Some of the most spiritual places in the world, for me, are found in the rugged red rock deserts and blue sky scraping peaks of Southern Utah. And that not naked and alone, but rather with family and friends, and with backpacks, cameras, smartphones, and cellular connections.
You and I begin with desires, physical and spiritual, that we seek to fulfill as the purpose of our respective lives. To the extent that we fulfill these desires, we experience joy. To the extent that our desires conflict, within ourselves or between each other, we experience misery. We may each extend love to each other and reflectively on ourselves. As that love works on us, moving us to reconcile our desires, we experience greater joy. To the extent that love empowers us to reconcile all our desires, and to the extent that we fulfill all our reconciled desires, physical and spiritual, we experience fullness of joy.
The Mormon authoritative tradition clearly and repeatedly advocates the kind of love that would reconcile desires. As usual, Jesus sets the precedent, expressing his love as an act of reconciliation and inviting us to ask according to our desires:
I learned this morning that leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the largest Mormon denomination and that in which I am a member) has chosen to prohibit the Church from baptizing or blessing minor children of gays, and to require adult children of married gays to disavow their parents' marriage before the Church may baptize them. While I love and support the Church and its leaders, I disagree with these new policies. Here are my reasons.
Sometimes atheist Transhumanists ask me, "What do imaginary sky masters have to do with Transhumanism?" Of course there's an appeal to ridicule in the question, so it's not exactly a shining model of rational engagement. But underlying the ridicule is a real question worth addressing. Here's my answer.
Today is the tenth anniversary of my blog! Thank you so much for reading, reasoning, feeling, imagining, commenting, agreeing, disagreeing, and supporting my work over the years. In celebration, below is a list of my top 10 most viewed posts, followed by a list of the top posts for each year. I'd also really love to hear from you. If there's a post I've written that you've particularly liked, will you please tell me about it in the comments, along with a link to it? Thanks again!
In the spring and fall of each year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds its annual general conference. Hundreds of thousands of Mormons converge on Salt Lake City for two days of sermons from top leaders of the Church, which with around 16 million members is by far the largest Mormon denomination in the world. The most recent conference was held just a couple days ago. Below are 124 thoughts, from me and others, that I collected as I watched the conference and discussed it. As usual, the thoughts range from affirmations to criticisms, and from questions to assertions. I intend them to provoke reflection, questions, and comments, and contribute to a meaningful engagement with the ideas generally.
Zoltan Istvan is running for President of the United States as the candidate for the party he founded, Transhumanist Party USA. As a concerned individual Transhumanist, and not in affiliation with any organization, Transhumanist or otherwise, I have authored and circulated a petition among Transhumanists, urging disavowal of Zoltan's candidacy because (1) he has misrepresented Transhumanism, (2) he has promoted cultural hostility, and (3) he has operated unilaterally.
Some laud the relative respectability of New Atheism and its adherents compared to the various explicitly religious fundamentalisms of our day. Recently, when I commented that we'll all be embarrassed by fellow adherents to our ideologies at one time or another, one of my friends commented that he's never embarrassed by atheists, or at least not by their atheism. I pointed out "The Altruist God of an Egoist Atheist" and "Richard Dawkins Advocates Cultural Bigotry," and he responded, more or less, that atheists have been persecuted so he feels they merit more patience.
I've written about joy being the purpose of life, using the Mormon authoritative tradition as an example of that idea. I also observed that the idea is most robust if we understand joy, not in any narrowly preconceived manner, but rather broadly in relation to that which we severally and variously and dynamically desire. This may sound excessively hedonistic, and yet we also find this idea incorporated in Mormonism.
Why not gather your family and friends for a group overdose on morphine? Expressed less provocatively, why live? Why maintain life through nourishment? Why extend life through medicine? Why perpetuate life through procreation? Whatever your initial reasons, introspect further. Why do you have those reasons? And, in turn, why do you have those reasons for reasons? At some point, your introspection may become too difficult or circular to continue.
Writing for the Daily Dot, Dylan Love recently put together a good piece on religion and superintelligence. The title has changed since the original posting. The new one is, in my estimation, inaccurate, but it probably improved clicks. Here's the original title: "Will we be able to convert robots to Christianity?" He interviewed me for the article, and my complete answers to his questions are below.
