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Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end


All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the superman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end. -- Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The kind of thoughts one has while overlooking Lake Como from a grand villa  :-)
The New Atlantis: Friedrich Nietzsche gets a bad rap, for celebrating the will to power and leaving good morals by the wayside; in growing numbers, Americans are beginning to feel the same uneasy skepticism toward the Silicon Valley moguls who have come to thoroughly dominate our economy and imagination. For critics on the left as well as the right, today’s tech titans are uncomfortably squishy, or indifferent, when it comes to partisan, ideological matters. ...

... As Nietzsche knew, a democratic society like ours is supremely unlikely to produce any bona fide supermen. But supernerds? They’re multiplying like rabbits, and they’ve got an open field. Nothing can stop them; certainly not the rest of us.

According to Peter Thiel, however, that scary conclusion is false, for an even scarier reason. In interviews, speeches, and his new book of adapted college lectures, Zero to One, Thiel — the most political and theoretical of the supernerds — raises the prospect of a remarkably comprehensive failure among our best and brightest.

... Thiel’s critique, it turns out, has much in common with Nietzsche’s: Nietzsche worries that Darwinian competition breeds mediocre humans, while Thiel complains that commercial competition breeds mediocre companies. The principle of incremental success produces no true success at all; instead, it suppresses creative genius.

Zero to One is mainly “about how to build companies that create new things,” as Thiel writes in the preface. ...

Thiel begins by distinguishing between two kinds of technological progress: horizontal progress, which means “copying things that work — going from 1 to n,” and vertical progress, which means “doing new things — going from 0 to 1.” The modern world, says Thiel, “experienced relentless [vertical] technological progress from the advent of the steam engine in the 1760s all the way up to about 1970.”

... “Making small changes to things that already exist might lead you to a local maximum,” he writes, “but it won’t help you find the global maximum.” And with limited resources in a global economy, nothing less than the world is at stake. To find the global maximum, entrepreneurs must “transcend the daily brute struggle for survival” by building “creative monopolies” — creating markets where none exist, rather than dumping their energies into wringing the last marginal dollar of value from markets choked with belligerent competitors. For example, Google, as Thiel points out, has basically held a monopoly over Internet search since the early 2000s. For Thiel, the benefits of creative monopolies extend far beyond the companies themselves. While we typically think of monopolies as exploitative and domineering, “creative monopolists give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world.”

Creative monopolies require what Thiel calls “definite optimism,” which involves making bold, specific plans for the future, and taking risks to fulfill them. ...

... Overtly, we’re increasingly at the mercy of our technological overlords. Covertly, our social life has become crippled by something so powerful that it can render even the most promising supernerd all but powerless, to say nothing of you and me. Our kryptonite is a cosmic idea, one with which Nietzsche was all too familiar: “the people have won — or ‘the slaves’ or ‘the mob’ or ‘the herd’ or whatever you like to call them,” Nietzsche said about the self-styled democratic free spirits. “‘The masters’ have been disposed of; the morality of the common man has won.” Nietzsche despised this mob-ification of morals. ...

As Francis Fukuyama put it in Our Posthuman Future (2002) ... a division between the metaphorical 1 and 99 percent might come about through a biotechnological revolution — something about which even the most assertive of our supernerds at Google are still cagey. ...

“We live in a world,” Thiel told the Dinner for Western Civilization, “in which courage is in far shorter supply than genius.” As he puts it in Zero to One: “Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply.” ...

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