Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement

Merry Christmas, Transhumanists!

Today, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, recognized among Christians as Christ, as messiah and savior. I join in the celebration and recognition not because I consider Jesus to be the only savior, but rather because I consider him to be the best example of characteristics that, as we work to incorporate them into ourselves, will lead us beyond sin and death. This is a perspective I have inherited from early Mormons:



"We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude as to the answer of this question there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this that he is the prototype or standard of salvation, or in other words, that he is a saved being." (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Seventh 7: 9)


Jesus showed us the way beyond sin, summarizing morality as love rather than dogmatic adherence to law. He asked us to show our love for him by doing his will, but only after repeatedly inviting us to express our will to him so that he might do it. He sought the one lost sheep, welcomed home the rebellious son, and protected the promiscuous woman. His anger was reserved for those who would use law to oppress. He persuaded me that we can overcome sin through forgiveness. No magic required. Simple forgiveness, persistently applied, produces eternal atonement.


While his bloody cross illustrates the way beyond sin, Jesus' empty tomb inspires us with anticipation of overcoming death. Ideas of immortality were not introduced by early Christians, but Christians reinforced such ideas in the hearts and minds of countless persons across two millennia. Today, primed by these ideas, we have come within reach of radical biological life extension, and are beginning to imagine mechanisms for yet greater fulfillment of the hope aroused in us by Jesus' empty tomb.


I celebrate the birth of Jesus as the birth of Christ, in whom we as one may overcome sin and death. Merry Christmas, Transhumanists!

Appeals to Absurdity and Ecclesiastical Authority Do Not Refute Biological Evolution

These days, if you ask a university-educated faithful Mormon whether she believes God may have used biological evolution as a mechanism in the creation of humanity, you have (estimating roughly from my experience) about a 50/50 chance of receiving a response in the affirmative.

Some Mormons are particularly supportive of incorporating biological evolution into our understanding of human origins. While the Mormon Transhumanist Association has no official stance on biological evolution, I know of no member that rejects it and many that consider it inspiring. "Mormons and Evolution: A Quest for Reconciliation", although not updated recently, is a good resource from Mormons that favor biological evolution.

On the other hand, some Mormons are particularly antagonistic to biological evolution. For example, in the January 2008 Ensign (a monthly magazine published by the LDS Church), Elder Douglas L Callister of the Quorum of Seventy suggests, in an article entitled "Our God Truly Is God", that it would be absurd to think that biological evolution could result in the complexity we observe in the human body.

Consequent to Elder Callister's article, a Mormon blogger, R Gary at "No Death Before the Fall", commented that ". . . the important thing is that Elder Callister obviously believes it is absurd to think that the eye could have been formed by natural selection. Furthermore, Church Correlation and the Ensign editorial staff found Elder Callister's views acceptable for publication." The implication, here, is that appeals to absurdity and ecclesiastical authority should factor into our perspective on biological evolution.

However, appeals to absurdity should not factor into our perspective on biological evolution, or anything else. From a logical perspective, X can be true regardless of whether someone tells you that X is absurd. From a practical perspective, there are innumerable historical examples of appeals to absurdity, even from respected authorities, regarding matters that are no longer controversial.

Moreover, appeals to ecclesiastical authority should not factor into our perspective on biological evolution, even if we are faithful members of the LDS Church. Church leaders are, for the most part, not experts in the mechanisms of creation. Furthermore, their calling is not to receive inspiration regarding the mechanisms of creation, but rather to receive inspiration regarding the governance of the Church. You and I, particularly if we're doing the hard work of biological science, have as much or more right to inspiration regarding the mechanisms of creation as do ecclesiastical leaders. Indeed, as Joseph put it, ". . . not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times." (D&C 128: 18)

Faithless Science is Manifestly Bogus

. . . so claims Paul Davies in a New York Times editorial, entitled "Taking Science on Faith". He rightly points out that science relies (faithfully) on premises such as uniformity, and touches on some influence Christian theology has had on the development of the scientific method. At the end of the article, he suggests that science will continue to rely on faith until it can find system-internal explanations for physical laws. Maybe, but that implies a sort of universe that is far less appealing to the human spirit (at least to THIS human spirit) than one so vast as to require nothing short of eternal faith from those who would discover and create a multiverse of endless possibilities.

Faith is a tool, a muscle, even a primal technology, which we use in pursuit of knowledge -- not instead of or at the expense of knowledge. Those who would situate faith in competition with knowledge or reason are using "faith" to mean something like "willful ignorance" or "superstition" or "anti-rationality", none of which are faith. Faith is the will to discover and create. It is the will go beyond what we already know. It is essential to attaining new knowledge. Without it, there is no progress and no scientific method. Indeed, we take science on faith, and we attain it on faith, as we take and attain all knowledge on faith. Where absolute knowledge is impossible, faith is essential to whatever knowledge IS possible.

Yes: Mormons ARE Cool

Erik Davis, a Transhumanist and author of Techgnosis (available in the "Transhumanism" section of our book store), writes that "Mormons are cool", for at least the following reasons:
1) "The temples are totally great looking." Yes. They are beautiful. The LDS Church publishes a site with pictures of and information about all its temples.
2) "Harold Bloom digs the Mormons." True. In fact, Harold Bloom wrote a great article about Joseph Smith in the same issue of Sunstone magazine that featured the article about Mormon Transhumanism.
3) "Joseph Smith was into esoterica." Indeed, he was. You can learn more about this in Michael Quinn's book, "Early Mormonism and the Magic World View" (also available in the "Mormonism" section of our book store).
4) "Ex Mormons are fun." Yeah. I have friends that are former Mormons. They're fun . . . to harass. ;-) If you're interested in interacting with former Mormons, check out the PostMormon site.
5) "Mormons do not hate polyamory." This is an over-generalization, but there is some truth to it. While some Mormons actually DO hate plural marriage, others either are indifferent regarding it or actually anticipate its mainstream recurrence in the future. Personally, I think historic implementations of plural marriage were often oppressive to women, but do not think egalitarian implementations among consenting and committed adults should be illegal. Note, of course, that the LDS Church has not practiced plural marriage since a century ago, and actually excommunicates any members that engage in it.
6) "Baptizing the dead is absolutely astonishing." I think "inspiring" would be a better word. In any case, we do perform ordinances (not exclusive to baptisms) for dead persons. Of course, they are done by proxy, there are no dead bodies involved, and no dimly-lit rooms or haunted chanting. Among the reasons I find this practice inspiring is that it changes the living in uniquely beneficial ways. We become accustomed to the idea that there should be no end to the work of reconciliation between us and persons of other faiths; it should not be bounded by death or anything else. We are also trained to concern ourselves with our ancestors, from whose lives we may learn valuable lessons, and who (as my faith goes) we may someday bring back to life by leveraging all our fancy neohuman technology.
7) "Mormons love genealogical data." Yes. We do. This is related to the previous point. You can find out more about this work at the FamilySearch web site, published by the LDS Church. If you're interested in learning what your DNA can tell you about your own genealogy, check out the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, which was instituted by and named after James Sorenson -- yep, he's a Mormon.
8) "There is no Mormon hell." Well, we do refer to "hell", but generally think of it as a state of being, rather than a particular place. We also sometimes talk about a place called "outer darkness", but nobody is sent there; rather, it may be understood as something like a state of annihilation for those who desire (despite our efforts) not to live, physically or spiritually. Everyone else lives in worlds of varying glory, enjoying "that which they are willing to receive", as Joseph Smith put it.
9) "Mormons are Christian materialists." Right. And this means that we do not believe in immaterial spirits or immaterial gods. So far as we're concerned, God has a physical body, and all spirit is matter. This situates Mormon cosmology well within the bounds of scientific investigation. Do we propose evidence for physical gods and spirits? Well, that depends on the Mormon you talk to, and the definitions of "spirit" and "god" that you are willing to entertain. Personally, I think of spirits as patterns in energy, which emerge into and recede from our mortal bodies, and I think of God much like a secular Transhumanist might think of a neohuman world simulator.
10) "Mormons are very SciFi." Yeah! Check out at Adherents.com the number of Mormon science fiction authors compared to the number of authors of other faiths -- and remember that there are far fewer of us.
11) "Mormons invented Battlestar Galactica." Yep. See the previous point.
To conclude, I agree, of course, that Mormons are cool. But I would add at least one more reason:
12) Some of us are Transhumanists! That's worth noting.

