22 July 2011

Paradigm Shifts

Robin Hanson still misses the point:

Of course in the long run innovation must run out, and then we’ll have a long stable future with little innovation. But I expect the innovation era to last a few more centuries at least, with the best innovation yet to come.

First, note that Robin Hanson’s conclusion is implicitly predicated on the assumption that there will never be any paradigm shifts, and is thus false. There are an infinite number of paradigms, so innovation can continue infinitely.  Now, it is true that every paradigm of human understanding tends to run out of innovation eventually, but when this occurs, it is replaced by another paradigm.  And since there an infinite number of paradigms, there is thus an infinite amount of future innovation.

Of course, it helpful to recall that all human understanding is inherently subjective, and thus subject to change when the imperfections of each paradigm hinder growth.  This is seen in the sector of computers.  Computers were originally envisioned to work with punch cards.  Once this paradigm no longer yielded improvement, the paradigm shifted to electrical impulses over a motherboard and related components, and is currently being replaced by quantum computing.  On a macro level, the paradigm of computer itself shifted from man to machine once mathematical innovations made the paradigm shift feasible.

Human understanding, being subjective in nature, is inherently perceptual.  Humans make use of certain things based on how they perceive the world.  If humans begin to see the world differently, the way they interact with it will change as well.  Innovation will always occur because man is always refining his knowledge of the world, and is thus constantly changing his perception of the world.  Since innovation is always paradigmatic, it stands to reason that it will always exist because new paradigms are constantly appearing.

Also, note that Hanson’s model implicitly requires social stability (cf. Neurodiversity for proof that society requires a minimal amount of population and social stability in order to be maintained).  Given the current global economic mess, it seems somewhat short-sighted to argue that we’re closer to civilizational stability than destruction.  Only time will tell if Hanson’s optimism is warranted.

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