What is Extropy?
EXTROPY: A metaphor referring to attitudes and values shared by those who want to overcome human limits through technology. These values and attitudes are explained in The Extropian Principles. They include a desire to direct oneself in pursuing perpetual progress and self-transformation with an attitude of practical optimism implemented using rational thinking and intelligent technology in an open society. Extropy, as a metaphor, is not to be confused with the technical term "negentropy".
EXTROPIANS: Those whose approach to life embodies the values and attitudes grouped under the term "extropy".
EXTROPIANISM: The transhumanist philosophy specifically defined in terms of The Extropian Principles.
Extropy, hmm, that must have something to do with entropy. Is it the opposite?
This common question gives me a place to start in explaining the meaning of "extropy" and "extropian". First of all, it would be natural to assume that extropy is the opposite of entropy. But itís not. The opposite of entropy is negentropy. That term can be defined in terms of information theory or in terms of thermodynamics. (Whether those definitions are equivalent is a tricky topic that wonít help in explaining "extropy", so Iím sure you wonít mind if I side-step it.)
One reason why I adopted the term "extropy" (which was coined by T.0. Morrow) was indeed because of its implication of anti-entropic ideals. When we first published Extropy magazine in 1998, the term seemed a tidy way of bringing together several interests all of which involved not only fighting entropic decay but promoting the evolution or development of humans. Entropy tends to make complex systems degenerate over time, making them simpler, making energy less available, and so on. In many ways, as Extropians, we want to do the opposite of the entropic processes of decay and degeneration: We want to extend the human life span, boost intelligence, increase physical abilities and sensory acuteness, refine our personalities, and improve our social orders. Hence the loose connection between extropy and entropy.
Yet "extropy" should be taken not as a technical or theoretical term. It is not intended to describe a force, a single organizing principle, a single moral value or preference. Itís a metaphor for a collection of values and attitudes wrapped around the idea of overcoming human limits. We might just as well have called this framework for a worldview "Prometheanism".
At first, "extropy" was a label to connect several interests that seemed to have something in common. I had long been interested in space travelóovercoming the limits of a single planet. I had been enthused about the idea of extending the maximum human life span even before I stopped growing and started aging. I longed for practical ways of increasing human intelligence (especially my own, of course). I had always liked the idea of human achieving superhuman capabilities. (From the age of 10 to about 14, before I learned critical thinking, I sought that through study of "psychic" or "occult" processes; now I and all extropians know that science and technology is what really achieves results.)
Since those early days of 1988, I have written and several times revised The Extropian Principles. The idea has been to define more clearly an extropian transhumanist worldview. This has resulted in a degree of systematization to clarify the values underlying desires to extend life, expand into space, etc., and to explore the connections between them.
Arenít all isms dangerous, even extropianism?
Good question! Many isms are dangerous. Others just help organize related ideas while avoiding or minimizing the dangers of closed and dogmatic isms. I would suggest that Darwinism is preferable to Marxism, and Rationalism or Humanism preferable to religious fundamentalism. To the extent that an "ism" refers to a system of thought that declares itself closed to further improvement, that claims to be a complete and final truth, then itís a dangerous thing. "Extropianism" is really a collection of values and attitudes that fit together well. Extropianism makes explicit the relationships between certain values and attitudes. This helps those who already share those values to understand and act more consistently. It also stimulates others who share some of these values to consider adopting the other values that extropians argue are related. The next two questions and answers should help hereÖ
Is Extropianism a complete worldview?
Most definitely not! Extropians agree in favoring things like perpetual improvement, and in using reason and technology to overcome human limits. Outside of those things, extropians will differ in many ways, both in personality and philosophy. Extropianism does not offer a complete moral system, nor a required theory of knowledge (though I find pancritical rationalism especially compatible), nor a metaphysics.
Does Extropianism refer to a set of required beliefs?
Sweet reason, no! Since all "extropy" refers to is a collection of mutually supporting values and attitudes, it says extremely little about particular beliefs. One of the Extropian Principles is Rational Thinking, and another is Self-Direction. Individuals who share these values are not going to want to have their beliefs dictated to them! We may all favor extending the maximum life span, but we may have quite different beliefs about what causes aging, how to stop it, and whether cryonics is a worthwhile backup option in the meantime. We share the values expressed in The Extropian Principles, but we will often differ as to the most effective means towards those ends.
Are you sure that extropy is not a thing I can measure?
Sorry. Since itís a metaphor, a name for a moderately integrated group of values and attitudes, and itís *not* a force or a thing or a single value or principle, it cannot be measured. Older definitions of the term may have been misleading on this point, so Iím glad you raised the question again so I had the opportunity to stress this point. In case you still feel like "extropy" is really just the opposite of "entropy" let me point out that entropy can sometimes *help* with extropian aims. More information is often helpful, but too much information that is irrelevant to your task can be a bad thing. So extropy does not always require decreased entropy in an information-theoretic sense. The entropic process of the our sunís burning up of its nuclear fuel is actually very good for us. It allowed life to evolve on our planet. So entropy is sometimes the friend of extropian aims. We just want to keep it in its place.