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Panel Discussion on Hereditary Religion – Nevada Transhumanist Party

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Categories: Culture, Education, Philosophy, Politics, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Nevada Transhumanist Party invited notable panelists to participate in a 2.5-hour conversation via Google Hangouts on Air, in order to discuss free thought and the prospects for children to be allowed the freedom to choose how (or whether) they will approach religion, instead of being compelled to follow the religious beliefs of their parents or the surrounding society.

This independent panel discussion was moderated by Mr. Stolyarov and occurred on Saturday, January 23, 2016, at 11 a.m. Pacific Time.

Each participant offered a unique, unfettered perspective on the subjects discussed. Panelists were asked to opine on the subject of how cultivating free thought and independent decision-making from a young age can result in children growing up to be more interested in advancing science and technology and solving the great problems of the human condition.

See the Constitution and Bylaws of the Nevada Transhumanist Party here. Of particular relevance are Sections XXIII and XXVI of the Nevada Transhumanist Party Platform:

Section XXIII: The Nevada Transhumanist Party supports the rights of children to exercise liberty in proportion to their rational faculties and capacity for autonomous judgment. In particular, the Nevada Transhumanist Party strongly opposes all forms of bullying, child abuse, and censorship of intellectual self-development by children and teenagers.

Section XXVI: The Nevada Transhumanist Party welcomes both religious and non-religious individuals who support life extension and emerging technologies. The Nevada Transhumanist Party recognizes that some religious individuals and interpretations may be receptive to technological progress and, if so, are valuable allies to the transhumanist movement. On the other hand, the Nevada Transhumanist Party is also opposed to any interpretation of a religious doctrine that results in the rejection of reason, censorship, violation of individual rights, suppression of technological advancement, and attempts to impose religious belief by force and/or by legal compulsion.

Panelists

Adam Alonzi is a writer, biotechnologist, documentary maker, futurist, inventor, programmer, and author of the novels “A Plank in Reason” and “Praying for Death: Mocking the Apocalypse”. He is an analyst for the Millennium Project, the Head Media Director for BioViva Sciences, and Editor-in-Chief of Radical Science News. Listen to his podcasts here. Read his blog here.

Troy Boyle is a comic-book artist, writer, and former president of The National Atheist Party (now the Secular Party of America), which he co-founded in March 2011. Troy has worked for Image Comics, Desperado Publishing, Caliber Press, and Boneyard Press. Some of Troy’s comic-book art is included in “Mysterious Visions Anthology”, “Ppfszt!”, “Tribute”, and “The Return of Happy the Clown”. He also provided artwork for David Gerrold’s comic “A Doctor For the Enterprise”. See his Wikipedia page here.

Roen Horn is a philosopher and lecturer on the importance of trying to live forever. He founded the Eternal Life Fan Club in 2012 to encourage fans of eternal life to start being more strategic with regard to this goal. To this end, one major focus of the club has been on life-extension techniques, everything from lengthening telomeres to avoiding risky behaviors. Currently, Roen’s work may be seen in the many memes, quotes, essays, and video blogs that he has created for those who are exploring their own thoughts on this, or who want to share and promote the same things. Like many other fans of eternal life, Roen is in love with life, and is very inspired by the world around him and wants to impart in others the same desire to discover all this world has to offer. Roen also runs the Facebook page “Gods are unproven hypothetical conjecture“.

B.J. Murphy is the Editor and Social Media Manager of Serious Wonder. He is a futurist, philosopher, activist, author and poet. B.J. is an Advisory Board Member for the NGO nonprofit Lifeboat Foundation and an Affiliate Scholar for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET). He’s done work as a Tech Adviser for both TV and short films and is currently an Ambassador for artificial intelligence tech. company Humai.

B.J. is a co-author of The Future of Business: Critical Insights Into a Rapidly Changing World From 60 Future Thinkers, his chapter being “The Future Business of Body Shops,” which explores how 3D printing, cybernetics, and biohacking will fundamentally change not only the business industry of the future, but subsequently the human biological substrate itself.

Demian Zivkovic is the president of the Institute of Exponential Sciences (Facebook / Meetup) – an international technopositive think tank / education institute comprised of a group of transhumanism-oriented scientists, professionals, students, journalists, and entrepreneurs interested in the interdisciplinary approach to advancing exponential technologies and promoting techno-positive thought. He is also an entrepreneur and student of artificial intelligence and innovation sciences and management at the University of Utrecht.

Demian and the IES have been involved in several endeavors, such as organizing lectures on exponential sciences, interviewing experts such as Aubrey de Grey, joining several of Mr. Stolyarov’s futurism panels, and spreading Death is Wrong – Mr. Stolyarov’s illustrated children’s book on indefinite life extension – in The Netherlands.

Demian Zivkovic is a strong proponent of healthy life extension and cognitive augmentation. His interests include hyperreality, morphological freedom advocacy, postgenderism, and hypermodernism. He is currently working on his ambition of raising enough capital to make a real difference in life extension and transhumanist thought.

Panel-on-Hereditary-Religion-NTP

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How Can Life Extension Become as Popular as the War on Cancer? – MILE Panel

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Categories: Philosophy, Science, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

MILE-Demonstration-2-Ad

What can be done to raise public support for the pursuit of indefinite life extension through medicine and biotechnology to the same level as currently exists for disease-specific research efforts aimed at cancers, heart disease, ALS, and similar large-scale nemeses?

In this panel discussion, which occurred on October 1, 2015 – International Longevity Day – Mr. Stolyarov asks notable life-extension supporters to provide input on this vital question and related areas relevant to accelerating the pursuit of indefinite longevity. Watch the full discussion here.

This panel is coordinated in conjunction with MILE, the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension.

View the presentation slides prepared by Sven Bulterjis, “Aging Research Needs Marketing: What Can We Learn from Cancer Research?”:

Download the PDF version.
Download the Microsoft PowerPoint version.
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Also see a statement prepared by Peter Rothman for this event. This statement was read out by Mr. Stolyarov during the panel, and panelists’ responses were solicited.

Read the announcement by Keith Comito – “The #LifespanChallenge Starting on October 1 – International Longevity Day”.

See Mr. Comito’s introductory video for the Lifespan Challenge.

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Panelists

Adam Alonzi is the author of the fiction books “Praying for Death: A Zombie Apocalypse“and “A Plank in Reason”. He is also a futurist, inventor, DIY enthusiast, biotechnologist, programmer, molecular gastronomist, consummate dilletante and columnist at The Indian Economist. Listen to his podcasts at http://adamalonzi.libsyn.com/. Read his blog at https://adamalonzi.wordpress.com/.

Sven Bulterjis is a founder and member of the Board of Directors of Heales – the Healthy Life Extension Society, based in Brussels, Belgium. He has worked as a post-graduate researcher at the SENS Research Foundation and at Yale University. Moreover, he is an Advisor for the Lifeboat Foundation’s A-Prize, whose purpose is to put the development of artificial life forms into the open.

