>> I'm here to introduce Michael Vassar, who is the president of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. He'll be talking about the Darwinian Method and promoting the Singularity Summit, which is a two day event happening August 14th and 15th. There's a discount for Googlers. It's very cool. You should all find out about it and talk with Michael. And here he is. >> VASSAR: Hi, I'm Michael Vassar. And I wanted to tell you guys–we'll share some ideas about the relationship between science, scholarship and some other things that humans do to try to get the right answers. Because–well, the singularity is not really a scientific hypothesis, but I believe it is a rational expectation or rather I think it's three rational expectations. It's the rational expectation of sort of an event horizon that prevents people from predicting certain features of the future especially the future beyond a certain point. It's a rational expectation of some types of accelerating change under certain circumstances. And it's the rational expectation of an intelligence explosion of radical, almost asymptotic, positive intellectual feedback at some point in the future.
But I'm–you can learn more about these specific models from the Singularity Summit video by Eleazar (ph) a few years ago. So, basically, I suspect a lot of technical people are skeptical of the idea that there are rational, but non-scientific perspectives. You know, people–it's easy to have wishy-washy, "Oh, we should all feel good. There are different ways of knowing." But the fact is there really are different ways of knowing or else there was no transition, no scientific revolution ever. So, you know, something does seem to have changed that makes the modern world different from the medieval world, for instance. But in the ancient world, which I would say is a world without science, you have Roman aqueducts, you have Gothic cathedrals. I mean, can you believe that the Goths built that, you know? I mean, not that we have a slide right now. They had sailing ships before Ben Franklin.
And there's a great essay by Ben Franklin where he says, "Hey, guys, we ought to use science when building ships." So, that was a big idea back then, but they had reasonably good ships. They could reliably get across the Atlantic through, basically, the evolution of technology. You know, small changes imitated when they worked well and in a very, very noisy manner. And of course, market prices are type of non-scientific rational process that many people believe in and that's kind of popular to believe in among people who are skeptical of the wishy-washiness of rational non-scientific processes. So, I'm going to say that, surprisingly, Darwinian Evolution and the belief in Anthropogenic Global Warming or most of it are also examples of rational non-scientific beliefs. More generally, if you see a controversy that involves a scientific side and in–a scientific and a non-scientific side, the scientific side is probably usually promoting a rational but non-scientific belief, at least, in the narrow sense of scientific, according to which science was invented 400 years ago as opposed to science being something that chimpanzees or caveman do. So, there are also possibly some scientific but non-rational beliefs.
Paranormal Phenomena are good example of something which is predicted sort of by something that kind of–that looks a lot like the scientific method and confirmed by something like it but which in fact are not real. I don't think I'll have time to go into why the scientific method gives a false positive, but I have referred to paranormal as the control group for science. You know, like a control group where you know there's no–a placebo effect of science itself. Another example of a scientific but irrational belief, I would say, is that Western Medicine doesn't work at all. When you study in aggregate the effectiveness of Western Medicine, all of the studies say the same thing. They say that it doesn't work at all. People have looked really carefully at that. But basically you have to be a complete non-naturalist to believe it.
It would require something like a conservation of medical outcomes law and that seems so wildly opposed to the sort of foundations of reality that the scientific world view leads us to believe in. That while Western Medicine could be harmful on that, it seems much more reasonable to look at the individual studies that show that individual procedures are beneficial and be disturbed by the aggregate data. But basically assumed that there's something wrong with the aggregate studies which tell you what's going on. These sorts of things are basically possible because people don't really know what science is and science isn't the process that generates truth. The process that generates truth is proper induction or proper deduction. So what is science? Before the 17th century, Europe was a backwater civilization with almost no cities, almost no libraries, basically nothing very impressive except some really good art. Civilizations had been rising and falling for a few thousand years back to the Indus Valley, the Minoan Civilization. It's not obvious that the Minoans didn't get about as far as the Romans. They had running water, they had printing, they did large scale geo-engineering projects.
