Monthly Archives: June 2013

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Transhumanism, Technology, and Science: To Say It’s Impossible Is to Mock History Itself – Article by Franco Cortese

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Categories: History, Science, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
June 30, 2013
Recommend this page.
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One of the most common arguments made against Transhumanism, Technoprogressivism, and the transformative potentials of emerging, converging, disruptive and transformative technologies may also be the weakest: technical infeasibility. While some thinkers attack the veracity of Transhumanist claims on moral grounds, arguing that we are committing a transgression against human dignity (in turn often based on ontological grounds of a static human nature that shan’t be tampered with) or on grounds of safety, arguing that humanity isn’t responsible enough to wield such technologies without unleashing their destructive capabilities, these categories of counter-argument (efficacy and safety, respectively) are more often than not made by people somewhat more familiar with the community and its common points of rhetoric.
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In other words these are the real salient and significant problems needing to be addressed by Transhumanist and Technoprogressive communities. The good news is that the ones making the most progress in terms of deliberating the possible repercussions of emerging technologies are Transhumanist and Technoprogressive communities. The large majority of thinkers and theoreticians working on Existential Risk and Global Catastrophic Risk, like The Future of Humanity Institute and the Lifeboat Foundation, share Technoprogressive inclinations. Meanwhile, the largest proponents of the need to ensure wide availability of enhancement technologies, as well as the need for provision of personhood rights to non-biologically-substrated persons, are found amidst the ranks of Technoprogressive Think Tanks like the IEET.
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A more frequent Anti-Transhumanist and Anti-Technoprogressive counter-argument, by contrast, and one most often launched by people approaching Transhumanist and Technoprogressive communities from the outside, with little familiarity with their common points of rhetoric, is the claim of technical infeasibility based upon little more than sheer incredulity.

Sometimes a concept or notion simply seems too unprecedented to be possible. But it’s just too easy for us to get stuck in a spacetime rut along the continuum of culture and feel that if something were possible, it would have either already happened or would be in the final stages of completion today. “If something is possible, when why hasn’t anyone done it Shouldn’t the fact that it has yet to be accomplished indicate that it isn’t possible?” This conflates ought with is (which Hume showed us is a fallacy) and ought with can. Ought is not necessarily correlative with either. At the risk of saying the laughably-obvious, something must occur at some point in order for it to occur at all. The Moon landing happened in 1969 because it happened in 1969, and to have argued in 1968 that it simply wasn’t possible solely because it had never been done before would not have been  a valid argument for its technical infeasibility.

If history has shown us anything, it has shown us that history is a fantastically poor indicator of what will and will not become feasible in the future. Statistically speaking, it seems as though the majority of things that were said to be impossible to implement via technology have nonetheless come into being. Likewise, it seems as though the majority of feats it was said to be possible to facilitate via technology have also come into being. The ability to possiblize the seemingly impossible via technological and methodological in(ter)vention has been exemplified throughout the course of human history so prominently that we might as well consider it a statistical law.

We can feel the sheer fallibility of the infeasibility-from-incredulity argument intuitively when we consider how credible it would have seemed a mere 100 years ago to claim that we would soon be able to send sentences into the air, to be routed to a device in your pocket (and only your pocket, not the device in the pocket of the person sitting right beside you). How likely would it have seemed 200 years ago if you claimed that 200 years hence it would be possible to sit comfortably and quietly in a chair in the sky, inside a large tube of metal that fails to fall fatally to the ground?

Simply look around you. An idiosyncratic genus of great ape did this! Consider how remarkably absurd it would seem for the gorilla genus to have coordinated their efforts to build skyscrapers; to engineer devices that took them to the Moon; to be able to send a warning or mating call to the other side of the earth in less time than such a call could actually be made via physical vocal cords. We live in a world of artificial wonder, and act as though it were the most mundane thing in the world. But considered in terms of geological time, the unprecedented feat of culture and artificial artifact just happened. We are still in the fledging infancy of the future, which only began when we began making it ourselves.
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We have no reason whatsoever to doubt the eventual technological feasibility of anything, really, when we consider all the things that were said to be impossible yet happened, all the things that were said to be possible and did happen, and all the things that were unforeseen completely yet happened nonetheless. In light of history, it seems more likely than a given thing would eventually be possible via technology than that it wouldn’t ever be possible. I fully appreciate the grandeur of this claim – but I stand by it nonetheless. To claim that a given ability will probably not be eventually possible to implement via technology is to laugh in the face of history to some extent.

The main exceptions to this claim are abilities wherein you limit or specify the route of implementation. Thus it probably would not be eventually possible to, say, infer the states of all the atoms comprising the Eifel Tower from the state of a single atom in your fingernail: categories of ability where you specify the implementation as the end-ability – as in the case above, the end ability was to infer the state of all the atoms in the Eifel Tower from the state of a single atom.

These exceptions also serve to illustrate the paramount feature allowing technology to possiblize the seemingly improbable: novel means of implementation. Very often there is a bottleneck in the current system we use to accomplish something that limits the scope of tis abilities and prevents certain objectives from being facilitated by it. In such cases a whole new paradigm of approach is what moves progress forward to realizing that objective. If the goal is the reversal and indefinite remediation of the causes and sources of aging, the paradigms of medicine available at the turn of the 20th century would have seemed to be unable to accomplish such a feat.

The new paradigm of biotechnology and genetic engineering was needed to formulate a scientifically plausible route to the reversal of aging-correlated molecular damage – a paradigm somewhat non-inherent in the medical paradigms and practices common at the turn of the 20th Century. It is the notion of a new route to implementation, a wholly novel way of making the changes that could lead to a given desired objective, that constitutes the real ability-actualizing capacity of technology – and one that such cases of specified implementation fail to take account of.

One might think that there are other clear exceptions to this as well: devices or abilities that contradict the laws of physics as we currently understand them – e.g., perpetual-motion machines. Yet even here we see many historical antecedents exemplifying our short-sighted foresight in regard to “the laws of physics”. Our understanding of the physical “laws” of the universe undergo massive upheaval from generation to generation. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions challenged the predominant view that scientific progress occurred by accumulated development and discovery when he argued that scientific progress is instead driven by the rise of new conceptual paradigms categorically dissimilar to those that preceded it (Kuhn, 1962), and which then define the new predominant directions in research, development, and discovery in almost all areas of scientific discovery and conceptualization.

Kuhn’s insight can be seen to be paralleled by the recent rise in popularity of Singularitarianism, which today seems to have lost its strict association with I.J. Good‘s posited type of intelligence explosion created via recursively self-modifying strong AI, and now seems to encompass any vision of a profound transformation of humanity or society through technological growth, and the introduction of truly disruptive emerging and converging (e.g., NBIC) technologies.

This epistemic paradigm holds that the future is less determined by the smooth progression of existing trends and more by the massive impact of specific technologies and occurrences – the revolution of innovation. Kurzweil’s own version of Singularitarianism (Kurzweil, 2005) uses the systemic progression of trends in order to predict a state of affairs created by the convergence of such trends, wherein the predictable progression of trends points to their own destruction in a sense, as the trends culminate in our inability to predict past that point. We can predict that there are factors that will significantly impede our predictive ability thereafter. Kurzweil’s and Kuhn’s thinking are also paralleled by Buckminster Fuller in his notion of ephemeralization (i.e., doing more with less), the post-industrial information economies and socioeconomic paradigms described by Alvin Toffler (Toffler, 1970), John Naisbitt (Naisbitt 1982), and Daniel Bell (Bell, 1973), among others.

It can also partly be seen to be inherent in almost all formulations of technological determinism, especially variants of what I call reciprocal technological determinism (not simply that technology determines or largely constitutes the determining factors of societal states of affairs, not simply that tech affects culture, but rather than culture affects technology which then affects culture which then affects technology) a là Marshall McLuhan (McLuhan, 1964) . This broad epistemic paradigm, wherein the state of progress is more determined by small but radically disruptive changes, innovation, and deviations rather than the continuation or convergence of smooth and slow-changing trends, can be seen to be inherent in variants of technological determinism because technology is ipso facto (or by its very defining attributes) categorically new and paradigmically disruptive, and if culture is affected significantly by technology, then it is also affected by punctuated instances of unintended radical innovation untended by trends.

That being said, as Kurzweil has noted, a given technological paradigm “grows out of” the paradigm preceding it, and so the extents and conditions of a given paradigm will to some extent determine the conditions and allowances of the next paradigm. But that is not to say that they are predictable; they may be inherent while still remaining non-apparent. After all, the increasing trend of mechanical components’ increasing miniaturization could be seen hundreds of years ago (e.g., Babbage knew that the mechanical precision available via the manufacturing paradigms of his time would impede his ability in realizing his Baggage Engine, but that its implementation would one day be possible by the trend of increasingly precise manufacturing standards), but the fact that it could continue to culminate in the ephemeralization of Bucky Fuller (Fuller, 1976) or the mechanosynthesis of K. Eric Drexler (Drexler, 1986).

