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The Moral Imperative and Technical Feasibility of Defeating Death – Article by Franco Cortese

The Moral Imperative and Technical Feasibility of Defeating Death – Article by Franco Cortese

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
May 5, 2013
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Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enameling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

~ W. B. Yeats

The original is unfaithful to the translation.

~ Jorge Luis Borges

“Whatever can be repaired gradually without destroying the original whole is, like the vestal fire, potentially eternal.

~ Francis Bacon, A History of Life and Death, 1638

I became both Immortalist and Transhumanist long before I knew such designations existed. In 2006, at age 14, I conceived of both the extreme desirability and technical feasibility of ending death, without any knowledge of the proposals for immortality already extant. I thought I was the only one in the world who saw both the utter, belligerent waste of death, and our ability to technologically defeat it. I was dumbfounded that humanity wasn’t attacking the problem like any other preventable source of widespread suffering. I saw that the end of death was not only desirable but a moral imperative.
***

If we have the power to make it happen, or have even a chance at doing so, yet fail to even try for reasons of inertia, incredulity, or indifference, then we are condemning massive amounts of real people to unnecessary death by our inaction. I felt a moral obligation to work on conceptual development of the various pragmatic aspects required  to physically realize indefinite longevity until I was old enough to physically put these developments into practice – i.e., do experiments and design physical systems. I worked on my grand project, as I thought of it, from August 2006 until May 2010, at which time I discovered multiple other approaches to indefinite longevity being actively developed (initially through Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near), and even multiple antecedents of my own approach, I felt less of an imperative to continue active conceptual development on these procedures. I was happy to find the existing Immortalist movement, of course; I stopped not out of resentment for having been anteceded, but rather out of newfound assurance that the defeat of death didn’t lay solely in my hands.

I had worked for 4 years on conceptual designs and approaches to indefinite life extension – designs that I was planning on building and experimentally verifying in my young adulthood, whether through normative medical research and academia or through a privately funded venture, thinking that I would have more of a success than if I came to the world as a teenager with these ideas, as they were. By 2010, 4 years into the project, I discovered that others were seeking the defeat of death through technological intervention as well, and that many of the specific ideas I had come up with were already out and in the world.

My original approach involved transplanting the organic brain into a full cybernetic body. Over the next few months I collected research on experiments in organic brain transplantation done with salamanders, dogs, and monkeys , on maintaining the brain’s homeostatic and regulatory mechanisms outside the body and on a host of prosthetic and robotic technologies which I saw as developmentally converging to allow the creation of a fully cybernetic body. I soon realized that this approach was problematic; while the brain typically dies as a consequence of its homeostatic and regulatory mechanisms (i.e. heart and lungs failing), it would still fall prey to cell death if it remained organic, even if such regulatory mechanisms were maintained technologically.

This obstacle led to my conceiving the essential gestalt of uploading – the gradual replacement of neurons with functional equivalents that preserve each original neuron’s relative location and connection – three months later. Although my original approach was prosthetic (i.e., physically embodied functional equivalents of neurons), I eventually saw computational models as being preferable for their comparatively higher speed and ease of modification and/or modulation.

I discovered that Brain-Emulation and Connectomics (or Mind-Uploading more informally) was an existing discipline not long after conceiving of the idea, but at the time thought that various aspects required for gradual replacement (and thus for real immortality, and not the creation of an immortal double, were undeveloped in regard to how the computational models would communicate and maintain functional equilibrium with the existing biological neurons. If we seek to replace biological neurons with artificial equivalents, once we have a simulation of a given neuron in a computer outside the body, how is that simulated neuron to communicate with the biological neurons still inside that biological body, and vice versa? My solution was the use of initially MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) but later NEMS (nano-electro-mechanical-systems) to detect biophysical properties via sensors and translate them into computational inputs, and likewise to translate computational output into biophysical properties via electrical actuators and the programmed release of chemical stores (essentially stored quantities of indexed chemicals to be released upon command). While the computational hardware could hypothetically be located outside the body, communicating wirelessly to corresponding in-vivo sensors and actuators, I saw the replacement of neurons with enclosed in-vivo computational hardware in direct operative connection with its corresponding sensors and actuators as preferable. I didn’t realize until 2010 that this approach—the use of NEMS to computationally model the neurons, to integrate (i.e., construct and place) the artificial neurons and translate to biophysical signals into computational signals and vice versa—was already suggested by Kurzweil and conceptually developed more formally by Robert Freitas, and when I did, I felt that I didn’t really have much to present that hadn’t already been conceived and developed.

However, since then I’ve come to realize some significant distinctions between my approach and Brain-Emulation, and that besides being an interesting story that helps validate the naturality of Immortalism’s premises (that indefinite longevity is a physically realizable state, and thus technologically realizable –  and what can be considered the “strong Immortalist” claim: that providing people the choice of indefinite longevity if it were realizable is a moral imperative), I had several novel notions and conceptions which might prove useful to the larger community working and thinking on these topics.

While this project began as a means of indefinite longevity, it took on Transhumanist concerns within days of its conception. A cybernetic body not only frees one from the strictures of death, but also from the limitations of a static body designed for a static environment. Freed from our flesh, we could comfortably bear any extremes of Earth or beyond; interchange our bodily designs with the nonchalance of attire; and continuously, on a daily basis, take charge of what it means for us to be. I envisioned extreme phenotypic diversity as undermining racism and prejudices, an explosion of intelligence and happiness consequent of finally taking the stuff of our being into our own hands, the newfound availability of heretofore unrealized modalities of being, experience, thought, morality, and abilities realized through the technological extension and enhancement of the mind.

