Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

[P]
Transhumanism & The Modern Day Transcendentalists

By mtrisk in Culture
Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 10:14:38 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

When Henry David Thoreau became a part of the Transcendentalist movement,  he intended to change society. Thoreau envisioned his movement gaining momentum, eventually becoming a large enough force to have an impact on people's lives. Transcendentalism was, however, a short-lived movement, dying out with Thoreau's death in 1862. Humanity's struggle to free itself from the chains of society, it seemed, had died soon after its birth.


Then, in 1957, Julian Huxley, biologist and brother of Aldous Huxley - author of A Brave New World - coined the term "transhumanism", which he took to mean as "man remaining man, but transcending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature". F.M. Esfandiary, the son of an Iranian diplomat, became in 1966 the first person to identify one's self as a transhumanist. Esfandiary defined a transhumanist as one with a lifestyle and world view intended to move forward along the transition to a time beyond society. He, along with Huxley, had begun a movement to view humanity beyond the limitations of civilization and society.

The Transhumanist movement, centered around the University of California, Los Angeles, began advocating "improvement to the human condition through enhancement technologies, such as eliminating aging and expanding intellectual, physical or physiological capacities." Transhumanists saw in technology the means to improve the life of all humanity. Through genetic and biological engineering, they sought, and continue to seek, methods to eliminate mankind's host of health problems, from cancer to the common cold, eventually gaining immortality. Improvements in nanotechnology would allow people to manufacture their own objects in response to their needs. Eventually, they argue, mankind, utilizing technology, will be able to transcend our physical limitations, eventually providing us with unlimited abilities; in effect, a human could, through technology, become a deity.

The parallel between Transhumanism and Transcendentalism is strong, but hard to see; at the surface level, the two philosophies are seemingly at odds with one another. In Walden, Thoreau abandoned most of the technology of his time, shunning railroads and other convienences of contemporary American life for the capabilites of his own hands. In stark contrast, Transhumanists advocate the advancement of technology along every possible means in order to improve the human condition and augment humanity's own capabilites. In Walden, Thoreau argued, indirectly, that in order to improve the human condition, one must abandon his dependency on others - and the technology he saw around him was causing the degradation of humanity by enslaving us to society. Thoreau returned to nature, to mankind's roots, to explore the meaning of life, and ultimately to be able to live a life worth living, where humans can focus on their needs in life and what really matters, instead of the superficial demands created by civilization. Transhumanists, however, aim to advance civilization to the level where humans use technology in every aspect of their life - the kind of dependency Thoreau was displeased with.

However, there is a deep undercurrent that unites the two philosophies, as opposing as they seem. In Walden, and in Resistance to Civil Government, Thoreau repeatedly explores the idea that if government is a contract between those who govern and the people, then he should be allowed to withdraw from that contract entirely, and rely on himself to maintain his life, in a sort of proto-anarchist fashion. In order to achieve such a withdrawal from society, however, he concludes that a man must decide his necessities, and find a way to coexist with nature in order to provide his needs - civilization cannot help him now. After achieving such an accomplishment, man will be truly free in the sense that such a person would be entirely in control of his life. Thoreau showed that such a disconnection, and subsequent freedom, is possible by taking on the task himself in Walden. It was only when he briefly entered the town, and society, that he lost his freedom.

It is on this philisophical level that Transhumanism and Transcendentalism are joined. Transhumanists understand that people are limited in society, and in their bodies; as long as people lack the means to provide for their needs themselves, they are dependent on whoever else can help them, and subsequently are not truly free, as they are vulnerable. Instead of harvesting the power of nature as Henry David Thoreau advocates, however, Transhumanists embrace the power of technology. They argue that every effort must be made to advance scientific progress until human beings, harvesting technology, are no longer reliant upon anybody else. Through technology, they gain ultimate freedom. Once this is achieved, transhumanists explain, society will no longer be necessary; and because of this, the scourges of war, crime, terror, pestilence, hunger, economic inequality, and social inequality, will disappear, as each "transhuman" is able to withdraw from society and rely on sufficiently advanced technology for ther individual needs. The individual is empowered with ultimate control over his or her life, and can focus on a life worth living.

It is clear that Thoreau believed in the power of the individual, as stated in Civil Disobedience:

"Is a democracy, such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government? Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly."

Ultimately, Thoreau decided to make use of the natural world and withdraw from society, and the government's control, in order to achieve an improvement on government. Similarly, Transhumanism aims for a state in which the individual can become an independent power, free from state control, through technology.

Perhaps the earliest invention that has realized part of the Transhumanists' goals has come in the form of the Internet. Prior to the inventions of email, instant messaging, and online chat, communication between distant persons was controlled entirely by the government. In oppresive countries such as China and Iran, dissent was kept in check by government control of communication routes; ordinary citizens did not have the means to tell the world of their plight. In the modern 21st century, however, numerous Iranians have been able to publish online journals, providing people in other parts of the world a direct, unfiltered contact with these countries. In effect, these people have withdrawn from the state in regard to communications; they now have complete control over who they communicate with, when they talk, where they are in the physical world, and how the information is relayed. Through the use of the internet, people have become the higher and independent power that Thoreau sought to implement; no country, no matter how hard it tries, can attempt to gain mastery over the Internet.

It is clear, then, that Thoreau's philosophies have been revived in the form of Transhumanism. Instead of harnessing nature, they utilize technology in their common quest for individual empowerment, and eventually, a human state beyond society and civilization.

Sponsors

Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure

Login

Related Links
o Also by mtrisk


Display: Sort:
Transhumanism & The Modern Day Transcendentalists | 121 comments (115 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
What about changing the brain itself? (2.66 / 3) (#2)
by topynate on Fri Jul 15, 2005 at 10:00:39 PM EST

Would this fall outside the bounds of the transhumanist philosophy, in your opinion, or is there a point up to which a human remains human while enhanced or altered neurally? What about other aspects of the body? For instance, it is believed that Fen has castrated himself. Has he rendered himself less human? After all, he has altered his thinking - he said as much himself.


"...identifying authors with their works is a feckless game. Simply to go by their books, Agatha Christie is a mass murderess, while William Buckley is a practicing Christian." --Gore Vidal
I think that is the transhumanist philosophy (none / 1) (#6)
by mtrisk on Fri Jul 15, 2005 at 10:23:01 PM EST

To go beyond human limits, both physically and mentally, is the ultimate goal.

______
"If you don't like our country, why don't you get out?"
"What, and become a victim of your foreign policy?"
[ Parent ]
"going beyond limits" is a cliche (none / 0) (#50)
by 1318 on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 06:16:20 PM EST


All that "going beyond a limit" does is allow us to discover...new limits!

The false implication in "going beyond limits" is that somehow this violation of limits is itself limitless. Not so.

So this slogan might be rephrased: "Transhumanism: creating new limits!"

"So then, why don't you die?"-Antisthenes
[ Parent ]

Limits. (none / 0) (#52)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 06:33:43 PM EST

The universe is an infinite series of limits on an infinite number of levels. The object of the game is to see how many of them your species can bust through.

Pointless? Damn right. Evolutionarily hardwired into us, and therefore as good a subjective purpose in life as any? Damn righter.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Your evolution is teleological (none / 1) (#65)
by 1318 on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 01:10:53 AM EST

The future doesn't exist as a guiding force.

Purposive behavior is (also) teleological.

There is no point for our evolution, and busting through limits is yet not another one of them.

We as a result of the past.

"So then, why don't you die?"-Antisthenes
[ Parent ]

I should rephrase. (none / 0) (#77)
by alexboko on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 01:04:51 PM EST

Surpassing limits follows the basic urge to survive, reproduce, maximize the margin of safety between one's self and scarcity, and colonize new environments.

Let's reverse the question-- what limits do you think we should deliberately not surpass?


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

I'd concur with you that... (none / 0) (#92)
by cr8dle2grave on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 07:37:02 PM EST

...purposive behavior is teleological (it is, after all, the paradigmatic case of teleology), but how do you mean to square "[t]here is no point for our evolution" with the assertion that "evolution is teleological"?

Am I missing something? Did you leave out a "not"?

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
/his/ evolution was teleological (none / 0) (#94)
by 1318 on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 09:55:56 PM EST


(or rather how he stated it)

not that evolution was teleological.

"So then, why don't you die?"-Antisthenes
[ Parent ]

Nope, mine isn't either. (none / 0) (#98)
by alexboko on Tue Jul 19, 2005 at 06:36:54 AM EST

If I'm translating the world "teleological" into English properly, you're trying to say that I'm implying that there is an inherent purpose to life and that this purpose happens to be transcending limitations.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Intellectually I realize that there is no purpose in life, yet I also realize that we apes are incapable of being psychologically healthy when faced with a purposeless existance. Taking a page out of Nietzche's book, I'm choosing my purpose. Taking a page out of Dawkins' book, I'm choosing a purpose that conflicts as little as possible with my evolutionarily-selected tendencies (purposes like that are easier to stick with).


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

We think with our bodies (3.00 / 4) (#9)
by 1318 on Fri Jul 15, 2005 at 11:54:23 PM EST

and cutting off a part of our bodies changes the way we think.

The dualists would have us believe that we "think with our minds" but as most of us know the penis is a compelling motivator for much thought.

Sans glans penis (or clitoris) your thinking will be different (less?).

I am reminded of the story of the racehorse SeaBiscuit who was a gilding. Attempting to explain why SeaBiscuit ran so well one commentator said "SeaBiscuit had nothing else to think except running."

Talk about single minded.

"So then, why don't you die?"-Antisthenes
[ Parent ]

We are code. (none / 0) (#53)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 06:41:30 PM EST

Unfortunately for us, we are code with sloppy separation between data and logic, and over-optimized for one unique hardware platform. But code nonetheless... and if we can build a hardware platform (metaphorically speaking, it won't necesserily be a silicon based computer) that's similar enough to the one we were born with, we might be able to migrate to that platform and run indefinitely on it instead.