Moreover, the types of occurrence allowed by a given scientific or methodological paradigm seem at least intuitively to expand, rather than contract, as we move forward through history. This can be seen lucidly in the rise of Quantum Physics in the early 20th Century, which delivered such conceptual affronts to our intuitive notions of the possible as non-locality (i.e., quantum entanglement – and with it quantum information teleportation and even quantum energy teleportation, or in other words faster-than-light causal correlation between spatially separated physical entities), Einstein’s theory of relativity (which implied such counter-intuitive notions as measurement of quantities being relative to the velocity of the observer, e.g., the passing of time as measured by clocks will be different in space than on earth), and the hidden-variable theory of David Bohm (which implied such notions as the velocity of any one particle being determined by the configuration of the entire universe). These notions belligerently contradict what we feel intuitively to be possible. Here we have claims that such strange abilities as informational and energetic teleportation, faster-than-light causality (or at least faster-than-light correlation of physical and/or informational states) and spacetime dilation are natural, non-technological properties and abilities of the physical universe.

Technology is Man’s foremost mediator of change; it is by and large through the use of technology that we expand the parameters of the possible. This is why the fact that these seemingly fantastic feats were claimed to be possible “naturally”, without technological implementation or mediation, is so significant. The notion that they are possible without technology makes them all the more fantastical and intuitively improbable.

We also sometimes forget the even more fantastic claims of what can be done through the use of technology, such as stellar engineering and mega-scale engineering, made by some of big names in science. There is the Dyson Sphere of Freeman Dyson, which details a technological method of harnessing potentially the entire energetic output of a star (Dyson,  1960). One can also find speculation made by Dyson concerning the ability for “life and communication [to] continue for ever, using a finite store of energy” in an open universe by utilizing smaller and smaller amounts of energy to power slower and slower computationally emulated instances of thought (Dyson, 1979).

There is the Tipler Cylinder (also called the Tipler Time Machine) of Frank J. Tipler, which described a dense cylinder of infinite length rotating about its longitudinal axis to create closed timelike curves (Tipler, 1974). While Tipler speculated that a cylinder of finite length could produce the same effect if rotated fast enough, he didn’t provide a mathematical solution for this second claim. There is also speculation by Tipler on the ability to utilize energy harnessed from gravitational shear created by the forced collapse of the universe at different rates and different directions, which he argues would allow the universe’s computational capacity to diverge to infinity, essentially providing computationally emulated humans and civilizations the ability to run for an infinite duration of subjective time (Tipler, 1986, 1997).

We see such feats of technological grandeur paralleled by Kurt Gödel, who produced an exact solution to the Einstein field equations that describes a cosmological model of a rotating universe (Gödel, 1949). While cosmological evidence (e.g., suggesting that our universe is not a rotating one) indicates that his solution doesn’t describe the universe we live in, it nonetheless constitutes a hypothetically possible cosmology in which time-travel (again, via a closed timelike curve) is possible. And because closed timelike curves seem to require large amounts of acceleration – i.e. amounts not attainable without the use of technology – Gödel’s case constitutes a hypothetical cosmological model allowing for technological time-travel (which might be non-obvious, since Gödel’s case doesn’t involve such technological feats as a rotating cylinder of infinite length, rather being a result derived from specific physical and cosmological – i.e., non-technological – constants and properties).

These are large claims made by large names in science (i.e., people who do not make claims frivolously, and in most cases require quantitative indications of their possibility, often in the form of mathematical solutions, as in the cases mentioned above) and all of which are made possible solely through the use of technology. Such technological feats as the computational emulation of the human nervous system and the technological eradication of involuntary death pale in comparison to the sheer grandeur of the claims and conceptualizations outlined above.

We live in a very strange universe, which is easy to forget midst our feigned mundanity. We have no excuse to express incredulity at Transhumanist and Technoprogressive conceptualizations considering how stoically we accept such notions as the existence of sentient matter (i.e., biological intelligence) or the ability of a genus of great ape to stand on extraterrestrial land.

Thus, one of the most common counter-arguments launched at many Transhumanist and Technoprogressive claims and conceptualizations – namely, technical infeasibility based upon nothing more than incredulity and/or the lack of a definitive historical precedent – is one of the most baseless counter-arguments as well. It would be far more credible to argue for the technical infeasibility of a given endeavor within a certain time-frame. Not only do we have little, if any, indication that a given ability or endeavor will fail to eventually become realizable via technology given enough development-time, but we even have historical indication of the very antithesis of this claim, in the form of the many, many instances in which a given endeavor or feat was said to be impossible, only to be realized via technological mediation thereafter.

It is high time we accepted the fallibility of base incredulity and the infeasibility of the technical-infeasibility argument. I remain stoically incredulous at the audacity of fundamental incredulity, for nothing should be incredulous to man, who makes his own credibility in any case, and who is most at home in the necessary superfluous.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

References

Bell, D. (1973). “The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting, Daniel Bell.” New York: Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-01281-7.

Dyson, F. (1960) “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation”. Science 131: 1667-1668.

Dyson, F. (1979). “Time without end: Physics and biology in an open universe,” Reviews of Modern Physics 51 (3): 447-460.

Fuller, R.B. (1938). “Nine Chains to the Moon.” Anchor Books pp. 252–59.

Gödel, K. (1949). “An example of a new type of cosmological solution of Einstein’s field equations of gravitation”. Rev. Mod. Phys. 21 (3): 447–450.

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962). “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1st ed.).” University of Chicago Press. LCCN 62019621.

Kurzweil, R. (2005). “The Singularity is Near.” Penguin Books.

Mcluhan, M. (1964). “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”. 1st Ed. McGraw Hill, NY.

Niasbitt, J. (1982). “Megatrends.” Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives. Warner Books.

Tipler, F. (1974) “Rotating Cylinders and Global Causality Violation”. Physical Review D9, 2203-2206.

Tipler, F. (1986). “Cosmological Limits on Computation”, International Journal of Theoretical Physics 25 (6): 617-661.

Tipler, F. (1997). The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-46798-2.

Toffler, A. (1970). “Future shock.” New York: Random House.

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What We Have Learned from Afghanistan – Article by Ron Paul

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Categories: History, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
June 23, 2013
Recommend this page.
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Last week the Taliban opened an office in Doha, Qatar with the US government’s blessing. They raised the Taliban flag at the opening ceremony and referred to Afghanistan as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”—the name they used when they were in charge before the US attack in 2001.

The US had meant for the Taliban office in Doha to be only a venue for a new round of talks on an end to the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban opening looked very much like a government in exile. The Karzai government was annoyed that the US and the Taliban had scheduled talks without even notifying Kabul. Karzai’s government felt as irrelevant to negotiations on post-war Afghanistan as they soon will be on the ground. It seemed strangely like Paris in 1968, where the US met with North Vietnamese representatives to negotiate a way out of that war, which claimed nearly 60,000 Americans and many times that number of Vietnamese lives.

For years many of us had argued the need to get out of Afghanistan. To end the fighting, the dying, the destruction, the nation-building. To end the foolish fantasy that we were building a Western-style democracy there. We cannot leave, we were told for all those years. If we leave Afghanistan now, the Taliban will come back! Well guess what, after 12 years, trillions of dollars, more than 2,200 Americans killed, and perhaps more than 50,000 dead Afghan civilians and fighters, the Taliban is coming back anyway!

The long US war in Afghanistan never made any sense in the first place. The Taliban did not attack the US on 9/11. The Authorization for the use of force that we passed after the attacks of 9/11 said nothing about a decade-long occupation of Afghanistan. But unfortunately two US presidents have taken it to mean that they could make war anywhere at any time they please. Congress, as usual, did nothing to rein in the president, although several Members tried to repeal the authorization.

Afghanistan brought the Soviet Union to its knees. We learned nothing from it.

We left Iraq after a decade of fighting, and the country is in far worse shape than when we attacked in 2003. After trillions of dollars wasted and tens of thousands of lives lost, Iraq is a devastated, desperate, and violent place with a presence of al-Qaeda. No one in his right mind speaks of a US victory in Iraq these days. We learned nothing from it.

We are leaving Afghanistan after 12 years with nothing to show for it but trillions of dollars wasted and thousands of lives lost. Afghanistan is a devastated country with a weak, puppet government—and now we negotiate with those very people we fought for those 12 years, who are preparing to return to power! Still we learn nothing.

Instead of learning from these disasters brought about by the interventionists and their failed foreign policy, the president is now telling us that we have to go into Syria!

US Army Col. Harry Summers told a story about a meeting he had with a North Vietnamese colonel named Tu while he visiting Hanoi in 1975. At the meeting, Col. Summers told Tu, “You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield.” Tu paused for a moment, then replied, “That may be so. But it is also irrelevant.”

Sadly, that is the story of our foreign policy. We have attacked at least five countries since 9/11. We have launched drones against many more. We have deposed several dictators and destroyed several foreign armies. But, looking around at what has been achieved, it is clear: it is all irrelevant.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission.

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Intimations of Imitations: Visions of Cellular Prosthesis and Functionally Restorative Medicine – Article by Franco Cortese

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Categories: Science, Technology, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
June 23, 2013
Recommend this page.
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In this essay I argue that technologies and techniques used and developed in the fields of Synthetic Ion Channels and Ion-Channel Reconstitution, which have emerged from the fields of supramolecular chemistry and bio-organic chemistry throughout the past 4 decades, can be applied towards the purpose of gradual cellular (and particularly neuronal) replacement to create a new interdisciplinary field that applies such techniques and technologies towards the goal of the indefinite functional restoration of cellular mechanisms and systems, as opposed to their current proposed use of aiding in the elucidation of cellular mechanisms and their underlying principles, and as biosensors.

