dw2

3 June 2012

Super-technology and a possible renaissance of religion

Filed under: death, disruption, Humanity Plus, rejuveneering, religion, Singularity, UKH+ — David Wood @ 11:02 pm

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – Arthur C. Clarke

Imagine that the human race avoids self-destruction and continues on the path of increased mastery of technology. Imagine that, as seems credible some time in the future, humans will eventually gain the ability to keep everyone alive indefinitely, in an environment of great abundance, variety, and  intrinsic interest.

That paradise may be a fine outcome for our descendants, but unless the pace of technology improvement becomes remarkably rapid, it seems to have little direct impact on our own lives. Or does it?

It may depend on exactly how much power our god-like descendants eventually acquire.  For example, here are two of the points from a radical vision of the future known as the Ten cosmist convictions:

  • 5) We will develop spacetime engineering and scientific “future magic” much beyond our current understanding and imagination.
  • 6) Spacetime engineering and future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Eventually we will be able to resurrect the dead by “copying them to the future”.

Whoa! “Resurrect the dead”, by “copying them to the future”. How might that work?

In part, by collecting enormous amount of data about the past – reconstructing information from numerous sources. It’s similar to collecting data about far-distant stars using a very large array of radio telescopes. And in part, by re-embodying that data in a new environment, similar to copying running software onto a new computer, giving it a new lease of life.

Lots of questions can be asked about the details:

  • Can sufficient data really be gathered in the future, in the face of all the degradation commonly called “the second law of thermodynamics”, that would allow a sufficiently high-fidelity version of me (or anyone else) to be re-created?
  • If a future super-human collected lots of data about me and managed to get an embodiment of that data running on some future super-computer, would that really amount to resurrecting me, as opposed to creating a copy of me?

I don’t think anyone can confident about answers to such questions. But it’s at least conceivable that remarkably advanced technology of the future may allow positive answers.

In other words, it’s at least conceivable that our descendants will have the god-like ability to recreate us in the future, giving us an unexpected prospect for immortality.

This makes sense of the remark by radical futurist and singularitarian Ray Kurzweil at the end of the film “Transcendent Man“:

Does God exist? Well I would say, not yet

Other radical futurists quibble over the “not yet” caveat. In his recent essay “Yes, I am a believer“, Giulio Prisco takes the discussion one stage further:

Gods will exist in the future, and they may be able to affect their past — our present — by means of spacetime engineering. Probably other civilizations out there already attained God-like powers.

Giulio notes that even the celebrated critic of theism, Richard Dawkins, gives some support to this line of thinking.  For example, here’s an excerpt from a 2011 New York Times interview, in which Dawkins discusses an essay written by theoretic physicist Freeman Dyson:

In one essay, Professor Dyson casts millions of speculative years into the future. Our galaxy is dying and humans have evolved into something like bolts of superpowerful intelligent and moral energy.

Doesn’t that description sound an awful lot like God?

“Certainly,” Professor Dawkins replies. “It’s highly plausible that in the universe there are God-like creatures.”

He raises his hand, just in case a reader thinks he’s gone around a religious bend. “It’s very important to understand that these Gods came into being by an explicable scientific progression of incremental evolution.”

Could they be immortal? The professor shrugs.

“Probably not.” He smiles and adds, “But I wouldn’t want to be too dogmatic about that.”

As Giulio points out, Dawkins develops a similar line of argument in part of his book “The God Delusion”:

Whether we ever get to know them or not, there are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine. Their technical achievements would seem as supernatural to us as ours would seem to a Dark Age peasant transported to the twenty-first century…

In what sense, then, would the most advanced SETI aliens not be gods? In what sense would they be superhuman but not supernatural? In a very important sense, which goes to the heart of this book. The crucial difference between gods and god-like extraterrestrials lies not in their properties but in their provenance. Entities that are complex enough to be intelligent are products of an evolutionary process. No matter how god-like they may seem when we encounter them, they didn’t start that way…

Giulio seems more interested in the properties than the provenance. The fact that these entities have god-like powers prompts him to proclaim “Yes, I am a believer“.  He gives another reason in support of that proclamation: In contrast to the views of so-called militant atheists, Giulio is “persuaded that religion can be a powerful and positive force”.

Giulio sees this “powerful and positive force” as applying to him personally as well as to groups in general:

“In my beliefs I find hope, happiness, meaning, the strength to get through the night, and a powerful sense of wonder at our future adventures out there in the universe, which gives me also the drive to try to be a better person here-and-now on this little planet and make it a little better for future generations”.

More controversially, Giulio has taken to describing himself (e.g. on his Facebook page) as a “Christian”. Referring back to his essay, and to the ensuing online discussion:

Religion can, and should, be based on mutual tolerance, love and compassion. Jesus said: “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and added: “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone”…

This is the important part of his teachings in my opinion. Christian theology is interesting, but I think it should be reformulated for our times…

Was Jesus the Son of God? I don’t think this is a central issue. He certainly was, in the sense that we all are, and he may have been one of those persons in tune with the universe, more in tune with the universe than the rest of us, able to glimpse at veiled realities beyond our senses.

I’ve known Giulio for several years, from various Humanity+ and Singularity meetings we’ve both attended – dating back to “Transvision 2006” in Helsinki. I respect him as a very capable thinker, and I take his views seriously. His recent “Yes, I am a believer” article has stirred up a hornets’ nest of online criticism.

Accordingly, I was very pleased that Giulio accepted my invitation to come to London to speak at a London Futurist / Humanity+ UK meeting on Saturday 14th July: “Transhumanist Religions 2.0: New Cosmist religion and spirituality for our boundless future (and our troubled present)”. For all kinds of reason, this discussion deserves a wider airing.

First, I share the view that religious sentiments can provide cohesion and energy to propel individuals and groups to undertake enormously difficult projects (such as the project to avoid the self-destruction of the human race, or any drastic decline in the quality of global civilisation).  The best analysis I’ve read of this point is in the book “Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society” by David Sloan Wilson.  As I’ve written previously:

This book has sweeping scope, but makes its case very well.  The case is that religion has in general survived inasmuch as it helped groups of people to achieve greater cohesion and thereby acquire greater fitness compared to other groups of people.  This kind of religion has practical effect, independent of whether or not its belief system corresponds to factual reality.  (It can hardly be denied that, in most cases, the belief system does not correspond to factual reality.)

The book has some great examples – from the religions in hunter-gatherer societies, which contain a powerful emphasis on sharing out scarce resources completely equitably, through examples of religions in more complex societies.  The chapter on John Calvin was eye-opening (describing how his belief system brought stability and prosperity to Geneva) – as were the sections on the comparative evolutionary successes of Judaism and early Christianity.  But perhaps the section on the Balinese water-irrigation religion is the most fascinating of the lot.

Of course, there are some other theories for why religion exists (and is so widespread), and this book gives credit to these theories in appropriate places.  However, this pro-group selection explanation has never before been set out so carefully and credibly, and I think it’s no longer possible to deny that it plays a key role.

The discussion makes it crystal clear why many religious groups tend to treat outsiders so badly (despite treating insiders so well).  It also provides a fascinating perspective on the whole topic of “forgiveness”.  Finally, the central theme of “group selection” is given a convincing defence.

