Bob (the blue blob from Monsters Inc) claimed that you don't need a brain. Although all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals have brains, some animals don't. For example, jellyfish have only a decentralized nervous system, and sponges have no nervous system at all. Then, of course, there are countless non-animal lifeforms that don't have brains. Bob was right!
We believed. That's what they told us, and we trusted. Their stories were awesome and awful, situating us in meaning and purpose. We knew where we came from, why we were here, and where we were going. It made sense. It felt good.
Fundamentalist Christians are demonizing Transhumanism. It's not new, of course, but it has become increasingly frequent and hostile.
Carl Teichrib, editor of the "Forcing Change" journal, drove for two days to attend the recent Transhumanism and Spirituality conference sponsored by the Mormon Transhumanist Association in Salt Lake City UT. Afterward, he wrote a review of the conference in his journal and discussed his experience in an interview on the "View from the Bunker" radio show hosted by Derek Bilbert. In both the written review and the radio interview, Carl demonstrates himself to be thoughtful and articulate. Most of the information he provides is accurate, even if he occasionally demonstrates an inclination toward sensationalism over completeness. Some of the observations he makes are also quite insightful, making for an interesting read. Below are some brief thoughts in response to portions of his review and interview.
Yesterday, I presented a case study on cloud computing security at the Cloud Security Alliance Congress 2010 in Orlando, Florida. Below are the notes I put together in preparation for my presentation. The conference was technically oriented, so I didn't comment on futurism or philosophy. However, it's worth noting here that cloud computing is a significant manifestation of accelerating technological change. Our computers are not only becoming individually faster and less expensive, but together (metaphorically as a cloud) they are also becoming increasingly redundant and distributed -- increasingly like biological brains. So, to make the technical read more philosophically interesting, you might consider whether this case study is a rudimentary example of how to ensure mental health in the future.
Recently, Joshua Fox gave an insightful presentation on why "super-intelligence does not imply benevolence" (thanks to Michael Anissimov for bringing this to our attention). He identifies two kinds of benevolence, instrumental and axiomatic, and argues that neither is a necessary outcome for super-intelligence. He observes that instrumental benevolence results from others' capacity to monitor, punish and reward, and that we may be incapable of doing that for super-intelligence. He further observes that neither basic goals nor complex goals necessarily result in benevolence because simple goals could result in consumption of that which humans value and complex goals could result in any of many universal atomic configurations that are incompatible with human welfare, thereby illustrating risks in axiomatic intelligence. His conclusion is that we should not rely on the spontaneous emergence of benevolence in super-intelligence, but should instead work carefully to engineer benevolence into super-intelligence.
These matrices help me visualize categories, or relations between key concepts, as I understand and use them in my writing. Relations are both within and between matrices. Here's an example of a relation within a matrix: individuals are to communities as anatomies are to environments. Here's an example of a relation between matrices: truth is to communities as knowledge is to individuals.
Today, while looking through old journal entries, I came across the following passage, written when I was a missionary for the LDS Church:
My friend, Brad Carmack, would like to share with you a draft of his book, "Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student's Perspective". It is a heart-felt and thought-provoking look, from the perspective of a faithful Mormon, at homosexuality as it relates to Mormon culture and religion. The book begins with an appeal to compassion, and a discussion of homosexual causation and mutability. From there, it proceeds to construct a case for same-sex marriage, including an interesting chapter on reproductive technologies.
Transfigurism is exemplified by a syncretization of Mormonism and Transhumanism. Together, they illustrate the compatibility of religion, science, spirituality and technology in the following ways:
- Theology - Trust in posthuman potential entails that which qualifies as faith in God.
- Metaphysics - The basic assumptions of science lead to engineering miracles.
- Theodicy - Justification of artificial intelligence justifies evil in a world created by God.
- Eschatology - Accelerating change parallels prophetic visions of the present and future.
- Soteriology - Posthuman history would be resurrection gifted to and earned by us.
On 14 September, Thomas Horn of Raiders News Network wrote an open letter to Christian leaders on biotechnology and the future of man. The letter attacks transhumanism and merits response from religious transhumanists. To that end, here are my thoughts.
