Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement

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.

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