The–I mean, if I had to choose, I'd say some of the Chinese dynasties especially the Sung or Song might have gotten a hair farther, but there's basically six of one half dozen of the other. You had a bunch of golden ages interspersed in a period of mostly medieval or sub-medieval standard of living. And even the Golden Ages did not provide what we would consider a respectable third world lifestyle today, although they probably provided a better standard of living than most of the third world did 40 years ago. Anyway–then something changed. So, here's what science isn't. Archimedes did stuff that looked a lot like science. He, you know, famously talked about cranes. He had laws of physics. He talked about precise mathematical relationships describing physical phenomena. So, he developed new mathematical notation that allowed him to talk about the volume of the solar system and make fairly precise estimates. He talked about how far the sun and the moon were and did calculations and estimates, and the–a lot of these were pretty accurate estimates.
The reasoning was good. He developed processes like calculus and did analysis to optimize functions, worked out the ratios of the dimensions of a cone that would maximize the volume of a sphere that intersected with the cone. These are nifty sciencesy things he was doing; engineering, the lighthouse of Pharos, the legendary cranes and mirrors that he used. But, he didn't have much empiricism and he didn't have much common sense either. You know, that's how he died. So, why do I not think it's science? Well, although he had the rules of logical argument that allowed him to reason out, the–whether a statue was made out of gold or impure–pure or impure gold through the logic of water displacement, he didn't–you know, this is the famous Eureka story where he ran through the city naked after figuring this out for the king of Syracuse–he didn't test that hypothesis after formulating it. In fact, he was right. But we would normally think that as a good scientist, he should have done something or advocated something like creating pure and impure gold statues or gold objects and demonstrating differential water displacement. In a sense, you don't need to.
He could be pretty sure that he was right without doing that. And, in fact, he was right. But if you give people free reign to make logical arguments of the sort that he was making when he discovered water displacement, you're going to have a lot of them generating nonsense and then fighting over it, and you're not going to get anywhere. No hypothesis testing. There also weren't any organized literature or publication standards. He wasn't citing sources in a formal manner. He wasn't encouraging other people to cite him in a formal manner. There certainly was no priority rule that allowed–that encouraged people to share all of their knowledge rather than only sharing knowledge as it came up or sharing the results of their knowledge without sharing the knowledge itself. As a result, you had a process that worked when you have an honest genius doing it. But where non-geniuses couldn't really contribute, progress was not continual, dishonesty was basically unchecked, which meant self-deception was basically rampant and you couldn't apply the same method to understanding human behavior at all. And you basically couldn't apply this method to figuring out anything of economic or policy importance. Because once you allowed people to make arguments like the one that Archimedes was making about water displacements, you'd pretty soon find that the manufacturer of shoddy spears had expert [INDISTINCT], making similar sounding arguments, saying that you should buy their spears instead of the better spears that your army was already using and your country would be overrun by the Romans.
So, other things that the ancients had, other rational processes that were not science include naturalistic explanation. The Etruscans supposedly claimed that thunder was not caused by the Gods but was just the sound of clouds banging into each other. This is kind of silly sounding, but it's silly sounding in the way that Piaget talked about children claiming that the wind was made by the trees waving their hands. It's–there's something right about it which is not right about saying that wind is caused by the zephyrs or by some bag that lets out the east wind being opened and the east wind coming out, you know. The–it's the type of explanation that you're using, basically, censoring modalities for visual processing in order to evaluate and that you can make concrete fairly precise predictions with. Another ancient art of rationality is philosophy.
Nowadays, we have continental and analytic philosophy, but basically they boil down to being careful about what questions you're asking, clarifying your concepts, figuring out what you want to know, what you don't know and where you should still be curious. Craftsmanship is something that looks a lot like science after the fact but a lot–but not very similar to science beforehand. People fiddle around with the ingredients that go into their [INDISTINCT]. They fiddle around with how to build a suit of armor. Gradually, the suits of armor that protect the people who are wearing them survive and the societies that wear those suits of armor expand and you end up with better suits of armor. You know, this is–people's intuitions guide evolution in this case and their intuitions are based on a naïve physics that kind of works, which is–so it's kind of faster than natural selection, but it's still pretty slow. Occasionally, once again, you get a genius who has really good intuitions and they can, you know, create art that won't be reproduced again for 10,000 years like the people who drew the cave paintings in Lascaux may have been.
