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Rick G. Rosner: Giga Society, Member; Mega Society, Member & ex-Editor (1991-97); and Writer (Part Nine)

December 8, 2014

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 6.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Two)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: December 8, 2014

Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2015

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,417

ISSN 2369-6885

Mr. Rick G. Rosner

ABSTRACT

Part nine of eleven, comprehensive interview with Rick G. Rosner.  Giga Society member, ex-editor for Mega Society (1991-97), and writer.  He discusses the following subject-matter: individual-based/subjective, universe-based/objective, and collective-based ethics, Social Contract Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan, 1651), John Locke (Second Treatise of Government, 1689), Jean Jacques-Rousseau, (The Social Contract, 1762), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, 1851), John Rawls (Theory of Justice, 1971), David Gauthiers (Morals By Agreement, 1986), and Philip Pettit (Republicanism, 1997), with discussion on social ethics in essence “boiling down” to the Golden Rule; ethics in journalism with respect to acquisition, collation, and reportage, definition of a “real” journalist, Dr. Steven J. Pinker on the improved conditions for humans, and informational ethics in relation to sociocultural trends; motivation of intellectuals for the good, troubles in academia with description of differing cultural/ethical systems transformed into prescription of cultural/ethical relativism – no scale to ethics or cultures, and things for intellectuals to do in the immediate for the good; Academia’s two dominant ideological strains of “bland multiculturalism” and “ethical relativism,” and reference back to thinking about the future; mobilization of intellectuals for the good in the long-term; possible prevention of this good; and thoughts on ethics of focus on one person with reflection on the personal desire for fame.

Keywords: collective, ethics, fame, Giga Society, good, informational cosmology, informational ethics, intellectuals, journalism, Mega Society, mind-space, objective, Rick G. Rosner, subjective, writer.

89. Ethics at the individual-based/subjective (CnE) scale relates to the universe-based/objective scale (CE). Everything might appear abstract.  Not so, informational ethics would clarify social ethics too. 

Social ethics equates to collective-based ethics.  A superset of CnE. A group of individuals with different, similar, or the same ethics within each possible superset.  All of this would provide new clarification of the terminology in ethics. 

Universe-based ethics means objective; collective-based ethics means universal; individual-based means subjective.  More vogue ethics relate to social context and universal ethics such as Social Contract Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan, 1651), John Locke (Second Treatise of Government, 1689), Jean Jacques-Rousseau, (The Social Contract, 1762), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, 1851), John Rawls (Theory of Justice, 1971), David Gauthiers (Morals By Agreement, 1986), and Philip Pettit (Republicanism, 1997).

Collectives and individuals can exist out of sync with the greatest possible criterion for ethics (CE) in informational ethics. They might have greater or lesser correspondence in actions and choices with CE, and, therefore, more moral or immoral behavior.  Degree of moral and immoral dependent upon correspondence with CE

Informational ethics clarifies the variant and invariant aspects of ethics.  A comprehensive and coherent consideration of ethics.  Social ethics pertains to the many-valued middle between individual-based/subjective and universe-based/objective ethics. 

A more prosaic consideration of this issue with one question: what equates to the right action in the immediate social context?

I suppose that informational ethics in a social context boils down to something like the golden rule – treat others how you’d want to be treated. Often, a tacit or explicitly stated argument for the inconsiderate treatment of others is that the others don’t have fully developed consciousness – they’re dumb or animal-like. However, if consciousness is a technical-not-mystical thing that’s commonly found in systems with wide-angle information-sharing, then you can assume that you can find consciousness in many of the places you’d suspect you could find it – in other people, for instance, and in animals with decent-sized brains.

In an even smaller nutshell – don’t break stuff. That is, don’t unnecessarily destroy things that may be valued by other conscious beings.

But there’s a huge caveat to all of this. Under informational cosmology, consciousness is a not-too-hard-to-achieve technical phenomenon which arises frequently in the universe. In terms of time and space as we experience it, it’s a rare thing – it shows up on this planet, and say, in the closest other instance, it emerged 32 light years (and 700 million years ago) on some other planet – but in terms of sheer numbers, it probably shows up a bunch. Figure our universe creates 10^20 habitable planets per every 20 billion years, and conscious life arises on one half of one percent of such planets. This would mean that conscious life arises somewhere in the universe an average of nearly once a second.

Conscious life could be, in terms of the sheer number of times it arises, fantastically common. Does that make it less magical? Not necessarily, in that consciousness may be linked to the existence of everything. Not that rocks and trees and Gaia are individually conscious, but that matter is information that’s part of the mind/information-space of the (conscious) universe itself. At the same time, our individual consciousnesses are rough-grained and piddly compared to a universe-sized consciousness. And when an individual consciousness ends, the good and bad things experienced within that consciousness may be completely erased. When a factory-farmed pig leads a thoroughly miserable life and then is killed, there’s no vessel in which the pig’s misery lives on. So does the pig’s misery ultimately matter? Do the good and bad we experience ultimately matter? We just don’t know yet.

We can imagine a set of all possible moments in a mind/information space (with informational cosmology suggesting that such moments are the only context in which things can exist). There are strong probabilistic linkages among such moments, experienced as individual consciousnesses’ world-lines. Among animals and primitive naturally arising civilizations, death means the end of a world-line. But in more advanced civilizations, there can be technical resurrection and virtual creation – moments of consciousness and world-lines can be artificially created. So death may not exactly be Game Over. (Though it still may be Game Over. What are the odds that some civilization will resurrect virtual pigs in cyberspace?) Given the possibility of artificial resurrection, we can’t rule out the possibility that what’s experienced in a world-line has some significance beyond that world-line. There’s the obvious significance of the good you do in the world lasting beyond your death. And there’s the yet-to-be-explored probabilistic math of how mind-space moments relate to each other beyond the natural moment-to-moment linking along world-lines. Looking into this will be complicated and never-ending. In the meantime, try not to be a dick.

90. Ethics appears more in the fore of the public conversation – for the better.  I do not know the precise state of journalism, but I do have many suspicions. Suspicions with respect to acquisition, collation, and reportage from popular news venues.    Most venues seem trivial, content with shameless hyperbole and political bias, celebrity gossip, inaccuracies or, worse yet, ignorant and callous; ignorance and a hard edge become the harvesting ground for cynical charlatans, liars, mountebanks, swindlers, and sophists. A phenomena hastened by continuous motion into a service economy.  How else for their jobs to persist? They malignantly grow on ignorance, unconcern for others, and non-production – a modicum of wellbeing from solace at times, but not much else. 

Possible amusement in consideration of the reality, but more distress because of the deleterious effect on popular discourse. I quote Malcolm X, “The media is the most powerful entity on earth… they control the minds of the masses.” We should respect media more.  Media should conduct themselves with more wisdom.  Not an easy task. It becomes a ubiquitous pattern of inaccurate representation. Not aimed at reportage with high correspondence to objective truth (which exists – sorry to burst bubbles), but in apparent intent to create an image of how things can seem true.

A real journalist seems demonized, wrongly – but expectedly, into obscurity.  What do I mean by “real”?  “Real” lives next door to “true.”  A journalist collects, collates, and summarily reports.  Within this framework, a “real journalist” collects, collates, and summarily reports the truth.  One might add – for explicit clarity, “…without obfuscation, lies, leniencies, allegiances, and onward in the list of foul behaviour in the name of public (or more appropriately self-) service.” I write in such frank tones because of the immense responsibilities and duties concomitant with roles in the media – at all levels, especially for journalists.

According to Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Dr. Steven J. Pinker, we live in the most peaceful times of humankind, which he described at length in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined (2011).  Other troubles exist and persist (more later). 

Without common diversionary tactics or redirecting attention from particular groups, even excuses for infliction of suffering upon other human beings, terrorist activity from fundamentalist national and religious groups, killing without trial in violation of international human rights, and law, by some countries, organizations, and individuals, and variegated forms of subjection, general thralldom, or objectification of women depending on the history, nation, culture, context, people, and motivations, ethics emerges in each of these particulars and their innumerable interactions – acknowledging far more numerous other instances without explicit statement, how does an information-based perspective in ethics relate to sociocultural trends?

In addition to the long-term trend of science moving humanity away from the center of the universe, there’s a long-term social trend of admitting that an increasingly large sphere of people deserve civil rights, with an implied acknowledgment that different groups – women, minorities, LGBT people – think and feel on a par with members of the most empowered class. Informational cosmology will reinforce that process. It will lead to the mathematization of consciousness, and by 2050 or so, we’ll be able to estimate the size of thinking systems. (We’ll have a number or pair of numbers which will reflect the size of an information-space.)

