Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement

That Random Coin Toss? Not So Random After All



Can our thoughts, meditation, and prayers change the world? Of course, for starters, they can change the way we speak and act, thereby indirectly changing the world. Beyond that, some speculate that our minds may be able to change the world more directly.

Mega-flood filled the Mediterranean in months



Despite the clamor of Bible literalists, there is not objective evidence that a worldwide flood occurred a few thousand years ago, as suggested by some popular interpretations of the Noah story. On the other hand, perhaps megafloods that occurred a few million years ago impressed our early ancestors sufficiently to result in ritual narratives that persisted in varying oral forms up to the time that they were adapted into the various written accounts we now find in ancient texts, both in the Bible and elsewhere.

Boom! Hok! A Monkey Language Is Deciphered



"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." This passage of text from the Gospel of John calls to mind the power of language and reason. The Greek word from which "Word" was translated is "logos", which is the root of "logic" and meant something like reasoned explanation. Some early Greeks considered logos to be the governing principle of the universe. The Gospel of John probably associates this Greek idea with the Christian God as a missionary appeal to persons with a neoplatonist perspective, which may be considered the science of those times.

Mythology as Atonement



While listening to speakers at church today, I considered my internal reactions to the various ideas and feelings expressed. At times I was inspired, at times indifferent, and on occasion annoyed. Consideration led me mostly to familiar explanations, ranging from degree of shared perspective to volume of persons near me, but at least one new explanation also came to mind.

Mormons Use Technology to Reach Millions



A well-meaning anonymous fellow Mormon once chastised me, encouraging more focus on the powers of prayer and priesthood and less focus on the powers of technology. He argued that it will be the traditional religious mechanisms that will save us. I responded with a question: why does the Church use technology to share it's message? He didn't answer. The question stands.

Music and Speech Based on Human Biology, New Evidence Shows

No surprise to learn that neuroscientists at Duke University have found evidence that popular music can be predicted based on harmonics characteristic of human speech. Of course, the link between anatomy and esthetics goes far deeper than this. We are our esthetics, radiating from the structures and patterns of our world. In turn, our esthetics informs our ethics and epistemics, our goods and evils, our knowledge and truth. The possibility space for humanity and its post-human future is already embedded in our anatomy and its environment. Nietzsche might declare this all too human, and that too is an esthetic. The more profound power of a god, perhaps, is the ability to don an esthetic as we now don clothing. After all, God declared it good -- not the other way around. Whereas now, our music is based on our biology, the day may come when our biology is based on our music.

 
 

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Evidence of a deep biological link between human music and speech has been found by Duke University neuroscientists. They found that the musical scales most commonly used over the centuries are those that come closest to mimicking the physics of the human voice, and that we understand emotions expressed through music because the music mimics the way emotions are expressed in speech. The showed that the harmonic structure of vowel tones forms the basis of the musical scales we find most appealing, and the popularity of musical scales can be predicted based on how well they match up with the series of harmonics characteristic of vowels in speech. (Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091202205627.htm)

 
 

Things you can do from here:

 
 

Thankful for Gratitude



Gratitude has become a focus of contemporary psychological research, which clearly demonstrates that gratitude motivates, reciprocates, fulfills, satisfies, overcomes, empowers, supports, protects and relaxes. In that spirit, we thank each other, near and far, ancestors and descendants, mundane and sublime. We feel the gratitude throughout our being and project it into our world. All we thank for the grace of meaning and opportunity, beyond any solitary ability. Thank God. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Cost of Death

Last night, 60 Minutes ran a segment on the cost of dying (thanks to Loyd at Project Mayhem for pointing this out). The segment identifies various economic and social costs associated with the last months of a typical person's life in the United States, and argues that a substantial portion of the cost is frivolous, with "no meaningful impact".

Be that as it may, 60 Minutes has grossly underestimated the cost of dying. The greatest costs are not those associated with the months before death. Far greater are the costs associated with the months, years, decades and centuries AFTER death. Humanity's greatest problems may not be what you think they are. Here is Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom on the cost of death and the cost of less-than-wonderful life.

Church Supports Nondiscrimination Ordinances

During the night, the LDS Church newsroom fixed the broken link to the announcement of Church support for nondiscrimination ordinances in Salt Lake City. This is a welcome announcement. I hope it is just the beginning of improvements in understanding and constructive dialog between the Church and advocates of gay rights. Some may wonder why this issue is of such interest to me. Briefly, it is essential that we work toward ever increasing and expanding respect for persons of diverse types. The differences and challenges between gays and straights are not so great as those that biotechnology will enable in the future.

 
 

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via LDS Newsroom RSS Feed on 11/9/09

SALT LAKE CITY | 10 Nov 2009 | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared its support of nondiscrimination regulations that would extend protection in matters of housing and employment in Salt Lake City to those with same-sex attraction.

 
 

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Church Supports Nondiscrimination Ordinances

Wow! This is strange. I just received this press release from the LDS Church in my news reader. However, the link is dead, and the article appears to have been removed. What does that mean? Site hacked? Story unapproved? Second thoughts? On at least one occasion, previously, the LDS Church included a statement like this in a press release focused on another matter. However, they hadn't taken steps to reaffirm the statement. Such reaffirmation would, in my estimation, be a constructive and wonderful thing. Bring it on!

Sent to you by Lincoln Cannon via Google Reader:

via LDS Newsroom RSS Feed on 11/9/09
SALT LAKE CITY | 10 Nov 2009 | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has declared its support of nondiscrimination regulations that would extend protection in matters of housing and employment in Salt Lake City to those with same-sex attraction.

Things you can do from here:



By way of update, here's a screenshot of the post, still in the LDS Church newsroom feed . . .




. . . and another update. It appears that this post does in fact reflect an official press release made by the LDS Church. The Deseret News recently released "Text from LDS church regarding Salt Lake City's non-discrimination ordinance". Good news!

The Gift of Mobility



Who would have guessed that the LDS Church has been providing charitable funding for prosthetics? This is a welcome discovery, and indeed a gift, as identified by the LDS Newsroom article.

Dan Dennett and Thoughts for an Atheist Friend



Dan Dennett is among my favorite atheists. I imagine some may not think that much of a compliment, coming from a theist; but, unlike many (perhaps most) theists, I actually don't assume atheists to be evil by default, and even have the fortune of counting some atheists among my friends.

We Should Resurrect the Dead

In Sunday School today, we discussed Mormon ideas and doctrines related to the salvation of the dead. The focus, as usual, was on the contemporary practice of performing religious rituals, such as baptisms, on behalf of dead persons (by proxy, with no corpses involved, of course). The primary value I see in these ideas is that of near term practical consequence for the persons performing the rituals, which tend to open hearts and minds toward expectations of universal salvation, and consequently affect the Mormon community with a more charitable attitude towards persons with different backgrounds.

During such discussions, my thoughts and interest almost always move quickly beyond near term benefits to hope for long term benefits. Will these practices move us, as a people, to support and engage in the work of combatting aging? When those lessons are learned, will the doctrines further move us to support and engage in the work of resurrecting the dead?

Crazy? Maybe. Yet I wonder, and aspire. Is there a hard limit to the historians' project? To the medical doctor's oath? To the engineers' capacity? If not, what are the consequences of these endeavors, taken persistently and indefinitly forward? Is death absolute? Shall we worship that superlative?

Blasphemous? Certainly, for those who worship death. Yet, for those whose God is that of life and the power of love, we hear the call to take on the identity of Christ in every way possible, which is, as Paul the Apostle put it, the great mystery hidden from ages. We are called to be joint heirs in that glory. The Spirit whispers that we are children of God, and must, as all other gods before us, learn how to be gods ourselves. That is the esthetic.

We should resurrect the dead.

All going to hell?



While listening to the LDS Church General Conference today, I was reminded by one of the speakers that the world is becoming an increasingly evil place. I disagree. Certainly all is not well in Zion, so to speak, but we should acknowledge and celebrate our successes in addition to identifying our failures. If you happen to be among those who think the world has been becoming worse with each passing moment, or if you know someone that thinks that way, here are some historical insights worth considering and passing along, from cognitive scientist Steven Pinker.

If that's God, I'm an atheist too.



Religion is a controversial topic among transhumanists. Although the majority identify as atheists and agnostics, a substantial minority find transhumanism to be complementary with or even inherent in their spiritual or religious views. Of course, this results in friction, which in turn generates both some traction of contructive debate and some heat of wasteful hostility.

Hubble's Deep View of the Many Heavens

A friend directed me to this video that shows the results of pointing the Hubble telescope at an apprently empty spot in the night sky.



