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Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Ayn Rand’s Heroic Life – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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I first encountered Ayn Rand through her nonfiction. This was when I was a junior in high school, and I’m pretty sure it was my first big encounter with big ideas. It changed me. Like millions of others who read her, I developed a consciousness that what I thought – the ideas I held in my mind – mattered for what kind of life I would live. And it mattered for everyone else too; the kind of world we live in is an extension of what we believe about what life can mean.

People today argue over her legacy and influence – taking apart the finer points of her ethics, metaphysics, epistemology. This is all fine but it can be a distraction from her larger message about the moral integrity and creative capacity of the individual human mind. In so many ways, it was this vision that gave the postwar freedom movement what it needed most: a driving moral passion to win. This, more than any technical achievements in economic theory or didactic rightness over public-policy solutions, is what gave the movement the will to overcome the odds.

Often I hear people offer a caveat about Rand. Her works are good. Her life, not so good. Probably this impression comes from public curiosity about various personal foibles and issues that became the subject of gossip, as well as the extreme factionalism that afflicted the movement she inspired.

This is far too narrow a view. In fact, she lived a remarkably heroic life. Had she acquiesced to the life fate seemed to have chosen for her, she would have died young, poor, and forgotten. Instead, she had the determination to live free. She left Russia, immigrated to the United States, made her way to Hollywood, and worked and worked until she built a real career. This one woman – with no advantages and plenty of disadvantages – on her own became one of the most influential minds of this twentieth century.

So, yes, her life deserves to be known and celebrated. Few of us today face anything like the barriers she faced. She overcame them and achieved greatness. Let her inspire you too.

Kudos to the Atlas Society for this video:

Could the Market Really End Meat? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

Could the Market Really End Meat? – Article by Alex Tabarrok

The New Renaissance HatAlex Tabarrok
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Animal rights will be the big social revolution of the 21st century. Most people have a vague feeling that factory farms aren’t quite ethical. But few people are willing to give up meat, so such feelings are suppressed because acknowledging them would only make one feel guilty. Once the costs of giving up meat fall, however, vegetarianism will spread like a prairie wildfire, changing eating habits, the use of farmland, and the science and economics of climate change.

Lab-grown or cultured meat is improving, but so is the science of veggie burgers. Beyond Meat has sold a very successful frozen “chicken” strip since 2013, and their non-frozen burger patties are just now seeing widespread distribution in the meat aisle at Whole Foods. Beyond Meat extracts protein from peas and then combines it with other vegetable elements under heating, cooling, and pressure to realign the proteins in a way that simulates the architecture of beef.

I picked up a two-pack on the weekend. Beyond Meat burgers look and cook like meat. But what about the taste?

The taste is excellent. The burger has a slightly smokey taste, not exactly like beef, but like meat. If you had never tasted a buffalo burger before, and I told you that this was a buffalo burger, you would have no reason to doubt me. A little sauce and salt and pepper, and this is a very good-tasting burger, not a sacrifice for morality.

The price is currently more than beef, $6 for two patties, but that’s Whole-Foods expensive, not out-of-reach expensive. I will buy more.

The revolution has begun.

The second picture is the BuzzFeed version. My burger wasn’t quite so artfully arranged but was still delicious, and I attest to the overall accuracy.

This post first appeared at Marginal Revolution.

Alex Tabarrok is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen.

How Not To Waste Your Vote: A Mathematical Analysis – Article by Stephen Weese

How Not To Waste Your Vote: A Mathematical Analysis – Article by Stephen Weese

The New Renaissance HatStephen Weese
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During this especially contested election, a lot of people are talking about people “wasting” or “throwing away” votes. However, many people who say this do not have a complete grasp of the full mathematical picture – or worse, they are only mentioning the part that supports their position. First let’s define what a “wasted” vote is.

Mathematical Definition of Wasted Votes

A wasted vote is a vote that provides no determination or effect on the final outcome of the election. According to Wikipedia: “Wasted votes are votes cast for losing candidates or votes cast for winning candidates in excess of the number required for victory. For example, in the UK general election of 2005, 52% of votes were cast for losing candidates and 18% were excess votes – a total of 70% wasted votes.”

There are two kinds of wasted votes that mathematically have no effect on the final election:

  1. Votes cast for candidates who did not win
  2. Excess votes cast for winning candidates

Clearly, neither of these kinds of votes statistically affect the election. However, many arguments only mention the first type without mentioning the second. Mathematically and logically, both categories are ineffectual votes.

First Past the Post

The value of your vote is what you give it. Should you spend it on a candidate you don’t believe in?The United States, along with several other nations, uses the First Past the Post (FPTP) or “winner take all” election. This method is defined as “the candidate who receives more votes than any other candidate wins.”

This is one of the reasons that many people mention wasted votes – our system creates that result. Sociologically speaking, the FPTP system tends to favor a two-party system. The French sociologist Maurice Duverger created “Duverger’s Law” which says just that.

The Electoral College

For U.S. Presidential elections, a state-by-state system is used called the Electoral College. Each state gets a proportional amount of electoral votes which are then used to find a majority for president. Interestingly, what happens in each separate state is a smaller FPTP election, followed by a counting of electoral votes.

The Electoral College is slightly different from a pure FPTP system because it requires an actual number threshold (currently 270 electoral votes) for a candidate to win instead of a simple majority of the votes.

We can sum things up as follows:

  1. States hold “winner take all” FPTP elections for electoral votes
  2. Electoral votes are counted
  3. The winner must have 270 electoral votes
  4. If there is no candidate that reaches it, the House of Representatives chooses the president

These distinctions are important, because they can change the math and the concept of the “wasted” vote phenomenon.

Wasted Votes in Presidential Elections

The general concept that is proposed by many is that you must always vote for a Republican or a Democrat because you must stop the worst candidate from winning. In a sense, you are voting a negative vote – against someone – rather than for a candidate of your choice. However, this actually depends on the scenario of the vote. Let’s look at some examples.

Bush vs. Gore: 2000

People voting out of fear of the worst candidate is a self-perpetuating cycle. Let’s examine a common example used in this discussion.

Following the extremely close 2000 U.S. presidential election, some supporters of Democratic candidate Al Gore believe that one reason he lost the election to Republican George W. Bush is because a portion of the electorate (2.7%) voted for Ralph Nader of the Green Party, and exit polls indicated that more of these voters would have preferred Gore (45%) to Bush (27%), with the rest not voting in Nader’s absence.

The argument for this case is even more pronounced because the election was ultimately decided on the basis of the election results in Florida where Bush prevailed over Gore by a margin of only 537 votes (0.009%), which was far exceeded by the number of votes, 97,488 (0.293%), that Nader received. (Wikipedia)

At first, this may look like a clear example of the need to vote for a major party. However, let’s break this situation down mathematically. In every single state election, Bush or Gore won. There were millions of mathematically wasted votes in this election of both types.

In California, Gore won by 1,293,774 votes. Mathematically speaking, there were over one million wasted votes for Gore in this state alone. None of these excess votes could have helped Gore, since he had already mathematically won the state. The California votes didn’t matter in Florida. In fact, the votes in Florida have much more relevance than any other state.

Conclusions: Sometimes a vote for a major party winner is wasted anyway. Sometimes everything will come down to one state. However, there is no way to predict in advance which votes will be this important. If the parties knew that Florida would have been the deal breaker, then they would have acted differently. However, we simply don’t know the future well enough to predict that.

We do know that battleground states are generally more important than “safe” states for each candidate, but it is hard to know exactly which state might matter. (There are plenty of scenarios you can research online about possibly electoral outcomes, I encourage you to do so.) This leads us into our next example.