Having a numerical idea of the size of thinking systems and mathematical models of such systems will inform ethical questions. Is it wrong to make a chicken, with its mind-space of size X, suffer? What about a cow? A whale? A robot companion? Is it cruel to deprive someone of his AI brain booster, reducing the size of his mind-space by two-thirds? Should a copy of a deceased person’s mind-space, downloaded with 92% accuracy while he was still alive, have legal rights? Should it continue to receive a pension? Should it be able to vote? Should it be able to own things? Should video games be allowed to incorporate AIs which think and feel? How much privacy should be given to individuals’ mind-spaces? Who should be allowed to have cyber-immortality? Should reengineering of criminals’ mental landscapes to remove criminal tendencies replace punishment?

All these and many more questions about AIs and boosted brains are familiar to anyone who’s interested in science fiction. Informational cosmology will help clarify what thinking and consciousness are and will encourage and facilitate the creation of artificial and add-on thinking systems.

Our world will have more and more embedded computing devices – people (who watch TED talks) are calling it “the internet of things,” “ubiquitous computing,” “the world waking up.” Many of these devices will be of sufficient complexity that they can be said to think, which will raise a zillion new questions of ethics and etiquette. And we won’t have time to adequately answer these questions before new stuff comes along. We’ll be playing catch-up, at least until someone develops MannersMaster, an AI specialist system brain add-on. “MannersMaster has manners, so you don’t have to! Order now, and we’ll include MannersMaster Junior, absolutely free!”

I imagine a science-fiction story in which every animal above a certain level of complexity has had its intelligence boosted. Their lives become a mix of their old ways of being and new behaviors prompted by their expanded cognition. When one animal kills another, the killer is obligated to absorb and incorporate the life experience – the mental record – of the animal it’s killing. (This is also how vampires should work. Nanobots, injected via the vampire’s bite, map the victim’s brain. The victim lives on, along with a chorus of other victims, in the vampire’s brain.) I don’t imagine this will really happen – it’s just fun to think about. However, eventually we’ll have dogs and cats that live for 40 years and have the intelligence of kindergarteners (and little articulated paws for posting their selfies on Instagram for Pets).

91. You spoke in another venue for motivating intellectuals into a force for good. Difficulties exist in mobilization of intellectuals for the good.  Formal, mainstream intellectuals, i.e. majority of Academia, seem to have two dominant ideological strains: bland multiculturalism and moral relativism.   A broad conceptualization would depict these two in generalized, merged terms: difference in cultural/ethical systems transformed into prescription of cultural/ethical relativism – no scale to ethics or cultures. Ethics becomes a human construction; in contradistinction to this ubiquitous academic position, informational ethics necessitates otherwise – described earlier.

Together, these have crippled effective ethical calculations and implementations in and from the Academy in many instances.  Organizations external to Academia could form, organize, strategize, and implement various plans of action to counteract these rather negative developments.  Trouble with this, the majority of funding, support, and advertisement goes towards mainstream academics.

If we wish to create a force of good from intellectuals, in and out of the ivory tower, we might need to erase or modify these ideological programs based on their failure to intake large quantities of ethically relevant information and compute this into effective action to solve problems inside and outside the university system. I do not state this with demeaning any particular person or group. 

Either through tacit approval or passive negligence, all – interviewer included – have failed to combat the morally crippling effects of these two ideological strains in conjunction.  Intellectuals have more foundational work to complete in this light.  What can intellectuals begin to do in the immediate as a force for good?

I’ll say again that people need to think about the changes the future will bring. The future will be increasingly focused on thinking, computing, and sharing information. It could be helpful to start thinking about the risks and benefits of this kind of future before it arrives.

Here’s how we might think about and prepare for the future:

If you’re in the arts, make stories set in the near-future. Picturing the near-future is hard, because it doesn’t exist yet, and it has a lot of moving parts. But people will love you for taking on the future. Look at Star Trek – it’s been around for 48 years, has spawned a bunch of series and movies, and is universally known and widely beloved, and it does a half-assed job at best of presenting the future.

Acquire scientific and technical literacy. The future’s not gonna get less filled with high-tech geegaws. Everybody should understand this stuff, so we can distinguish reasonable approximations of the truth from nonsense and don’t get fooled by bad actors – sleazy corporations, sneaky government programs – hiding behind lies. C’mon – if you can understand the math of fantasy football, you can track trends in tech.

