The immortality panel has passed. Holy hell was that a rush. Here’s the video:
First, this has been another demonstration of the “doesn’t hurt to ask” principle. When PZ first described the FTBCon concept on his blog and asked for submissions I figured “What the hell. Might as well send an email. Worst that can happen is that it’s ignored.” I received a reply in less than an hour, which blew me away on its own. I got Eliezer and Brin just by looking them up and emailing them as well (I also got several rejections from other folks, so it’s not Hax or anything. But I’m still surprised that it works at all.) I’m starting to wonder why more people don’t do this “asking” thing. Has the initiative really been beaten out of us that thoroughly?
Once I got everything in place, I spent a few days freaking out. These are all people who are significantly smarter and more accomplished than me. These are people I idolize… and I was going to be able to talk with them! Personally! (and now I have video proof it happened!) I did my best to smash down the Hero-Worship node in my brain, but damn that was awesome.
The panel itself could have gone better. In retrospect, there’s many things I wish I’d done differently. Apparently it was not clear to everyone that the topic was the desirability of immortality, rather than technical feasibility. I also should have instituted time limits for everyone, and acted as more of a moderator to keep things on-topic (there were several ventures off topic). That would require me removing myself from the majority of the conversation, but that’s entirely something I could and should do. I’ll know better for next time I do this sort of thing. Experience – it helps! Until we fix death, every single generation will have to relearn this lesson at least once. It’s a huge drag on progress. :)
I also didn’t really learn what I was hoping to learn, although that’s mainly my fault for not running this thing well enough. I know my understanding of the opposing view is uncharitable, and I feel like I’m straw-manning my opposition, yet I just can’t seem to wrap my head around how this viewpoint even exists. I know this panel wasn’t about me, but I was hoping to become Less Wrong about my opponent’s views. I will have to keep striving.
By far the biggest disappointment to me was the after-discussion… because I wasn’t there. I had been suppressing my star-struckness, and freaking out about finishing on time and giving everyone equal time to talk and so forth, and when we finally all said “Bye” I was like “Oh shit… what do I do now? How do I stop this thing? Do I just hang-up? I’ll hang-up, that’ll do it…” like freakin idiot. PZ had initiated it and started the live feed, OF COURSE he could shut it down! ARGH!! Anyway, as soon as I hung up I collapsed back in my chair and totally came apart. You know how after a strong fight-or-flight the adrenaline starts leaving your system and you get all shakey and your brain is kinda cottony? Yeah, I totally had that. It was draining and exhilarating! And then I find out that the other panelists stayed behind to talk for another half hour just amongst themselves! :( Oh the shame! I wanted to tear my own skin off in punishment for missing such an amazing opportunity. I still had questions! Or even just *listening in* would have been amazing. Augh. Well, you live and you learn. Another one to chalk up to experience.
Overall, this was absolutely awesome. If you ever have any sort of chance to talk with someone you admire, or someone very intelligent (or ideally, both!) jump on it like a rabid spider monkey! So. Freakin. Cool.
Oh, and I did receive a complaint about the religion shout-outs in the beginning. In my defense I replied – “I’m also uninterested in the religion aspect, but I was trying to tie it into the con’s theme of atheism/religious-skepticism. It’s how I pitched it to PZ in the first place, so I didn’t feel I could abandon it once the show started. If I didn’t think it was necessary for inclusion in the con I wouldn’t have bothered.” So there.
I was rather impressed. I felt like E.Y. was a bit off, but I think the lack of notes threw him for a loop. I think you made some of the best arguments actually. After a few of your statements I kept hoping for you to make more while I watched it, but you didn’t seem to say much. Your ability to adapt to the arguments made by other people was quite nice. I wish it had gone on longer.
This is exactly the debate on this topic that I wanted to see, and thanks so much for setting it up!
The debate was often off-topic and/or superficial, so in the end I don’t think I have learned anything from it (having transhumanist background knowledge). Still, thanks for organizing it.