In earlier essays (see here and here) I identified approaches to the synthesis of non-biological functional equivalents of neuronal components (i.e., ion-channels, ion-pumps, and membrane sections) and their sectional integration with the existing biological neuron — a sort of “physical” emulation, if you will. It has only recently come to my attention that there is an existing field emerging from supramolecular and bio-organic chemistry centered around the design, synthesis, and incorporation/integration of both synthetic/artificial ion channels and artificial bilipid membranes (i.e., lipid bilayer). The potential uses for such channels commonly listed in the literature have nothing to do with life-extension, however, and the field is, to my knowledge, yet to envision the use of replacing our existing neuronal components as they degrade (or before they are able to), rather seeing such uses as aiding in the elucidation of cellular operations and mechanisms and as biosensors. I argue here that the very technologies and techniques that constitute the field (Synthetic Ion Channels & Ion-Channel/Membrane Reconstitution) can be used towards the purposes of indefinite longevity and life-extension through the iterative replacement of cellular constituents (particularly the components comprising our neurons – ion-channels, ion-pumps, sections of bi-lipid membrane, etc.) so as to negate the molecular degradation they would have otherwise eventually undergone.

While I envisioned an electro-mechanical-systems approach in my earlier essays, the field of Synthetic Ion-Channels from the start in the early 1970s applied a molecular approach to the problem of designing molecular systems that produce certain functions according to their chemical composition or structure. Note that this approach corresponds to (or can be categorized under) the passive-physicalist sub-approach of the physicalist-functionalist approach (the broad approach overlying all varieties of physically embodied, “prosthetic” neuronal functional replication) identified in an earlier essay.

The field of synthetic ion channels is also referred to as ion-channel reconstitution, which designates “the solubilization of the membrane, the isolation of the channel protein from the other membrane constituents and the reintroduction of that protein into some form of artificial membrane system that facilitates the measurement of channel function,” and more broadly denotes “the [general] study of ion channel function and can be used to describe the incorporation of intact membrane vesicles, including the protein of interest, into artificial membrane systems that allow the properties of the channel to be investigated” [1]. The field has been active since the 1970s, with experimental successes in the incorporation of functioning synthetic ion channels into biological bilipid membranes and artificial membranes dissimilar in molecular composition and structure to biological analogues underlying supramolecular interactions, ion selectivity, and permeability throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. The relevant literature suggests that their proposed use has thus far been limited to the elucidation of ion-channel function and operation, the investigation of their functional and biophysical properties, and to a lesser degree for the purpose of “in-vitro sensing devices to detect the presence of physiologically active substances including antiseptics, antibiotics, neurotransmitters, and others” through the “… transduction of bioelectrical and biochemical events into measurable electrical signals” [2].

Thus my proposal of gradually integrating artificial ion-channels and/or artificial membrane sections for the purpose of indefinite longevity (that is, their use in replacing existing biological neurons towards the aim of gradual substrate replacement, or indeed even in the alternative use of constructing artificial neurons to — rather than replace existing biological neurons — become integrated with existing biological neural networks towards the aim of intelligence amplification and augmentation while assuming functional and experiential continuity with our existing biological nervous system) appears to be novel, while the notion of artificial ion-channels and neuronal membrane systems ion in general had already been conceived (and successfully created/experimentally verified, though presumably not integrated in vivo).

The field of Functionally Restorative Medicine (and the orphan sub-field of whole-brain gradual-substrate replacement, or “physically embodied” brain-emulation, if you like) can take advantage of the decades of experimental progress in this field, incorporating both the technological and methodological infrastructures used in and underlying the field of Ion-Channel Reconstitution and Synthetic/Artificial Ion Channels & Membrane-Systems (and the technologies and methodologies underlying their corresponding experimental-verification and incorporation techniques) for the purpose of indefinite functional restoration via the gradual and iterative replacement of neuronal components (including sections of bilipid membrane, ion channels, and ion pumps) by MEMS (micro-electrocal-mechanical systems) or more likely NEMS (nano-electro-mechanical systems).

The technological and methodological infrastructure underlying this field can be utilized for both the creation of artificial neurons and for the artificial synthesis of normative biological neurons. Much work in the field required artificially synthesizing cellular components (e.g., bilipid membranes) with structural and functional properties as similar to normative biological cells as possible, so that the alternative designs (i.e., dissimilar to the normal structural and functional modalities of biological cells or cellular components) and how they affect and elucidate cellular properties, could be effectively tested. The iterative replacement of either single neurons, or the sectional replacement of neurons with synthesized cellular components (including sections of the bi-lipid membrane, voltage-dependent ion-channels, ligand-dependent ion channels, ion pumps, etc.) is made possible by the large body of work already done in the field. Consequently the technological, methodological, and experimental infrastructures developed for the fields of Synthetic Ion Channels and Ion-Channel/Artificial-Membrane Reconstitution can be utilized for the purpose of (a) iterative replacement and cellular upkeep via biological analogues (or not differing significantly in structure or functional and operational modality to their normal biological counterparts) and/or (b) iterative replacement with non-biological analogues of alternate structural and/or functional modalities.

Rather than sensing when a given component degrades and then replacing it with an artificially-synthesized biological or non-biological analogue, it appears to be much more efficient to determine the projected time it takes for a given component to degrade or otherwise lose functionality, and simply automate the iterative replacement in this fashion, without providing in vivo systems for detecting molecular or structural degradation. This would allow us to achieve both experimental and pragmatic success in such cellular prosthesis sooner, because it doesn’t rely on the complex technological and methodological infrastructure underlying in vivo sensing, especially on the scale of single neuron components like ion-channels, and without causing operational or functional distortion to the components being sensed.

A survey of progress in the field [3] lists several broad design motifs. I will first list the deign motifs falling within the scope of the survey, and the examples it provides. Selections from both papers are meant to show the depth and breadth of the field, rather than to elucidate the specific chemical or kinetic operations under the purview of each design-variety.

For a much more comprehensive, interactive bibliography of papers falling within the field of Synthetic Ion Channels or constituting the historical foundations of the field, see Jon Chui’s online biography here, which charts the developments in this field up until 2011.

First Survey

Unimolecular ion channels:

Examples include (a) synthetic ion channels with oligocrown ionophores, [5] (b) using a-helical peptide scaffolds and rigid push–pull p-octiphenyl scaffolds for the recognition of polarized membranes, [6] and (c) modified varieties of the b-helical scaffold of gramicidin A [7].

Barrel-stave supramolecules:

Examples of this general class falling include voltage-gated synthetic ion channels formed by macrocyclic bolaamphiphiles and rigidrod p-octiphenyl polyols [8].

Macrocyclic, branched and linear non-peptide bolaamphiphiles as staves:

Examples of this sub-class include synthetic ion channels formed by (a) macrocyclic, branched and linear bolaamphiphiles, and dimeric steroids, [9] and by (b) non-peptide macrocycles, acyclic analogs, and peptide macrocycles (respectively) containing abiotic amino acids [10].

Dimeric steroid staves:

Examples of this sub-class include channels using polydroxylated norcholentriol dimers [11].

p-Oligophenyls as staves in rigid-rod ß-barrels:

Examples of this sub-class include “cylindrical self-assembly of rigid-rod ß-barrel pores preorganized by the nonplanarity of p-octiphenyl staves in octapeptide-p-octiphenyl monomers” [12].

Synthetic polymers:

Examples of this sub-class include synthetic ion channels and pores comprised of (a) polyalanine, (b) polyisocyanates, (c) polyacrylates, [13] formed by (i) ionophoric, (ii) ‘smart’, and (iii) cationic polymers [14]; (d) surface-attached poly(vinyl-n-alkylpyridinium) [15]; (e) cationic oligo-polymers [16], and (f) poly(m-phenylene ethylenes) [17].

Helical b-peptides (used as staves in barrel-stave method):

Examples of this class include cationic b-peptides with antibiotic activity, presumably acting as amphiphilic helices that form micellar pores in anionic bilayer membranes [18].

Monomeric steroids:

Examples of this sub-class include synthetic carriers, channels and pores formed by monomeric steroids [19], synthetic cationic steroid antibiotics that may act by forming micellar pores in anionic membranes [20], neutral steroids as anion carriers [21], and supramolecular ion channels [22].

Complex minimalist systems:

Examples of this sub-class falling within the scope of this survey include ‘minimalist’ amphiphiles as synthetic ion channels and pores [23], membrane-active ‘smart’ double-chain amphiphiles, expected to form ‘micellar pores’ or self-assemble into ion channels in response to acid or light [24], and double-chain amphiphiles that may form ‘micellar pores’ at the boundary between photopolymerized and host bilayer domains and representative peptide conjugates that may self-assemble into supramolecular pores or exhibit antibiotic activity [25].

Non-peptide macrocycles as hoops:

Examples of this sub-class falling within the scope of this survey include synthetic ion channels formed by non-peptide macrocycles acyclic analogs [26] and peptide macrocycles containing abiotic amino acids [27].