You know, who knows what was really going on. But people have been doing pretty cool craftsmanship and art occasionally in a non-cumulative manner for awhile. Another great non-scientific rational–rationality is exploration. Go around, look for more data, see whether you can discard your old data. If you think all swans are white and then you go and find a black swan, you know, that's where the metaphor comes from. If you think that, you know, animals come in certain natural types and then you go to another content–continent and you find similar, but not quite the same species, this is nifty. It might inspire the right, you know, the right sort of thoughts down the way. I've mentioned markets and they have their counterpart, hierarchies, which are also an epistemic process. As much as people may not like, say, the Soviet system of government, it really did work better than a lynch mob at, say, fighting the Nazis.
And then there's scholarship which is the subject of my talk. I'm going to claim that along with the scientific method, there's something that I'm going to call the scholarly method. It consists roughly of these steps. You look around your population, see who's interested in learning, explicit data and deploying it to the real world. You have teachers who are excited and pleased by finding a new student who sees new applications for the things that the teachers are telling them or at least to cease old applications without being told. You teach those people to notice their ignorance. You ask them questions where the correct answer is counter intuitive. And you make them see that the reason to solve their ignorance is not just to please their teacher, but because they can actually solve their problems by, you know, encouraging them through things like the Socratic Method, test or questions.
You have books, lots of them, with the printing press ideally. You have your scholars read broadly guided by curiosity of basically a child-like sort. They seek and write about their life experiences, go out in the world, live with the Tasaday, live in China; notice violations of the generalizations that they encountered in their early childhood. It takes a long time to do this, you know. If you move in to a foreign culture for a couple of years, at first, there will be a lot of strange interesting things. After you've sat there, you know, been hanging out there for six months, maybe things have seem a lot more normal. You think–you'd think you kind of got a grip on it. You stay there, living in the culture for another six months, things get weird again. You start noticing things–not only are there all sorts of surprises and cool different things, there are things that are different that you couldn't have thought could possibly be different.
If you've ever really changed cultures as an adult, especially between the first world and the third world or between basically western and eastern civilization, you'd know what I'm talking about here. Anyway, when people do this and then they talk about it, they write about it and other people look at it, then third parties can look or they can look for things that are being said by many people, preferably surprising things. So, you know, if one guy says, "Maybe we should–maybe we should try to love everyone, even our enemies," in one culture or tradition. And then another guy says something similar in a very different culture or tradition. Well, they may not be right but there's at least some regularity in the world probably that causes risk taking, broadly experienced people to make this suggestion. So, they might be right.
It's worth exploring. It's worth trying out and seeing whether it will work. Why does this work? Well, we've got some rationality built into us. Otherwise, we could never learn anything. We'd be, you know, there's some truth to the idea of a scientist in a crib. Rationality requires induction which is technically Bayesian inference, or a process that approximates Bayesian inference, and deduction in order to build a map of the world; a model which has structure which is analogous to the real structure of the world. Human children of course do this. They gather redundant data-sets. So, the same kid wants to watch the same movie or see–hear the same song over and over again. This makes being a parent kind of annoying in some ways because you have to sing or read the same story over and over, but it's neat because it's not really the same story to your kid.
You're discarding a huge amount of detail. They don't know yet what detail to discard. So, they love having that–what looks to you like the same thing in front of them over and over, so they can see what stays the same and start noticing the different parts that don't stay the same. Since kids hang out with other kids as well as adults, they can average together their behaviors, imitate one another and eliminate the errors that they make in their naïve induction that way. As the–as the children develop better models of the world, models that make fewer errors, they can reallocate their effort from building models, being curious, to actually doing stuff, seeking–pursuing goals. And as that happen, they stop learning so much. Each person has a lot less resources than a society. So, the optimal amount for a person to learn is a lot less than the optimal amount for a society to learn. Scholarship is basically a way of making super children a part of society that can learn like a child does only more so, gathering information from more varied data-sets, perceiving weaker patterns, et cetera. The diverse experiments in different cultures, cultivating awareness of your supplies so that you don't just discard good data; all of these things maintain a level of uncertainty about what's going on, which is maladaptive for an individual, but, you know, a society can make that uncertainty adaptive by directly rewarding it.
Basically, you have to subsidize people to notice their ignorance because it's not useful if you admit to being ignorant of your stowed up plans, you will never ever get funding. Even though, of course, everyone is ignorant of their stowed up plans. Anyway, when cultivating scholars, a society gets to use better than average brains. And by 'better than average' I don't mean necessarily brains that work better. I can mean brains that have better than average pattern recognition, so you can basically use your mad men which a lot of ancient societies do. Pay special attention to the things that they say and see if you can make any sense out of them. Type 2 errors can be cancelled out more thoroughly by the data collected by a society of a million people than by the data that you can collect as a child in a tribe of a hundred people.
