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A Transhumanist Poem

12 Post author: Swimmer963 05 March 2011 09:16AM

**Note: I'm not a poet. I hardly ever write poetry, and when I do, it's usually because I've stayed up all night. However, this seemed like a very appropriate poem for Less Wrong. Not sure if it's appropriate as a top-level post. Someone please tell me if not.**

 

Imagine

The first man

Who held a stick in rough hands

And drew lines on a cold stone wall

Imagine when the others looked

When they said, I see the antelope

I see it. 

 

Later on their children's children

Would build temples, and sing songs

To their many-faced gods.

Stone idols, empty staring eyes

Offerings laid on a cold stone altar

And left to rot. 

 

Yet later still there would be steamships

And trains, and numbers to measure the stars

Small suns ignited in the desert

One man's first step on an airless plain

 

Now we look backwards

At the ones who came before us

Who lived, and swiftly died. 

The first man's flesh is in all of us now

And for his and his children's sake

We imagine a world with no more death

And we see ourselves reflected

In the silicon eyes

Of our final creation

Comments (48)

Comment author: Dorikka 05 March 2011 04:10:32PM 12 points [-]

I would personally put this on discussion-level.

Comment author: Swimmer963 05 March 2011 06:43:10PM 3 points [-]

Possibly the moral of the story is "don't post anything on lesswrong at 5 am."

Comment author: Dorikka 05 March 2011 07:03:00PM 4 points [-]

If you're tired or hungry, I would write down the thought but wait to post it until you're neither tired or hungry. For me, same goes for returning phone calls or doing work, if possible.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 March 2011 12:56:05AM *  8 points [-]

(For me it is when feeling contemptuous. Contempt seems to be a greater mind killer than hunger or tiredness. Anger doesn't seem to have the same problem - it seems to result in somewhat better thinking, even though it does alter intentions.)

Comment author: Swimmer963 07 March 2011 01:24:22AM 1 point [-]

I think there are enough examples of people who've said or written stuff in anger or frustration and regretted it afterwards that I'm inclined to think twice. As far as I can tell, there aren't very many examples of people regretting things they said or wrote when they were tired or hungry.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 March 2011 03:45:41AM 1 point [-]

I think there are enough examples of people who've said or written stuff in anger or frustration and regretted it afterwards that I'm inclined to think twice.

I probably wouldn't recommend the anger state to everyone. Just those of us who have found from personal experience that it has its advantages. My default state is carefree and flippant - which results in all sorts of problems if I forget for one second that communications can be taken by rivals and used for their personal advantage. This has resulted in many a regret.

Anger on the other hand provokes goal directed thinking, improved attention and decisiveness when it comes to determining and protecting my interests, whatever they may be.

Unfortunately contempt seems to result in the worst of both worlds. My instincts seem assume that just because someone is blatantly stupid they can't be a viable social threat so I am both flippant and opposed. Big mistake. Contempt is a more useful emotion for people to feel when their contempt producing instincts are finely calibrated to what level of status they can get away with conveying that the object should have in the eyes of the applicable audience.

Comment author: Pavitra 07 March 2011 02:44:16AM 1 point [-]

Judging by the existence of Google Mail Goggles, I'd guess that people often write things tired that they later regret.

Comment author: Swimmer963 07 March 2011 02:51:32AM 2 points [-]

That is...hilarious.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 March 2011 03:28:52AM 1 point [-]

And all the funnier because it is mostly serious and a valuable tool for many! :P

Comment author: [deleted] 05 March 2011 12:34:26PM *  6 points [-]

This time

Small suns ignite everywhere

In a panic

They try to pull the plug.

Comment author: Swimmer963 05 March 2011 06:55:53PM 0 points [-]

I laughed hysterically. Then wondered if it was actually a laughing matter.

Comment author: Alexandros 06 March 2011 07:17:17AM *  3 points [-]

Don't mean to nitpick, but I'm weary of saying there was a 'first man'. This is what Christians who accept evolution assert to reconcile it with their Adam & Eve biblical stories and it's not really true unless you strain your definition of 'human'. As I understand it, populations evolve together and remain reproductively compatible throughout.

Comment author: Pavitra 06 March 2011 08:06:12AM 2 points [-]

The line should be parsed "the first man that held a stick" rather than "the first man, which held a stick". Though breaking the line after "man" does invite the reader to imagine an overall first man.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 06 March 2011 06:13:03PM 0 points [-]

I perceived it as "the first man that held a stick" and didn't notice the other way of seeing it.

Comment author: Swimmer963 07 March 2011 01:23:00AM 1 point [-]

It was a metaphor that felt natural. There probably wasn't one person who invented cave paintings, any more than there was a literal 'first man', but it makes sense to (to me) to use it in a poem, as a metaphor, because it makes a more concrete image than trying to be literal. Also, I guess I assumed that on lesswrong, no one would interpret 'the first man' in the Christian sense.

Comment author: jimrandomh 05 March 2011 02:52:23PM *  2 points [-]

This doesn't have a consistent number of syllables per line or a consistent stress pattern. Try rewriting it so that each line has exactly 8 syllables, and the syllables alternate between unstressed and stressed. This makes some words unavailable, like silicon (stressed-unstressed-unstressed), and limits which pairs of words can be next to each other ("rough hands" and "stone wall" both put stressed syllables next to each other), but will make it flow better and sound more like a poem, as opposed to prose-with-linefeeds. You might need to practice tagging the syllables of some existing poems to get the hang of distinguishing syllable types. And no, affirming a great truth does not make good poetry.

(Edit: The link was missing due to incorrect Markdown formatting)

Comment author: SRStarin 05 March 2011 07:47:44PM *  4 points [-]

If everything were iambic tetrameter, as you suggest, poetry would be really, really boring. The first stanza has excellent rhythm, placing emphasis on important words, and causing you to place emphasis on words where in normal spoken prose you might not otherwise, enhancing the imagery. imAGine the FIRST MAN who HELD a STICK in ROUGH HANDS and DREW LINES on a COLD STONE WALL imAGine when the OTHers LOOKED when they SAID i see the ANtelope i SEE it

Swimmer963, I think the first stanza makes an excellent poem, whether or not you agree with the way I would read it. The rest could use some work, IMHO, but there's good imagery throughout. My best poems have always been the ones where I don't try to make a point on the first go round, but let the point come out upon rereading.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 March 2011 12:50:20AM 3 points [-]

imAGine the FIRST MAN who HELD a STICK in ROUGH HANDS and DREW LINES on a COLD STONE WALL imAGine when the OTHers LOOKED when they SAID i see the ANtelope i SEE it

That emphasis feels outright unpleasant to read (and so did the OP). Whatever this style of poetry is it is definitely not calibrated for my kind of brain. ick.

Comment author: SRStarin 06 March 2011 01:00:32AM 1 point [-]

I like hip-hop. I look at this after what I wrote and think "This may be like hip-hop." Maybe that's where our tastes part ways.

Hip-hop savors the sudden surprise stress, the in-line rhyme, the timing that makes you think "Why did that series of stressed S'es sound so fine?" Sublime.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 March 2011 01:08:41AM *  0 points [-]

Hip-hop savors the sudden surprise stress, the in-line rhyme, the timing that makes you think "Why did that series of stressed S'es sound so fine?" Sublime.

I don't especially like hip hop - mostly because the content is usually unappealing (and content matters to me more than to most). But this quote doesn't have the problems that the OP has. It mostly sounded catchy. Except the timing of the middle part feels a little bad to me because the phrases before and after prompt an expectation lyrical flow that isn't maintained. If that is a part of hip-hop then I don't like that either. :)

Comment author: SRStarin 06 March 2011 02:15:43AM 2 points [-]

The abrupt interruption of lyrical flow is part of hip-hop. BBut, in exchange for that break, you get a rhyme structure that is far more complex than any usual lyrical poetry can deliver. To use my example, lyrical poetry could never present the LINE RHYME TIMing WHY FINE subLIME rhyming pattern with an offbeat. Instead of rhyming along a ruler, they rhyme along a parabola. I'm not trying to convince you to like hip-hop. I'm trying to point out the aesthetic that is there, that I like. Hip-hop artists do it way better than my silly off-the-cuff example, but I think I got the Fibonacci-vs-Cartesian feel close enough to hear.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 March 2011 02:39:10AM 0 points [-]

I'm not trying to convince you to like hip-hop. I'm trying to point out the aesthetic that is there, that I like.

I understand, and you do a good job of explaining.

Hip-hop artists do it way better than my silly off-the-cuff example, but I think I got the Fibonacci-vs-Cartesian feel close enough to hear.