Clinton vs. Trump 2016

Let’s do some math about the state of California and our current presidential election. The average RCP poll has Hillary Clinton ahead by 22.2 percent. The registered voters in California add up to 17.7 million. Not all of them will vote, but we can use the 2012 presidential election as a predictor, where 13.2 million people voted.

Out of those 13.2 million, according to current predictions, 52.6% will vote for Clinton. However, Clinton only needs about 31% to beat Trump. The other 21% of excess votes for Clinton will be wasted. This means that approximately 3 million votes for Clinton in California will be wasted. Now, this is only a mathematical model, but we have several reasons to believe in it.

  1. California has a history of being a heavily Democratic state
  2. Polls usually swing within a single digit margin of error
  3. 21% is quite a large margin of leeway

Even if the polling changes significantly, we are still looking at millions of wasted Clinton votes in California.

Now let’s throw Jill Stein into the math. As part of the Green Party, she is to the left politically of Hillary, so we will assume that votes for her will be taken from Clinton’s pool. (Though this isn’t always a true assumption, as we will see later.) Right now she is polling at around 4%, but we could even give her 5%. If you take away 5% from Hillary’s margin of 22.2%, that leaves a huge margin of 17.2%: still millions of votes. The takeaway from this: you can safely vote for Jill Stein in California without fear of changing the state election results. Therefore, it will not affect the national vote either.

Since we have the Electoral College, your votes will have no influence beyond the state to change other vote counts. Those who prefer Jill Stein can with a clear conscience vote for her, since it will make no difference mathematically. Later we will look at the ethics of voting as it relates to this math.

Mathematical Importance of a Single Vote

There are a few theories on voting power calculations; we will look at two of them here. John F. Banzhaf III created a probabilistic system for determining individual voting power in a block voting system, such as the Electoral College. According to his calculations, because of differences in each state, it gives different voters different amounts of “voting power.”

A computer science researcher at UNC ran the Banzhaf power numbers for the 1990 U.S. Presidential election and determined that the state of California had the voters with the highest power index: 3.3. This index is measured as a multiple of the weakest voting state, which was Montana (1.0 voting power).

A newer method of measuring voting power was created by a research team from Columbia University using a more empirical (based on existing data) and less randomized model. They concluded that the smaller states had more mathematical voting power due to the fact that they received 2 votes minimum as a starting point. This model tends to generate smaller multipliers for voting power but more accurately matches empirical data from past elections.

Using these power ratings as a guide, we can estimate an estimated maximum voting power for each vote. We will be making some assumptions for this calculation.

  1. The minimum voting power multiplier is 1
  2. The highest multiplier from both models will be used as a maximum

Starting numbers

In the United States there are currently 218,959,000 eligible voters with 146,311,000 actual registered voters. In the 2012 Presidential election, 126,144,000 people actually voted. This is our voting pool.

Each vote, legally speaking, has the same weight. So if we start from that assumption, taking into account a probable amount of voters (126 million), the power of your vote is:

1
_____

126 million

This is: 0.0000000079 or 0.00000079%. That is the weight of your vote mathematically. Now we can multiply it by the highest power index to show the highest potential of your vote. Our California historical data from 1990 shows a 3.3 index, but to be conservative we will raise it to 4. So now the power is: 0.00000317%

Using probabilistic equations and analysis, this is the result. This is how powerful your vote is in the U.S. Presidential election is if you end up in the most heavily weighted state.

Addressing Weighted Vote Fallacies

As we have seen, many people argue that we should not “waste” votes, yet many millions of votes for the winner are wasted every year. It is difficult to predict whether a vote will end up in either wasted category. We’ve also seen past and possible scenarios where voting third party or major party can have no influence on the final election.

Fallacy 1: Treating Single Voters as One Block

A false assumption that people make about voting is treating a single vote as a block. For instance, let’s use our current election again as an example.

Someone insists that if you do not vote for Hillary, then you are helping Trump to be elected. (The reverse of this can also apply here.) You claim that you wish to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate. You’re then told that the current national poll with all parties shows that Johnson is polling at 7%, which is less than the difference between Clinton (39%) and Trump (40%). Therefore, you must vote for Clinton to make up that difference.

There are several problems with this proposal. It does not take each state into consideration. It assumes all Gary Johnson supporters have Clinton as their second choice. And it treats your single vote as the entire 7%.

As we have seen, the current picture in California shows that Clinton has a huge margin. If this voter lived in California, a vote for Gary Johnson would not help Trump and also would not hurt Hillary, even if the entire 7% voted for Johnson. Anyone who says it is your duty to vote negative in this scenario does not know the math of this state.

This also assumes that all Johnson votes would choose Hillary as the second choice, but given that Libertarians take some platform elements from both the Left and the Right, this assumption would be highly unlikely. The same would go for Trump.

When people look at the 7% and tell you that you must vote a certain way, it is assuming you will somehow influence the entire 7%. However, we have seen that you are just one voter, and that your voting power is a very tiny number by itself. You cannot be entirely responsible for a candidate winning or losing with your single vote. In theory, it’s mathematically possible for one vote to decide an election, but given there are an exponential number of possible scenarios with millions of voters (imagine raising a few million to an exponent), it’s astronomically unlikely, especially if you live in a non-battleground state.

It’s also astronomically unlikely that all 7% (8,820,000 people) would vote for who they polled for. Even if you gave each voter a 99% chance of voting for who they polled for, the chance that all of them would vote the way they polled is (0.99) to the power of 8,820,000, which is less than 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001%

Individuals are not entire blocks of voters, and it’s problematic to treat them as such.

Fallacy 2: Third Party Votes Have No Value

If enough people vote their conscience and vote for what they believe in, things can change.On the surface, this might appear to be true. A third party candidate for President has never won an election. We also have Duverger’s law that states our FPTP favors two party systems. However, it is mathematically possible for a third party to win, and there are also other measurable gains for voting for a third party.

Part of this fallacy is the “winner take all” perspective. In other words, if you don’t win the presidency, you’ve wasted your time.

However, there are many benefits of voting third party, even for president. It makes a political statement to the majority parties. It helps local politicians of that party in elections. It can help change platforms to include third-party elements. And it provides recognition for the party among voters as a viable alternative.

Third party candidates can and have won local and state elections in the past. This is a fact.

In 1968, George Wallace ran as a third party option for President. He received nine million votes and 45 electoral votes. Though he did not expect to win the popular vote, one of his aims was to force the House of Representatives to choose the President by denying either candidate the 270 electoral votes needed to win – and he nearly succeeded. Since our system is not a true First Past the Post, but a hybrid, this kind of situation is possible. In fact, calculations have been done showing that Gary Johnson could in fact force that situation this year. It is very unlikely, but it is possible.

Regardless of his loss, the impact of the Wallace campaign was substantial. He was able to affect the dialogue and events of that election significantly. (This is meant in no way as an endorsement of George Wallace’s political positions.) If his supporters had mostly voted for a majority party, his impact would have been less significant.

In most scenarios given by the “wasted” vote crowd, all of the votes that are considered are ones from the current voting electorate. Yet we have seen from figures previously mentioned that over 50 million eligible voters are not registered. Even among registered voters, almost 20 million didn’t vote in the last election. These potential votes are never placed into the scenario.

The simple truth is, there are millions of uninterested voters out there, yet candidates are not inspiring them to vote. If candidate X or Y were truly worthy of votes, would not some of these voters decide to register? And another question, would it be easier to get a third party voter to choose a majority candidate, or a non-voter? These are not mathematical questions, but they are logical. The fact is, with this many votes at stake, if these non-voters could be encouraged to register, they would undoubtedly change the election as they make up one-third of total eligible voters.