And so, if you're a type 2 errors, your false positives can get cancelled out more easily. It's collectively better to make more of them. So, you can have–use overconfident people who might once again be somewhat dysfunctional. So–I mean, type 1 errors. Anyway, what goes wrong with scholarship? Why isn't the super trialed solution an adequate solution to the problem of knowledge? Well, one problem is that errors become correlated. Scholarship needs to cancel out these type 2 errors by allowing people to develop their different beliefs independently of one another. But remember, we're talking about the kids who are best at learning, most enthusiastic about using models. And once they get into contact with one another, when they have universities and the Internet, then they can all go around copying one another.
And multiple people are saying the same thing, even how–however smart the people are, stops mapping on to reality, stops being strong evidenced. Another problem with the scholarly method is that it has a bias towards surprising theories. You know, if you think that the Earth goes around the sun that could be because it does, which is really weird, or it could be because you just think random crazy stuff. And if you have enough scholars in your community, they're going to start thinking the same random crazy stuff just at random and then you're going to end up with basically anti-induction where you display your wisdom, display the fact that you're like a scholar by saying all sorts of random stuff that is the opposite of intuition. I think that we sometimes see this as a problem in politics that one of the reasons why the right tends to distrust the left is that they suspect them of reversing morality in order to show how wise they are.
It's not the only problem in politics; it's not even close but I do think that this happens. There's a tendency for scholars also to come up with the same wisdom and say it but still be unintelligible, you know. If you need very unusual pattern recognition to notice something, you might notice it and talk about it and even be able to display that you know something special by doing things that other people can't do, and yet you're just babble clichés. When you ask, you know, you say, "I know that I know nothing." Well, okay, what do you mean by that, you know? I know what he means, but I think most people who are listening to him are just going to ignore it. They'll just hear another cliché and go on. And finally, there are the standard biases that affect human cognition and those don't cancel out, however many children you have gathering the data. There's a whole literature on human bias and I can't go into it in a great deal of detail right now, but it's been really popular especially since the financial crisis in association with behavioral economics. So, what was new in the 17th century? What was different about science? One really big deal was radical skepticism.
The Greeks fiddled around with that a little. There was a philosophical school called The Skeptics, but in a sense they didn't have the radical skepticism that Christians had of trying to claim you doubted everything. Descartes really was doing something novel when he claimed that he was going to discover God by doubting everything. And he was doing it because he thought it was really important to figure out things that were exactly true. One of the surprising positives of dogmatic hellfire Christianity is that the subtle surprising different, you know, consequences of counter-intuitive, you know, differences might really matter a lot. You know, if you don't see any easy way to tell the difference between one catholic heresy and another, but you actually think that you're going to burn forever if don't get the answer right, it might be a good method to try not believing anything until you see what you can't escape from believing and see whether you can get the right answer that way.
So, I think that that's the big part of why science emerged. The–another thing–so, what was enlightenment science? Basically, you try to discard all the beliefs that you can get away with discarding and then you make really long logical chains and look for surprising consequences of the beliefs that you can't easily discard and you see whether these beliefs that you can't easily discard have surprising consequences eventually. If they do, you can test the surprising consequences and the surprising consequences can serve as a proxy for the beliefs themselves. If you find that the surprising consequences don't hold up, then you have to examine your reasoning process ever more carefully. If you find that the surprising consequences do hold up, wow, you figured out something pretty cool. You know, like parabolic motion.
It's a surprising logical consequence of–well, not naïve physics exactly, but if you stripped down the assumptions in naïve physics, if you discard everything about Aristotle's physics, about your intuitions about the physical world and look for things that you can't easily doubt, you end up with some simple assumptions. And then if you extrapolate, work out the logic from those, you'd get things like parabolic motion. Anyway, if you–if you do this method, this method of extreme doubt, you don't need to be a genius like Archimedes to do something that looks like science because you're not doing something that looks like science. You're doing science and science works with non-geniuses. That's what's really special about it. So, I talked about this, enlightenment science. It basically worked until 1905 when you had some assumptions that were basically not discardable and had to be pretty much transformed into math in order to discard them.
