Infinite betterment:
I think it was Samuel Johnson who described second marriage as the triumph of hope over experience.  Information about the way the brain functions and the technology of computers proceeds apace.  (Christof Koch The End of the Beginning for the Brain SCIENCE vol. 339 no. 6121 February 15, 2013 page 759 reviewing Ray Kurzweil How to Create a Mind Viking New York 2012) There is the expectation expressed in the book that one day fairly soon the computers will outstrip their human creators in cognitive power.  There is also deep skepticism, eloquently laid out in the review.  The brain is really, really complex. 

The review states that there is not a single psychological diagnosis that depends on functional brain scanning, advanced though such scanning is.  That’s not to be confused with permanent vegetative state, I suppose, which does depend on physiologic study of the brain, buy you get his point.

In fact the wish for computers that will take care of all our needs, make our decisions and usher us, so to speak, back to the womb does sound like the triumph of hope over experience. 

Koch also mentions that there is an Anglo-American notion that expects, “…infinite betterment of the human condition through cultural and technological means.”  I am unable to phrase it better.  In fact I can’t find a satisfactory way to paraphrase it.  Well put, Koch! 

Of course it is a straw man.  Nothing is infinite. 

Even cooling the hype to “very long term betterment or at least not worsening of the human condition by any means at all,” it comes out as that hope over experience thing all over again. 

Civilizations die.  Human populations die.  When is the last time you met a Hittite, an Olmec or even (I know some will not agree, but the genetic studies have been done) a British Celt?  Closer to home there were a number of very populous native tribes here in Florida at the time Ponce de Leon named the place.  All are gone now.  There are places like the lost cities in the Amazon flourishing only five or six centuries ago but now almost invisible within the seemingly primordial rain forest. 

An entire generation has passed since the birth rate for developed countries fell below replacement and no effective way to reverse the fall has been found, desperately important though the issue is.  Western Civilization is taking the long walk. 

So count me as an incurable optimist.  I think the cause is evident.  Resources are available.  The will to move is not lacking.  The only problem is the failure of the courage to look at the facts.  (That’s right.  Dec. 21) 

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