Ethics and Math

It has been demonstrated that the potential individual power of a vote is mathematically very small. It also has been shown that wasted votes can be cast for the winner of an election as well as the losers, as well as demonstrating that it is sometimes hard to predict exactly which vote will be wasted. Given this information, where do we derive the value of a vote?

It’s hard to get it purely from the math or practicality. In fact, it would seem our single vote is of very little import at all. Therefore, we must find meaning and value for our votes outside of the math.

Certainly, the Founders never envisioned an endless cycle of US citizens voting for the “lesser of two evils.”Certainly, the Founders never envisioned an endless cycle of United States citizens voting for the “lesser of two evils,” as the argument is often presented. The idea was for free and open elections where the people’s voice would be heard. It was simple: the candidate who best represented your interests earned your vote.

Your vote is, therefore, an expression of yourself and your beliefs. Your vote has power as a statement. People voting out of fear of the worst candidate is a self-perpetuating cycle. If no one ever has the courage to vote outside of the two main parties, it will never be broken. However, if enough people vote and it shows in the total election count, it will give cause for us to reconsider and embolden even more to vote outside of the two parties.

Yes, our current electoral system has some serious mathematical flaws. It simply does not encourage people to vote for their conscience – but we have seen that things are not as bad as we would be led to believe by some. The true value of a vote is in the people.

The Value of Your Vote

The value of your vote is what you give it. Should you spend it on a candidate you don’t believe in? Should it be an exercise in fear? It’s up to you. It is my hope that these mathematical calculations will bring you freedom from the idea that only majority party votes matter. A vote is a statement, a vote is personal, a vote is an expression of your citizenship in this country. If enough people vote their conscience and vote for what they believe in, things can change.

If you are already a staunch supporter of a major party, then you should vote that way. This paper is not against the major parties at all – but rather against the concept that votes somehow “belong” to only Democrats or Republicans. Votes belong to the voter. There has never been a more important time to vote your conscience.

Stephen_WeeseStephen Weese

Stephen Weese has an undergraduate degree in Computer Science from George Mason University, and a Masters in Computer Information Technology from Regis University. Stephen teaches college Math and Computer courses. He is also a speaker, a film and voice actor, and a nutrition coach.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

It’s Time to Postpone Your Appointment with the Grim Reaper – Article by Gerrard Jayaratnam

It’s Time to Postpone Your Appointment with the Grim Reaper – Article by Gerrard Jayaratnam

The New Renaissance HatGerrard Jayaratnam
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How long would you like to live for? Is there a limit to how long we can live for? These are not questions you hear often, but do not be surprised if they are repeated more frequently in the future. The reason? Life extension. It is the concept of living well beyond the average lifespan. [1]

Humans are already living longer due to vaccines and improvements in sanitation. [2] The World Health Organization reported that the average life expectancy at birth increased from 48 years in 1955 to 65 years in 1995, and is projected to rise to 73 years by 2025. [3] As medical techniques continue to improve, we are more inclined than ever to pursue life extension. [1] Indeed, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to China’s First Emperor, prolonging life has been an ever-present thought in society. [4, 5] Both individuals failed to escape death, but the idea of life extension ironically lives on. Even so, is it truly possible and what should upcoming doctors and scientists consider if they are to join the most ambitious of quests?

The “Horcruxes” of reality 

In the fictional Harry Potter series, “Horcruxes” were objects where people could hide a fragment of their soul in an attempt to take one step towards immortality. [6] Of course, humans cannot split their souls and hide them in objects, but there are several proposed means by which life extension may be achieved. [1] This is a testimony to the progress within the life extension field, but there remains much room for improvement.

Eat less, live more

Caloric restriction (CR) is one proposed method for life extension. [1] In the CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Long term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy) trial, 218 non-obese humans were randomised to either a control group or an intervention group. The latter aimed for a 25% reduction from baseline energy intake. At the end of the 2-year study period, the intervention group had significantly greater reductions in circulating levels of TNF-α – an inflammatory marker involved in many age-related diseases. [7] Dr Alexander Miras, winner of the 2014 Nutrition Society Cuthbertson Medal for his research on bariatric surgery, acknowledges that the study was a “good first step,” but argues that “the evidence in humans is lacking.” “A definitive RCT (randomised controlled trial),” Dr Miras continues, “would be very hard, if not impossible.” He also spots a glaring consequence of CR. “My personal approach is to avoid caloric restriction as this leads to hunger which is an unpleasant feeling. I would rather live a shorter life, but enjoy my food.”

Manipulating telomerase

One alternative is modulating telomerase activity – as attempted with the anti-ageing TA-65MD® supplement. [8] Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes [9]; they resemble the aglets on the ends of shoelaces. Just as shoelaces would unravel without the aglet, chromosomes would lose vital DNA sequences in the absence of telomeres. [9] Our cells divide over time, causing telomeres to shorten. Once the telomere becomes too short, cell division ceases, and short telomeres correlate with cellular ageing. [10] Telomerase is an enzyme that can oppose telomere shortening [10] – it was what Hamlet was to King Claudius; what exercise is to obesity; and what junior doctors, in England, will be to Jeremy Hunt.

Reactivating telomerase in telomerase-deficient mice reversed both neurodegeneration and degeneration of other organs. [11] This proved the concept that boosting telomerase activity could have anti-ageing effects, but there is little proof that this occurs in humans. While the mice were telomerase-deficient, humans normally have some telomerase activity. It is like giving food to someone who has been fasting for hours and to someone who has just eaten a three-course meal – the starved individual would unquestionably benefit more. A 12-month long RCT, involving 117 relatively healthy individuals (age range: 53-87), found that low-dose TA-65 significantly increased telomere length when compared to placebo. High-dose TA-65, however, failed to do so. [12]

Dancing with the devil

What is more worrying than treatments that may be ineffective? Side effects. Telomerase is a double-edged sword and by reducing telomere attrition, it can promote unlimited cell division and cancer. [9] Elizabeth Blackburn, co-winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her role in the discovery of telomerase, has doubts about exploiting the enzyme. Speaking to TIME magazine, she said, “Cancers love telomerase, and a number of cancers up-regulate it like crazy. . . . My feeling would be that if I take anything that would push my telomerase up, I’m playing with fire.” [13]

A cauldron of rewards

CR and boosting telomerase activity are just a small sample of life extending techniques, yet there is the notion that such techniques will be intertwined with risks. However, risks are always weighed against rewards, and Gennady Stolyarov, editor-in-chief of The Rational Argumentator and Chief Executive of the Nevada Transhumanist Party, believes life extension would bring “immense and multifaceted” rewards. “The greatest benefit is the continued existence of the individual who remains alive. Each individual has incalculable moral value and is a universe of ideas, experiences, emotions, and memories. When a person dies, that entire universe is extinguished . . . This is the greatest possible loss, and should be averted if at all possible.” Stolyarov also envisages “major savings to healthcare systems” and that “the achievement of significant life extension would inspire many intelligent people to try to solve other age-old problems.”

