Helen Whitney recently interviewed several leaders of the LDS Church for the PBS documentary on the Mormons. PBS posted transcripts of some of the interviews to their site. Recently, the LDS Church posted transcripts of a couple more interviews to their site, including the interview of Boyd Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I was intrigued by some thoughts President Packer shared at the end of his interview, presented below -- "HW" standing for Helen Whitney and "BKP" standing for Boyd Packer.
HW: There’s a hymn that you mentioned that you love when talking about the plan of salvation to somebody. Something about “hie to” — I’d like to hear that from you.
BKP: “If I could hie to Kolob in the twinkling of an eye, and then continue onward with that same speed to fly, do you think that I could ever, through all eternity, find out the generations where Gods began to be?”
Then the other verse goes on, and you can read it: “There is no end to matter, there is no end to space; there is no end to wisdom; there is no end to race.” You’re testing an old man. That is a very profound song that you should read when you’re studying about what’s going on in the world today.
When you read that and talk and look into the eternities, you see the endlessness of it all — that’s caught up in the words of that song. President David O. McKay read that to one of the astronauts that came. There’s so many things that we don’t know, but it’s a wonderful world that we live in. There’s no end to what we can learn, but we only use about 15 percent of the room there. It’s a great, great revelation that came from William W. Phelps.
"If I could hie to Kolob” — now you have to know what Kolob is; the scriptures say it is the center place — “and then continue onward with that same speed to fly.”
I know a lot of hymns, and I know that one.
HW: But it does say something essential about Mormons.
BKP: It does; it shows a depth and a breadth and a power that is consistent with all that we know. All of the orbits of all the heavenly bodies follow that same thing — it’s an amazing world we live in. When you see color and life and all that life has to offer, we shouldn’t be bored.
HW: More than that. One last question. There’s a moment that comes — instead of inheriting the faith, they inhabit it. Was there such a moment for you?
BKP: I can’t look back and say, “Well that’s the day, that’s the moment I knew.” There were a number of them — I think I grew into it and tried to teach our family in such a way they’d grow into it. Finding that “pearl of great price” is just the beginning, not the end.
Someone said to Brigham Young, “The more I know, the more I learn, the less I know.” He said, “I wouldn’t say that. I would say the more I learn, the more I discern an eternity of knowledge.” Now that’s Brigham Young.
I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised to learn that President Packer loves the hymn "If You Could Hie to Kolob". It is, in my estimation, among the most uniquely Mormon hymns, celebrating eternal progress of a plurality of gods in worlds without end. I also enjoyed President Packer's reference to Brigham Young's comment on knowledge -- why should we expect an end to learning? It's good to see evidence that these ideas continue to be cherished by the leaders of the LDS Church.
Michael Anissimov has put together descriptions of the top ten Transhumanist technologies. The article is a great overview of some Transhumanist ideas. Here are the items he includes in his list:
9) Virtual Reality
8) Gene Therapy / RNA Interference
7) Space Colonization
5) Autonomous Self-Replicating Robots
4) Molecular Manufacturing
3) Megascale Engineering
2) Mind Uploading
1) Artificial General Intelligence
See his site for more information on each of these topics.
Some have wondered whether Singularitarianism, with which a subset of Transhumanists identify, is the true religion. Their point, with which I readily agree, is that, whether we think of Transhumanism as a religion or not, what matters is whether it will deliver on the future it advocates.
A part of my Mormon faith that I value highly is reflected in these words from the Book of Mormon:
Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 29 7 Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? 8 Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
I know and work regularly with Hindus living in India. When visiting them, they've explained to me aspects of their faith and escorted me through ceremonies in their temples. Like so many other religions in our world, Hinduism has much to offer that is beautiful and uplifting.
The future we work to create should protect religious (and non-religious) diversity. To the extent our faith is not oppressive, we should be free to worship (or not) as we desire. We should also be free to debate the benefits and detriments of competing faiths, without fear of death or imprisonment. I am confident that this will make us a more resilient civilization.
Here's a final thought from Joseph Smith:
"We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." (Eleventh Article of Faith)
Are you skeptical of the ideas proposed by Transhumanists? Perhaps you have something in common with the folks quoted below.
Philosophers have long recognized an ethical tension between individuals and communities. Some have suggested that one or the other should be given the greater weight. As I see it, the tension itself is valuable, and giving greater weight to one or the other leads to different forms of oppression. A living community consisting of living individuals may, indeed, require constant assessment and adjustment to ensure their healthy inter-relations.
My personal views aside, the point is that demonization of Transhumanists for being radical individualists or radical communalists is perhaps more of a reflection of the fears and prejudices of the person criticizing Transhumanism than it is of real-world Transhumanists, who undoubtedly represent the spectrum of thought regarding the relative ethical weighting of individuals and communities.
Frederick Meekins titled his article "Just because you don't understand doesn't mean it's not real." I'll add that just because you think you understand doesn't mean you're right.
I recently came across a document produced by a Christian group that takes on the admirable task of presenting "Everyday Theology". The document includes a chapter on Transhumanism. Unfortunately, however, it does not accurately characterize Transhumanists.
For example, it claims Transhumanists believe "whatever can be done scientifically and technologically should be done" and that "technology is inherently good". There may be a Transhumanist out there that thinks in such ways, but I don't know one that does. Most Transhumanists explicitly recognize risks, even existential risks, associated with technology. Transhumanists generally recognize that technology is power, and that power can be used both for good and evil. Transhumanists also generally believe that we can best avoid the evil possibilities by seeking after and embracing the good possibilities, rather than by ignoring or attempting to evade technology altogether.
The document entirely overlooks Transhumanists, such as those represented by the Mormon Transhumanist Association, that have a strong spiritual aspect to their beliefs. It claims that Transhumanists do not believe in the existence of greater beings or higher powers, yet some of us either fully embrace the existence of God or make allowances for such possibilities (reflecting the Simulation Hypothesis of the Simulation Argument).
The document claims that Transhumanists are individualists who believe that "one’s own needs, interests, and desires are more important than those of others or of any larger group or community." Certainly some Transhumanists are radical individualists, but some of us simply are not. For example, although I identify as a moderate Libertarian, I do not believe that individual desires and wills are more (or less) important than community laws, and feel that this perspective is entirely compatible with my Transhumanist views. Moreover, I would argue that radical individualism will exacerbate technological risks; working together in friendship, we are more likely to avoid disastrous or oppressive outcomes.
The document claims that Transhumanists believe the visible material world is all that exists. However, while Transhumanists are generally materialists (in the philosophic sense) and empiricists, that does not mean they think sight is the extent of experience or that they think we will not encounter new extraordinary experiences. Rather, many Transhumanists simply take on the practical perspective that whatever cannot be experienced cannot affect us, and so direct their attention to that which can be experienced.
On the other hand, the document does get some things right, such as characterizing Transhumanists as being optimistic about technology. We do see technological opportunities to live longer, smarter and stronger. We do intend to act on technological possibilities for renewing our environment and extending the scope of our habitable world. Indeed, many of us feel that a decision not to pursue these opportunities would be a moral failing.