Check Out these Visions of the Future

The BBC recently featured a three-part series on "Visions of the Future". The first of the three, "The Intelligence Revolution", discusses the present and future of information technology: computers, networks, simulations, robotics and biological integration. The second, "The Biotech Revolution", discusses the emerging power of biological technology: genetics, life extension, cloning, enhancement and evolutionary control. And the third, "The Quantum Revolution", discusses advances in miniaturization technology: metamaterials, molecular assemblers, and related topics. Michio Kaku hosts the series.


The first two parts of the series, now available on Google video, are embedded in this post.




The third part should be available soon, at the following URL:


http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=%22Visions+of+the+Future%22+%22Quantum+Revolution%22&sitesearch=

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on Reconciling Faith



I recently watched videos of speeches given by United States presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on the subject of reconciling faith and politics. Each speech, for a different reason, reminded me of the challenging (and rewarding) situation faced by the Mormon Transhumanist Association. Like Romney, we are Mormons. For that reason alone, some think Romney unqualified to be President of the United States, and some think us unqualified to be advocates of Transhumanism. Like that of Obama, our faith is regarded with skepticism or hostility by some religious conservatives.

Death Is Neither Inevitable Nor Good



In discussions with friends recently, the subject of death came up and comments were made about it being inevitable and that we should accept that inevitability as something good. I responded that, depending on your definition of "death", trends suggest that it is not inevitable for some of us. Death as we know it may, in the near future, be replaced with something like that described in Mormon scripture:

Top 12 Areas for Technology Innovation through 2025

ChangeWaves has published a list of the top 12 areas for technology innovation through 2025, reflecting observations and predictions from their panel of futurists. Although apparently not a Transhumanist organization, their list corresponds well with the sort of near-term future anticipated by many Transhumanists: a biotech revolution within the next decade, followed by a nanotech revolution within a couple decades. Here it comes!

Mormons ask, "What if we didn't die from old age?"

Today at the Mormon blog, New Cool Thang, one of the contributors asked, "What if we didn't die from old age?" As part of his thoughts in response to his own question, he linked to a video of Aubrey de Grey. Subsequently, he and others made various comments about death and its perceived value. I posted some comments in response, which I now post below for additional readers.

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"God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit . . . that has not been revealed since the world was until now; Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory; A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest . . . if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars . . . all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times - According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest." (D&C 121)

Joseph was prophetic. With our new knowledge, we now navigate depths of the sea that sunlight does not reach and rocket through the sky at speeds greater than that of sound. Computers that once filled entire warehouses now fit in the palms of our hands. We've used them to form the Internet and map the human genome. We've visited the Moon, our robots are scouting Mars, and private reusable spacecraft are preparing the way for space tourism. We've demonstrated the feasibility of what Harry Potter might call "invisibility", "levitation" and "telepathy". Trends of exponential advance in biological, miniaturization and information technology suggest increasingly transformative revolutions in the near future. We read of skin cells converted to stem cells for curing diverse human frailties. We hear of research toward indefinite life extension.

Wonder. Here we are, in the dispensation of the fullness of times, as Joseph called it. Where is it going? What is on the other side of the risks? What kind of world are we, with God, creating? Joseph shared other thoughts about the future:


"For the great Millennium, of which I have spoken by the mouth of my servants, shall come. For Satan shall be bound, and when he is loosed again he shall only reign for a little season, and then cometh the end of the earth. And he that liveth in righteousness shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and the earth shall pass away so as by fire." (D&C 43)

"And in that day the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts, yea, the enmity of all flesh, shall cease from before my face. And in that day whatsoever any man shall ask, it shall be given unto him. And in that day Satan shall not have power to tempt any man. And there shall be no sorrow because there is no death. In that day an infant shall not die until he is old; and his life shall be as the age of a tree; And when he dies he shall not sleep, that is to say in the earth, but shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and shall be caught up, and his rest shall be glorious. Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things - Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof - Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven." (D&C 101)

"Nevertheless, he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come; When the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received." (D&C 63)

Do we believe Joseph will prove prophetic again? Do we believe in a world of harmony between humans and other animals? Do we believe superabundance and new knowledge possible? Do we believe in a world without death, where we are transfigured to immortality at the end of a long healthy life? And, if so, do we believe we have anything to do with the work required to make this all happen?


"Prepare to die, is not the exhortation in this Church and Kingdom; but prepare to live is the word with us, and improve all we can in the life hereafter, wherein we may enjoy a more exalted condition of intelligence, wisdom, light, knowledge, power, glory, and exaltation. Then let us seek to extend the present life to the uttermost, by observing every law of health, and by properly balancing labor, study, rest, and recreation, and thus prepare for a better life. Let us teach these principles to our children, that, in the morning of their days, they may be taught to lay the foundation of health and strength and constitution and power of life in their bodies." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11: 132)

"You may now be inclined to say, 'We wish to hear the mysteries of the kingdoms of the Gods who have existed from eternity, and of all the kingdoms in which they will dwell; we desire to have these things portrayed to our understandings.' Allow me to inform you that you are in the midst of it all now, that you are in just as good a kingdom as you will ever attain to, from now to all eternity, unless you make it yourselves by the grace of God, by the will of God, which is a code of laws perfectly calculated to govern and control eternal matter." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3: 336)

If Brigham is right, and we want to live in the sort of Millennial world Joseph described, we have work to do. Moreover, if we see, as Nephi describes it in the Book of Mormon, that death is an awful monster, we have a duty that is well articulated by Captain Moroni:


"And now, my beloved brethren - for ye ought to be beloved; yea, and ye ought to have stirred yourselves more diligently for the welfare and the freedom of this people; but behold, ye have neglected them insomuch that the blood of thousands shall come upon your heads for vengeance; yea, for known unto God were all their cries, and all their sufferings - Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain. Do ye suppose that, because so many of your brethren have been killed it is because of their wickedness? I say unto you, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain; for I say unto you, there are many who have fallen by the sword; and behold it is to your condemnation; For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God. And now behold, I say unto you, I fear exceedingly that the judgments of God will come upon this people, because of their exceeding slothfulness, yea, even the slothfulness of our government, and their exceedingly great neglect towards their brethren, yea, towards those who have been slain . . . Have ye forgotten the commandments of the Lord your God? Yea, have ye forgotten the captivity of our fathers? Have ye forgotten the many times we have been delivered out of the hands of our enemies? Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us? Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness, while there are thousands round about in the borders of the land who are falling by the sword, yea, wounded and bleeding? Do ye suppose that God will look upon you as guiltless while ye sit still and behold these things? Behold I say unto you, Nay. Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also."

