
improvement as an anti-elitist might have thought. If we wish a proud
few to become a proud multitude, we must raise up people, not lower our
standards. Unfortunately there's a limit to how much you can do to
create innate talent, if you can't add brainpower. Fortunately the laws
of physics don't prohibit us from adding brainpower. It just takes a
little longer.

Unlike the case if you feel guilty for being born unusually rich, you
can't give away smart. Not without a great deal of effort, on the order
of devoting your life to the challenge. In that I willingly gave over
my life to solving the problem of unequal distribution of intelligence,
I see no reason to pretend the problem doesn't exist.

-- Eliezer

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