Rather than, you know, that gave better results than the long inferential chains that come from discarding all of the assumptions that you can discard. I'm going to say 1905 because although Newton and Goethe were disagreeing–no, not Goethe–Got–Goethe–I don't–I can't pronounce his name. The guy who wrote, Faust. Until Newton and that guy–although they disagreed about whether light was a particle or a wave, and scholars following them disagreed, the scholars basically disagreed because they weren't following the method properly. You know, there was enough data to discard the wave theory of light and there was also enough data to discard the particle theory. And it's pretty easy to discard the idea that light is a wave and to discard the idea that light is a particle. Coming out with the idea of a probability function or probability amplitude, that's not easy, but just discarding those two ideas and saying, "Wow, light. I don't know what light is, but is seems kind of like a wave in some ways and kind of like a particle in others.
" People should have done that earlier, if they were, you know, following the scientific method well and falsifying hypothesis. Another thing that enlightenment science did was provide an intellectual justification for liberalism. Locke didn't invent the idea that people should be allowed to do things unless there's a good reason not to let them do them. He discovered that the Netherlands actually worked with that idea. He didn't know why that idea worked. He didn't know whether it only worked in the Netherlands or whether it would work elsewhere. I'm not actually convinced that it did work at–elsewhere. I think it worked very well on the American frontier and I think it worked well in the Netherlands because in a weird way the Netherlands was a frontier. It was a swamp and when you mixed your land with–mixed land with labor and a swamp, you're actually turning something previously worthless and abundant into something valuable because there's just–it just takes so much work to turn a swamp useful and it becomes so useful once you do it. And it takes so much maintenance to maintain swamp that really separating people from the land that they mix with their labor just destroys value, which provided the Netherlands with a sort of 17th century neutron bomb or hydrogen bomb.
They could–they didn't have neutrally assured destruction, but they had self-assured destruction that allowed them to protect themselves against military threats and preserved their property rights. Anyway, why does the enlightenment science sometimes fail? The simplest reason as a say, is that sometimes the assumptions that you can't discard that seemed necessary are actually false. But this wasn't a problem until much later. The other reason is that it's easy to imitate the form of enlightenment science in order to justify whatever you want to believe anyway. This is more common when you assume that you have to believe that you can't discard ethical or epistemic rules than it is when you claim you can't discard ontologies. And so–and you usually claim you can't discard ethical or epistemic rules in social domains. So, the enlightenment science ended up being used to justify liberalism as I talked about with Locke.
Some examples of hell are that you could insist that humans have free will because the ethical consequences of people not having free will would be disastrous. Without actually examining whether the ethical consequences of abandoning free will are actually disastrous. You're claiming that you can't drop an assumption without really trying very hard. Anyway, sometimes this leads to eventual blatant conflict with visible reality especially if you're not careful about your definitions. So, you can claim that humans are not physical material systems because you're assuming that physical material systems can't have free will and humans can. Anyway, another place enlightenment science fails is when you have a single point of failure.
The cliché scientist who asked–who wants to ask questions and explore thoughts that no man was meant to know, who sees a button in a Star Destroyer and says, "I wonder what this button does?" You know, science–enlightenment science fails if you have to test things and the test is potentially lethal or disastrous, you know. So, at some point, ordinary old-fashioned ancient world logic is necessary to be rational because you have to do cost and benefit analysis for your epistemic towards themselves, and sometimes enlightenment science fails that cut. So, let's talk about scholarship and how it relates to science. By the middle of the 19th century, people had factories powered by steam that could produce goods really cheaply. They had much cheaper steel, they had all sorts of great ways of producing that allowed industrial laborers to out-compete crafts laborers. That enabled people to make what seemed like strong logical chains of inference that showed that the world was a much, much better place than it had been in the past.
People could claim that everyone was much richer. This wasn't inconsistent with the casual reality that non-scholars knew because non-scholars don't know anything about the past. I can remember watching movies set in the past as a child and seeing architecture and affluence in people that were supposedly set hundreds of years ago and saying, "No, this is silly. There's been so much economic growth in those past few hundred years. There's no way that people could live that well." But as I gathered more data, I found out that no; in fact, people did have those houses hundred of years ago and relatively ordinary people, not just aristocrats a lot of the time. You know, the non-scholars who have been following the scientific method and making these long analytic chains just don't know that much about the past from highly varied sources, don't know that much from varied domains. And so, the conclusions of these analytic chains may not–may seem consistent with reality to them while scholars who have more data can just say, "No, that's wrong. I know it's wrong.
