Why Chicks Don’t Dig The Singularity

Joe Quirk may be the world's first evolutionary psychology (or sociobiology) comic. That's not a big audience share yet, but his entertaining book, Sperm Are from Men, Eggs Are from Women: The Real Reason Men And Women Are Different, has been well received. By focusing on sex and relationships, Quirk is broadening the audience for the study of the genetic roots of human behaviors.

Quirk recently spoke at the Future Salon about the relationship between "The Singularity" and "sociobiology."

A few days before his talk, he joined me on my NeoFiles podcast to talk about this very same subject. Jeff Diehl joined me in asking Mr. Quirk some questions.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: How did you get interested in The Singularity?

JOE QUIRK: One of my friends, Steve Potter, a neuro-engineer used to tell me about this one guy, John Smart — about how he was a visionary, and he organized "Accelerated Change" conferences.

So about five years after hearing about him, I'm at Burning Man, and I'm riding my bike around. And at Burning Man, there are so many things competing for your attention — wonderful visual art and explosions and so forth — but it's sort of a non-verbal place. There isn't much intellectual stuff going on. And as I'm riding my bike around, and all these things are competing for my attention, over my left shoulder I hear the word "gene;" I hear the word "memes," and I stop. And there's this very unassuming white tent with a bunch of people sitting around on chairs as if they were at a lecture hall. And there's this good-looking guy in a woman's nightie. And I'm thinking, "How full of crap is this guy going to be? I know about this kind of stuff." So I stopped my bike to listen.

RU: How were his legs?

JQ: Very sexy. Maybe I'm revealing too much here. People do things at Burning Man that are not supposed to get out!

So I listened to this guy, and I knew just enough about what he was talking about to realize that he wasn't completely insane. And he was the one, at that time, drawing exponential curves [ed: see Ray Kurzweil's explanation of The Singularity] and describing the exponential nature of change. It was the first time I'd heard about that. So I listened to the lecture and thought, "That's a fascinating guy!" It turned out he was doing a lecture every day, so I kept coming back. The third time I came back, I was on a hallucinogen. I think that did influence me.

RU: He became more impressive? Kind of like the Grateful Dead?

JQ: Yeah, he became even more impressive and he had three heads. Anyway, I came back to talk to him, and we started talking about the different books we'd both read and eventually I found out he was the guy Steve Potter had told me about.

RU: So you just recently gave a lecture yourself at the "Future Forum" in Palo Alto titled "Why The Singularity Won't Work Without Sociobiology." So, why not?

JQ: All these ideas are founded on some assumptions about human nature. And I think some of the assumptions about human nature that we make in the futurist community are wrong. For instance, I've noticed chicks don't dig the singularity. For instance, I went to a recent Accelerated Change conference, and I actually counted up the people, and I found that less than a fifth of the presenters were women, and less than a sixth of the attendees were women.

RU:That sounds like a high count of women compared to some geek stuff that I've been to!

JQ:Yeah, when there's actual machinery, it's like 1% women. But I knew a lot of the women who were there, and they were there because it was their guy's primary interest. So Ray Kurzweil got up there and Moira Gunn was interviewing him, and everybody got to submit a question. And Moira would pick her three favorite questions. So there were all these technical questions about how will the singularity do this, how will the singularity do that. And my question was, "How will the Singularity get laid... err help me get laid?" So she picked my question as an extra one as a way of dismissing it. She said, "Somebody put a joke question in here, and can you believe that there are people here who would write something like this? It's 'how will the Singularity help me get laid?'" And then she throws it aside and tries to move on to another question. But Kurzweil says, "Hang on. Hang on. I want to answer that." And then he goes into this long technical description...

JEFF DIEHL: ...and then he got out his slide rule, and straightened out his bow tie. [Laughter]

JQ: Exactly! It was stuff like, "You can wear body suits." He was talking about tactile things and about how people can caress each other from far away. And it was so funny. It's too bad this wasn't filmed, because Moira Gunn's face was getting more and more skeptical, the more he kept talking. She kept saying things like, "Well, what about intimacy? You know, what about actual interacting with a real human being?" And Kurzweil wasn't picking up on what she was talking about. You could tell he enjoys the subject, but he gave a long-winded technical explanation for how to get off. And she was talking about sex as a medium for connecting to another person's soul. So right there, you're seeing this divergence between men's priorities and women's priorities. My wife doesn't care about the Singularity. When I talk about it, it doesn't resonate for her. It doesn't sound exciting to be able to put a machine inside your brain or something like that.

JD: What about the real prospect of an indefinite life span? I think that appeals to women!

JQ: I think it does, but I don't know anyone outside the futurist community...

RU: You look young for a much longer period of time. Women are early adopters of youth technology in terms of looks.

JQ: My wife is actually in the business of making women young and beautiful. She's what's called an aesthetician. She makes people beautiful. So if I could convince her that people can live forever and be young as long as they want, she might be into it. But my explanation ends up being sort of technical and attenuated. There are so many other things you need to know that it tends to become like religion — the rapture for geeks.

JD: There's not a big female fan base for science fiction, right?

JQ: Right. So guy geeks are always talking about how you can connect to more people and form more networks with people you never met. And my research tells me women's brains are just more interested in face reading and voice reading and reading all the messages you get beneath the words. Guys tend to concentrate more on the abstract ideas behind the words. So email is unfulfilling for most women. They want to get together at lunch with their friends and make eye contact and stand way too close to each other.

RU: I like to see that, too.

But I'm still not quite getting the Sociobiology/Singularity hook-up here. You had an interesting Freudian slip earlier. You said, "How will The Singularity get laid?" It could be like that, couldn't it? Couldn't it be more like sex with the singularity as opposed to sex within the singularity? Couldn't the singularity be this great, singular mechanistic Borg-like entity, and it's going to need something to have sex with?

JQ: Right! And I think that's sort of Kurzweil's vision — that we'll be able to make our fantasies real. Why would you actually need another human being?

