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Interview with Luciano Floridi : „We need a new definition of reality“

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Does this sense of editability lead to a smaller time horizon when thinking about one's future?

Yes, if you can change direction along the way, you don't plan for the journey, or less so. Reversibility and editability of your life mean that you don't have to do things too seriously. The analogy here is a typewriter versus a word processor. If you type and type wrongly, it's a hell of a problem. You get the line wrong, you need to throw hours away. With a computer, you drop a few lines, get it wrong, try it again. It's a different way of writing. And likewise with life. We may be tempted to live in a constant beta version mode.

This appears to have implications for political processes as well.

Politically, this editability is a problem. Today, we have a major problem with the environment, which is not reversible. You cross a time line and after that you lose the reversibility. Imagine the gulf current stops – Britain may become uninhabitable. And it would be irreversible. There would be nothing we can do technologically, so we would just move elsewhere. 

This tipping point is something agents in a free market may fail to take into account.

When economists say that markets can take care of any problem as long as you have the incentives and disincentives in place, I tend to agree theoretically. But I disagree when they have to add a "sooner or later" clause. Because that temporal clause is what matters today, it is the reversibility clause. As far as the environment is concerned, we don't have that reversibility any more. Once you reach a point of no return, I don't care that 'theoretically', 'in principle' a market 'could have' – it didn't, and now we are in deep trouble! 

So the perception of editability and reversibility brings with it a form of short-sightedness.

Yes, and some lighter sense of responsibility, an underestimation of the danger of reaching points of no-return. Every child, every woman, every man that dies in the Mediterranean Sea, that's a turning point you cannot reverse.

We have talked about the past, and about the future. Does the way we look at the past shape how we conceive of the future?

There is a beautiful essay by Nietzsche, "On the Use and Abuse of History for Life". He makes this point about how history constraints our way of thinking about the future, our ability to see things anew. Every time we move forward, there is less room for thinking freely. There are more constraints. It becomes more difficult not to be aware of all that has been written, has been said, has been tried. If you are a musician today, wouldn't it be so much better not to know? We are getting old as humanity. 

Is our species ageing linearly?

Yes, this starts with modernity. That's the moment when we have the first Herculean effort to regurgitate the whole past in view of a new story. It's like with an individual: Every time something important happens, you are trying to make sense of all your life in view of that new episode. How often can you do that? The reason we can't fall in love too many times is that it takes such an impossible semantic effort to make sure that: 'No, the person I met was not the right person, it all happened so that I would meet you.' We can do that maybe twice, three times. With history it's the same, and I don't think that the accumulation of data has changed that.

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