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Discussing David Brin’s novel Existence (2012) with the author.
What’s the point of thinking? Brin sees the future as a pressing threat, and Existence speculates that the reason we don’t see evidence of life on other planets is that no species survives its technological adolescence. The solution? We need to be smarter than our parents and work to give our kids the tools to be smarter than we are. In the book, the ultimate hope comes from a concerted effort to develop and diversify the coalition of Earth’s intelligent life, to make “humanity” encompass more than just the biological humans that we currently are.
In our present political difficulties, Brin sees the solution as positive-sum games: institutions like science and markets that (are supposed to) result in everybody benefiting overall. We need to keep elites (whether corporate or governmental) from screwing these games up, and to use technology to foster reciprocal accountability. The government is illicitly spying on people? Spy back and call them out when power is abused! Instead of vainly trying to hold back technology, just make sure that it’s not restricted to elites, that there can be effective debate re. its uses.
The point of thinking for Brin is to “be a good ancestor.” Philosophy and science fiction can help through thought experiments that visualize the outcomes of our ideas and can help in developing scientific theories. Philosophy’s most Brin-approved task is to promote the critical argumentation needed for reciprocal accountability. The “examined life” is not just for navel-gazers, but for societies prone to catastrophic mistakes.
As this is largely a Brin monologue (with a few interjections by Mark, Seth, Dylan, and also Brian Casey), we recorded a follow-up without him that you can listen to after this. Be sure to listen to Mark’s introduction, and then read more about the topic and get the book.
End song: “Persevere” by Mark Lint & the Simulacra (recorded mostly in 2000, sung and mixed now).
Our sponsor for this episode is Squarespace: Go to squarespace.com/examine and use the offer code Examine to get a free trial offer and 10% off.
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