Technology Beyond Mere Technology
10 February 2010 (updated 6 October 2016)
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.
Likewise, science is an important aspect of transhumanism, yet again not merely narrowly. As technology is to power, science is to knowledge. It is the hard work toward achieving common experience, consequent to common understanding. Hypothesis, trial, verification, falsification, peer review, and the various other aspects of method commonly associated with science are important, yet none is individually essential. More essential, at a philosophical level, is the will to law, to shared subjectivity, to objectivity, or even epistemic atonement, to use the religious angle. Such science establishes context for technology, knowledge for power.
Knowledge and power are important in Mormon theology, but are hardly sufficient. To paraphrase the scriptures, the demons know and tremble during the day of Satan’s power. There is more. Love, charity, benevolence makes enduring power possible. Without that, there may be power for a time, but it will fail us. The resurrection of the dead may be an engineering problem, but eternal life requires a gamble on the side of compassion. Maybe tech can enhance our ethical inclinations, but the choice to do so and the definition of how to do so are defined prior to the application of tech, and prior to scientific discovery. Tomorrow’s power and knowledge come only after whatever wisdom and inspiration we may have today.
Clearly the world is changing, and clearly the changes have accelerated. In ancient times, generations may have lived and died without observing the degree of ideological and practical novelty and diversity that any one of us has observed in the last decade. We sense this intuitively. Yet Moore’s Law, even if inappropriately associated with “law”, surpasses our intuitions. We measure the rate of change. We observe the consequences of change. We project such change into the future, at the historic rate … and we know either the rate of change must slow dramatically (for reasons we cannot identify, short of global catastrophe), or we have bigger revolutions than rocket ships or the Internet headed our way within the next few decades.
Will the future be brighter or darker than the present? None can say with certainty, but we can with confidence posit that we should be preparing ourselves for greater degrees of change in shorter periods of time than any in known history. Perhaps we’ll annihilate ourselves with weapons we have not yet imagined? Or maybe we’ll conquer the inevitability or permanence of death itself?
With such risks and opportunities presenting themselves, I’m reminded of a passage from the Book of Mormon, in which Captain Moroni castigates his people for relying passively on the goodness of God without taking advantage of the means at hand for their salvation. We, Mormons, have a vision of the future and trust in the goodness of God, yet are we sometimes too passive? Are we always engaged in the good work without waiting for commandment? Have we fully internalized the call to take on the identity of Christ? It may be that we can do nothing to make a difference in the grand scheme of things, or it may be that we can. It seems that we lose relatively little by trying, and perhaps much by not. I imagine Jesus thinking such thoughts on the garden path to the cross – to the empty tomb.