But second, there’s no doubt that religion can fit blinkers over people’s thinking abilities, and prevent them from weighing up arguments dispassionately. Whenever people talk about the Singularity movement as having the shape of a religion – with Ray Kurzweil as a kind of infallible prophet – I shudder. But we needn’t lurch to that extreme. We should be able to maintain the discipline of rigorous independent thinking within a technologically-informed renaissance of positive religious sentiment.

Third, if the universe really does have beings with God-like powers, what attitude should we adopt towards these beings? Should we be seeking in some way to worship them, or placate them, or influence them? It depends on whether these beings are able to influence human history, here and now, or whether they are instead restricted (by raw facts of space and time that even God-like beings have to respect) to observing us and (possibly) copying us into the future.

Personally my bet is on the latter choice. For example, I’m not convinced by people who claim evidence to the contrary. And if these beings did have the ability to intervene in human history, but have failed to do so, it would be evidence of them having scant interest in widespread intense human suffering. They would hardly be super-beings.

In that case, the focus of our effort should remain squarely on building the right conditions for super-technology to benefit humanity as a whole (this is the project I call “Inner Humanity+“), rather than on somehow seeking to attract the future attention of these God-like beings. But no doubt others will have different views!

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52 Comments »

  1. I’m skeptical of the “spacetime engineering” thing, Gallifrey having been locked out in the time war and all, but I have a more practical question about motivation. I agree with Susan Blackmore’s position about the self – it is how I think about my “self”. Now, suppose you had the technology to instantiate a past version of yourself. Which instant would you choose and why?

    Would you be motivated to instantiate some ancestor?

    Given that the technology implies you have all the data involved, why not just browse that?

    Pute

    Comment by Peter Jackson (Pute) — 8 June 2012 @ 10:05 am

    • @Pute

      >suppose you had the technology to instantiate a past version of yourself. Which instant would you choose and why?

      Ideally a version that coherently integrates the best features of all my past selves :-)

      But this discussion raises again the concern that such a being would only be a copy. If such a copy were created, the original me would not be happy to be euthanised, even with the knowledge that a new copy will live on. Frankly I find the discussion of personal identity to be perplexing – notwithstanding the interesting points made by Susan Blackmore in her analysis “She won’t be me”.

      Comment by David Wood — 10 June 2012 @ 8:58 am

      • > Ideally a version that coherently integrates the best features of all my past selves

        Me too. And from that one might extrapolate what some advanced race might be motivated to do if they had the data and the capability.

        I find issues of personal identity to be very interesting too and perhaps worthy of a thread of their own. But I see that’s probably a distraction from the main issue you intended pursuing with this posting.

        Comment by Peter Jackson (Pute) — 11 June 2012 @ 9:08 am

  2. I have just posted extracts from my book The Praxis on my website:
    http://www.neopax.com/praxis/index.html

    It consists of the contents and full introduction in order top provide an idea of the topics covered.
    Hopefully it will be published in dead tree by the end of June, priced $15 and in eBook format shortly afterwards priced $2.99
    Initially via Lulu until I can get the US tax situation sorted, then Amazon and B&N
    10% of the profits will go to supporting ZS, where profit is defined as what I get from Lulu, Amazon, B&N etc

    The Praxis is poised to become (one of) the Zero State arm exploring religion and spirituality with proposals for an “on the ground” social/spiritual organization loosely modelled on Freemasonry.
    It includes a complete theology as well as a basic template for the organization, its rites and rituals.

    Dirk

    Full Spectrum Praxis : ZERO STATE : http://zerostate.net

    Comment by Dirk Bruere — 10 June 2012 @ 4:20 pm

  3. Oh dear! This does look rather like another attempt to bring in happy-clappy American transcendentalism, fuel of the New Age, into the scientific project. ‘Real’ Cosmism was an atheistic-materialist philosophy of the pre-Soviet and early Soviet scientific community that was fairly close to the ideas in the first half of the posting – opening up serious possibilities for human transcendence only in the very long run from the evolutionary process and through scientific method with both change and mind emergent processes from the material world, always ultimately explicable (even if we cannot explain it).

    Let us dissect the attempt to save the Iron Age textual meaning and values of Christianity for the age of hadron colliders – the idea is not that truth is important regardless of happiness but that a truth (an alternative truth!?) must be the servant of happiness, must have meaning (rather than just be so) and be linked to being a ‘better person’ (begging the question of what ‘better’ means) and to ‘group cohesion’. All religions, since shamanism, have been so centred on group cohesion and imposing a vision of ‘better behaviour’ that they have stymied the cause of ‘truth’ precisely to meet those two purposes.

    This is part of an apparent 21st century attempt to reconcile the old Enlightenment conflict between faith and reason as if it had no just cause – but it is insidious. The scientific reasoners are losing confidence (with some reason, given their excessive past faith in pure reason as a tool in dealing with matters of happiness and cohesion) and the faith people are adapting to that lack of confidence by falsely presenting themselves as offering a safe path to happiness and cohesion without threat to the truth-seeking process. This is mental legerdemain.

    The truth-seeking process never was about happiness and cohesion but faith systems are so mutually exclusive of each other that, even in their ‘happy’ neo-Christian liberal form or a revived freemasonic form, they cannot deliver either happiness or cohesion anyway. On the contrary, it is evidence-based approaches to those two critical human issues, probably involving a more possibilian approach to human capability, that will do more than any reversion to a moderated traditionalism to get us where we want to go.

    Today, you can have lies and happiness for some and truth and happiness for others – not truth and happiness for all. It does not work like that in the short term. The truth and happiness for all comes with an improved material base, education and evolution and it may take tens of thousands of years. It is worth working for but it certainly requires no premature attempt to merge science and religion or any attempt to bring in a ‘tolerable obscurantism’ in order to try and speed the process up. That really is selling the pass at Thermopylae to the Persians.

    A mystical vision of ‘Christ’ based on four texts manipulated by their writers for cultic political purposes along transcendentalist lines is downright creepy. It is like the Buddha lot who insist on squaring, without evidence, the sayings of another late Iron Age figure with quantum physics in order to salvage their emotional aethetic. Like Fox Mulder, some people just need to believe (which is fine) but, for the sake of the future, do not let them back into control of our future – leave such meanderings as a private matter, a form of personal and perfectly decent self-therapy in troubled times.

    It has taken us three hundred years of struggle to free ourselves from ‘group-cohesive’ religions. We now seem to be seeing not a new dark age but an age of twilight appearing where the scientists are just giving up to have their tummy tickled by the clever type of obscurantist. One feels like an old pagan observing the Christians sidle their way into power, knowing that Hypatia will come to a sticky end.

    Comment by Tim Pendry — 10 June 2012 @ 8:25 pm

    • @Tim – Let me try to clarify what I’m proposing:

      I’m completely with you in criticising views like (1) truth must be the servant of happiness, (2) there’s an imperative to reconcile the Enlightenment conflict between faith and reason. I didn’t mean to imply support for any such view.

      Again like you, I’m interested in more than truth; I’m also interested in “getting us where we want to go”.

      But here’s where we may differ:

      Rationality and the scientific method is the best way to understand the possibilities for human transcendence, but don’t always succeed in providing people with the motivation to take the required action. Even when we intellectually appreciate the likely consequences of actions, it doesn’t mean we have the energy to change our actions. That’s where something other than rationality and the scientific method can play a key role. This “something other” can be called “passion”.

