Peter Watts (Rifters.com) is a Hugo Award winning sci-fi author. His works include the Rifters trilogy (e.g. Starfish) & the Firefall series (e.g. Blindsight). He earned a Ph.D from the University of British Columbia, Canada. He held several academic positions & worked as a marine-mammal biologist before becoming an author.
In Sentientist Conversations we talk about the two most important questions: “what’s real?” & “what matters?” Sentientism is “evidence, reason & compassion for all sentient beings.” In addition to the video linked above the audio is on our Podcast. Subscribe here on Apple or on all the other platforms here.
1:30 Peter’s Intro – Baptist to biology to sci-fi
- A father so confident in Baptist truth that he encouraged questioning “He taught so many people about the word of god but had somehow failed to reach me”
- Becoming a marine biologist then fleeing the political bullshit
- Becoming a sci-fi author
- Including academic references in sci-fi. “I’ve been published in Nature more than they have because Nature publishes sci-fi stories!”
- “One of the coolest things about this gig is that scientists seek me out”
4:35 What’s real?
- Parental default “We’re programmed to imitate & imprint”
- A “rock star” Baptist minister father who trained other ministers. Seeing him struggle with domestic abuse, dementia & being a “non-practicing homosexual”
- “He was the most unjudgmental man I’ve ever known.” “Rolling his eyes at the sin but loving the sinner.” Maybe because he was afraid of being judged for being gay. “A tormented, unhappy but wonderful guy”
- Starting to question religion by reading sci-fi
- Robert Heinlein’s ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ “introduced me to what an asshole the old testament god was”. For some reason this hadn’t been mentioned in Sunday school
- Interestingly, as a gay minister, dad didn’t seem to know about Leviticus
- “Learning just enough from sci-fi novels to be an asshole to my dad”
- “God doesn’t really explain anything”
- Being an atheist teenager + later becoming anti-religious
- “Religion is basically a biological epiphenomenon”
- Snorting oxytocin to improve fidelity
- In/out group tribalism
- Once you strip away the rhetoric humans act pretty much like any other mammal
- “Being right is not as important in survival as having the esteem of your social group”
- “Nobody ever achieved exalted social status by saying ‘you guys are all fucking morons & here’s my evidence'”
- More educated people sometimes just have better post-rationalisations
- “When you think of people as mammals a lot of stuff that seems bat-shit insane suddenly makes sense”
- A soft spot for psionics/telepathy: “Time travelling snuff porn”?
- “We kinda don’t know everything yet – isn’t that what science is about?”
- Does being open-minded make us vulnerable to fundamentalists?
- “It’s easier to fit god than uncertainty onto a bumper sticker”
23:30 What matters morally?
- How humans prioritise animal species
- “We are programmed by instincts programmed 50k years ago”
- “When your tools can wipe out the biosphere, the same instincts that helped us survive threaten the rest of the world”
- “Our tech has improved but we still have caveman brains”
- Hyperbolic discounting means we undervalue future catastrophe
- Is “good” just what feels good (in our caveman minds)?
- “Hidden Spring” by Mark Solms. The mind weighing up attention foci & “gut feeling”
- “I don’t know how we can do that (fix human thinking) without re-wiring human nature at a neurological level”
- Antinatalism or wireheading?
- Can we engineer ourselves so that making good long-term decisions gives us a dopamine rush?
- I agree with Sentientism 100% but it’s not rational, it’s “gut level cuddliness”
- Racism & speciesism can be driven by unfamiliarity
- “I have a profound appreciation for non-human life” “I feel a kinship”
- Economists know people so they only value people
- Enlightened self-interest
- If we $ value eco-system services won’t a developer just write a cheque and say “fuck off”?
- Economic value vs. real value gaps
- We are entropic eddies complex enough to have woken up
- There is no “free” will
- Ethics in multiple universes?
56:05 The Future
- Truth vs. dogmatic compliance
- Theocracy & secularism
- More people in the US believe in angels than in evolution
- Might humans band together in response to a major threat?
- “The crisis is human nature”
- Biden’s “Green New Deal” & the time-lag of the env. crisis
- “I’m happier than I should be”
- “We’re a pest species” heading for feudalism
- The NSA are watching in double-speed.
Everyone interested, Sentientist or not, is welcome in our groups. The biggest so far is here on FaceBook.
Thanks to Graham for your video and audio skills!