Sharpen and systematize our predictions of the future. We do a lot of predicting of election and sports results. We don’t do much predicting of the future in general. We use Moore’s Laws to determine how small and cheap and powerful our devices will become. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil have their timelines full of predictions. But we don’t have a good overall consensus landscape of how the future might unfold. A consensus landscape would of course be wrong about a bunch of things, maybe most things, but at least it would give us practice at thinking about and getting ahead of possible issues. We’re doing a crap job of addressing global warming. Idiots and shysters are still arguing that doing anything about it is playing into some liberal, big-government scam, and those arguments seem as if they’ll continue for years to come, even as increasingly obvious effects become apparent. What will happen if that kind of paralysis-by-bullshit is allowed to play out with a faster-moving problem?

Call out cynical stupidity and anti-scientific bias in the media. News channels are full of false balance or false equivalence, with a sensible argument on one side and idiots spouting bullshit on the other, presented as equal in merit. We should be less afraid to call stupidity stupid.

If we don’t do the work of visualizing the future, it will be built for us in ways that will be less to our liking.

92. What about the long-term? How can those with particular gifts and talents contribute to society?

John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long run we are all dead.” The era of people with exceptional natural talents may be, in the not so long run, over. In some important ways, we’re living at the beginning of the end of the world. It’s premature to call this the end of human civilization and the beginning of post-human civilization, but it’s not that premature. The science fiction future is coming. It won’t be much about Mars colonies and gyrocopters. The future will be the rise of computation, with everyone being nodes in a network of stuff that thinks.

Natural talents won’t translate directly into the world of pervasive computing. The new talented might be people who figure out the most effective ways to team up or merge with technology. The most effective talents change from era to era. My friend Lance Richlin, who’s skilled in Old Masters-style painting and who painted the portrait of me which begins each part of this interview, scrambles to make a living. Four hundred years ago, his painting skill would have made him wildly successful and highly renowned. Andy Warhol was a talented illustrator, but he found great success in putting aside illustration to concentrate on the role of celebrity in pop culture. Jeff Koons is an artist-technologist, developing novel high-tech methods to create works of kitsch which acquire grace and grandeur through their sheer size and precision.

In the long run, contributions to society will come from people who find and create creative niches in the computational world. Old niches will remain for traditional artists, writers, performers, but many more new niches will open up as the world becomes more saturated with cheap computing. There will be room and need for both creators and artistic interpreters of computation-intensive technology. So, once again, my advice is to stay current on technology. And don’t be afraid to do stupid stuff. – powerful technology brings with it powerful frivolity, which often turns out to have seriously transformative effects – Twitter and other social media as tools against political repression, for instance.

93. Insofar as ethics concerns individuals’ focus on one person, this collective drain of attentional, emotional, and sometimes intellectual resources might work for good or bad, which relates to an astonishing and relatively pervasive celebrity culture devoid of a single scintilla of responsibility – even with a lack of basic knowledge about risks associated with the potential for creation of an idol without grounds. You comment on this celebrity culture within some of the discussion for prior parts of the interview.

Most people do not deserve such status because most do not earn it.   Further, most fail to heed risks and steward responsibilities implicated within increased attention, admiration, and general expenditure of collective time and resources on them.  Entrusted power means privilege; privilege implies responsibility; responsibility proportional to privilege, and therefore responsibility proportional to entrusted power.

In point of fact, you desire fame – have for decades. You spend lots of time in this pursuit.  As noted, responsibilities and risks come with it.  Based on the served quotation of Eugene Wigner from me and your return with the quote of Albert Einstein, I return the ball to you with a minor note from Ideas and Opinions (1954) by Einstein in print:

“The cult of individuals is always, in my view, unjustified.  To be sure, nature distributes her gifts unevenly among her children.  But there are plenty of well-endowed, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unobstrusive lives.  It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them.  This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque.” (Einstein, 1954)

I observe near-universal tendencies in others and yourself.  What do people want in life?  Lots of things.  You want to be understood, liked, and respected – in no particular order.  Why the desire for fame – even glory?  Does this not appear proud or hubristic?

