I occasionally describe myself as an “optimistic cynic” or a “cynical optimist.” This may sounds a little oxymoronic . . . . but that’s the way I am wired.
The cyncial part of me makes me distrust most organizations. The optimistic part gives me rosy feelings about the future. The latter quality also explains my attraction to transhumanism.
With transhumanism, I am more impressed with aspects of the philosophy than I am with the various organizations. Although, I find the group behind the Mormon Transhumanist Association to be very earnest and worthwhile.
I’m too old to want to live forever, or at least for a very long time (a transhumanist goal). The technology will be not be there in time. But I am fascinated with the potentials of many of today’s emerging technologies.
My graduate degrees are in civil and environmental engineering. I think engineers by their very nature are optimistic. They think they can solve all of the world’s problems. But they are also detail people by training, and this tends to make them micro-managers. Not an altogether good trait when trying to deal with the future.
Tali Sharot writing in Time magazine (6 Jun 2011) states:
The belief that the future will be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias. It abides in every race, region, and socio-economic bracket.
Clearly some of us are more affected by the bias than others. If you read my response to Ed Firmage Jr’s op-ed piece in the SLTrib and his subsequent rejoiner(https://rogerdhansen.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/responding-to-ed-firmage-jr-on-water-banking/), you will see the two outlooks on display. One overly rosy and one overly pessimistic. Firmage almost becomes the neo-luddite and I the transhumanist. The two groups representing opposite ends of the optimism bias graph.
Sharot answering the question “Why would our brains be wired in this way?” writes:
It is tempting to speculate that optimism was selected by evolution precisely because, on balance, positive expectations enhance the odds of survival. Research findings that optimists live longer and are healthier, plus the fact that most humans display optimistic biases–and emerging data that optimism is linked to specific genes–all strongly support this hypothesis. Yet optimism is also irrational and can lead to unwanted outcomes. The question then is, How can we remain hopeful–benefiting from the fruits of optimism–while a the same time guarding ourselves from its pitfalls?
I believe that knowledge is key.