Most transhumanists think that once computing technology and neuroscience advances far enough, it will be possible to run all parts of your body that you judge to be relevant to your personality in an emulation layer. We assume that the emulation would be biased toward the central nervous system and the endocrine system, but who knows? Any technology capable of emulating a brain should be capable of emulating a set of reproductive organs.

See Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect for one K5er's view of how something like this might play out (disregarding the fantasy-physics in the beginning of the story).

That being said, don't hold your breath-- we don't know jack about how the brain works, so IMHO it will be maybe 50 to 100 years before this is anything other than a fascinating topic to speculate about.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

I am not really impressed with metaphors (none / 0) (#56)
by 1318 on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 08:55:41 PM EST

in science.

In poetry maybe.

We are not code. Our brains are not computers.

"So then, why don't you die?"-Antisthenes
[ Parent ]

Then what are we? (none / 1) (#57)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 09:09:53 PM EST

...and how much of my biological body can I replace with prostheses before you stop regarding me as human? I assume you don't believe AI is an acchievable goal either?


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
That's how it is, regardless of how impressed u r (none / 0) (#58)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 09:17:07 PM EST

I have yet to sit through a scientific lecture that didn't at some point resort to metaphors, models, and analogies. Try wrapping your head around a concept without relating it to concepts you already know. Try explaining to me what you think consciousness is without using a metaphor, model, or analogy.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
Consciousness (none / 0) (#70)
by flaw on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 07:38:02 AM EST

is a social exam that one has to pass.

Turing established that.

--
ピニス, ピニス, everyone loves ピニス!
[ Parent ]

Turing "established" nothing of the sort (none / 0) (#91)
by cr8dle2grave on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 07:29:47 PM EST

He conjectured thusly, and throngs of the unimagnative cheered as they saw the goalposts, and along with them their prospects for grant money, creep in closer from the distant horizon. Of course, over the last fifty years every step forward has been accompanied by corresponding retreat of those same goalposts.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Yeah, isn't it great? (none / 0) (#99)
by flaw on Tue Jul 19, 2005 at 06:40:34 AM EST

=D

--
ピニス, ピニス, everyone loves ピニス!
[ Parent ]
that (most) people resort to bad practices (none / 0) (#74)
by 1318 on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 11:37:34 AM EST

is hardly a justification of those bad practices.

That I would be unable to provide a compelling alternative to some bad practice hardly means that said practice is justified.

In fact a shitty practice that is compelling is doubly bad as it discourages people from looking for better practices content to wallow in something that is broken.

However, I think it is more compelling to look at what people do than to speculate on metaphors about what is "going on inside".

Humans make computers, and it is simply not terribly imaginative to then simply say "our brains are computers".

I think this is not so far from those who (without computers) said 'what is the greatest thing we can imagine? God! Then God is our consciousness."

The attempt to place human "consciousness" on the top most peak of the hierarchy of animals is an old and ancient one and is now being dressed up in (bad) science.

How about saying that our consciousness is like a dog or woodpecker or owl or emu? Can you prove that it is not?

I am not going to attempt to debate a less-worse metaphor for some other worse-metaphor.

Metaphors about consciousness are basically the same thing as the old (unforunately also contemporary) theories of learning.

Are Theories of Learning Necessary? No.

"So then, why don't you die?"-Antisthenes
[ Parent ]

Answer my questions. (none / 0) (#76)
by alexboko on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 01:01:33 PM EST

  1. If the mind is not a pattern of neuronal and endocrine behaviors executed by the hardware of the body, then what is the mind.
  2. Do you think AI is possible or not?
  3. How much of my body can I replace with prostheses before you stop regarding me as human.



Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
Metaphors aren't the problem... (none / 0) (#89)
by cr8dle2grave on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 07:22:31 PM EST

...those who continuously mistake their finger for the moon are.

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
transfag-1sm (1.17 / 17) (#3)
by UNITE on Fri Jul 15, 2005 at 10:10:44 PM EST

 

8======A==Proud==Author==of==the==FNH==nastygram==story====D ~~~
Sorry you are very very wrong (2.90 / 10) (#7)
by 1318 on Fri Jul 15, 2005 at 11:10:54 PM EST

"Instead of harvesting the power of nature as Henry David Thoreau advocates, however, Transhumanists embrace the power of technology"

Transcendalism cannot swap out nature for technology and find itself reborn as transhumanism. Thoreau was very specifically doubtful of the technologies of his day and the attendant negative effects on people, their lives and values that such a shift becomes entirely implausible. Nay, I'd offer that it is even offensive to imply this could occur.

You rip out Thoreau's nature loving heart and push in the genetically engineered pig heart and declare Thoreau reborn as a transhumanist? No can do buddy boy.

Frankly I am at a loss to understand how you can mangle the self-controlling, independence and above all nature loving philosophy of transcendentalism with technophilia.

Technology is a juggernaut which like the train and newspaper of Thoreau's day (and the obsession with travel, news and possessions as attendant negative consequences) brings both good and evil.

You seem to simply say "no, it's all good". I am not aware of this 'transhumanism' of which you speak except that it seems to be akin to the babble that Timothy Leary espoused (consciousness expansion, life extension, blah).

It might indeed be true that there is some "deep undercurrent" between Transhumanims and Transcendentalism, but I don't find myself being able to believe this as a result of the story above.

You mention that Thoreau 'believed in the individual' and cite him talking about the individual as an equal vis-a-vis the state. Ok, that's cool. But how does transhumanism fit here?

I don't find you quoting any transhumanists with something that indicates a parallel value is being promoted. Yet since this is such a fundamental undercurrent of commonality (as you say) I'd assume such a quote would be readily handy. Where is it?

I would argue that Thoreau wasn't merely a radical individualist. Many anarchists might fit that bill, such as Max Stirner who comes to mind (the so called "right wind anarchists" as opposed to the collectivist/socialist anarchists).

Transcendentalism is not, as I understand it (and I am no authority), merely a multipurpose individualism which can piss against the tree of nature or the tree of technology and find the pisser to be none the different.

Thoreau's anti-consumerism which was not subtle and very overt ("cultivating a few yards of flesh") isn't at all addressed as a parallel in your story to transhumanism. However most technophiliacs are intensely pro-consumerism. Technology is a consumer-fetish bar none in my experience. If modern society has any word which is nearly a synonym with good it is technology almost as much as democracy and freedom.

However except for appealing to our implicit prejudices about the liberating nature of technology I think you have not made a case for such liberation. It could be, and I think it has been, argued that technology does oppress, works against democracy, and makes life worse in some cases. I would defer to Jacques Ellul's Technological Society about the intricacies of the evils of technology. It is also Ellul whom I reference in the value laden propaganda-like nature of the term technology (from his work Propaganda).

So without doing any personal exploration of Transhumanism (and I doubt I will based on the evidence before me so far) I would have to flatly reject your association with Thoreau and Transcendentalism outright.

I'll give you a +1FP for mentioning Thoreau, but I am not sure that your word salad is a meal that would sit well in his stomach.

"So then, why don't you die?"-Antisthenes

Yeah, it's a pretty radical hypothesis. [nt] (none / 0) (#10)
by mtrisk on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 12:13:55 AM EST



______
"If you don't like our country, why don't you get out?"
"What, and become a victim of your foreign policy?"
[ Parent ]
I would say "implausible" more than (none / 0) (#19)
by 1318 on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 04:23:00 AM EST

radical

"So then, why don't you die?"-Antisthenes
[ Parent ]

The most plausible fate of humanity will be... (3.00 / 2) (#90)
by alexboko on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 07:28:29 PM EST

Extinction.

Preceeded by a slow and painful descent into barbarism.

But we're hoping that if we nudge the initial conditions here and there, we might get lucky, break free of the gravity well, and set about exploring the universe. I'm sure that it won't play out anything like we're expecting, but as long something with terragens genes or memes survives someplace out there, we haven't lost the game. ;-)

The least plausible of all scenarios is one where further technological advances somehow fail to influence our culture, spirituality, and concept of self. We continue on with business as usual except maybe getting "wiser" in some sort of way that has nothing to do with technology.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

A couple possibilities (3.00 / 2) (#107)
by rusty on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 10:56:19 AM EST

I don't know if I totally buy the premise here, but your questions can be addressed. It remains up to you whether you buy it or not.

Thoreau, as you point out, was skeptical of the technologies of his day. The technologies of his day were, by and large, industrial technology. The whole point of industrial technology was to weld people into a collective system and maximize the efficiency of the whole system by systematizing each indidual's place within it. The prime metaphor for industrial technology is, of course, the assembly line. Every worker does one small task over and over with rigidly defined movements (time-motion studies...).

Industrial consumer technologies generally perform the same function, making consumers (and I use that word advisedly here) more efficient parts of a social "assembly line." You need a car to get to work. You need money to pay for your car. You go to work to make money to pay for your car. Or, for another example, you can buy a washing machine, but you can't produce the power and water it needs to function. The washing machine, or more precisely the sense of dependence on the washing machine, serves to cement you further into the social/industrial system that produces the power and water you now can't do without.

But contrast that with a different kind of technology. General-purpose computers are a hint of a technology that has very different social implications than cars and washing machines. You can't use a washing machine to design a new washing machine. But you can use a computer to design a new computer. Computers are, in a still-limited way, a productive technology. I think the direction mtrisk is going here is that if you imagine that one of the goals of transhumanism is to create a meatspace analogue to the general purpose computer, then what you're talking about is a self-reproductive form of industry.

If I had a washing machine that I could use to create new washing machines, that is a different kind of device than a washing machine that will eventually break down and require me to buy a new one. Ok, this example might not make a lot of sense, but I hope you get the general idea.

