Why “Transhumanism” is Unnecessary

Who needs “transhumanism”? Millions of dollars are going into fields such as brain-computer interfacing, robotics, AI, and regenerative medicine without the influence of “transhumanists”. Wouldn’t transhumanism be better off if we relinquished the odd name and just marketed ourselves as “normal”?

Wild transhumanist ideas such as cryonics, molecular nanotechnology, hard takeoff, Jupiter Brains, and the like, distract our audience from the incremental transhumanist advances occurring on an everyday basis in labs at universities around the world. Brain implants exist, gene sequencing exists, regenerative medicine exists — why is this any different than normal science and medicine?

Motivations such as the desire to raise one’s father from the dead are clearly examples of theological thinking. Instead of embracing theology, we need to face the nitty gritty of the world here and now, with all of its blemishes and problems.

Instead of working towards blue-sky, neo-apocalyptic discontinuous advances, we need to preserve democracy by promoting incremental advances to ensure that every citizen has a voice in every important societal change, and the ability to democratically reject those changes if desired.

To ensure that there is not a gap between the enhanced and the unenhanced, we should let true people — Homo sapiens — be allowed to vote on whether certain technological enhancements are allowed. Anything else would be irresponsible.

As Margaret Somerville recently wrote in the Vancouver Sun:

Another distinction that might help to distinguish ethical technoscience interventions from unethical ones is whether the intervention affects the intrinsic being or essence of a person — for instance, their sense of self or consciousness — or is external to that. The former, I propose, are always unethical, while the latter may not be.

The intrinsic essence and being of a person is not something to be taken for granted — it has been shaped carefully by millions of years of evolution. If we start picking arbitrary variables and trying to optimize them, the consequences could be very unpredictable. Our lust for pleasure and power could quickly lead us to a dark road of narcissistic self-enhancement and disenfranchisement of the majority of humanity.

Comments

  1. PariahDrake

    Hey Mike, this is a good post.

    I’m on board up to the first two paragraphs, but then I think you diverge into more ego-driven rambling after that.

    Still, good progress for you.

    Now, go to Brazil and take some DMT, it will make you a better transhumanist ;)

    • richard holt

      Thank you for this balanced and thoughtful post. I agree we need to balance our enthusiasm for far future technology with pragmatic concerns like how to market our ideas.

      I disagree with your advocacy of direct democracy.

      Let’s take the example of a senior civil servant with degrees in economics and law and a pHD in some obscure aspect of international macroeconomic theory. My training is in analytical philosophy. I would not presume to think my opinion should be given the same weight on technical economic matters. To this extent i am a technocrat and meritocrat. Democracy is good in so far as it makes leaders accountable for their decisions. However public policy is too complex for direct democracy to be desirable. Democracy in this form would rapidly degenerate into aimless paralysis and a tyranny of the majority.

      My other problem with your post does fall within my expertise (analytical philosophy). My objection is that Margaret Somerville’s quoted distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of personhood is incoherent. ‘Sense of self’ and ‘consciousness’ are only meaningful concepts with reference to their interactions with the ‘external’.

  2. geekolator

    I’m tired of “You’re a trans…what?” so I call myself a technoholist. Mmm… technohol…

  3. Lincoln Cannon

    Religion (what you’ve here called “theology”) matters for practical reasons. It shapes human thoughts, words and actions, evoking the strenuous mood, like no other aspect of culture. To advocate putting religion aside is to advocate cultural suicide. The strong ideologies will out-compete the weak. The religions of the future will be different from today’s religions, as today’s are different from those of our past, but they will nonetheless move us in powerful ways to shape our future. Don’t concede religion to those who would oppress you.

  4. asdf

    >”we need to preserve democracy”

    Why do we need preserve democracy? Is it really a good thing to allow the majority to violently rule over the minority? Aren’t you yourself a minority when it comes to the sort of important issues that transhumanism/the singuarity brings up?

    How does this claim jive with your recent statement,
    “there is no government on Earth that could search every computer for lines of code that are possibly AIs. We are willing to do whatever it takes, within reason, to get a positive Singularity. Governments are not going to stop us. If one country shuts us down, we go to another country.” ?
    We need to preserve democracy, but you advocate evading democratic governments if their laws are anti-singularity? Or is it that you believe any democratic government will have singularity-friendly opinions?