Peptide macrocycles as hoops and staves:

Examples of this sub-class include (a) synthetic ion channels formed by self-assembly of macrocyclic peptides into genuine barrel-hoop motifs that mimic the b-helix of gramicidin A with cyclic ß-sheets. The macrocycles are designed to bind on top of channels and cationic antibiotics (and several analogs) are proposed to form micellar pores in anionic membranes [28]; (b) synthetic carriers, antibiotics (and analogs), and pores (and analogs) formed by macrocyclic peptides with non-natural subunits. Certain macrocycles may act as ß-sheets, possibly as staves of ß-barrel-like pores [29]; (c) bioengineered pores as sensors. Covalent capturing and fragmentations have been observed on the single-molecule level within engineered a-hemolysin pore containing an internal reactive thiol [30].

Summary

Thus even without knowledge of supramolecular or organic chemistry, one can see that a variety of alternate approaches to the creation of synthetic ion channels, and several sub-approaches within each larger ‘design motif’ or broad-approach, not only exist but have been experimentally verified, varietized, and refined.

Second Survey

The following selections [31] illustrate the chemical, structural, and functional varieties of synthetic ions categorized according to whether they are cation-conducting or anion-conducting, respectively. These examples are used to further emphasize the extent of the field, and the number of alternative approaches to synthetic ion-channel design, implementation, integration, and experimental verification already existent. Permission to use all the following selections and figures was obtained from the author of the source.

There are 6 classical design-motifs for synthetic ion-channels, categorized by structure, that are identified within the paper:

A: Unimolecular macromolecules,
B: Complex barrel-stave,
C: Barrel-rosette,
D: Barrel hoop, and
E: Micellar supramolecules.

Cation Conducting Channels:

UNIMOLECULAR

“The first non-peptidic artificial ion channel was reported by Kobuke et al. in 1992” [33].

“The channel contained “an amphiphilic ion pair consisting of oligoether-carboxylates and mono– (or di-) octadecylammoniumcations. The carboxylates formed the channel core and the cations formed the hydrophobic outer wall, which was embedded in the bilipid membrane with a channel length of about 24 to 30 Å. The resultant ion channel, formed from molecular self-assembly, is cation-selective and voltage-dependent” [34].

“Later, Kokube et al. synthesized another channel comprising of resorcinol-based cyclic tetramer as the building block. The resorcin-[4]-arenemonomer consisted of four long alkyl chains which aggregated to form a dimeric supramolecular structure resembling that of Gramicidin A” [35]. “Gokel et al. had studied [a set of] simple yet fully functional ion channels known as “hydraphiles” [39].

“An example (channel 3) is shown in Figure 1.6, consisting of diaza-18-crown-6 crown ether groups and alkyl chains as side arms and spacers. Channel 3 is capable of transporting protons across the bilayer membrane” [40].

“A covalently bonded macrotetracycle (Figure 1.8) had shown to be about three times more active than Gokel’s ‘hydraphile’ channel, and its amide-containing analogue also showed enhanced activity” [44].

“Inorganic derivative using crown ethers have also been synthesized. Hall et al. synthesized an ion channel consisting of a ferrocene and 4 diaza-18-crown-6 linked by 2 dodecyl chains (Figure 1.9). The ion channel was redox-active as oxidation of the ferrocene caused the compound to switch to an inactive form” [45].

B-STAVES:

“These are more difficult to synthesize [in comparison to unimolecular varieties] because the channel formation usually involves self-assembly via non-covalent interactions” [47].“A cyclic peptide composed of even number of alternating D– and L-amino acids (Figure 1.10) was suggested to form barrel-hoop structure through backbone-backbone hydrogen bonds by De Santis” [49].

“A tubular nanotube synthesized by Ghadiri et al. consisting of cyclic D and L peptide subunits form a flat, ring-shaped conformation that stack through an extensive anti-parallel ß-sheet-like hydrogen bonding interaction (Figure 1.11)” [51].

“Experimental results have shown that the channel can transport sodium and potassium ions. The channel can also be constructed by the use of direct covalent bonding between the sheets so as to increase the thermodynamic and kinetic stability” [52].

“By attaching peptides to the octiphenyl scaffold, a ß-barrel can be formed via self-assembly through the formation of ß-sheet structures between the peptide chains (Figure 1.13)” [53].

“The same scaffold was used by Matile et al. to mimic the structure of macrolide antibiotic amphotericin B. The channel synthesized was shown to transport cations across the membrane” [54].

“Attaching the electron-poor naphthalene diimide (NDIs) to the same octiphenyl scaffold led to the hoop-stave mismatch during self-assembly that results in a twisted and closed channel conformation (Figure 1.14). Adding the complementary dialkoxynaphthalene (DAN) donor led to the cooperative interactions between NDI and DAN that favors the formation of barrel-stave ion channel.” [57].

MICELLAR

“These aggregate channels are formed by amphotericin involving both sterols and antibiotics arranged in two half-channel sections within the membrane” [58].

“An active form of the compound is the bolaamphiphiles (two-headed amphiphiles). Figure 1.15 shows an example that forms an active channel structure through dimerization or trimerization within the bilayer membrane. Electrochemical studies had shown that the monomer is inactive and the active form involves dimer or larger aggregates” [60].

ANION CONDUCTING CHANNELS:

“A highly active, anion selective, monomeric cyclodextrin-based ion channel was designed by Madhavan et al. (Figure 1.16). Oligoether chains were attached to the primary face of the ß-cyclodextrin head group via amide bonds. The hydrophobic oligoether chains were chosen because they are long enough to span the entire lipid bilayer. The channel was able to select “anions over cations” and “discriminate among halide anions in the order I- > Br- > Cl- (following Hofmeister series)” [61].

“The anion selectivity occurred via the ring of ammonium cations being positioned just beside the cyclodextrin head group, which helped to facilitate anion selectivity. Iodide ions were transported the fastest because the activation barrier to enter the hydrophobic channel core is lower for I- compared to either Br- or Cl-” [62]. “A more specific artificial anion selective ion channel was the chloride selective ion channel synthesized by Gokel. The building block involved a heptapeptide with Proline incorporated (Figure 1.17)” [63].

Cellular Prosthesis: Inklings of a New Interdisciplinary Approach

The paper cites “nanoreactors for catalysis and chemical or biological sensors” and “interdisciplinary uses as nano –filtration membrane, drug or gene delivery vehicles/transporters as well as channel-based antibiotics that may kill bacterial cells preferentially over mammalian cells” as some of the main applications of synthetic ion-channels [65], other than their normative use in elucidating cellular function and operation.

However, I argue that a whole interdisciplinary field and heretofore-unrecognized new approach or sub-field of Functionally Restorative Medicine is possible through taking the technologies and techniques involved in constructing, integrating, and experimentally verifying either (a) non-biological analogues of ion-channels and ion-pumps (thus trans-membrane membrane proteins in general, also sometimes referred to as transport proteins or integral membrane proteins) and membranes (which include normative bilipid membranes, non-lipid membranes and chemically-augmented bilipid membranes), and (b) the artificial synthesis of biological analogues of ion-channels, ion-pumps and membranes, which are structurally and chemically equivalent to naturally-occurring biological components but which are synthesized artificially – and applying such technologies and techniques toward the purpose the gradual replacement of our existing biological neurons constituting our nervous systems – or at least those neuron-populations that comprise the neocortex and prefrontal cortex, and through iterative procedures of gradual replacement thereby achieving indefinite longevity. There is still work to be done in determining the comparative advantages and disadvantages of various structural and functional (i.e., design) motifs, and in the logistics of implanting the iterative replacement or reconstitution of ion-channels, ion-pumps and sections of neuronal membrane in vivo.

The conceptual schemes outlined in Concepts for Functional Replication of Biological Neurons [66], Gradual Neuron Replacement for the Preservation of Subjective-Continuity [67] and Wireless Synapses, Artificial Plasticity, and Neuromodulation [68] would constitute variations on the basic approach underlying this proposed, embryonic interdisciplinary field. Certain approaches within the fields of nanomedicine itself, particularly those approaches that constitute the functional emulation of existing cell-types, such as but not limited to Robert Freitas’s conceptual designs for the functional emulation of the red blood cell (a.k.a. erythrocytes, haematids) [69], i.e., the Resperocyte, itself should be seen as falling under the purview of this new approach, although not all approaches to Nanomedicine (diagnostics, drug-delivery and neuroelectronic interfacing) constitute the physical (i.e. electromechanical, kinetic, and/or molecular physically embodied) and functional emulation of biological cells.

The field of functionally-restorative medicine in general (and of nanomedicine in particular) and the fields of supramolecular and organic chemistry converge here, where these technological, methodological, and experimental infrastructures developed in the fields of Synthetic Ion-Channels and Ion Channel Reconstitution can be employed to develop a new interdisciplinary approach that applies the logic of prosthesis to the cellular and cellular-component (i.e., sub-cellular) scale; same tools, new use. These techniques could be used to iteratively replace the components of our neurons as they degrade, or to replace them with more robust systems that are less susceptible to molecular degradation. Instead of repairing the cellular DNA, RNA, and protein transcription and synthesis machinery, we bypass it completely by configuring and integrating the neuronal components (ion-channels, ion-pumps, and sections of bilipid membrane) directly.

Thus I suggest that theoreticians of nanomedicine look to the large quantity of literature already developed in the emerging fields of synthetic ion-channels and membrane-reconstitution, towards the objective of adapting and applying existing technologies and methodologies to the new purpose of iterative maintenance, upkeep and/or replacement of cellular (and particularly neuronal) constituents with either non-biological analogues or artificially synthesized but chemically/structurally equivalent biological analogues.