Former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, disagrees with this view and argues that mortality is necessary for “treasuring and appreciating all that life brings.” [14] Hence, increased longevity could lead to an overall reduction in productivity over one’s lifetime. Perhaps Kass is correct, but the array of potential benefits makes it seem unwise to prematurely dismiss life extension. In fact, a survey, which examined the opinions of 605 Australians on life extension, highlighted further benefits – 23% of participants said they could “spend more time with family” and 4% cited the opportunity to experience future societies. [15]

Learning from our mistakes

Conversely, life extension may result in people enduring poor health for longer periods. 28% of participants in the Australian survey highlighted this concern. [15] Current trends in life expectancy reinforce their fears. Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham, explains, “Currently, in most countries in the developed world, life expectancy is increasing at approximately 2 years per decade, but healthspan (the years spent in good health) is only increasing at 1.7 years. This has major consequences . . . as more of later life is spent in poor health.” This is a consequence of treating “killer diseases” – according to Dr Felipe Sierra, director of the Division of Aging Biology at the National Institute on Aging. “The current model in biomedicine,” says Dr Sierra, “is to treat one disease at a time. Let’s imagine you have arthritis; cancer; and are starting to develop Alzheimer’s disease. So what do we do? We treat you for cancer. You now live longer with Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis.” A better approach is clear to Dr Sierra who stresses the importance of compression of morbidity – “the goal is to live longer with less time spent being sick.”

Learning from our successes

Even with Dr Sierra’s approach, individual boredom and social implications, including overpopulation, would still be problems.[16] According to Stolyarov, the boredom argument does not hold up when facing “human creativity and discovery.” He believes humans could never truly be bored as “the number of possible pursuits increases far faster than the ability of any individual to pursue.”

In his novel Death is Wrong, Stolyarov explained that the idea that society could not cope with a rapidly expanding population was historically inaccurate. The current population “is the highest it has ever been, and most people live far longer, healthier, prosperous lives than their ancestors did when the Earth’s population was hundreds of times smaller.” [16] If it has been achieved in the past, who is to say our own society – one far more advanced than any before it – cannot adapt?

The verdict

Life extension research is quietly progressing, and there is a good chance that it will eventually come to fruition. Although there are doubts about current techniques, Dr Sierra draws attention to novel interventions, such as rapamycin, which “delay ageing in mice.” He concludes that the next challenge is to “develop measures than can predict whether an intervention works in a short-term assay.” Such measures would provide the scaffolding for future clinical trials that test life extension techniques.

Given what may be gained, it is no surprise that artificially prolonging life is exciting some in the same way the Tree of Knowledge tempted Eve. The impact on society? Impossible to predict. It would undoubtedly be a big risk, but perhaps in this complex and uncertain scenario, we ought to remember the words of the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” [17]

Gerrard Jayaratnam is a student of Biomedical Science at Imperial College London.

References

  1. Stambler I. A History of Life-Extensionism in the Twentieth Century. Ramat Gan: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 2014.
  2. National Institute on Aging. Living Longer. 2011. https://www.nia.nih.gov/research/publication/global-health-and-aging/living-longer.
  3. World Health Organization. 50 Facts: Global Health situation and trends 1955-2025. 2013. http://www.who.int/whr/1998/media_centre/50facts/en/.
  4. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Epic of Gilgamesh. 2016. http://www.britannica.com/topic/Epic-of-Gilgamesh.
  5. Lloyd DF. The Man Who Would Cheat Death and Rule the Universe. Vision. 2008. http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/history-shi-huang-emperor-china/5818.aspx.
  6. Rowling JK. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury Publishing; 2005.
  7. Ravussin E, Redman LM, Rochon J, et al. A 2-Year Randomized Controlled Trial of Human Caloric Restriction: Feasibility and Effects on Predictors of Health Span and Longevity. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2015;70:1097-1104.
  8. A. Sciences. What is TA-65®? (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/what-is-ta-65/.
  9. De Jesus BB, Blasco MA. Telomerase at the intersection of cancer and aging. Trends Genet 2013;29:513-520.
  10. A. Sciences. Telomeres and Cellular Aging. (n.d.) [Accessed 3rd April 2016]. https://www.tasciences.com/telomeres-and-cellular-aging/.
  11. Jaskelioff M, Muller FL, Paik JH, et al. Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase deficient mice. Nature 2011;469:102-106.
  12. Salvador L, Singaravelu G, Harley CB, et al. A Natural Product Telomerase Activator Lengthens Telomeres in Humans: A Randomized, Double Blind, and Placebo Controlled Study. Rejuvenation Res 2016; ahead of print. doi:10.1089/rej.2015.1793.
  13. Kluger J. The antiaging power of a positive attitude. TIME. 2015.
  14. Than K. The Psychological Strain of Living Forever. Live Science. 2006. http://www.livescience.com/10469-psychological-strain-living.html.
  15. Partridge B, Lucke J, Bartlett H, et al. Ethical, social, and personal implications of extended human lifespan identified by members of the public. Rejuvenation Res 2009;12:351-357.
  16. Stolyarov II G. Death is Wrong. 2nd ed. Carson City, Nevada: Rational Argumentator Press; 2013.
  17. The Huffington Post. 11 Beautiful T.S. Eliot Quotes. 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/26/ts-eliot-quotes_n_3996010.html.
Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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Many on the political left today equate advocacy of free-market capitalism with an “anything goes” support for the economic status quo. Many on the political right give credence to this perception by, indeed, seeking to defend the status quo just because it happens to be so. Yet this is neither an obligatory nor an advisable approach for characterizing a genuinely well-considered free-market outlook.

Suppose that you are a free-market advocate and also an engineer, well-versed in the principles and methods for constructing durable, safe structures. Suppose you also identify severe deficiencies in a bridge proposed to be constructed by a completely private enterprise. Mr. Stolyarov explores the implications of this dilemma and the appropriate responses in a free society.

Reference

– “Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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Many on the political left today equate advocacy of free-market capitalism with an “anything goes” support for the economic status quo. Many on the political right give credence to this perception by, indeed, seeking to defend the status quo just because it happens to be so. Yet this is neither an obligatory nor an advisable approach for characterizing a genuinely well-considered free-market outlook.

Suppose that you are a free-market advocate and also an engineer, well-versed in the principles and methods for constructing durable, safe structures. You hold that individuals and businesses should have the freedom to be able to build structures which would improve human well-being, in exchange for the opportunity to earn a profit (or not, if they wish to build structures for a charitable purpose). Now suppose that you are tasked with evaluating the integrity of a particular structure constructed by a private business – perhaps a bridge. This particular bridge happens to be fully privately funded – no subsidies, no exclusive rights, no barriers to competitors’ entry. The business undertaking the construction intends for the bridge to be used as part of a major new toll road that is intended to carry massive amounts of traffic.

Unfortunately, upon deploying your technical skillset and studying the bridge design carefully, you find that the bridge, while it is represented as being able to withstand one thousand cars at a time, would in fact collapse under the weight of only five hundred cars. You also find that, in your basic repertoire of engineering techniques, you have knowledge of construction techniques and superior materials which would rectify these design flaws and enable the bridge to be as safe and as durable as originally represented. The trouble is that the business owners want to hear none of it. They are attached to their original design partly out of cost considerations, but mostly because they simply cannot understand your findings or appreciate their significance, no matter how many different ways you have attempted to communicate them. The business owners have almost no engineering knowledge themselves and are generally contemptuous of overtly mathematical, “nerdy” types (like you). They are skilled salespeople who have capital from a previous venture and are eager to make additional money on a high-profile project such as this bridge. Suppose that you know that you have all of the technical knowledge of your discipline firmly on your side, but it is the owners’ money on the line, so, unconvinced by your arguments, they build the bridge according to their original specifications. They still advertise it as highly durable, but in a sufficiently nebulous way that the advertisements do not truly make any specific promises or technical claims. (This business is short on technically knowledgeable professionals, but spares no expense in hiring attorneys to litigation-proof its marketing materials.) The driving public’s impression from the marketing campaign is expected to be, “It is an incredibly sturdy, state-of-the-art, daring new bridge that you will enjoy driving on in safety and style.” The business owners contend that there is no problem. After all, were this a truly free market, the public could choose to pay to use their bridge or to find some alternative in getting from point A to point B. And competitors could build their own bridges, too, if they could buy the land, purchase the tools and materials, and hire the labor to do it.