The point is that in social implications, this is a different kind of technology than Thoreau was rebelling against. Instead of locking us deeper into a system, a productive technology can help people become more self-reliant. If you accept that dependence vs. independence is a prime concern of Thoreau, then it's possible to think that he may have found a technology that promotes further independence acceptable. There just wasn't such a thing when he was writing.

This also gets at your point about anti-consumerism. If we were to take a productive technology to its logical ends, we would be talking about nanoassemblers that create "things" at the atomic level. The raw material for a nanoassembler would just be whatever. Anything that had the right kind of atoms in it somewhere would be fair game, and for most of the thing we want, that means pretty much anything. What could possibly be more anti-consumerist than a machine that could make anything? It would be the last thing you ever needed to buy. And not only that, but chances are it would be the last machine someone would ever need to buy, and that someone would probably not be you. It's a certainty that a general-purpose nanoassembler would rapidly fall into the hand of its generation's RMS, and that would be all she wrote for General Purpose Nanoassemblers Inc.

Ok. So, back to earth. Like I said, I don't have any real stake in this, and I find some of the things I said above to be highly implausible at best. But I've tried to adopt a reasonably transhumanist view and answer some of your questions.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

General Purpose Nanoassemblers Inc. (none / 0) (#110)
by wiredog on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 01:48:16 PM EST

Providing Gray Goo to the Masses Since Last Week!

Wilford Brimley scares my chickens.
Phil the Canuck

[ Parent ]
That depends. (none / 0) (#115)
by alexboko on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 09:45:48 AM EST


What could possibly be more anti-consumerist than a machine that could make anything? It would be the last thing you ever needed to buy.

That depends entirely on what kind of precedent gets set by the intellectual property fights raging right now. If the good guys lose, say hello to "trusted nanomanufacturing platforms".


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Some thoughts. (2.66 / 12) (#11)
by Kasreyn on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 12:53:03 AM EST

I think people can only be happy, healthy, and sane to the extent that we understand and accept ourselves as we *are*, not as we'd like to be. All the positive aspects of transhumanism, Christianity, and every other form of utopian religion that says we can improve ourselves seem dangerously false to me. The way I see it, Transhumanism and its ilk do more harm than good by providing pleasant illusions rather than hard truths. Call me a pessimist, but I'd rather be sane and happy as a soulless mortal ape.

Through genetic and biological engineering, they sought, and continue to seek, methods to eliminate mankind's host of health problems, from cancer to the common cold, eventually gaining immortality.

Do they also wonder why their patents on perpetual motion machines keep getting rejected?

As to democracy, I recently reread an old Isaac Asimov article, "The Modern Demonology". In it he argues that natural selection has *not* stopped working on humans just because we largely control the natural environment. The fact is that who breeds and who doesn't is now based on social concerns, and so the environment which is doing the selecting is society. And, he points out, it seems to be selecting for people who are good conformists.

For instance, diabetics survive and breed, and diabetics rely on society for insulin, therefore there's a limit to how rebellious a diabetic can be; he can't piss society off too much if he wants to go on living. Now just saying that a person with some illness can now survive and breed doesn't prove it's actually being selected *for*; time will tell about that. However, being a good conformist due to being a diabetic may also have a correlation to being a good conformist in the specific ways that reduce in increased chances of breeding, the way opposable thumbs evolved to facilitate brachiation and stuck around to grasp tools.

Another example he came up with was people with violent or criminal tendencies. Once detected, they generally have much shorter lifespans and lower chances of having any grandchildren. A murderer is an excellent example of an (extreme) nonconformist who is selected against by society. (Yes, some murderers do reproduce but, on the whole, those who are caught have fewer chances and their kids are generally raised in poorer surroundings, reducing their own chances at survival.)

If he's right, it would seem to point to exactly the opposite future of the one Transhumanists daydream of: a future where social pressure has resulted in a population that, for various medical and psychological reasons, cannot be nonconformists. I have a hard time imagining democratic traditions maintaining their vigor in a population without the inclination or capability for rebelliousness. How will anyone be able to withdraw from the government and live by a pond in a forest when we have all become utterly dependant on society for the drugs and technology that keep us "immortal"? :P Thus your very dream betrays itself and ensures the annihilation of nonconformity.

-1, poor attempt at hitching Transhumanism to Transcendentalism's coattails; +1, should be some comments I'll enjoy reading. Total: Abstain.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Interesting view of human evolution... (none / 1) (#22)
by topynate on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 01:37:30 PM EST

I hadn't heard that before. I'm not sure it's true - non-conformism has benefits too, sometimes great benefits, so there might be a continuation of a situation with some people being individualistic and most not - a dynamic equilibrium, if you like.

Assuming Asimov was right though, we're heading for a society of interdependent people. I forsee such people as being uninnovative and slow adapters who will eventually be wiped out by something they can't get their heads around. If that's the case, then some sort of radical intervention is in order - and I think accelerating progress in technology that powers and is powered by artificial intelligence improvements will do the job. Scarcity, at least in terms of what we need at the moment, will disappear, so things will be at least as good as we can imagine, on a personal level.


"...identifying authors with their works is a feckless game. Simply to go by their books, Agatha Christie is a mass murderess, while William Buckley is a practicing Christian." --Gore Vidal
[ Parent ]

this is why (3.00 / 3) (#25)
by Kasreyn on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 05:14:39 PM EST

I think the sort of reliance on technology that "transhumanists" propose would be a terrible blunder. Species that adapt too perfectly to one environmental niche are wiped out when the environment changes. Our "environment" is not only society, but technology. If something happens to wipe out that technology - like, say, a severe worldwide energy crisis or a series of natural disasters that destroy a lot of infrastructure - then we'll have no one left who has the ability to pick up and move on in an untechnological environment.

In my opinion, we are living at the apex of human history, in population and culture. Our technology may continue to improve, it's true, but I suspect individuality and nonconformity are traits that are being bred out of the species. Once that process is complete, our species will finally be more or less mature, and all our wars and self-sabotaging will end. Of course, we'll just be so many worker bees in the hive, but we'll all be happy and productive. I'm glad to be living right now, despite all the violence and madness of our species' adolescence.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
I understand your concern (none / 0) (#28)
by topynate on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 06:13:04 PM EST

but I believe technological progress should and will take a rather different turn.

Briefly, we will eventually solve our energy needs, and probably get nanotechnology that can sustain itself and interact with our biology. We will likely also get technology that can take care of itself without supervision. This changes the rules of the game somewhat, as without fragile bodies we can survive disasters and attack rather more easily, and we won't depend on other people for our continued existence.

I'm sure you've heard this tale before, but I don't see any flaws in reasoning. I forsee a future in which technology is capable of defending itself against attack (much) more readily than we are at the moment, and permits people to be truly independent of others, if they want. In fact, I think technology will cease to be seen as a tool and more as a kind of natural extension of self. Asking 'what if it's destroyed' in those circumstances is akin to asking 'what if everyone gets a disease that reduces their IQ 30 points'. Both are things to be avoided at all costs, as they reduce our humanity: and I believe that we will be more human, from our current and future perspective, in such a future.


"...identifying authors with their works is a feckless game. Simply to go by their books, Agatha Christie is a mass murderess, while William Buckley is a practicing Christian." --Gore Vidal
[ Parent ]

It remains to be seen... (none / 1) (#88)
by cr8dle2grave on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 07:16:11 PM EST

...and by "remains to be be seen" I mean that not even the most rudimentary evidence has yet been brought to bear, that those human behaviorial traits we recognize as non-conformism and individualism can be selected for in any meaningful sense. Absent some rather compelling evidence to the contrary, I'm inclined to view such behavioral traits (as is the case with behavioral traits in general) as rather more akin to the fact of speaking english than the neuro-physiological aggregate which is a necessary condition for speaking at all.

Also, would you have us believe that primitive stone age cultures were marked by a high degree of individualism and non-conformism?

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Actually, yes. (none / 0) (#96)
by Kasreyn on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 11:39:24 PM EST

They don't seem to have much in place in the way of systems that would select against or "punish" individualism, and so I think the natural tendency would be for people to behave as individualistically as they feel they can get away with without hurting their reproductive chances. Now to us it might not look like much difference whether one caveman chose to have two bones in his nose and the other only had one; what's important is there was more evolutionary pressure coming from predators and an unforgiving environment, requiring innovation and adaptability in order to survive. Those traits breed individualism. Our current situation is one in which we can control the physical environment, and so the pressure that was molding us into fire-discoverers and tool-makers is gone. Now the pressure is to fit in.

And I do believe the process I described is already at work. Look at fashion and style from the viewpoint of an alien anthropologist, ie. divested of all the assumptions that we have about them. From that perspective (imo) they would appear to be nothing but a mechanism to outwardly display one's devotion to conformity, and to make reproductive choices based thereon. Competition now isn't about who can bring the biggest mastodon haunch back to the cave, it's about who has the trendiest threads. And I'll admit that trends are often changed and mutated by the individualistic types, but they are then immediately used as conformity symbols.

This process wouldn't even be harmed if, in the future, individualism was bred out, assuming our technology level wasn't lost (maintaining is always easier than discovering). Change in fashion and style would simply slow to a stop and stasis would occur. And of course there are also fashions and styles in less obvious aspects of behavior, such as which political ideology one claims to admire, or what music one listens to, or how one speaks. All are indicators used for allocating reproductive opportunities to the conformative. Anyone who's been to an American high school understands how that mechanism works. I remain puzzled by people who think that humans actually mature mentally past the age of 15 or so. Perhaps one in ten do, if that.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Uh huh (none / 0) (#102)
by cr8dle2grave on Tue Jul 19, 2005 at 03:19:12 PM EST

...[primitive societies] don't seem to have much in place in the way of systems that would select against or "punish" individualism

Affinal kinship groupings, consanguine kinship groups, conditional boundaries between endogamous and exogamous groupings within totemic clans, segmentary lineage systems, fictive kinship groupings, incest taboos, sexual taboos, dietary taboos, the whole rich panopoly of taboos, and all other manner of documented social control mechanisms found within highly stratified "primitive" cultures, and voluminously attested to in the ethnographic literature, would seem to argue against you.