JD: From my reading of Kurzweil's book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, I suspect, on some level, he's OK with the prospect of evolving beyond sexuality altogether in order to achieve immortality. And I imagine those two probably go hand in hand. If you remove the mortal aspect of existence, you're kind of eliminating the evolutionary reason for having sex. You know as a living being you're going to die, and that drives you to reproduce — and that's where all that sex stuff happens. Right?

JQ: Yeah, but I'm convinced that we inherit this suite of desires, and whether we die or not, we're going to keep them, unless we find some hormonal way to change it.

JD: But that's part of it, right? Kurzweil is changing himself hormonally with all of his nutritional stuff. He already claims to have reprogrammed his own biochemistry.

JQ: Right. He keeps saying his biological age hasn't changed. You know, I saw a picture of him from twenty years ago, and he did look younger.

RU: I'm still trying to get at the connection between the Singularity and sociobiology.

JQ: I think male geeks in the futurist community assume that human nature is the same as the nature of male geeks in the futurist community. And it's kind of become a little religion; we have our own Rapture and our own eschatology and all that sort of stuff. But I think the idea of merging with machine intelligence is not appealing to lots of different kinds of people. And so when we talk about it, we talk as if this tiny sector of human experience — and the kinds of enhancements male geeks want — is all that there is. But when you describe these kinds of things to most people, they're not necessarily enthused. They're more often afraid. So I think we need a clearer idea of what is universal in human needs to be able to explain The Singularity.
Reader Martine comments: The Singularity is the best thing to happen to sex since some final stages of primate-homonid pelvic evolution enabled face-to-face intercourse among hominids (without losing the ability for rear access).

RU: I always wonder — can an artificial intelligence understand what it feels like to dance to James Brown? You know? Maybe it can, eventually. I don't know.

JD: There's also this question of individuality versus networked intelligence. It seems like we're heading towards a networked intelligence that might not have a need for — or a concept of individuality. And individuality certainly encapsulates most current impulses and needs and desires that we think make us human. But once we're post-human, all that goes out the window. So how do you even talk about discreet entities and individuals and desires and stuff like that? Certainly Kurzweil wants us to think that we can carry that humanness with us, but it might all just go away! And something else will be there, and it won't be what we are now. So there's kind of a good reason to be afraid of it, because you don't know what the hell that means.

JQ: Yeah. It's hard to distinguish some descriptions of The Singularity from Armageddon. And I think the pretense; the assumption of the hardcore pro-Kurzweil futurists is that all these things — dancing to James Brown — are reducible to computation.

RU: It's the "good" aspect of it that I wonder about. Is "feel good" reducible?

JQ: Singularitarians are assuming that it is, but it's a deep mystery — sentience! I can understand why there would be all the complexity of animal life interacting, competing, and behaving exactly the way it behaves. But I don't think anything in science so far has answered the question, "Why is it like something to be alive?" When I poke myself with a pin, I don't just react like a robot; I have an external experience that I also experience inside. This causes us to be natural dualists. It doesn't seem to be a real dualism — I'm a materialist — but I feel like, once a machine passes the Turing test, we don't really know whether it has sentience or not. Of course, I don't know if you have sentience. I assume you have sentience because you act like I act.

RU: Well, I'm a solipsist, so I don't even think you're here. [Laughter]

JQ: So even if my enjoyment of James Brown is reducible to some kind of binary computation, it's not clear to me that that's going to give rise to the epi-phenomenon or the emergent property of self-aware consciousness sentience.

RU: Assuming we are headed towards the Singularity, or at least towards some kind of post-human future, it sounds like you're trying to keep some of the human relation alive within it, and some of the sexuality alive within it. That's a project — making sure that this future does contain these things that we value. Is that part of what you're trying to do?

JQ: When we talk about the Singularity, it should be grounded on universal things about human nature. Everyone should look at Donald Brown's list of human universals. And I think when we talk about it now; we talk about it as California computer nerds — which represents a narrow range of human experience.

RU: So as California computer nerds, we don't have all of the qualities on Mr. Brown's list of natural human universals?

JQ: It's the qualities that all tribes in every culture everywhere share. And one of them is a belief in spiritual beings that care very much about how we behave.

RU: Of course there were attempts to eliminate that in China and other places, but it continued.

JQ: I don't think you can eliminate something like spiritual belief, in a top-down way. But certainly most people in the Scandinavian countries are atheists. There's a lot of atheism in the world now. But still, there are no cultures that don't have some people who believe that there are invisible beings who care passionately about how they behave.

RU: You're using the word sociobiology, and currently the trendy term is "evolutionary psychology." And actually, some people make a distinction between the two of them and say sociobiology was more completely enthralled by genes, whereas evolutionary psychology sort of combines genes with environment and other factors. Talk a little about your interest in sociobiology, which is the older term that came from Edward O. Wilson's amazing book.

JQ: I'm trying to steal back the word sociobiology, because sociobiology, strictly defined, is the biology of behavior of all animals. It got in trouble, back in the early 70s, because human beings were included among the animals. E. O. Wilson's one of my heroes. The last 1/30th of his book, Sociobiology, deals with human nature.

RU: And then he put out On Human Nature. And a leftist feminist threw a pie at him, even though he was a liberal environmentalist, basically for looking at human behavior as having certain predispositions, just like all other animals do.

JQ: Someone dumped a bucket of water over his head while he was coming for a lecture. And so the word sociobiology got demonized. I know a lot of academics at Berkeley, and they're so pre-inoculated against any biological illumination of human behavior that they can't even talk about it. It's so emotional.

RU: Oddly, just as sort of a weird side note, Huey Newton from the Black Panther Party was into sociobiology in the 1970s and studied it. For whatever odd reason, he found it interesting.

JQ: That is an interesting side note! And that term became so demonized that the people who continued to research it sort of quietly started calling it evolutionary psychology. Interestingly, evolutionary psychology is specifically about the biology of human behavior. Sociobiology is a more general term about the biological roots of all animal behavior. You know, it's like when the creationist movement switched to "Intelligent Design" — they were being defensive. And when we switched from sociobiology to evolutionary psychology, we were being defensive.

RU: But a lot of the same people still hate it, basically for the same reasons.