Of course, on most days, this bridge would not collapse, since it is rare for five hundred cars to be on it simultaneously. The owners could well be reaping profits from their bridge for years and convince the lay public to drive on it with no visible ill consequences during that time. The bridge is, however, vulnerable to high winds, earthquakes, freezing damage, and gradual deterioration over time (exacerbated by substandard construction). As time passes, the risks of collapse increase. No bridge is invulnerable, but this particular bridge is about 30 years farther along the path to decay than other bridges that you know could easily have been built in its place, had the owners only listened to you. As a free-market advocate, you have some sympathies with the owners’ view that the construction of the bridge should not be forcibly prevented, as they are using their own property for their own chosen purposes, and they are not forcing anyone to use it. However, as an engineer who knows better when it comes to quality of bridge design and construction, what do you do?

This dilemma illustrates a question at the core of how free-market advocates approach the world in which they find themselves – a world, of course, which is far from free in an economic sense, but where many people still use their own property for their own purposes. There are some who will assert that the very fact of private, voluntary use of property renders such use inherently above criticism, provided it is a manifestation of free choice. (We can overlook, for the sake of this argument, the fact that, in the real world, many incentives and constraints upon human action are routinely distorted by the effects of political influences in favor of one group or set of outcomes and/or in opposition to others.) In this argument’s more typical instantiation in today’s world, some would assert that any outcome of “private enterprise” in today’s world must be acceptable for free-market advocates, since it was (ostensibly) somebody’s use of private property for a private purpose. For example, mass corporate layoffs (virtually unheard of until the 1970s), raising the price of a life-saving, long-generic drug by 5,556 percent (as pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli did with Daraprim in 2015), listening to or creating brutal “gangsta rap” (virtually unheard of until the 1990s), teaching of creationism in private schools (common throughout history, but increasingly untenable in the face of over 150 years of mounting evidence), and many other behaviors of questionable rationality and/or taste are defended as being the decisions of private entities – so what could be wrong about them?

The problem with reflexively defending any and every behavior, just because a private entity undertakes it, even in the absence of market distortions, is that it misses an essential point. The market is nothing more than the sum of the choices and actions of its participants. A market outcome is not a Panglossian “best of all possible worlds” scenario. Even in the absence of compulsion or restraint, some people will be mistaken, irrational, overconfident, immoral, confused, or all of the above. Ex ante, they may expect that the transactions and behaviors they engage in will benefit them – much like a tribal shaman might believe that his rain dance would bring forth water for the tribe’s crops – but, ex post, they may well find themselves regretting their behavior, or even if not, they may have still become materially, intellectually, or emotionally worse off from it compared to the alternatives. In addition to choice, there is also truth – which comes in the form of scientific, mathematical, historical, and philosophical principles and facts. Truth is an outcome of combining induction from the empirical facts of reality with deduction from the application of logical reasoning to known facts and incontrovertible first principles. It is entirely possible for a person – including a wealthy, powerful, influential person whose decisions affect thousands or millions of others – to completely miss what the truth is, or even to be ignorant of the correct methods of arriving at the truth. In other words, if the external reality is objective and governed by comprehensible natural laws – and if morality is also objective in the sense that some outcomes are incontrovertibly more beneficial to human well-being than others – then it must be the case that somebody who is thinking in a rational, well-informed manner can truly “know better” than a particular decision-maker who is not.

Does that mean that the market could be replaced by some “superior” system of decision-making? Ultimately, no. We have no guarantee that any substitution of decision-making for that of private actors could lead to a necessarily preferable result from those decision makers’ free choices. If Person A is irrational and mistaken, we have no guarantee that leaving Person B in charge of A’s life would not lead to even more irrational and mistaken choices, compounded by the knowledge problem that B will necessarily have in relation to A’s situation. The possibility that B could be not simply misguided but nefarious, and seek to sacrifice A’s genuine interests in favor of B’s own, is a further argument against this kind of command-and-control approach. More devastating, however, would be an outcome in which a different person, C, really is doing his best to act in a truthful, rational, and just manner, but the controller B does not see it. Or perhaps B does see it and thinks it is all well and good, but B needs to set uniform standards that would keep the lowest common denominator in check, and C’s scrupulous, innovative, and principled way of living could never be generalized to a society-wide system of controls.

But getting back to you, the engineer: How to address the dilemma that you are in? Has the “market” not “decided” that the bridge of substandard technical quality is just fine? Not so fast. We must never forget that we are the market, and that the market does not only consist of the first decisions and inclinations of some small group of wealthy, powerful, or connected individuals. Quite the contrary: We are what a truly free market consists of. A truly free market consists not only of our affirmative choices, but also of our negations and criticisms of certain other choices. It consists of our knowledge, including those situations where we truly “know better” than certain others. You, the free-market engineer, could not force the bridge owners to change their design. However, you could fully publicize its flaws in a fully free society, one characterized by robust protections of free speech and lack of a climate of frivolous litigation with regard to libel laws. If today such professional criticism is difficult, it is because many larger, politically connected enterprises will hire legions of attorneys to squelch sufficiently specific assertions in meritless litigation that is too costly for ordinary people to counter. But a truly free society would lack this obstacle and would include a legal system that is designed with speed, simplicity, affordability, and protections for peaceful natural persons in mind. A corporation would not be able to sue you for publicizing detailed criticisms of its products; the judge would be empowered to simply throw out such a lawsuit at first glance. A truly free market of goods and ideas is not an indiscriminate stew of anyone’s and everyone’s plans. Any such plans also would get tested, scrutinized, refined, and ultimately accepted or rejected by the other market participants. To the extent that one owns property that could sustain the perpetuation of a plan, one might counter even strongly held prevailing opinions – but only temporarily and only if one has other means of replenishing that property if the plan causes it to be depleted.

Moreover, in a truly free market, barriers to entry exist only on the basis of the constraints of the physical world, not on politics and special behind-the-scenes influence. Thus, competitors can always arise with a superior business model. Perhaps if you, the engineer, criticize the existing bridge sufficiently, another business enterprise will learn of its defects, purchase another piece of land, and construct a parallel, sturdier bridge that takes your suggestions into account. The misguided owners of the first bridge might eventually find themselves out of business because travelers will discover that safer, more convenient routes are available. And if the bridge ever does fail, a free-market system of civil liability will penalize those businesses who, through negligence, failed to take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their customers. If the bridge ever becomes an imminent danger to travelers, it would be proper for public warnings to be issued and for the law-enforcement entity (be it a minarchist government or a private dispute-resolution agency) to order that traffic to the bridge be discontinued until the immediate danger is averted (perhaps through structural improvements at that time). A free market does not permit the reckless endangerment of unwitting, non-consenting others.

But always, in a hypothetical free-market society or in our own, a free-market-oriented engineer – or any professional, really – should have no compunction about expressing the truth about the soundness and validity of any party’s decisions or proposals, be they private or governmental. Just as a private party may well propose building a substandard bridge, so might a government today actually develop a decent bridge, especially if the incentives of a given political system are conducive to that particular outcome. The free-market engineer should not hesitate to praise the technical design of a good bridge, no matter what its source – because truth is true, and a bridge that could support two thousand cars at a time would, indeed, support those cars no matter who constructed it (provided the methods and materials used are identical in each case). A free-market perspective is a political and economic position which is compatible with completely rigorous, objective views of matters of science, technology, mathematics, history, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, psychology, and any other conceivable discipline. Free-market advocates should respect people’s right to make choices, even when those choices are mistaken, but can maintain their own right to criticize those mistakes using as high a set of standards as they consider justified. If your values include striving for truth and justice, then those values are a part of the market as well, and you can improve market outcomes by working to instantiate those values in reality.

This essay 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.

Being Good for Goodness’ Sake – Article by Bradley Doucet

Being Good for Goodness’ Sake – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance HatBradley Doucet
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“Dear Santa,” begins an Internet meme that’s been making the rounds, accompanied by some innocent-looking drawing of a small child or a woman decorating a tree, “I’m writing to tell you I’ve been naughty and it was worth it, you fat, judgmental bastard.”

Fair enough, I say. Who died and made Jolly Old Saint Nick the arbiter of all things good and bad, anyway? And frankly, the extensive surveillance that’s he’s gotta have going on 24/7, 365 days a year, is more than a little bit creepy.

But if I reject the authority of the guy in red to tell me what to do, does that mean I can do whatever I please? Just gather as many resources and as much power over my fellows as I can, by whatever means I choose, fair or foul, even becoming top ape of the tribe if possible?

Such a life, no matter where you end up in the pecking order, is frankly impoverished. I don’t have anything against material riches per se, but we humans are not merely animals; we are rational animals. This doesn’t mean we are always or automatically rational, but rather that we have the ability to reason instead of being swept along exclusively by impulse and instinct.

Yet reason is not merely a tool, our particular means of getting what we need to survive, akin to another animal’s claws or teeth or brute strength. It is that, but it is also much more. Having the faculty of reason, we also have a psychological need to use it not only to better our lives, but to determine what constitutes a good life. It may be going too far to say that the unexamined life is not worth living at all, but the unexamined life is surely less than optimally satisfying.

So, what makes a good life? Physical pleasure is one good thing, to be sure, but only one, and its pursuit can distract us from the more subtle and deeper satisfactions of being human. Acquiring knowledge and learning skills, making and appreciating art, and cultivating relationships with others all take us beyond the simple pleasures we have in common with the beasts.

Even this does not quite capture what it means to live a fully human life, though, because it ignores the issue of dealing with others. Given that other human beings, like me, tend to want pleasure and knowledge and art and relationships, I am more likely to get these good things for myself if I treat other people with respect, cooperating and trading with them. To say the same thing another way, there are instrumental reasons for acting in an ethical manner in one’s dealings with other people.

These reasons do carry a certain weight. But it’s conceivable that one could lie, cheat, manipulate, and force others to give one what one wants, or some close enough facsimile, especially if one is smarter or stronger or richer or otherwise more resourceful than the norm. Are there any deeper reasons, besides the instrumental ones, not to trample the rights of others if one has a fairly good chance of getting away with it?

The answer, of course, is yes. For one thing, like most humans, I care about other people and their interests. Admittedly I don’t care equally about all 7.3 billion of you. Some of you, I don’t even know. Still, I don’t want to do you harm if I can avoid it—and lying to you, cheating you, manipulating you, or initiating force against you are themselves harms, however I may try to disguise this fact and keep anyone, myself included, from recognizing it.

And even more fundamentally, from a certain perspective, it’s also a matter of self-respect. Using deception, manipulation, or force to get what I want from other human beings—instead of treating them as the rational animals they are, with interests and goals and plans of their own—is quite simply beneath me. Respecting others’ rights is intrinsically valuable to me because of what it does to me if I violate them: I become less fully human.¹ I lose face with myself, and all of my pleasures become shadows of themselves: sour when they should be sweet; pale instead of bright and bold; a little out of tune.

Living a fully human life does not mean foregoing the animal pleasures. It does not mean sacrificing your interests to those of others. But it does mean striving to live a rational life, which implies living with honour and recognizing the basic humanity of your fellow human beings—whether or not some dude at the North Pole, or anywhere else, is watching.

1. This idea, and indeed the inspiration for the present short article, is from the second half of Roderick T. Long’s “Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand,” Objectivist Studies, No. 3, The Atlas Society, 2000, p. 51: “To violate the rights of others, then, is to lessen one’s own humanity.”

Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is QL’s English Editor.
Refuting Ayn Rand’s “Immortal Robot” Argument – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Refuting Ayn Rand’s “Immortal Robot” Argument – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II

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Here I refute an argument that has been leveled against proponents of indefinite human longevity from a surprising direction – those sympathetic to the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. Some advocates of Ayn Rand’s philosophy believe that indefinite life would turn human beings into “immortal, indestructible robots” that, according to Ayn Rand, would have no genuine values. Both of these claims are false. Indefinite life would not turn humans into indestructible robots, nor would an indestructible robot with human abilities lack values or motivation for doing great things. In Ayn Rand’s own words, “Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.” (John Galt’s speech in For the New Intellectual, p. 135)

Rand’s “immortal robot” argument is found in “The Objectivist Ethics” (The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 15): “To make this point fully clear, try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”

The “immortal robot” argument needs to be challenged because it originates from Ayn Rand, who otherwise espouses numerous rational ideas. I myself agree with most of the fundamental principles that Ayn Rand advocates. However, in some of her particular reasoning – at least, if applied to the wrong context – she can be off-target in such a way as to retard further progress. The often-leveled argument, derived by contemporary non-transhumanist Objectivists from the above-quoted passage, is that achieving indefinite longevity would turn human beings into Ayn Rand’s description of the “immortal, indestructible robot”.

In responding to Rand’s argument, several points can be made in relation to prolonging human life indefinitely and lifting the death sentence that hangs over all of us. First, at no point in time will human beings become the “immortal, indestructible robots” that Ayn Rand describes. The simple reason for this is that our existence is physical and contingent on certain physical prerequisites being fulfilled. The moment one of these physical prerequisites is lacking, our existence ceases. This will always be the case, even if we no longer have a necessary upper limit on our lifespans. For instance, biomedical advances that would greatly expand human lifespans – allowing periodic reversions to a more youthful biological state and therefore the possibility of an indefinite existence – would not turn humans into indestructible robots. There would still be the need to actively turn back biological processes of decay, and the active choice to pursue such treatments or not. People who live longer by successfully combating senescence could still get run over by a car or experience a plane crash. They would retain potential vulnerability to certain perils – such as death from accidents – although, as I have explained in “Life Extension and Risk Aversion”, they may be more diligent in seeking to greatly reduce the probability of such outcomes. If it is ever the case that death by senescence and the myriad diseases which kill many human beings today can be averted, then human beings will try to avert the other possibilities of death – for instance, by developing safer modes of transportation or engaging in fewer wars.

It is possible to significantly reduce the likelihood that one can be destroyed, without ever eliminating the theoretical potential of such destruction. Furthermore, because human beings have free will, they always have at least the hypothetical option of choosing to undermine the physical prerequisites of their own lives. In my view, no sane, rational being would actually choose to pursue that option, but the option is there nonetheless. For anybody who seeks to commit suicide by immediate or gradual means, or by refusing to take advantage of life-prolonging techniques once they become available, there is virtually nothing in the world that could prevent this, apart from rational persuasion (which may or may not be successful).

Even with indefinite longevity, human beings will always be vulnerable to some actual or hypothetical perils or poor choices. Moreover, when we manage to avoid one kind of peril, other kinds of perils may become more pressing as they come into the frame of awareness of longer-lived beings. If we do manage to live for hundreds of thousands of years, we will be far more subject to long-term geological changes and fluctuations of the Earth’s climate, such as the cycle of ice ages, whereas today humans do not live long enough to experience these massive shifts. Most of us today do not worry about the consequences of huge glaciers advancing over the continents, but humans who live for millennia will see this as a pressing problem for their own lifetimes. Likewise, the longer we live, the greater the likelihood that we will experience a global cataclysm, such as a supervolcano or an asteroid hitting the Earth. Human ingenuity and resources would need to be devoted toward confronting and even preventing these perils – a highly desirable outcome in general, since the perils exist irrespective of our individual lifespans, but most humans currently lack the long-term vision or orientation to combat them.

Moreover, the need to reject the “immortal robot” argument when discussing indefinite life extension does not stem solely from a desire to achieve philosophical correctness. Rather, we should recognize the potential for actually achieving meaningful, unprecedented longevity increases within our own lifetimes. For instance, the SENS Research Foundation is a nonprofit biogerontological research organization whose founder, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, has outlined an engineering-based approach to reversing the seven principal types of damage that accumulate in the human body with age. (SENS stands for “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence”.) Dr. de Grey has stated that, with proper funding, there is approximately a 50 percent probability of these rejuvenation treatments being developed 20-25 years from now. (The 20-year figure is presented in this transcript from a recent NPR interview of Aubrey de Grey – quoted in “Discussing Science and Aging: Aubrey de Grey and Cynthia Kenyon at NPR” by Reason at FightAging.org.) The SENS Research Foundation is not the only entity pursuing radical life extension. Major commercial efforts toward research into reversing biological aging – such as Calico, created and funded by Google (now Alphabet, Inc.) – have been launched already. Thus, it is premature to conclude that death is a certainty for those who are alive today. Medical advances on the horizon could indeed turn many humans into beings who are still potentially vulnerable to death, but no longer subject to any upper limit on their lifespans.

It is therefore ill-advised to pin any ethical justifications for the ultimate value of human life to the current contingent situation, where it just so happens that human lifespans are finite because we have not achieved the level of technological advancement to overcome senescence yet. If such advances are achieved, common interpretations of the “immortal robot” argument and its derivative claims would suggest that life for human beings would transform from an ultimate value to some lesser value or to no value at all. This implication reveals a flaw in arguments that rely on the finitude of life and the inevitability of death. How is it that, by making life longer, healthier, and of higher quality (with less suffering due to the diseases of old age), humans would, in so doing, deprive life of its status as an ultimate value? If life is improved, it does not thereby lose a moral status that it previously possessed.

Yet another important recognition is that some animals have already attained negligible senescence. Their lifespans are de facto finite, but without a necessary upper limit. Suppose that evolution had taken a different course and rational beings had descended from tortoises rather than from primates. Then these rational beings would have negligible senescence without the need for medical intervention to achieve it. Would their lives thereby lack a type of value which the proponents of the “immortal robot” argument attribute to human lives today? Again, a conclusion of this sort illustrates a flaw in the underlying argument.

But suppose that a true immortal, indestructible robot could exist and be identical to human beings in every other respect. It would possess human biological processes and ways of thinking but be made of extremely strong materials that did not deteriorate or that automatically renewed themselves so as to rapidly, automatically repair any injury. Ayn Rand’s argument would still be mistaken. Even if death were not a possibility for such a being, it could still pursue and enjoy art, music, inventions, games – any activity that is appealing from the perspective of the senses, the intellect, or the general civilizing project of transforming chaos into order and transforming simpler orders into more complex ones.

The fear of death is not the sole motivator for human actions by far. Indeed, most great human accomplishments are a result of positive, not negative motivations. Rand acknowledged this when she wrote that “Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.” At least in the short term, you do not need to do much to avoid death. You could just sit there, stay out of trouble, eat, drink, keep warm, sleep – and you survive to the next day. But that is not a full life, according to Rand. Obviously, one needs to avoid death to have a full life. Survival is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Many thinkers sympathetic to the Objectivist school, such as Edward Younkins, Tara Smith, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Tibor Machan, George Reisman, and Lester Hunt, have extended this insight to conclude that survival is not enough; one should also pursue flourishing. (Younkins provides an excellent overview of this perspective in “Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell”.)

I concur fully with the goal of flourishing and recognize the existence of numerous positive motivations besides mere survival. For example, the desire to see oneself create something, to witness a product of one’s mind become embodied in the physical reality, is a powerful motivation indeed. One can furthermore seek to take esthetic pleasure from a particular object or activity. This does not require even a thought of death. Moreover, to appreciate certain kinds of patterns in existence, which are present in art, in technology, and even in games, does not require any thought of death. Many people play games, even if those games do not contribute anything to their survival. This does not mean, however, that doing so is irrational; rather, it is another creative way to channel the activities of the human mind. Via games, the human mind essentially creates its own field of endeavor, a rule system within which it operates. By operating within that rule system, the mind exercises its full potential, whereas just by sitting there and only doing what is absolutely necessary to survive, the mind would have missed some essential part of its functioning.

Creating art and music, undertaking scientific discoveries, envisioning new worlds – actual and fictional – does not rely on having to die in the future. None of these activities even rely on the threat of death. The immortal, indestructible robot, of course, might not engage in precisely the same activities as we do today. It would probably not need to worry about earning its next meal by working for somebody else, but it could still paint a painting, just because it would like to see its mental processes – in this scenario, processes greatly resembling our own – have some kind of external consequence and embodiment in the external reality. Such external embodiment is a vital component of flourishing.

Fear of death is not the sole motivator for human action, nor the sole prerequisite for value, as Ayn Rand acknowledged. There is more to life than that. Life is not merely about survival and should be about the pursuit of individual flourishing as well. Survival is a necessary prerequisite, but, once it is achieved, an individual is free to pursue higher-order values, such as self-actualization. The individual would only be further empowered in the quest for flourishing and self-actualization in a hypothetical environment where no threats to survival existed.

While we will never be true immortal robots, such immortal robots could nonetheless flourish and truly achieve life. As a result, the “immortal robot” argument fails on multiple counts and is not a valid challenge to indefinite life extension.

This essay 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.

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

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

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.

Ayn Rand and Friedrich A. Hayek: A Side-by-Side Comparison – Article by Edward W. Younkins

Ayn Rand and Friedrich A. Hayek: A Side-by-Side Comparison – Article by Edward W. Younkins

The New Renaissance HatEdward W. Younkins
August 1, 2015
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Ayn Rand and Friedrich A. Hayek did more than any other writers in the Twentieth Century to turn intellectual opinion away from statism and toward a free society. Although they are opposed on many philosophical and social issues, they generally agree on the superiority of a free market. Rand’s defense of capitalism differs dramatically from Hayek’s explanation of the extended order. In addition, Hayek approves of state activity that violates Rand’s ideas of rights and freedom. The purpose of this brief essay is to describe, explain, and compare the ideas of these two influential thinkers. To do this, I present and explain an exhibit that provides a side-by-side summary of the differences between Rand and Hayek on a number of issues.

In their early years of writing, both Hayek and Rand were dismissed by intellectuals, but they were heralded by businessmen. Hayek began to gain some respect from intellectuals when he published The Road to Serfdom in 1944. He wrote a number of scholarly books, attained formal academic positions, and earned the Nobel Prize for economics in 1974. Rand never did write scholarly works or hold a formal academic position. Her philosophy must be extracted from her essays and her fiction.

Hayek was read in college classes sooner, and to a much greater extent, than was Rand. He was viewed by intellectuals as a responsible and respected scholar, and Rand was not. His vision of anti-statism was more acceptable to intellectuals because he called for some exceptions to laissez-faire capitalism. In his writings he permitted concessions for some state interventions. In his immense and varied body of work, he touched upon a great many fields, including anthropology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, philosophy, economics, linguistics, political science, and intellectual history. During the last 25 years or so, Rand’s works have been increasingly studied by scholars. There is now an Ayn Rand Society affiliated with the American Philosophical Association and a scholarly publication devoted to the study of her ideas—The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. In addition, her writings are now being covered in college classes.

A Summary Comparison

Exhibit I provides a summary comparison of Rand and Hayek based on a variety of factors and dimensions. With respect to metaphysics and epistemology, Rand holds that “A is A” and that reality is knowable. Contrariwise, Hayek argues that reality is unknowable and that what men see are distorted representations or reproductions of objects existing in the world. The skeptic Hayek goes so far as to state that the notion of things in themselves (i.e., the noumenal world) can be dismissed. Whereas Rand’s foundation is reality, the best that Hayek can offer as a foundation is words and language.

Hayek supports the view that the human mind must have a priori categories that are prior to, and responsible for the ability to perceive and interpret the external world. He adds to this Kantian view by making the case that each individual mind’s categories are restructured according to the distinct experiences of each particular person.   Each person’s neural connections can therefore be seen as semi-permanent and affected by his or her environment and experiences. The mind’s categories evolve as each specific person experiences the world. According to Hayek, there is pre-sensory knowledge embedded in the structure of the mind and the nervous system’s synaptic connections which can be further created and modified over time. For the neo-Kantian Hayek, knowledge always has a subjective quality.

Reason for Rand is active, volitional, and efficacious. It follows that she sees rationality as man’s primary virtue. She sees progress through science and technology as the result of the human ability to think conceptually and to analyze logically through induction and deduction. Rand also contends that people can develop objective concepts that correspond with reality.

In his philosophy, Hayek relegates reason to a minor role. He argues for a modest perspective of people’s reasoning capabilities. He contends that reason is passive and that it is a social product. Hayek’s message of intellectual humility is primarily aimed at constructivist rationalism rather than critical rationalism. As an “anti-rationalist,” he explained that the world is too complex for any government planner to intentionally design and construct society’s institutions. However, he is a proponent of the limited potential of critical rationalism through which individuals use local and tacit knowledge in their everyday decisions. Hayek views progress as a product of an ongoing dynamic evolutionary process. He said that we cannot know reality but we can analyze evolving words and language. Linguistic analysis and some limited empirical verification provide Hayek with somewhat of an analytical foundation. His coherence theory of concepts is based on agreement among minds. For Hayek, concepts happen to the mind. Of course, his overall theory of knowledge is that individuals know much more than can be expressed in words.

Rand makes a positive case for freedom based on the nature of man and the world. She explains that man’s distinctive nature is exhibited in his rational thinking and free will. Each person has the ability to think his own thoughts and control his own energies in his efforts to act according to those thoughts. People are rational beings with free wills who have the ability to fulfill their own life purposes, aims, and intentions. Rand holds that each individual person has moral significance. He or she exists, perceives, experiences, thinks and acts in and through his or her own body and therefore from unique points in time and space. It follows that the distinct individual person is the subject of value and the unit of social analysis. Each individual is responsible for thinking for himself, for acting on his own thoughts, and for achieving his own happiness.

Hayek denies the existence of free will. However, he explains that people act as if they have free will because they are never able to know how they are determined to act by various biological, cultural, and environmental factors. His negative case for freedom is based on the idea that no one person or government agency is able to master the complex multiplicity of elements needed to do so. Such relevant knowledge is never totally possessed by any one individual. There are too many circumstances and variables affecting a situation to take them all into account. His solution to this major problem is to permit people the “freedom” to pursue and employ the information they judge to be the most relevant to their chosen goals. For Hayek, freedom is good because it best promotes the growth of knowledge in society. Hayek explains that in ordering society we should depend as much as possible on spontaneous forces such as market prices and as little as possible on force. Acknowledging man’s socially-constructed nature, he does not view individuals as independent agents but rather as creatures of society.

According to Rand, the principle of man’s rights can be logically derived from man’s nature and needs. Rights are a moral concept. For Rand, the one fundamental right is a person’s right to his own life. She explains that rights are objective conceptual identifications of the factual requirements of a person’s life in a social context. A right is a moral principle that defines and sanctions one’s freedom of action in a social context. Discussion of individual rights are largely absent from Hayek’s writings. At most he says that rights are created by society through the mechanism of law.

Whereas Rand speaks of Objective Law, Hayek speaks of the Rule of Law. Objective laws must be clearly expressed in terms of essential principles. They must be objectively justifiable, impartial, consistent, and intelligible. Rand explains that objective law is derived from the rational principle of individual rights. Objective Law deals with the specific requirements of a man’s life. Individuals must know in advance what the law forbids them from doing, what constitutes a violation, and what penalty would be incurred if they break the law. Hayek says that the Rule of Law is the opposite of arbitrary government. The Rule of Law holds that government coercion must be limited by known, general, and abstract rules. According to Hayek certain abstract rules of conduct came into being because groups who adopted them became better able to survive and prosper. These rules are universally applicable to everyone and maintain a sphere of responsibility.

Rand espouses a rational objective morality based on reason and egoism. In her biocentric ethics, moral behavior is judged in relation to achieving specific ends with the final end being an individual’s life, flourishing, and happiness. For Hayek, ethics is based on evolution and emotions. Ethics for Hayek are functions of biology and socialization. They are formed through habits and imitation.

Rand advocates a social system of laissez-faire capitalism in which the sole function of the state is the protection of individual rights. Hayek, or the other hand, allows for certain exceptions and interventions to make things work. He holds that it is acceptable for the government to supply public goods and a safety net.

For Rand, the consciousness of the individual human person is the highest level of mental functioning. For Hayek, it is a supra-conscious framework of neural connections through which conscious mental activity gains meaning. He states that this meta-conscious mechanism is taken for granted by human beings. The set of a person’s physiological impulses forms what Hayek calls the sensory order. Perception and pattern recognition follow one’s sensory order which is altered by a person’s own perception and history of experiences

Aristotle is Rand’s only acknowledged philosophical influence. They both contend that to make life fully human (i.e., to flourish), an individual must acquire virtues and make use of his reason as fully as he is capable. Hayek was influenced by Kant and Popper in epistemology, Ferguson and Smith in evolutionary theory, Hume in ethics, and Wittgenstein in linguistics.

Although Rand and Hayek are opposed on many philosophical questions, they generally agree on the desirability of a free market and are among the most well-known defenders of capitalism in the twentieth century. The works of both of these intellectual giants are highly recommended for any student of liberty.

 Exhibit I

A Summary Comparison

 

Rand

 

Hayek

Foundation Reality Words and Language
Knowledge Reality is knowable. Skepticism – The idea of things in themselves can be dismissed.
Reason Reason is active, volitional, and efficacious. Reason is passive and a social product.
Progress Based on power of human reason and conscious thought Evolution and social selection
Analytic Method Logical analysis, including induction and deduction Linguistic analysis and empiricism
Theory of Concepts Objective concepts that correspond with reality Coherence or agreement among minds
Freedom Positive case for freedom Negative case for “freedom”
Free Will Man has free will. Man is determined but acts as if he has free will.
Subject of value and unit of social analysis Individual happiness Perpetuation of society (i.e., the group)
The Individual Independent Dependent—man is socially constituted
Rights Based on the nature of the human person Created by society through law
Law Objective Law Rule of Law
Ethics and Morality Rational objective morality based on reason and egoism Evolutionary and emotive ethics based on altruism which is noble but cannot be implemented because of ignorance. Established through habits and imitation
Desired Social System Laissez-faire capitalism Minimal welfare state that supplies public goods and safety net
Highest level of understanding and mental functioning Consciousness of the Individual Meta-conscious framework—neural connections
Philosophical influences Aristotle Ferguson, Smith, Kant, Hume, Popper, Wittgenstein