I imagine Nephi would invite us to liken that scripture to us. 100,000 of us are dying of age-related causes each day, and untold billions of our brothers and sisters are dead and separated from their bodies -- "For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage" (D&C 138). Aubrey de Grey and others, as if prophetic, are proclaiming a hearty and working faith toward life. I'm with them. That's where I feel the spirit of God. That's where I see the Christ and saviours on Mount Zion.

Skin Cells become Stem Cells

Big news today from biotech scientists: researchers have successfully converted human skin cells into stem cells, which can be used to produce almost any other type of cell and thereby fix numerous problems in the human body. You can read more here:

http://www.wired.com/medtech/stemcells/news/2007/11/skin_cell

This advance is particularly important because it should help resolve the ethical controversy that has been raging around the use of embryonic stem cells. With fewer antagonists, hopefully financing will improve, thereby accelerating development and adoption of technologies that leverage this knowledge.

In Ray Kurzweil's book, The Singularity is Near (available in the MTA book store), he predicted based on current trends that a biotech revolution would occur within the next decade. Today's announcement is an important step toward facilitating that revolution.

Thoughts on God's Relationship with Mind Uploading



Today at the "By Common Consent" blog, participants were polled in response to the MTA article in Sunstone magazine. The poll question was: "If humans developed the technology to download their 'minds' to a computer and live forever as part of a machine, God would intervene to stop it?" As of the time of this post, an overwhelming 92% of the 165 respondents (mostly Mormons) voted "No".

Response to the "Mormon Transhumanist Problem"

I recently responded to a Mormon blogger, Jettboy, who expressed concerns with Mormon Transhumanism. I'm going to post my response here, too, for additional readers.

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Jettboy, I'm happy that you consider the intent of the Mormon Transhumanist Association to be noble, even though you have concerns with its theological grounds. I'll try to address the concerns you've mentioned here, and hope you'll express any others you may have, or that may arise from my response, so that we will improve understanding.

I agree, as you've stated, that faith in Christ is essential to the Mormon understanding of salvation. You rightly point out that Christ is at the center of the teachings of the Book of Mormon, and emphasis on Christ has redoubled in modern teachings of the LDS Church.

I'm sure you'll agree, however, that faith in Christ, for Mormons in particular, is not passive. Rather, faith in Christ, ideally, is active and practical. Mormons have long emphasized an understanding of faith exemplified by the teachings of James in the New Testament, wherein he argues that real faith is manifest in works. It is not helpful to tell the naked and hungry to be warmed and filled; rather, we must actually give them that which they need. It is not enough to speak the words of prophecy that all shall hear the gospel of Christ, and we do not wait for Jesus to fulfill the prophecy; rather, we go out into all the world to proclaim that gospel. Moreover, it is not enough to claim we are disciples of Christ; rather, as expressed by Elder Jeffrey R Holland in a recent LDS Church general conference, we should in as many ways as possible try to take on us the identity of Christ. You are called, as each of us are, to have Christ in you, as expressed by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. With Paul, we are called to fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in our flesh, that we may be joint heirs in the glory of God. In this calling, we are to become, as Joseph Smith taught, the saviors of men.

For members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, faith in Christ moves us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, share the Gospel, and engage in good causes without being commanded. It also moves us to seek to leverage all the means, including modern science and technology, with which God has inspired and endowed us to forward his work and glory.

You point out, accurately, that the scriptures don't mention modern technology when addressing topics such as transfiguration and resurrection. Instead, the scriptures generally address such topics in simple and almost magical terms. I value such passages of scripture for many reasons, not the least of which is their ability to inspire us and provide hope.

That said, we have substantial reason to believe that the scriptures are not the last word on the technicalities of transfiguration or resurrection. As they don't mention (at least not explicitly) future technologies related to transfiguration or resurrection, they likewise don't mention contemporary technologies (again, at least not explicitly) like airplanes or computers. However, they certainly do contain passages intended to prepare our minds for new knowledge and accompanying power in the future. For example, here is one of my favorite scripture passages, from Joseph Smith:


Doctrine and Covenants 121
26 God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now;
27 Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory;
28 A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.
29 All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
30 And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars—
31 All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times—
32 According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest.
33 How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.

Each time I read this passage, I feel the words like lightning running through my body. It's the sort of experience that moves us, in the Mormon tradition, to boldly proclaim of truth. Likewise, I feel that spirit as I read of other teachings from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, calling to mind processes by which our immortality can be realized:


"Now the doctrine of translation is a power which belongs to this Priesthood. There are many things which belong to the powers of the Priesthood and the keys thereof, that have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world; they are hid from the wise and prudent to be revealed in the last times. Many have supposed that the doctrine of translation was a doctrine whereby men were taken immediately into the presence of God, and into an eternal fullness, but his is a mistaken idea. Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for such characters He held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets, and who as yet have not entered into so great a fullness as those who are resurrected from the dead." (Joseph Smith, Teachings 170)

"I have friends on the earth, for God would raise them up for me to do my work. That is not all; by and by the Lord will say to the sleeping dust, awake and come forth out of your graves. I am on hand; the Lord wakes me up or sends somebody to do it that possesses the keys of the resurrection. My dust is waked up; my spirit is re-united to it, and it is made a celestial body filled with immortality and eternal life." (Brigham Young, Addresses 2: 100)

At the end of your post, you mention two critiques that I would like to address. First, you state that the scriptures portray the enhancement of the human body as something instantaneous, in contrast to your view of slow biotechnological enhancement. Second, you state that Joseph Smith's teachings of eternal progression should be understood to be about inner spiritual development rather than outer physical development.

Regarding the first critique, I contend that the scriptures actually do portray enhancement of the human body as something progressive, although with moments of dramatic (but not necessarily final) change. For example, the Book of Mormon describes the transfiguration as a step between mortality and the kind of immortality attained in the resurrection. As another example, the Doctrine and Covenants describes persons alive during the Millennium as living to the age of a tree before being transfigured to immortality, while dead persons are progressively resurrected to immortality. Finally, Joseph describes even the recipients of immortality themselves as varying one from another in glory (which, as Joseph taught, is all in the elements) as the stars of the heavens differ in glory. As I consider the body of Mormon scripture and tradition, I see transfiguration and resurrection to immortality as a progressive process, with moments of dramatic change. This, in my estimation, is quite what we should expect to see as advancing biological, miniaturization and information technologies are applied to the human anatomy.

Regarding the second critique, I understand eternal progression to be something both physical and spiritual, the one exalting the other. The scriptures teach us that the fullness of joy is possible only with physical bodies, and that even God has a body. They likewise teach us that the glory of these bodies progresses, along with our spirits, as they are increasingly filled with light, to use the scriptural phrase. Indeed, the scriptures seem to suggest, as I read them, that there may be little to no distinction between the spirit and body, inseparably connected, of immortals.

I acknowledge that my responses to your critiques (as the critiques themselves) depend heavily on scriptural interpretation. You may well interpret the passages to which I allude in different ways, and we could perhaps long discuss the nuances of interpretation. There is, I feel, value in our mutual recognition of this.