I've seen it," or "I've read 50 books by different people who did see it and who had no agenda. And they all said something different." Okay, here's an example of the enlightenment thing falling apart. Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Ben Franklin, both were scholars as well as being–in Franklin's case, an excellent scientist. They both independently observed that by the self-interest and free will assumption of the enlightenment, savages were better off on average than civilized people, you know. If you can infer peoples' self-interest by their choices, savages basically never chose to move and live in civilization while civilized people very often once they became exposed to primitive cultures went native. This is a big surprise and there's a, you know, by logic, this is basically a falsification of the enlightenment claim.
But if you're playing by the–not the rules of logic but the rules of enlightenment science, that's a chain of inference, you know, multi-step argument and you can't follow a multi-step argument without an actual empirical test. So, people, like Rousseau, reaps surprising conclusions that were obvious by the rules they were playing according to, but weren't acquainted with the rules that they were breaking when they reach those arguments. And so, weren't able to communicate their positions. If they'd been able to communicate them more carefully, people would have looked harder. If they'd been better philosophers and if the people they'd been arguing with had been better philosophers. Philosophers basically are good at noticing what they don't know, what they're not clear about, and non-philosophers are much better at noticing what they do know, what they are clear about, what they're no longer confused about.
To say–this difference tends to make non-philosophers distrust philosophers a lot, but sometimes the philosophers are useful. So, basically, by very early in the 18th century, we had a fairly severe falsification of a major part of liberalism; the Panglossian view of prominent progress. A philosopher could have looked harder, broken down the logic, figured out that Malthusian issues were a problem, that enlightenment techno–medieval technology, early modern technology made event–allowed much larger populations. And so, while the median person in Colonial America was worse off than the median Native American, the nth best of Colonial American was better off than the nth best Native American by a lot. And then there was a huge surplus of excess–when you establish that correspondence, there were a huge surplus Colonial Americans leftover who didn't correspond to any Native Americans.
And who were transferring into the Native American lifestyle because there were niches available. There was unoccupied niche basically because smallpox and other diseases had left the population–not decimated, reduced by one tenth but, you know, nova-decimated, reduced by nine tenths. So, they also didn't, you know–that logic though bizarrely wasn't noticed until, as far as I can tell, Parfit discovered in 1984, which shows how very good philosophy is, you know. This was a really important discovery that could have, I think, basically prevented both World Wars, communism and essentially most of what's gone wrong in the last 200 years. But it took an extra 200 years because when people need good philosophical insight, they don't usually come up with it.
They get more intense and more energetic and the best lack all conviction, the worst are filled with passionate intensity and the only way to figure things out is by shedding blood and seeing whose left standing. Anyway, Franklin stayed with the enlightenment. He said, "Well, this is an anomaly. Eventually, this land will all be populated. I still believe." Rousseau, you know, went with scholarship against science, fought with the establishment and denounced it. This is basically a fundamental schism that's haunted us to this day. I guess the next major player in this lineage is Hegel who had talked about these divides going back and forth and became the intellectual foundation of both Nazism and Marxism. Okay, Marx, of course, saw the enlightenment, claiming that the workers were better off. Saw them dying like flies, being ground up by machines. [INDISTINCT], "No, this people just couldn't possibly be better off than anyone.
" The people in Ireland, you know, the Engels saw. And he came to the conclusion, looking at what scientist were saying, that the elite were defining beliefs that were in their interest as scientific fact rather than using a rational process of inquiry. He concluded that rational inquiry just wasn't something that people collectively did. Although, individual scholars like him were assumed to be able to do it. I guess the next step from there is to assume that no one can do it and that there is no rational inquiry post-modernism, realities up for grabs. A basic problem with Marx's approach is that while he's discarding science, he's also discarding the ancient rules of logic and discourse. Once you start saying you're not trying to reach the truth to your ideological opponents, there's no more–everything breaks down.