This new sub-field of Synthetic Biology needs a name to differentiate it from the other approaches to Functionally Restorative Medicine. I suggest the designation ‘cellular prosthesis’.

References:

[1] Williams (1994)., An introduction to the methods available for ion channel reconstitution. in D.C Ogden Microelectrode techniques, The Plymouth workshop edition, CambridgeCompany of Biologists.

[2] Tomich, J., Montal, M. (1996). U.S Patent No. 5,16,890. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

[3] Matile, S., Som, A., & Sorde, N. (2004). Recent synthetic ion channels and pores. Tetrahedron, 60(31), 6405–6435. ISSN 0040–4020, 10.1016/j.tet.2004.05.052. Access: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040402004007690:

[4] XIAO, F., (2009). Synthesis and structural investigations of pyridine-based aromatic foldamers.

[5] Ibid., p. 6411.

[6] Ibid., p. 6416.

[7] Ibid., p. 6413.

[8] Ibid., p. 6412.

[9] Ibid., p. 6414.

[10] Ibid., p. 6425.

[11] Ibid., p. 6427.

[12] Ibid., p. 6416.

[13] Ibid., p. 6419.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., p. 6419.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p. 6421.

[19] Ibid., p. 6422.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., p. 6423.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., p. 6426.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid., p. 6427.

[29] Ibid., p. 6327.

[30] Ibid., p. 6427.

[31] XIAO, F. (2009). Synthesis and structural investigations of pyridine-based aromatic foldamers.

[32] Ibid., p. 4.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid., p. 7.

[37] Ibid., p. 8.

[38] Ibid., p. 7.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., p. 8.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., p. 9.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., p. 10.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid., p. 11.

[53] Ibid., p. 12.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid., p. 13.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid., p. 14.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid., p. 15.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Cortese, F., (2013). Concepts for Functional Replication of Biological Neurons. The Rational Argumentator. Access: http://www.rationalargumentator.com/index/blog/2013/05/gradual-neuron-replacement/

[67] Cortese, F., (2013). Gradual Neuron Replacement for the Preservation of Subjective-Continuity. The Rational Argumentator. Access: http://www.rationalargumentator.com/index/blog/2013/05/gradual-neuron-replacement/

[68] Cortese, F., (2013). Wireless Synapses, Artificial Plasticity, and Neuromodulation. The Rational Argumentator. Access: http://www.rationalargumentator.com/index/blog/2013/05/wireless-synapses/

[69] Freitas Jr., R., (1998). “Exploratory Design in Medical Nanotechnology: A Mechanical Artificial Red Cell”. Artificial Cells, Blood Substitutes, and Immobil. Biotech. (26): 411–430. Access: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9663339

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The Eyes Watching You: “1984” and the Surveillance State – Article by Sarah Skwire

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The New Renaissance Hat
Sarah Skwire
June 19, 2013
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George Orwell. 1984. New York: Plume, [1949] 2003. 323 pages.

In the kind of horrifying coincidence that surely would have prompted one of his more acerbic essays, the news that various U.S. government surveillance agencies have been gathering data from millions of citizens’ phones, email accounts, and web searches broke during the week of the 64th publication anniversary of George Orwell’s 1984. As the news reports poured in, and as sales of 1984 surged by an astonishing 6,884 percent, a friend asked me whether the PRISM story strikes me as more Orwellian or more Kafkaesque.

My response? We’d better hope it’s Kafkaesque.

No one wants to inhabit a Franz Kafka novel. But the surveillance states he describes do have one thing going for them—incompetence. In Kafka’s stories, important forms get lost, permits are unattainable, and bureaucrats fail to do their jobs. Like the main character in Kafka’s unfinished story, “The Castle,” if you were trapped in Kafka’s world you could live your whole life doing nothing but waiting for a permit. But at least you could live. Incompetence creates a little space.

What is terrifying about Orwell’s 1984 is the complete competence of the surveillance state. Winston Smith begins the novel by believing he is in an awful, but Kafkaesque world where there is still some slippage in the state’s absolute control, and still some room for private action. Winston says that Oceania’s world of telescreens and Thought Police means that there are “always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed—no escape.” But he follows that by saying, “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.” He also believes that while the diary he keeps will inevitably be discovered, the small alcove in his apartment where he writes his diary puts him “out of the range of the telescreen.”

The feeling that some tiny space for private thought and action can be found leads Winston into his relationship with Julia. Though they know they will inevitably be discovered, Winston and Julia believe that, for a time, their relationship and their meeting place will remain secret. They could not be more wrong.

One day after making love to Julia in their clandestine room, Winston, prompted by a singing thrush and a singing prole woman who is doing laundry, has a vision of a future that “belongs to the proles.”

The birds sang, the proles sang. The Party did not sing. All round the world, in London and New York, in Africa and Brazil, and in the mysterious, forbidden lands beyond the frontiers, in the streets of Paris and Berlin, in the villages of the endless Russian plain, in the bazaars of China and Japan—everywhere stood the same solid unconquerable figure, made monstrous by work and childbearing, toiling from birth to death and still singing. Out of those mighty loins a race of conscious beings must one day come. You were the dead; theirs was the future. But you could share in that future if you kept alive the mind as they kept alive the body.

 

In this very moment, just as Winston comes alive to what feels like hope and possibility and the dream of some kind of a future for humankind, the telescreen that has been hidden in the room all along speaks to Winston and Julia. The Thought Police break down the door. The couple is taken off to be imprisoned, tortured, and broken.

There has never been any private space for Winston or Julia—not in their “secret” meeting places, not in their sexual rebellion, not even in the few cubic centimeters inside their skulls. “For seven years the Thought Police had watched him like a beetle under a magnifying glass. There was no physical act, no word spoken aloud, that they had not noticed, no train of thought that they had not been able to infer.” Winston should have taken more seriously the description of Oceania he read in the forbidden book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein:

A Party member lives from birth to death under the eye of the Thought Police. Even when he is alone he can never be sure that he is alone. Wherever he may be, asleep or awake, working or resting, in his bath or in bed, he can be inspected without warning and without knowing that he is being inspected. Nothing that he does is indifferent. His friendships, his relaxations, his behaviour towards his wife and children, the expression of his face when he is alone, the words he mutters in sleep, even the characteristic movements of his body, are all jealously scrutinized. Not only any actual misdemeanour, but any eccentricity, however small, any change of habits, any nervous mannerism that could possibly be the symptom of an inner struggle, is certain to be detected.
***

The Orwellian surveillance state is terrifying not because—as in Kafka—you might be arrested because of a rumor or a mistake, or because despite your innocence you might be caught in the surveillance state’s unnavigable maze. It is terrifying because it never makes mistakes. It does not need to listen to rumors. And it knows that no one is ever innocent.

Sarah Skwire is a fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

 

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The Hubris of Neo-Luddism – Article by Franco Cortese

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The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
June 19, 2013
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One of the most common anti-Transhumanist tropes one finds recurring throughout Transhumanist rhetoric is our supposedly rampant hubris. Hubris is an ancient Greek concept meaning excess of pride that carries connotations of reckless vanity and heedless self-absorbment, often to the point of carelessly endangering the welfare of others in the process. It paints us in a selfish and dangerous light, as though we were striving for the technological betterment of ourselves alone and the improvement of the human condition solely as it pertains to ourselves, so as to be enhanced relative to the majority of humanity.
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In no way is this correct or even salient. I, and the majority of Transhumanists, Techno-Progressives, and emerging-tech enthusiasts – I would claim – work toward promoting beneficial outcomes and deliberating the repercussions and most desirable embodiments of radically transformative technologies for the betterment of all mankind first and foremost, and only secondarily for ourselves, if at all.
***

The ired irony of this situation is that the very group that most often hails the charge of Hubris against the Transhumanist community is, according to the logic of hubris, more hubristic than those they rail their charge against. Bio-Luddites, and more generally Neo-Luddites, can be clearly seen to be more self-absorbed and recklessly selfish than the Transhumanists they are so quick to raise qualms against.

The logic of this conclusion is simple: Transhumanists seek merely to better determine the controlling circumstances and determining conditions of our own selves, whereas Neo-Luddites seek to determine such circumstances and conditions (even if using a negative definition, i.e., the absence of something) not only for everyone besides themselves alive at the moment, but even for the unquantable multitudes of minds and lives still fetal in the future.

We do not seek to radically transform Humanity against humans’ will; indeed, this is so off the mark as to be antithetical to the true Transhumanist impetus – for we seek to liberate human wills, not leash or lash them. We seek to offer all humans alive the possibility of transforming themselves more effectively according to their own subjective projected objectives; of actualizing and realizing themselves; ultimately of determining themselves for themselves. We seek to offer every member of Humanity the choice to better choose and the option for more optimal options: the self not as final subject but as project-at-last.

Neo-Luddites, on the other hand, wish to deny the whole of humanity that choice. They actively seek the determent, relinquishment, or prohibition of technological self-transformation, and believe in the heat of their idiot-certainty that they have either the intelligence or the right to force their own preference upon everyone else, present and future. Such lumbering, oafish paternalism patronizes the very essence of Man, whose only right is to write his own and whose only will is to will his own – or at least to vow that he will will his own one fateful yet fate-free day.

We seek solely to choose ourselves, and to give everyone alive and yet-to-live the same opportunity: of choice. Neo-Luddites seek not only to choose for themselves but to force this choice upon everyone else as well.