JQ:Yeah. And I strongly recommend Steve Pinker's book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. He pretty much devastates all the good-hearted but misguided arguments against sociobiology. To put it in simple terms, if I'm speaking to a social academic about my biological beliefs that I think illuminate human nature and answer a lot of deep questions about human nature, they invariably bring up Hitler or the eugenics movement.

RU: And certainly all this stuff can be exploited by people.

JQ: But then again, on the other side — among the people who say that the human mind is ultimately malleable by culture and has no genetically controlled tendencies at all — you have Mao and the Khmer Rogue. Both sides have their holocausts. Pol Pot... all those guys believed that you take the baby, you take it away from its mother, and...

RU: It's a blank slate.

JQ: Right. You can create humans that only care about serving the state.

RU: If you acknowledge that every other living animal group has certain inherent forms of social organization, it's fundamentally absurd to say, "Well no, human beings don't." And certain people on the left remind me of fundamentalist Christians. It's kind of a denial of evolution. They're not denying Darwin, but they're denying something that is a logical extension of Darwin.

JQ: Right. And the sort-of social science academics on the left are the only ones who have a problem with this stuff. When I speak in front of most women, they're trying to understand their husband and they're all over it. They want to understand why does he do the things he does; why does he communicate the way he does? People on the street assume that there's something fundamentally different about men and women.

RU: What happens with people in the process of a sex change — like a guy who's taking a lot of estrogen and that sort of thing? Have you looked into that?

JQ: Sure, I'm fascinated with that stuff. If a woman gets a sex change operation, and she starts taking injections of testosterone, different genes that are suppressed are turned on in her, and she finds herself feeling more aggressive; she finds it harder to cry; she finds it easier to get angry; and she can't get sex out of her mind. I talked to one woman who was in the midst of this process, and she said, "God, I suddenly understand how guys feel."

RU: So let's distribute some of this.

JQ: Yeah. [Laughs.] Slip it into drinks?

JD: Except that all of a sudden, she's got facial hair.

RU: You can get over that.

JQ: I remember she was describing her experience to me. She was like: "I'm on the BART, and I'm looking at shapely women, and I just wanted to get into their bodies. I mean, it's like it's all about that body." To her that was a foreign experience. She's like, "Wow. So this is how men see the world." Especially young men.

RU: I wonder when people start to alter people at the genetic level — germ line engineering.

JQ: Yeah. That's a thorny issue.

RU: I wonder how that will affect all these kinds of relations. I wonder if that might change some of this.

JQ: It's hard to pull off, because it's very rare that you get a gene corresponding to one particular trait. Genes all interact with each other, so if you choose a certain gene to give your kid a mathematical ability, that gene cascades through all the different traits in the person and has other unpredictable effects.

RU: But some people think that, in not too much time, even with all the complexity, we'll be able to do this kind of manipulation.

JQ: I think we will be able to do this kind of manipulation, but we'll start having the kinds of problems we have with our domesticated dogs. We can take a dog and we can breed it for a particular quality — like, I want my dog to be a pug, so I'm just going to concentrate on breeding it for a big face and big strong shoulders. By the time I've created my perfect dog, it has cataracts; it has heart problems; it has breathing problems. Out in nature, all these genes are interacting with the environment at once.

RU: The theory is that we wouldn't start doing it until we could be pretty sure of the effects. Although I don't necessarily believe that.

JQ: It's so hard to control because genes only turn on in an environment that triggers them to turn on. So if you're an identical twin, and you're gay, there's only a 50% chance that you're identical twin is going to be gay.

RU: But if he is, you can have an awful lot of fun together!

JQ: I'm sure — they even shared a womb together. So if you can't even predict something like your sexuality based on what genes you have, and you also have to sort of control an environment that's going to trigger certain things to turn on...

RU: [Frivolously] Yeah, but Kurzweil's super-intelligent machines will figure out how to perfect this technology for us in 2035, right?

JQ: Well, that's the prediction, but, uh...

RU: So what do you really think? Are you fundamentally a believer in "The Singularity" or are you a skeptic?

JQ: I'm a scared skeptic and a hopeful skeptic. Most people who hear about it think it's whacko, so I find myself defending it more often than criticizing it. And I think Kurzweil's actual arguments in his two most important books are more compelling than the counter-argument from Incredulity, which is just a knee-jerk reaction — "C'mon, this is Rapture for the geeks." Every group makes up some kind of mythos, and this is a mythos for the geeks. I keep thinking of other examples of Singularities. I've never heard anyone talk about the Singularity that's already happened. Let's see if you guys can point it out.

RU: Language?

JQ: That's one, but I've never heard anyone talk about the Singularity of techneme — the singularity of tools. Imagine a Homo habilis playing with his stone axe, and his buddy says to him, "Grok! These stone axes are not going to change for millions of years, because we're on the flat part of an exponential curve. But this has an abstract design within it, which means it contains information that can be passed down through the generations. And in another 3 million years, we're going to have a feedback loop of information, and pretty soon our tools are going to cover the world; they're going to be on our bodies; and we're going to go from a few thousand of us to a few billion of us. Everything we touch will be a tool. Our tool designs are going to inhabit matter and build our dreams around us. Everything we look at is going to be a manifestation, an embodiment of an idea."

RU: Right, and all that would be unrecognizable to that person. So in that sense we've been through at least one Singularity. It's kind of like the Arthur C. Clarke idea that advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

JQ: And if you think about this, there's almost nothing I touch in my day that isn't created by humans. Even the food is bred by humans.

Steve Potter says, "Maybe The Singularity already happened." Why would we know about it? Does bacteria know that they're on a giant naked ape?

RU: Kurzweil is a believer in the soft singularity — a process where we might not even recognize that we've slipped into a different kind of reality when it happens. All I know is that friends of mine are still dying at this point from diseases related to aging. That would be one change that would be interesting.

See Also:
Girls Are Geeks, Too
Death? No, Thank You
Sex for Memes' Sake
Counterculture and the Tech Revolution
California Cults 2006

72 thoughts to “Why Chicks Don’t Dig The Singularity”

  1. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think you guys have been talking to the wrong women. There are plenty of us XX sorts out here who are fascinated by the singularity, and have been writing and talking about it for some time.