You stop having intellectual progress and everything polarizes into passionate aggressive idealogues. So, we still don't have a good solution to that problem. Basically, one of the great modern examples of this is feminism. The logic of the enlightenment is that we have a group of people who are; a. a majority; b. they have the vote; and c. they're oppressed. Well, that doesn't work. If people are self-interested and rational or if you can't tell the difference between their behavior and their interest, you can't have a group of people who are the majority and have the vote and are also oppressed. So by logic, women don't–what are women complaining about? But a reasonably good scholar or someone who goes around and pays attention in life can notice that there is–are some really important ways in which women are still mistreated by the modern world and have some sort of a–if you choose, a false consciousness. And basically, you need to make sense of the fact that, well, we've got a problem here.
But when you try to do that, you have to discard the enlightenment and the logical rules, or you don't have to but people in fact always do. And as a result, you end up with 'an anything goes' intellectual battle where no progress gets made. Here's an example of scholarship–here's–of scholarship serving science. And I've been talking before about where scholarship and science have come into conflict, but sometimes scholarship can work for science if–rather than using a long chain of inference from sound assumptions to generate your hypothesis, you just use scholars to generate your hypothesis and then you test them. That would be basically post-enlightenment science and the main problem with it is that it's not intellectually rigorous. Scientists don't generally recognize that scholars exist and think that–and tend to think that they have no legitimacy as scientists. So, they're not prone to testing their hypothesis. You can though do this, you–I mean, pretty much scientific progress on a large scale basically usually comes from that.
You know, you have revolutionary science where someone proposes hypothesis, can't justify their hypothesis, still suggest testing and viola it works. The liberalism is a mixed case. You start out with unprecedented positive outcomes from the approximate implementation of scholarship and science working together. Locke looks at the Netherlands which is a weird exotic place if you're a Scotsman in the 17th century, comes up with a scholarly hypothesis, liberalism works, comes up with a way of creating simple assumptions; human self-interest, rule of law, fear of God, and justifying how liberalism would work. And in fact, viola, they test it and the liberalism works in Scotland and on the American frontier. But because it's really not founded on inescapable assumptions, it turns out to be not a uniformly correct hypothesis.
And ultimately liberalism melted down as I've discussed earlier. The best example I can think of, of scholarship working well with science is Darwin and Wallace, hence the name of this essay. Basically, evolution was a pure scholarly hypothesis. Darwin was pretty much the best naturalist in the world. He traveled all over the world or talked to everyone who knew anything about living things. Had all sorts of long scholarly discourses with exchanges of letters that you can look into and see today. And other people had also done this and a lot of people had come together to agree that evolution happened. Darwin went a step further and set–came to the conclusion that animal breeding was, as far as he could tell, of unlimited power. That in enough time, you could breed anything into anything. And that was the theory of evolution by natural selection. Natural selection is just a logical argument. If you have differential reproduction and finite killing capacity, then you're going to have a change in your high level traits over time.
What we're doing here is confirming a scholarly hypothesis with a logical argument. That's the same thing that Locke was doing with the liberalism, but here we're doing it with much–a much sounder logical argument. Rather than assuming free will and self interest, we're assuming differential reproduction and it really is hard to not assume differential reproduction. And in addition, you've got a great scholarly argument tacked on top because Wallace and Darwin came up with the exact same hypothesis. Although later, Wallace diluted it down and added magic which is kind of a shame. The thing is, as good as it is as both a scholarly argument and as a scientific argument, it's not a good example of enlightenment scholarship–oh, enlightenment science. The theory of evolution makes some very broad hypothesis, but it doesn't make precise surprising hypothesis. It [INDISTINCT] in Darwin's day it didn't. There were precise surprising discoveries that strengthened the theory of evolution. And logically, that's almost as good as making a precise surprising hypothesis, namely the fact that the theory of evolution doesn't work without Mendel and genetics, and Darwin kind of knew that.
And then Mendel and genetics was discovered. So, this is as solid an argument as we can make, but it still doesn't quite check all your dot, check all your boxes, dot all your i's and cross all your t's, as an example of enlightenment science. And that makes it harder to win and win conclusively in arguments about it. Another good example of this is Global Warming. We have a scholarly hypothesis of environmentalism. It really looks like humans are doing a lot of stuff out there and has a lot of intended consequences. They're not measuring all of those consequences, they're not measuring their cost, there's no reason to expect the cost to be low. And there's a reason to expect that given the scale on which people are acting, there should be big changes. In general, since biological and cultural systems are optimized, adapted for some particular environment, big changes are likely to be bad.