Keith Comito is a computer programmer and mathematician whose work brings together a variety of disciplines to provoke thought and promote social change. He has created video games, bioinformatics programs, musical applications, and biotechnology projects featured in Forbes and NPR.

In addition to developing high-profile mobile applications such as HBO Now and MLB AtBat, he explores the intersection of technology and biology at the Brooklyn community lab Genspace where he helped to create games which allow players to direct the motion of microscopic organisms. Read his Forbes article “Biological Games“.

Seeing age-related disease as one of the most profound problems facing humanity, he now works to accelerate and democratize longevity research efforts through initiatives such as Lifespan.io.
He earned a B.S. in Mathematics, B.S. in Computer science, and M.S. in Applied Mathematics at Hofstra University, where his work included analysis of the LMNA protein.

Roen Horn is a philosopher and lecturer on the importance of trying to live forever. He founded the Eternal Life Fan Club in 2012 to encourage fans of eternal life to start being more strategic with regard to this goal. To this end, one major focus of the club has been on life-extension techniques, everything from lengthening telomeres to avoiding risky behaviors. Currently, Roen’s work may be seen in the many memes, quotes, essays, and video blogs that he has created for those who are exploring their own thoughts on this, or who want to share and promote the same things. Like many other fans of eternal life, Roen is in love with life, and is very inspired by the world around him and wants to impart in others the same desire to discover all this world has to offer.

B.J. Murphy is the Editor and Social Media Manager of Serious Wonder. He is a futurist, philosopher, activist, author and poet. B.J. is an Advisory Board Member for the NGO nonprofit Lifeboat Foundation and a writer for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET).

Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva, is a humanitarian, entrepreneur, and innovator, and is a leading voice for genetic cures. As a strong proponent of progress and education for the advancement of regenerative medicine modalities, she serves as a motivational speaker to the public at large for the life sciences. She is actively involved in international educational media outreach and sits on the board of the International Longevity Alliance (ILA). She is an affiliated member of the Complex Biological Systems Alliance (CBSA), which is a unique platform for Mensa-based, highly gifted persons who advance scientific discourse and discovery.

The mission of the CBSA is to further scientific understanding of biological complexity and the nature and origins of human disease. Elizabeth is the founder of BioTrove Investments LLC and the BioTrove Podcasts, which is committed to offering a meaningful way for people to learn about and fund research in regenerative medicine.  She is also the Secretary of The American Longevity Alliance (ALA), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit trade association that brings together individuals, companies, and organizations who work in advancing the emerging field of cellular and regenerative medicine.

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Third Interview of Gennady Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov by Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club – May 2, 2015

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Categories: Justice, Philosophy, Politics, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II and Wendy Stolyarov
September 6, 2015
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ELFC_DIW_Third_InterviewNote by Mr. Stolyarov: On May 2, 2015, a hot spring day in Roseville, California, Wendy Stolyarov and I visited Roen Horn of the Eternal Life Fan Club and had a lengthy discussion with him on a wide variety of subjects: life extension, our illustrated children’s book Death is Wrong, healthcare policy, criminal punishment, and the political prospects of the Transhumanist Party and third parties in general. This was Roen’s third interview with us (watch the first and second interviews as well), and his skillfully edited recording offers a glimpse into its best segments. This conversation occurred approximately four months before Wendy and I took the step to found the Nevada Transhumanist Party, but my comments in this interview are a good example of the evolution of my thinking in this direction, as I was already inclined toward endorsing Zoltan Istvan’s 2016 Presidential run.

Watch the interview here.

Join the Nevada Transhumanist Party here.

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Fast-Track Atheist Security Lanes and More: Time to Jettison Perverse Egalitarianism – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Justice, Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
June 13, 2015
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I agree fully with the recent recommendation by journalist, author, and US Transhumanist Party presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan to establish fast-track security lanes in airports, enabling declared atheists to avoid wasteful, humiliating, and time-consuming security procedures ostensibly designed to ferret out potential terrorists. The rationale behind Istvan’s recommendation is straightforward: since the motivation for virtually every plane hijacking has been some manner of religious fundamentalism, it is time to recognize that the probability of an atheist perpetrating such a terrible act is negligible and spare atheists the stigma and inconvenience of invasive screenings. Indeed, even the argument of certain religious critics of atheism that “there are no atheists in foxholes” can be used to bolster Istvan’s proposal. If it is indeed the case that a lack of a belief in a deity or an afterlife leads to a greater reluctance to risk one’s own life in battle for some ostensibly “higher” ideal, then this could be expected to translate to an even greater reluctance to perpetrate plane hijackings, suicide bombings, or other self-sacrificial atrocities, which lack even the blessing that political authorities bestow upon organized warfare.

Of course, it is also the case that most religious people would never perpetrate acts of terrorism, and it would be desirable to include in Istvan’s fast-track process any particular types of religious adherents for whom the perpetration of wanton murder for ideological objectives would be similarly inconceivable. Jainism, for instance, upholds nonviolence toward all living beings, as do some interpretations of Buddhism. Various Christian denominations throughout history – Quakers, Mennonites, and certain Anglicans – have been pacifistic as well. In addition to anyone who professes these beliefs, all people who can demonstrate that they are opposed to war and political violence in general should be exempted from airport screenings as well.

But we can, and should, be even more expansive in determining eligibility for fast-track security lanes. For instance, the probability of a two-year-old toddler, a 70-year-old grandmother, or a visibly afflicted cancer patient seeking to perpetrate an act of terrorism is just as negligible as that of an atheist or a pacifist. Screening people of those demographics – and many others – is equally pointless. It is similarly inconceivable that people with high-profile public lives – celebrities, businesspeople, holders of political office – would perpetrate plane hijackings, and yet the current airport “security” procedures apply to them all. One could, with some deliberation, arrive at tens of other attributes that would preclude their possessors from being terrorist threats. In progressively filtering out more and more people as having virtually no probability of committing mass attacks on civilians, it would be possible to rapidly restore liberty and convenience to virtually all airline passengers. Furthermore, this more expansive clearance from suspicion should apply not just with regard to airport screenings, but also with regard to any surveillance of a person’s activities. The logical end result would be to roll back both “security” screenings by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and mass surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) until each of these processes is focused solely on perhaps a few hundred genuine suspects while leaving the rest of us alone to live and travel in peace. Or, perhaps better yet, we should start with the age-old presumption of free societies: that an individual is deemed innocent unless he or she has shown evidence of guilt. So, instead of developing an array of characteristics that would enable people to opt out of detailed scrutiny, the system should be designed to only surveil an individual if there is probable cause and a strong reason to suspect criminal intent on the part of that specific individual. In short, we would return to the libertarian and classical liberal approach to issues of security.

Even if the detection and thwarting of terrorists were one’s sole goal, it would be logical to support as many valid methods as possible for narrowing the scope of one’s focus toward those who might pose genuine threats. The less time and effort are spent screening and surveilling completely innocent people, the more resources can be directed toward pursuing and thwarting actual wrongdoers.

