David Brin Sanity

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In his science fiction novel "Earth," ISBN: 055329024X (pages 148-9), [David Brin] offers one typical definition of sanity, that of behaving "... in ways both sanctioned by and normal to the society you live in."

He also offers another definition which he thinks is more enlightened. I recently heard him discuss this in a talk he gave at the [Accelerating Change 2004] conference.

Sanity, he suggests, is "when a person is adaptable and satiable, capable of realistic planning and empathizing with his fellow beings." In the book, he expands on these traits:

flexibility -- to be able to change your opinion or course of action, if shown clear evidence you were wrong.
satiability -- the ability to feel satisfaction if you actually get what you said you wanted, and to transfer your strivings to other goals.
extrapolation -- an ability to realistically assess the possible consequences of your actions and to empathize, or guess how another person might think or feel.

Here is my transcription of the relevant piece of Brin's Accelerating Change 2004 talk. Directly before this, he referred to a society in which most of us know most of what's going on most of the time (a Transparent Society).

By the standards of such a civilization, sanity should be adaptability -- an ability to take new information and change your mind, and adjust through argument to new ways of doing things. It should have tolerance built into it, and it should have satiability.
Think about satiability. If you get the very thing that you said you wanted, shouldn't it make you happier? And shouldn't it lessen your need for more of that -- you may still want more, but shouldn't it lessen it a bit, because you are satiated?
Most therapists throughout the world, no matter what their school of psychotherapy, agree, that mentally ill people relentlessly show the trait of insatiability, because when the get what they claim they want, it usually doesn't make them happier.

There are skeletal notes of the entire talk at http://www.futuresalon.org/2004/11/david_brin_on_e.html. Evelyn Rodriguez did a great job taking these notes, but they're fragmentary real-time notes, not a transcript. Some information is incomplete or missing.

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