How Do You Know What People Want?

A thought from Glenn Reynolds:

people once looked to supernatural sources for such now-mundane things as cures for baldness or impotence, only to find those desires satisfied, instead, by modern pharmacology. Yet that hardly makes those who place their faith in pharmacology members of a religion -- or, if it does, it makes them members of a religion that is distinguishable from those dependent on the supernatural. ... How do we know that people want the kinds of things that advanced technology is supposed to offer? Because they've been trying to get them through non-technological means for all of recorded history.

Reynolds was discussing a Kurzweilian technological singularity - and a sudden surge in folks making the invalid comparison of serious futurism with religious belief - rather than radical life extension, but it's all very applicable. New technology is the way that you accomplish things you were previously incapable of accomplishing. Religion and myth are reflections of what most people want to accomplish, or find attractive. We should expect the near future that we build to echo our most fundamental desires; the only reason the present falls short is our lack of ability.

It's common in business circles to find that people say one thing in your surveys and then go on to do quite another, but the rich history of effort and expenditure in search of ways to prolong the healthy human life span shows that those first to market with working, demonstrated, effective anti-aging medicine will be well rewarded. That incentive, not altruism, is the bottom line driving any group towards achieving this goal - so we should be glad that the underlying will and desire is so broad, even if it is oftimes filtered through ignorance, confusion and distraction.

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I think you are right that religions represent people's desires. Many hardcore religionists keep trying to equate science with religion in general. But it never makes sense, it is just twisting words or using definitions that aren't what we commonly use.

I think we are people who believe the future can be better then the present. That humanity can given time overcome limitations and problems that it faces. And I think we can be reasonably confident in that just based on the progress we have made over the last few hundred years.

Posted by: aa2 at April 5th, 2006 12:18 AM

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