What is good? Is it good because God says so? Or does God say so because it's good? If it's good independent of any God, how so? Is it good inherently or consequentially? Such are the traditional questions of ethics. It begins with consideration of duty in relation to values. And it extends from consideration to application, to actually living in word and deed according to that duty.
I'm often asked about the logo of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, the winged wheel above the name of the association. So I'd like to share part of the story behind the origin of the logo, and some of the symbolism I and others have seen in it.
This is a transcript of a talk I gave in my local Mormon congregation today. The leadership asked three of us to speak on the subject of the Sabbath, how we might cultivate positive feelings toward it, and how we severally try to do so in our own homes.
Mormonism is relatively unique among world religions in its regard for bodies. Where most major religions consider bodies to be temporary or inhibitive, Mormonism considers bodies to be eternal and empowering, and potentially divine. This provides strong common ground with physicalist philosophies generally, and particularly with Transhumanism. Even the radical Transhumanist aspiration of mind uploading is compatible with Mormonism, although the idea is easy to misinterpret in ways that would be neither consistent with physicalism nor compatible with Mormonism.
As I think about the future of humanity and the forces that shape our ongoing evolution, I'm often drawn to reflect on the origins of Judaism, and particularly the origins of the Bible. A couple thousand years ago, they gave birth to Christianity, which became the most influential cultural force in human history. And I often wonder whether something analogous might happen again in the future: a small group of strenuously motivated thinkers produces an information artifact that goes on to serve as the launching point from which a new super-cultural force rises. Of course I don't know, but when trying to anticipate the future, it's always good to start by taking a harder look at the past.
Here is version 3.2 of the New God Argument, as it appears on the new website I published last week. Changes from version 3.1 include shortening of the main summary, addition of short summaries for each section, addition of a "decentralized" qualification on the destructive capacity mentioned in the Compassion Argument, and removal of the hyphen in "posthumanity".
One of my favorite passages of The Book of Mormon is the speech of King Benjamin in Mosiah 2-5. In the speech, Benjamin makes three observations about the (in)significance of humanity that have informed my interpretation of the Gospel of Christ, particularly in light of contemporary science and social trends.
Occasionally I hear (or hear of) Mormons contending that cryonics (low-temperature preservation of a legally-dead body for resuscitation when new technology might cure the cause of death) is incompatible with our faith. Yet, to the contrary, those who revere the Bible have reason to trust that resuscitation, by cryonics or otherwise, is a religious mandate. And Mormons are not an exception, as illustrated by these seven reasons.
Words may say I'm Christian. Actions too often show I'm not. I've conspired to heap up sanctioned fears and privileged prejudices to overwhelm and bury you. I've ridiculed, demonized, and threatened, cutting with innumerable strikes at your soul. Somehow the old book in my hand and the pointed building behind me have justified condemnation of your trust and hope, your relationships, and your world. Somehow a superlative projection, a would-be God, has inspired me to damn you.
Information systems have long relied on identity to facilitate security and other forms of decision-making. In its most basic sense, an identity may be nothing more than an identifier, which, combined with a password, has sufficed for the practical concerns of many historic systems. However, as our systems have become more complex, more integrated, and more intelligent, new risks and opportunities have presented themselves, demanding more robust forms of identity -- perhaps even aspirational notions of true identity.
Technological change is accelerating and transforming our world. Assuming trends persist, we will soon experience an evolutionary shift in the mechanisms of reputation, a fundamental on which relationships are based. Cascading effects of the shift will revolutionize the way we relate with each other and our machines, incentivizing unprecedented degrees of global cooperation.
Below is version 3.1 of the New God Argument, as it appears in "What is Mormon Transhumanism?", published today in the peer reviewed journal of Theology and Science. This formulation is closer to version 2.0 than version 3.0. Version 3.1 restores approximations of the Faith Assumption and Benevolence Argument as formulated in version 2.0, but it maintains the new subtitle switch from "Benevolence Argument" to "Compassion Argument" that I introduced in version 3.0. Version 3.1 also includes some minor syntax adjustments, as recommended by editors of Theology and Science.