A friend (Jeremy Owen Turner) called my attention to an article published today in the Telegraph, which asks, "Are we living in a designer universe?" There are strong similarities between the ideas expressed in this article and those I expressed in my blog post a few days ago, "Before the Big Bang: Posthuman Computers in Black Holes?"
A friend asked for my opinion on what came before the big bang. I'm not a physicist or cosmologist, but I read enough to have (dangerous) opinions that might provoke imagination in productive directions. With that disclaimer, here are my thoughts.
Recently, a friend wrote me a letter requesting my thoughts on some of the challenges, particularly historical and political, facing the LDS Church and how they affect him personally. With his permission, I'm responding on my blog because I expect these thoughts will interest and may benefit others.
A Wired article recently explained "Human Evolution Recapped in Kids' Brain Growth". Basically, the idea is that 25 million years' of human brain evolution are repeated at relatively high speed in the developing brains of contemporary human children. I've sometimes wondered whether something similar might not be true of posthuman evolution?
Below is a transcript of my presentation at Sunstone 2010 yesterday at the Sheraton Hotel in Salt Lake City. I invite your feedback.
Dvice lists "6 reasons why you'll never upload your mind to a computer". There are some problems with Dvice's reasoning.
Michael Anissimov and Aubrey de Grey call our attention to Pope Benedict's Holy Saturday address from 3 April of this year. In the address, the Pope presents perspective on immortalism, suggesting that radical extension of life as we currently know it is not a cure for death, but rather a cure for death must "transform our lives from within" and "create a new life within us, truly fit for eternity".
In 2007, I read Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion". At the time, the New Atheists appeared newer than they now appear (although they were perhaps not so new even at that time), and they were frequently referenced in articles and discussions that crossed my path. Prior to reading Dawkins' book, I was told, by both atheist and theist friends, basically not to waste my time on it. Generally, their reasoning was that Dawkins treats religion too shallowly. For whatever reason, I decided to read the book anyway.
While browsing the results of the Pew Research Center survey of Americans' expectations of life in 2050, there were a couple problems that jumped out at me.
Transhumanists have been charged with hubris: the arrogance of playing God. As the argument goes, our aspirations are beyond moral bounds, our trust in human ability is unwarranted and dangerous, and we may even risk the wrath of some God that would punish us to rectify our attitude and put us in our proper place as his lowly creatures.
Do rituals save us? Are ordinances required for salvation or exaltation? Put differently, for those with less familiarity with religious language, are there desirable modes of existence (perhaps subsequent to death) that we cannot attain without engaging in particular rituals, perhaps performed by particularly authorized persons? For example, it is not uncommon among Christians (including Mormons) to hold that a ritual like baptism is necessary for salvation.
Today, Philippe Verdoux of the IEET asked, "Will posthumans all be atheists?". My first reaction was: "This is ridiculous. It's like an embryo asking whether humans will not believe in humans." I think I even mumbled it out loud, although there was no one around to hear me.
Expressing concern about the status of Jesus and emotion, Vblogger has written some additional thoughts about Mormon Transhumanism. I welcome the opportunity to respond to some of those thoughts, and hope Vblogger will continue to probe.
If sincere questions or disagreements detract from your spiritual experiences then you might ask yourself whether your inspiration is coming from the right God. This thought confronted me today during church services, when a speaker told a story about his missionary work. While trying to connect spiritually with a group of persons, the missionary was repeatedly interrupted by one person with questions and disagreements. The missionary called this person a "hijacker" and commented that this "detracted from the spirit" and made missionary work difficult.
Will universal resurrection of the dead be the natural consequence of increasingly detailed genealogical work? Do the thought experiment:
As widely reported, physicist Stephen Hawking has warned us not to talk to aliens. His concern arises from an analogy between the supposed possible character of advanced aliens and the observed historical behavior of colonizers on Earth.
The post concludes my response to Vblogger's "Doctrinal and Logical Response" on her blog, Mormon Transhumanist Association Response. My first three posts may be found here: Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response and Continued Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response and More Continued Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response. As before, I will quote portions of Vblogger's comments and follow these quotes with my thoughts.
The post continues my response to Vblogger's "Doctrinal and Logical Response" on her blog, Mormon Transhumanist Association Response. My first two posts may be found here: Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response and Continued Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response. As before, I will quote portions of Vblogger's comments and follow these quotes with my thoughts.
This post continues my response to Vblogger's assessment of Mormon Transhumanism, as found in the "Doctrinal and Logical Response" section of her blog, "Mormon Transhumanist Association Response". My previous post addressed Vblogger's thoughts about the first of the three points in the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation. This post begins by addressing Vblogger's thoughts about the second point of the Affirmation:
This morning, I found that someone, using the pseudonym "Vblogger", has set up a blog entitled "Mormon Transhumanist Association Response", with the stated purpose of showing that Mormonism and Transhumanism are not compatible. Vblogger describes herself as a member of the LDS Church, married with children, and convinced that truth can be found in a variety of religions as well as through scientific discovery. Vblogger sounds like a pleasant and interesting person, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to respond to her assessment of Mormon Transhumanism.
This question comes from a post about transhumanism at Brad Carmack's blog:
"If the prophecy of the last days paints a picture of increasing wickedness, moral degradation, and political erosion, doesn't it become somewhat heretical to seek significant and sustainable political, environmental, and social improvements, as their accomplishment would necessarily negate the fulfillment of the prophecy?"
Today, the Mormon Transhumanist Association announced that Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association) terminated its affiliation program, thereby ending its affiliation with the MTA and other notable transhumanist groups, including the Immortality Institute, the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology, and the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
Below is a transcript of my presentation of the New God Argument today at the annual meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. I hope to follow up later with a recording, when it becomes available. Thank you to all who attended for the thought-provoking questions and conversation. Please note that the transcript is not a formal document, and doesn't contain the references it should contain. We're working on preparing a presentation of the argument that would be suitable for publication. That will remedy the lack of references. In the mean time, I'll just note that the major references are at least indicated by name within the transcript. I look forward to your feedback.
Below is the revised summary of the New God Argument, as presented today at the annual meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. Those who are familiar with the argument will recognize that we renamed the Charity Arguments to "the Benevolence Argument" and focused in on one of the original arguments -- which is not to say there is not merit in the others, but this one lends itself best to the formal argument. We also revised some of the syntax, most notably using "posthumans" now rather than "advanced civilizations", which serves to clarify some areas. As always, I'm interested in your feedback. Thank you.
"In a surprising discovery about where higher life can thrive, scientists found a shrimplike creature and a jellyfish frolicking beneath an Antarctic ice sheet." (Boston Globe)
Some of us perceive science as dry, boring, aloof, impersonal, elite, callous and perhaps disturbing, confusing or even stifling. This is an esthetic problem -- a spiritual problem. The consequences include unnecessary and ineffective forms of communal division and relational stress, slowed progress in knowledge and its application, and increased risks to our long term survival.
Technology is certainly an important aspect of transhumanism. Although some (too many so long as there's one, so far as I'm concerned) transhumanists focus on a narrow definition of "technology", others regard technology as a principle that encompasses far more than plastic and metal stuff bundled together within the last century. In a broader sense, technology is power, a prosthetic extension of volition, an embodiment of our spiritual esthetic. In contrast to apathy, wishful thinking or superstition, it results in practical work, defined in terms of our desires.
Information hazards are reasons to withhold knowledge, such as how to build an atomic weapon, the genetic makeup of deadly viruses, etc. The idea is not new. For thousands of years, esoteric groups, such as Masons and Mormons, have formed around knowledge that was considered privileged. The reasoning, basically, is that knowledge is power, and power can be abused.
Anarchist, atheist, buddhist, extropian, libertarian, mormon, singularitarian, technoprogressive ... and cosmist are among the many self-identifications that sometimes accompany transhumanist self-identification. Below are some quick thoughts on how the Ten Cosmist Convictions, as authored by Giulio Prisco and Ben Goertzel, compare to my perspective as a Mormon Transhumanist. Some of the comparisons merit more elaboration than I give them here, but will, I expect, yet provide some insight into compatibilities between these views.