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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

Artificial Life: An Overview

Artificial Life: An Overview
Christopher Langton (ed.)

Artificial Life: An Overview
I think that in most disciplines, few qualities are as consistently valuable to a rational individual as the trait of skepticism. Which is not to downplay the value of faith or idealism — such things are the fervor that give birth to new ideas. The problem is that faith and idealism are seldom stalwart enough parents to rear those ideas from their infancy into maturity, nor are they objective enough to effectively defend those ideas from that which would threaten them. That sort of discipline requires not fervor but discipline, not faith but doubt. No idea can come into any sort of fullness until it has been tested against a sufficiently icy blast of skepticism, and emerged stronger for having done so.
The science of artificial life is still very much in its infancy. Much of the writing done on the subject suffers from the wide-eyed idealism of the youth of an idea, the sort of youth that tugs on one’s sleeve and tries to persuade by strength of conviction, rather than by strength of maturity. That’s not a bad thing necessarily; it’s probably an inevitable thing for any science that hasn’t had time to calm itself down and truly ponder the long road ahead.
Many of the essays in Artificial Life begin to make efforts at that ponderance. There is still some of the ecstasy of youth present, but it begins to be dulled, or (at the very least) to become focused. It begins to set aside some of the passion of apologetics, and to get down to the messy business of performing actual science. In short, it begins to acknowledge its own skepticism, begins to retract indefensible grandeur in exchange for small, documentable steps. And it is these tiny, defensible steps, coaxed on by the governess Skepticism, that will carry the science forward.

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