      Those of us who seek truth are naturally cautious of passion: “when your heart’s on fire, smoke gets in your eyes”. But we shouldn’t abstain from it altogether. That would be too draconian a conclusion. Passion, wisely deployed, can get us to places that reason alone lacks the power to drive us to (even though reason clarifies why we should attempt to get to these places).

      “Passion” covers a wide spectrum – including feelings of sacredness and transcendence. If there’s a way to generate such feelings, that help propel positive action towards improved education, infrastructure, sustainable material abundance, kindness, compassion, etc – without unleashing tendencies to obscurantism or uncritical group-think – then count me as interested.

      Is the word “religion” appropriate here? Maybe that’s where the biggest debate exists.

      Comment by David Wood — 10 June 2012 @ 10:05 pm

      • Understood but here is the slippery slope: what you call ‘passion’ is often manipulation or represents a desperation to provide an untruthful meaning to ‘get things moving’. It is close to the notion of the Straussian ‘noble lie’ but we have two more practical examples which are precisely the sort of perversions of the Enlightenment that I fear.

        The first is Robespierre’s attempt to create a religion of universal reason based on deism (when it would be far more honest and less bloody just to relax and not require a God to justify the ways of man to men). Interestingly, freemasonry helped create that climate of opinion. The second is not unconnected to the idealism of Soviet Cosmism (with which I might have sympathy in its atheistic-materialism) which is transformation into the Soviet New Man ideology which held to an absurd and unscientific ‘materialist’ view of what it was to be human in order to speed up reform and engagement with change.

        As I say, both were signs of desperation of radicals faced with the reality of men and wanting to change things faster than they could be reasonably changed. The result in both cases was not only kiling but also a diminution in scientific creativity and of freedom to think the sort of radical thoughts necessary to solve problems. Under every reformer whose feet leaves the ground is the cess pit of potential political crime, justified by some core assumption that does not stand up to the scrutiny of civilised men. If civilised men cease their scrutiny, we slide rapidly into horror.

        We should be cautious of ‘passion’ except in one sphere – the personal. Transgressive passion in the individual is creative but extended first to society and then to transforming the world it soon becomes monstrous whether in the form of the massive ego of the Napoleon, the enslavement of men by ideology or religion or, possibly worst of all, the application of a passionate universalism to a humanity made up of particulars, that is, individuals, families and tribes of like-minded people at most.

        We are on very dangerous ground here. Conservative ‘greenery’ has already taken this turn with its most extreme advocates proposing the massive diminution of the human race ‘to save the planet’ (as if the planet had any meaning except as the home of sentient humanity and its successors). Now, if the trans-human culture goes down this route, the benignity in theory will rapidly darken into something bad – much as Robespierre, who cried stupidly at his first magisterial execution, became a mass murderer and as idealistic early communist utopianism degenerated into the gulag within twenty years.

        The only ‘passion’ worth having is private for private things or a simple passion for evidence-based and open-minded application not of pure reason but of possibilian reason. Any attempt to engage the instinct and the emotion in matters of society and the world of matter is the road to manipulation of the many by the few and it has been so since the first clever shaman popped up and used his access to the dream time to get a bigger share of the resources of the tribe. Beware the seductive dreamer ….

        Comment by Tim Pendry — 11 June 2012 @ 7:35 am

        • @Tim – Your points are good.

          Can I sign you up as an “official responder” for the Meetup itself? This would entail you giving, say, 10 minutes of remarks after Giulio has finished his main presentation (optionally using a small number of slides).

          Comment by David Wood — 11 June 2012 @ 8:04 am

          • I am not sure I should attend at all. This may seem odd given my strong opinions but I think Giulio should have the floor without what would amount to an ‘attack’ from me. If a debate is about evidence, then robust conflict speaks through the data and the organisation of data. However, a belief system rests on unanswerable and undebatable assumptions. A criticism of Giulio’s assumptions would require a fairly devastating account of the relationship of mind and matter (from my perspective) and we are dealing, in dealing with beliefs, with men’s identities.

            On the Existential Investigations Group on Facebook (the philosophical debating group which i ran until Facebook arbirarily disabled me last week), it was soon clear that intelligent humanity is divided into two sets of mind as divergent and as complex as male and female (with overlaps) – those with an existentialist or scientific bent and those who see the world through the a priori necessity for there to be gods, Ideas, universal consciousness, rights and so on as pre-existent essences.

            Controversially, like the biological Bell Curves of male-ness and female-ness with important overlaps that create trans-genderism, there are Bell Curves of existential and esssentialist thought and time and time again over two years of debates, it became an absolute that most essentialists and most existentialists simply cannot see the world in the same way – to the extent that I hypothesise actually different brain structures, whether evolved or genetic, immune to core change (as opposed to adaptability to environment) on both sides.

            Giulio, for example, represents an adaptation of essentialism to the emergence of the trans-human impulse. It is a ‘market’ response to the Nietzschean aspects of trans-humanist thought which those who want to believe (in God, universal consciousness, etcet.) find intrinsically disturbing. Hidden within trans-humanism is one fundamental anxiety – about death and it is death which the existential impulse deals with in a very different way from the ‘essentialist’.

            So the question becomes is how trans-humanism intends to defeat death, on which lines. The existential approach is unafraid of death and understands that evolved emergence into some form of deathlessness de-humanises us and creates a post-human mind and this is not something to be scared of. The essentialist approach is to find death a problem rather than a fact and to seek life as a human beyond death, thinking that you can retain your essential human characteristics regardless of death. This is so fundamental that if trans-humanism were a Church, it would schism on the insight.

            When you get to that point of debate, you should argue for or against, of course, but the reception of the argument is no longer about reason but a matter of aesthetics and need – beyond reason. The meetings you hold should never (IMO) degenerate into territory which cannot be held within reason and the debate necessarily becomes harsh because the ‘two sides’ are actually acting to protect themselves from the dominance of the other – in my case, the nightmare scenario of an imposed ethic or aesthetic on my freedom to think and act without harming others.

            Giulio should have his place in the trans-humanist sun and it will be an interesting test of whether trans-humanism’s membership tends to the essentialist (is looking for an a priori basis for its way of seeing, viz is seeking to become an ideology which is hinted at in your piece) or is intrinsically sceptical and ‘existential’, adaptable to the facts that emerge, including a positive choice to stay human without God.

            I think this talk may be very important for this reason. The trans-humanist movement contains both tendencies – towards ideology and towards existentialist exploration – but they cannot co-exist for long without exposing their ‘internal contradictions’.

            Comment by Tim Pendry — 12 June 2012 @ 8:54 am

            • It is quite possible to construct any number of ideologies as engineering tools based upon un-disprovable (and hence un-scientific) axioms. In our case the Simulation Argument immediately introduces a class of Being indistinguishable from any practical definition of God(s). All one can then do is dispute the choice of axiom – not disprove the system which intrinsically lies outside the domain of science. It should be noted that rejection of such axioms also stem from other unspoken axioms which are themselves unscientific eg Occams Razor etc if not straightforward emotional distaste

              Comment by Dirk Bruere — 12 June 2012 @ 9:34 am

              • This is casuistry. Postulating the existence of something that is not evident is qualitatively different from reasonably assuming that no evidence suggests that no-thing is there as the reasonable prior position.