I'll add, however, that this is also more than a matter of scriptural interpretation. It seems quite reasonable to suppose that there may be practical consequences to our decision to interpret the scriptures one way or another. Suppose, for example, that the only way to attain immortality actually is for us to learn how to do it ourselves; perhaps, as is readily demonstrated in other matters, God simply isn't going to do the work for us. If that is the case then we had better get to work. Unless we know otherwise, it seems prudent to suppose that we should use our God-given talents and means to pursue salvation in all ways, spiritual and physical. I've sometimes heard Mormons respond that we do know, from the scriptures, that God will give everyone immortality. That may be true (and my faith is such), but although the scriptures teach everyone will hear the gospel, we recognize that does not mean there is no work required -- work we must. Consequently, I value practical faith in immortality, as in all matters.

To end, I will again express my agreement that faith in Christ is central to the Mormon understanding of salvation. Without charity, we are nothing. Without hope, there is no purpose. Without faith, there is no power. Without atonement, of the sort in which we are each invited to participate, all is for naught. Recognition of and respect for these principles is why I am a member of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. I am a Transhumanist. I am also a Christian and a Mormon.

Thank you, Jettboy, for calling attention to these increasingly important matters. I appreciate the time that you put into writing and making us aware of your thoughts.

Mormon Inventors and their Inventions

While surfing the net this evening, I came across an interesting web page that lists various Mormon inventors. I was aware of some of the items, such as the television and the word processor, but others surprised me. For example, I wasn't aware that a Mormon invented the artificial heart, or of Mormons' contributions to bionic body parts. And who would have thought a Mormon invented the electric guitar or the video game DOOM?


By the way, my father, Layne Cannon, contributed to the invention of the word processor both while studying with Alan Ashton at BYU and later as an employee at WordPerfect Corporation.

Chapter Three of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins



This is my third post about Richard Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion". The first two posts are available at the following links:

Chapter Two of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

The Preface and Chapter One of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

For emphasis, I will repeat some things mentioned at the beginning of my first post. I respect Dawkins as an excellent and inspiring evolutionary biologist. Although he misrepresents and misunderstands religion as a whole, he justifiably expresses anger and distrust regarding many particular aspects of religion. His view of religion is more black and white than mine; and, although sympathetic, I disagree with him. God is not always a delusion.

Chapter Two of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins



This is my second post reviewing the book, "The God Delusion", by Richard Dawkins. The first post can be found here:

The Preface and Chapter One of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins

I should repeat some things mentioned at the beginning of my first post. I respect Dawkins as an excellent and inspiring evolutionary biologist. Although he misrepresents and misunderstands religion as a whole, he justifiably expresses anger and distrust regarding many particular aspects of religion. His view of religion is more black and white than mine; and, although sympathetic, I disagree with him. God is not always a delusion.

Aubrey de Grey is Spicy Today



Aubrey de Grey is a Transhumanist and biomedical gerontologist that is working hard to promote funding of research to end aging. He has become increasingly visible in popular media, and recently released a book entitled, Ending Aging.

The Preface and Chapter One of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins



I recently read "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins, who I respect as an excellent (and, dare I say, inspiring) evolutionary biologist. Dawkins has become a prominent atheist in the popular media, selling over a million copies of his book and galvanizing an intellectual crusade against religion.

Technology is Quickly Building Bridges to the Future (Even in Utah)

We live in remarkable times. Science is extending our understanding of the possible, while technology quickly advances its realization and practicality. I was reminded of this, today, when the local news brought to my attention a project to replace an old overpass in only a couple days using a self-propelled modular transporter.




Diversity and Similarity of Future Persons

In a blog entry entitled "Here Come the Warlocks", Wesley Smith suggests that "transhumanism would probably result in stultifying sameness rather than the wild differences for which most adherents yearn." I disagree with Wesley for two reasons.

First, I don't think it's obvious that most Transhumanists yearn for wild differences between persons. To the contrary, it seems to me that most Transhumanists are looking for balance between difference and similarity. We can only communicate and share to the extent that we have something in common, and we can only maintain identity to the extent that we are different. I value both sharing and identity, and am confident that I am far from alone in this.

Second, I disagree with the probability Wesley assigns to Transhumanism resulting in uniformity. I do acknowledge the risk of decreasing diversity. However, the simple fact that most of us do not desire complete uniformity seems to be reason enough to hope we'll generally and sufficiently embrace means for avoiding it. In other blog posts, Wesley has suggested that popular culture seems to be encouraging increased uniformity in appearance, and that combining Transhumanist technologies with that trend would result in the uniformity against which he warns. However, I think virtual worlds like Second Life provide adequate evidence that control over physical appearance would not result in the uniformity Wesley fears. He would argue that Second Life is just a game. I think our games enable us to manifest our deepest and most abiding desires, of the sort that shape the future.

Not speaking for all Transhumanists, I can yet state unequivocally that, as one Transhumanist, I look forward to a future of both diversity and commonality. Although it may not be intuitive, the one does not logically contradict the other. We can increase the set of common characteristics while simultaneously increasing the set of diverse characteristics.

Here are some scripture passages that illustrate a vision of our future bodies that inspires me:


1 Corinthians 15
39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:

Doctrine and Covenants 88
27 For notwithstanding they die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body.
28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.
29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
30 And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
31 And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.
32 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.

Doctrine and Covenants 76
96 And the glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one.
97 And the glory of the terrestrial is one, even as the glory of the moon is one.
98 And the glory of the telestial is one, even as the glory of the stars is one; for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world;

Elder Richard G Scott on Knowledge from Science and Inspiration

During the LDS Church general conference last weekend, Elder Richard G Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a speech on "Truth: The Foundation of Correct Decisions". The focus of his speech was on two ways to find truth: the scientific method and inspiration, "both useful, provided we follow the laws upon which they are predicated". A transcript of the speech is available here, and a video is available here.


I enjoyed the speech, and was particularly happy to see a high authority in the LDS Church continue the long Mormon tradition of recognizing the importance of science and its compatibility with spiritual matters. There are some aspects of the speech with which I may disagree, depending on interpretation, such as Elder Scott's appeals to absolutes, which, so far as I am concerned, have place in Mormon theology only as ideal abstractions across eternities. The God in which I put my faith progresses in both knowledge and power forever, as perhaps you and I will.

Three Witnesses to Immortality

As the good book says, in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established . . .




The Problem with Atheism (and Some Atheists' Understanding of Mormonism)

Sam Harris, a well-known atheist (well, at least until now), recently spoke at an Atheist Alliance conference in Washington D C on "The Problem with Atheism". In summary, he argued that identifying one's self as "atheist" is counter-productive because it facilitates others' attempts at marginalization. Instead, he suggests, atheists should drop the label and simply become persons "who destroy bad ideas" by advocating reason and intellectual honesty. Furthermore, when such advocacy comes into conflict with religion, these previously-atheist persons should remember that the conflict is with a specific religious belief rather than religion in general.

Overall, I think this is a wise idea, and I recommend it to my atheist friends. Even as a person with faith in God, I regularly deal with an analogous situation because not everyone understands "God" as I do. To begin with, unlike most theists, I'm a Mormon and embrace Joseph Smith's teaching that God is a progressive community of exalted persons. Beyond that, I'm not even altogether traditional among contemporary Mormons. Yet, despite these differences, I have found a great deal of value in not making myself out to be an a-your-theist. Rather, reflecting the example of Ammon in the Book of Mormon, I would find common ground between our varying understandings of God (or even the lack thereof) and work on building together from there, while at times criticizing ideas associated with God that, to the best of my estimation, are of negative practical consequence.

