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MIT is About More Than Intellectual Purity

Extropians Fail to See The Scope of Intelligence

If we, the best and the brightest, do not carry the torch of technology a nd science, who will? If we do not challenge ourselves, how will we grow and learn? If we do not look with scorn upon our inferiors, how will we be able to segregate ourselves from those who would poison our bright dream? Do the MIT Extropians fail to see the problem with this progression?

As someone who sympathizes with many of the things the Extropians say and someone who often has to fight against my own tendency to look down upon those whom I have judged in a moment, I think I am well qualified to comment on this philosophy.

The tragedy of the Extropians is their failure to understand the scope of human intelligence. Their model of the intellect has only one variable, with values from mathematically and logically illiterate to god like understanding of theory and reason. They give the sciences various values - we can be sure that math is at the top, with physics close behind, and biology a long way behind. Literature and art are presumably barely edging out the morons - except for the greats of Western Literature and, of course, classical music. But don't expect your subtle appreciation of the finer points of Japanese film of the '60s and '70s to better your standing.

Reason alone can never bring the glory that the Extropians wish to evoke when they use the term "Promethean." We should remember that Prometheus brought fire to humanity, not to glory in his own accomplishments, but in order to help those he saw suffering in the cold. Another facet of this story that is important to remember here is that human beings, while not so powerful as Prometheus, were intelligent in their own way. In order to keep the gods from taking fire away from them, they made burnt offerings, using the gods' vanity to their own advantage.

It is also interesting that the Extropians use Ender Wiggin as their shining example of what we can achieve without actually understanding the lesson presented by Orson Scott Card in Ender's Game. While writings are of course subject to different interpretations, I think that Ender's victory at the end of the book is not actually one of pure reason and drive. While it is certainly true that Ender excels in these most Extropian of virtues, his greatest victory is one of empathy. At the end of his war, he understands his enemy, he feels for his enemy, and he is able to communicate with his enemy. This is a triumph of empathy. His intellectual triumph has enabled him to defeat them, but this destructive act brings him only grief.

Finally, for those of you freshmen, freshwomen, and others wondering if you are the inferiors that the Extropians discuss, let me say this. I went to MIT for five years, and in that time I never met any student who was dull, dumb, or stupid. I dismissed many people from afar, as the Extropians do, as being beneath my consideration. But upon meeting them, in every case, without exception, I found I was wrong. No one at MIT was unable to engage me in an interesting conversation; no one did not have something of worth to contribute to my thoughts.

Andrew Shultz '96