Von New Man

1368191281_gravity-oo6We feel compelled to open the Pandora’s boxes we search for:

The protagonist of Alastair Reynolds’s first space opera discovers an ancient alien artifact. Despite all warnings, his curiosity and ingenuity–and by extension humanity’s–drives galactic archeologist Dan Sylveste to ‘solve’ it.

The artifact proves a von Neumann machine, suddenly weaponized to destroy the civilization a threat enough to open it.

The irony that the aliens are by this time long extinct provoked the thought that should we fail to check the most myopic of our own practices–in my view, capitalism’s first and second contradictions, the Jevons trap, Lauderdale’s paradox, and a self-fulfilling declensionist rationalization–humanity may act as its own von Neumann.

6 Responses to “Von New Man”

  1. Alexis Dinno Says:

    Well… the overwhelming majority of species have already ‘selected’ themselves right into extinction. Why should we be special? 🙂

  2. Perhaps because we are conscious we are doing so?

  3. Alexis Dinno Says:

    Oh Rob, that’s interesting! Do you see the linguistic slip you made there? I made a point about species selection, and you responded with a quality about individuals. As far as I know: species aren’t conscious (also going to leave aside the fact that members of non-human species are also conscious… just in a non-human manner), but there are certainly species-level determinants of extinction, and individual-level qualities (like particular individual states of consciousness) may be more or less irrelevant there.

  4. rgwallace Says:

    Yeah, Alexis, I’ve written up multiple consciousnesses http://bit.ly/19dn5RN, but the polyphyly, expressed by individual organisms, is simultaneously characterized by monomorphic traits that differentiate each species. So no slip there. The capacity for our kind of cultural inheritance, to quote Robert Boyd, as much a part of our biology as the enamel on our teeth, just about pinches us off the organismal continuum. Unlike other species, we know by this particular historical trajectory we’re fucking ourselves and the present ecosphere more generally, whatever contingent catastrophes are also in the mix.

  5. Alexis Dinno Says:

    Yeah, we certainly are particularly human (didn’t mean to imply that we aren’t especially ourselves individually or collectively, :). I guess I originally meant that there are lots of ways for species to go extinct, and that human consciousness, amazing as it is, does not seem to automatically prioritize short-term self-survival over long-term group-survival; those kind of trade offs are precisely what can lead to extinction events.

    Ick. I sound so pessimistic. Hmmm… Kropotkin to the rescue: thankfully mutualism and the advancement of collective good seems not to require human consciousness. :}

  6. Alexis Dinno Says:

    Whoops wrote it backwards, should have been: “…does not seem to automatically prioritize long-term group-survival over short-term self-survival…”

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