To conclude, I'll point out one part of Harris' speech with which I disagree (predictably):

"Consider the unique features of Mormonism, which may have some relevance in the next Presidential election. Mormonism, it seems to me, is objectively just a little more idiotic than Christianity is. It has to be: because it is Christianity plus some very stupid ideas. For instance, the Mormons think Jesus is going to return to earth and administer his Thousand years of Peace, at least part of the time, from the state of Missouri. Why does this make Mormonism less likely to be true than Christianity? Because whatever probability you assign to Jesus’ coming back, you have to assign a lesser probability to his coming back and keeping a summer home in Jackson County, Missouri."

These statements are, to return Harris' blunt assessment, idiotic. However, I'll temper the return assessment by acknowledging that the statements reflect a superficial understanding of Mormonism; and, presumably, if Harris were better familiar with Mormonism then he would demonstrate as much intelligence in his critiques of Mormonism as he does in other areas.

Mormonism is not Christianity plus some additional ideas. To begin with, Mormonism is a form of Christianity that rejects some traditional ideas and embraces others, while contending that it is a continuation of early (pre-Catholic) Christianity. Beyond that, and more importantly for the questions at hand, Mormonism advocates a religious view of the world and the future that can be (although is not always in practice) fully compatible with reason, intellectual honesty, and the scientific project.

Henry B Eyring, Son of Scientist Henry Eyring, Now in LDS Church First Presidency

Gordon Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, today announced the appointment of Henry B Eyring to the First Presidency of the LDS Church. Henry B Eyring has been an Apostle of the LDS Church since 1995, and previously served as the LDS Church Commissioner of Education. He has degrees in physics and business administration.


Transhumanists may like to know that Henry B Eyring is the son of scientist Henry Eyring, an LDS Church leader, influential theoretical chemist, and prolific author on scientific subjects. In one of his books, Henry Eyring remarked, "Is there any conflict between science and religion? There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men" (Reflections of a Scientist 2). An Internet mailing list, Eyring-L, devoted to the discussion of Mormonism and science is named after Henry Eyring.

God Created the World with a Computer? That Makes Sense

This morning I watched the clip below from MSNBC, in which Keith Olberman discusses the Simulation Argument. During the clip, my sons came over to the computer and listened. At the end, they asked a few questions about the clip, and I summarized my answers by saying, "God may have created the world with a computer." My oldest son immediately replied, "That makes sense." Yeah. It does.


The Awful Monster Strikes Again

Today I attended the funeral of a friend's father: a kind and hard-working man, now dead from heart problems at age 57. Family members expressed their feelings in words and music. I was particularly moved when the grandchildren sang "Families Can Be Together Forever", while they cried freely. One of the grandchildren, the son of my friend, is a close friend to my own son. Because my son could not be there, he asked that my wife and I give his friend a hug. After the funeral, we did that. I also mentioned to my son's friend that they would "see each other soon", intending him to understand that my son looked forward to seeing him. He responded, "I believe that." I think he meant that he believed he would see his grandfather again soon. Well, I believe that, too.

I've felt renewed, today, in determination to combat an awful monster. It's a monster that ravaged my own father at age 48. It devours over 100,000 of us each day, and has probably clawed its way into your life. This monster, like a dragon-tyrant, has defeated great warriors and discouraged most of us into appeasing it with sacrifices, but has yet to face fully our greatest warrior:

"O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave. And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel. O how great the plan of our God! For on the other hand, the paradise of God must deliver up the spirits of the righteous, and the grave deliver up the body of the righteous; and the spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect." (The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 9: 10-13)

Who will conquer that awful monster, death and hell? Who is the greatest of our warriors? As expressed in the Book of Mormon, reflecting the Bible, that warrior is Christ. However, lest we think Christ is exclusive to Jesus, we are reminded by the apostle Paul, "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (The Bible, 2 Corinthians 13: 5) Indeed, as taught by Jesus, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do" (John 14: 12).

Together in Christ, with faith in a better world and compassion for all, we may become the greatest warrior to combat the awful monster. We live in an epoch of unprecedented knowledge and power. The means for dramatically longer and healthier lives are within our reach. What shall we do? I can almost hear the words of the warrior Moroni . . .

"Can you think to sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor, while your enemies are spreading the work of death around you? Yea, while they are murdering thousands of your brethren . . . And now, my beloved brethren—for ye ought to be beloved; yea, and ye ought to have stirred yourselves more diligently for the welfare and the freedom of this people; but behold, ye have neglected them insomuch that the blood of thousands shall come upon your heads for vengeance; yea, for known unto God were all their cries, and all their sufferings . . . Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain. . . . Have ye forgotten the commandments of the Lord your God? Yea, have ye forgotten the captivity of our fathers? Have ye forgotten the many times we have been delivered out of the hands of our enemies? Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us? Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness, while there are thousands round about in the borders of the land who are falling by the sword, yea, wounded and bleeding? Do ye suppose that God will look upon you as guiltless while ye sit still and behold these things? Behold I say unto you, Nay." (The Book of Mormon, Alma 60: 7, 10, 11, 20-23)

What can we do? Here are some excellent ideas from philosopher Nick Bostrom:

1. Spread the word. If you have a website or a blog, please consider linking to this page. Share your thoughts with friends and colleagues. Write letters to editors to comment on newspaper coverage of prolongevity. Challenge snide and shortsighted remarks about aging when appropriate. Make some noise.

2. Organize. If you are active in some organization (e.g. a political party, a religious community, a professional society), consider if there is any way that you could build support within that organization for extended healthy lifespan and the research needed to achieve it.

3. Give. Consider donating to the Methuselah Mouse Prize. This is a prize for extending the remaining lifespan of middle-aged mice. Science prizes have a strong track record of stimulating achievement. A clear success in mouse would pave the way for a larger program to translate the methods for human use.

4. Take responsibility. If you are a major philanthropist, you have the opportunity to make a big difference. Likewise, if you are e.g. a journalist, an opinion leader, a government official, a scientific authority, or on the board of a major research foundation, you have special opportunities to exert influence, and, consequently, a special responsibility to show some initiative.

5. Think creatively. Use your own your own brain to think about what would be the best way for you to contribute.

I invite you to join with the Mormon Transhumanist Association in the fight against aging. Let's vanquish the beast!

Mormons Are Thinking About Enhancement Technologies

Sam MB at By Common Consent has taken up the subject of enhancement technologies, asking whether Mormonism offers any peculiar insights on these topics. He notes that he has never discussed this issue with Mormons before, and is curious to know what other Mormons think.

I'm glad to see more Mormons bringing up this important subject. I hope we'll recognize both the wondrous opportunities and frightening risks that are quickly approaching -- more quickly than most of us realize. I hope, too, that we'll seek to embrace the opportunities, and not merely attempt to avoid both opportunities and risks. The latter strategy almost certainly will not work.

Mormonism certainly has insights to offer on this topic. It is an ideology that has long posited the value of humans transcending their current nature, attaining immortality, and godly knowledge and power. Our early leaders taught that transfiguration and resurrection were ordinances that we would perform for each other, and that such efforts for the living and dead are an essential aspect of the work of God, in which we should participate. The whole Mormon system of ethics has developed in a context of faith in theosis, and so represents 200 years (or more, depending on whether you count earlier influences) of consideration on the subject of how enhanced, and eternally enhancing, persons should associate with each other.

Intelligent Design of Religion



Philosopher Dan Dennett argues that religions are like cows: we've been redesigning them for thousands of years, perhaps without doing so consciously until recently. He asserts that religions are brilliantly designed and powerful social institutions, resulting from a mixture of natural selection and intelligent design.

The Wisest Designer Would Be Neo-Darwinian

An LDS Science Review post on "Disbelief and Silliness" directed my attention to an article in The Nation, entitled "Root and Branch", by philosopher Ian Hacking. The article criticizes anti-Darwinism as dead or degenerate in contrast to the living science manifest in Darwinism. Interestingly, Hacking expounds on an allegorical interpretation of the biblical tree of life as a symbol for Darwinism, and criticizes some anti-religious persons, such as Richard Dawkins, for presenting Darwinism in "cut and dried" terms rather than as a living scientific project that is increasing in utility. In the end, too, Hacking (an atheist, I believe) adds this excellent observation:


"The wisest designer would choose the governing laws and initial conditions that best capitalized on this mathematical fact. A stupid designer would have to arrange for all the intricate details (the Arctic tern again) that anti-Darwinians eulogize, but an intelligent designer would let chance and natural selection do the work. In other words, in the light of our present knowledge, we can only suppose that the most intelligent designer (I do not say there is one) would have to be a 'neo-Darwinian' who achieves the extraordinary variety of living things by chance."

In my estimation, such a designer would be much like the God described by Mormonism: working progressively within constraints (such as laws and matter that already exist) to organize and reorganize worlds without end.

Is "Mormon Transhumanist" Redundant?



Is Mormonism a form of Transhumanism? Michael Anissimov recently posted seven definitions of "Transhumanism" on his blog. Let's see how Mormonism fares according to each definition.

Dogmatism, not Religion, is the Enemy of Science

Gary Shapiro, an apologist for the decreasing segment of Mormonism that is hostile to evolution theory, recently posed on his blog a question to Mormons like me: "where and when has the Church published an apostolic statement endorsing the idea that organic evolution explains the origin of man?"


My response is a question: "where and when has the Church published an apostolic statement endorsing any scientific idea?" More to the point: "where and when has the Church published an apostolic statement endorsing any anti-scientific idea?" The fact of the matter is that the LDS Church does not pretend to be the arbiter of scientific understanding. To the contrary, its highest leaders have repeatedly spoken out in favor of secular education, encouraging all members to engage in the endeavor while seeking inspiration.


In more recent posts to his blog, Gary has alluded to scriptural evidence for a worldwide flood, and advocated positioning the Bible above science when considering such matters. At the end of one of those posts, Gary states:


"All of us may believe whatever we want. But we are not authorized to teach it in a Church setting unless it is grounded in the scriptures."


A problem with this perspective is that it does not acknowledge that there are many things in the scriptures that we simply do not teach in a Church setting, and for good reason. The Bible contains many ideas that we now consider immoral or factually inaccurate; most persons who think otherwise probably haven't actually read the Bible.


Whereas this may be a problem for religions that assert the infallibility and completeness of scripture, this is no problem for Mormonism, whose authorities have explicitly and repeatedly acknowledged scripture fallibility and incompleteness. Indeed, the recognition of such fallibility and incompleteness is essential to Mormonism, which has held in high esteem, since its founding, the idea of ongoing revelation. Even in regards to the Book of Mormon itself, Brigham Young claimed:


"Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. According as people are willing to receive the things of God, so the heavens send forth their blessings. If the people are stiff-necked, the Lord can tell them but little." (Journal of Discourses 9: 311)


There is no necessary conflict between science and religion. One is an epistemic process that has proven itself highly capable of reproducing knowledge. The other is a form of community that has proven itself powerful, both for benefit and detriment, according to how we use or abuse it. The two can work together. However, there is dogmatism and absolutism among adherents of most ideologies, religious and otherwise. It is the dogmatism and absolutism, not the religion, that conflicts with science.

Neuroscience and a Mormon Understanding of the Soul

James Hughes posted to the TransSpirit board a message on "Non-materialist neuroscience as a crypto-theist conspiracy". In the message, he explains that neuroscience is quickly approaching materialistic explanations of human thought that are both necessary and sufficient. He goes on to mention that once we attain such explanations, we should toss out any reference to a soul or other supernatural explanation for human thought.

While I agree with James that there is little utility in appeals to supernatural explanations of human thought (or anything else), I disagree with his implied understanding of the soul. From a Mormon perspective, the soul is not immaterial or supernatural. Rather, the soul is the combination of spirit and body, both of which are considered material -- yes, even the spirit. The difference between spirit and body, as described by Joseph Smith, is one of magnitude, and not of kind; spirit is refined matter. It is not difficult to syncretize Joseph's perspective on spirit with modern non-dualistic understandings of the body, particularly as an emergent manifestation of a pre- (and post-) existing pattern.

Singularity Summit 2007 Underway with Notes from Michael Anissimov

The Singularity Summit 2007, AI and the future of humanity, is now underway at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco. Speakers are addressing the following questions related to artificial intelligence:


What are the pathways and major challenges?


What are the potential benefits and implications?


How far are we from advanced AI?


What risks may we face?


What should we do to prepare?


Fortunately for those of us that are unable to attend, Michael Anissimov is attending and posting notes to his blog.

James Hughes Argues for a Christian Perspective on Enhancement Technology

In a debate at East Texas Baptist Chruch, James Hughes addresses Christian concerns with Transhumanism. Although a Buddhist, he argues for a perspective of approaching the image of God through enhancement technologies, which may be considered part of the purpose for which we were created.


Why would God create worlds?

Put another way, why would neohumans run detailed world simulations?

Not being neohumans ourselves, we can only speculate. However, it is interesting to extrapolate from the reasons we run (relatively low-detail) simulations today. Flight and automobile simulators have been available both to the military and for entertainment for many years. Financial simulators have become important for investors, as medical simulators have improved our ability to train surgeons. Many persons enjoy playing games such as SimCity that simulate urban planning. Entire worlds are simulated, for both entertainment and scientific purposes. In the popular virtual world Second Life, persons buy and sell real estate, hold meetings, even dance, and generally engage in a virtual life through the proxy of their avatars. Although also intended for entertainment, World of Warcraft may serve to rehearse real-world epidemics. Another virtual world, designed by Simulex for the United States military, is now modeling Earth down to the detail of individual persons.

Ultimately, however, I wonder whether neohumans' relation to their simulations might be better reflected in the relation between human parents and children. As we have progressed technologically, our relationship with our technology has become increasingly intimate. Computers that were once far away in warehouses are now in our pockets, or even embedded in our flesh. Whereas we originally used them to crunch numbers, we now use them to bring us together in ways never before possible. I anticipate that this trend will continue, and fully expect that we will one day become indistinguishable from our technology. Our future selves will relate with our technology not as we now relate to the boxed computers on our desks, but more like the simulations that are constantly running in our current biological brains. For such sublime beings, whose thoughts are more detailed than the most powerful of contemporary simulations, a procreative act sufficient for reproducing another of their kind may entail nothing less than the synthesis of new worlds, calculated perhaps according to some sort of cosmic heredity (increasing the likelihood of fine-tuned physical laws) in preparation for a Darwinian dance of eternal magnitude.



Hebrews 12

  7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?


  8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.



  9 Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?


  10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.


  11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

Independent Mormon Transhumanists



I've been wondering how many independent Mormon Transhumanists are out there, unaware of or uninterested in groups like the Mormon Transhumanist Association.

LDS Church Internet Coordinator Speaks on Using Technology for the Good of Humanity

Ronald Schwendiman is the coordinator for the worldwide Internet activities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He presented today at Brigham Young University's Education Week on the topic of using technology for the good of humanity.