    >”ensure that every citizen has a voice in every important societal change,”

    1) A democracy can suppress the ‘voice’ of the minority, if it desires. Thus democracy does not ensure every citizen ‘has a voice’.
    2) What exactly does ‘have a voice’ mean? If I want to extend my lifespan or augment my abilities (at no direct harm to others), and if society does not want me to do this, does ‘have a voice’ mean the collective can/will forcibly stop me?
    Do you not see immense downsides to rule-by-majority (democracy)? You seem to often write about the majority’s general ignorance, pettiness, etc… surely the petty and ignorant would not make good rulers.
    3) By ‘every citizen’, are you speaking nationally or globally?

    I agree with the first idea of your post. Its not necessary to advocate the ‘wild’ parts of transhumanism; transhumanism is a naturally-occurring philosophy for most humans and we’ve been on the transhumanist path ever since we started developing tools/technology.
    But I don’t understand at all how this idea then flows into your comments on democracy etc.

  5. Michelle Waters

    I don’t see why things that effect our sense of self are unethical. If there was a cure for trisomy-21 induced problems applying it would be ethical despite the fact that it would effect sense of self that the person with trisomy-21 experienced. Even things like occupational therapy can effect sense of self.

    What I see as wrong is modifying people to benefit someone else.

    Also, we need to preserve democracy, at least for now, because despite the theoretical superiority of philosopher kings, every authoritarian system has resulted in unnecessary suffering. You can include the penal systems of the US in this if you want.

    • PariahDrake

      Democracy is a form of authoritarianism.

      What we should shoot for is anarchy.

      • Direct democracy and anarchism traditionally go together. My goal is a system where everyone exercises meaningful control over the circumstances of their lives (and not the lives of others).

        • Luke

          You can’t control your own life without exerting some sort of control over others because no person exists outside of society. Even if he magically did, he’d be consuming resources that would then be unavailable to others to consume, i.e., indirect social interaction. It’s the fact that no man is an island that leads to the failure of anarchy every time. And as to the criticisms of authoritarian governments, they have failed only due to incomplete information, a problem I think could be solved by the singularity, if/when it happens.

  6. I agree with the initial part of your post. I’d argue that in many respects, humanity has always been transhumanist, that is, extending itself beyond its current limits, usually via technological advancement. However, I have to disagree with the idea of allowing decisions in science to be made by the electorate. Too many of these advances elicit a visceral ‘ick’ response from many people. How far would the smallpox vaccine have gotten if the public had to decide about allowing people to be injected with material from a cowpox lesion? Democratic principles are great, but if applied to everything can bring progress to a standstill.

  7. Nick Roy

    It’s also ideas like hard takeoff that possess the most potential impact. If we don’t think about it and plan for it, who will?

  8. SD

    Democracy is fine as long as it doesn’t curtail technological progress. But rather than being too restrictive, it seems democracy is actually inefficient in protecting people and the environment from negative technological developments and uses, such as widespread use of toxic substances and pollution/health problems. Democracy is inherently shortsighted, because the electorate is.

  9. Heartland

    I hope it’s not a sarcastic post because it agrees with my thinking. “Transhumanism” designates a small social network of people who think that innate human desire for endless progress is such a new and original concept that people who share this special desire deserve a special label and possibly a future credit for steering civilization toward a virgin path of scientific and technological advancements, as if humanity wasn’t already speeding headlong down that road.

    Terms like “transhumanism” and “extropianism” only creep people out. Meanwhile, scientists and engineers who have never heard about any of these movements are still busy dreaming up new advancements and trying to make them happen sooner and faster.

    • richard holt

      If people ask my beliefs, my response varies a great deal. Transhumanists need to present their beliefs intelligently and to think of them in terms of public relations and marketing.

      I identify myself as a left-libertarian transhumanist. This is the most succinct and descriptive label of my beliefs and aspirations. Unfortunately, most people don’t have a clue what it means and don’t really care.

      So if i am given the chance to explain what i tend to say something like this.

      “I think the best way to make the world a better place is through the wise application of science and technology, and by people trying to better themselves. I believe it will be possible in the near future for people to choose to become smarter, more self-controlled, and less selfish, by using the tools that technology will provide.”

      I think it’s worth memorizing something like this.

      I’d be interested to hear how other forum members present their beliefs.

  10. Michelle Waters

    Jupiter brains and such are fun though. I don’t think they are important things to think about right now, but they are fun.

  11. Jim

    Michael I think you hit the nail on the head. Why do we need the superlative futurology that transhumanism has become synonymous with? What is the ideology really bringing to the table? Ironically this is a point Dale has brought up on his blog numerous times.

