Monday, January 9, 2012

Discussion Outline for Final Hour by Martin Rees and Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright

To:  Book Club
From:  Fred Snow
Re: Book Club-Final Hour by Martin Rees and Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright
Date: July 21, 2003

1.  Rees discusses the necessity of  'going slow."  Wright discusses the need to tolerate a "seductive effect."  Joe Tainter, an archeologist, has proposes a model regarding the rise and fall of complex societies (i.e., they don't necessary collapse, such societies return to a "normal" period of less human complexity when investment in complex society reaches a point of declining marginal return).  Are we going there?

2.  Rees discusses the advisability of science policy based an a sort of Pascal model (i.e., even through the probability if the existence of a vengeful God is remote, the price of being wrong keeps us in line).  As a policy matter, should we try to restrict/slow down science even when there is no theory suggesting a catastrophe should occur?  Genetic engineering of food comes to mind as an example.

3.  One of Rees more interesting risks is the risk of becoming less human because we can change the chemistry of our minds?  Should we as a society try to restrict access to therapies which present such a risk?

4.  Rees identifies the risk of global warming as a grave (a combination of high probability mixed with a highly bad result).  Efforts to control global warming have largely failed.  What is the role on nonzero sumness to this risk,  Can society be influenced by nonzero sumness even when the result is unknowable?  Do we adequately evaluate the interests of "others" when we nonzero (e.g., unborn individuals, the environment, other societies).

5.  Is the difference between the Islamic terrorist and western man merely a timing difference (I know this is obscure, just think in terms of the here and now and the afterlife)?

6.  From a writing standpoint, did Rees hold your interest?

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