I agree with Einstein that the structure of fame rests on a rotten foundation, since every characteristic on which fame can be based is the result of luck, even traits that don’t seem like special gifts, such as persistence or conscientiousness. But fame being based on luck doesn’t imply a moral prohibition against trying to become famous. Many famous people who complain about fame probably secretly or not-so-secretly enjoy its benefits.

Starting when I was young, I wanted fame for at least three reasons – respect, understanding, and a girlfriend. I was nerdy at a time when nerdy wasn’t at all cute. I sometimes felt picked-on. Whenever allowed, I stayed inside at recess and read. From constant reading and looking at Mad magazine and National Lampoon and accidentally being exposed to a book of Victorian pornographic writing (and having cute third- and fourth-grade teachers), I became aware of women’s sexual desirability by age nine, which is way too young to do anything about it, especially when you’re a geek.

So I wanted to be famous. I didn’t want to be picked-on, and I wanted a girlfriend. I figured that my shot at recognition would be through figuring out the universe.

I’ve always been a little weird. Not so much eccentric-for-attention (though I do like attention) but rather, having my own ways of doing things which make sense to me but seem nuts to everyone else – taking 70 pills a day, going to the gym 5 times a day, having a OCDish preference for turning clockwise. Always figured if I were famous my quirks would be understood and perhaps accepted. Instead of “What’s up with that weirdo?” it’d be “Hey, there’s that guy who does that stuff.”

I’ve been pretty successful without being famous. Been married for nearly 24 years. Am a parent of a lovely daughter. Have been a TV writer for more than 25 years, contributing to 2,500 hours of network television and being nominated for six Writers Guild Awards and an Emmy. Am generally thought of by people who know me as not especially a prick or a douche.

I’m past the point of wanting celebrity in order to get a girlfriend. But I still want to be famous. Have had brushes with fame – was in an Errol Morris documentary, have been in three TV pilots which, like most pilots, didn’t go anywhere, occasionally get to be in a news article. None of these has caused me to reach a self-sustaining level of fame, where you get to stay famous by virtue of being famous.

But now, I kind of really want/need to be famous. I lost my longest-lasting, best TV-writing job a few months ago and am screwed when it comes to (easily) getting more TV work (even though I’m a proven writer). Met with an agent at a big agency. He said that he can’t represent me unless I have a spec sitcom pilot. But if I take a couple months and write a spec pilot, all that would do, if the agent indeed would rep me, would be to get my stuff into a stack of 200 or so submissions, out of which 1 or 2 percent of the submitters might be hired. I want to stand out from the hundreds of other submitters, and to do that, it would be helpful to have fame. (If I did write a spec pilot, it’d be about a weird genius dad with a normal family who thinks he’s half-an-idiot. Write what you know.)

Genius is very popular on TV right now – two flavors of Sherlock Holmes, The Big Bang Theory, the team of super-geniuses on Scorpion, the genius forensic techs and profilers on every murder show. CBS alone must have more than a dozen actors playing geniuses. So I want to yell, “Yo! Over here, CBS – a real person who’s gotten dozens of highest-ever scores on IQ tests, who has a theory of the universe that might not suck, who knows all the issues and behaviors associated with being a weird-ass brainiac, and who’s written more TV than all but 60 or 80 people in the city of Los Angeles.”

It’s not unreasonable for me to want recognition. You may have noticed that reality TV has made dozens and dozens and dozens of horrible people famous. At least my story is interesting. I’m not some Botox addict getting in a slap-fight at a wine-tasting. (But give me a chance – I’ll do that.) Marilyn Savant has had a nice 30-year career based on having the world’s highest IQ. My scores are higher than hers.

And let’s say my theory of the universe is at least partially correct. It could lead to big steps forward in our understanding of the world and our place in it. It could help us figure out how to make our brains work better. If some fame draws some attention to the theory, then good.

If you’ve slogged through all of the interview up to this point, you should be able to tell I’m not a BSer. I’ve spent decades trying to figure out how the universe works (when I haven’t been writing Kardashian jokes), and I’ve come up with some stuff that I think merits some attention. Yeah, there’s some “Hey – looka me!” in my fame-seeking. But, after working on a theory for 33 ½ years and having had a bunch of ridiculous misadventures, it doesn’t make me a douche to want people to check out my stuff.

****************Footnotes and bibliography in Archives “6.A” PDF*****************

License

In-Sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-Sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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