I'd recommed taking a look at The Cerebral Savage, which, even if you drop the theoretical apparatus which is used to organize the whole, has a wealth of concrete field data sufficient to disabuse you of your opinions concerning the lack of social controls in primitive cultures.

You also failed to even so much as mention my principle complaint, that there exists no reason whatsoever to consider "individualism" as a trait subject to evolutionary pressures. Further, even if it were in fact demonstrable, a specific social environment cannot have had any signifcant affect within the span of time which we are considering. In order for an environmental condition to exert selective pressures on a species, it must be stable for long enough to apply the same pressure over enough generations for an adventageous genomic mutation to progate widely within a breeding pool, but, in the case of the social environment, it is altogether too various and transient to exert that kind of pressure. Whatever the social environment selects for today, it may well self against tomorrow. Man is far more fickle than mother nature.  

---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
I'm not saying there are no controls, (none / 0) (#105)
by Kasreyn on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 01:21:41 AM EST

just that in primitive cultures, the benefit in terms of increased reproductive opportunities from being individualistic are greater than they are in our society, such that they once outweighed the penalties, which they no longer do.

For instance, whoever was individualistic enough to waste his time doodling with a muddy stick on a cave wall until he had the bright idea of having the doodles represent objects, probably had descendants who outreproduced others who didn't "waste" their time in such foolish blue-sky nonsense.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
Heh (none / 0) (#108)
by rusty on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 11:06:14 AM EST

In my opinion, we are living at the apex of human history, in population and culture.

One of the two great misconceptions that almost everyone in almost every time has been guilty of believing. The other is that we've very nearly worked out what exactly the universe is and how it all works. We just need a couple more years to work out the last niggling bugs in our theory...

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

another point (none / 1) (#36)
by insomnyuk on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 04:07:52 AM EST

It seems that people today classified as being above average in intelligence or wealth (often an indicator of intelligence) reproduce less than the unintelligent.  It seems to me that in the future, everyone will be average because all the 'smart' people weren't 'stupid' enough to have more than one child.

That whole bell curve thing will bulge even more in the middle.

I have no hard data to prove any of this, I'm just making assumptions.

Even our genes are being democratized. Baldrson will most certainly spinning in his grave (assuming transhumanism doesn't hit and make him immortal rofl!!1)

---
"There is only one honest impulse at the bottom of Puritanism, and that is the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness." - H.L. Mencken
[ Parent ]

hrm (3.00 / 2) (#60)
by trane on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 10:20:32 PM EST

The fact is that who breeds and who doesn't is now based on social concerns, and so the environment which is doing the selecting is society. And, he points out, it seems to be selecting for people who are good conformists.

Those who don't breed can pass on non-conformist memes though. Memes are ultimately more powerful than genes. For example, culture procedes by Lamarckian evolution which is much faster than Darwinian evolution. So as long as we have freedom of speech and libraries, non-conformists, even if no one will have sex with them, can continue to spread their ideas beyond their grave.

[ Parent ]

What is the point of transhumanism? (2.50 / 4) (#12)
by maniac1860 on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 01:00:37 AM EST

Seriously, I don't get it. So you like technology. That's nice. What makes your philosophy different from any other one that accepts technology?

We take it to the extreme. (none / 1) (#27)
by Fen on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 05:32:55 PM EST

Bill Gates was recently quoted as saying he never wants computers in his head. He is not a transhumanist. But he still accepts technology.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
Enlightenment + Chaos/Complexity = Transhumanism (none / 0) (#31)
by alexboko on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 08:54:13 PM EST

The title of this post pretty much summarizes it. Transhumanism is an adjustment of Englightenment ideas to take into account that, as it turns out, the universe is not deterministic, and that systems  can be emergent instead of having to have "God" or "Government" directly micromanaging them.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
now I'm confused (2.76 / 13) (#13)
by army of phred on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 01:20:43 AM EST

can I keep my nuts or not?

"Republicans are evil." lildebbie
"I have no fucking clue what I'm talking about." motormachinemercenary
"my wife is getting a blowjob" ghostoft1ber
Okay job. (3.00 / 4) (#14)
by alexboko on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 02:09:20 AM EST

Thoughtful, positive, and for once not frothing at the mouth about the "dehumanizing effects of technology". I don't know what it is about transhumanism (other than unfortunately some of us are close-minded technology-fanboy zealots reminiscent of Randroids) that freaks people out so much.

We want to live, we want to live better and longer, we want to try new things, we want to be smarter. Basic primal human desires, and we're just being honest about them unlike certain other more "mainstream" philosophies. I'm not sure I buy the Thoreau parallels, but it sure beats getting compared to the Nazis and the Eugenics movement all the time.

Thanks and good luck with the votes. I'll vote for you, but I'll be surprised if this hits 70. After all, who cares about the future of humanity when we have Karl Rove and Natalee Holloway to bang on and on about? :-/


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.

Well (none / 1) (#15)
by More Whine on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 02:12:41 AM EST

I generally agree with you here ("We want to live, we want to live better and longer, we want to try new things, we want to be smarter").

My only problem with transhumanism would be that I think the elimination of emotion is a very bad idea because a completely logical world would be wholly uninteresting to live in.  Rational thought leads to scientific progress, but irrational elements of humanity such as emotions should not be completely abandoned because they are a key element in what makes life worth living.

[ Parent ]

Nobody wants to eliminate emotion. (none / 0) (#16)
by alexboko on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 02:48:21 AM EST

I've been a transhumanist for as long as I can remember (though until 1995 I didn't know there were other people who thought the same way and that there actually was a name for what I believed silently until then). In all that time, I've never heard any transhumanist advocate eliminating emotion.

You could say that when it comes to decisions that have technical and economic consequences, transhumanists believe these decisions should be driven by logic and verifiable facts rather than by anger, fear, envy, tradition, or superstition. Isn't that what sane people in civilized societies believe most of the time anyawy?


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Temporary elimination perhaps. (none / 0) (#23)
by Fen on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 05:11:12 PM EST

I'd like to have the choice. If I'm in a situation where my survival depends on not feeling angry, I'd like to be able to turn that off completely. There could even be a situation where feeling angry is advantageous.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
maybe (3.00 / 3) (#29)
by fleece on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 07:36:54 PM EST

the first transhumanoid who has eliminated emotion will be glad to be rid of it. After all, posed with the question, "do you want to be devoid of emotion", we can only ever submit an emotional response, clouding our judgement, but what would the non-emotional response be? The real issue is, what motivates a post-emotional being. I suspect such a being would suddenly realise the futility of life. Unfortunately, it couldn't care about that, and would be just as likely to cook eggs, masturbate or commit suicide. I wouldn't like to go out and rent a DVD with this person. Nothing would appeal, and you might be stuck in the store for some time.



I feel like some drunken crazed lunatic trying to outguess a cat ~ Louis Winthorpe III
[ Parent ]
emotion? (none / 0) (#72)
by Nyarlathotep on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 10:14:54 AM EST

Your "reasons for living" is a collection of responses which kept your ancestors alive, as thats how evolution works.  A transhumance society will either continue to have "reasons for living" or it will stop.  Don't prejudge possible future "reasons for living," or replacements for human emotions.  Do insist on philosophical & emotional diversity, as that avoids evolutionary dead ends / traps.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]
Let me say hi. (none / 0) (#26)
by Fen on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 05:15:12 PM EST

I see you're working on a phd in biology. I pursued a phd in neuroscience for a bit and am doing a masters in computer engineering now. But I'm all for what you do. I am transhumanist. We are out there. Try transhumanism.org or singinst.org. You're not alone.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the kind words. (none / 1) (#30)
by alexboko on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 07:52:24 PM EST

I've met Max, Natasha, Greg, Marvin, Eric, Eliezer, David, Anders, and the whole gang on various occasions. I used to be quite active on the Extropy list and ran a list of my own in friendly "coopetition" with their list...

Lately, though, I'm too busy at the lab (and with an extracurricular project most transhumanists are too optimistic to dare think about) to participate much, but I'm glad they're out there, and I'm sure I'll be back when I have more time. ;-)


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Good stuff (none / 0) (#33)
by Fen on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 10:17:30 PM EST

Talked to Eliezer, been talking to Tyler Emerson too.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
I just hope singularity comes... (none / 0) (#40)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 06:06:39 AM EST

...before the energy bubble we've been riding for the last few centuries dries up.

;-)

And if it doesn't we're going to need to set the groundwork for getting back on the singularity critical path as soon as possible after the dust settles.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

It's important, but... (none / 0) (#43)
by Fen on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 01:18:19 PM EST

Since realizing transhumanism, I'm much less of an environmentalist. Why not use a bunch of oil to fund scientists going to work and back? The end result is so much greater. A posthuman would probably just toss the Earth into the sun or something.

Alex, why are you bothering with self-power? It's cool and all, but I see it as something to do after the singularity instead of before. When we are hyper intelligent, we'll see all sorts of ways to create power (and we'll be completely self-sufficient in every other way). Use your brain wisely!

But I see your point. We must always focus on the singularity--even if oil wars turn nuclear or something.
--Self.
[ Parent ]

Glad you asked. (none / 0) (#46)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 03:50:39 PM EST

What governs how fast technology advances?

Most people would say something like the level of existing technology and the availability of smart people in order to innovate further.

What gets overlooked, since it has been around for the duration of the current rapid growth phase, is cheap energy. When cheap energy runs out (and I'm not talking about all energy running out, just the incredibly cheap and versatile energy that exists in the form of oil), the market will adjust to it after a while... but the new equilibrium will be one where more money is spent on extracting energy from other source and therefore less money is spent on everything else, including basic research.

Technology will still progress, but slower. We may still live to see uploads and life-extension treatments, but we will be older than we're expecting.

The real disaster would be a rate of depletion that's so steep that it causes political/social upheaval. It could take decades to recover from a complete collapse, especially for the biotech and cryonics fields, for obvious reasons. If that happens, we may well all die before the advances we're waiting for come around. Including those of us who are cryonicists, because as far as I know neither Alcor nor any of the other cryonics facilities have any sort of plan in place for surviving an indefinite power outage.

So I'm putting my spare brain-cycles to work trying to increase the odds of a soft landing. By encouraging interest in decentralized power in a bottomw-up, viral sort of way.

Wishful thinking is the worst enemy of transhumanism. Again and again, I see people focus only on the rosy, interesting scenarios instead of thinking what can go wrong and how to keep it from going wrong. It's almost like a soccer team where nobody plays defense.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Some thoughts. (none / 0) (#49)
by Fen on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 05:55:13 PM EST

First, I am not a cryonics believer. Philisophically I believe in reincarnation and would see little need to freeze myself hoping people will be nice enough to wake me up. If I did, I'd just have my thalamus and frontal cortex preserved (or brain).

Brain-cycles for decntralized power are good, but I think there is alread a lot of people doing that. There is a whole lot of money going after this, while transhuman research needs people and money. I realize things can destablize transhumanism quite quickly. But there's not much I can do about it. I can vote for the appropriate candidate (could even be Republican!) but that's about it.

Everything, even Christianity for example could fall apart due to mass riots or disasters. I think we transhumanists should focus on technological progress so we get there before things go wrong with overpopulation/oil/religion/etc. I don't think the future will be all rosy. A transhuman might decide to enslave and torture everyone. But I think it is more likely that things get better for everyone.
--Self.
[ Parent ]

I'm hedging my bets. (none / 0) (#51)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 06:29:20 PM EST

I'm already pursuing a PhD in the physiology of aging, so I've got the "traditional" transhuman angle covered.

And in my spare time I'm teaching myself and other people how to build windmills and batteries. So that covers the "pessimistic" transhumanist movement of which I seem to be the sole member. :-)

Where an individual can do the most good depends on the individual. If you are very patient, persistant, and meticulous, go into scientific research. If you're impulsive, volatile, visionary, just find something that will make you rich and help the effort with your investment/donations (because impulsive/volatile/visionary people end up being very disappointed if they go into science, especially life science).

Trying to drum up popular support or lobbying the leadership is a waste of time in my opinion. The economy influences politics more than the other way around.

Brain-cycles for decntralized power are good, but I think there is alread a lot of people doing that.

Not enough, and they're not thinking about it the right way. They're trying to mass produce solar panels and windmills more cheaply. I hope it works, but if it doesn't, I want people to be able to build their own, from scrap. That way, even if it's no longer feasible to ship energy generators from their site of manufacture, and even if the companies that make them go under in the overall chaos, individuals will still be able to power their homes and businesses.

You could say I'm pursuing an opposite optimization to that pursued over the course of the last few centuries-- I'm interested in making piecemeal production as efficient as possible, instead of mass production. And as of the last time I checked, there are maybe three or four entities that are doing this, and all are on a shoestring budget.

Again, this is not instead of a more obvious transhumanist path, but in addition to it.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Hope this thread stays. (none / 0) (#63)
by Fen on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 11:30:41 PM EST

It's been very interesting. I didn't mean transhuman politics, mainly just voting for someone who will keep things running smoothly so the shit doesn't hit the fan before transhumanity kicks off.

Very interesting about scientific research. I applied to several schools for a PhD in neuroscience. Made it a few steps into the process but didn't make it into any. I realize now that that's not my thing. You shoulda talked sense into me earlier!!!

I'm going back to engineering, but I'll donate or organize if I can. There's a lot to be done with just public awareness. I'll be starting a transhumanism club at my school. Overall, I'm looking around and it looks like there's a lot to be done. We'll need guys like you in the academic system for sure to have a voice there. Keep at it. I'll have to think of a way to keep in contact.
--Self.
[ Parent ]

What school do you go to? (none / 0) (#64)
by Fen on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 11:32:45 PM EST

Maybe you'll have a contact there. You can write me at cyberthalamus@dogdeit.com as well. Spam spam spam.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
P.S. one country does control the internet. (2.60 / 5) (#17)
by Kasreyn on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 02:53:59 AM EST

That would be the United States of America, albeit farmed out to ICANN. A corporation, I might add, which has been growing less transparent to the public with each passing year.

It sure would be swell if the Internet was every libertarian's masturbation fantasy come true, but the reality is less rosy.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Luckily, that's most likely changing soon (none / 1) (#18)
by Accuracy on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 03:49:32 AM EST

Unless you consider the U.N. to be a shill for America. Their latest report on Internet governance here seems to indicate that the UN will be doing a lot more governing of the Internet...

[ Parent ]
Nitpick (3.00 / 2) (#38)
by Tragedy of the Kurons on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 04:26:09 AM EST

ICANN doesn't control the Internet. It manages the domain name system. Which is pretty minor really. If anyone can be said to control the internet it's the telcos that run the backbone routers.

"That is a mean website. Some people are just mean and rude."
[ Parent ]

Freedom and Dependency (3.00 / 6) (#20)
by mberteig on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 05:41:52 AM EST

Freedom and Dependency are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, I think that our current lack of security and peace is a direct result of many people's belief in this false dichotomy.

Freedom as applied to an individual human life is best defined by the ability to grow.  That includes making mistakes and learning from them.  Anything anti-growth is repressive.  However, as any gardener can tell you, un-guided or un-restricted growth is usually unhealthy and in the long term sub-optimal.  Both transcendentalism and transhumanism seem to neglect the problem of the feral child.

Dependency on others in society is what gives us the power to channel our growth.  We do not need to rely on ourselves for all our needs and wants.  Rather, we can rely on family, friends, neighborhood, community, government, and society at large for the vast majority of our needs, and many of our wants.

This unity in diversity and the resulting individual freedom is one of the essential powers of humanity.  We neglect it at our own peril.

One might imagine that either a return to nature or a transformation of technology might remove the dependency.  But the removal of the dependency can only be imagined in the context of the existance of that dependency.  Again, there is the problem of the feral child... or the techno-feral child.  Imagine a child brought up by technology, with technology and in isolation from "real" society.  We could imagine that the technology provides a stimulating simulation of life for the child's early years... and when does it stop and cut into reality?  Why bother?  At some point, transhumanism stops being human and starts being a being sucking at the teat of technology.  And then there is a new dependence.


Agile Advice - How and Why to Work Agile

Yet I still can't get laid. [n/t] (none / 0) (#69)
by flaw on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 06:54:20 AM EST



--
ピニス, ピニス, everyone loves ピニス!
[ Parent ]
And a salient quote... (none / 1) (#87)
by cr8dle2grave on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 06:52:10 PM EST

..or two:

Men without culture would not be the clever savages of Golding's Lord of the Flies thrown back upon the cruel wisdom of their animal instincts; nor would they be the nature's noblemen of Enlightenment primitivism or even, as classical anthropological theory would imply, intrinsically talented apes who had somehow failed to find themselves. They would be unworkable monstrosities with very few useful instincts, fewer recognizable sentiments, and no intellect: mental basket cases. As our central nervous system -- and most articularly its crowning curse and glory, the nocortex -- grew up in great part in interaction with culture, it is incapable of directing our behavior or organizing our experience without the guidance provided by systems of significant symbols. What happened to us in the Ice Age is that we were obliged to abandon the regularity and precision of detailed genetic control over our conduct for the flexibility and adaptability of a more generalized, though of course no less real, genetic control over it. To supply the additional information necessary to be able to act, we were forced, in turn, to rely more and more heavily of cultural sources -- the accumulated fund of significant symbols. Such symbols are thus not mere expressions, instrumentalities, or correlates of our biological, psychological, and social existence; they are prerequisites of it. Without men, no culture, certainly; but equally, and more significantly, without culture, no men.

Clifford Geertz - The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man(emphasis mine)

Or more briefly stated:

Like the cabbage it so much resembles, the Homo sapiens brain, having arisen within the framework of human culture, would not be viable outside of it.

Clifford Geertz - The Growth of Culture and the Evolution of Mind


---
Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera


[ Parent ]
Beat me to it (1.33 / 3) (#24)
by Fen on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 05:12:00 PM EST

I'd like to write about transhumanism. But not some compare/contrast things.
--Self.
Not all transhumanists advocate individualism. (2.50 / 2) (#32)
by alexboko on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 09:01:45 PM EST

Individualism is the majority viewpoint of the "Californian" transhumanists you mentioned, spearheaded by the Extropy Institute but there are also the "European" transhumanists who tend to be see more value in communities.

It's tempting to paint this as a simplistic left vs. right difference, but they agree with each other on more things than they disagree on, and their disagreements may evaporate altogether if and when the world does move beyond scarcity economics.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.

Left and right? (none / 0) (#34)
by Fen on Sat Jul 16, 2005 at 11:03:49 PM EST

Arguing liberal versus conservative is something like humans watching ants argue over which mound to take. Transhumanism makes the whole argument pale.
--Self.
[ Parent ]
I agree. (none / 0) (#39)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 06:04:12 AM EST

The only purpose of my original post was to point out that transhumanism wasn't inherently and inseparably tied to the supremacy of the individual over the collective. But it isn't a big point of contention either.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
I'm not convinced in eliminating all suffering (2.66 / 3) (#35)
by More Whine on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 12:06:11 AM EST

It seems to me that physical or mental suffering are both necessary and important for individuals to achieve great things.  Many of the most profound intellectual (scientific, philosophical, artistic, etc.) and physical (athletes, conquerors, explorers, etc.) achievements came about after individuals endured a great deal of suffering.  I think it is hard to separate their profound suffering from their profound achievements.