Even your efforts here feel somewhat more coherent than the poem and give a good indication of the aesthetic. I can see how it expresses the kind of cultural theme and attitude of those with whom it is most popular. Without, of course, needing to find either the cultural attitude or the style of expression even remotely appealing to me. Which is of course part of the point of music. It is an effective signal and screen to filter us into subcultures and identities that most suit our personality.

The content serves a similar purpose. I'm really not a 'humans, transhumanism, yay!' type so the poem wouldn't be for me even if it had wedrifid compatible styling.

Comment author: SRStarin 06 March 2011 02:51:26AM 1 point [-]

I think I grok you, wedrifid. I agree on the content valence.

I respond now only to say that the poem may be appreciable in ways other than my feeling like it's sort of like hip-hop. I find myself the first totally positive critic here, but seriously, Swimmer, you have something there, if you want to do something with it. I'm just trying to offer my point of view.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 March 2011 03:03:43AM 1 point [-]

I respond now only to say that the poem may be appreciable in ways other than my feeling like it's sort of like hip-hop. I find myself the first totally positive critic here, but seriously, Swimmer, you have something there, if you want to do something with it. I'm just trying to offer my point of view.

Allow me to add for Swimmer's benefit that I totally support the development of poetry for the benefit of yourself and others even when it completely doesn't appeal to me. Most sophisticated poetry and art isn't supposed to appeal to people like me. I have absolutely no problem with using lesswrong to present it or develop it and didn't downvote it even on the main page (even though the folks may be right that it is more of a discussion thing.)

Comment author: Swimmer963 07 March 2011 01:35:24AM 0 points [-]

To be honest, if I read this poem written by someone else, I would probably think "whoa!" I'm not so much of a 'transhumanism, yay!' type either, but the last three lines randomly popped into my head, and they seemed suited to a poem about transhumanism rather than a poem about, say, flowers. Presenting ideas that jar with people a little bit is a good way to get comments, as demonstrated.

Comment author: Unnamed 06 March 2011 04:24:12AM 1 point [-]

There's a lot of variety in the content of hip hop. There's introspective hip hop from Black Star, sci-fi from Deltron 3030, liberal politics from Blue Scholars, storytelling about innercity life from Capital D & The Molemen, clever wordplay from Binary Star, or music from Jurassic 5 where the words are like another instrument so you don't have to worry about what they mean. If there are a few songs that you like, you can probably find more like them.

Comment author: Swimmer963 07 March 2011 01:36:38AM 0 points [-]

Thank you. I will check some of these guys out.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 06 March 2011 04:22:43AM *  1 point [-]

I don't especially like hip hop - mostly because the content is usually unappealing (and content matters to me more than to most).

I like hip-hop musically, but dislike the content, and I get the sense that lots of people have this problem. I get around this by searching for hip-hop with incomprehensible lyrics or ideology I like. There is good rationalist hip-hop out there. Try Baba Brinkman, sample here. I'm not trying to convince anyone to like hip-hop, I'm just saying it's out there.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 March 2011 04:47:40AM *  0 points [-]

Try Baba Brinkman, sample here.

I like it. The background music track sucks me in and the content more than makes up for the slightly-not-fitting words. ;)

Edit: Am I correct in assuming that his example is a little less distinctly hip-hop than, say, Unnamed's examples. I'm no judge of hip-hop it just felt like Brinkman was putting the emphasis on the key points that fit the rhyme and rhythm of the music.

This guy is more making a statement "I'm a dominant male. Look how I can put the emphasis on the parts that don't really fit in context or flow particularly elegantly. I must be baddass". The latter is a legitimate signal to send, mind you, I just don't feel the desire to affiliate with it whereas I would affiliate with Brinkman, who signals an somewhat different kind of status.

Comment author: Swimmer963 07 March 2011 01:31:18AM 0 points [-]

Is it sad that I just had to Google IMHO to figure out what you meant? Also, it's funny that you like the first stanza, because I started with the last three lines and sort of built backwards from there.

Comment author: SRStarin 07 March 2011 01:39:50AM 0 points [-]

No, not sad. I had to google IMHO the first time I saw it. It's just too useful an acronym not to use, though, now that I know it. (I do think it's sad that spell-checks still fail to recognize "google.")

