Getting Deeper into the Topspin

Topspin (The Editorial)

I decided to attempt an ambitious editorial in a very small space. Here it is. (Please read the original before going on to the following material.)

A high-circulation paper magazine like SPIN has so little space that it is hard to express ideas clearly. I hope it's clear from the "topspin" that I'm talking about more than a Luddite/Technologist confrontation. In any case, I can be more specific here about what I mean by "extropians" and "stewards". The text that follows is dense, but I'm hoping that the inclusion of links (instead of the traditional explanatory diversions) will make it clearer than it would be in a paper setting. Please let me know if this method works for you.

NOTE: The following essay is “under construction”!

I have found the Steward/Extropian opposition useful for understanding some current and emerging controversies that elude the left/right framework. What is really at the core of the distinction between Extropians and Stewards is a confrontation between epistemologies; between what I sometimes call information positivism and an experiential, subjective way of getting to know the world without ever fully knowing it.

Information positivism is different from old-style positivism because it treats everything that exists as information. A thrilling method of imagining permutations of all creation comes about as a result. Anything that can be done to a computer file can be done to anything else. For example, if the mind is information, then immortality results from backing up the mind. But that's only the beginning. One could imagine morphing between minds, or setting up an automated process in which finely tuned minds (maybe even a better version of you) are evolved inside a computer overnight.

This way of thinking makes everything equivalent, in a sense, so information positivists live in a cruel joke of a universe, in which stupendous vistas of possibility are continuously conceived and then rendered meaningless at birth.

Extropianism results when information positivism absorbs Darwin (or rather the hardened neo-Darwinism of the likes of Dawkins and Dennet). If information systems can evolve, anything can evolve, and evolution is conceived of as an essentially unbounded process. The term "extropy" is intended to be the opposite of "entropy". If a universe can evolve towards ever greater levels of organization, then it need not wind down to a lame, tepid soup. Instead it can soar into unimagined states of living and being. Likewise, even on the smaller scale of life on Earth, nothing we can possibly think of is as important as the more wonderful results that the "big process" will yield.

For example: If you're an information positivist, and you're an economist as well, you might think of the economy as a program that has a life of its own, that will evolve to something you can't know. The difference between you and another kind of economist is that you've started to treat the economy itself as another information system, ontologically equivalent to a person, and equally deserving. Extropians think outside of the human framework. (In fact, it's tempting to think of a process like an economy that incorporates people as sub-processes as being "higher level" than people, and perhaps even MORE deserving.)

A fine expression of extropianism can be found in just about any issue of Wired magazine, which I didn't want to mention by name in the context of a SPIN editorial. I believe extropianism is emerging as the common ground for a huge variety of influential thinkers. Here are some extropian links, to give you an idea:

links to come!

kevin kelly

daniel dennet



extropian pages

wired mag

jonas salk

newt gingrich

eric drexler

Danny Hillis

Marvin Minsky


And the great-grandomther, Ayn Rand

What fascinates me most is how the information science community is radiating ideas out to the mainstreams of business and government at a shocking speed. I do believe that Newt Gingrich, for instance, has caught the extropian bug. He shares with old-style economic conservatives an ability to let the poor suffer, for instance, but for entirely new reasons. He has glimpsed the vistas opened up by the information equivalence of everything, and he wants to facilitate the evolution of whatever is coming. At first glance this might appear to be similar to traditional Western apocalyptic notions, but it is radically non-mystical.

The big problem with Extropianism, from a Steward's point of view, is that information doesn't exist. To a Martian, a Macintosh is the same as a toaster. In order to perceive information, you have to put it in a cultural context. This means that all sorts cultural prejudices are enshrined whenever a situation is perceived of as an information system.

Steward commentary and links on the way!
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