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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Today, I came across the blog of Paul Toscano, whose relationship with Mormonism is difficult to describe and beyond the scope of what I would like to address in this post. Suffice it to say that he has been deeply influenced by Mormonism, whether or not he yet considers himself a Mormon.
While reading an entry on his blog, I came across a statement that prompted me to write this post. Here is the statement:
"Of course, death can be postponed, but usually by the visitation of death upon others. It cannot be transcended, not by mortals. Its inevitability should not be denied, but rather embraced and endured."
I'm not sure of all he intends to communicate by these statements, but they echo a common sentiment in our communities, both within and beyond Mormonism.
We have adapted well to our environment of death, to the point that many now advocate embracing it. For such persons, death is no longer considered merely inevitable, but also good and more: they disapprove of or even ridicule those who consider death to be evil. The disciples of death solemnly preach suicide and overlook the irony of their preaching.
We should take on the name of life, with an unshakeable will to overcome death and hell. As we long for our messiah, we should learn to become him. As we pray for divine grace, we should work toward her birth.
2 Nephi 9
10 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.
11 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.
12 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.
God only prepares the way.
3 Nephi 28
4 And when he had spoken unto them, he turned himself unto the three, and said unto them: What will ye that I should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father?
5 And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired.
6 And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.
7 Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.
8 And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality; and then shall ye be blessed in the kingdom of my Father.
9 And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow
save it be for the sins of the world; and all this will I do because of the thing which ye have desired of me, for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of men unto me, while the world shall stand.
10 And for this cause ye shall have fulness of joy; and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one;
11 And the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and the Father giveth the Holy Ghost unto the children of men, because of me.
12 And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he touched every one of them with his finger save it were the three who were to tarry, and then he
More blessed are those who desire life.