If any of the original Luddites were alive today, perhaps they would loom large to denounce the contemporary caricature of their own movement and rail their tightly spooled rage against the modern Neo-Luddites that use Ludd’s name in so reckless a threadbare fashion. At the heart of it, they were trying to free their working-class fellowship. There would not have been any predominant connotations of extending the distinguishing features of the Luddite revolt into the entire future, no hint of the possibility that they would set a precedent which would effectively forestall or encumber the continuing advancement of technology at the cost of the continuing betterment of humanity.

Who were they to intimate that continuing technological and methodological growth and progress would continually liberate humanity in fits and bounds of expanding freedom to open up the parameters of their possible actions – would free choice from chance and make the general conditions of being continually better and better? If this sentiment were predominant during 1811-1817, perhaps they would have lain their hammers down. They were seeking the liberation of their people, after all; if they knew that their own actions might spawn a future movement seeking to dampen and deter the continual technological liberation of Mankind, perhaps they would have remarked that such future Neo-Luddites missed their point completely.

Perhaps the salient heart of their efforts was not the relinquishment of technology but rather the liberation of their fellow man. Perhaps they would have remarked that while in this particular case technological relinquishment coincided with the liberation of their fellow man, this shouldn’t be heralded as a hard rule. Perhaps the they would have been ashamed of the way in which their name was to be used as the nametag and figurehead for the contemporary fight against liberty and Man’s autonomy. Perhaps Ludd is spinning like a loom in his grave right now.

Does the original Luddites’ enthusiasm for choice and the liberation of their fellow man supersede his revolt against technology? I think it does. The historical continuum of which Transhumanism is but the contemporary leading-tip encompasses not only the technological betterment of self and society, but the non-technological betterment as well. Historical Utopian ventures and visions are valid antecedents of the Transhumanist impetus, just as Techno-Utopian historical antecedents are. While the emphasis on technology predominant in Transhumanist rhetoric isn’t exactly misplaced (simply because technology is our best means of affecting and changing self and society, whorl and world, and thus our best means of improving it according to subjective projected objectives as well), it isn’t a necessary precondition, and its predominance does not preclude the inclusion of non-technological attempts to improve the human condition as well.

The dichotomy between knowledge and device, between technology and methodology, doesn’t have a stable ontological ground in the first place. What is technology but embodied methodology, and methodology but internalized technology? Language is just as unnatural as quantum computers in geological scales of time. To make technology a necessary prerequisite is to miss the end for the means and the mark for a lark. The point is that we are trying to consciously improve the state of self, society, and world; technology has simply superseded methodology as the most optimal means of accomplishing that, and now constitutes our best means of effecting our affectation.

The original Luddite movement was less against advancing technology and more about the particular repercussions that specific advancements in technology (i.e., semi-automated looms) had on their lives and circumstances. To claim that Neo-Luddism has any real continuity of impetus with the original Luddite movement that occurred throughout 1811-1817 may actually be antithetical to the real motivation underlying the original Luddite movement – namely the liberation of the working class. Indeed, Neo-Luddism itself, as a movement, may be antithetical to the real impetus of the initial Luddite movement both for the fact that Neo-Luddites are trying to impose their ideological beliefs upon others (i.e., prohibition is necessarily exclusive, whereas availability of the option to use a given technology is non-exclusive and forces a decision on no one) and because they are trying to prohibit the best mediator of Man’s ever-increasing self-liberation – namely technological growth.

Support for these claims can be found in the secondary literature. For instance, in Luddites and Luddism Kevin Binfield sees the Luddite movement as an expression of worker-class discontent during the Napoleonic Wars than having rather than as an expression of antipathy toward technology in general or toward advancing technology as general trend (Binfield, 2004).

And in terms of base-premises, it is not as though Luddites are categorically against technology in general; rather they are simply against either a specific technology, a specific embodiment of a general class of technology, or a specific degree of technological sophistication. After all, most every Luddite alive wears clothes, takes antibiotics, and uses telephones. Legendary Ludd himself still wanted the return of his manual looms, a technology, when he struck his first blow. I know many Transhumanists and Technoprogressives who still label themselves as such despite being wary of the increasing trend of automation.

This was the Luddites’ own concern: that automation would displace manual work in their industry and thereby severely limit their possible choices and freedoms, such as having enough discretionary income to purchase necessities. If their government were handing out guaranteed basic income garnered from taxes to corporations based on the degree with which they replace previously manual labor with automated labor, I’m sure they would have happily lain their hammers down and laughed all the way home. Even the Amish only prohibit specific levels of technological sophistication, rather than all of technology in general.

In other words no one is against technology in general, only particular technological embodiments, particular classes of technology, or particular gradations of technological sophistication. If you’d like to contest me on this, try communicating your rebuttal without using the advanced technology of cerebral semiotics (i.e., language).

References

Binfield, K. (2004). Luddites and Luddism. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Franco Cortese is an editor for Transhumanity.net, as well as one of its most frequent contributors.  He has also published articles and essays on Immortal Life and The Rational Argumentator. He contributed 4 essays and 7 debate responses to the digital anthology Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death: Essays, Rants and Arguments About Immortality.

Franco is an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation (on its Futurists Board and its Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to its blog.

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Arguing by Induction for an Absence of Boredom in an Ageless, Greatly Extended Healthy Life – Article by Reason

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The New Renaissance Hat
Reason
June 19, 2013
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Originally published on the Fight Aging! website.
***

It is usually the case that the first knee-jerk reaction in opposition to increased human longevity is based on the mistaken belief that life-extension technologies would lead to people being ever more frail and decrepit for a very long time. This is far from the case, and it’s probably not even possible to cost-effectively engineer a society of long-lived frail people – even if that was the goal to hand. If you are frail and decrepit, then you have a high mortality rate due to the level of age-related cellular and molecular damage that is causing the failure and degeneration of your body and its organs. You won’t be around for long. No, the only way to engineer longer healthy life is to extend the period of youth and vitality, a time in which you have little age-related damage and your mortality rate is very low. Most present strategies are aimed to prolong that period of life, either by slowing the rate at which damage occurs (not so good) or finding ways to periodically repair the damage and thus rejuvenate the patient (much better).

Once people grasp that longevity science is the effort to make people younger for far longer, then the second knee-jerk objection arises. This is the belief that a very long-lived individual would become overwhelmed by boredom: they would run out of interest and novelty. This is by far the sillier objection, and there is absolutely no rational basis for it. Even a few moments of thought should convince you that there is far more to do and learn that you could achieve in a thousand life spans – and it’s a little early in the game to be objecting to enhanced longevity on the basis that you can’t think of what to do with life span number number 1001.

Considering boredom, futility, meaningless, and related matters, I noticed what appears to be an argument by induction in the article below. Mathematical induction is a tool used in formal proofs wherein if you can prove that something is generally true for n and n+1 (where n is a natural number), and then show that it is true for 1, then you can conclude it must be true for all natural numbers. If it is true for 1, then it must be true for 1+1 = 2, and true for 2+1 = 3, and so on.

Basics of an Induction Proof 

Life Extension Leads to Meaningless Days? NO! – by Extropia DaSilva

Person 1 lives a fulfilling and meaningful life for X number of years before that life is terminated by a sudden, massive heart attack. Now, imagine another person whom we shall label (not too creatively) ‘Person 2′. Person 2’s life follows the same general path as that of Person 1, with one exception: It is one day longer than Person 1’s was. Now ask yourself: Is there any reason to suppose that this day – let us assume it is a Tuesday – strikes Person 2 as being meaningless despite the fact that all Tuesdays (and, indeed, every other day in Person 2’s past) seemed worth living? Personally I cannot see any reason to suppose that this Tuesday should not be as worth living through as the previous day was. Person 2’s life was as meaningful as that of Person 1, and the extra day Person 2 lived to see did not negatively affect quality of life (it might have positively affected it, but that is another matter).

OK, so now imagine yet another person who goes by the label of… yes, you guessed it, Person 3. You can probably also guess that Person 3 lives one day longer than Person 2. Once again, I can think of no reason why, where we have two people who live meaningful lives but one lives one day longer, that extra day would not seem worth experiencing. Put another way: If possible, would Persons 2 and 1 rather not be dead on Wednesday (the last day for Person 3) when Monday and all preceding days were worth experiencing? So far as I can see, the answer to that question is, ‘yes’.

There seems to be no reason why this argument should not hold for any number of hypothetical people, each one of which lives one day longer than the last.

Unfortunately you can’t prove conjectures about aspects of human nature with induction (or not yet, at least). What you can do is use it, as above, to mount a more convincing argument. This one is somewhat akin to one of the standard lines in any debate between a person who is in favor of greatly extending healthy life versus someone who isn’t.

Advocate: So you are fine with aging and dying?

Deathist: Yes.

Advocate: So you are fine with dying right now, done and finished?

Deathist: Well, no.

Advocate: Why would you think any differently ten days, or a hundred days, or decades from now, if you still had your health and vigor?

Deathist: Um…

There seems to be a strange disconnect in many people’s minds, in which they are vigorously in favor of being alive right this instant or next week, but they nonetheless believe that their future self of years ahead will be of a different opinion and want to die. Now if you’re on the downhill slope of aging, in great pain, and your body is falling apart, desiring a stopping point is not unreasonable. (With the best of present options for those in that position being cryonics). But in a world of rejuvenation therapies, in which older life is just as healthy, low-risk, and full of possibility as younger life, what mysterious thing is going to make people want to die?