    Science has existed without transhumanism for centuries and will easily continue without it. Ideology clogs science and gets in the way, examples of this can be seen throughout history.

    Why can’t one just put ones efforts into improving the world and thinking carefully about the implications of the changes and just do away with the singularity talk and the superlative futurology?

    I hope this post was meant in all seriousness, if so I do believe there is some hope for you yet. I was a bit afraid that all those conversations and arguments with Dale on his blog had failed to make any difference on you.

    • Because Jimbo, humans are not selfless robots or saints and have no inherent compulsion to “improve the world.” However, we do have an inherent compulsion to maximize our power, which is why I’m skeptical that there will be a Singularity until we have a World War or some other catalyst for “neo-apocalyptic discontinuous advance”. Like old Freddy N. said: “man needs what is most evil in him for what is best in him,” which is why I’m not too concerned about a bunch of do-gooders actually succeeding with their diabolical schemes to improve the world. >;->

  12. formulatranslator

    Transhumanism is a useful and fairly well-defined label, defining a group of hard core technology and future enthusiasts, a subset of the scientific/engineering mindset. As attractors for enthusiasts, labels are also useful for making a buck off of; if nothing else comes of it, the Singularityâ„¢ is at least a money making machine.

    But it doesn’t sound good to the general public – but if you’re too thick to understand what the term means, I don’t think it matters what you think.

    Onwards with transeverything!

  13. nazgulnarsil

    I blanch every time I see an otherwise intelligent person turn on the applause lights for democracy. I mean, have you even spent 5 minutes thinking about it? Intelligent people have known this is a terrible idea for thousands of years. We have much MUCH better models to follow.

    • remote

      Television is the purest most direct democracy in action. The majority genuinely enjoys what it sees. Billions of viewers can’t be wrong. So democracy works for the vast majority. What are you complaining about?

      • That’s nonsense. Corporations control television. It’s not even an example of representative democracy, much less direct democracy.

        • billswift

          That’s nonsense. Corporations control television that same way that politicians control elections; both have to pander to the great mass of morons out there to get viewers / get elected.

  14. This doesn’t sound like you, Michael. I’m intrigued. Either your views have change significantly, you’re just trolling, or somebody hacked your blog. Considering Somerville’s extremely dubious idealization of nature, I suspect a ruse. If you genuinely agree with that critique – which I doubt – I’d suggest a reevaluation. Somerville is a straight-supremacist conservative who writes against same-sex marriage and lauds the traditional nuclear family. Ey scares me more than you do, Michael, and that’s saying something.

  15. Abelard Lindsey

    we should let true people — Homo sapiens — be allowed to vote on whether certain technological enhancements are allowed. Anything else would be irresponsible.

    Are you suggesting that other people should be allowed to vote what I can do with my own body and mind and that I must abide by their vote? Are you kidding me? What I do to my body and mind is purely a private matter. It is not a public matter at all. Other people don’t get to make these decisions for me.

  16. Abelard Lindsey

    These are personal issues and choices. This has nothing to do with “democracy” at all. Margaret Summerville is way off base about healthy life extension. Does she honestly think that people should sacrifice one’s health and vitality, just for something as nebulous as “social order”? What is this person smoking?

    I’ve got news for Margaret Summerville. I consider my health and vitality, my open future to my highest value. And I’m willing to sacrifice all other values in the attainment of such.

    Of course radical life extension will change society. BFD! The invention of the telephone, car, and airplane also changed society. When I moved from SoCal to Japan, the society I was immersed in had changed. So what? I adapted, I improvised, and I overcame, and I created a new life for myself. You don’t think I would do any less with radical life extension?

  17. Yes Michael seems to be reverting to lazy Judeo-Christian thinking here. That article is utterly pathetic; the basic stance of such people is that homo sapiens are the apex of creation, possessed of some secret sauce called a soul, and to tamper with that is to offend almighty God. I see no reason to respect such medieval idiocy!

    Transhumanism *is* an affront to Judeo-Christian values, something sinister, evil and transgressive to them, and that’s OK, because so was just about everything that we now call “progress”. There are some belief systems that simply can’t be reconciled, and Judeo-Christianity and Transhumanism are two of them. So I say onward to the Nietzschean galactic empire, and leave these primitive, timid thinkers in the dust. The days when such people held sway over the minds of the powerful are over, and thank [the cosmic void] for that!

  18. JD

    @SSpeaker “That’s nonsense. Corporations control television. It’s not even an example of representative democracy, much less direct democracy.”