Whether you're a traditional theist or not, perhaps you feel, as I feel, something beckoning us to a future in those stars. Maybe it's a truth, maybe a moral imperative, but in the least it's an esthetic and an associated will. "The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. For behold, this is my work and my glory -- to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (The Pearl of Great Price, Moses 1: 37-39)

Our Mormon (Transhumanist) Future

Slate Magazine recently featured a series of articles investigating the question, "How Is America Going To End?" One of the articles responded, "The Catholic Church helped preserve Roman civilization. Can Mormonism do the same for America?" The author speculates that Mormons' strong communal cohesion, emergency preparedness, and general sense of patriotism could work together to preserve a subset of American values in apocalyptic scenarios. Further, the author suggests that values likely to be preserved by Mormons in such scenarios would be on the conservative end of the spectrum, reflecting Mormons' emphasis on history and relative lag behind general mores. The speculation is insightful, not because the associated scenario is particularly likely, but because it acknowledges the exceptional resilience of the Mormon community and culture. The speculation would have been even more insightful had it accounted for Mormons' long-evidenced embrace of technology, and the unusual correlation between higher education and higher religious involvement among Mormons. While apocalyptic Mormons would surely try to maintain the old-fashioned values of compassion, honesty and hard work, it would be a mistake to assume they'd try to do so in old-fashioned ways. The Mormons of the future are not fundamentalists. The Mormons of the future are transhumanists.

Shelly Kagan on Arguments for the Existence of the Soul



In his third lecture on the philosophy of life and death, Shelly Kagan begins presenting and refuting arguments for the existence of a supernatural or immaterial soul, or what he calls the "dualist perspective". He explains that one argument for the dualist perspective is that a supernatural or immaterial soul is required to explain the sorts of capacities that humans exhibit. He then appeals to technological advances, particularly computers and robots, to demonstrate that many of the capacities attributed to humans are already exhibited in bodies to which we do not attribute dualist natures. He ends by mentioning that he'll explore in the next lecture whether computers or robots might have the capacity for emotion.

Chemical Origin of Dog Experiences Discovered!

In a study at Bright University, a majority of test subjects given a particular pattern of brain stimulation had full-blown dog experiences. Such research is shedding light on the chemical reactions that take place in the brain when people feel they are encountering dogs.

Science and Technology are NOT Looking Beyond the Mark

Some have criticized Mormon Transhumanists, or even scientific- and technologically-leaning Mormons generally, as "looking beyond the mark" and not relying enough on faith, grace, priesthood, revelation, spirituality, God or something else presupposed to be at odds with science and technology. This criticism is entirely inconsistent with Mormonism, as I discuss a bit more in this post. First, here is an example of such criticism, originally posted as an anonymous comment on "The 'Mormon Transhumanist' Problem":

"While I believe your application of moral value to the advancement of technology is noble and somewhat intellectually enticing. However this technologically enhanced or assisted approach to doing the work of the Lord offers little more than interesting fantasies and logical exercises (which by the way are very impressive).

"Transfiguration and resurrection has been and will continue to take place without the assistance of scientific technology. It is done through the power of the priesthood. Yes, science is trying to discover and even counterfeit the works that have been done by the priesthood.

"Speaking heart to heart, I just think you are barking up the wrong tree here. I'd focus on what can be done by commanding the elements to combine etc. through righteous exercising of the priesthood. We know that illness is eradicated, we know that people are brought back to life, we know that the earth was created by the power of the priesthood coupled with faith. If you want to explore some of the deepest mysteries focus your attention on the principles on which faith and personal revelation operate.

"Again, It is these principles that make things occur. Science allows us to appreciate them all the more but focus on the basics. Priesthood power, faith and revelation.

"I am afraid you might be looking beyond the mark on this one. Stick to what the living Prophets have asked us to do note the respective proportions by which they invite us to do so. Yes we need to continue our knowledge and learning but be careful of the spiritual death trap of those who think they are wise. Again, don't look beyond the mark."

Are priesthood, faith and revelation sufficient for providing general conference to a worldwide church membership? Only if technology is considered a manifestation of priesthood, faith and revelation. How about the missionary effort or work for the dead? We simply could not scale them as we presently do without the assistance of technology. Do you carry a mobile phone? Is that compatible with relying on revelation? How about the use of the Internet? Why did you not merely pray that I would understand your differing perspective? Why did you leverage technology?