And yet nobody seeking to fly today is safe from intrusive scrutiny, and the political class will take neither Istvan’s more limited recommendation nor my more expansive one seriously. Why is it that, in contemporary America, whenever somebody does something sufficiently terrible to generate headlines, procedures are deployed to ensnare everybody in a web of ceaseless suspicion, humiliation, and moral outrage? When a handful of fanatics hijack planes, destroy buildings, and murder civilians, the vast majority of civilians, who resemble the victims far more than the perpetrators, nonetheless become the principal targets of spying, prying, groping, and expropriation. Some libertarians will make the argument, not to be discounted, that the genuine purpose of the mass surveillance and screenings is not to catch terrorists, but rather to instill submissive attitudes in the general population, rendering more pliable those who have been acculturated to inconvenience for inconvenience’s sake, just because those in authority ordered it. Yet such a nefarious motive could not be the sole sustaining force behind persistent mass surveillance and humiliation, as most people do not have an interest in subjugation for the sake of subjugation, and enough people of good conscience would eventually unite against it and overturn its exercise. Another mindset, which I will call perverse egalitarianism, unfortunately afflicts even many people of generally good intentions. It is the prevalence of this perverse egalitarianism that enables the perpetration of mass outrages to persist.

Perverse egalitarianism, essentially, upholds the equality of outcomes above the nature of those outcomes. To a perverse egalitarian, it is more important to prevent some people from receiving more favorable treatments, resources, or prerogatives than others, than it is to expand the total scope of opportunities available for improving people’s lives. The perverse egalitarian mindset holds that, unless everybody is able to get something favorable, nobody should have it.

For those who value “equality” – however defined – there are two essential ways to achieve it – one, by uplifting those who are less well-off so that they are able to enjoy what those who are better off already enjoy; the other, by depriving those who are currently better off of their advantages and prerogatives. From a moral standpoint, these two types of egalitarianism cannot be farther apart; the first seeks to improve the lives of some, whereas the second seeks to degrade the lives of others. The first type of egalitarianism – the uplifting form – is admirable in its desire to improve lives, but also more difficult to realize. Beneficial qualities in life do not magically appear but often require the generation of real wealth from previously unavailable sources. Through technological and economic progress, the uplifting form of egalitarianism has a potential to succeed, although, paradoxically, it can best emerge by tolerating the natural inequalities associated with a market economy. Free enterprise will generate tremendous wealth for some, which in turn will enable vast numbers of others to achieve more modest prosperity and emerge out of dire poverty. The most economically and societally unequal societies are the most authoritarian and primitive, in which an entrenched caste of rulers controls virtually all the advantages and resources, while the rest of the population lives in squalor. Often, those are the very same societies that embrace “leveling” and redistributive policies in the name of achieving equality. As Milton and Rose Friedman famously wrote in Free to Choose, “A society that puts equality – in the sense of equality of outcome – ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests. On the other hand, a society that puts freedom first will, as a happy by-product, end up with both greater freedom and greater equality.”

But perverse egalitarianism is much easier to implement than uplifting egalitarianism. Indeed, it is much easier to destroy than to create. The perverse egalitarian does not even need to do anything to improve the lot of the worse-off; he or she just needs to bring the better-off down to their level. But the greatest taboo for the perverse egalitarian is to allow anybody, for whatever reason, to escape the “leveling” process and “get away with” an advantage that another lacks. Perverse egalitarianism is the reason why “security” measures ostensibly designed to catch a handful of wrongdoers and prevent potential attacks by a tiny minority of perpetrators, almost inevitably burden the entire population. It would be “unfair”, according to the perverse egalitarians, to scrutinize only a subset of people, while letting others walk into airplanes unsearched or live their lives un-surveilled. Because it is indeed true that some people cannot altogether escape suspicion, the perverse egalitarians believe that nobody should be able to. To do otherwise would be to commit the cardinal sin of “profiling” – never mind that the perverse egalitarians’ way would visit the very same inconveniences of such profiling upon everybody.

But perverse egalitarianism brings only the permanent enshrinement of suffering under the guise of equality or “social justice”. It is reprehensible to make everyone suffer simply because an inconvenience might justifiably exist for some. And while profiling on the basis of circumstantial attributes is itself morally and practically questionable, there is no question that, from a purely probabilistic standpoint, certain attributes can rule out suspicion far more definitively than others. As an example, while the risk that an atheist would hijack an airplane is negligible, it is incontrovertible that some fundamentalist Muslims have hijacked airplanes in the past. It is still true that even most fundamentalist Muslims would never hijack airplanes, but just knowing that someone is a fundamentalist Muslim would not tell us this; we would need to know more about that individual’s outlook. But, in spite of all this, it is eminently reasonable to spare the atheist any further scrutiny; the only purported argument for not doing this would be to avoid “offending” the fundamentalist Muslim or creating an appearance of unequal treatment. But this is precisely the perverse egalitarian position – affirmatively inflicting real suffering on some in order to avoid perceived slights on the part of others. The best approach is to seek to treat everyone justly, not to spread injustice as widely and “equally” as possible. Highly targeted approaches toward threat detection should be used to focus solely on probable offenders while deliberately aiming to keep as many people as possible out of the scope of searches and surveillance.

Zoltan Istvan’s proposal to spare atheists from intrusive airport screenings would be a step forward compared to the status quo, but his argument, taken to its logical conclusion, should lead to virtually everybody being “fast-tracked” through airport security. The special treatment, and special lines, should be reserved for the tiny minority of likely wrongdoers who truly warrant suspicion.

This composition and video may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

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Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Justice, Philosophy, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 20, 2015
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Mr. Stolyarov endeavors to refute the common argument that any law, be it a physical law or a law of morality or justice, requires a lawgiver – an intelligent entity that brought the law into being. While some laws (termed manmade or positive laws) do indeed have human lawmakers, a much more fundamental class of laws (termed universal or natural laws) arise not due to promulgation by any intelligent being, but rather due to the basic properties of the entities these laws concern, and the relations of those entities to one another. To the extent that positive laws are enacted by humans, the purpose of such positive laws should be reflect and effectuate the beneficial consequences of objectively valid natural laws.

References

– “Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver” – Article by G. Stolyarov II –

– Formula for the Universal Law of Gravitation: F = G*m1*m2/r2, with F being the force between two masses, m1 and m2 being the two masses, r being the distance between the centers of the two masses, and G being the universal gravitational constant.

– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

– “Indiana Pi Bill” – Wikipedia

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Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Justice, Philosophy, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 13, 2015
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Here I endeavor to refute the common argument that any law, be it a physical law or a law of morality or justice, requires a lawgiver – an intelligent entity that brought the law into being. While some laws (termed manmade or positive laws) do indeed have human lawmakers, a much more fundamental class of laws (termed universal or natural laws) arise not due to promulgation by any intelligent being, but rather due to the basic properties of the entities these laws concern, and the relations of those entities to one another. To the extent that positive laws are enacted by humans, the purpose of such positive laws should be to reflect and effectuate the beneficial consequences of objectively valid natural laws. For instance, it is a natural law that each human being possesses a right to life. A positive law that prohibits and punishes murder of one human being by another would reflect the natural law and therefore be desirable. On the other hand, if any positive law were to mandate murder (as various edicts by tyrannical regimes throughout history, targeting political dissidents or disfavored minority groups, have done), then that positive law would be contrary to the natural law and therefore illegitimate and harmful.

The physical laws of nature pertain to all entities, including humans, and describe the regularities with which these entities will behave within applicable situations. Examples of physical laws include Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, the law of gravitation, the law of conservation of matter and energy, and the law of conservation of momentum. If it is asserted that these laws require a lawgiver, then the lawgiver would hypothetically be able to alter these laws on a whim at any time, thereby depriving them of their universality and predictable application. Such a state of affairs would not only be highly inconvenient (to say the least), but also completely incompatible with the reality that these laws are derived from the nature of entities as they are.

We can draw upon ubiquitous observation and the fact that these laws of nature can indeed be harnessed so precisely that every functional technology ever invented works because it takes advantage of them. The argument that the laws of nature could change tomorrow depends on a false perception of what those laws are – a kind of Platonic view that the laws of nature are superimposed upon the world of objects. In reality, however, objects (entities) and their qualities and relationships are all that exist at the most basic level. The laws of nature are relationships that are derived from the very properties inherent to objects themselves; they are not some higher layer of reality on top of the objects that leads the objects to behave in a certain way. That is, the laws of nature are what they are because the things whose behavior they describe are what they are.

The truth that the laws of nature are a function of the objects whose behavior they describe pertains to fundamental physical laws, such as the law of gravitation. While the law of gravitation and the equation [1] describing that law apply universally, the very existence of the law is dependent on the existence of entities that have mass and therefore exhibit gravitational attraction. Were there no entities or no entities with mass (incidentally, both logically impossible scenarios), then the concept of gravity would not have any relevance or applicability. Likewise, the amount of mass of particular entities and their distance of separation from one another will determine the extent of the gravitational force exerted by those entities upon one another. The gravitational force arises because the entities are as massive as they are and located where they are relative to one another; it does not arise because a supernatural lawgiver imposed it upon entities who would otherwise be completely static or random in their behavior in relation to one another.

The key parallel with the laws of morality is that, as the laws of gravitation stem from the objective properties of entities themselves (i.e., that they have mass – which is a universal property of all entities), so do the laws of morality stem from the objective properties of human beings themselves – namely, the biological and physical prerequisites of human survival and flourishing. Different specific decisions may be the appropriate moral decisions in different contexts, but because of the essential similarities of humans along many key dimensions, certain general moral truths will hold universally for all humans.  But again, were there no humans (or similar rational, sentient, volitional beings) with these essential attributes, the concept of morality would have no relevance.

Neither morality nor gravitation require the existence of entities outside of those exhibiting moral behavior or gravitational attraction. A system of physical or moral laws is not dependent on an outside “lawgiver” but rather on the objective natures of the entities partaking in the system. Objective moral laws include the principles of ethics, which address how a person should behave to maximize possible well-being, as well as the principles of justice, which address how people should relate to one another in respecting one another’s spheres of legitimate action, rewarding meritorious conduct, and punishing destructive conduct against others. There is a natural harmony between adherence to objective moral laws and the attainment of beneficial consequences for one’s own life, material prosperity, and happiness – provided that one adheres to a view of long-term, enlightened, rational self-interest, which does not allow one to sacrifice the lives, liberty, or property of others to achieve a short-term gain.

Some would assert that principles of behavior that tend to maximize well-being and serve one’s rational self-interest may be part of prudent or practical conduct, but are not the same as morality. In the minds of these individuals, morality (typically, in their view, willed by an external lawgiver) is independent of practical means or consequences and often (as, for instance, in Immanuel Kant’s outlook on morality) inherently divorced from actions conducive to self-interest. I, however, strongly reject any notion that there might be a dichotomy between morality and practicality, happiness, or prosperity – when a long-term, enlightened, and multifaceted outlook on the latter conditions is considered. Some might be so short-sighted as to mistake some temporary advantage or fleeting pleasure for true fulfillment or happiness, but the objective cause-and-effect relationships within our physical reality will eventually disappoint them (if they live long enough – and if not, their punishment – death – will be even greater). If some or even many humans might be drawn toward certain pleasurable feelings for their own sake (which is an evolutionary relic of a very different primeval environment inhabited by our ancestors – but a tendency ill-adapted to our current environment), this is not the same as achieving truly sustainable prosperity and happiness by using reason to thrive in our current environment (or to create a better environment for human flourishing). One of the objectives of a good moral system is to guide people toward the latter outcome. My essay and video “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” offer more detailed thoughts on key elements of a life of flourishing and the concept of eudaemonia – the actualization of one’s full potential, as Aristotle and later virtue-oriented philosophers described it.

Objective moral law, derived from the fundamental value of every innocent rational, sentient being’s life, posits an essential harmony of the long-term, enlightened self-interests of all who earnestly pursue truth and goodness. Unlike many proponents of an externally legislated moral framework (for which the alleged lawgiver might be a supernatural being, a single human ruler, or a collective of humans), I would not consider self-sacrifice to be a component of morality. I align more with Ayn Rand’s view of sacrifice as a surrender of a greater value (e.g., one’s life) to a lesser value (e.g., abstractions such as nation-states, religions, or perceived slights from another nation-state or religious or cultural group). A person can behave morally – promoting his own life, respecting the rights of others, and contributing to human flourishing – without ever surrendering anything he values (except as an instrument for obtaining outcomes he might justifiably value more). Morality should therefore not be seen as the subordination of the individual to some higher ideal, be it a divine order or a manmade one. Rather, the individual is the ideal for which moral behavior is the path to fulfillment.

A person who behaves morally advances himself while fully respecting the legitimate prerogatives of others. He improves his own life without damaging anybody else’s. In the process of pursuing enlightened self-interest, he also benefits the lives of others through value-adding interactions. Indeed, he may enter into an extensive network of both formal and informal reciprocal obligations with others that result in his actions being a constant, sustainable source of improvement in others’ lives. The virtue of honesty is part of objective ethics and impels a moral individual to strive to honor all commitments once they have been made. The key to a morality based on objective, natural law, however, is that these obligations be entered into freely and not as a result of the self being compromised in favor of an alleged higher ideal. Consequently, a key component of natural law is the liberty of an individual to evaluate the world in accordance with his rational faculty and to decide which undertakings are consistent with his enlightened self-interest. When positive laws are crafted so as to interfere with that liberty, positive law becomes at odds with natural law, leading to warped incentives, institutionalized sacrifices, and painful tradeoffs that many individuals must make if they seek to abide by both natural and positive laws.

