Amsterdam 2.0 from the perspective of history, culture, and cybernetics

Version 0.5


Whence: from what place or source?

In Moby Dick, Melville retells of the story of Jonah and the whale. In the midst of a strange and dangerous storm, the sailors, suspecting that he might be responsible, start to interrogate Jonah: What is thine occupation? Whence comest thou? What is thine country? What is thine tribe?

Jonah's answers landed him in the ocean and then in the belly of the leviathan.

Whither: to what place or point?


The wealth and culture of Amsterdam today is founded on its past, an explosive history of colonial expansion and trade, tolerance of other peoples and cultures and a taste for gambling and risk taking.

The history of a city can be seen as its physical condition, the state of its muscles, the result of its exercise. Muscles exercised repeatedly are developed, muscles never exercised atrophy.

In this age of runaway cultural change, most people see historical objects are as quaint and stuffy. Some struggle to protect their forms and appreciate their values, but still relegate historical knowledge to the schoolbook, tourist kiosk and museum.

It is the city's history that determines its current perspective and potential. How can Amsterdam's history and historical knowledge be better embedded in its art and design? How will the city's history be accessed (and exercised) in the future?

I won't be surprised if Amsterdam's future looks a lot like the past.

That is: that culural ecologies of the past willed be successfully re-used in the future (THINK: 2nd or 3rd generation anything!)

Amsterdam's past is valuable. It's cultures and their logics should be claimed and mined. Let's reuse Amsterdam's historical objects- not only for their decorative appeal but for their elegant solutions. Amsterdam can avoid wasting energy by using what has already produced.


Neo-calvinism could be thought of as an example of the reuse of a past cultural logic. The term itself seems to have been coined during the last years in liberal and libertarian circles. Nick Szabo draws a link between calvinism and selfish genes in his essay 'Economics and Sociobiology' (1994):

Some have also found strong resonances between sociobiology and Calvinism (eg, our genetic endowment as "original sin"). Creationists and evolutionists can be in agreement after all!

And in June 1996 I mailed the cryptoanarchist Tim May about his use of the term:

Hello Tim,

I've noticed that you've mentioned (and identified with)
the term 'neo-calvinism' in your posts to the Extropian
and Cypherpunk lists and elsewhere on the net. I live in
Holland and am at the moment working developing future
scenarios for the city of Amsterdam. I'm interested in
hearing more about 'neo-calvinism'. Could you point me
to any material that you or others have written which
would enlighten me as to what you mean when you use the term?

Thanks for your time,

-- Paul

To which he replied:

Sorry I've been late in replying--I was out of town for most of the past week.

My term has no deep meaning, just a reflection of some beliefs which some say resembles _aspects_ of Calvinism. (Others quibble that the views are not Calvinist, and are in fact closer to the views of some other sects.)

I argue that the libertarian view of not interfering with one's neighbors, unless they are a direct threat to oneself, can be seen as a view that one is morally obligated not to interfere with the moral choices of others, that to interfere with their choice between "sin and salvation" interferes in an important way with their moral dilemma.

Thus, if my neighbors choose to use drugs, not learn a skill, etc., this is "their choice." I feel fine that they have chosen as they have. Denying people the ability to make choices, even wrong ones, is improper.

--Tim May


Amsterdam attributes its current cultural richness to its record as a safe haven for persecuted peoples. Tolerance is a meme, a catchy idea (virus) that benefits its host. Historically tolerance facilitated trade with ideologically very different peoples and cultures. Keith Henson describes this 'idea object' in his essay 'Memes, Metamemes and Politics':

In historical times a meta-meme of tolerance (especially religious tolerance) has emerged in western culture. This is a remarkable event, since memes inducing tolerance to other memes would be expected to lose in the competition for mind space to memes which induce intolerance to other beliefs. Within small, isolated social groups, this is still the case.

But in larger cultural ecosystems, when traders come with obnoxious ideas and customs, but desirable goods, at least limited tolerance is a requirement if any trading is to be done. There were many other factors in the development of modern western tolerance such as the Renaissance and the indecisive religious wars that swept back and forth across Europe. Still, the advantage of trading goods may have been the primary force at work in the memetic ecosystem which caused many belief systems to adopt a tolerant-toward-other-beliefs component. Cooperative behavior is known to spontaneously emerge from groups (even groups at war) when certain conditions are present. Free trade may be similarly linked to the emergence of the meta-meme of tolerance, and in turn to the respectability of free thought.

QUESTION: How can Amsteram today safely exploit its tolerant culture? How can a safe haven protect itself from the machinations of its inhabitants- its Grey Wolves, its designer drug barons?


Amsterdam is an animal evolving towards consciousness. As the city's nervous system becomes more and more 'wired' and tightly linked with more and more sensors and effectors, we see the ghost in the machine awakening with simple desires: to survive as long as possible and reproduce.


Amsterdam is not very much like the rest of Holland, just as New York is not very much like the rest of the USA. Culturally, Amsteram is a city state. Why not formalize this fact?

Amsterdam's future could lie in its succession from the rest of the Netherlands and Europe.

QUESTION: How independant was Amsteram in the past? How independant could Amsteram be in the future?


Physical size is not as important as used to be. Amsterdam should grow by networking and allowing itself to be imitated. Franchisement and the setting standards are the keys to infomation age success. Amsterdam should franchise itself.

Growth and evolution are prerequistes to a city's survival. Amsterdam is not an industrial center and must not succumb to the temptation of 'economies of scale'. Material size is not better but is today more of a burden.


An intelligent city must learn from its past and PLAN (materially, culturally, economically) for its future. Amsterdam is no exception, expending considerable resources to generate accurate models and plans. It is generally accepted that the more accurate the model the better its predictive power and use.

Amsterdam should expect to clone itself in order to plan- at any given moment spawning thousands of copies of itself, running away in faster-than-real-time only to be reeled in again after several weeks and examined. Cloning should be culturally embraced as a new 'natural' process. Cloning is good. (Cloning is not the same thing as franchisement).


Data (sensed input) -> Information (patterns) -> Knowledge (models) -> Wisdom (selection of the *right* model)

Knowledge as defined by the Principia Cybernetica Web:

Knowledge is understood as consisting of models that allow the adaptations of a cybernetic system to its environment, by anticipation of possible perturbations. Models function as recursive generators of predictions about the world and the self. A model is necessarily simpler than the environment it represents, and this enables it to run faster than, i.e. anticipate, the processes in the environment. This allows the system to compensate perturbations before they have had the opportunity to damage the system.

The cosmologist Frank Tipler calculates in his 1994 book 'The Physics of Immortality' that a city of 10,000 people could be materially contained in a 100 gram interstellar von Neumann probe:

Drexler has done a detailed study of how nanotechnology can be used to enable a machine to use every atom. He concludes that machines capable of universal construction are feasible using less than a few billion atoms- these are molecular sized universal constructors. Furthermore, it is possible in principle to store about 1 bit per atom in an extended array. Physicists at NEC in Japan have already discovered how to code 1 bit per 20 atoms. Now 100 grams of matter contains about 10 E24 atoms if the material is lighter than iron, so it should be possible to store about 10 E24 bits of information in such a probe, and equip it with sufficient devices to make it capable of self-reproduction using materials available in the target star. To get an idea of what can be coded with 10 E24 bits of information, recall that in the previous section I showed that a human-level intelligent being can probably be simulated with 10 E15 bits. Assuming that a simulation of the biosupport system for this being will require 100,000 times more memory, a simulation of a human with biosupport system would require 10 E20 bits. Thus this 100 gram probe could carry a simulation of a complete city of 10,000 people!

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This page was first created on --> 14/4/98; 6:55:15 CET
This page was last modified on --> 3/7/99; 8:59:40 CET