Therefore, we should be worried about big unexpected changes. Then we have the logical argument that carbon has such and such an absorption spectrum and therefore captures heat. And because–and ecosystems are complicated, we don't know what the consequences of that heat capture might be. This is a really strong logical argument. But once again it's not making–because it's saying we don't know what the consequence might be, since the whole essence of environmentalism, in a sense, is unexpected consequences, are a problem. It's very difficult to confirm environmentalism. It doesn't qualify as enlightenment science. And if people have a narrow conception of science, they can say you're not making specific predictions when it does inspire a lot of very good data gathering. And when people gather the data, the data seems to actually exceed the predictions and exceed it by a lot with respect to Global Warming.
The world seems to be getting hotter and glaciers melting faster than the predictions say. But that's still not really a good example of enlightenment science. It's just a good example of a really good reason to believe something. Finally, my topic, the Singularity. Here we have the independent origin of very similar hypothesis by John Von Neumann in–around 1956, in a letter to Stanis?aw Ulam, and Vernor Vinge in an essay in 1991. Both of them talk about new systems for thinking, causing it to be impossible to predict–to understand what the world will be like once these new systems become mature. We have a logical argument. I.J. Good talks about how–if thinking is done by material systems and thinking allows you to figure out what sorts of material systems think well and how to build them, there should be a explosive feedback loop once you get material systems that are good at thinking. We have a lot of inductive data. The earliest bid is by George and Orwell Wright back in the early 20th century.
The most popular and well-known is [INDISTINCT] by Ray Kurzweil. Some of the most thorough is by Bela Nagy, but a lot of data showing exponential or super exponential progress from engineering and scientific development of technology. And finally you have, as a scholarly fact again, the buy-in by a very large number of credible people with good credentials. As you can see at the Singularity Summits in the past, if you go online and see our videos. Or as you can see at current summits if you want to listen to the talks there. Anyway, as a result, I would hold that the singularity is a valid rational non-scientific hypothesis and given the scope of the argument deserves to be taken very seriously. And that's why I am here. Thank you very much. >> [INDISTINCT] from the rest? >> VASSAR: Hold on. >> Questions please. >> VASSAR: Questions.
>> [INDISTINCT] >> It happens to be in the chat box. >> VASSAR: Yes? >> [INDISTINCT] >> One question that, yeah, you know, I had was the Cambrian Explosion that–serves us like Lehmann, there's a lot of data to support that don't happen, I suppose. Is that, you know, can we construe that as a singularity? As a proof that this thing happened in the past and you know, thereby, you know, give more accreditance to this [INDISTINCT]? >> VASSAR: I would say that a history of large changes in the history of life in the past provides some inductive evidence that there are large changes in the future of the history of life as well. And that falsifies a supposed–the naive assumption that there will ever be any really big changes in the future. But it doesn't give us any particular reason to expect the types of changes that advocates of the singularity are arguing for.
Just that–it just gives us a reason to weaken our strong [INDISTINCT] against big changes. Does that make sense? >> No–I mean, yeah [INDISTINCT]… >> VASSAR: Basically, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I would say there is extraordinary evidence for the singularity, but the Cambrian Explosion is mostly just extraordinary evidence that extraordinary claims are sometimes true. It's very strong evidence that truly extraordinary claims are sometimes true because before the Cambrian, you would just have given zero chance naively to a change that big if you knew the history of Earth up to that point. But it's not evidence for the singularity in particular. It's just evidence that we should be much less confident than we tend to be, that things will always be more or less the way they are today. >> So, okay.
I mean, my next question was–so what is the nature of the singularity that is to come? So, how's that to be–I mean, like do you have any, like, [INDISTINCT] reasons to suppose that, "Okay, this is a way this should be." >> VASSAR: I touched on three different singularity hypotheses that are quite related. All involved greater intelligence, one involves positive feedback loops from greater than human intelligence redesigning itself in faster and faster time scales presumably. One involves just the different–difficulty of knowing what greater than human intelligence will do and the fact–and induction from the fact that human intelligence completely changed the world through the conclusion that greater than human intelligence is also likely to completely change the world. And the third is just the observation that if certain trends continue to accelerate, and there's a lot of reason from induction from history to think that many of these trends will continue, the consequences are likely to be big.
>> Okay, thanks. >> VASSAR: Anyone else? >> Any questions from the remote sites? >> No. >> All right. So, thank you very much. >> VASSAR: Thank you..