Comment author: lukstafi 05 March 2011 10:44:55PM 0 points [-]

Indeed, poetry is about writing questions and reading answers.

Comment author: Swimmer963 05 March 2011 07:03:31PM 1 point [-]

Here is a poem I wrote that does use rhythm. I don't really like it that much though.

Poem #1

You can't turn the colors of the rainbow into black and white/ You can't write the ending to this story so it comes out right/ You don't know until it matters if you're weak or if you're strong/ But no one has the right to say that what you did was wrong.

Tomorrow is a new day that you might not live to see/ The first night is the hardest, yet by morning, you'll be free/ You thought you were invincible but anyone can fail/ It only took a moment for a life's work to derail.

Anybody else could have made the same mistake/ You know it intellectually but still you lie awake/ Repeating like a mantra that you did the best you could/ Asking, "if I die tomorrow, will my friends say I was good?"

Comment author: jmmcd 05 March 2011 05:36:42PM 1 point [-]

consistent number of syllables per line or a consistent stress pattern

It's a long time since these were regarded as essential to poetry!

Comment author: jimrandomh 05 March 2011 06:16:22PM 1 point [-]

There's a big difference between deviating from a consistent stress pattern, and ignoring stress patterns entirely. Some types of deviations are allowed, but some aren't.

Comment author: jmmcd 05 March 2011 08:32:02PM 1 point [-]

Certainly, the poet should deviate from a consistent pattern, or avoid patterns completely, only if they know what they're doing. But using the term "allowed", in discussion of poetry (or any art) is wrong wrong wrong.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 March 2011 09:46:45PM 3 points [-]

In the spirit of charity, I normally unpack "X is not allowed" in these sorts of discussions to mean "X is very unlikely to achieve our shared goals."

The question of what, if anything, can profitably be assumed as shared goals in art is admittedly a trickier question.

Comment author: gjm 06 March 2011 10:05:40PM 0 points [-]

Some types of deviations are allowed, but some aren't.

Tell that to, for instance, T S Eliot (unless you want to maintain that just about the only real poetry he wrote was "Old Possum's book of practical cats").

There's nothing wrong with preferring poetry that broadly fits the traditional forms, with somewhat-regular metre and so forth. I generally do, too, and I don't much like Swimmer963's poem here. But ... "not allowed"? Really?

Comment author: wedrifid 06 March 2011 10:19:06PM 1 point [-]

But ... "not allowed"? Really?

If you prefer, "most people will think it sucks if you do because it violates instinctive aesthetic preferences". Knowing which deviations work to gain you status and which do not is the difference between Picasso and my 3 year old nephew.

Comment author: gjm 06 March 2011 11:39:15PM *  0 points [-]

Yes, I do prefer, and I don't see any reason why I should pretend that jimrandomh meant that when he wrote "Some types of deviations are allowed, but some aren't". In any case, it seems scarcely credible that Swimmer963 is unaware that poetry has traditionally tended to have (perhaps even by definition) a lot of metrical regularity and that many people strongly prefer it to be that way, so on your reading jimrandomh's comment seems to convey little actual information. (And what actual information there was seemed to imply that all poetry should be iambic tetrameter, which is just ridiculous.)

Also: You might want to consider the possibility that Swimmer963 (or jimrandomh or T S Eliot) might have criteria of poetic merit other than "what will gain me status". (I find that a lot of the comments here about status, signalling, etc., give me the impression that their authors haven't appreciated how indirect a lot of this stuff is. Yes, a lot of human behaviour can be explained in terms of status-seeking; that doesn't mean that the people who do those things are actually, literally, seeking status. A lot of human behaviour can be explained in terms of trying to optimize one's reproductive success, but the humans behaving in those ways are often going out of their way to avoid actual reproduction. The same goes for status.)

[EDITED to add: Those remarks about status often seem to me like very clear examples of status-seeking behaviour themselves. "See how much more sophisticated I am, seeing through what Picasso might have said about beauty or artistic integrity to the status-seeking core beneath."]

Comment author: Swimmer963 07 March 2011 01:39:29AM 0 points [-]

"In any case, it seems scarcely credible that Swimmer963 is unaware that poetry has traditionally tended to have (perhaps even by definition) a lot of metrical regularity and that many people strongly prefer it to be that way, so on your reading jimrandomh's comment seems to convey little actual information."