Objective natural laws – both physical and moral – do not require a lawgiver and antecede manmade, positive laws. Some natural laws, however, may require positive laws – such as prohibitions on murder, theft, and slavery – in order for the desirable outcome brought about by the natural laws to be reflected in actual (rather than simply hoped-for) human behavior. In order to improve human well-being, positive laws should be developed to advance and effectuate natural laws, instead of attempting to resist them or contravene them. Just as a law that redefines the value of pi as 3.2 (one actually unsuccessfully attempted in Indiana in 1897) is rightly seen as absurd on its face, even if a majority votes to enact it, and would result in many failed constructions if implemented by engineers and designers of machines, so would a law that abrogates the natural liberty of individuals to peacefully pursue their own flourishing result in damage to good human beings and increases in physical harm, suffering, and injustice. A good human lawmaker should respect pre-existing objective natural laws and not attempt to contradict them.

[1] F = G*m1*m2/r2, with F being the force between two masses, m1 and m2 being the two masses, r being the distance between the centers of the two masses, and G being the universal gravitational constant.

This article may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. See Mr. Stolyarov’s biographical information here.

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A Brief History of Western Liberalism – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

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Categories: History, Philosophy, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Kyrel Zantonavitch
June 1, 2013
Recommend this page.
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This is a brief history of the philosophy and culture of liberalism. It describes a life-style and civilization which lifts human beings far above that of animals, chimpanzees, hominids, and even tribalist hunter-gatherers. Liberalism features man at his best. Liberals are clear-thinking and rational men: natural, sound, healthy, happy, uplifted, and heroic.

Liberalism is a fundamental category of philosophy and life-style – something broad and general. It constitutes a definitive concept – beyond which one cannot venture or improve – like life, happiness, greatness, transcendence, virtue, beauty, pleasure, thought, reality, existence, and the universe. Liberalism’s subsidiary concepts are also ultimate and final: rationality, egoism, and liberty.

In the story of mankind, first come bonobos, then semi-human Homo habilis, then primitive man Homo erectus, then highly advanced Neanderthals, then truly intelligent and impressive Cro-Magnons – who used their 100 IQs to exterminate their brutish competitors, invent sophisticated arrow technology, and make art such as those Venus statues and cave paintings.

By 9000 BC the last Ice Age ended, and humans immediately converted from hunter-gatherers to rancher-farmers. After domesticating multitudinous plants and animals, by 3300 BC human beings further cultivated them with irrigation on their new private property, backed by their revolutionary social institution called government. By 1700 BC men had well-established written laws, well-developed literature and art, easy personal transportation using horses, and elaborate international trade using sophisticated great ships.

All of this constituted impressive advances in humans’ quality of life; but none of it constituted philosophical or cultural liberalism.

Finally, by about 600 BC, the ancient Greeks created the indescribably magnificent phenomenon of Western liberalism. They invented rationality or “Greek reason” or syllogistic logic – or pure thought or epistemology. This is usually described as “the discovery of science and philosophy.”

But along with the stunning and wondrous epistemology of reason – naturally and inevitably and inherently – came the ethics of individualism, and the politics of freedom.

All of this can be fairly, accurately, and usefully denominated as the thought-system and life-style of Western liberalism – of liberal philosophy and culture, especially as exemplified by Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno the Stoic. These three theorists, ironically, were labelled by their intellectual opponents as “dogmatic.” This was not because these scientifically minded open debaters claimed to know everything based on faith, but because they claimed to know anything at all based on evidence and analysis.

By the 100s BC in Greece, the general ideology of liberalism was well-established in the middle and upper classes. Then the Romans conquered the Greeks and within a century made liberalism their own. They even advanced the noble ideas and ideals a bit, with such thinkers as Cicero, Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, and Aurelius.

But skepticism of reason ascended rapidly by the 200s AD, and with it came the decline of the greatest country in human history. The new phenomenon of monotheism began to dominate in the 300s AD, especially Christianity or “Plato for the masses.” By the middle of the 400s, the philosophy and culture of liberalism were dead, and so was Rome. A long, terrible Dark Age ensued.

This irrational, illiberal nightmare of Western civilization lasted for a millennium. The wretched and depraved philosophy of Jesus ruined everything.

But a bit of reason and hope came back into the world in the 1100s of northwest Europe with the mini-Renaissance. High-quality Greek thinkers were gradually reintroduced. Then came the 1300s and the Italian Renaissance.

By the 1500s a whole Europe-wide Renaissance began with France’s conquest of northern Italy. The French brought their reborn art and philosophy to everyone in the West. The beautiful general philosophy of liberalism ascended still higher while the ghastly evils of fundamentalist skepticism, Platonism, monotheism, and Christianity declined. The classical liberal era was brought about by radical and heroic innovators like Francis Bacon, John Locke, Voltaire, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson.

The late 1700s Enlightenment and Age of Reason in Britain, France, Holland, and America featured liberalism at its height. But it was gradually and massively undermined by the irrational, nonsensical philosophers Bishop Berkeley, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Friedrich Hegel.

During and after the 1790s the French Revolution went astray and embraced ideological dogmatism, and self-sacrifice to the cause. It also converted itself into an early version of modern communism; as well as the false, evil, and illiberal ideologies of right-wing conservatism and left-wing progressivism. In the art world this was manifested by the slightly but definitely irrational Romantic movement of 1800-1850. Paintings started to turn ugly again.

Socialism and communism fairly quickly went into high gear after Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto of 1848. Religion also somewhat revived in the late 1800s. These two monstrous ideologies backed the moral ideal of self-destruction, or the “Judeo-Christian ethic,” or, even better, the “religio-socialist ethic.” The fin de siècle of the 1890s was the giddy, despairing, hopeless, lost end of a noble era in the West – a dynamic, heroic, rational, liberal era.

A practical, real-world, irrational, illiberal dystopia was achieved in the mid-1900s with Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. Later in the 1900s there were Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Ayatollah Khomeini, and countless other despots. Illiberalism reached a hellish trough around 1985.

Then came Ronald Reagan in America, Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia, and Deng Xiaoping in China. These four political semi-revolutionaries, in four leading nations, used their governments to change world culture in a liberal direction.

These liberal leaders emerged on the world scene because theory always precedes practice, and the theory of liberalism began to rise again – at least intellectually, and in certain recherché circles – around the early 1900s. It began anew with Austrian economic thinkers like Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, and Friedrich Hayek. In addition to the dry, mechanical realm of economics, these three addressed the fields of politics and sociology – and even ethics and epistemology. They filled in many of the gaps, and corrected many of the weaknesses and failures, of Locke, Smith, and company.

The Austrians also attacked the communism, socialism, and progressivism of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson, among others. And they taught the fiery intellectual novelist Ayn Rand.

