A Few Items

There’s an ongoing uploading debate in the comments with Aleksei Riikonen, Mark Gubrud, Giulio Prisco, myself, and others. The topic of uploading is the gift that keeps on giving — the dead horse that can sustain an unlimited beating.

There is a new open letter on brain preservationsign the petition! Also, there will be workshops on uploading after the Singularity Summit 2010 this August in San Francisco. A big congrats to Randal Koene, Ken Hayworth, Suzanne Gildert, Anders Sandberg, and everyone else taking the initiative to move forward on this.

One last thing: ghost hunting equipment. Harness the power of ghosts, take over the world.


  1. Panda

    Although I agree that rational methods should be used to improve our understanding of the world and that instrumental reason should be our means for achieving our objectives, I think that spirituality and emotional happenstance play a large role in human existence and in how we set our goals in the first place. I am not religious, but I think spirituality is more than “pretend[ing] that everything is already OK”. I think when many scientists say “our technology is advancing faster than our wisdom in how to use it”, what they mean by wisdom is a spiritual concept. Even Hume, the great rational philosopher, said that reason cannot help us choose our goals but merely help us achieve them.

  2. Choi

    [quote]I think that spirituality and emotional happenstance play a large role in human existence and in how we set our goals in the first place.[/quote]
    What you imply is false. No top level goal (what an agent really wants) is superior to any other (modulo interactions) between agents with different goals. If spirituality is used to “set goals in the first place” and decide which goal is RIGHT, then the goal is subservient to reason and criticism.

  3. Choi

    [How do you quote in comments?]

  4. Choi

    And if spirituality is used to find out what we really want, why not just find out what we really want? Why call that procedure “spirituality”? Spirituality is at best suboptimal and superfluous.

  5. Panda

    Choi- you are putting words in my mouth. I never said that emotional or spiritual approaches to life determine which goal is /superior/. I merely pointed out that the psychology of humans contains an irrational element. You asked, “why not just find out what we really want”? By the use of the word “want”, your question suggests that it cannot be logically answered.

  6. Minskybot

    There is no spirituality. There is only confused thinking. Calling confused thinking spirituality is confused thinking.

  7. Panda

    Spirituality is not “confused thinking,” because it is not strictly about thinking at all. Insofar as people apply their spirituality to thinking, they do confuse it, but spirituality in its pure form has nothing to do with thinking–confused or otherwise–at all.

    To quote David Hume, in _A Treatise of Human Nature_ (Book 2, Part 3, Section 3):

    “Nothing is more usual in philosophy, and even in common life, than to talk of the combat of passion and reason, to give the preference to reason, and to assert that men are only so far virtuous as they conform themselves to its dictates. Every rational creature, ’tis said, is oblig’d to regulate his actions by reason ; and if any other motive or principle challenge the direction of his conduct, he ought to oppose it, ’till it be entirely subdu’d, or at least brought to a conformity with that superior principle. On this method of thinking the greatest part of moral philosophy, ancient and modern, seems to be founded ; nor is there an ampler field, as well for metaphysical arguments, as popular declamations, than this suppos’d pre-eminence of reason above passion. The eternity, invariableness, and divine origin of the former have been display’d to the best advantage: The blindness, unconstancy and deceitfulness of the latter have been as strongly insisted on. In order to shew the fallacy of all this philosophy, I shall endeavour to prove first, that reason alone can never be a motive to any action of the will; and secondly, that it can never oppose passion in the direction of the will.”

    This is not his proof, of course, because the proof is long, but if it has made you at all curious, you may read further in the treatise.

  8. iPan

    Spirituality is one’s relationship to an infinite set.
    Science, mathematics, and reason is perfectly compatible with spirituality when viewed this way.
    I think what many of you are arguing against is religion, not spirituality.

  9. Minskybot

    If you can’t explain x, calling it y doesn’t explain it. Calling it spirituality explains nothing. Calling it confused thinking explains everything. Confused thinkers abound. I welcome your confused ideas, though the universe remains indifferent; it responds only to non-confused thought. Which spirituality isn’t. Because there’s no such thing.

  10. Panda

    No, iPan, I’m not talking about our inability to adequately describe noumenal reality. I’m much less contentious. I am merely saying that the human psychological makeup is not merely rational–that volition and will in humans are primarily instinctual, and that such emotional and instinctual mechanisms require emotional and instinctual outlets. Spirituality is such an outlet. It has pragmatic value. It is not merely a description of the world that “everything is okay”. That is all I am saying. Whether it is a rudimentary tool and whether science will give us better after reverse-engineering the brain, I cannot predict.

  11. Roko

    Panda: “Spirituality is not “confused thinking,” ”

    iPan: “Spirituality is one’s relationship to an infinite set.”

  12. Roko

    In a way I can see where Panda is coming from. Suppose you have some new age type who believes in auras chakras and reincarnation. Are they really even thinking, or is it all like a big kids make believe game, where you’re not meant to question, but rather meant to play along?

    Suppose you have someone who believes in Buddhist spirituality. They meditate, they chill out about life, and they recite calming words to themselves about the futility of suffering or something. Are they wrong? Are they deluded? I don’t think so, but there’s certainly a sense in which they are indulging in make-believe.

  13. Z3N

    Don’t conflate practical philosophy or controlling one’s mind with spirituality. You can use Buddhist and other techniques and philosophy and ignore the rest of the package.

  14. Z3N

    You need to define “spirituality”. But attempts at defining something non-natural will fail, since you can’t define something where there is nothing to define. You can describe your interesting mental states while having a “spiritual experience,” but that doesn’t require making up a word for it.

    If you by “spirituality” mean things that involve or invoke “wonder and awe,” try science(uality). For true, real, actual, measurable, quantifiable, provable wonder and awe, you need to understand things. Everything else is cheap parlor tricks and snake oil. It’s much, much harder than making up stuff, assuredly, but give it a try anyway. Much more potential for “spiritual” experiences than your confused jumble of thoughts that only people who can’t or don’t want to think exalt as being equal or better than science, making claims like “science (order) is meaningless without spirituality (confusion)” and other nonsense.

  15. Panda

    If by ‘uality’ you mean ‘utility’, I’m saying that, for some people, it is rational utility-maximizing behavior to sometimes be irrational. Spirituality may be utility maximizing. Utility maximization speaks to our instrumental reason, not our volition. The science of economics is very firmly grounded in Hume’s division between volition and instrumental reason (see above). That’s how it successfully incorporates all the whims and emotions of people. It ignores them and focuses on how people obtain their whims. If it brings A utility to kill people, economics is disinterested in why this is so. It merely studies how A (or a society with an A) can maximize their respective utilities.

  16. Choi, to quote comments, use the “blockquote” tag.

    Some of you seem to be using the word “spirituality” in a difference sense than I’m used to. Spirituality can just be calm contemplation and appreciation of the wonder of the universe. It doesn’t have to be irrational.

    Also, as Panda mentioned, Hume argued that we can only use rationality to achieve our goals, not select them. I know some smart people with extremely boring goals like obsessing over their computer’s security as a hobby. (I’m not knocking everyone into security, I’m talking about people that aren’t even into interesting aspects of security.) There are smart people who never go outside because they don’t understand the benefits of exercise, etc. Meanwhile, there are dumb/irrational people who have fulfilling, active lives, who “rational” people could learn a lot from. Rational people with no “spirituality” can be boring people to talk to — people who care only about finding a mate or money. One of the common “arguments” against the Singularity used by Singularity skeptics is the simple ad hominem that the kind of nerds into the Singularity aren’t emotionally balanced, therefore the Singularity won’t happen or is a bad idea. I don’t think that “argument” is very compelling with regards to the Singularity, but maybe some of these nerds should broaden their horizons anyway.

    It’s troubling that some atheist materialists reject the notion of “spirituality” altogether. There is still subjective “magic” in life and universe, even if it is all deterministic at some level. If you’ve already rejected mysticism and superstition a long time ago, as I have, then you should be secure in your materialism/atheism and be ready to embrace spirituality for its non-mystical pearls of wisdom.

    Wikipedia says “Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of their being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” All three of those are relevant. The ultimate reality, particles and forces, are removed from our daily lives, and require special contemplation to appreciate. Cognitive science and evolutionary psychology can have a “spiritual” component as it helps us better understand ourselves and our relationships in a profound way. The “deepest values and meanings” question is obviously an important one, and Roko, don’t you think our journey to moral irrealism can be described as spiritual in some dimension, even if we were convinced by logic?

  17. Z3N

    It’s been noted that the word “singularity” has so many interpretations it has lost nearly all meaning. So does “spirituality”. It was created by people who knew nothing of science, who believed in “spirits”.

    Scientific naturalism has no need for such terms. Spirituality isn’t needed in your vocabulary. If you say you had a spiritual experience it means precisely nothing to a naturalist. If you use it as a substitute for “contemplating” why isn’t it enough?

    Contemplating and as a result understanding the wonder of the universe on a scientific basis makes sense. It’s all a wonder worth contemplating. Expressions like “contemplating,” “reflecting deeply” etc. can be understood by everyone in more or less the same way.

    “Spiritually” contemplating something says nothing, it is the same as “speaking in tongues”; there’s nothing more going on there than normal contemplation or normal speech – only the content is missing. Like there’s no magic, there’s also no spirituality. It’s all just normal thought processes. Calling the thought processes something else doesn’t make them any different, but only serves to confuse people, giving them the impression that something else is going on, since it’s called “spirituality” not contemplation. “Spirituality” is just another example of humans fooling themselves.

  18. I detect a distinct opposition to fantasy in these comments. From my perspective, make-believe only causes problems to the extent it interferes with desired material or social outcomes. If I want breakfast and someone tells me to pray to Jesus or focus my internal energy, that’s not helpful. Otherwise, enjoy. Imagination stands as one of the chief wonders of being human.

  19. Bob Mottram

    Once you’re into the realm of purchasing equipment for the detection of Ghosts or “shadow people”, there really is no hope.

    But I’m sure that in future augmented reality technology will permit you to see people who aren’t really there, and even travel back in time to a 2010 version of the street you’re standing in. In fact AR “ghosts” (simulations of dead celebrities) are probably going to be big in the entertainment business, and I fully expect a simulated version of Michael Jackson to perform his final concert.

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