    The TV companies are very concerned about viewer ratings and adjust programming (how appropriate that sounds) accordingly. The People *do* control what comes out of the TV just like they control what is available on the shelves of supermarkets and at which prices. The People do get what they want and what they deserve. This is what the process of democracy gets you in its purest most unadulterated form. You can’t get more democratic results than what you actually see in the actual world where people’s choices directly direct what is made available to them.

    Thank – or blame – the People for everything. For pollution, for environmental degradation, for wars, for overpopulation, for bad taste in tv and music and the unhealthiest food at the lowest prices. The bosses are there just to make a profit out of their desires, otherwise their influence in the large scheme of things (where great amounts of matter and energy are transported, transformed and expended) is insignificant for they are but a few.

    We live in a world that exposes the contents of the minds of the majority of people for all to see. It is clear to see that the unchecked, largely non-thinking, mostly adolescent, shortsighted human nature determines everything.

    You may call it civilization, humanity or society, but there is no way one can deny that the results we see around us are the results of a process that the Greek call “demokratia” “rule of the people”.

    There exists no “elite” that can make a dent in humanity’s trajectory, even if it wanted. Only science can do that. All they can do is make a profit and keep everyone a bit stupider than we might be under a better education system.

    • PariahDrake

      You’re completely missing the feedback nature of something like TV.

      When the message is controlled by a singular entity with a singular agenda (or a ‘few’), then the effect it has on those watching it, and consequently on society, is determined by those who construct the message.

      Your model doesn’t take this into account.

    • I have never once been consulted by anyone about television programing. I have exactly zero control over what appears on the tube. That’s the exact antithesis of direct democracy. Despite the claim of impossibility, I vehemently deny your characterization of the capitalist market economy. You can’t get any further from the one-person-one-vote ideal, that’s for sure. Most of us have next to no agency because of the profoundly unequal distribution of power in this society. If we matter at all, it’s only on the aggregate.

  19. Have to admit Michael, this doesn’t sound like you. Is this a parody? A satire? Have you been hacked? Have you had a genuine change of heart? I lean towards the former.

    Assuming that this is honest, I’ll respond. We do need transhumanism. Though the desire to transcend our condition is as old as time transhumanism offers us something that no other ideology can; a way to actually achieve it.
    Science is essential in the process but you know as well as I do that science is simply a tool. Without an ideology behind it’s use (and there is always an ideology behind it) it will stumble about like a lost hiker in the woods.

    The desire to raise one’s father from the dead may be theological, but why is that a bad thing? Religion (in the sense of a comprehensive world view, not simply the belief in gods) is not an inherent evil. I would argue that it’s necessary and that if transhumanism is to compete in the market of ideas we need to embrace religion more than we have.

    As far as democracy goes I’ll simply quote Winston Churchill, “It’s the worst system around except for every other one that’s been tried.” I’m personally not a fan but I won’t abandon it until something better comes along.

    Suggesting that changing a person’s sense of self is evil is ridiculous. Growing up from childhood to adulthood does that without any help from us. What’s wrong with helping the process along?

  20. JD

    The people get to hear and see what they want to hear and see. Those who construct the message must abide by the wishes, desires and worldviews of the viewership.

    Nazism – seen as a highly authoritarian, led from the top political movement – was national socialism; national as in a nation of people. It was the people who actually wanted war, they actually agreed with what was offered to them (and later, if you disagreed, the state persuaded or killed you). The people agreed with the nationalistic agenda, “the us vs everyone else”, “the people”, “the nation”, and most of all “the race”, essentially a subset of the gene pool they liked more than other parts and therefore wanted to eradicate them.

    But initially you can’t get your message through, start a TV show or channel (like Faux News) or political party, or put any product on the market, be it food, clothes or music, unless people want it first. They may not know they want it, but it doesn’t matter – it will only succeed if they inherently want it. There wouldn’t have been anything like Nazism were it not for the people who wanted to take part in the utter madness of the “great purification”, “the final solution.”

    The influence of leaders is severely overrated. They just say, do, and show what the people *already* agree with and want. Blame the people, always blame the people, not the opportunistic few who wave the flag shouting “comrades!” or whatever, because without the people they are nothing – and even with people, they are close to nothing – it’s only the people who ultimately make macroscale changes on the planet.

    • PariahDrake

      I’ve heard the same arguments from serial rapists (not to imply you are one – just to put this into stark relief).

      • PariahDrake

        Or, to draw another analogy, in case you think I was trying to insult you:

        Your arguments amount to saying that the host of a leech is to blame for not feeling the leech because the leech injected anesthetic.

