Saturday, March 15, 2008


Sometimes we suffer from to much imagination. We imagine things to be possible or feasible when they are not. We've long found it easy to imagine flying cars and colonies on the moon, but these things are incredibly difficult; too much imagination. While contemplating their lunar holiday, the very same people were unable to imagine women astronauts or cell phones; too little imagination.

Actual scientists say that we are systematically biased to think that both the past and the future look far too much like the present. I remember a computer nerd explaining to me exactly why there would never be streaming video on the internet. Being a nerd he was able to befuddle me with his impressive techno babble, but I remained confident that it would happen relatively soon. What he meant was that there were very good reasons why there was not streaming video 10 years ago (I actually also got this, since there was no streaming video around at the time). But it wasn't necessary for me to articulate how this would be done, I just knew that computers and the internet were getting faster, and there was no particular reason for this trend to reverse itself.

An issue I think suffers from to much imagination is consciousness. We find it too easy to imagine machines exactly like us (fancy robots) with life ambitions witty banter etc, which are not conscious. This is a problem because it means that naturalism is not true and one way or another, we're all naturalists (at least when we do science, I realise that this is usually a religious or spiritual issue).

So, how do we know when we're suffering from which deficiency?


the princess said...

perhaps when we stop using our imagination we begin to notice the deficiency? it is a very important part of our existence to be able to visualize things in our minds, don't you think? i agree it varies from person to person.

what do those years past techies know anyhow?

Greg Torr said...

Major theme of Fooled By Randomness and (especially) The Black Swan:
- Just about all the important things that happen in the world are things that were pretty much impossible to imagine happening before they happened
- Obviously, we are are not very good at predicting or imagining these things in advance
- For some reason, we just don't see or accept that this is the case, and we carry on thinking we can predict or imagine the future.

Trevor Black said...

Is there anything wrong with imagining the impossible?

Perhaps in striving to reach that we stumble across intermediary steps that are possible but were not imagined.

The scarier part is too little imagination, like you say.

Tracy said...

Stu, you must be referring to Stanley Kubricks' "2001 Space Odyssey". While I must be one of the few who was really intrigued by the film, the role of women in the movie was completely uninspired. The female characters were dressed in 60's styled mini's and had the same jobs as they did back 60s, e.g. waitress and secretary! No high-powered women or engineers in this film - no way!

I agree that if one takes an entirely naturalistic view of the world, then consciousness must arise out of some complex natural process, which means that in some day and age we could duplicate it. (of course we do already, through reproduction :-)

However, I have a feeling we're a long way off from understanding consciousness, so in my life-time I hope not to worry a superior robot threatening my place in the universe.

I thought I-Robot, the movie, took a sensitive view to the conscious robot scenario. If a robot behaves, thinks and feels like us, you naturally start to feel a connection and empathy for it.

Stuart said...

Hmmm... I think I should write another post!