    Women are not only reading about the singularity; they’re writing about it, too. Besides my own — Glass Houses, Proxies, and Burning the Ice — there are plenty of other female writers who are writing on the subject. Just off the top of my head — Nancy Kress’s Beggars series, Linda Nagata’s Vast, and Chris Moriarty’s Spin State and Spin Control are all about how drastically nano-, bio- and/or info-tech are changing what it means to be human.

    Perhaps the reason many women you meet aren’t interested in SF or the singularity has more to do with the fact that not very many *people* you meet are interested in SF or the singularity, male or female.

    Given the futurist/ high-tech populations you circulate in are notoriously female deficient, it seems probable to me that you are extrapolating from way too little data. And given some of the — pardon me, but I must be frank — clueless attitudes toward women expressed above, is it really any wonder there aren’t many women among your number?*

    *To be clear, I am not arguing against the obviously correct proposition that men and women have substantial biological differences, above and beyond the obvious reproductive organs. I am pointing out that in with bits of such scientifically defensible stuff in the interview above are mixed a lot of dubious opinions about what women are and are not like, which are based purely on outdated stereotypes and incorrect information.

  2. >>
    Dudes, 52% of the readership of science fiction is women. Check your facts.

    That’s very interesting if it’s true. It calls for further investigation.

    I think you guys have been talking to the wrong women. There are plenty of us XX sorts out here who are fascinated by the singularity, and have been writing and talking about it for some time…

    Given the futurist/ high-tech populations you circulate in are notoriously female deficient, it seems probable to me that you are extrapolating from way too little data.

    Unless there’s a secret cabal that has no interest in attending futurist conferences, hackers conventions, SF cons etc, I don’t know. I suppose I could have spent the last 17 years or so hangin’ in the wrong places.

    I co-authored a lot of books w. St. Jude Milhon, who was the only woman mentioned in Steven Levy’s book, Hackers, and the only woman associated with the Community Memory project, and one of the few or maybe the only one involved with the Cypherpunks. It seems like I might have had the opportunity to hang out in the right circles, and I’ve certainly known a fair share of techno-girls… but it didn’t change my impression that guys are more likely to be geeks than girls. But I’m willing to learn.

    People may find this interview she gave to Geekgirl back in the mid-90s…


    *To be clear, I am not arguing against the obviously correct proposition that men and women have substantial biological differences, above and beyond the obvious reproductive organs.

    Yeah, I can’t speak for Joe Quirk but for me, I’m just happy with the idea that an area of study and discourse — sociobiology or evolutionary psychology — shouldn’t be somehow jettisoned because the results may make some people uncomfortable. I don’t think the data is all in yet by any means, but what I suspect is that there is strong evidence that gender roles throughout virtually all human cultures have been fairly “stereotypical” — although their have always been “others” — and we’re just at the beginning of changing that. Gender is becoming more mutable all the time. People are changing genders but it’s still a pretty serious process. I’d like to see casual gender change… I think altering skin pigmentation is going to be easier because there are really no genitals or hormones involved…


  3. RU did get his facts straight. The 51% figure comes from fantasy/sf TV audience which includes Buffy, Lara Croft and Xena. RU was talking about books, where three times as many men as women read general science fiction.
    But when we talk about “hard” science fiction, where the story is sacrificed for technical accuracy, rather than the other way around, even more of the readers have penises. As we slip from Fantasy sci fi to Hard sci fi, the female demographic drops off. Also true: More American women read fiction, more American men read non-fiction.

  4. There’s a lot of apples and oranges stuff happening in this interview: saying that women aren’t in high attendance at a particular gathering of geeks and saying that women aren’t into the singularity or SF are two different things.

    I’ve been reading and writing SF for years as have a lot of other women, but even today in our society women are popularly discoouraged from participating in the sciences. We’re still told we don’t have the minds for it. That we’re better suited to posing for Playboy or hosting emo talk shows or teaching people about things as opposed to doing them ourselves.

    Let’s not confuse cause and effect boy-o. And let’s face it, a lot of guys don’t really want us playing in their sandbox anyway, do they? Of course a lot of scientific knowledge will go undiscovered until we do, but that’s life.

  5. as both a reader and write of s/f and fantasy, i can tell you that all your facts are probably suspect. the problem may also be the definition of “science fiction”. men tend to think of s/f as only hard tech, and leave out the less physics and math oriented sciences such as sociology, anthropology, linguistics and psychology. women are just as interested in reading hard s/f with new technology, but i think that women readers tend to want to know what the *effect* of a technology is, not just read the stats.

  6. You guys seem to be missing one huge idea, that will make you rethink everything in this dialog. Evolutionary Enlightenment. Ken Wilbur and Andrew Cohen have been having a discussion about this through the last 10 or more issues of What Is Enlightenment? It’s on their website as well (wie.org). Read it and email me.
    Once you get this stuff, everything else makes sense. I guess the best way to say it is that you find the singularity within yourself (within the non-dual experience) and it moves you in the direction of human evolution. You can get a lot of clarity about the direction of human evolution.
    You are absolutely ignorant about the truth of spirituality, or consciousness, as it were. And that’s weird, because you seem to have done enough drugs. There really isn’t any separation. Separation is the illusion. That’s not a theory or thought so much as an experience that can be validated over and over by a science of consciousness. Zen, Advaita Vedanta, Sufism, et al point the way.
    I am by the way, working on an assessment engine for driving Digital Game Based Learning. Maybe it is a mini-core of the forming AI!?

  7. Fascinating article. Or, I was sure it would be, and I’m still sure it would be if I had the foggiest notion what The Singularity is. I kept reading, thinking I would get an explanation, but I had to give up.

  8. You need to do more real research.

    http://www.livejournal.com/stats.bml may be somewhat inaccurate (considering those who do not list gender, and role-playing journals), but one must realize that social network blogging is a paradigm shift much closer to the “Singularity” than most. If you ignore that, it’s to your disadvantage.

    But Livejournal is commonly ignored by blog theorists. Too many girls?

  9. Clearly the reader didn’t read very closely. Far from departing from sexuality, SIN makes quite clear that Singularity sex will be better than ever. We’ll be able to maximize sex sensors, and even have simultaneous sex with any number of partners in any number of ways. This was all explained in SIN and there were even vignettes that referred to aspects of it.