In a sense, I think that the complete elimination of all suffering will result in fewer great achievements and even more mediocrity than we currently have now.  What would the MOTIVATION of a transhumanist living a life completely devoid of mental or physical suffering be to produce great things?  There would be nothing for the transhumanist to OVERCOME.  

Plenty to overcome. (none / 1) (#48)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 04:01:07 PM EST

The biggest problem being the heat death of the universe, in addition to trillions of lesster problems.

Nor will suffering be eliminated. You can rest assured that suffering and challenges are an unavoidable byproduct of existance. There is a vast amount of hardship in the universe which becomes exponentially harder to get rid of. The purpose of life is to push the envelope as far as we can.

Otherwise, what do you propose to do? Define some arbitrary level of suffering as optimal and promptly cease technological development once this level is attained? Or what if we have already fallen below your optimal level of suffering? Do you propose to institute a regimen of torture so that we all stay on our toes?


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

No (none / 1) (#54)
by More Whine on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 06:57:08 PM EST

"Otherwise, what do you propose to do? Define some arbitrary level of suffering as optimal and promptly cease technological development once this level is attained? Or what if we have already fallen below your optimal level of suffering? Do you propose to institute a regimen of torture so that we all stay on our toes?"

No, most people can't handle much suffering.  But most people don't do anything profound or lasting, either.

My point was that the greatest achievements in the history of mankind came about after individuals endured a huge degree of suffering.  I didn't say that everybody should suffer - most people, at least in the United States, live relatively comfortable lives and choose not to suffer very much (relatively-historically speaking).  But almost all of them will never do anything that will be remembered as pivotal in the development of mankind, either.  

[ Parent ]

It's the long tail that matters. (2.00 / 2) (#55)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 07:22:47 PM EST

The majority of people in most societies throughout history, I suspect, didn't accomplish much. All it takes is a few in each generation to understand the nature of the challenges facing them and acchieve greatness in their struggle to overcome these challenges.

Even right now, in this spoiled and overfed country, some of us see crucial technical and societal challenges that nobody else cares to see. Neither the people who have harder lives than we do, nor the people who have easier lives. It's a function of intelligence, not of suffering.

In fact, from anecdotal experience, I'd say that too much suffering dulls the human spirit. How can an individual dream about great things when their more immediate Maslovian needs aren't met?

I'll play to win, and I'll let the game designer worry about game balance.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Optimal level of suffering (none / 0) (#109)
by rusty on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 11:14:19 AM EST

Otherwise, what do you propose to do? Define some arbitrary level of suffering as optimal and promptly cease technological development once this level is attained?

Interestingly, this is exactly what the Amish and Mennonites have done.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

And believe me, I respect them! (none / 0) (#114)
by alexboko on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 09:36:46 AM EST

I think there is a heck of a lot more integrity in the Amish view of technology (which, incidentally, is more nuanced than a simple rejection of tech... it's a selectivity about which tech they allow into their lives) than in our hypocricial hypocritical hand-wringing about technology run amock.

I think diversity is the key. The world would be poorer if there were no more Amish, but it would also be poorer if there was nobody pushing the technological envelope.

To artificially limit technological progress out of fear that we'll run out of challenges and our lives will become meaningless doesn't solve the problem. It just replaces the possibility of aimlessness and stagnation with the certainty of it... all while we have no evidence whatsoever that the world even can be made less challenging.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Achievements? (none / 0) (#86)
by gavri on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 05:34:44 PM EST

If we need "achievements", obviously suffering has not been completely eliminated. So, if a claim of having eliminated suffering is made, by definition, we don't need to "achieve" anything. I always get cranky when somebody comes along and says "We need suffering". Speak for yourself!

--
Blog Of A Socially Well Adjusted Human Being

[ Parent ]
i see a common theme (3.00 / 7) (#37)
by insomnyuk on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 04:25:47 AM EST

Transcendentalists, like Transhumanists, are idiots who fail when it comes to getting along with people, and so they come up with a utopianist vision for how things really should be.  But first some unsubstantiated claims you make:

Prior to the inventions of email, instant messaging, and online chat, communication between distant persons was controlled entirely by the government.

How then, do you suppose successful rebellions, resistance movements, and the like, communicated? This is a completely baseless statement and perhaps indicative of your ignorance of history and common sense.

In the modern 21st century, however, numerous Iranians have been able to publish online journals, providing people in other parts of the world a direct, unfiltered contact with these countries.

While online journaling or 'blogging' may provide an automated, democratized way of publishing, the nature of the internets and state power makes it possible for totalitarian governments to limit and control internet publication and information sharing. See: government seizures of Indymedia servers (as much as I hate indymedia, i still think it's a bad thing), China's banning of porn, publishing, and MSN searches for the word freedom.  Access can be controlled.

But transhumanism fails. I give this an article a +1 because connecting transhumanism to transcendentalism is positive in the sense that it ties another rock to the neck of transhumanism, because transcendentalism is the unfortunate intellectual grandfather of the hippy movement, it would seem. This whole 'transhumanism' theory is like anything else, promising happiness on earth, which is only a little less unreasonable than promising happiness in the afterlife. If people become 'godlike' they will only find more, different ways to treat others like shit. I fear any notion of people transcending society. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Charles Manson, and so forth, rose above the 'chains' of society (read: restraint) and look where it's gotten us. No thanks. Society is what chains people to the earth, and requires people to act civilly towards their neighbors.

I'll be sitting here calmly stockpiling weapons for when you transhumanists try to transcend my rights and exercise your superiority over us biological humans who don't meet with your high standards.

---
"There is only one honest impulse at the bottom of Puritanism, and that is the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness." - H.L. Mencken

Honest question (none / 0) (#44)
by topynate on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 02:27:12 PM EST

What sort of weapons? Non-biological humans could back themselves up, and could bide their time far longer than you, so what are your plans?


"...identifying authors with their works is a feckless game. Simply to go by their books, Agatha Christie is a mass murderess, while William Buckley is a practicing Christian." --Gore Vidal
[ Parent ]
Shh!! Don't tell him your plans! (none / 0) (#83)
by alexboko on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 03:41:58 PM EST

He's planning to be a transhuman someday, and anything you tell him now will become valuable tactical information for when it comes time to anal-probe your cattle and burn big circles in your fields. Tell him nothing!


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
Man I love you (none / 0) (#45)
by evilmeow on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 03:08:09 PM EST

This is the best shit I've read for a couple of months. Thanks, hats off to ye!
"[O]ne thing is certain: people are certifiably historically myopic"

[ Parent ]
Valid criticism but... (3.00 / 2) (#59)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 09:30:46 PM EST

What have you got to offer that's better?

Are you suggesting we leave the cities to go live in grass huts and eat only what we kill with our bare hands?

Are you suggesting we should take our orders from some kind of interventionist micromanaging diety as interpreted by the clergy?

Are you suggesting that we should instead place our faith in some kind of interventionist micromanaging government?

Are you suggesting we seek an optimal level of technology and stay at that level forever? Who gets to decide what's optimal?

Up till now I've limited myself to trying to deflate and correct the more outlandish pollyana-ism that infests the transhumanists I know... but clearly you must be on to something so much better that it makes transhumanism not even worth fixing. I'm all ears about your ideas... let's hear them.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

I think he's saying... (none / 0) (#106)
by rusty on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 10:18:22 AM EST

...that people are all stuck here together, and one of the best ways to make all of our lives better would be to learn how to get along with each other.

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Again, why is that inconsistant with transhumanism (none / 0) (#113)
by alexboko on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 09:26:29 AM EST

I would like to use technology to make myself more durable and capable. Other people are free to use or not use the available technology to any extent they like.

It's fine with me if they choose different technologies or no technological enhancement at all. What I do think is ominous is that even at this early stage I'm already hearing something like "I don't want you to be sovereign over your own body and mind because this will put you at an unfair competitive advantage with us real humans."

Is that how we're all going to get along? By forcibly keeping everyone down to the lowest common denominator?


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Get along? (none / 0) (#116)
by alexboko on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 09:50:56 AM EST

Okay, here's what the parent poster is saying...
I'll be sitting here calmly stockpiling weapons for when you transhumanists try to transcend my rights and exercise your superiority over us biological humans who don't meet with your high standards.

I'm not sure at all how that translates into...

...that people are all stuck here together, and one of the best ways to make all of our lives better would be to learn how to get along with each other.

