Friday, 14 February 2014

The significance of transhumanism

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Although explicitly confined to a tiny group of 'nerdy' intellectuals, Transhumanism has now become, implicitly, the most advanced and rigorous form of Left/Liberal/ Progressive ideology.

Transhumanism is the project, the desire, to regard as the primary virtue and have as the primary goal the abolition - via technology - of all forms of human suffering; including human disease, ageing and death - and beyond that to enable a continuous, albeit varied, state of happiness, bliss, positivity.

Transhumanism gets its name because it explicitly aims to transcend - that is to transform and improve - human nature.

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Until recently, all ideologies claimed or aimed to fulfil human nature - but in the nineteenth and twentieth century socialism or communism, then mainstream governments and corporations, aimed to change human nature - to make a New Man.

This was tried initially by psychological means - by propaganda, coercion, regimentation, brainwashing and the like. It was somewhat successful, but the results were far from complete. Transhumanism aims to extend and complete the process using biological means - the full range of modern technologies - pharmacology, surgical interventions, ultimately genetic re-reprogramming.

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Transhumanism may sound far-fetched, but one example is gender reassignment - in which technological (surgical and pharmacological) methods are used with the aim of changing a person's sex; and the results are nowadays in the West not a matter of individual opinion, but legally declared to have been successful.

A more mainstream example is that the majority of Western women have re-made their exteriors - using technological means - to simulate the exteriors of younger women - sometimes with, superficially (at a glance, from a distance), reasonable effectiveness. This also is deemed to have been a success - in that it is socially unacceptable, a slur or insult, to tell a woman over thirty that she looks as old as she actually is!

These provide examples of a similarity between the way that communism and transhumanism unfolded in practice - where the gap between aspiration and achievement was closed by force of law - and communism succeeded in the sense that was harshly-punishable to observe that communism had failed.

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With transhumanism, the intention is that utilitarianism (greatest happiness of the greatest number) would be operationalized and implemeted - any hope or ideal that happiness would be a matter of individual choice will stumble, fall and be trampled under the lability, subjectivity and inter-individual incompatibility from trying to make a social project out of an emotion.

Suffering is the worst evil, happiness now is the greatest good. These emotions will necessarily be decontextualized, abstracted and measured, so that they can be made into an engineering problem.

As with communism, these official measures of suffering and happiness will be made true by definition when their truth is disputed by individuals or spontaneous mass behaviour - and the crudity and coercion will be justified in terms of the imperative importance of the long term goals. 

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The problems of transhumanism are the same as the problems of communism, because it it trying to achieve the same ends merely by different means.

Transhumanism ignores the intractable problems of Leftism by dazzling itself with a vision of technological possibility; as when people are intoxicated by the idea that this could be a wonderful world if only everybody was sensible and nice to each other - which is true enough, as far as it goes...

For transhumanism, the world could be a lot better if technology was harnessed primarily to alleviate suffering and promote happiness - this also is true enough, so far as it goes; but meanwhile in the world the pharmaceutical companies - whose advertised intentions are transhumanist in nature - are actually mass marketing fake illnesses in order to sell drugs that reduce functionality and create dependence. 

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There are two major worries about transhumanism - that it will not work but like communism and Big Pharma the dishonest attempt to implement it will cause vast unneccessary suffering.

Or that it will work, and human nature will either be transformed or at least twisted and distorted by genetic re-programming into - well who knows what?

Then we enter a scenario variously depicted by the Tower of Babel, Brave New World, and That Hideous Strength.

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12 comments:

  1. As someone with access to strategic resources and with somewhat "transhumanist" objectives (life extension, intelligence intensification, strong AI, etc.) I should mention that I am not primarily interested in decreasing human suffering / increasing human happiness. Such objectives are certainly popular but to the extent they are achieved they will be a byproduct of achieving the true goals.