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries.  

This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license.  It was originally published on FightAging.org.

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Obama’s Syria Policy Looks a Lot Like Bush’s Iraq Policy – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
June 19, 2013
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President Obama announced late last week that the US intelligence community had just determined that the Syrian government had used poison gas on a small scale, killing some 100 people in a civil conflict that has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives. Because of this use of gas, the president claimed, Syria had crossed his “red line” and the US must begin to arm the rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian government.

Setting aside the question of why 100 killed by gas is somehow more important than 99,900 killed by other means, the fact is his above explanation is full of holes. The Washington Post reported this week that the decision to overtly arm the Syrian rebels was made “weeks ago” – in other words, it was made at a time when the intelligence community did not believe “with high confidence” that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons.

Further, this plan to transfer weapons to the Syrian rebels had become policy much earlier than that, as the Washington Post reported that the CIA had expanded over the past year its secret bases in Jordan to prepare for the transfer of weapons to the rebels in Syria.

The process was identical to the massive deception campaign that led us into the Iraq war. Remember the famous quote from the leaked “Downing Street Memo,” where representatives of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s administration discussed Washington’s push for war on Iraq?

Here the head of British intelligence was reporting back to his government after a trip to Washington in the summer of 2002:

“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

That is exactly what the Obama Administration is doing with Syria: fixing the intelligence and facts around the already determined policy. And Congress just goes along, just as they did the last time.

We found out shortly after the Iraq war started that the facts and intelligence being fixed around the policy were nothing but lies put forth by the neo-con warmongers and the paid informants, like the infamous and admitted liar known as “Curveball.” But we seem to have learned nothing from being fooled before.

So Obama now plans to send even more weapons to the Syrian rebels even though his administration is aware that the main rebel factions have pledged their loyalty to al-Qaeda. Does anyone else see the irony? After 12 years of the “war on terror” and the struggle against al-Qaeda, the US decided to provide weapons to the allies of al-Qaeda. Does anyone really think this is a good idea?

The Obama administration promises us that this is to be a very limited operation, providing small arms only, with no plans for a no-fly zone or American boots on the ground. That sounds an awful lot like how Vietnam started. Just a few advisors. When these few small arms do not achieve the pre-determined US policy of regime change in Syria, what is the administration going to do? Admit failure and pull the troops out, or escalate? History suggests the answer, and it now appears to be repeating itself once again.

The president has opened a can of worms that will destroy his presidency and possibly destroy this country. Another multi-billion-dollar war has begun.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission.

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Universal Surveillance: PRISM and the Litmus Test for Liberty – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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 Will enough Americans respond with outrage and exercise their First Amendment rights to bring an end to the totalitarianism-enabling NSA PRISM surveillance system?

References
Petition to Pardon Edward Snowden
– “Rand Paul planning class action lawsuit against surveillance programs” – Aaron Blake – The Washington Post – June 9, 2013
– “In the Face of Universal Surveillance: PRISM and the Litmus Test for Liberty” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “PRISM (surveillance program)” – Wikipedia
– “Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations” – Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras – The Guardian – June 9, 2013
– “Google, Apple, Facebook & AOL Deny Participating In Alleged NSA “PRISM” Program” – Danny Sullivan – Marketing Land – June 6, 2013
Project Meshnet
DuckDuckGo
– “How Scared of Terrorism Should You Be?” – Ronald Bailey – Reason Magazine – September 6, 2011
– “Futile Temporary Totalitarianism in Boston” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
– “Russian politico: U.S. ignored Tsarnaev intelligence at its own peril” – By Cheryl K. Chumley – The Washington Times – June 4, 2013

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In the Face of Universal Surveillance: PRISM and the Litmus Test for Liberty – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
June 11, 2013
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Ladies and gentlemen, most of what do you using the Internet or your phone is being tracked by the National Security Agency via its PRISM surveillance program.  If you thought you could take measures to escape such monitoring, it is too late; the program has been operating, clandestinely, since 2007. It took the heroic courage of Edward Snowden, a former CIA and Booz Allen Hamilton employee with access to information about the full depths of this travesty, to reveal this astoundingly invasive operation to us six years later. Snowden has – at the risk of his own comfort, his income, his freedom, and possibly his life – given us the invaluable knowledge that the world is quite unlike what most of us thought it to be. Glenn Greenwald, the perceptive Guardian journalist and long-time defender of civil liberties, is also a champion of human freedom, dignity, and justice, because of his outstanding work in publicizing these abuses before a worldwide audience.

Even I – despite my strong libertarian convictions and considerable skepticism of centralized authority – could not have imagined that virtually all of the large technology companies to whom I had entrusted large amounts of my personal information – Google, Facebook, Skype, Microsoft, YouTube – were participants in the surveillance, enabling the NSA to build covert backdoors into their systems to steal the most confidential possible personal information. From e-mails, to search histories, to credit-card transactions – all of this is within the NSA’s reach; all of this could be used to destroy the reputation and life of anyone suspected of being a threat. It is only by the mercy, or the oversight, or the higher priorities, of our political masters that any of us retain vestiges of the freedom we think we have.

Upon finding out about the massive scope of this surveillance, I struggled to figure out what I could do to regain any expectation of privacy that I had even a week ago. If only one or two private companies had “partnered” with the NSA to facilitate the indiscriminate monitoring and data collection,  it might have been possible, with a few judicious restructurings of one’s habits, to avoid any services of those companies. But it seems that almost all of the major players on the Internet – the ones into whose hands hundreds of millions of us voluntarily (and, in retrospect, foolishly) entrusted vast amounts of personal data – are participants. Apart from taking the drastic (and, in many respects, self-undermining) step of ceasing to use most of the tools of the Internet and mobile technology altogether, one can do very little right away to insulate oneself from the surveillance, and even if such insulation were possible, the data already collected by the NSA are a sunk cost. It is not clear whether these companies chose to involve themselves in PRISM voluntarily, or whether they were browbeaten into it by the NSA and the Obama administration, as a price they needed to pay for being allowed to remain successful and relatively unhampered by politically motivated persecution. The companies are certainly not helping their case by denying all knowledge of their evident involvement in PRISM, using near-identical phrasing (composed by whom, I wonder?) which only prevents them from explaining any elements of their participation which might have been involuntary.

While it would have been supremely satisfying for me to simply disassociate myself from any of the companies implicated in the PRISM surveillance, they are, at present, embedded too deeply into the fabric of our lives. A gradual, evolutionary process will need to occur to enable individuals to discover ways of taking advantage of all the benefits of networked technologies, while preventing the present centralization of Internet activity from ever occurring again. The Meshnet project for creating a decentralized Internet is an intriguing concept supporting this goal.  Also helpful are anonymous search engines such as DuckDuckGo, which I have begun using in place of Google. Over the coming weeks, months, and years, it would benefit us all to think of creative ways to avoid the unwanted disclosure of our private information through the centralized Internet behemoths. As for information that we intend to be public, there seems to be no harm in disclosing that anywhere. The NSA and even Barack Obama himself may read The Rational Argumentator and watch my videos without any objections from me; indeed, this would do them much good. But I draw a clear line between the public and the private aspects of my life, and I intend to be the one who draws that line.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, but some conspiracies are indeed real, and in this case, the conspiracy theorists were right. Right, too, were those who proclaimed for years that the Obama administration represents a fundamental undermining of basic American values – to which I will add that this administration is opposed to basic human values of liberty, privacy, dignity, and the presumption of innocence. This is not routine political malfeasance; it is the wielding of an overarching apparatus of monitoring – a prerequisite to complete social control – that the KGB of the Soviet Union and the Stasi of Communist East Germany could not have dreamed of possessing. Those oppressors of old had to use actual human beings to monitor political dissidents – which severely limited their reach. The default data harvesting and algorithmic mining of the PRISM program does not require a human being to find spurious “associations” with alleged threats – based solely on combinations of keywords or contacts within one’s social networks.

The system works by focusing on all those within a few “degrees of separation” from the central suspects. You could have a phone number that differs by a digit from that of a terror suspect; if someone within that suspect’s network calls you by accident, you might be flagged as a suspect, too.  Sheer curiosity about certain subjects, visitation of certain sites, mention of certain topics in e-mails or private video chats and text messages, could get you flagged. It is not a matter of doing nothing wrong and thus having nothing to hide. With this much data, taken wildly out of context as is always possible with algorithmic data-mining systems, any person’s behavior can be construed as having nefarious motivations. Any sufficiently inconvenient individual can be portrayed as an enemy by Leviathan. This is why no American is safe from his own government unless the wholesale dismantling of the PRISM system and any related surveillance measures occurs. An executive order from Obama could achieve this, but it is doubtful that Obama would issue such an order. Massive public outrage, from within and outside the United States, might, however, set in motion the political processes that would discredit this heinously intrusive system. This is no time to cower in fear, to hush up the expression of one’s honest thoughts because one is unsure about the consequences. Now, more than ever, it is essential for every one of us to make full use of our inalienable First Amendment rights.

The extensive surveillance apparatus in the hands of the administration can be readily deployed to create actual totalitarianism with the snap of a finger. For a small-scale proof of concept, witness the frightening lockdown and militaristic mobilization that occurred in Boston in the wake of the Tsarnaev brothers’ bombings – which, as must be emphasized, the same apparatus of total surveillance and police-state response failed to prevent despite repeated warnings from Russian intelligence.

And yet I know that I am not an enemy. Neither are you. Most of us are peaceful, productive citizens of purportedly free nations. We wish harm to no one and wish only to lead our lives in peace, prosperity, and self-determination. I – and hopefully you – exercise the inalienable basic human right of free speech, a right enshrined in the American First Amendment, a right for whose defense the American Founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Edward Snowden knows what it means to make such a pledge, and what its consequences can be in a world ruled by might rather than by right. This is why it is imperative that he be pardoned, if charged, for any alleged “crimes” that the U.S. government perceives him to have committed.  If you do nothing else, please go to WhiteHouse.gov and sign the petition requesting his pardon. This is, after all, Constitutionally protected speech. If the administration begins to persecute those who signed the petition, then it would be clear that this country is too far gone. Moreover, if Edward Snowden should meet an untimely end, from whatever apparent cause, I would have no doubts of the origins of his demise, and it would also be clear that this country is too far gone.

But I do not believe that this country is too far gone, yet. We may be teetering on the brink of totalitarianism, but I have hope that the fundamental decency of the American people – and the residual adherence in this country to founding American principles – will overcome the depredations of the current American government. Another vitally important project that calls upon the participation of as many Americans as possible is the class-action lawsuit spearheaded by Senator Rand Paul against the NSA PRISM program. (You can sign up to join the lawsuit here.) I have been critical of Rand Paul’s stances (particularly his endorsement of Mitt Romney) in the past, but on the issue of NSA surveillance, he is perhaps the most powerful ally that friends of liberty have within the United States, and we need all of the allies we can get right now. If Rand Paul can help to dismantle the Orwellian apparatus of the NSA, then any of his past errors of judgment would pale in comparison.

Nearly forty years ago, Richard Nixon lost his office because he authorized spying on a few political opponents. Those were the days! Barack Obama and his administration, often with the explicit support of many Members of Congress, have for years authorized and condoned spying on hundreds of millions of Americans and even more citizens of other sovereign jurisdictions – individuals over whom the United States has and ought to have no legitimate power whatsoever.  What will be the result of these disclosures for Barack Obama’s tenure in office? The principles of justice suggest strongly that Obama should resign or be impeached and then removed from office, for his transgressions in the realm of surveillance alone are orders of magnitude greater than those of Nixon. Along with Obama, all of his senior executive officials should resign, in addition to senior Members of Congress from both parties – including Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Dianne Feinstein, Mike Rogers, and Peter King – all of whom have expressed unequivocal support for the violations of our Constitutional rights via the PRISM program, and some of whom have even stated that Edward Snowden is guilty of treason. Yet these politicians are the ones who have violated their oaths of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I do not mean to single out any one wing of the two-party establishment which has created the Orwellian security state in the U.S. after September 11, 2001. Leading Republicans, including many who held prominent posts in the Bush administration, deserve plenty of the blame for laying the groundwork for the PRISM system. What is needed is not a mere change in political parties (for that achieves nothing), but a change in the fundamental understanding of the role of government, held by those in government.

But will the impeachment or voluntary resignation of Obama and some of the other most powerful people in the United States – indeed, in the world – realistically occur, or will they be able to successfully portray their completely unbidden intrusions into all of our lives as being “for our own good”? Will they frighten and bamboozle us into believing that we need their monitoring of our lives, which we know to be lived innocently, in order to protect us from the threat of terrorism which, according to Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine, is four times less likely to kill any of us than a lightning strike?  With a surveillance program this pervasive – one so clearly endorsed by officials from both parties, from the very top down – it is unlikely that the powers that be will merely decide to sacrifice a few of their subordinates and let them take the blame for this gross violation of the privacy of many (perhaps most) human beings.  It appears that the American elite has been backed into a corner; either it will vigorously defend the PRISM system as a united front – or it will need to capitulate to human decency and acknowledge the gross moral failures involved at the highest levels.

The outcome will depend on how much public outrage arises. Are Americans going to passively roll over and accept an Orwellian level of surveillance as a fait accompli, or will they let their profound displeasure be known? I, as an American citizen, do not approve of this intrusion into my personal life by the very elected officials and their appointees who are supposed to function as the guardians of freedom. I urge all Americans to use peaceful methods of speech, petition, and creative advocacy to express their absolute disapproval of PRISM. Moreover, I hope that foreign governments and their citizens will send a strong message to the Obama administration and Congress that the monitoring of innocent persons outside America will, likewise, not be tolerated. Whether or not PRISM will continue is the litmus test for liberty in the United States, and perhaps in the remainder of the world as well. The outcome of this series of events will determine whether might or right will shape the future of humankind.

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Illiberal Belief #24: The World is a Scary Place – Article by Bradley Doucet

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The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
June 9, 2013
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Will the world end with a bang or with a whimper? Will terrorists shake the very foundations of civilization by setting off suitcase nukes in major world cities, or will the continuing contamination of the environment with toxic man-made chemicals give everyone on the planet terminal cancer? One way or another, the apocalypse, it seems, is just around the corner. Or is it?
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In fact, neither of these fears is anywhere near as threatening as many people believe them to be. Dan Gardner, columnist and senior writer for the Ottawa Citizen, has written a book called Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, published last year and newly available in paperback, in which he tries to put such fears in perspective. According to Gardner, even factoring in the 3000 deaths from the unprecedented destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, Americans are more likely in any given year to be unintentionally electrocuted than to be killed in a terrorist attack. Of course, the real fear is that terrorists will get their hands on nuclear weapons. But while this risk does exist, there are also very substantial obstacles that make such a scenario extremely unlikely. Even if, against all odds, a terrorist organization managed to detonate a nuclear bomb in a major American city, killing on the order of 100,000 people, this would be roughly equivalent to the number of Americans killed each year by diabetes, or by accidents, or by infections contracted in hospitals.As for the fear that toxic man-made chemicals are responsible for increasing incidences of cancer, it hides several misconceptions. For one, it implies that the natural is good and that the man-made is bad. In fact, most pesticides, for instance, are not man-made but occur naturally in the foods we eat. Our fear of toxic chemicals also tends to ignore any consideration of dose, since we tend to panic over insignificant parts per billion that are far below the thresholds found to kill lab rats. As toxicologists are fond of repeating, even water is poisonous in large enough quantities. The fear of environmental chemicals, natural or man-made, is also misplaced in that the American Cancer Society estimates they are responsible for only 2 percent of all cancers, as compared to lifestyle factors (smoking, drinking, diet, obesity, and exercise) that account for a whopping 65 percent. Finally, when adjusted for age and improved screening procedures, incidence rates for all cancers except lung cancer are actually declining, not increasing.
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The Great Riddle

Why are we so much more afraid of terrorism than diabetes? Why do we pay so much attention to minuscule environmental hazards while essentially ignoring much larger lifestyle risks? Contrasting Europeans’ blasé smoking habits with their outsized fear of genetically modified organisms, Gardner writes, “Surely one of the great riddles to be answered by science is how the same person who doesn’t think twice about lighting a Gauloise will march in the streets demanding a ban on products that have never been proven to have caused so much as a single case of indigestion.” To take just one more example, we fear statistically non-existent threats like child abduction and therefore keep our kids indoors, depriving them of exercise and contributing to sedentary lifestyles that have a very real chance of cutting years off of their lives.

The answers to this “great riddle” are partly to be found in human nature. We have gut reactions to dangers that are more dramatic, like terrorist attacks and plane crashes. These rare events also are more likely to make the news, both because of their drama and because of their rarity. Another thousand people died today from heart disease? Ho-hum. Fifty people died in a plane crash? That hasn’t happened in months or years, and the visuals are exciting, so that’s news!

Be Afraid… Be Very Afraid

Irrational fears not only lead us to make bad choices, like driving instead of flying, which place us in greater danger. They also allow government officials to manipulate us more effectively and insinuate themselves more deeply into more and more areas of our lives. The disproportionate fear of terrorism has been nurtured and used to justify a protocol of time-consuming security checks at airports, the warrantless wiretapping of phone calls, the tightening of international borders, and of course, two ongoing wars with huge costs both in terms of lives and money. The exaggerated fear of environmental dangers, for its part, has led to increased taxation and regulation of production, empowering bureaucrats and lobbyists while acting as a drag on innovations and economic growth that could be of even greater benefit to human life and flourishing. (See Gennady Stolyarov II’s “Eden Is an Illusion”.)

We are prone to fear all kinds of things we really shouldn’t, fears that can be and are reinforced by the media out to tell an entertaining story; by companies out to sell us an alarm system or a new drug; by activists or non-governmental organizations out to elicit donations and support; and by politicians out to win elections and accumulate power. The only way to counteract this is to inform ourselves about relative risks and becoming comfortable dealing with numbers and statistics in general.

There is no such thing as a risk-free world, but despite the real dangers that exist, we in the developed world in the twenty-first century are better off than any other people who have ever lived. We have our human ingenuity to thank for the startling advances in fighting diseases and increasing lifespans that characterize our time. We shouldn’t let our equally human irrational fears get the better of us and push us into giving up our freedom in exchange for ersatz safety.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.

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