Apparently I was more unaware than I thought. Almost all the poetry I've read recently doesn't rhyme or fit into iambic pentameter, to the point that when I read poetry that does, it almost feels weird. (Granted, a lot of what I read is medieval and translated into English from Latin. Maybe it rhymed originally.)

Comment author: CuSithBell 07 March 2011 01:51:13AM 0 points [-]

My understanding of Latin poetry (pretty dang limited) is that it's based around meter dictating use of long and short syllables (rather than stressed and unstressed, as in English poetry), and that rhyme wasn't much used (it's too easy!). So it probably was in meter in the original Latin, but a different sort of meter.

Meter != iambic pentameter, though!

Comment author: wedrifid 07 March 2011 12:58:14AM *  -1 points [-]

Yes, I do prefer, and I don't see any reason why I should pretend that jimrandomh meant that when he wrote "Some types of deviations are allowed, but some aren't".

Some would consider the meaning colloquially well understood.and actually find your technicality hard to imagine without prompting.

Also: You might want to consider the possibility that Swimmer963 (or jimrandomh or T S Eliot) might have criteria of poetic merit

It would be absurd to assume that I hadn't. Since you had trouble with (or were trying to attack) the "not allowed" language I presented it in language that did not rely on being inside the reality of the game for it to make sense.

Those remarks about status often seem to me like very clear examples of status-seeking behaviour themselves. "See how much more sophisticated I am, seeing through what Picasso might have said about beauty or artistic integrity to the status-seeking core beneath.

Picasso painted (ugly paintings). I have no idea what he said it is what he did that demonstrates his understanding and I'd be surprised if he could verbalize it particularly well.

Nobody expects much status for explaining that the helium nucleus consists of two protons and (usually) two neutrons. It's trivial, not deep. Nor do I expect more than maybe a karma or two for explaining what Jim meant - and that would be for the courtesy not for any particular demonstration of sophisticated insight.

Comment author: gjm 07 March 2011 10:14:09AM 0 points [-]

find your technicality hard to imagine without prompting

What "technicality"? The idea that by "allowed" jimrandomh might have meant something akin to "allowed"?

(Perhaps you're under the impression that I took it to mean that some actual authority will actually punish you for writing less-metrical poetry. If so, then it seems that you were simultaneously complaining of my alleged literal-mindedness while reading my words over-literally yourself.)

I presented it in language that did not rely on being inside [etc.]

If I'm understanding this correctly, you are now claiming that you thought I misinterpreted "allowed" as referring to being allowed because I was "outside the reality of the game" and didn't understand that poetry (and, given that you took Picasso as an example, other art) is all about status.

Which is odd, since the sort of greetings-card verse jimrandomh was trying to get Swimmer963 to write doesn't in fact have very high status among readers of poetry and the not-allowed claim is just as false when understood in terms of status as when understood in terms of artistic merit, social acceptability, utilitarian ethics, or anything else I can think of.

I have no idea what he said

For sure, nor was I implying that you do have any idea what he said.

explaining that the helium nucleus consists of two protons and (usually) two neutrons

The claim that good artists know "which deviations work to gain you status and which do not" is not parallel to that trivial claim, because it implies that what those artists are aiming at is status, which is certainly controversial and (so far as I can see) probably false. (I don't think, and didn't say, and didn't suggest that you think, that it's deep.)

I made no claims about how much status you were hoping to gain by talking about status, and the mistake of conflating status and karma never even occurred to me. Perhaps you didn't notice the word "more" in what I wrote?

Comment author: Swimmer963 05 March 2011 05:46:41PM 0 points [-]

I used to write poetry mainly in that style, but I find it a) time consuming, and b) I often can't use the words I really want to use because they don't fit. Not to mention almost all modern poetry doesn't use this pattern, and poetry that does tends to feel archaic. But like I said, this isn't something I do often.

Comment author: Tiiba 07 March 2011 04:32:13AM 1 point [-]

Well, I think it's pretty nice.

Comment author: Swimmer963 09 March 2011 11:58:48PM 0 points [-]

Yay. One person.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 10 March 2011 10:57:54PM 0 points [-]

Wow, I really like this. Now, I don't read enough poetry to know how this compares, but it certainly apealed strongly to me, and have the defining markings of great art; inspiring emotion and expanding ones view of art.

Also, transhumanism REALLY needs more art, so every contribution of this kind if a great thing. If i could upvote this 10 times I would.