    The main objective of transhumanism, at least for me, is continued exploration and learning. We are reaching the point where our biological limitations are becoming a problem for scientific advancement, especially physics and space exploration. Ultimately we will need entirely new bodies and brains to do a proper job of investigating the other 100% of the Cosmos beyond the Earth.

    I'm particularly amused by notions that transhumanism will lead to immortality or eternal bliss. These desires among transhumanists show typical (and delusional) ego attachment. Sufficiently radical change is essentially death from the standpoint of the individual, and I'm quite certain that being 100x as smart/strong/long lived will bring a whole new range of problems and difficulties.

    The fundamental silliness of the Tower of Babel crew was the idea that getting to Heaven via technology could be completed in finite time. Fortunately we seem to have been provided with a relatively unoccupied Universe containing nigh-infinite amounts of time, matter, and energy. Convenient, huh?

    I am well aware that certain transformations / upgrades to the human form, especially those involved in making the jump from biological to artificial bodies, may require asking Permission(TM). The analogy here is Aule's creation of the Dwarves.

    Some of the more serious transhumanists are quite aware of the extreme dangers of advanced technology. The folks at MIRI have quite convincing arguments that AI research, for example, has as a default outcome the destruction of our species followed by a dead planet where nothing interesting happens. This means people need to be REALLY CAREFUL. I find it unlikely that the guys at DARPA or Google will be careful enough -- hopefully my group can do better.

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  2. @RB- My general feeling is that any attempt at nuance in politics is not just doomed to failure, but leads very rapidly to failure. Therefore, it is not a matter about being careful any more than the faults of communism were a matter of failing to stick to ideals.

    "The main objective of transhumanism, at least for me, is continued exploration and learning. "

    This doesn't make sense - I regard this as a category error. Exploration and learning just are not objectives - they are goal directed... what is the goal?

    Transhumanism goes with Buddhism and Hinduism in that it regards the 'self' as a delusion that ought to be dissolved into consciousness, transcended, destroyed in one way or another... transhumanism is dead against Christianity which is all-about the fate of the eternal personal self/ soul/ spirit.

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  3. The goal is complete and accurate understanding of the nature of reality. Core virtue "Truth", if you will. At some point we will need to get much smarter and more capable to continue our progress in this area.

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    A practical matter: it does not seem likely that we will be able to gather the necessary power and influence to stop Google/DARPA/the Chinese government/the NSA/etc. from deploying extremely dangerous technologies. However, if responsible parties can develop certain technologies first, we may be able to avoid serious trouble. The will, wisdom, and intent of the engineers does matter to a degree.

    I have limited access to strategic resources, a small band of young clever people, and an above-average awareness of matters of Spirit among transhumanists. Hopefully that will be enough to tilt the playing field a bit.

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    Strangely I have found that most transhumanists have very strong ego attachment when compared to elite Christian Agents. They are very concerned about their own personal aging and mortality, hence the hope that the "Singularity" will come soon enough to save them. In contrast, the serious Christians I know, the ones that palpably glow with Love, have little fear of death or their own destruction, and not just because they have a divine insurance policy which guarantees that their soul will be preserved regardless. They have simply gotten beyond such considerations sufficiently so that they can get on with the Work.

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  4. @RB - Okay... But you are clear, I hope, that you are on the opposite side from me?

    That from my perspective your views and aims are part of the problem and not a part of the solution?

    I hope you don't suppose that what you are aiming-at is (despite a few superficial similarities) anything other than working in what is fundamentally the reverse direction, and with inverted goals from what Christians, are trying to do?

    (i.e. Not doing God's work, but the adversary's work.)

    I wouldn't like you to be under the impression that there is any kind of *compatibility* between Christianity and Transhumanism: it is a case of either/or.

    I realized this for sure five years ago, before I had actually crossed the line to become a Christian - and it was, in fact, one of the insights which got me over the line:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y13vPXFnvc

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  5. How are my aims different? You also wish to acquire Truth. Searching for certain kinds of truth requires the proper tools. Biological augmentation, up to and including total hardware replacement, is merely another tool. Our fundamental nature as beings of mind, matter, and spirit will remain unchanged. A 100x increase our intelligence/lifespan/physical power still leaves us as finite beings. Increasing our power without a corresponding simultaneous decrease in our personal corruption (requiring spiritual advancement, not transhumanism as normally marketed) will have predictable bad effects, of course.

    Probably I'm actually just a scientist and engineer who wants cooler toys rather than a "transhumanist" interested in going beyond humanity. To me, a 1000 IQ 200 year old human made of metal and silicon is still a human, complete with an obligation to be kind to the 100 IQ 60 year old humans made of proteins.

    I suspect the core problem you sense with most transhumanists is Pride, the idea that deploying advanced technology will fundamentally change the nature of our relationship with the Divine Order. For me, hyperintelligence/operational immortality/etc. basically translates into a somewhat bigger telescope, a cooler space probe, a better particle collider. For me, successful strong AI would demonstrate scientifically that humanity can be in a somewhat different configuration of matter while retaining the same fundamental nature of mind and spirit.

    For most transhumanists these things represent something more, some form of ultimate spiritual salvation. I'm of the opinion that Ultimate Salvation comes at the End (by definition) and that people are just going to have to be patient and put in the work (perhaps an infinite amount.)

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    I am well aware of the influence of the Ruinous Powers on transhumanist research. One key indicator of corruption is when the researchers are willing to do *whatever is necessary* to get the knowledge. Blood sacrifice to Athena is a real phenomenon I have observed personally, and neither myself nor any of my associates want anything to do with such cults regardless of what names they currently go by.

    You have observed Leftist contamination of transhumanism, basically the whole Abolition of Man problem on overdrive. I'm not in that business. This business will lead to unpleasant consequences, like DARPA stupidly unleashing the death robots, Google Ads directly hacking your brain, the Chinese deploying an army of brainwashed super-soldiers, or the NSA branding the Mark of the Beast on your forehead. None of these things will improve my or anyone else's understanding of physics. If you have a solution to dealing with the Abolition of Man crowd that doesn't involve both extremely low corruption and a whole lot of technological power I'm eager to hear it.

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  6. @Robert - Everything you say confirms my belief! So, (how can I say this without offence?) I think you are deluded - and are unwittingly working for the wrong side while supposing you are working for the right side.

    How could I persuade you? Not by argument. I think you would have to go deep into Christianity, by whatever means works for you, forgetting about your science and engineering aims - but instead trying to understand Christianity in its own terms.

    You would then inevitably, sooner or later, come to see how incommensurable are the projects.

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  7. We are reaching the point where our biological limitations are becoming a problem for scientific advancement, especially physics and space exploration. Ultimately we will need entirely new bodies and brains to do a proper job of investigating the other 100% of the Cosmos beyond the Earth.

    You don't need transhumans for that, just robots.

    And good luck convincing TPTB that we need to spend money on transhumanism so that some physics geeks can fly through space to look at the universe. "We must overcome old age and suffering" is a much, much stronger argument.

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  8. Probably I'm actually just a scientist and engineer who wants cooler toys rather than a "transhumanist" interested in going beyond humanity. To me, a 1000 IQ 200 year old human made of metal and silicon is still a human, complete with an obligation to be kind to the 100 IQ 60 year old humans made of proteins.

    I suspect the core problem you sense with most transhumanists is Pride, the idea that deploying advanced technology will fundamentally change the nature of our relationship with the Divine Order. For me, hyperintelligence/operational immortality/etc. basically translates into a somewhat bigger telescope, a cooler space probe, a better particle collider. For me, successful strong AI would demonstrate scientifically that humanity can be in a somewhat different configuration of matter while retaining the same fundamental nature of mind and spirit.


    I happen to agree in theory, but am not so sure of how this would translate in practice. Yes the idea of being able to dig deeper and longer with a mind that is razor sharp in the sandbox of the universe has great appeal, but what if there is a psychological best before date that is encoded at a deep genetic level?

    I think that we already see an element of this with extreme sports and other forms of extreme ______. Many people already go to some length to use stimulation to avoid the empty resonance of the void which stands silently - the 500 lb gorilla in their existential room.

    It may be that for the few, those who are driven by an insatiable hunger to explore and travel beyond the boundaries of the mariner's maps that say, "Beyond here there be dragons", that this may be a mind-blowing and psychologically stable aim. For many, it could spell ANGST and DREAD.

    Even so, I do not think the direction of movement can be stopped. It has a momentum, as higher levels of integration and more intimate interface between man and computer continue to develop. If a strong AI emerges, I hope that it is benign, or benign enough to recognize that this Earth with its diversity of life is one of the more information rich places in the desert of space, (and that it needs to be preserved.)

    We will see what happens. I am intensely curious to see how things actual unfold over the next 100 years.

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  9. …just a scientist and engineer who wants cooler toys…
    The modern sorcerer apprentice is indeed eager to use his fellow humans as toys. To him, technology is just the “rational” and “benevolent” face of magic. The poor souls with their gullible faith in the god of “progress” are totally unable to see that the best intentions in manipulating and controlling nature and other human beings just make the thing more evil.

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  10. "The problems of transhumanism are the same as the problems of communism, because it it trying to achieve the same ends merely by different means."

    Compare:

    "For socialism is not merely the labor question, it is before all things the atheistic question, the question of the form taken by atheism to-day, the question of the tower of Babel built without God, not to mount to heaven from earth but to set up heaven on earth."

    -The Brothers Karamazov

    I could guess what Dostoevsky would think about Transhumanism.

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  11. It's quite possible that I am deluded, in which case the time to sort this out is now rather than later.

    I agree we should shift over to a more Christian reality tunnel to explore the situation further. Fortunately Tolkien has provided such an environment:

    The basic problem is that of the Tolkien's Dwarves. Dwarves are constructs, created by Aulë rather than Ilúvatar directly. Of course Aulë by himself could only make Dwarves that took action whenever he was thinking about them -- when his attention wandered they were inert. The intervention of Ilúvatar was necessary to give the Dwarves true sentience.

    The problem with Aulë's creation was his impatience: he wanted living beings to teach and build with but the Elves and Men were not yet ready. To set things right, the formal introduction of the Dwarves was delayed.

    Dwarves are not intrinsically corrupt or abominations. Indeed, they are actually rather resistant to the influence of Sauron. Their main weaknesses are greed, their limited ability to get along with plants and Elves, and their tendency to go exploring underground in places they shouldn't.

    Contrast with Orcs, creations of Melkor, likely versions of Elves transformed to suit his purposes.

    My interest is in constructing "Dwarves", or Clockwork Children if you like, beings that are hardened to the task of exploring environments presently inhospitable and smart enough to understand the implications of what they learn. I have no interest in dominating or controlling other humans, and would not encourage my children (organic or mechanical) to participate in large Sauron-style social engineering projects.

    Does this make it easier to identify the problems?

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  12. >Transhumanism goes with Buddhism and Hinduism in that it regards the 'self' as a delusion that ought to be dissolved into consciousness, transcended, destroyed in one way or another... transhumanism is dead against Christianity which is all-about the fate of the eternal personal self/ soul/ spirit.

    I'm not a Buddhist, but I think you misunderstand what is meant by "realizing the self is a delusion". (There are a lot of wishy-washy people involved in something they refer to as "Buddhism", so be wary of what you hear on the subject.) I think a better way of expressing what is meant is "the self is not reducible to any transient thoughts or physical sensations" or "don't confuse the self with whatever transient thoughts or physical sensations you are feeling now", which obviously must be true if there is an immortal soul.

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