                It has become customary, out of tender-hearted liberal concern to displease no-one, to make religio-ideological propositions equal in value to sceptical ones. This is, in itself, is ideology in process of creating the conditions for its own existence.

                In reality, a simple acceptance that that of which nothing may be spoken reasonably from evidence is a creation of the mind and, as imagined, not to be safely considered real except as a social or individual construction, a tool for the use of men. Thus, the idea of God or universal consciousness is always an inferior proposition to that of nothingness and lack of meaning outside human invention and imagination.

                The desire for God and the mental trickery required to preserve the idea under new material understandings tells us more about human psychology than it does about the world. All talk of God and gods is a wasteful distraction from the task at hand except as an imaginative tool for artistic play and the psychotherapy of those not yet ready to face the world.

                Comment by Tim Pendry — 12 June 2012 @ 11:10 pm

                • Ah, casuistry…
                  Actually, I am talking about engineering.
                  We will just have to see whether the most effective tool for social change is rabid atheist scepticism or a reformulation of religion.

                  Comment by Dirk Bruere — 13 June 2012 @ 6:15 am

                  • Indeed – and no doubt, one day, men will die over that struggle … especially when one side is fanatic enough to call the other side’s opinion ‘rabid’. I have no doubt of religion’s efficacy as agent. It is cruelly efficient in that respect. I question merely whether the future should be built on cruelty, stupidity and lies simply because some people got impatient about the realisation of their dreams.

                    Comment by Tim Pendry — 13 June 2012 @ 11:17 pm

                    • And let it be added that social engineering is an absurdity. Engineering is about the manipulation of matter. Yes, humans are matter (against the religious illusion of spirit) but it is matter of such complexity in its self-reflexion, its constant calculation of position in the world in time and in the fact of its unknowability to the other that there is no conceivable engineer (except the daft notion of God the Engineer) who could possibly successfully engineer a single person successfully, let alone humanity.

                      Even engineers who deal with the less complex matter of nature have brought us disasters – the Aral Sea and the cotton fields of Kazakhstan spring to mind – and many bridges have collapsed to build those that stand. A mentality that would experiment on people as an engineer experiments on stone and metal must be classed as evil – a word I have used before – for two reasons: it is never going to be sufficiemtly competent to earn the right to do so; and no person is the mere subject of a social engineer’s misguided attempts to prove a theory (or what we call an ideology).

                      Engineers should stick to things – they are rarely competent to manage complex societies. Politics and administration exist as skills precisely because engineers cabnnot be trusted in this respect – any more than you would ask a politician to design a bridge or handle a battle. Different skills, different outcomes.

                      Comment by Tim Pendry — 13 June 2012 @ 11:27 pm

                    • I could enter into a long complex discussion with all the you raise above, but it is probably pointless.
                      Whoever wins, wins. The future will be what we make it. I’ll fight my corner and you fight yours, with Darwin as the referee. The real battle is not on these blog pages.

                      Comment by Dirk Bruere — 14 June 2012 @ 6:35 pm

      • This issue of motivation is something I personally grapple with a lot. And I am very cautious about “passion”. May I offer another mechanism to meet this need? Empathy.

        Empathy seems to be a fundamental mechanism in sentient life. It is involved in the motivation people have to help each other when they perceive distress and to make beneficial improvements to infrastructure for the common good.

        Empathy can go beyond the common feeling for creatures of the same species and be extended to larger systems. People expressing environmental concerns may be doing so because they have a kind of empathy with the ecosystem.

        Such empathies arise from perception and understanding of such systems and can be rationally focussed. If we collectively improved human systems empathy, the result might be a more harmonious society.

        Comment by Peter Jackson (Pute) — 11 June 2012 @ 9:27 am

        • On the Group that I referred to above in my reply to David, I found a veritable cult of empathy but this presumed that empathy is an a priori good rather than a variation in our species – like psychopathy. Extreme empathy is as damaging to individuals and societies as extreme psychopathy. Individuals and societies really need only sufficient empathy – and sufficient psychopathy – to function effectively.

          Sufficient empathy is generally good but, in times of existential crisis involving survival, it may be not-so-good. A social case is of empathetic persons who are bound to the support of manipulative persons by their excess of empathy to their own disadvantage. In practice, empathy at a cultic level is simply a weak version of essentialism in which a particular vision of what we should be is imposed on the whole and leads to the somewhat conservative transcendentalist nonsense we see armchair environmentalism and developmentalism where good feelings displace cool analysis of needs.

          What is most disturbing though in the above statement by Peter is the (increasingly common) suggestion that we should ‘collectively’ improve human systems empathy. This drives us back remorselessly to the world of Robespierre and the new Soviet Man since we can only do this in two ways – though a moral education that intentionally drives out dissident thought that is transgressional or ‘anti-social’ (defined by the prevailing ‘socialism’) or through biological intervention, essentially drugs, inevitably in a non-consensual or falsely consensual (legal) way.

          Already in the United States, a whole class of ‘scientists’ is beginning to experiment with mind-bending solutions to social problems through both drugs and ‘nudge’ psychologies. This is beginning to be done under cover of one branch of trans-humanist thought that is quite sinister in its implications – placing scientific skills in the hands of authority to maintain an increasingly dysfunctional and sclerotic social order.

          One of the ‘offers’ made to the population at large is that they can create a happier society through the creation of widespread ‘empathy’ – what this means in practice is intervention to ensure that creative outliers are normalised and a normality constructed that is deeply conservative and built around the institutional needs of the bureaucrats-scientists with a stake in ensuring that wealth is redirected into their projects.

          This is not trans-humanism but the appropriation of trans-humanism much as the Roman landowners appropriated Christianity as an improved means of suppressing slave revolts by making the slaves complicit in their own slavery. Yes, you get a more harmonious society but also a more sclerotic one and certainly not one whose future is much better than that of the Borg. It derives, of course, from the universalist myth of humanity as a thing-in-itself rather than as a massive association of collaborative creative individuals expressing maximal possible variation.

          Comment by Tim Pendry — 12 June 2012 @ 9:13 am

          • “…a whole class of ‘scientists’ is beginning to experiment with mind-bending solutions to social problems”.
            I think you give yourself away with the use of quotation marks around the word “scientist”, as if you believe they are not doing “real” science.
            As for your obvious distaste for creating “New Soviet Man” along with throwing in supposedly pejorative terms like “Robespierre” and “socialism”, what do you think Transhumanism is all about if not creating new and superior species of (post) Human? Our declared ambitions go far beyond just tweaking the existing Homo Sapiens to add a dash more empathy. We seek a self directed speciation that will place a bigger gap between “New Transhman Man” and Homo Sapiens than between the latter and the average chimp (or maybe hamster).

            Comment by Dirk Bruere — 12 June 2012 @ 9:46 am

            • I am prepared to accept that scientific method can tell us some things about human psychology and behaviour but it can not tell us all things nor can it tell us how to manage the social in the way hard science can tell us about building bridges or making bombs.