    And it is not all virtual, despite the fact that we couldn’t tell the difference with full immersion virtuality.

    Kurzweil also laid out the fundamentals of nanobot swarms, smart fog, and similar nanotech manifestations that would allow us to create physical bodies of any format and vest them with vast (more than DNA-driven levels) amounts of thought, feeling and sensuality.

    It is no exaggeration to say that the Singularity is the best thing to happen to sex since some final stages of primate-homonid pelvic evolution enabled face-to-face intercourse among hominids (without losing the ability for rear access).

    It is probably even more accurate to say that the Singularity is the best thing to happen to sex since the neuron developed around 900 MYA, and surely since neocortical pleasure zones developed a few hundred millions years later.

  10. JQ: Of course, I don’t know if you have sentience. I assume you have sentience because you act like I act.

    RU: Well, I’m a solipsist, so I don’t even think you’re here. [laughter]

    Yes, me too RU. How do we even know what an ‘other’ (if there is such a thing, and I am beginning to suspect not, more and more), has of their own sentient experience anyway? How do ‘I’ know ‘you’ are even there? Where? To me, you’re just binary, and even if you come and punch my lights out, you’re still just nerve signals to the brain from the skin.
    Sort of like RAW’s argument for having 100 heads.. Do you really have a head that can conceieve a head big enough to conceive a head big enough to conceieve a head big enough to…

    We will never know. ;-) As Adi Da Samraj says, ‘Feel the Mystery’. Yes, women are more touchy-feely. This one, anyway.
    Great post.

  11. Women may be less interested in the Singularity than men are, but it appears men don’t even know what science is in the first place. If y’all did you would understand the difference between nature and nurture and understand that how a woman behaves as an adult is only affected by genes just so far. We’re a social animal, remember? A lot of who we become is affected by how we’re raised. And the fact remains that girls are still discouraged from pursuing science careers. Even I was, and I was a huge geek pre-puberty and my parents seemed proud of that fact, but by the time I hit puberty my stepmom was buying me stupid teen mags and teaching me about makeup and I had no countering influences in my life whatsoever. My teachers, for one, didn’t have time to focus on my individual need to be encouraged to pursue my individual talents, not with 29 or so other kids in the room per class. And when the boys are acting out and hogging most of the attention, girls become that much easier to ignore.

    That was the Eighties, and this crap is still going on today, but I don’t expect you to care because guys like you are still sitting around with your thumbs up your butts in your own little mental echo chambers deciding that reality is as you see it when you can’t even be bothered to actually *use* your damned eyes. Because if you did, you’d be in for a very rude awakening.

    And, y’know, screw the Singularity. And the reason I don’t care about it or even know what it is is not that I have XX chromosomes but because I feel there are other scientific issues far more important that I need to be concerned about. I would imagine that’s why most GUYS knowledgable about science but not about the Singularity have chosen not to bother learning about the latter. Go figure.

    Incidentally, a chick is a baby bird, Mr. Science.

  12. Dana, while all that is likely tongue in cheek, I want to add a few things.
    I am a chick, and I was pushed into a science career, until I let people know I hated it, although I was pretty good at it. The only sexism I can say I’ve ever really encountered that went against me, (plenty has gone in my favour!) was when my tutor at art college refused to teach me to weld. I stood my ground, eventually he gave in, and I learned.
    I think us women should own our own brand of sexism, personally. I don’t feel victimized by men because of my sex. I love guys!

  13. Maybe I’m older than you, Chandira, but I got lines like “Girls shouldn’t go into science.” and “are you taking this class to get your Mrs. degree?” and “Your (male) lab partner must have done this work, it’s excellent.” And on one memorable occasion “I will not teach Power Systems to women.” I dropped that class, but still got the EE degree. Mind you, this was in the 90s not the 60s. There is plenty of sexism out there.

    I’m interested in the singularity, and have read Kurtzweil’s book as well as Stross’ fiction, but unlike JQ, I don’t have the time to go to cons & hackers meetings. I think women are often just busier than men. Between the job & the family, we don’t have a lot of time to play.

  14. I absolutely despise the word “chicks” as a term intended to mean “women.”

    I suppose Real Men don’t spend enough time with actual chicken-type chicks to become aware of their distinguishing characteristics.

  15. I think some of what Joe says comes off as a bit too binary and he does that for humor and for effect. He knows that these are broad (heh heh huh huh huh) strokes (huh huh heh). Then again, just a few days ago, I saw a comedian who was doing one of those “men are this way” and “women are this other way” routines, and people were laughing so hard they were practically rolling in the aisles. It connected with their experiences, but no doubt there is a minority of women (and men) who would have felt alienated (“made invisible”) by being in that audience. Most people’s actual experiences (what makes them laugh; what makes them cum) are damned politically incorrect and insensitive.

    In an earlier two part interview with Joe Quirk we went into the fact that these are, indeed, generalizations and that there’s actually a lot of variation. I didn’t feel like covering the same ground in this interview, although that might have had an effect on some reader’s impressions of where we were at with all this. (Also, the style of the audiocasts are playful in a way that some people might pick up on with the audio cues, but miss in text)

    As far as nature and nurture, it’s obviously a combination of both (and maybe some other factors we don’t quite understand yet). As a fan of both androgyny and evolutionary psychology, all I can say is that life is full of contradictions and nuances. As a person who does media, all I can say is sometimes you just have to settle for broad strokes and generalizations.

    For those who are interested, here are my Joe Quirk audio interviews from last year.

    Joe Quirk Show #1 | Joe Quirk Show 2

  16. “Chicks” don’t dig the singularity: after all, you don’t see them at futurist conferences. I suggest that you get together with Harlan Ellison to discuss the genetic factors that ensure women skip such conferences. To make your discussion of how women hate trying to understand hard science perfectly robust, though, you should add third old white geek… After all, if three different men all come to the same conclusions, what ratioanl person could doubt? How about Vox Day? He’s done a lot of research on the subject already.

  17. After the Singularity there will be no money, and everything will taste like Key Lime Pie. In fact, soon after the Singularity, we’ll all be smothered in self-replicating Key Lime Pie. Make it so.

  18. Pingback: mlarson.org »
  19. I absolutely despise the word “chicks” as a term intended to mean “women.”

    for real? we really haven’t come beyond this type of position in our discussion of gender stereotypes??? now i am depressed.

  20. Judith, I’m sorry you got that kind of shit. I went to school in the late 80’s/early 90’s in England, so maybe that’s the difference. Maybe it’s cultural.

  21. Oh, let Joe and RU and Jeff go hide out in their treehouse with the sign that says “NO GURLZ ALOUD”. The women who are interested in hard SF and nanotechnology and the Singularity will be hanging out with Real Men(tm) who understand things like basic math, statistics, social dynamics, and cause and effect… and how not to confuse the latter.

  22. and how not to confuse the latter

    don’t worry about that, we’ll just pull the latter up behind us as we lock the treehouse door!

  23. “# Joe Quirk Says:
    January 21st, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    RU did get his facts straight. The 51% figure comes from fantasy/sf TV audience which includes Buffy, Lara Croft and Xena. RU was talking about books, where three times as many men as women read general science fiction.

    Actually, Joe, the 52% comes from book reading stats, as you would be aware if you had followed my link to http://www.broaduniverse.org/stats.html.

  24. Also, JoeQ, I checked out your link, and it appears to be stats on who reads certain SF magazines — Analog and Asimov’s, if I’m not mistaken, though it’s hard to be sure.

    The Broad Universe poll is more comprehensive, and included stats on magazine readship among other things, and found that it is more male than female (60-40%). But book readership is slightly more female than male (52-48%).

  25. Mhhh, it seems there is a lot of “how dare you men have an opinion on this, it’s plain you’re too binary” going on here. If we want ’em to think about relationships, fer Heaven’s sake, we shouldn’t scold them when they try!

  26. While everybody else is getting annoyed by the broad generalization about women (which, yes, annoyed me, too), I thought I’d note something else that bothered me. Once a transsexual has begun transition, it is disrespectful to refer to him or her as belong to his or her birth sex/gender. Not only is it rude, but it shows a disbelief in the validity of transsexuality, both the condition and the process. If you don’t believe that transsexuals can transition from one sex to another through medical means, then that is entirely your prerogative. However, your own observations about the process would seem to suggest at least a certain amount of validity, and I should think that arguing against the functionality of transition would also argue against a transhuman singularity.

  27. Oh for god sakes. Yes, I know several transsexuals and they’re very sensitive about this. And I try to be sensitive to it, and once a friend has become a woman or a man for awhile, it becomes second nature. But all forms of hypersensitivity get old pretty fast — the sooner we can stop acting like little pseudo-maoist language police and start acting like relaxed human or post-human beings, the happier we will all be. So try on this transformed sentence from Joe Quirk:

    If a woman gets a sex change operation, and she starts taking injections of testosterone, different genes that are suppressed are turned on in HIM

    etc. Sure you can do that but it starts to become silly… To pick that out of a long live interview is really pretty fucking silly.

    If you don’t believe that transsexuals can transition from one sex to another through medical means, then that is entirely your prerogative.
    On one level, yes they can (we can. If I live long enough and the science gets interesting enough, maybe I’ll try it myself) and on another level, it’s just meaningless compared to a complete and cold and insensitive recitation of the facts… born with a penis, now has a vagina… or whatever…

  28. I’m not the PC police, gods know. I just think it’s rude, and when I encounter people who don’t seem to be aware of that fact (it IS a little obscure for many people), I try to educate them.
    In general, I found your perspective in this piece to be somewhat self-centered and limited (although you did seem to become aware of that), and since other people had already commented on the other aspects I objected to, I thought I’d mention this one.
    You never did actually get around to making much progress on the question at hand, I noticed. Why, exactly, do you think that chicks don’t dig the singularity? Personally, I don’t get terribly excited about it because the versions of it I’ve encountered in fiction (Stross, Doctorow) seemed both implausible and not terribly interesting other than as settings for the stories (and not always as that). The forms of singularity I have so far seen suggested (which, I admit, are few and limited) don’t seem to me to be something likely to be accepted by society at large, at least not in the kinds of time frames depicted. Frankly, I find the sort of uberdiverse society suggested in Ellis’s Transmetropolitan to be a better extension of world sociological trends than any piece of singularity fiction I’ve yet read. And more interesting, too.

  29. I find it interesting that a couple of the commentors here have said, essentially, “Well, of course women aren’t interested in the Singularity; it’s silly.” Which merely moves the question from, “Why aren’t women interested in the Singularity?” to, “Why do women think it’s silly?”

  30. I found this article kind of annoying. I’m a girl, and I think the Singularity is way cool. I really hope it happens.

    The guy being interviewed seems to think that because a woman isn’t thrilled by Kurzweil’s vision of high-tech masturbation, she must not be interested in the singularity, and also sex is not a high priority for her except for connecting to another person’s soul. Huh? What’s wrong with wanting to fuck someone in person? Seriously, sex is great and all, but the singularity has WAY cooler stuff to offer than augmented sex.

    He says, “My wife doesn’t care about the Singularity. When I talk about it, it doesn’t resonate for her.” Maybe that’s because his wife is an AESTHETICIAN. Not that there’s anything wrong with helping people look their best. It’s just not a strong background in transhumanism, you know?

    He also says of his wife, “if I could convince her that people can live forever and be young as long as they want, she might be into it. But my explanation ends up being sort of technical and attenuated.” That’s right. Your wife doesn’t care about the singularity because YOU MAKE IT SOUND BORING.

  31. I just got back from a luxurious week in Mendocino and thought I’d check to see if my chat with RU and Jeff garnered minimal interest.


    It’s astonishing that such vigorous responses should result from two innocent statements of fact:

    one, that less than 1/5 of the presenters and less than 1/6 of the attendees at the Accelerated Change Conference 2004 were women;

    and two, that most readers of “hard” science fiction are men.

    (“Hard” sci fi defined by me: Futuristic fiction more preoccupied with physics than psychology.)