      • JD

        No people have *initially* been forced to take part in whatever the eventual leaders *suggested* to them. They heard the suggestion and said “Hey, that’s a great idea!”

        Violence only came later, and in case of everything else but Nazism (and other dictatorships), like voting and TV program viewership, there’s no coercion involved.

        All that’s needed is the human brain with its human nature that makes us do the dumb things: vote the dumb leaders, eat the dumb food, watch the dumb programs, listen to the dumb music, wear the dumb clothes, drive the dumb polluting car, hold dumb political/religious/sexual/racial views. No leaders or their suggestions needed, and without human nature guiding us to these dumb ideas, activities and results leaders wouldn’t succeed in “leading” the masses.

        The things in control of humanity are – and have always been – biology and memes. If that’s not clear to you, you’re one of “them.” I’m afraid only something like transhumanism and posthumanism can alter this.

        • JD

          And I consider memes as part of human nature; our brains are meme machines.

        • PariahDrake

          “The things in control of humanity are – and have always been – biology and memes.”

          See, you said it yourself. Memes.

          Who creates the memes? Who distributes the memes?

          I suggest you watch some of Clay Shirky’s videos.

          Here’s one:

          http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/clay_shirky_on_institutions_versus_collaboration.html

          • PariahDrake

            I don’t accept the “blame the victim” paradigm.

            Our so-called leaders are also people.

            What we have is a neurotic culture, led by neurotic leaders.

            Let’s put aside blame altogether, and instead focus on solutions.

          • JD

            Human nature, biology – simply because that’s all there is – creates the memes. You can’t create and insert memes into minds that human nature isn’t compatible with. Even in suicidal cults, with their supremely manipulative leaders, it was human nature that enabled it.

            And I’m not blaming anyone. All people, including the leaders are victims of the features of human nature that have today become undesired; our ancestral biology, that is optimized for tribal hunter-gatherer existence. Its guidance – that we all carry like an operating manual in our caveman brains and which the dumbest, weakest and poorest of us are least able to resist, ignore, update, and override – is simply not suited to our modern overpopulated, actually over-everything, environment.

          • PariahDrake

            Here’s a quote from you:

            “Blame the people, always blame the people, not the opportunistic few”

          • anon

            Apparently “blame” was not used not in a negative sense, but rather to neutrally assert that someone or something is the cause of something (in this case the whole of humanity rather than individuals in positions of power, and later the underlying biology and memes are to be “blamed”).

  21. anon2

    All people probably inherently want most, even everything transhumanism describes (but doesn’t yet offer very much in terms of actual tech) as a possible future state of humanity – everything better in every way – so it’s in a good position to become the mindset of the majority – why the heck not? – but people are confused by the way the ideas are delivered, or simply not ever being exposed to them. And they wouldn’t feel comfortable calling themselves something as weird as trans-anything. I agree with transhumanist ideas but can’t call myself one for social reasons, and I see no need to label myself.

    I think transhumanism really has already won, but people just don’t know it yet. But why use the term at all. Why not just put the ideas out there without any labels, like any other popular science and tech publication or organization? Why bother with an “ideology” or “movement”?

  22. Good point. Evolution is continuing whether transhumanists say so or not. Some people want to talk about the future and how humans are going to change. So, they call themselves transhumanists. Other people don’t care to think about it for a variety of reasons. So be it. Transhumanism is at least as “necessary” as chess clubs. Some people care to participate, so they do.

  23. Mardonius

    Have I in some way accidentally stumbled onto Amor Mundi by mistake? I agree that it would be nice to pay attention to current advances, and preserving some measure of popular political control would be desirable.However, we cannot do so at the expense of warning about the challenges and opportunities of the discontinous changes that will almost certainly arrive later this century. To do so would be irresponsible.

  24. Jim

    @formulatranslator
    “Transhumanism is a useful and fairly well-defined label, defining a group of hard core technology and future enthusiasts, a subset of the scientific/engineering mindset.”

    Sorry enthusiast doesn’t make you a subset of anything but a run-of-the-mill enthusiast. Rooting for technologies and actually contributing to there creation is two different things. Transhumanists have the rooting for the technology thing down but the actual contribution thing they seem to come up short. This is not a new insight in fact many have made the same claim such as Dale.

    “As attractors for enthusiasts, labels are also useful for making a buck off of; if nothing else comes of it, the Singularityâ„¢ is at least a money making machine.”