              Unlike bridges and bombs, human beings have evolved consciousness and interventions by some persons to change the material structures of the brains of others cannot be done lightly and certainly cannot be done en masse. The desire to do so might be regarded as the nearest we might come in the post religious age to pure evil, to whit the presumption of right by an arrogant minority with inadequate information over the species.

              It is interesting to have smoked out this idea of superiority which begs so many questions, not least the presumption that we can know what is superior before we see what it is, What we have here is a deeply disturbing a priori vision of human development based on weak contemporary moralities instead of a profound joy at the possibilities for humanity in transforming the species through enhancing individuals and their choices.

              I am not afraid to use the religious term evil to describe a transhumanism that dictates the form of future humanity through a priori reasoning based on obscurantist assumptions and which is prepared to turn humans into empathetic caricatures of the Borg through the misuse of technologies of manipulation.

              Instead of seeking to appropriate trabshuman aspirations for a decadent iron age sentimentalism, I suggest a close reading of what Nietzsche actually said rather than what it is said that he said might be useful. The transhuman impulse is radically existentialist or it is nothing unless it be the last tired joke of the religious looking to spread their magic amongst the stars. Transhumanism and real cosmism represent what may be the last chance to remove the power of the shamans and turn us into a species worthy of the future . . .

              Comment by Tim Pendry — 12 June 2012 @ 11:34 pm

              • Conversely, I and most other Transhumanists propose a speciation – multiple offshoots from Homo Sapiens, not simply coming to some global committee decision on “the” PostHuman.
                Let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred species contend.
                As for your statement: “not least the presumption that we can know what is superior before we see what it is” that is sheer rhetoric.
                At the very least we know of superior intelligence, superior longevity, superior emotional resilience. Unless of course you are personally number one in all these aspects in which case it might be a mystery.

                Comment by Dirk Bruere — 13 June 2012 @ 6:21 am

                • I understand and I find that reassuring … assuming some over-arching ethic that privileges the right to ‘exist differently’ (which, of course, should be beneficial to those who have settled into a religious or spiritual mentality).

                  I do hold to my point that we cannot judge ‘superiority’ in the way that you suggest. An attribute (intelligence, longevity, even emotional resilience whatever that is) is only situationally valuable. There may be conditions where high intelligence, a long life or emotional resilience are counter-productive – unlikely it may seem to ‘common sense’ but it is easy to put together thought experiments that demonstrate my point in practice.

                  The word ‘superior’ says nothing if it simply means more of something along a progressive continuum. It is like saying that more grain is good like an old communist or eurocrat might because there has not been sufficient grain in the past – in the end, we see grain rotting in silos and land inefficiently used, failing to produce apples or meat. The question is the purpose to which the attribute is put and the context of its use. In other words, under what circumstances, involving many other variables, does high or improved intelligence (or whatever) work for the members of the species.

                  My point was not ‘sheer rhetoric’ but fundamental. Prior to the trans-human fascination with specific outcomes is the question of what is this thing that we are and what effect on this thing that we are these outcomes will have and whether we will still be this thing that we are (self-evidently not) as these outcomes change – and what ‘existential’ state can we hold on to that will enable us to continue to judge that we are human or have become something else.

                  I tend to take a line that says that termination or death (no matter how far it is pushed into the future) is what defines us in the most fundamental way but that we are equally changed by experiential liberty or lack of it, free sexual expression, our relationship to our genetic production (or adopted production) and the process of decay. These are all separate Hercalitean aspects of our existence, different from such constructs as intelligence or emotional resilience and they are merely transformed but not eliminated by longevity.

                  What fascinates me most about trans-humanism is its avoidance of things like existential freedom in matters of reproduction and play. Sexuality is rarely discussed almost as if it was inconvenient and yet, next to death, it is a true human driver. If trans-humanism involves the elimination of pleasure, then it is absurd. The elimination of death is often implicitly linked to the elimination of either sexual pleasure or reproductive rights (not necessarily connected) for practical reasons (demographics) and, of course, religion plays a central historical role in regulating precisely these matters.

                  Trans-humanism is at a watershed where it can choose to fall back on religious obscurantism either to avoid these issues or to corrall them into boxes where they will not get in the way of the grand narrative or it can include them as issues to be resolved within the context of trans-human lives only being worth living if they either have complete if responsible freedom in these areas, rather than transform the species into a sexless or non-reproducing species (to cope with the population problems raised by longevity) which would be incredibly sad since what emerged would be joyless.

                  As things stand at the moment, our species is well served by death and we tamper with it at our peril. A resolution of the issues of freedom in the context of limited resources is prior to the resolution of the issue of death. To ‘improve’ humanity before it is ready to be improved by dint of its material and cultural tradition will be tantamount to conniving in disaster. Superiority does not enter into the equation …

                  Comment by Tim Pendry — 13 June 2012 @ 11:14 pm

  4. So the debate is closed, unilaterally by my opponent, but I am grateful to him for reminding us that, if a noble Roman pagan sits back and does nothing, then, with the complicity of those desperate men who seek both order and those changes that will promote order, the priests and fanatics will introduce a dark age by offering them the means to do so – just as, in the myth, Satan offered Jesus the whole world if he but accepted Satan’s position. The battle will, indeed, continue. Niceness towards one’s opponent will be tantamount to sharing in complicity to a future enslavement …

    Comment by Tim Pendry — 15 June 2012 @ 7:31 am

  5. Very interesting discussion! I will read everything later. Now I wish to reply to some of the recent comments:

    @Tim re “our species is well served by death and we tamper with it at our peril.”

    I concede that death may have been positively instrumental to our biological evolution so far. But soon we will be ready to move to a new, post-biological, self-directed phase of our evolution, and see no reason why we should not eliminate programmed, involuntary death. Also, what is “our species”? For me, our species is not an abstract entity more important than its individual members, but just the sum of its members. From this point of view, eliminating death will make all individual humans happier, and so it is (by definition) also good for the species.

    @Dirk re “I and most other Transhumanists propose a speciation — multiple offshoots from Homo Sapiens, not simply coming to some global committee decision on “the” PostHuman. Let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred species contend.”

    I totally agree, and this is also a good answer to Tim’s point above. Those who wish to continue the biological evolution of Homo Sapiens should be free to continue it, and those who want to move on should be free to go in hundreds of different directions.

    Comment by Giulio Prisco — 15 June 2012 @ 1:27 pm

    • If we eliminate programmed involuntary death (which may be desirable or not according to conditions), we cease, in effect, to be human and enter into another existential state which may or may not be ‘better’ or good. To pre-value it as good is not possible because it is not knowable – it is only good if we believe that we continue to be human and ‘normal’ (fearing death) in this new existential state which is simply not possible (but then I follow Heidegger in this).

      The question is whether this new deathless state is trans-human or post-human and I suspect trans-humanists are so concerned with transforming humanity that they have not considered what it may be to be post-human which is, by definition, non-human. Again, I do not prejudge the issue of whether it is good or bad to be non-human but I do think it should be considered with more care.

      We agree on sum of members but it is certainly presumptuous to state that eliminating death will make all humans happier – this is simply not a fact on the ground unless you say that all humans, all things being equal have not only eliminated death but all things that make life painful including boredom. The point, therefore, about it being good for the species is unproven. It may only be said that it may be good for some of the species who may become a new species at the expense of those who would find the whole business of eternal life unutterably burdensome or painful.