    My agent sells a lot of science fiction. Book publishers who succeed in the marketplace are those who understand that men and women buy different kinds of books, and that difference extends to subgenres of science fiction.

    Does your novel emphasize technical detail and scientific accuracy and sacrifice the inner lives of the characters? Mostly boys read it. Does your novel emphasize the relations and inner lives of your characters and sacrifice technical rigor? Mostly girls read it, and mostly because females read more of all kinds of fiction.

    Was the title of our interview provocative? “Chicks” I’ve always thought of as the female version of “dude,” and I used both extensively in my first novel without stirring controversy. That said, people should decide what they want to be called, and if someone doesn’t want to be called a “chick,” then I won’t call them that. Though the objection reminds me of the monk who taught my college “Moral Issues” class, who told us calling a child a “kid” is offensive, because “kid” is what you call a goat, not a child.

    The passionate responses demonstrate how deeply women feel personally affronted by gender stereotypes. The passion is productive, because we have to achieve consensus on this issue: the biologically based cognitive differences between men and women. I say “we” because most of the people who responded sound like my political compatriots.

    Let me establish my credentials as a feminist man. I want Oprah to be president. I want more estrogen and less testosterone leading companies and countries. My wife runs her own business. I do all the cooking and wash all the dishes. My cat Peter died yesterday, and I cried in front of someone with a penis.

    I came of intellectual age in Berkeley. I’d always believed that in a gender-blind society, men and women would behave indistinguishably. When I discovered evolutionary psychology, I learned that was not true. Hang a mobile and a face over a three-day-old babies. The boys look more at the mobile, and the girls look more at the face. Release toddlers in a playground. Boys play more with trucks, girls play more with dolls. Before they can talk, before they can walk, girls and boys show different interests.

    And adults? All the cognitive tests show that women and girls are superior at face reading, voice reading, and detecting somebody’s social success in their unconscious body language. Men and boys are superior at rotating shapes in their heads, knowing which way is North, and aiming and blocking projectiles.

    Many of these differences are analogous to the difference in height. Some women are tall, some men are short, but the tendency toward taller men and shorter women is statistically overwhelming. But some of these differences are drastic and differ by a whole standard deviation on the bell curve.

    Reading up on these studies, I realized there was going to be yet another schism in the feminist movement, between those who accept the evidence that boys and girls, in general, are born with different brains specialized for different tasks, and those who insist that political equality must be based on biological indistinguishability, no matter what the science says.

    Those of us interested in increasing women’s power and influence must come to terms with the incontrovertible data (and controvertible conclusions) coming out of neuroscience, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology.

    My next book will be called Tools Are From Men, Talk Is From Women: Why The Other Sex’s Brain is Weird. I will push my hypothesis that the two dynamics spurring the rapid size increase in our neocortexes were tool-use and talking. One sex specialized slightly more in technology, the other slightly more in sociality. I suspect that innate differences in brain structure has something to do with why more men buy technology-obsessed science fiction and are the first to salivate over the Singularity, despite the fact that our community has lots of women who say, “Waitaminute! I wrote that nanotechnology novel and attended that conference!”

    Also, I believe I speak for all geeks when I say that male geeks most desperately want women to come “play in their sandbox.” Nothing would made male geeks happier than actual females invading their mechanics shops, D&D games, motherboard tinkerings, and baseball card conventions. I don’t think most women are excluded from these halls of geekdom. I think most women are just not interested. http://www.penwill.com/th1/events.html

    Robert X. Cringely put it best in his TV show, “Triumph of the Nerds.”

    It’s no coincidence that the only woman in the vicinity looks bored, because this is a boy thing — the obsession of a particular type of boy who would rather struggle with an electronic box than with a world of unpredictable people. We call them engineers, programmers, hackers, and techies, but mainly we call them nerds.”


    It’s my contention that even if we manage to create a society of perfect gender equality and respect, more men will be interested in fixing cars and engaging in grand motor coordination, and more women will be interested in empathizing and fine motor coordination, because their brains are genetically predisposed to be compelled by different interests.

    Those interested in the biology of homosexuality and transgenderism should read the last third of my book. Or listen to me read two chapters from it here: http://www.kqed.org/arts/people/profile.jsp?id=5284

    What we want is more freedom to choose whatever the hell we want, right? Acknowledging innate differences is not the same as imposing them. I use humor in my book, because we really need to develop a sense of humor about gender differences.

    No, really. A sense of humor. Please.

    Remember my How-will-the Singularity-help-me-get-laid ploy? That was supposed to be knee-slappingly hilarious.

    Guess not. Though RU, Jeff, and I shared a Beavis chuckle.

    Maybe it’s a guy thing.

    And a word on this “nature/nurture” notion that keeps cropping up.

    There is no such thing as a nature/nurture debate. It’s something that caught on in the media because it rhymes. A gene can only work in an environment that triggers it to turn on. An environment can only express its influence through an animal by turning genes on and off. You can’t impose culture on a rock. You can only impose culture on an animal designed by genes to learn from culture.

    That humans are shaped by culture is obvious. Otherwise we wouldn’t have different cultures. But how does culture shape us? By flipping gene switches in an animal designed to learn from culture. Most scholars in the social sciences emphasize the diversity of human behavior. I am interested in what is universal about human behavior.

  32. Joe Quirk, fuck that shit. What you’re doing when you’re boasting about your “feminist” cred and selectively choosing studies that reinforce your goddamned stereotypes* is that you’re alienating us female geeks. If I ever hear a male geek spout that nonsense, I permanently dismiss him from my list of suitable candidates for both romance and friendship. And, you know what? As a geek and a poly pervy geek fancier, I still get laid enough. I still have a whole lot of deliciously geeky friends. I don’t have to deal with scum like you.

    And yes, I read Stross’ singularity novels. I don’t attend conferences on the singularity, because unlike some other people, I have a life. You know, school, job, marriage, kids, household, girlfriend? If I get to choose a con a year, no fucking hell I’m going to Accelerated Change. I’m going to the Worldcon.

    Yes, this is a random comment. You’ll never see me again, and I won’t come back unless something else from here is linked from Making Light. Thanks for showing your true sexist colours.