Quality for Animal Life: what's the first thing that comes to mind when you read that? Animal rights or something along those lines? Yeah. Well, I'll tell you what didn't come to mind for me: Mormon Transhumanism. And yet, as it turns out, Quality for Animal Life, a nonprofit organization founded in Salt Lake City in the 1980s, is the embodiment of something approximating an early Mormon Transhumanist movement.
This is a transcript of my talk at the 2015 Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, held yesterday in the Salt Lake City Public Library. The conference attracted about 75 attendees in person, and about 900 visitors to the live stream on Transfigurism.org. Keynote speakers were Ralph Merkle and Kristine Haglund, and many family members and friends were in attendance. I'm interested in your feedback on my talk, so please do comment. Thanks!
Several friends have asked for my opinion on a set of controversial topics in Mormonism that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) addressed in a series of essays during 2013 and 2014. The topics include "Are Mormons Christian?", "Becoming Like God", "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies", "Book of Mormon Translation", "First Vision Accounts", "Peace and Violence among 19th Century Latter-day Saints", "Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", "Race and the Priesthood", and "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham".
A friend recently shared with me some questions about Mormon Transhumanism. The questions arose in response to a recording of my presentation at the 2013 Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. In that presentation, I comment on the purpose of the Association and explain why I believe Mormonism mandates Transhumanism. Here are the questions and my thoughts in response.
In his Orthogonality Thesis, Nick Bostrom proposes that "intelligence and final goals are orthogonal: more or less any level of intelligence could in principle be combined with more or less any final goal." However, there's a problem hinted at by the combination of "orthogonality" and "more or less". Nick acknowledges that intelligent purpose actually does have some constraints. And arguably those constraints are actually quite strong, which would mean the Orthogonality Thesis is rather weak. But the weakness may not be fatal. We can formulate a Semi-Orthogonality Thesis that actually accounts better for Nick's own observations and reasoning without overstating their ramifications, which remain momentous.
I often position Mormon theology in terms of "superintelligent posthumanity". This provides a bridge of understanding between Transhumanism and Mormonism. It can also provide a bridge of understanding between Transhumanism and broader Christianity, insofar as Mormonism illustrates an interpretive approach to Christian authoritative tradition. Recently, after reading one of my references to God as superintelligent posthumanity, a Transhumanist friend wondered if I might further demonstrate the connection. I can. In fact, Mormon scripture and founder Joseph Smith make the connection pretty much explicit.
Richard Dawkins is at it again, misapplying his extraordinary biological brilliance to religion with altogether sophomoric results. He's worried that we're saddling children with religious labels, like "Christian", when the children aren't even old enough to understand, let alone assert informed agreement with, the beliefs of their parents. It's such a tragedy, of course, so someone had better do something about it. Thank goodness for Richard.
Stop a Mormon on the street, and ask her to describe God. She might say something like, "God is our Heavenly Father, an embodied glorified being, who created our world and loves us immeasurably." That's an accurate account of Mormon theology, so far as it goes. And yet there's more she could say, reflecting the rich theology of Mormon scripture and authoritative tradition, from ancient Jewish and Christian origins through modern Mormon texts. Here's a taste.
I'm excited to announce that I've accepted the position of Senior Vice President and Chief Product Officer at The World Table, and I want to tell you why.
For two decades, I've worked in information technology, including leadership roles in software engineering and marketing technology. For about half that time, I've seriously networked with engineers, scientists, futurists, philosophers, and others interested in emerging technology and its cultural ramifications. And for the last year or so, I've worked as a technology and culture consultant. Along the way, I've collaborated with interesting people, worked on fascinating projects, and encountered inspiring ideas.
Some of the best ideas, projects, and people are coming together at The World Table.
So much anti-religious dogmatism, so much misrecognized religiosity, so little time. It's a wonder to me that some clearly sophisticated persons can express such unsophisticated opinions about religion. Maybe it's just because we all have vested interests? On the one hand, those who have distanced themselves from tradition seek to justify their choice, as those who have continued to embrace tradition likewise would justify themselves. What's to be made of the strange creatures, arguably not so uncommon now or ever, that reject any notion of the choice being all or nothing or even mutually exclusive? What's to be made of emerging culture that would both conserve and discard tradition in various ways to various extents?