In the Bible, James clearly articulates the essential nature of the relation between spirituality and technology:

"What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2: 14-20)

"Works" encompasses technology. Although Mormons value faith healing, we do not reject medical technology because we understand them to be compatible. Although Mormons value revelation, we do not reject communications technology because we understand them to be compatible. As Mormons, we have a long and well substantiated history of embracing technology, as all works, to empower our vision of the future. We do this while simultaneously recognizing that all the works in the world will never be sufficient without the grace of God, yet the grace of God likewise depends on us doing what we can.

It is not looking beyond the mark to consider science as inspiration from God, or technology as an endowment from God. To the contrary, the expression "looking beyond the mark", comes from a passage of scripture that criticizes precisely the opposite of embracing science and technology. The expression is used in the Book of Mormon, Jacob 4: 14, as an assessment of religious persons who want mysteries rather than plainness. The passage says such persons will lose plainness and receive that which they cannot understand, causing them to stumble in blindness according to their desires.

Should you take resveratrol to live longer?



A couple months ago, my wife and I started taking resveratrol, a dietary supplement that appears to be effecting significantly extended and healthier life spans in mice and monkeys. Results have not yet been verified in humans, but here's a video segment from 60 minutes that may intrigue you.

Bednar Suggests Spirit is Information



At a recent LDS Church meeting for young adults, Elder David A Bednar commented on technology, and implied that spirit is information. Here is an approximate transcript of a portion of his talk:

Shelly Kagan on the Nature of Persons: Dualism and Physicalism



In this lecture, Shelly Kagan talks about life and death, as well as persons, in black and white terms. However, are there degrees of life and death? Are there degrees of consciousness? Are there degrees of identity?

Shelly Kagan Introductory Lecture on the Philosophy of Life and Death



I've begun watching Shelly Kagan's lectures on the "Philosophy of Life and Death" via Academic Earth, which links to thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars. In this set of lectures, Shelly argues for the following perspective: "I'm going to try to convince you that there is no soul. Immortality would not be a good thing. Fear of death isn't actually an appropriate response to death. Suicide, under certain circumstances, might be rationally and morally justified."

Arbitrary Interpretations of Memes

Susan Blackmore gave the following TED Talk on memes in February 2008. I agree with her application of the evolution paradigm to replicators beyond genes; however, I disagree with the way she interprets the ramifications (more on that below).



First, when she says (or quotes from someone else) that memes, like genes, result in design out of chaos without the aid of mind, what does she mean by "mind"? What if mind IS evolution at a rapid rate? Or what if mind is to memes as environment is to genes? Either way, it appears that universal darwinism may be understood as being dependent on mind quite as easily as it may be understood as being independent of mind. Maybe our genes are to God as our memes are to us? Or maybe temes are to God, as memes are to individuals, as genes are to anatomy? Something along these lines seems quite as plausible as the arbitrary claim that mind is not involved in any of this. Again, what is mind?

Second, I don't understand why she thinks non-human animals imitate hardly at all. On first hearing this claim, my initial impression is that she doesn't know what she's talking about. Here's one of a huge number of examples that come to mind quickly: parrots are the archetypical imitators. Why would they not be considered meme carriers?

Third, I disagree with the perspective she expressed with these words: "we think we're choosing these things, but the temes are making us do it" (by the way, in her view, temes are to memes as memes are to genes). Of course, she would express the same sentiment regarding memes and genes. They MAKE us do things. We don't choose. From such a perspective, there may be no choice whatsoever. Yet we all experience choice. How is that? Some say we're deceiving ourselves. Those who say so are holding dogmatically to a particular understanding of "choice". Others, like me, simply say: I know I choose -- and I'm curious to understand better what that means (whether or not genes, memes and temes end up playing a role in my understanding).

Practicing Atonement



This is a transcript of a talk I gave to my local Mormon congregation on the subject of the Atonement of Christ. As among Christians generally, there are many interpretations of the Atonement among Mormons. In my experience, the interpretation I share here has considerable practical power for transforming the way I think, speak, and act for the better from day to day. I welcome your feedback and questions.

Happy Easter

Each night, Christ is willingly wounded for our sins, hammered to the cross with fresh nails from the eternal conflict of desires, wills and laws. Seeking no vengeful punishment or sacrifice, except the repentent apology of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, he again satisfies justice in freely chosen mercy.



Each day, Christ rises from the garden tomb, turning our hearts and spirits to new heavens, growing from a new earth, stemming beyond present conflict. We are reassured that death is fragile enough to break as the roots of life dig deeper. As its buds press sunward, we imagine a flowering glory.