    *What about the studies that show how different we adults treat our children, based on their gender? You don’t think that pushing cars at a boy from the time he’s born is going to make him interested in them? You don’t think that enforcing a socially acceptable behaviour in girls but not in boys (because, after all, boys will be boys) is going to make them more socially aware?

  33. So let me see if I have this all CORRECT…

    1) Genetic/brain differences as related to gender are either non-existent, negligable or unimportant and anyone who thinks otherwise is sexist and might even be fascist. Except, I think, when it comes to gays… in which case, it IS genetic, because if it’s not, then you lose a good argument against the right wing religious nutballs who think that its “a lifestyle choice” that can be cured.

    2) Gender itself isn’t binary, there’s lots of variation… but never EVER call someone who just had their sex changed by the wrong gender.

    3) Any real discussion around sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, brain differentiation between sexes — however based on science, anthropology, etc. is to be ignored and anybody who speaks of such things shall be written out of my book of life.

    I think I’ve got it now…

  34. Seriously though, the only good example RU gives here of a possible inherent mental difference between the sexes is the one with the newborn babies. Citation please? Really, I’m curious. In the other examples, there was plenty of time for the subjects to be socialized into their gender roles before the experiments took place. Please note, I am not saying there’s no way girls and boys could be different. It’s possible that we are. But you MUST acknowledge that society has an incredibly strong influence on the way our minds develop. I know it makes research on gender differences more complicated, but it has to be accounted for, or you end up with skewed results.

  35. Thank you for your request for citations. For anyone who is interested in the demise of the pink towel/blue towel theory:
    [Lytton, H. & Romney, D.M. (1991) Parents differential socialization of boys and girls: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 267-296]
    [Barkley, R.A., Ullman, D.C., Otto, L., & Brecht, J.M. (1977) The effects of sex typing and sex appropriateness of modeled behavior on children’s imitation. Child Development, 48, 721-725]
    [Maccoby, E.E. & Jacklin, C.N. (1987) The psychology of sex differences. Standford Calif.: Stanford University Press.]
    [Maccoby, E.E. & Martin, J.A. (1983) Socialization in the context of the family: Parent-child interaction. In P.H. Mussen & E.M. Hetherington (Eds.) Handbook of child psychology: Socialization, personality, and social development (4 ed., Vl. 4). New York: Wiley.]
    Lytton and Romney did a comprehensive analysis of child-raising in industrialized nations that involved 172 studies and 27,836 people. They looked at “quantity time” versus “quality time,” encouragement to achieve or be dependent, hugging and spanking, and everything you can think of that might be different in how boys and girls are raised.
    By the end of their meta-analysis, Lytton and Romney concluded that kids train parents better than parents train kids. Boys are spanked more, because they are disobedient more. Mothers talk with girls more, because girls are more interested in talking to their mothers. Fathers don’t want sons to play with dolls, because they’re afraid it might make them gay, but gay sons want play with dolls anyway. Parents change their parenting style for particular kids, because some kids are just born cooperative, and others are born a pain in the ass. Boys train their parents to spank them, and girls train their mothers to talk to them.
    Another group of meta-analysts named Barkley, Ullman, Otto, Brecht looked at 81 studies and said kids don’t learn to act like boys and girls by imitation. Maccoby and Jacklin reviewed 23 studies of children’s imitative behavior and concluded that gender behaviors do not result from selectively imitating others of your sex. In fact, in some cultures, kids act like boys and girls before they know whether they are a boy or a girl!

    To answer your second question: The only way to figure out brain influences in adults is to completely eliminate the effect of genes in one group, and completely eliminate the effect of environment in another group. That’s been done.
    Identical twins separated at birth share identical genes but not environment. Adopted siblings share similar home environments but no genes.
    The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart (MISTRA), run by Thomas Bauchard, David Lykken, and Nancy Segal managed to track down down 115 pairs of identical twins reared apart and 4 sets of reared-apart triplets. [I still need to check my numbers on the 115.] Twins reared apart had been separated for, on average, 30 years. Some of them didn’t even know they had a twin. They compared them against 217 pairs of identical twins reared together and 114 pairs of fraternal twins reared together.
    The twins completed Multidimensional Personality Questionnaires, which quantified their habits, basic personality traits, occupations, hobbies, and their opinions on abortion, capital punishment, and gun control. Their siblings, parents, and spouses also completed questionnaires.
    Just by comparing questionnaires, the researchers could predict if they were identical or fraternal to 96% accuracy. Yet whether they were raised in the same family or different families didn’t seem to make much difference.
    20% of similarity among twins is attributed to sharing same womb environment. [Devilin, Daniels & Roeder, 1997]
    Okay, so MISTRA’s twin studies tell us a lot about what is controlled by genes when environment is eliminated. Can we find a study that tells us what is controlled by environment when genes are eliminated?
    The Colorado Adoption Project (CAP) studied 245 adopted children against 245 non-adopted to examine genetic and environmental influences on children’s behavior. [Also check The Texas Adoption Project.]
    They put these subjects through a battery of standardized tests, measuring everything from their feelings about their relationships to their feelings about their feelings about their relationships. (My wife would love taking these tests. She would also love to take a test about her feelings about her feelings test.)
    When we compare the twin data to the adoption data, we come up with earthshattering conclusion: My therapist owes me a lot of money, and so does yours.
    The best book of all about the real evidence for where personality comes from is written by Judith Rich Harris, and it’s called THE NURTURE ASSUMPTION: WHY CHILDREN TURN OUT THE WAY THEY DO. It’s a wonderful, revolutionary read.
    This evidence is ripe for popularization. I want to push forward the proposal that the reason more women are in Oprah’s audience and more men attend Singularity conferences is because of innate differences in their natural interests.
    No evidence shows one sex is superior to another, but it does show that when your brain gets masculinized or feminized by hormones in the womb, there are cognitive trade-offs.
    It’s very important to me that any evidence I popularize does not arm sexists. My goal is to illuminate relationships. I was a loser in love until I discovered this subject, and it enlightened my love life Any suggestions on how best to present this stuff would be appreciated.

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