    Hmmm…. can anyone say cult? That idea is probably one of the more damaging things you can attach to transhumanism etc it makes you guys sound like a cult who is just trying to make money with ideology at the expense of any lasting value.

    “But it doesn’t sound good to the general public – but if you’re too thick to understand what the term means, I don’t think it matters what you think.”

    Actually not only do these “buzzwords” not sound good to the general public; they fail to wow the general academic community, and continue to keep the tanshumanist movement as a fringe movement.

    I do believe my friend that you are doing damage to your own cause here.

  25. comphy

    Of course most transhumanists are not scientists or engineers, but many scientists and engineers are (even without being aware of it, or willing to acknowledge it publicly) supportive of transhumanist ideas, causes, and ideals and driving them forward in their R&D.

    It sounds as if you think science and engineering and transhumanism are incompatible. Why so? Many cite science fiction as inspiration for choosing science and engineering as a career. Transhumanist ideas are pure, concentrated hard (that is physically plausible) sci-fi of the kind that has a real chance of being realized some day, not just magical wishful thinking, though it may seem so today.

    Why would one not support funding something as potentially world-changing as the Singularity? Isn’t it good that the supporters of the idea are able to make money off of it? We live in the real world. If you want something to happen you need money. If anything on this planet, it is transhumanists and singularitarians who deserve to make money, deserve to be funded, the more the better. It would seem reasonable to think that in their hands it will be channeled into developments that allow humanity to get faster to the Singularity. You seem to portray this as some kind of scheme to rip off gullible people without any contribution in return.

    And unsurprisingly I am one of those scientist-engineers who also happens to agree with transhumanist ideas, though not calling myself one. And I was also inspired by sci-fi as a kid, and later by transhumanism, extropianism and singularitarianism – and they continue to inspire me every day (not that science isn’t enough).

  26. Jim

    @comphy
    “Of course most transhumanists are not scientists or engineers, but many scientists and engineers are (even without being aware of it, or willing to acknowledge it publicly) supportive of transhumanist ideas, causes, and ideals and driving them forward in their R&D.”

    False attribution, transhumanism takes many of its core values that you claim drive scientists from other areas of thought. In fact many of the core ideas of transhumanism such as wanting to live longer, be healthier etc. are ideas that existed centuries before transhumanism. The only real addition transhumanism has made is the use of superlative future technology, in addition to the standard aspirations found in many view points.

    “It sounds as if you think science and engineering and transhumanism are incompatible. Why so? Many cite science fiction as inspiration for choosing science and engineering as a career. Transhumanist ideas are pure, concentrated hard (that is physically plausible) sci-fi of the kind that has a real chance of being realized some day, not just magical wishful thinking, though it may seem so today.”

    Sci-Fi is by definition wishful thinking. I do not think transhumanism is incompatible with science, rather that transhumanism brings in all manner of ideology into science, which is inherently unnecessary. I think the focus on these sci-fi technologies; this superlative futurology keeps transhumanism on the fringe. There is as far as I can tell no evidence of any real scientific progress that has come because of transhumanism having any form of a foot hold, that would not, or could not come about without transhumanism.

    The issue with transhumanism is what does it bring to the table? If not technology, if not a uniting of primarily experts, if not radically new and revolutionary philosophical ideas; then what? Answer: Ideology, cultish behavior as seen on this blog, a conflation of science and science fiction. A willingness to put faith in technology which does not exist and is by no means guaranteed. Please elucidate me on any flaws in that reasoning or values brought to the table.

    “Why would one not support funding something as potentially world-changing as the Singularity? Isn’t it good that the supporters of the idea are able to make money off of it? We live in the real world. If you want something to happen you need money. If anything on this planet, it is transhumanists and singularitarians who deserve to make money, deserve to be funded, the more the better. It would seem reasonable to think that in their hands it will be channeled into developments that allow humanity to get faster to the Singularity. You seem to portray this as some kind of scheme to rip off gullible people without any contribution in return.”

    What of the promised technologies of the singularity have come about? What of the superlative futurology has actually become reality. If you think about it; none. The closest you have is cryonics which can only freeze people. The hard part of the job, bring them back, is as of now, a no go. Most of the technologies that transhumanism clings to are in their infancy or have yet to deliver on a single one of the superlative claims. I do not believe that anyone has to fund ideology. I do think funding science is useful. Funding ideology that claims scientific basis without actual technologies or science to back it up is not a wise investment.

    “And unsurprisingly I am one of those scientist-engineers who also happens to agree with transhumanist ideas, though not calling myself one. And I was also inspired by sci-fi as a kid, and later by transhumanism, extropianism and singularitarianism – and they continue to inspire me every day (not that science isn’t enough).”

