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Skeptical of the ideas proposed by Transhumanists?

11 July 2007 (updated 2 October 2014)

Skeptical of the ideas proposed by Transhumanists?

Are you skeptical of the ideas proposed by Transhumanists? Perhaps you have something in common with the folks quoted below.

  1. “… so many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value.” — committee advising Ferdinand and Isabella regarding Columbus’ proposal, 1486
  2. “I would sooner believe that two Yankee professors lied, than that stones fell from the sky” — Thomas Jefferson, 1807 on hearing an eyewitness report of falling meteorites.
  3. “Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” — Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.
  4. “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” — Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
  5. “The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.” — Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria1873.
  6. “Such startling announcements as these should be depreciated as being unworthy of science and mischievous to to its true progress” — Sir William Siemens, 1880, on Edison’s announcement of a successful light bulb.
  7. “We are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy.” — Simon Newcomb, astronomer, 1888
  8. “Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” — Thomas Edison, 1889
  9. “The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote…. Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.” — physicist Albert. A. Michelson, 1894
  10. “It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane, which two or three years ago were thought to hold the solution to the [flying machine] problem, have been exhausted, and that we must turn elsewhere.” — Thomas Edison, 1895
  11. “The demonstration that no possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery, and known forms of force can be united in a practicable machine by which men shall fly for long distances through the air, seems to the writer as complete as it is possible for the demonstration of any physical fact to be.” — astronomer S. Newcomb, 1906
  12. “Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” — Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre, 1911
  13. “Caterpillar landships are idiotic and useless. Those officers and men are wasting their time and are not pulling their proper weight in the war” — Fourth Lord of the British Admiralty, 1915, in regards to use of tanks in war.
  14. “Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” — 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work.
  15. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” — David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
  16. “All a trick.” “A Mere Mountebank.” “Absolute swindler.” “Doesn’t know what he’s about.” “What’s the good of it?” “What useful purpose will it serve?” — Members of Britain’s Royal Society, 1926, after a demonstration of television.
  17. “This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd lengths to which vicious specialisation will carry scientists.” — A.W. Bickerton, physicist, NZ, 1926
  18. “Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” — Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.
  19. “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” — Albert Einstein, 1932
  20. “The energy produced by the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine” — Ernst Rutherford, 1933
  21. “The whole procedure [of shooting rockets into space] … presents difficulties of so fundamental a nature, that we are forced to dismiss the notion as essentially impracticable, in spite of the author’s insistent appeal to put aside prejudice and to recollect the supposed impossibility of heavier-than-air flight before it was actually accomplished.” — Richard van der Riet Wooley, British astronomer, reviewing P.E. Cleator’s “Rockets in Space”, Nature, March 14, 1936
  22. “Space travel is utter bilge!” — Sir Richard Van Der Riet Wolley, astronomer
  23. “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” — Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
  24. “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” — The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
  25. “Space travel is bunk” — Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of Britain, 1957, two weeks before the launch of Sputnik
  26. “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.” — T. Craven, FCC Commissioner, 1961
  27. “But what … is it good for?” — Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
  28. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

Michael Anissimov recently posted these quotes to his blog. He received them from Eugen Leitl, who posted them to the WTA-talk list. I don’t know who did the original work of gathering them, but they certainly merit greater circulation.

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