Rand converted from fiction to philosophy from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. She was by far the most liberal thinker in the history of man. She created the philosophy of Objectivism. Ayn Rand advanced human knowledge about as much as Bacon, Locke, Voltaire, Smith, and Jefferson combined.

Sadly, however, Rand undercut her liberal ideology with a heavy atmosphere and subtext of cultism and religiosity in her propaganda movement. This was understandable, considering how revolutionary and hated her philosophy was, but hardly rational or legitimate.

However, Rand died in 1982, and a highly rational and non-religious organization, organized around her discoveries, emerged in 1989. This brought the world Objectivism as a thought-system, not a belief-system; and Objectivism as a rational, benevolent, effective philosophy – not an irrational, malicious, weird cult.

There are currently three separate but related avant-garde liberal ideological movements: Austrian economics, libertarian politics, and Objectivist philosophy. All three are tiny but, based on historical intellectual standards, seemingly growing solidly.

Pure liberalism – a pure, clean, complete comprehension that reason was 100% right in epistemology, individualism was 100% right in ethics, and freedom was 100% right in politics – began in the early 21st century. Randroid illiberalism began to die out. A New Enlightenment is about to begin.

Kyrel Zantonavitch is the founder of The Liberal Institute  (http://www.liberalinstitute.com/) and a writer for Rebirth of Reason (http://www.rebirthofreason.com). He can be contacted at zantonavitch@gmail.com.

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Thoughts on Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager” – A Review – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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Zoltan Istvan’s new novel The Transhumanist Wager has been compared to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. But to what extent are the books alike, and in what respects? In this review, Mr. Stolyarov compares and contrasts the two novels and explores the question of how best to achieve radical life extension and general technological progress for the improvement of the human condition.

References

– The Transhumanist Wager Official Page
– “Thoughts on Zoltan Istvan’s ‘The Transhumanist Wager’: A Review” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
Guilio Prisco’s Review of The Transhumanist Wager
– “Larry Page wants to ‘set aside a part of the world’ for unregulated experimentation” – Nathan Ingraham – The Verge – May 15, 2013
Zoltan Istvan’s Reddit AMA

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Thoughts on Zoltan Istvan’s “The Transhumanist Wager”: A Review – Article by G. Stolyarov II

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Categories: Fiction, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 18, 2013
Recommend this page.
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Zoltan Istvan’s new novel The Transhumanist Wager has been compared to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. (See, for instance, Giulio Prisco’s review.) But to what extent are the books alike, and in what respects? To be sure, the story and the writing style are gripping, the characters are vivid, and the universe created by Istvan gave me an experience highly reminiscent of my reading of Atlas Shrugged more than a decade ago. Even this alone allows me to highly recommend The Transhumanist Wager as a work of literary art – a philosophical thriller. Moreover, the didactic purpose of the novel, its interplay of clearly identified good and evil forces, and its culmination in an extensive speech where the protagonist elaborates on his philosophical principles (as well as its punctuation by multiple smaller speeches throughout) provide clear parallels to Atlas Shrugged.

Giulio Prisco calls the philosophy of The Transhumanist Wager’s protagonist, Jethro Knights, “an extreme, militant version of the radically libertarian formulation of transhumanism”. However, this is the area where I perceive the most significant departure from the parallels to Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism (which she did not like to be called “libertarian”, though it was in essence) has the principle of individual rights and the rejection of the initiation of force at its ethical core. Galt’s Gulch in Atlas Shrugged was formed by a withdrawal of the great thinkers and creators from the world of those who exploited and enslaved them. However, there was no active conquest of that world by Rand’s heroes; rather, without the men of the mind, the power structures of the world simply fell apart on their own accord.

Jethro Knights creates his own seasteading nation, Transhumania, a fascinating haven for innovation and a refuge for transhumanist scientists oppressed by their governments and targeted by religious fundamentalist terrorism. The concept of an autonomous bastion of innovation is timely and promising; it was echoed by the recent statements from Larry Page of Google in favor of setting aside a part of the world to allow for unbridled experimentation. Transhumania, due to its technological superiority, spectacularly beats back a hostile invasion by the combined navies of the world. It is when the Transhumanians go on the offensive that the parallels to Galt’s Gulch cease. Instead of letting the non-transhumanist world crumble or embrace transhumanism on its own accord, Jethro Knights conquers it, destroys all of its political, religious, and cultural centerpieces, and establishes a worldwide dictatorship – including some highly non-libertarian elements, such as compulsory education, restrictions on reproduction, and an espousal of the view that even some human beings who have not initiated force may not have an inviolate right to their lives, but are rather judged on their “usefulness” – however defined (perhaps, in the case of Transhumania, usefulness in advancing the transhumanist vision as understood by Jethro Knights). Jethro Knights permits a certain degree of freedom – enough to sustain technological progress, high standards of living, and due process in the resolution of everyday disputes – but, ultimately, all of the liberties in Transhumania are contingent on their compatibility with Jethro’s own philosophy; they are not recognized as absolute rights even for those who disagree. John Galt would have been gentler. He would have simply withdrawn his support from those who would not deal with him as honest creators of value, but he would have left them to their own devices otherwise, unless they initiated force against him and against other rational creators of value.

The outcome of The Transhumanist Wager is complicated by the fact that Jethro’s militancy is the direct response to the horrific acts of terrorism committed by religious fundamentalists at the behest of Reverend Belinas, who also has considerable behind-the-scenes influence on the US government in the novel. Clearly, the anti-transhumanists were the initiators of force for the majority of the novel, and, so long as they perpetrated acts of violence against pro-technology scientists and philosophers, they were valid targets for retaliation and neutralization – just like all terrorists and murderers are. For the majority of the book, I was, without question, on Jethro’s side when it came to his practice, though not always his theory – but it was upon reading about the offensive phase of his war that I came to differ in both, especially since Transhumania had the technological capacity to surgically eliminate only those who directly attacked it or masterminded such attacks, thereafter leaving the rest of the world powerless to destroy Transhumania, but also free to come to recognize the merits of radical life extension and general technological progress on its own in a less jarring, perhaps more gradual process. An alternative scenario to the novel’s ending could have been a series of political upheavals in the old nations of the world, where the leaders who had targeted transhumanist scientists were recognized to be thoroughly wasteful and destructive, and were replaced by neutral or techno-progressive politicians who, partly for pragmatic reasons and partly arising out of their own attraction to technology, decided to trade with Transhumania instead of waging war on it.

Jethro’s concept of the “omnipotender” is a vision of the individual seeking as much power as he can get, ultimately aiming to achieve power over the entire universe. It is not clear whether power in this vision means simply the ability to achieve one’s objectives, or control in a hierarchical sense, which necessarily involves the subordination of other intelligent beings. I support power in the sense of the taming of the wilderness and the empowerment of the self for the sake of life’s betterment, but not in the sense of depriving others of a similar prerogative. Ayn Rand’s vision of the proper rationally egoistic outlook is extremely clear on the point that one must neither sacrifice oneself to others nor sacrifice others to oneself. Istvan’s numerous critical references to altruism and collectivism clearly express his agreement with the first half of that maxim – but what about the second? Jethro’s statements that he would be ready to sacrifice the lives of even those closest to him in order to achieve his transhumanist vision certainly suggest that the character of Jethro might not give others the same sphere of inviolate action that he would seek for himself. Of course, Jethro also dismisses as a contrived hypothetical the suggestion that such sacrifice would be necessary (at least, in Jethro’s view, for the time being), and I agree. Yet a more satisfying response would have been not that he is ready to make such a sacrifice, but that the sacrifice itself is absolutely not required for individual advancement by the laws of reality, and therefore it is nonsensical to even acknowledge its possibility. Jethro gave his archenemy, Belinas, far too much of a philosophical concession by even picking sides in the false dichotomy between self-sacrifice to others and the subjugation of others to oneself.

Perhaps the best way to view The Transhumanist Wager is as a cautionary tale of what might happen if the enemies of technological progress and radical life extension begin to forcefully clamp down on the scientists who try to make these breakthroughs happen. A climate of violence and terror, rather than civil discourse and an embrace of life-enhancing progress, will breed societal interactions that follow entirely different rules, and produce entirely different incentives, from those which allow a civilized society to smoothly function and advance. I hope that we, at least in the Western world, can avoid a scenario where those different rules and incentives take hold.

I am a transhumanist, but I am also a humanist, in the sense that I see the advancement of humanity and the improvement of the human condition as the desired aims of technological progress. In this sense, I am fond of the reference to the goal of transhumanists as the achievement of a “humanity plus”. Transhumanism is and ought to be, fundamentally, a continuation of the melioristic drive of the 18th-century Enlightenment, ridding man of the limitations and terrible sufferings which have historically been considered part of necessary “human nature” but which are, in reality, the outcome of the contingent material shortcomings with which our species happened to be burdened from its inception. Will it be possible to entice and persuade enough people to embrace the transhumanist vision voluntarily? I certainly hope so, since even a sizable minority of individuals would suffice to drive forward the technological advances which the rest of humanity would embrace for other, non-philosophical reasons.

In the absence of a full-fledged embrace of this humanistic vision of transhumanism, at the very least I hope that it would be possible to “sneak around” the common objections and restrictions and achieve a technological fait accompli through the dissemination of philosophically neutral tools, such as the Internet and mobile devices, that enhance individual opportunities and alter the balance of power between individuals and institutions. In this possible future, some of the old “cultural baggage” – as Jethro would refer to it – would most likely remain – including religions, which are among the hardest cultural elements for people to give up. However, this “baggage” itself would gradually evolve in its essential outlook and impact upon the world, much like Western Christianity today is far gentler than the Christianity of the 3rd, 11th, or 17th centuries. Perhaps, instead of fighting transhumanism, some representatives of old cultural labels will attempt to preserve their own relevance amidst transhuman-oriented developments. This will require reinterpreting doctrines, and will certainly engender fierce debate within many religious, political, and societal circles. However, there may yet be hope that the progressive wings of each of these old institutions and ideologies (“progressive” in the sense of being open to progress, not to be mistaken for any current partisan affiliation) will do the equivalent work to that entailed in a transhumanist revolution, except in a gradual, peaceful, seamless manner.

Yet, on the other hand, the immense urgency of achieving life extension is, without question, a sentiment I strongly identify with. Jethro’s experience, early in the novel, of stepping on a defective mine has autobiographical parallels to Istvan’s own experience in Vietnam. A brush with death certainly highlights the fragility of life and the urgency of pursuing its continuation. Pausing to contemplate that, were it not for a stroke of luck at some prior moment, one could be dead now – and all of the vivid and precious experiences one is having could one day be snuffed out, with not even a memory remaining – certainly motivates one to think about what the most direct, the most effective means of averting such a horrific outcome would be. Will a gradual, humane, humanistic transition to a world of indefinite life extension work out in time for us? What can we do to make it happen sooner? Can we do it within the framework of the principles of libertarianism in addition to those of transhumanism? Which approaches are the most promising at present, and which, on the other hand, could be counterproductive? How do we attempt to enlist the help of the “mainstream” world while avoiding or overcoming its opposition? For me, reading The Transhumanist Wager provided further impetus to keep asking these important, open, and as of yet unresolved questions – in the hopes that someday the ambition to achieve indefinite life extension in our lifetimes will give rise to a clear ultra-effective strategy that can put this most precious of all goals in sight.

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4 in 5 of Americans Don’t Think Death Exists? – Article by Franco Cortese

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Categories: Philosophy, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
May 4, 2013
Recommend this page.
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“Our hope of immortality does not come from any religions, but nearly all religions come from that hope.” ~ Robert Green Ingersoll

Recent polls indicate that 80% of Americans and over 50% of global citizens believe in an afterlife. I argue that conceptions of death which include or allow for the possibility of an afterlife are not only sufficiently different from conceptions of death devoid of an afterlife as to necessitate that they be given their own term and separate designation, but that such afterlife-inclusive notions of death constitute the very antithesis of afterlife-devoid conceptions of death! Not only are they sufficiently different as to warrant their own separate designations, but afterlife-inclusive conceptions of death miss the very point of death – its sole defining attribute or categorical qualifier as such. The defining characteristic is not its specific details (e.g.,  whether physical death counts as death if the mind isn’t physical, as in substance dualism); its defining characteristic is the absence of life and subjectivity. Belief in an afterlife is not only categorically dissimilar but actually antithetical to conceptions of death precluding an afterlife. Thus to believe in heaven is to deny the existence of death!

The fact that their belief involves metaphysical, rather than physical, continuation isn’t a valid counter-argument. To argue via mind-body dualism that the mind is metaphysical, and thus will continue on in a metaphysical realm (i.e. heaven), in this specific case makes no difference. Despite the mind not being physical in such an argument, its relation to the metaphysical realm is the same as the relation of physical objects to the physical realm. It operates according to the “rules” and “causal laws” of the metaphysical realm, and so for all effective purposes can be considered physical in relation thereto, in the same sense that physical objects can be considered physical in relation to physical reality.

The impact of this categorical confusion extends beyond desire for semantic precision. If we hope to convince the larger public of radical life extension’s desirability, we need to first convince them that death exists. If one believes that one’s mind will continue on after physical death, then the potential attraction of physical immortality becomes negligible if not null. Why bother expending effort to attain immortality if it is inherent in the laws of the universe? It becomes a matter of not life or death but of convenience. This is a major problem: if the statistics mentioned can be trusted, then over half of the world population, and over 4/5ths of the USA, lack even the potential to see the attraction and advantage of life extension!

Widespread public awareness of and desire for radical longevity are important, because they are our best tools for achieving it. One promoter is more effective – that is, has more of an impact on how soon indefinite longevity is realized – than one researcher working on life extension. One promoter can get his or her message to scores of people per day. Conversely, many researchers have little say on what they want to work on, or the scope and uses for what they work on. One must be conservative to get research grants, and the research directions taken in any science discipline are more influenced by public opinion than the opinion of individual researchers. We can get more traction by influencing public opinion, per unit of time or effort (damn these unquantifiable metrics!), than with pragmatic research. If we get widespread support, then funding for research will come.

The preponderance of atheists in the Transhumanist community is not a coincidence. Only through godlessness can each become his own god – in which case god-as-superior-being becomes meaningless, and god-as-control-of-own-fate, god-as-self-empowerment and god-as-self-legitimation, self-signification, and self-dignification are the only valid definitions for such a term that remain. Autotheism encompasses atheism because it requires it (with the possible exception of co-creator theologies). Atheism is still to be valorized and commended in my opinion, for it exemplifies the resolute acceptance of freedom and ultimate responsibility for what we are and are to become. To be an atheist un-paralyzed by fear is to take for granted the desirability of one’s own freedom and lawless godfullness. On the other hand, successful intersections of religious thinking and Transhumanism do exist, as exemplified by the Mormon Transhumanist Association – whose success lies, I think, in its emphasis on co-creator theology (Mormons believe that it is Man’s responsibility to “grow up” into God – and if man and god are on equal footing, then where lie the dog, titan, and grandFather?). Thus while belief in heaven and, by consequence, all religions that include or allow for conceptions of an afterlife constitute a massive deterrent to the widespread popularity of immortalism, they also constitute, in utmost irony, some of its greatest potential legitimators due to their potential to evidence immortality as a deep-rooted human desire that transcends cultural distance and historical time.

Thus we should neither be precisely denouncing nor promoting religion, yet neither should we ignore it and simply let it be. Rather we should be a.) heralding religious adherents for their keen insight into the true values and desires of humanity, while b.) taking care to show them that life extension is nothing less than the modern embodiment of the very immortalist gestalt that they exemplified via conceptualizing an afterlife in the first place, and that belief in heaven held or maintained today goes against the very motivation and underlying utility that such a belief was trying to maintain and instill all along! By believing in heaven, they are going against all it was ever meant achieve (the temporary satisfaction of our insatiable urge for life and escape from petty death) and all it was ever meant to constitute. This is not only the truest state of affairs, but the most advantageous as well. It allows us to at once ameliorate the problems caused by widespread belief in heaven, utilize the widespread and long-running belief in afterlife for the purpose of legitimizing immortalism to the wider and more conservative public, and show the long historical tradition of a belief in or longing for immortality to constitute perhaps the most deep-rooted human value, desire and ideal (in both terms of historical time and in terms of importance, or a measure of how much it shapes our values, desires, and ideals), while at the same time avoid irremediably insulting people who believe in an afterlife  – which is detrimental only insofar as it risks having them ignore our cause not from reasoned conclusion but rather from seasoned spite.

We should consider two options. The first is to convince them that contemporary belief in heaven must be laid down, because its contemporary utility actually works against the original utility of a belief in heaven, as described above. A second option, which I think is less favorable but may be met with less ideological opposition, is that physical immortality constitutes the new embodiment of heaven on earth. Religious institutions like the like the Roman Catholic Church have, through the Vatican in this case, reformed their doctrine on evolution. Might the eschatological occurrences in the Book of Relevation be interpreted as the culminating intersection of the realm of Heaven with the realm of Earth? Might we try and incite them to change their doctrine on the afterlife, removing all metaphysical connotations due to society’s increasing secularization and the growing popularity of scientific materialism (also called metaphysical or methodological naturalism)? The change in doctrine over evolution, which the Catholic Church did presumably due to the large popularity of belief in evolution and the Church’s desire not to alienate so large a demographic, may be a precedent. Thus we should consider suggesting that the Church reinterpret its vision of Heaven as a continuing physical realization of the perfect society on Earth.

We should be portraying every religious crusade and mission to spread the word of god as a pilgrimage to bring immortality to the world! If one thinks that a specific moral, metaphysical, or cosmological (i.e., religious) system is required to attain life after death, what else is the pilgrimage to spread god’s word but a quest to bring methodological means of immortality to humanity? Let us at once show believers in an afterlife why they are wrong, commend them for their insight into deep-rooted and historically extensive human values, beliefs, and eternal longings, and win them over to our side!

We have been hurling our rank rage at death and staunch demand for life at the unyielding heavens since before the recognized inception of culture! From the first dawn in Sumer and on, extending across the Abrahamic tradition to touch upon Hinduism and the Chinese Faith, from Egyptian religion (with its particularly strong emphasis on the afterlife) to Norse mythology and beyond. Even Buddhism, which is often considered more philosophy than religion for its lack of a dogmatic stance on cosmology and an afterlife, has its versions of eternal life. Reincarnation is just as much a validating force for our desire for immortality as belief in an afterlife is. Reincarnation holds that non-metaphysical, physically embodied immortality, through cyclic rebirth, is possible (and while metaphysics is involved, the belief nonetheless reifies the concept or corporeal rebirth). And indeed, even though reincarnated forms precede Nirvana and are still located within the “illusory” realm of Samsara, this only goes to further emphasize the predominance of physical forms of radical longevity, the desire for and belief in which both reincarnation and the Buddhist versions of “heaven” exemplify. According to the Anguttara Nikaya (a Buddhist text), there are several types of heaven in existence, all part of the physical realm, the inhabitants or “denizens” of which have varying degrees of longevity. The denizens of Cātummaharajan live 9,216,000,000 years; denizens of Nimmānarati live 2,284,000,000 years; denizens of Tāvatimsa live 36,000,000 years; denizens of Tusita live 576,000,000 years; and the denizens of Yāma live 1,444,000,000 years.

Our history overflows with humanity’s upheaved herald of heaven, our exaltation of the existential extra, our fiery strife towards continued life. The mythic and religious historical traditions constitute at once indefinite longevity’s greatest contemporary obstacle and its greatest historical legitimator.

“There can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.” ~ Robert Green Ingersoll

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:

  1. Belief of Americans in God, heaven and hell, 2011 (2011). Retrieved March 22, 2013 from http://www.statista.com/statistics/245496/belief-of-americans-in-god-heaven-and-hell/
  2. Poll; nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe in angels (2011). CBS News. Retrieved March 22, 2013 from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57347634/poll-nearly-8-in-10-americans-believe-in-angels/
  3. Conan, N. (2010). Do You Believe In Miracles? Most Americans Do. In NPR News. Retrieved March 22, 2013 from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124007551
  4. Americans Describe Their Views About Life After Death (2003). The Barna Group. Retrieved March 22, 2013 from http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/128-americans-describe-their-views-about-life-after-death
  5. 43,941 adherent statistic citations: membership and geography data for 4,300+ religions, churches, tribes, etc. (2007). Retrieved March 22, 2013 from http://www.adherents.com/Na/Na_516.html
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