Touching the Old

by Eliezer Yudkowsky1 min read20th Jul 200832 comments


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I'm in Oxford right now, for the Global Catastrophic Risks conference.

There's a psychological impact in walking down a street where where any given building might be older than your whole country.

Toby Ord and Anders Sandberg pointed out to me an old church tower in Oxford, that is a thousand years old.

At the risk conference I heard a talk from someone talking about what the universe will look like in 10100 years (barring intelligent modification thereof, which he didn't consider).

The psychological impact of seeing that old church tower was greater.  I'm not defending this reaction, only admitting it.

I haven't traveled as much as I would travel if I were free to follow my whims; I've never seen the Pyramids.  I don't think I've ever touched anything that has endured in the world for longer than that church tower.

A thousand years...  I've lived less than half of 70, and sometimes it seems like a long time to me.  What would it be like, to be as old as that tower?  To have lasted through that much of the world, that much history and that much change?

Transhumanism does scare me.  I shouldn't wonder if it scares me more than it scares arch-luddites like Leon Kass.  Kass doesn't take it seriously; he doesn't expect to live that long.

Yet I know - and I doubt the thought ever occurred to Kass - that even if something scares you, you can still have the courage to confront it.  Even time.  Even life.

But sometimes it's such a strange thought that our world really is that old.

The inverse failure of the logical fallacy of generalization from fictional evidence, is failure to generalize from things that actually happened.  We see movies, and in the ancestral environment, what you saw with your own eyes was real; we have to avoid treating them as available examples.

Conversely, history books seem like writing on paper - but those are things that really happened, even if we hear about them selectively.  What happened there was as real to the people who lived it, as your own life, and equally evidence.

Sometimes it's such a strange thought that the people in the history books really lived and experienced and died - that there's so much more depth to history than anything I've seen with my own eyes; so much more life than anything I've lived.

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