Although I was not able to attend the session, I was impressed by what I read about it in an article in the Deseret Morning News. Ronald spoke of the rapid change in technology, encouraged adoption of new technologies rather than avoidance, and warned of coming challenges.

The article mentions a few appeals that Ronald made to the perspectives of LDS Church ecclesiastical authorities. One quotation included comes from Spencer Kimball, who was President of the LDS Church when I was a child. Here's the 1974 quote:

". . . discoveries latent with such potent power, either for the blessing or the destruction of human beings as to make men's responsibility in controlling them the most gigantic ever placed in human hands . . . This age is fraught with limitless perils, as well as untold possibilities."

Reading this quote reminded me of thoughts expressed regularly by Transhumanists like Ray Kurzweil, who speaks of the "promise and peril" of technology. As our exponentially advancing information technology further converges with other scientific fields, it will most likely enable revolutions in biotech, nanotech and robotics. If you expect to see about the same rate of change going forward as we have seen in the past, you are probably wrong. The intuitive view of linear change in technology does not accurately reflect the quantifiable historical trends. Unless the trends change, we will soon experience a period of time when technology advances so quickly and dramatically that, given current limitations, humans will not be able to predict or direct the outcome (futurists call this the Technological Singularity). However, we should not expect our limitations to remain unchanged. Our relationship with our technology is becoming increasingly intimate. Computers that were once in large warehouses far away are now in our pockets or even embedded in our flesh, saving us from problems humans could never before overcome and enabling us to do what humans never before were capable of doing. Assuming this trend continues, we have reason to believe that, given some wisdom and inspiration, we can navigate the challenges before us, and realize possibilities that perhaps only the ancient visionaries foresaw.

I'm happy to see other Mormons, in increasing numbers, recognizing and pointing out to each other the importance of our involvement in the effort to use technology for good. As Ronald put it in his presentation, "We have to choose whether technology will be to our benefit or to our destruction." Amen to that.

Faithful Science

Jared, a guest blogger at By Common Consent, wonders what "Faithful Science" would look like and how it would be useful. Of course, here at the Mormon Transhumanist Association, we have some opinions about that.

To begin with, all science is faithful to the extent it is actually adhering to the scientific method. The method is based in premises and rules that are matters of faith, such as the premises of uniformity and causality and the rules of hypothesis. Science is an epistemic process that has demonstrated greater success in reproducibility than any other, but, like all epistemic processes, begins and ends with limited persons.

Beyond that, there are numerous hypotheses on the cutting edge of science that resonate with a Mormon world view. The March cover article of Sunstone magazine identifies several parallels between Mormonism and Transhumanism. It compares Joseph Smith's description of the Fullness of Times to our present observations of exponential technological advance. It compares prophecies related to the Millennium to expectations associated with the Technological Singularity. And it explores similarities between Joseph Smith's teachings on worlds without end and Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument.

I believe, reflecting the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, that scientific knowledge and technological power are among the means ordained of God to enable human exaltation, including realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end. Faithful science should be directed toward the testing of hypotheses that may help us enable such a future -- as well as toward hypotheses that may help us mitigate any risks along the way.

Jared, at the end of his blog post, suggests that faithful science might undermine what makes science special, as priests and politicians get in the way. However, the fact of the matter is that priests, politicians and even scientists are already in the way, and always will be. Such is the nature of human involvement in the scientific project. But we can still attain objectivity! The objectivity will not be the sort that is the opposite of subjectivity, but rather the sort that is derived from an ever-broadening set of subjects reproducing each other's experience. It is not inappropriate to bring our values to science. Indeed, it is essential that we do so, particularly as we now approach the greatest risks and opportunities humanity has ever navigated. We cannot do otherwise than hypothesize and test according to our values. May God bless us with the wisdom and inspiration not to oppress or eradicate our civilization. May God also bless us with the wisdom and inspiration not to hinder the work of human exaltation. These really are matters of faith -- unavoidably so.

The Accelerating Exponent of Kurzweil's Law



Kurzweil's Law (generalizing from Moore's Law) observes that technology changes exponentially as new technologies contribute toward increasing the rate of change. In addition to being exponential, however, the exponent itself may increase exponentially, such that we may observe accelerating exponential change or meta-exponential change.

More on the Simulation Argument and Synthetic Worlds without End



The Simulation Argument has been getting a lot of attention since being referenced by the New York Times. Writing for the Daily Galaxy, Rebecca Sato asks, could our lives be a cosmic computer simulation? She concludes with these words:

Life Emerging from Eternal Matter

When I think about the origins of life in our time and space, I tend toward a materialistic animism: matter has all the properties necessary to become life, if only it is organized appropriately. Indeed, from this perspective, there is no line between life and non-life, but rather a spectrum of intelligence from the sublime to the mundane. It could be said, then, that not only do humans have souls, but so do animals, plants, and even rocks, to some magnitude, however small that magnitude might be.

These ideas do not, of course, originate with me. They are ancient ideas that predate modern understandings of immaterial and human-only souls. They are also ideas that have been held by Mormons since our beginnings. Joseph Smith taught that all spirit is matter, spirit and matter are eternal, that they cannot be created from nothing, and that they can be organized toward greater glory and intelligence (D&C 93 and D&C 131). He also taught that animals have spirits (D&C 77), and alluded to an animistic perspective of the Earth, personifying it as groaning under the strain of our abuses (Moses 7). Perhaps most interesting, Joseph taught that "God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself." (King Follett Discourse) -- suggesting that God emerged and evolves, like you and me.

Given a predisposition to such ideas, I was interested to see that Science Daily, today, tells us that physicists have discovered inorganic dust with lifelike qualities. Apparently this was done in a computer simulation of molecular dynamics, wherein charged particles of plasma self-organized, formed copies of themselves, and competed with their neighbors until only the most fit structures survived. The article goes on to explain that environments like the one simulated are common in outer space, and may occur on Earth under conditions such as a lightning strike.

I'm insane, Blake Ostler tells me, for believing in the Simulation Hypothesis.



While at the recent symposium organized by the Sunstone Education Foundation in Salt Lake City, I attended a presentation by Blake Ostler. Blake was making an argument about spiritual experience, the details of which are not the subject of this post. During the presentation, he noted that one might appeal to what he called the "Matrix Argument" as a counter-point to a part of his argument. He continued, however, to suggest that no one really believes in the Matrix Argument, and so we need not take the counter-point seriously. To illustrate, he asked whether anyone in the room thought herself to be a brain in a vat. To his surprise, I raised my hand. Without any apparent intention of humor, he called me insane and told me to see a therapist. As an after-thought, he asked rhetorically whether I had brushed my teeth that morning, and concluded that a brain in a vat does not brush teeth. I smiled, considered a response, but remained silent as he proceeded with his presentation.

Eternal Recurrence of Our Children

Adam Greenwood at Times and Seasons speculates regarding millennial children, wondering whether we might have future opportunities to raise new children or experience again the raising of our current children.

Here at the MTA, we see parallels between the Millennium with the Technological Singularity, a period of rapid change in human technology, predicted to result from continuation of a well-established historical trend of exponential technological advance. The Singularity is understood to be associated with great risks to mitigate and opportunities to pursue, such as apocalyptic wars and indefinite life spans.

It seems reasonable to suppose that, assuming we survive the risks of the Singularity, we will have opportunities to raise new children during that period of time. However, it's difficult to say what the nature of conception or education will be for these children. It's even difficult to say what the nature of these children's bodies will be. That's why the term "Singularity" has been borrowed to describe this period of time.