    Great. At least there is another person here who does science.

    • “Sci-Fi is by definition wishful thinking.”

      I don’t think you’ve read much of the genre if you believe that. Science fiction tends toward dystopia and technophobia rather than progress triumphalism.

  27. cereb8or

    Indeed, what does it bring to the table? What is the reason there are memesets and memeplexes like extropianism, transhumanism, singularitarianism, and cosmism? What is their reason for being? How would the world – or perhaps just the minds in it – be poorer without such things? There must be *something* transhumanism is good for. An image of a (immensely) better world worth striving for?

    I’d like to see an article, comments, perhaps a poll: Why are you a transhumanist (or just think it has useful ideas)?

  28. David Pearce

    Some terms in our language (e.g. “freedom”, “leftwing”, “rightwing”) endure because without them there would be a big gap in our ability to communicate easily – even though the terms themselves are flawed and simplistic. Thus I don’t know what convenient label – other than “transhumanist” – we can use for people who accept:
    http://humanityplus.org/learn/transhumanist-declaration/
    I guess “technoprogressive” comes closest. But not all techno-progressives are transhumanists.

    One could make a similar point about the term “The Singularity”.
    (EY’s list is no longer exhaustive: http://yudkowsky.net/singularity/schools ]
    One can lament its abuses and the confusion of senses. But the verbal shorthand it offers is too convenient for people to stop using the label.

  29. wspr46

    How is transhumanism at first glance less off-putting (or frightening even) than ‘Singularity/Singularitarian’?

    We humans love to define ourselves (and our worldview) with words, and without them many of us are lost/without community. If I decided to refer to myself as a transhumanist a conversation could proceed with most people without me seeming totally eager to live forever or witness firsthand something ultimately inconceivable for even the AI engineers. The present transition is plenty to focus on, no need to be a singularitarian. Perhaps no reason to ‘be’ either of them…

    Singularity speaks to an event that humans should acknowledge in order not to be eclipsed by it should the day come sooner rather than later. But ask a person to ‘be aware’ and most likely they will shut down. Transhumanism, as others have pointed out, speaks to a truth –humans transit from birth to death, as all life does/has. Rapid information flow also must mean rapid transition-flow of the mind. To me the word connotes a necessary end to static belief systems, perhaps things like racism and sexism –that makes me feel hopeful rather than perplexed/semi-fearful.

  30. galaxy trillion one

    @Lincoln “To advocate putting religion aside is to advocate cultural suicide.”

    Another case of religious people who can’t imagine life without religion even though billions of people – and ALL other animals – through the ages have lived fully happily and productively without ever thinking one “spiritual” thought in their lives.

    It’s like a meat eater talking to a vegan, claiming that without meat you can’t live, even though in fact billions have, and often live a longer life without meat – which is also true of nonreligiousness: the nonreligious effectively live a longer life without the time wasted on repeating meaningless rites that never have and never will amount to anything productive or meaningful (no, they aren’t meaningful even though you feel they are).

    There also is no such common concept as nonreligious war, but there is holy war, which sort of hints at a shorter lifespan among the religious (and which history and the news proves). (Of course you can point to some research that claims that the community religion provides keeps you going longer, but that’s all time wasted on empty babbling.)

  31. Well, this looks like an interesting psychological experiment, writing stuff like that on your blog. I’m intrigued to hear how you follow-up.

    I might as well go along and comment on a few things:

    > we need to preserve democracy by promoting incremental advances to ensure that
    > every citizen has a voice in every important societal change, and the ability
    > to democratically reject those changes if desired.

    Such democracy doesn’t currently exist, therefore it cannot be “preserved”.

    > To ensure that there is not a gap between the enhanced and the unenhanced, we should
    > let true people — Homo sapiens — be allowed to vote on whether certain technological
    > enhancements are allowed.

    There might be sense in discussing such a policy option *if* there existed a global authority able to enforce such policies. In the real world, no such global authority exists, or will exist in any realistic near-term future. No-one is going to stop the upper classes of powerful less-than-maximally-democratic countries like Russia and China from utilizing whatever technologies they like in enhancing themselves, their militaries and their citizens.

    • billswift

      Especially their militaries. See what I think was Vernor Vinge’s first published story, *Bookworm, Run*.

  32. Jim

    @Sean the Mystic
    “Because Jimbo, humans are not selfless robots or saints and have no inherent compulsion to “improve the world.””

