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.

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".

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!

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.

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 apparently empty spot in the night sky.

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?"

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.

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
Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement