"Talking with God", a transhumanist short story

by NancyLebovitz1 min read9th Jan 201216 comments

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Talking with God is a pleasant and inspiring transhumanist short story. I've got some quibbles, but I'll save them for the comments because I think the story is better without spoilers.

There's a discussion forum at the story's site.

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I'm not impressed. I'll admit I stopped reading part way through, but it definitely seemed to be going in the direction of self-flattery and inexcusable provincialism. (E.g. "god" had to talk to an atheist because only they/we are smart and cool enough to "handle it", plus organized religions are super-duper evil, god is a liberal utilitarian, more "evolved" beings don't modify their environment, etc.)

(minor edit for clarity)

I finished it, and felt much the same way. Like eutopia, I'd expect a frank conversation with a superintelligence to be deeply challenging; it would be very surprising if all the substantial advice one had for me turned out identical to what merely mortal soft transhumanists with environmental and social concerns are already saying. In fact, I wonder why the god of the story bothered; he's clearly not telling us anything we don't already know, and he isn't saying it in a way that'll substantially contribute to the meme's spread.

I agree too. Above all, I wouldn't expect a conversation with a superintelligence to be so boring.

It would be very surprising if all the substantial advice one had for me turned out identical to what merely mortal soft transhumanists with environmental and social concerns are already saying.

Obviously a human author cannot foresee what "substantial advice" a transhuman intelligence would actually offer; therefore the story's god probably just functions as a mouthpiece for the author. I suggest you stop thinking about whether a superintelligent being would in fact say the things that character does, and start thinking about whether those things make sense on their own terms.

You don't say.

I know an authorial tract when I see one; but putting aside my basic distaste for the form and considering the short story as persuasive writing, I'd say it's actually worse. It presents little reasoning, practically no evidence, and not even any especially interesting ideas. There's nothing there but a sketch of a future history and a few generic environmental and social warnings, and I can get that without the smug overtones (well, without the same smug overtones, at least) on any left-leaning transhumanist blog.

Agreed; that entire story is one big applause light.

[-][anonymous]10y 2

Fun story to read. Interested in the quibbles now.

My first quibble is that if you're used to a triple-omni God, the fellow in the story is a pathetic excuse. He dodges the question of whether he's God in his home universe. He has a lot of power, but he understands our universe on such a broad statistical level that he can't or won't use it in detail. The same goes for omnibenevolence, only more so.

I wouldn't mind growing up to be the likes of him, and thinking that one is more important than one is seems to be pretty common among humans and might be conserved, or claiming such might be an intelligence test that the human failed.

I'm an agnostic-- if it had been a "Yay, agnosticism" story rather than a "Yay, atheism" story, it would have been more like "I'm probably the nearest thing to a God you're got".

I don't have a strong opinion about evolving to be invisible-to-humans energy beings. I don't think living organisms of that sort are supported by current physics, but it's plausible that strange things will be found to be true, and it's definitely good enough for a story.

Not a quibble-- the idea that methods of destroying the human race will be found which can be used by individuals fits neatly with my spam variant of the Fermi Hypothesis. It's natural for Fermi to have been concerned with atomic war as a filter.

I think Ben Franklin would have been delighted at the idea of what adds up to a high proportion of individuals having home printing presses and effectively free post offices. I don't know whether he would have thought of the more negative implications.

Spam has been put pretty much under control, though the social cost of spam is high. If it weren't for spam, we'd have email directories, and I don't think the cost of communication which has been indirectly blocked by protection against spam is especially low.

I'm not looking forward to the effects of home virus kits, and I believe they're just a matter of making current scientific tech cheaper.

What do you think about the details of the story?

Do you think the God would claim omni-benevolence? I didn't get that impression. In fact, I'm not sure that the entity would even claim benevolence. As you implicitly noted, that begs the question why to name it God.

The character in the story makes it clear that It (presumably not really a He) isn't omnibenevolent-- my point was more that calling it God is a dubious use of the word.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I had a little difficulty suspending disbelief at the entity bothering to contact anyone for such silly nonadvice, but I quickly realized that this wasn't really relevant to the story. The exact same story could have easily framed the same content as an omnipotent future Humanity looking say back on its history and all the other species that didn't make it. There is a bit of a yay atheist vibe as knb points out, but I'm ok with that since I can stand literature I read occasionally going "why yes you are more awesomer than other people (who probably aren't reading this)".

It is a warm tale, one that almost cheers me up and reminds me of the early enthusiastic optimism I had for transhumanism as a teenager, before I started to deeply contemplate some of the more likley and much less pleasant outcomes.

The affect I get from it reminds me of the one I get from the last few lines of The Gift We Give To Tommrow

Yes this is nice. I have some thoughts about why some people interested in Transhumanism will find it interesting and compelling. The reasons are not complimentary, though.

Yes I did, thanks!

Not complimentary because the story has too much "Yay, us!"?

I suppose that is one thing. I've been trying to figure out exactly what it is that bothers me about it, and I think my problem is that it suggests that Transhumanists are looking for some authoritative feedback that they are on the right path. Not that anyone would confuse this story for such feedback - but if it fills a hole then I guess I'm not happy to find out that I or anyone else in the target audience has a hole there for it fill.