It's hard to interpret that as anything other than blind, unreasoning, hateful, naked hostility against someone/something he doesn't understand and doesn't want to understand.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

gun reference (none / 0) (#119)
by insomnyuk on Thu Jul 28, 2005 at 03:54:14 PM EST

was intended as humor, silly... ymmv

---
"There is only one honest impulse at the bottom of Puritanism, and that is the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness." - H.L. Mencken
[ Parent ]
As everyone, especially gun owners, knows... (none / 0) (#120)
by alexboko on Thu Jul 28, 2005 at 04:41:22 PM EST

...guns are funny and silly. Only a self-important paranoid net-cult like transhumanists could possibly take the verbal threat of being shot seriously.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
why don't you grow a pair of balls? (none / 0) (#121)
by insomnyuk on Thu Jul 28, 2005 at 05:17:15 PM EST

oh, wait

---
"There is only one honest impulse at the bottom of Puritanism, and that is the impulse to punish the man with a superior capacity for happiness." - H.L. Mencken
[ Parent ]
Your eyes are closed. You aren't seeing anything. (none / 0) (#80)
by MrMikey on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 01:29:57 PM EST

Transcendentalists, like Transhumanists, are idiots who fail when it comes to getting along with people, and so they come up with a utopianist vision for how things really should be.
-1 for starting things off with an unsupported assertion with ad hominem icing. If this is representative of the intellectual and logical rigor of the rest of your comment, well...
But first some unsubstantiated claims you make:
Pot. Kettle. Black.
Prior to the inventions of email, instant messaging, and online chat, communication between distant persons was controlled entirely by the government.
How then, do you suppose successful rebellions, resistance movements, and the like, communicated? This is a completely baseless statement and perhaps indicative of your ignorance of history and common sense.
Overreact much? While it is certainly an exaggeration to say that communication was controlled entirely by the government:
  • "the government" doesn't monitor the content of every phone call or letter
  • nothing stops one by sending messages via third parties
  • so far as I know, the government doesn't monitor the content of Western Union telegrams and the like
  • even if the content of a message were monitored, nothing stops you from having an agreed-upon code... "We need milk" ==> "The Revolution begins on Thursday."
it hardly qualifes as justifying that "ignorant of history and common sense" crack.
In the modern 21st century, however, numerous Iranians have been able to publish online journals, providing people in other parts of the world a direct, unfiltered contact with these countries.
While online journaling or 'blogging' may provide an automated, democratized way of publishing, the nature of the internets and state power makes it possible for totalitarian governments to limit and control internet publication and information sharing. See: government seizures of Indymedia servers (as much as I hate indymedia, i still think it's a bad thing), China's banning of porn, publishing, and MSN searches for the word freedom. Access can be controlled.
You can make free access harder, but, if I may paraphrase, "The harder you squeeze, the more servers and proxys will slip through your fingers." It may be harder to get unfiltered access in China, but you can still do it. Personally, I think American companies should be censured for helping China censor its citizen's internet access.
But transhumanism fails.
So you assert, and then utterly fail to support.
I give this an article a +1 because connecting transhumanism to transcendentalism is positive in the sense that it ties another rock to the neck of transhumanism, because transcendentalism is the unfortunate intellectual grandfather of the hippy movement, it would seem.
And that connection is bad because... oh, because you say so! Right, what more justification do we need?
This whole 'transhumanism' theory is like anything else, promising happiness on earth, which is only a little less unreasonable than promising happiness in the afterlife.
Why is that, exactly? What, exactly, is this "transhumanism theory" you mention? Do you even k now?
If people become 'godlike' they will only find more, different ways to treat others like shit.
Maybe... got any evidence?
I fear any notion of people transcending society.
Ah, we finally come to the heart of your "argument": "It scares me, so it's shit."
Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Charles Manson, and so forth, rose above the 'chains' of society (read: restraint) and look where it's gotten us.
Yes, we all know how terrible it is to work against social restraints: why, the next thing you know, black people will be free, voting, and sharing our lunch counters! women will vote, too! Oh, the horrors of change!!
No thanks. Society is what chains people to the earth, and requires people to act civilly towards their neighbors.
Wonderful... "Chains are good!"
I'll be sitting here calmly stockpiling weapons for when you transhumanists try to transcend my rights and exercise your superiority over us biological humans who don't meet with your high standards.
And the transhumanists will just leave that sad, stupid little primate cowering in his hovel and clutching his steel codpieces, while the rest of the civilization moves on.

[ Parent ]
United we are strong (2.00 / 2) (#41)
by alba on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 08:43:01 AM EST

If everything else is equal, a coordinated group is stronger than a much larger number of idividuals.

I would like to read a piece of Science Fiction describing a world where above rule no longer applies.

What I hate is a plain, dump "vision" of such a world. Such as this article.

Ah, I finally get it. (3.00 / 2) (#62)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 11:18:58 PM EST

I keep scrolling past your comment and wondering what the heck you were trying to say.

You're basically saying that individuals are doomed to always lose when they go up against collectives because collectives are better organized.

The problem is that collectives necesserily are run by an elite (elected or appointed) that has to integrate all relevant information and choose the correct course of action based on it. In some conditions this works, in some it doesn't. Likewise, large collections of individuals are capable of exhibiting coordinated emergent behavior. Again, in some conditions and not in others.

It appears that a huge number of agents (e.g. a country) does not bode well for highly centralized collectives-- compare the wealth of market economies to that of command economies, the rate of evolution/innovation of open source versus closed source, the popularity of PHP and Perl vs ColdFusion, the adoption of the internet versus that of the proprietary Compuserve, Prodigy, and AOL networks.

But as I posted elswhere, I don't think that extreme individualism is an inseparable part of transhumanism. Some transhumanists tend toward collectives, some toward individualism. Virtually all are against coercive imposition of either approach, preferring instead to let reality decide.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

USA vs. Al Kaida (none / 0) (#81)
by alba on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 03:02:28 PM EST

A mighty empire ruled by corporatism against a bunch of highly devoted individuals. They can run, they can hide, they can blow shit up - but they certainly don't have the capacity to develop and maintain high tech.

I'm really interested in a world where a hand full people can develop technology on par with a whole civilisation. But right now I call bullshit on trans-whatever.



[ Parent ]
Article not necesserily speaking for all >H (none / 0) (#82)
by alexboko on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 03:37:45 PM EST

As I said elswhere, there is the same diversity of opinions among >H's regarding individualism vs. collectivism as there is in any other nonpartisan movement.

I don't know if I agree with the Al Quaeda example-- their technology needs are very specialized and in that area of specialty they excel. Namely, improvised munitions, booby traps, and clandestine networks.

But as far as technology that matters to us normal people is concerned, that's a question that's been bugging me for a while. The problem is that markets have a limited foresight... even when it comes to future events that are obvious to individual actors in a market. The private sector is great a R&D, but basic research just might be a possible market failure-- everyone agrees that it's important but nobody wants to bankroll it unless it can deliver a marketable product in a reasonable period of time. So governments sponsor research, and 10-50 years down the line it results in some beneficial development nobody saw coming.

This is why I keep responding to both transhumanists and their critics with: "Transhumanism is the same thing as blind individualism".


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

I meant, NOT the same thing as blind individualism (none / 0) (#93)
by alexboko on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 07:56:46 PM EST

D'oh!!


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
I did not read this article (1.06 / 16) (#42)
by Jason The Raging Alcoholic Physicist on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 01:02:38 PM EST

And furthermore, this subject matter bores me to tears.

Let's examine that. (3.00 / 4) (#47)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 03:54:53 PM EST

What about the subject managed to bore you and yet motivate you to bother saying so?


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
I enjoyed this article immensely n/t (1.40 / 5) (#61)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Sun Jul 17, 2005 at 10:25:06 PM EST



I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
The truely enlightened (none / 1) (#66)
by IceTitan on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 02:48:29 AM EST

concern themselves not with such things.
Nuke 'em from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
Yeah, sort of like... (none / 0) (#97)
by alexboko on Tue Jul 19, 2005 at 06:23:14 AM EST

...the truly enlightened spent centuries arguing over whether matter was infinitely divisible or not, without coming to any conclusion. Then physics matured enough to answer the question and did so.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
I don't think the truly enlightened... (none / 0) (#103)
by kick out the yams on Tue Jul 19, 2005 at 08:46:31 PM EST

...would ask questions about the material world.

[ Parent ]
So you're saying the truly enlightened... (none / 0) (#104)
by alexboko on Tue Jul 19, 2005 at 08:49:34 PM EST

...are a bunch of navel-gazing slackers?

I don't know about this enlightenment thing anymore... it just ain't what it used to be in the 1700's.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Technology versus Spirituality (none / 0) (#68)
by ljj on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 04:50:57 AM EST

I buy into the idea of transcendentalism. I believe its a spiritual path. Transhumanism also buys into transcendentalism but they choose a technological path.

I do find the alternative technology that you propose an interesting diversion. But then I think that the internet is just a physical embodiment of what we've been trying to do spiritually for so long - connecting with each other.

Made me think. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

--
ljj

-1 Fen has no balls. (1.33 / 3) (#71)
by Nosf3ratu on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 08:21:52 AM EST

enti.


Woo!
transhumanism (none / 0) (#73)
by Nyarlathotep on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 11:08:23 AM EST

I've never understood why Transhumanism had to be about living forever or making everyone happy.  It seems far simpler to me:

Many people say technology is neither good nor evil, but they are wrong, technology defines long term good, i.e. a higher sustainable rate of technological progress is the only inherent good.

Its just the evolutionary solution to the is-ought problem: a society whose memes produce faster technological evolution is going to win eventually, and the winner defines good in hindsight.  

Why waist resources making everyone happy?  Sure, feed them, clothe them.  But also engineer them to feel pain when not intellectually challenged.  Oh, if your sitting on your arse waiting for the singularity / rapture, then you memes are not all that helpful.. go learn about something real.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!

Not everyone being happy per se... (none / 0) (#79)
by alexboko on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 01:20:02 PM EST

Not everyone being happy... that would be as, um, inhuman as causing everyone to feel pain when they're not thinking (can you even imagine how much all our lives would suck when that happened?). Just giving everyone the opportunity to pursue happiness or whatever it is they want to pursue as long as it doesn't infringe one other people's rights (and yes, there will be debates on what that means like there are now).

But I would actively oppose any movement claiming to know what's best for everyone or coming out in favor of oppression... because how do I really know that I won't eventually have a different opinion from them regarding what's best for me, or that I won't eventually be targetted for oppression myself. No, it's safer for everyone to have equal opportunities and rights, no matter how stupid their use thereof might seem to you.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Transhuman = inhuman. (none / 0) (#75)
by Remus Shepherd on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 12:32:50 PM EST

I consider both trancendentalism and transhumanism to be interesting, if not practical, philosophies by which to run one's life.

But Transhumanism bothers me.  I think that's because of its ultimate goal.  Transcendentalists eventually live a solitary and asocial life, but at least a human one.  Transhumanists, if they achieve their goals, will no longer be human.  And not just physically -- they'll be giving up or altering their emotional, psychological, and spiritual lives.  They may learn new emotions, psychologies, and spirituality.  But I think it's a shame to just discard so many of the more wonderful aspects of being human.

...
Remus Shepherd <remus@panix.com>
Creator and holder of many Indefensible Positions.

Human? (1.50 / 1) (#78)
by alexboko on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 01:13:55 PM EST

Okay, you "transhumanists are inhuman" folks who keep ignoring each other's posts and my answers to them, I have something for you to read.

From Distress by Greg Egan, Harper 1995


He tipped his head and looked at me slyly. "You really can't guess? Here's a clue, then. What's the most intellectually lazy way you can think of, to try to win an argument?"

"You're going to have to spell it out for me. I'm no good at riddles."

"You say that your opponent lacks humanity."

I'd fallen silent, suddenly ashamed - or at least embarrassed - wondering just how deeply I'd offended him with some of the things I'd said the day before. The trouble with meeting people again after interviewing them was that they often spent the intervening time thinking through the whole conversation, in minute detail-and concluding that they'd come out badly.

Rourke said, "It's the oldest semantic weapon there is. Think of all the categories of people who've been classified as non-human, in various cultures, at various times. People from other tribes. People with other skin colors. Slaves. Women. The mentally ill. The deaf. Homosexuals. Jews. Bosnians, Croats, Serbs, Armenians, Kurds-"

I said defensively, "Don't you think there's a slight difference between putting someone in a gas chamber, and using the phrase rhetorically?"

"Of course. But suppose you accuse me of 'lacking humanity.' What does that actually mean? What am I likely to have done? Murdered someone in cold blood? Drowned a puppy? Eaten meat? Failed to be moved by Beethoven's Fifth? Or just failed to have-or to seek-an emotional life identical to your own in every respect? Failed to share all your values and aspirations?"

I hadn't replied. Cyclists whirred by in the dark jungle behind me; it had begun to rain, but the canopy protected us.

Rourke continued cheerfully. "The answer is: 'any one of the above.' Which is why it's so fucking lazy. Questioning someone's 'humanity' puts them in the company of serial killers-which saves you the trouble of having to say anything intelligent about their views. And it lays claim to some vast imaginary consensus, an outraged majority standing behind you, backing you up all the way."

Okay, so that's too long for you to be arsed to read. Fine, here's the lazy version: "Who died and left you in charge of deciding whether I'm human or not?"


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.

The story that just won't die. (none / 0) (#84)
by alexboko on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 03:58:50 PM EST

I guess it's mostly us evil people left on here by now. Well, evil people, and intelligent good people  like 1318.

So let's talk about how to rework this story and resubmit it. We learned something very valuable from the comments so far:

  1. Tenuous logic on our part will get us incinerated.
  2. We need to be very clear that we're not against emotions, cute little bunny rabbits, and babies. More personal experience, hopes and dreams, less "We are Borg".
  3. We need to be more realistic about the short-term limitations of technology and steer clear of techno fanboyism.
  4. Pretending that >H has an unambiguous stand in the fundamental (and possibly irresolvable) individualism vs. collectivism debate will earn us enemies but no new friends.
  5. People don't like "isms" except when its a handy label for something they already understand and accept. Most of the readers have never heard about transhumanism, and so their initial reaction is healthy skepticism-- WTF is this new thing? Are you people like the Scientologists or something?
I also think that though >H has parallels to transcendentalism, the parallels and indeed historical connection are even stronger to good old Age of Reason and Enlightenment thinking. Scroll down a bit and read my post entitled "Enlightenment + Chaos/Complexity = Transhumanism".

Actually, better yet, try "Enlightenment meets Postmodernism: Transhumanism".

Transhumanism, once someone understands it and gets past the initial hype-filters that intelligent people have and should have, is actually the ultimate geek ideology. It's hypocritical for someone whose work and hobbies revolve around technology to believe in deep environmentalism or some kind of literal reading of spiritual texts... but transhumanism shouldn't evoke any cognitive dissonance whatsoever.

If we fail to get this accross, we have a bug in our communication stack and we need to patch it.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.

I understand (none / 0) (#85)
by mtrisk on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 04:38:38 PM EST

But I'm definitely done with writing articles on transhumanism. Maybe you could explain it better?

______
"If you don't like our country, why don't you get out?"
"What, and become a victim of your foreign policy?"
[ Parent ]
Joining late... (none / 0) (#95)
by jclindsay on Mon Jul 18, 2005 at 10:13:32 PM EST

...but nonetheless interested in continuing.

As I understand it, transhumanism is defined as furthering a person's ability to achieve arbitrary goals to the point where that person is no longer dependent upon any external influence.

I was a bit disappointed by the discussion from the first few comment threads. I think what is needed is emphasis on technology as the means of achieving this state, but not purely for the sake of technological advance. It is the ideal of an individual living free of dependency, which is the part that seems very much in line with Thoreau's thinking. Technology is merely the fastest available path.

Furthermore, it is not commercial or industrial technology but medicinal and biological technology (and nanotechnology) that is the focus. I think where people like 1318 become dissuaded is the confusion around "technology". An iPod, while cool, is not a step towards transhumanism.

I think another area where the audience is lost is that perhaps not everyone is ready to envision a life outside society. Specifically, that given the ability to live indefinitely and do as one pleases - what would one do? What purpose would supplant societal impulses for survival and improved independence?

There is also the idea that lack of need for government or religion might equate to a lack of need for family, community, and other societal groups. This may be intimidating for someone who defines themselves in terms of their societal relationships. I agree with alex - stress the positive benefits of having a few billion other self-aware, unique individuals with plenty of free time :)

On the whole though, I enjoyed the article and the discussion so far.

[ Parent ]

Nice job denigrating emotions (none / 0) (#111)
by More Whine on Thu Jul 21, 2005 at 05:58:13 PM EST

You act as if emotions are a peripheral human experience rather than an essential aspect of what it means to be human.  

This sentence is what I'm talking about "We need to be very clear that we're not against emotions, cute little bunny rabbits, and babies."

You're telling me that isn't condescending towards emotion?

[ Parent ]

What I mean is... (3.00 / 2) (#112)
by alexboko on Fri Jul 22, 2005 at 09:16:02 AM EST

It's completely beside the point. Transhumanism is no more pro- or anti-emotion than environmentalism, libertarianism, hacktivism, or anything else you can slap an ism onto. I'm surprised nobody has yet questioned our commitment to breathing or having a pulse.

But there are people who assume that logic is the opposite of emotion (thanks, Mr. Spock!) and anytime you say something about the importance of logic they chime in with "we don't want to give up our emotions".

If I felt the existance of emotions were in some way being threatened, I'd say something about that. But the truth is, emotions live in the reptilian part of our brain that has been around a lot longer than the higher reasoning faculties. Emotions are easy, and come naturally to us. Reasoning takes effort and discipline.

So I apologize if I'm feeling somewhat frustrated at being persistantly misunderstood and that shows through in my tone.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Actually... (none / 1) (#117)
by Bridge Troll on Sat Jul 23, 2005 at 05:54:30 PM EST

Emotions don't live in the reptilian brain, they live in the mammalian brain.


And besides, pounding your meat with a club is a very satisfying thing to do :) -- Sleepy
[ Parent ]
Where they live. (none / 1) (#118)
by alexboko on Sun Jul 24, 2005 at 07:59:54 PM EST

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on troll neurology. For all I know, the main emotion trolls have (an all-consuming urge to troll) might live in a ganglion at the base of their spines and the entire  anterior brain-like structure is just a decoy.


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]
Two questions are burning my lips (none / 0) (#100)
by bob6 on Tue Jul 19, 2005 at 07:08:45 AM EST

improvement to the human condition through enhancement technologies, such as eliminating aging and expanding intellectual, physical or physiological capacities.
How is it different from cyborgs (Haraway sense)?

They argue that every effort must be made to advance scientific progress until human beings, harvesting technology, are no longer reliant upon anybody else.
It strikes me that this is in contradiction with the fact that relying in technology and science is a vow of confidence and dependence. How transhumanists contend with that?

Cheers.
Re: Two questions. (none / 0) (#101)
by alexboko on Tue Jul 19, 2005 at 11:43:38 AM EST


How is it different from cyborgs (Haraway sense)?

It's not. Haraway is part of the same school of thought. Though honestly, my ADD kicks in every time I try reading her Cyborg Manifesto. I really ought to someday. I will probably already know what it's going to say, probably will agree with half of it, and probably will be embarassed by the other half. But I should read it. It's like Hitchhiker's Guide or War and Peace or something... required reading.


It strikes me that this is in contradiction with the fact that relying in technology and science is a vow of confidence and dependence. How transhumanists contend with that?

Me too. For a pro-interdependency yet very transhumanist counterpoint, read Dreams of Autarky by Robin Hanson. A snappier read than the Cyborg Manifesto. What I like about him is that he's an economist, so his essays contain few or none of the cyber-unicorns and nano-faeries you might be starting to expect from us by now. ;-)

That deja-vu feeling I get as I write this second part makes me wonder if K5 comments are a write-only medium... like Windows Backup Wizard, Perl, and poetry journals... oh well, why stop now?


Godwin's Law of video games: if a company is out of ideas for a long enough period, they will eventually publish another World War II shooter.
[ Parent ]

Transhumanism & The Modern Day Transcendentalists | 121 comments (115 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:

kuro5hin.org

[XML]
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!