Night and day, Christ embraces and raises us in the infinite atonement of heaven and life beyond hell and death. Called, we take the name and suffer together, that we may join in the glory. We forgive as we are forgiven. We heal as we are healed. What was once a mystery is revealed in us as we labor, striving according to his working, which works in us mightily.

Terryl Givens on "No Small and Cramped Eternities"

Terryl Givens gave the keynote speech at the recent Mormonism Engineering conference. This recording is the first of several from that conference that we will make available over the next few weeks.


A Technical Interpretation of Mormon Physics and Physiology



This is a transcript of my presentation at the Mormonism Engineering conference at Claremont Graduate University on 7 March 2009. The paper, authored by Scott Howe and I, will soon be available.

The Full Extent of Christian Obligation Includes Overcoming Aging and Death



Mormons almost universally acknowledge that we have a moral obligation and capacity to participate in the work of God, to bring about the immortality and eternal life of humanity. This acknowledgement focuses primarily on the advance of spiritual salvation, particularly through missionary and temple work. Such a focus is important, but it does not, in itself, satisfy the full extent of our obligation, which also includes the advance of physical salvation. Both the LDS Church and individual Mormons regularly demonstrate real concern and concerted effort to advance physical salvation, through means ranging from neighborhood service projects to large scale welfare and humanitarian programs. Yet we can and should do more.

Non-Superlative Religious Ideologies

Absolutely nothing if not sublimely eloquent, Dale Carrico criticizes transhumanism as necessarily superlative -- depending on exaggerations, absolutes, extremes, determinisms, and so forth.


I agree with his criticism of superlativity as nonsensical and practically detrimental. However, I disagree with his assessment of transhumanism's reliance on superlativity. Dale suggests that, without superlativity, transhumanism is nothing more than his own technoprogressivism, which he describes as a commitment to universal healthcare and pro-choice politics. He's incorrect.


For all the reasons that criticisms of superlativity do not apply to some theologies, such as those concerned with progressing gods, the criticisms also do not necessarily apply to transhumanism. For all the reasons that non-superlative theologies are not necessarily humanism, non-superlative transhumanism also is not necessarily technoprogressivism.


For good or ill, some ideologies are more powerful than others, precisely because of what Dale considers to be their cult-like attributes. The religious attitude will endure when and where the non-religious attitude will not. The power of the esthetic and the meaning of the myth will move the person that would otherwise halt apathetically. Superlatives have been and are certainly at play among those of us who are religious, but they are hardly universal.


Most transhumanists, of course, would not identify themselves as religious persons. Fine. Neither would early adherents to various major ideologies that we now commonly recognize as religions. Whether future persons identify transhumanists as religious or not, we're operating with a different esthetic than that espoused by Dale's technoprogressivism, with or without superlativity.


I don't know how long and to what extent transhumanism, or mormonism, will endure and excel as organizing forces, but I'll bet on something like them outlasting any ideology that expresses itself most fully in eloquent moderation.

Invitation to Leon Kass



I've heard through the grapevine that Leon Kass has told his students that Mormon Transhumanists are very confused persons. I invite Leon to explain to us our confusion, and put to rest my suspicion that what he really means is that we confuse him. What do you say, Leon?

President Barack Obama, Technophile-in-Chief



Today, the United States of America celebrated the inauguration of President Barack Obama. While we may each identify various reasons to join in the celebration, there are a few that may stand out for Mormon Transhumanists.

Is God a Subtle Singleton?



In a short paper entitled "What is a Singleton?", Nick Bostrom defines "singleton" as a world order with a single decision-making entity at the highest level, and briefly describes a variety of possible singletons. Of particular interest, the paper notes the following:

Theological Implications of New Ancestor Simulations from the Military

Christian Schumann-Curtis dropped me a note to point out an article on Slate, which reports that the United States Department of Defense is working on software that simulates dead soldiers, so that their children can interact with them for emotional support. This is just one more data point in the trend of rapid advances in simulation technology. Extrapolate that trend into the future and you encounter an interesting implication: either the advance will eventually and permanently halt (due to unforeseen hard technical limits, totalitarian political demands, or the destruction of our civilization) or we almost certainly live in a computed world (kind of like the Matrix, but not necessarily so evil). If you're not sure why these are the implications of advances in simulation technology, check out the New God Argument.
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Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement
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