    And yet we have, and do. Just an aside I never claimed that humans are selfless or anything else.

    “However, we do have an inherent compulsion to maximize our power, which is why I’m skeptical that there will be a Singularity until we have a World War or some other catalyst for “neo-apocalyptic discontinuous advance”. Like old Freddy N. said: “man needs what is most evil in him for what is best in him,” which is why I’m not too concerned about a bunch of do-gooders actually succeeding with their diabolical schemes to improve the world. >;->”

    Wow, you really are just a big cup of crazy aren’t you. Well to each his own, long live the cranks.

  33. steven

    Thanks, Dale; I found this a lot easier to read than your work over at Amor Mundi. I hope your next guest post will go more into the sub(cult)ural aspects of the thing.

  34. Brian

    “Instead of working towards blue-sky, neo-apocalyptic discontinuous advances, we need to preserve democracy by promoting incremental advances to ensure that every citizen has a voice in every important societal change, and the ability to democratically reject those changes if desired.

    To ensure that there is not a gap between the enhanced and the unenhanced, we should let true people — Homo sapiens — be allowed to vote on whether certain technological enhancements are allowed. Anything else would be irresponsible.”

    Please reflect and consider exactly what the advantages and disadvantages of the democratic process are. It’s important to be specific to make sure we don’t treat it if it were a magically good process optimal for every situation. That will prevent us from advocating its use in the classroom or in combat, among other mistakes.

    Specifically, democracy allows many to influence the decision making process, making likely a compromise policy in which popular important principles and beliefs are represented. In addition, it allows people to rightly feel that the defeat of their policies was based on their unpopularity, and structurally makes persuasion of others rather than violent revolution the best way for the disgruntled to change policy.

    No matter how ignorant or wrong headed people’s beliefs, democracy helps alleviate feelings of helplessness in the face of social and technological change by making policy directed by those popular beliefs.

    This is good in general.

    Whether it is good in the face of specific technology is the matter of a precise calculation involving the specific technology in question, the exact shape of popular opinion, and the specific resultant policy.

    At present, the state of religious belief and scientific (mis)understanding in the U.S. are such that the consequences of subjecting heretofore unknown and impossible technology to popular vote will be something of a coincidence. These consequences will hinge on ancient scriptures and whether or not new technologies make people feel icky when they think about them. As previously unimportant Catholic doctrines about life and “every sperm being sacred”, to quote Monty Python, were unimportant before advances in contraception, we can only guess at which obscure doctrines will be implicated by the technology of tomorrow.

    The lives and health of many who could benefit from technologies elated to stem cells, cloning and the like are ruined because when ignorant and corrupt politicians think of the issue, they either feel icky or believe the technology would be wrong on the basis of medieval interpretation of iron age legends. The politicians differ from the voters insofar as the voters are not at all well described by the word “corrupt”, but greater democracy would often not yield a different outcome.

    How important is it to seek a balance of interests and purchase communal buy-in by using the democratic process?

    Very important.

    Is it worth doing so for *all* possible future technologies, imminent, conceived of, and currently unimagined, *regardless* of specific theological and knee-jerk visceral responses of the people, *regardless* of how accurately informed about the technology in question they even are?

    The question answers itself. No. NO. FUCK NO.

    Anything else would be irresponsible.

  35. evodev

    Brian=Brain.

  36. galaxy trillion one, here is a thought to consider:

    “The capacity of the strenuous mood lies so deep down among our natural human possibilities that even if there were no metaphysical or traditional grounds for believing in a God, men would postulate one simply as a pretext for living hard, and getting out of the game of existence its keenest possibilities of zest. Our attitude towards concrete evils is entirely different in a world where we believe there are none but finite demanders, from what it is in one where we joyously face tragedy for an infinite demander’s sake. Every sort of energy and endurance, of courage and capacity for handling life’s evils, is set free in those who have religious faith. For this reason the strenuous type of character will on the battle-field of human history always outwear the easy-going type, and religion will drive irreligion to the wall.” (William James)

  37. Ryan

    The only problem I have with it is that lets say there exists machines or drugs that can make you smarter or help you survive in the long run over other people then only the rich will have it. Anyone without that drug will be left in dumps wishing and praying they could get their hands on it and they’ll be looked at as lesser beings because they they don’t have that same machine/drug. There won’t be any luck involved when your born anymore it’ll be if you have the most up-to-date drugs to keep you smarter. But if you don’t market this in the U.S. other countries will and then we’ll definitely be slaves then won’t we?

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