Beyond that, it also seems reasonable to suppose that, assuming we do not hit a ceiling for computing power too soon (or ever), we may one day have the opportunity to experience again the raising of our current children. One of the things our future civilization might do with its computing power is run highly detailed simulations of our own world. If these simulations are detailed enough, conscious persons like you and I might even enter the simulations and experience them first hand, perhaps even reliving our own history. Maybe that's what we're doing now?

I understand that may not pass the laugh test for some, but others (some with excellent educational backgrounds in science and logic) take such possibilities quite seriously. If you've not read the Simulation Argument, I recommend it to you. Furthermore, if you are skeptical of our ability to relive the past then you should probably also be skeptical of our ability to resurrect the dead. My faith, for practical reasons, is that such is possible. It seems such possibilities may be realized, not by accident, only if we assume them possible to begin with.

I'll close with a thought for the philosophers:

"What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence - even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!' Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? . . . Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?" (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science 341)

"The Language of God" Influencing Mormon Perspectives

Today at dinner, my mother mentioned that she had recently purchased a book by geneticist (and head of the Human Genome Project) Francis Collins entitled "The Language of God". In the book, which is available in the MTA book store, Collins argues that respect for science and faith in God are compatible.
Coincidentally, upon returning home from dinner, I came across a blog post, by Julie Smith at Times and Seasons, in which she mentions that Deseret Book, owned by the LDS Church, has been promoting the book in its catalogues. I checked the Deseret Book web site, and sure enough found the book for sale there.
Although I haven't yet read the book, I'm glad to see that the largest Mormon bookseller has decided to promote a book that advocates respect for science. I'm also glad to see that it's already gone as far as reaching persons like my mother.

Powerful Mormon Myths for the Modern World

Dave Banack, writing for Times and Seasons, asks:

What sort of mythology would develop or result from the modern world of our own day? What myths work in the modern world? . . . Does Mormonism have anything to offer? Does Mormon doctrine or the Mormon worldview provide any mythic frames that provide Mormons with meaningful and effective ways to live their lives?

He suggests the following answers for consideration: the pre-existence (pre-mortal existence), temples as sacred space, and Lehi's dream. These are good ideas, and we can go further into the most powerful and deeply moving aspects of Mormonism -- the ideas for which early Mormons died or walked across the plains into the mountains of the American West.

Mormon myth opens the heavens. We became a people of personal revelation, laying the foundations of Zion, engaging in participatory atonement, anticipating ordinances of transfiguration and resurrection to immortality, and ultimately working out our godhood in eternal worlds without end. There is power in these ideas, of the sort that moves a people to fulfill its own prophecies.

Does Mormon mythology have much to offer the modern world? Yes! For evidence, one need look no further than the Mormon Transhumanist Association, advocating practical faith in human immortality and eternal life through charitable use of science and technology. The traditional mythic framework of Mormonism combines with the detailed insights of modern Transhumanism to provide a vision of the world, humanity and our future that inspires me.

Check out our article in Sunstone magazine, which elaborates on how Mormon mythology complements a modern and forward-looking world view.

The Work of Immortality is Not Complete

Bill Muehlenberg, in his CultureWatch blog, recently wrote about "The First Church of Transhumanism". After providing a summary of his perspective on Transhumanism, he writes the following:

The truth is, life extension is already a current reality. Indeed, we will all live forever. But there are just two destinies after the grave, and only one of those we should be striving for. The means to eternal life was accomplished by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago. He is the only one who makes a way for us to enjoy an eternal relationship with a loving, heavenly father. Reject that provision, and we instead face an eternal destiny separated from God, and all his love and goodness.

The choice is ours, and there are no other means to obtain this glorious eternal life. Indeed, two attempts recorded early in Scripture met with failure and were roundly condemned. When our first parents fell, the fell by listening to the lie of the enemy: “you will not die, you will become like God”.

And at the tower of Babel, mankind sought to reach to the heavens, also seeking immortality and a divine status. The biblical record makes it clear how God feels about such man-made attempts to become divine and achieve immortality.

Thus transhumanism is really not so new after all, but simply a recent variation of a very old, and a very mistaken, humanist attempt to kick God out of his heaven and take his place. But such attempts will always fail. There is only one God in this universe, and we are not it. And genuine life extension is only possible on his terms, not ours.

Despite identifying as a Christian, I disagree with Muehlenberg's claim that "life extension is already a current reality". The current reality, in fact, is that humans are suffering and dying. The current reality is that my father, who died of cancer nine years ago at age 48, is part of my life only in spirit. The current reality is that almost all of us know and love someone that is dead or dying -- not to mention that, given current limitations, we are all headed to the grave. Whether or not there are remote worlds full of immortals, life extension simply is not a current reality for us.

Many Christians, including many Mormons, today believe dogmatically that the resurrection of Jesus is the only and final act necessary to attain human immortality. The trouble with this dogma is that it overlooks work that is obviously not yet completed: the act of transfiguring mortal humans to immortality, and the act of resurrecting dead humans to immortality. The resurrection of Jesus, as described in the Bible, does not purport to be the universal resurrection. Our dead loved ones are yet to rise from the graves. We are not yet immortal.
Given that the resurrection of Jesus cannot rationally be understood as the only or final act necessary to attain human immortality, we look forward to transfiguration and resurrection. We may also ask ourselves, how will such wondrous prophecies be fulfilled? And we can answer in at least two ways: on the one hand, we may answer that human immortality will be attained without any effort on our part; on the other hand, we may answer that human immortality will be attained only subsequent to effort on our part. In other words, we are faced with the age-old question: will we attain salvation through grace or works?

The answer from the Bible, particularly as interpreted from a Mormon perspective, seems clear: we attain salvation through BOTH grace and works (James 2). God provides us the opportunity, and we participate, according to our varying abilities, in realizing the opportunity. The preaching of the gospel illustrates this. According to Mormon tradition, everyone will have an opportunity to learn the gospel of Christ. However, this does not happen instantaneously; instead, we are called to the work of sharing the gospel. According to the grace of God, we have the opportunity to share. According to our efforts, the work is accomplished. Thus, spiritual salvation is attained through a combination of grace and works. Likewise, according to Mormon tradition, everyone will be transfigured or resurrected to immortality; however, why should we assume that this is merely a matter of grace? Why should we not assume that work will be required to realize the opportunity?

From a practical perspective, if we desire immortality and do not know infallibly whether our work can make a difference in attaining it, it seems we should work toward immortality. If it turns out that our work makes no difference then through action we lose only the time of the effort. If it turns out that our work makes a difference then through inaction we increase unnecessary suffering and death.

Some may argue, as does Muehlenberg in his blog, that we have more to lose through action: that action is disrespectful toward God. In response to this, I appeal to two sorts of Gods described in the Bible. One sort of God would raise itself above all else that is called God, declaring itself God (2 Thessalonians 2). The other sort of God would raise us together as joint heirs in God, declaring us one in God (Romans 8). I acknowledge that the first sort of God would be offended by our efforts to pursue immortality. However, that God, in my estimation, is not worthy of our worship. The God worthy of worship is the second sort, who considers us his children and friends. As children and friends of God, we are called, with Paul, to fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ (Colossians 1). We are called to have Christ in us, and to be the saviors of men (D&C 103). So far as I am concerned, this is a calling to work toward human immortality.

Lincoln Cannon
Mormon Transhumanist Association
Christian Transhumanist Association
The New God Argument
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Lincoln Cannon LLC
Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement
Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement