Note — Aug 25, 2019

Neal Stephenson on Depictions of Reality

This interview covers a lot of very varied topics, and there are plenty of good insights by Stephenson. I listened to this walking back and forth to the aforementioned IMG over a couple of days, I then breezed through the transcript to share a couple of quotes below but do have a listen.

[Concerning a Mars colony.] I think it would be a lot like living on a nuclear submarine because you can’t — being in space is almost like being in an intensive care unit in a hospital, in the sense that you’re completely dependent on a whole bunch of machines working in order to keep you alive. A lot of what we associate with freedom, with personal freedom, becomes too dangerous to contemplate in that kind of environment. […]

Our civil institutions were founded upon an assumption that people would be able to agree on what reality is, agree on facts, and that they would then make rational, good-faith decisions based on that. They might disagree as to how to interpret those facts or what their political philosophy was, but it was all founded on a shared understanding of reality… And that’s now been dissolved out from under us, and we don’t have a mechanism to address that problem. […]

So that is definitely going on, but it seems to me, sometimes, that hobbyists — people who do things, who build things because they’re passionate about it — can get a lot done in a hurry. But as soon as you start to involve capital and profit-and-loss statements and so on, that, again, the rate of progress can slow down quite a bit just because people are so concerned about patents and protecting IP and how do we turn a profit from this, how do we create shareholder value? […]

Snow Crash talks specifically about the Tower of Babel myth, and danah was saying that a lot of people who started tech companies were inspired and wanted to build something like the Metaverse in Snow Crash, but it turns out that, instead, they built the Tower of Babel. They created a situation in which we’re unable to talk to each other.