      Finally, multiple speciations sounds lovely in theory (straight out of Alastair Reynolds) but it fails to take account of differential power structures surrounding the speciation – an experience we went through when we competed with and probably eliminated the Neanderthals who were thus classed as inferior for not having survived. Hmmmmmm” Do we mean like the Jews might have been so classed if Hitler had cracked it!?

      A few simple thought experiments on types of speciation and our knowledge of how evolution works might soon rub out any sentimentality we might have about the process, especially if rich trans-humanists confuse their access to resources with their claimed superiority. An ‘inferior’ wealthy person can frequently out-compete a ‘superior’ poor person. And what of a speciated group of effective collaboraring psychopaths facing off a bunch of ineffective empaths – Morlocks and Eloi!? But I do accept the primacy of cognitive liberty in making choices – I just do not want to sentimentalise the choices as ‘good’.

      Comment by Tim Pendry — 15 June 2012 @ 5:24 pm

      • Re “If we eliminate programmed involuntary death (which may be desirable or not according to conditions), we cease, in effect, to be human and enter into another existential state which may or may not be ‘better’ or good.”

        As you say, we don’t know what is on the other side. That’s why, I say, we should go take a look. I care a lot about the actual happiness of real persons, but not much about abstract concepts like “being human.”

        Comment by Giulio Prisco — 16 June 2012 @ 7:36 am

        • Dd I say that? Let me chatify. I think we do know that there is no other side to all intents and purposes. We simply do not know anything about what happens when we die other than the evidence before our eyes of termination. But there we have it – because things just ‘stop’ and there is no answer (almost certainly because there can be no answer), this gives space for the lingering belief that there is another side when we would not debate an ‘other side’ for rats or amoeba.

          We over-privilege ourselves. While we worry about the ‘other side’, we fail to live the life we do have with full engagement or pleasure. The justification for ‘noble lies’ is that they make a lot of people more happy than ‘ignoble truths’ – but they are still inventions without evidence and the balance of evidence is heavily weighted towards extinction to all intents and purpose (non-extinction would still mean something non-human in any case). Aesthetically, I prefer to build my happiness from truths but I recognise the right of others to retain such tools as unreasoning hope or faith.

          Comment by Tim Pendry — 17 June 2012 @ 9:55 am

  6. @Tim re “‘Real’ Cosmism was an atheistic-materialist philosophy”

    I don’t think the prominent Russian Cosmist Nikolay Fedorov can be described as an atheistic-materialist philosopher. He was a Christian, and a visionary mystic. I have a little review here (by the way I strongly recommend the BBC documentary, it is easy to find online):
    http://turingchurch.com/2012/03/17/knocking-on-heavens-door-russian-cosmism-transhumanism-and-space-exploration/

    Comment by Giulio Prisco — 15 June 2012 @ 1:54 pm

    • Yes, that is a very fair point … but I think it may underestimate the complexities of Russian Cosmism which did adapt to Sovietism with a thoroughly materialist and atheist (and dialectical) view of man’s future in space in due course and, as Andrew Vee has shown, fuelled the scientific and materialistic investigation of phenomena that Western materialism dismissed out of hand. What I will absolutely concede though is that the original Cosmist impulse was religious or spiritual, a very Slavic and Orthodox response to science.

      The Russian-Soviet mind-set has been caricatured as a result of Cold War propaganda into a very wicked form of materialism when, in fact, all the West did was separate into two absurdly equal territories matters of the alleged spirit and matter. There was a form of Communist materialism of a simplistic kind but there were other strands that could work well within the Marxist-Leninist model (which, for the record, I consider philosophically unsound but no worse than other essentialist or idealist rivals).

      The best of materialist Cosmism simply reintegrated alleged spirit and matter along the lines hinted at by Arthur C. Clarke so my contention throughout this debate has been two-fold – that all is encompassed by a monist-materialist world view but that this world-view does not require negativity towards such things we class as ‘spirit’ but a re-thinking of them as emergent properties of matter that require no dualist concepts (those that the Atlantic mind relies upon) requiring God or universal consciousness to fill a gap nor does it require the other extreme of the all-is-spirit obfuscation of the Far East and the New Agers.

      Such a monist-materialism is also possibilian – it gives due weight to scientific method but is critical of attempts by positivist-materialists to project their known facts into the world in such a way that it excludes the possibility of new less likely but possible facts. This possibilianism strikes me as core to the trans-human project which expresses wonder at the surprises in store from ‘emergence’. To go back and postulate a God, universal consciousness, separated world of spirit or even spirit (except as metaphor for that of which nothing may be said – yet) is to give up the ghost (or is it acquire the Holy Ghost) on possibility.

      Comment by Tim Pendry — 15 June 2012 @ 5:10 pm

  7. @Tim re “I am not sure I should attend at all. This may seem odd given my strong opinions but I think Giulio should have the floor without what would amount to an ‘attack’ from me.”

    Please attend, and please feel free to attack me as much and as strongly as you like! I don’t consider interesting arguments as attacks.

    Comment by Giulio Prisco — 15 June 2012 @ 1:59 pm

    • That is very generous of you … I suspect though that I might not enjoy raining on your parade. I am quite a nice chap really :-)

      Comment by Tim Pendry — 15 June 2012 @ 4:55 pm

  8. @Tim re “Giulio, for example, represents an adaptation of essentialism to the emergence of the trans-human impulse.”

    I find this interesting because, given the polarization between essentialism and existentialism, and based on my (probably limited) understanding of these terms, I think I am much more of an existentialist. At least this is what those philosophical tests that you find online say. Could you clarify and explain how you define these terms, and why you characterize my position as essentialist?

    I realize that I just asked you to write an essay ;-)

    Comment by Giulio Prisco — 16 June 2012 @ 7:42 am

    • You did.

      I think it was unfair of me to be so judgmental so soon and, of course, there is a tradition of Christian (and by implication) other forms of ‘believing’ existentialism of which Kierkegaard is the exemplar where an existential choice is made for God (or anything else). His account of the story of Abraham and Isaac is justifiably famous in this respect. I have an alternative reading in my writings somewhere but Kierkegaard and the Judaeo-Christian reading of existentialism is perfectly consistent with insisting that existence must precede essence in all respects except the existence of the unknowable God in which one has faith.

      It would, therefore, be wrong of me to simply label your views (which, of course, I am taking on summary by others at his stage) as not existentialist except insofar as I might critique Kierkegaard – jettisoning the grandfather of existentialism in favour of Nietzsche and Heidegger or even Sartre alhough both the latter shift in places to what might be termed a religious or ideological mentality – Sartre very much so in his existential commitment to Marxism where he tries (it would seem) to capture the successor ‘herd’ religion (Nietzsche) to Christianity for existentialism. Camus is just a liberal playing at existentialism.

      I simply take the term existentialism at face value and perhaps I am a hard-liner – existence, all existence, the rawness of existence, matter and its emergent properties of consciousness in individuals separated by their material base from each other (even if capable of creating ‘essences’ through social collaboration) precedes all symbolisation, culture, social forms and meanings, including the meanings given to matter and emergent consciousness.

      That is fairly hard-line monist-materialism that does not eschew meaning but which makes all meaning (essence in this context) a construction designed for the purposes of the organism – ethics, order or whatever – albeit that certain material truths (and social truths) incline humanity and persons towards certain repeated meanings. The only concession to Marxism would be that the material base (including the biological and technological base for consciousness) limits and may even partially predetermine meanings which then are easily taken (falsely) as essential.

      In the context of trans-humanist thought, this inclines us to two broad models which represent an internal contradiction which, like all such contradictions are ‘glossed over’ as inconvenient until circumstances force them into the moment into a form of dialectical struggle (my only concession to Hegel :-) )

      The first model inclines the observer to say that, while trans-humanism recognises that technology changes meaning (indeed, this is trans-humanism’s strong suit), there is still something ‘essential’ in such concepts as the species or the human being or society that enable the trans-humanist to construct a grand narrative about the future which quietly and slowly starts opening the door to the thinking we are debating today – cosmism, if you like.

      The second model says there is a grand narrative of consciousness evolving and of technological change (whether we accept the singularity myth or not) but that it is a fact in the world that can be tested over millennia but which has no transcendental meaning and where (if we are to be critical) few seem to be thinking (David Roden is an exception it would appear) about what we can and cannot know and experience as conscious beings in daily practice and in relation to such matters as our own termination (or not as the hope of some may be).

      There is a natural affinity between Nietzschean thought (especially its model of self creation within the confines of the material) and of much trans-humanism but the gloss of Heidegger about how we (as minds) relate to our own termination and create ourselves over time pulls us up short (in my opinion) and asks us to stop thinking in these ‘essential’ terms of humanity, species and so on and ask what a unit of consciousness (whether biological or technological) actually experiences of the world.

      If the human’s perceptual and processing capacities change or the issue of death and sex are to be transformed by technology, then that experience of the world is also fundamentally changed and, at a certain point, some persons will evolve or transform themselves but not into the trans-humanism envisaged by Nietzsche.

      This Nietzschean model is always one of radical self-determination (even perhaps a descent into madness) as, in effect, a ‘god’ who is true to their material nature, embracing their animal origins through technological enhancement perhaps and retaining their human will to power and being but not into something that is post-human (such as we see in the Borg or in an AI disconnected from evolved biology), THe post-human is, well, post human – not human at all and trans-human thought has to decide what it wants to retain of being human in order to be human. This may include one’s own death.

      The existentialist position is humanist (as Sartre pointed out) and yet trans-humanism has two roads it may travel – towards the enhancement of the human into worlds, capabilities and ways of seeing but always with a sense of its own human will engaged in the choices – or towards the abstract enhancement of a reified species or humanity or sub-group which de-humanises itself to the degree that its human will is not directed towards its own self-regarding ‘divinity’ but towards yet another re-invention of the abstract or reified that is at the root of our position as a ‘herd’ that simply passes through existence.

      The arrival of God (and cognates) into trans-humanist thought thus supremely muddies the waters. It is as if the trend towards the abstract (the very essence of universal grand narratives) must be completed with an ultimate reification or abstraction in order to make sense of it all – which, as I point out – does not make it true, merely logical within the initial set of assumptions.

      This reverses the liberatory effect of trans-humanism overnight and threatens it with the dim fate of being yet another of the world religions, little better than Raelianism which at least has some good sex in it, with its own eschatology, all based on the myth of its own scientific method. IT might be the perfect religion for a weak humanity faced by rapid change – but it is not true and it is not liberating under such circumstances.

      Thus, the critique is that, existentialism being really a turn of mind or an aesthetic based on reasoning about our condition in the world, can be accommodated with any supreme existential choice (as the Chaos Magicians never tire of telling us) but that the fact of a choice for an abstraction or a reification that is neither a) evidenced (science) nor b) experienced in direct relation to the raw existence behind science (existentialism) ‘means’ that the fall at the last hurdle of throwing oneself on the mercy of God or into some higher abstract state creates a serious question about what is going on here – that is all.

      Comment by Tim Pendry — 17 June 2012 @ 9:38 am

      • Or to answer the specific point more precisely – your thinking would appear to be an adaptation of a recurring human need to impose meaning on new data (generally but not exclusively a proces designed to give comfort) that is out of synch with all preceding meanings. The need to give meaning is very human but it represents an aesthetic rather than a science or a philosophy. My aesthetic includes a critical approach even to the aesthetic.

        Comment by Tim Pendry — 17 June 2012 @ 9:46 am

        • Thanks Tim. I totally agree on “The need to give meaning is very human but it represents an aesthetic rather than a science or a philosophy.” — but isn’t this a very existentialist statement?

          Comment by Giulio Prisco — 17 June 2012 @ 3:29 pm

          • It is but the point is reflexiveness in regard to whether it has meaning as an existentialist statement … is it meaning as a matter of active choice or engagement or has meaning been thrust upon oneself by one’s condition without awareness. I would argue that any meaning that is ‘essential’ (nation, race, god) can only be chosen existentially if one knows its contingency and ‘untruth’ and yet still makes the engagement. This idea can be very disturbing to many people but it does mean that a lie may be authentically chosen instead of inauthentically living the same aesthetic as a truth simply because it has been presented by one’s condition as a truth.

            For example, my Englishness is an authentically chosen non-truth since Englishness does not exist except as a social creation whereas my male-ness (against the nutty post-Marxist feminists) is a biological fact which I might (in theory but not in practice in my case) reject. :-) Hence the aesthetics are either knowing or unknowing – and only knowing aesthetics fall into our category of existentially engaged.

            Comment by Tim Pendry — 18 June 2012 @ 6:56 pm

            • Totally agree, with the caveat that I don’t believe in objective ‘truth’ or ‘untruth’. One can choose and promote subjective aesthetics in full awareness that it is subjective choice.

              Comment by Giulio Prisco — 19 June 2012 @ 7:41 am

        • Continued: if I were to choose a short sentence to summarize most of my thinking, it would be something like “persons are more important than books.” I care a lot about the actual happiness of real persons, but not much about abstract concepts like “Being Human,” “Society,” “Truth,” “Right,”… I am a follower of William James and I DO think that, in a very real sense, truth must be the servant of happiness.

          Comment by Giulio Prisco — 17 June 2012 @ 3:39 pm

          • Whereas I cannot see that one can be happy without investigation of the world … rather pain than be drugged by a truth that is invented to make one happy.

            Comment by Tim Pendry — 18 June 2012 @ 6:59 pm

            • Re “rather pain than be drugged by a truth that is invented to make one happy”

              That assumes “truth” is objective. I don’t make this assumption.

              There are many shades and levels of truth, and we have some degrees of freedom in choosing one. Also, if something makes us happy, we can _make_ it true (if you are happy in the sun, you can hope that tomorrow is a sunny day in the place where you are, but you can also _move_ to a sunny place). I hope tomorrow’s scientists will re-engineer the whole of reality to make our visions of happiness true.

              Comment by Giulio Prisco — 19 June 2012 @ 6:58 am

              • Truth about the world is subjective but the truth of one’s condition and the truth of the constraints on one in the world (uncoverable through science but often contingent as explanation improves) can be made subjective but then become false’ in that process – meaning, in the first case, denial of one’s condition in favour of some constructed narrative by act of will or through unconscious choice and, in the second, maladaptation to the facts of the matter.

                Ideological formulations of both (e.g. the New Soviet Man or the Kingdom of Heaven in the first case or Lysenko or resistance to Copernicus) are ‘untrue’ whereas the act of questioning and pragmatic reliance on what works for the condition of man are ‘true’.

                Everything depends on the interpretation of the ‘what is the condition of man’ and, to get back to trans-humanist thought, this question has not still not been considered fully. This lack of consideration of existential questions opens the door to the desperate measure of re-introducing religion and the spiritual by the back door. This is an opportunity for some but a great disappointment for others. You can see religion and cultism creeping in as the theory moves from a science-based questioning elite to a mass seeking easy answers to complex questions.

                Relativism about truth is hedging bets. If it works, it is true. If it is repeatable experimentally, it is true. If it reflects our actual position in relation to raw existence, it is true. Anything else is a symbolic invention whose real purpose has to be worried out of the position of the believer. The position of the believer – the ultimate ‘why’ of belief – is what matters in working out what is ‘true’ and not the ‘what’ which is generally a variation on an ancient theme of symbolic resistance to anxiety and overwhelming desire.

                The great cheat in all this is the strange connection of hope with will against the reality of the situation – one only has to look at the state of the European Union to see hope and political will founder on reality. Trans-humanism is interesting only insofar as it represents a real prospect of willed happiness and ceases to be interesting when a happy will decides that such-and-such is what the world should be. This is fundamental – the confusion of ‘should’ (like ‘ought’) with ‘is’. Understanding ‘is-ness’ is prior to the exercise of will and the sustainability of happiness.

                You cannot move to a sunny place if there is no sunny place except in your imagination or you do not have the resources or means to get to that sunny place. You may have to re-imagine your desires and confront your anxieties under such conditions. Anyway, points made – the difference of opinion is not really going to change through argument. Positions are taken and trans-humanism is likely now to drift into New Age attitudes in all but name because that is what the population cries out for regardless of reality.

                Comment by Tim Pendry — 19 June 2012 @ 7:55 am

                • “You cannot move to a sunny place if there is no sunny place except in your imagination or you do not have the resources or means to get to that sunny place.”

                  I want to try to acquire the resources and the means to get to a sunny place. If there is no sunny place except in my imagination, then I want to try to make my imagination come true with climate engineering or something. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. Unfalsifiable? Sure thing. But it beats staying in bed all day waiting for death in despair (which is my only critique of existentialist thinking).

                  Comment by Giulio Prisco — 19 June 2012 @ 8:37 am

                  • You really do fall into some open traps :-) Yes, wishful thinking … climate engineering reminds one inexorably of the fate of the Aral Sea. Engineering highly complex systems like the weather and the earth, even more so people and social systems, is worse than wishful thinking (imagination), it is a mentality that is deeply dangerous. It really does confuse ‘ought’ with an ‘is’. It is setting up the planner and his victims for tragedy. As for the lame caricature of existentialist thought (‘staying in bed all day waiting for death in despair’), by facing anxiety, you remove despair as fruitless and get on with the simple business of enjoying this body-in-the-world thing with all its pleasures and sensualities. I would contend that existentialists have vastly more fun in practice than po-faced believing types :-)

                    Comment by Tim Pendry — 19 June 2012 @ 2:47 pm

                    • Yes, I forgot to mention the other part of the lame caricature of existentialist thought: drinking oneself to oblivion because Resistance Is Futile, like that Vogon in Douglas Adams’ book used to shout. ;-)

                      I think I prefer resistance, engineering highly complex systems, transhumanism, engineering God(s) and resurrection, and my own version of positive existentialism. As you say, the difference of opinion is not really going to change through argument.

                      Comment by Giulio Prisco — 19 June 2012 @ 4:59 pm

                    • And a caricature it is! … To be a humanist/trans-humanist existentialist today is to look on the world like the old Roman Stoic and see the Christians on one side and the barbarians on the other. Your name came up in the chat after Stephen Alexander’s talk at Treadwells last night. You arrival has clearly been noted you will be pleased to hear :-) The conversation would be a post in itself and time is short so suffice it to say that people are thinking deeply on matters human, divine, trans-human and post-human in London.

                      Comment by Tim Pendry — 20 June 2012 @ 8:58 am

  9. As part of Zero State Media, project ZSM 011 I have completed my
    latest book named The Praxis.
    As such it will form one of the spinoffs of Zero State (spiritual) -
    the forthcoming political party will comprise one of the temporal
    spinoffs.
    It deals with Transhumanism (H+) and spirituality, recasting H+ into
    religious terms and outlining a core set of beliefs compatible with a
    religious perspective of what is to come.

    The cover blurb says:

    “Immortality in the multiverse,
    The Artilect Messiahs,
    The end of death and suffering,
    Humans into Gods,
    The rise of the unreal,
    Raising the dead,
    Apocalypse and Judgment Day,
    The validation of religion,
    … and what we must do about it”

    The contents page and introduction can be read on my site at:
    http://www.neopax.com/praxis/index.html

    Available in paper form via Lulu only ($15):
    http://www.lulu.com/shop/dirk-bruere/the-praxis/paperback/product-20242445.html

    Available in ePub form initially via Lulu and later through iTunes and
    other distribution channels ($2.99):
    http://www.lulu.com/shop/dirk-bruere/the-praxis/ebook/product-20233499.html

    Available in Kindle format from Amazon within the coming week (because
    .mobi is a bastard to get right as a format for multiple Kindle
    types).
    Please feel free to spam this to other groups that may be interested!

    Comment by Dirk Bruere — 9 July 2012 @ 5:09 pm

    • Dirk – Many congrats on the progress with your book!

      That blurb is really interesting … and provocative.

      I’ll be downloading the book onto my Kindle as soon as the Kindle version is available.

      Comment by David Wood — 10 July 2012 @ 11:27 am

  10. Thanks Dirk for the copy of the book. I started to read it and it looks great. I will write a review.

    Comment by Giulio Prisco — 17 July 2012 @ 5:39 pm

  11. [...] “It’s at least conceivable that remarkably advanced technology of the future may allow positive answers — that our descendants will have the god-like ability to recreate us in the future, giving us an unexpected prospect for immortality,” says David Wood in Super-technology and a possible renaissance of religion. [...]

    Pingback by Transhumanist religion 2.0: Future God-like Beings may change our lives now, in the present « News World Wide — 21 July 2012 @ 6:05 am

  12. [...] “It’s at least conceivable that remarkably advanced technology of the future may allow positive answers — that our descendants will have the god-like ability to recreate us in the future, giving us an unexpected prospect for immortality,” says David Wood in Super-technology and a possible renaissance of religion. [...]

    Pingback by Dr. Richard Alan Miller » Blog Archive » Transhumanist religion 2.0 — 14 August 2012 @ 10:05 pm

  13. [...] “It’s at least conceivable that remarkably advanced technology of the future may allow positive answers — that our descendants will have the god-like ability to recreate us in the future, giving us an unexpected prospect for immortality,” says David Wood in Super-technology and a possible renaissance of religion. [...]

    Pingback by Transhumanist religion 2.0 |Trax Asia™ — 29 August 2012 @ 4:08 am


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