By 2007, I was calling this philosophy “Enhancism”, which I designated as the thesis that enhancement is the principal underlying both human nature and evolutionary nature. Regardless of what constitutes an “enhancement”, the fact that we strive to reach idealized objectives and grow toward what we envision as better versions of our selves and our world exemplifies enhancement as the underlying driver and primal force that makes up Mind, Man, and Humanity. The objective or “optimization target” isn’t important – what is important is the act of designating an objective as better, and then striving in a fit of fiery thrusts toward it.

I never saw this imperative of improving ourselves using all available means as a move away from humanity, but rather as a natural extension and continuation of what has always best designated us as human. I realized that self-directed modification of both body and mind were not only both possible and desirable, but a natural extension of what humanity has been doing since long before the very concept of “humanity” existed. I had arrived at the essential premises and conclusions of both Immortalism and Transhumanism without exposure to existing forms of either. Indeed, this was even before I started reading science fiction!

I think this observation undermines what I feel to be a common misconception of outside of Transhumanist circles – that Transhumanism and Immortalism are fringe movements for statistical outliers with idiosyncratic interests. I think that this rather adds credence to rebuttal that Transhumanism and Immortalism exemplify the modern embodiment of all we’ve ever been; that they are not founded upon grandiose and overly contingent axioms, but rather on the respective premises that life is good and so should be extended for as long as possible and that we are more likely to create a better world and better selves than we are to find them already given.

If the underlying logic behind Immortalism and Transhumanism can be independently arrived at by a 14-year-old without any knowledge of historical or extant forms of either, then how removed from the human concerns of the majority can they really be? If they relied on a host of contingent hopes and deviant memetic baggage – if their claims or conclusions were overly complicated in any way – how could they be arrived at so readily and fluidly by an adolescent?

I also unwittingly recapitulated many specific Transhumanist objectives throughout the course of my “grand project”, as I had thought of it at the time. My approach of gradually replacing the neurons in the brain with functional equivalents would necessitate control over the processes exhibited by the replacements. This would allow us to actively and consciously control the variables and metrics determining neuronal behavior, not only modifying ourselves through the integration of additional NRUs (neuron-replication-units) or NRU-networks, but also through active modification and real-time modulation of the NRUs that would by then underlie our existing mental and experiential modalities, having replaced our existing biological neurons.

Within the first year of the project, I had conceived of using these new capabilities to make ourselves smarter (an unwitting recapitulation of intelligence-amplification), of making ourselves more ethical (an unwitting recapitulation of moral engineering, explored by such thinkers as James Hughes, Julian Savulescu and Asher Seidel, among others), and of actively making ourselves happier, or rather of eliminating those normative biological aspects that bias us needlessly towards unhappiness (an unwitting variant of David Pearce’s hedonistic imperative), and the exchange of real-time perception and memory deeper and of higher fidelity than sensory memories, essentially extending to thoughts, emotions, and indeed all experiential modalities available to us.

One could imagine my surprise upon finding Transhumanism and Immortalism as existing disciplines and movements; I felt as though I had borne a son and gone away for a day only to return and find him grown up – and that I was never his biological father to begin with.

The fact that both Transhumanist (i.e., enhancement, self-modification and self-modulation) and Immortalist concerns and conceptions developed concurrently throughout my work also reifies their having a shared gestalt. While they are not mutually inclusive (you can be one without being the other), they do share some strong similarities. They both eschew biological and naturalistic limitations, exalt autonomy and the provision of rights, and spring from a legitimate glorification of life and self.

The last point I would like to make here is one that I think helps subvert the superficial claim that Transhumanist or Immortalist objectives are essentially selfish concerns. At 14 I had no personal stake in trying to end death as fast as possible; both ending death and increasing our ability to better determine who we are and what we can do were from day one for the world and for broader humanity – particularly for those who didn’t have the majority of the rest of their lives to live: the 100,000 people who succumb to bitter finitude each day. I think most other Transhumanist and Immortalist thinkers would agree that any positive future involves broad access to both longevity treatments and to the latest means of improving and realizing ourselves.

None of these naïve misinterpretations are real concerns to Transhumanist and Immortalist communities, except in regards to the degree with which they prevent people from digging deep enough to discover their stark insubstantiality. While they may be so off-base as to make their fallaciousness readily obvious to members of either community, and thus a seeming non-issue, I think the way in which they engender public misconceptions about Transhumanism and Immortalism validates our need to dispel them. Transhumanism is the only humanism; it exemplifies the very heart of what makes us human. The “trans” and the “human” in Transhumanism can only signify each other, for to be human is to strive to become more than human. I’ve thought this from the beginning, and this is a direction that my thinking – while having developed significantly since the practical work described here – is still oriented toward.

I wonder how many others there are out there like me, yet to approach the world with their vast extrapersonal visions of self-directed self-realization, yet to find the daring to throw their raucous good works in the face of this world that deserves better than to simply die quietly and unquestioningly, without revolt; others who, like me, saw that to try and change the world for the better is the very namesake of Man; who’ve crafted star-spangled dreams as large and as belligerently righteous as ending death and taking definite control of our ever-indefinite and indefinitive selves.

To every riled child who has ever had a vision larger than himself but that he has been too afraid to reveal, who has ever dreamt of bounding past the boundaries of present and toward the real prize, who has ever felt a dire need to make Man more than he is: I call thee out of the whorlworks and into the world! Come, show us what you’ve done!

What follows in my subsequent essays is first a broad overview of my work in this area from 2006 to 2010 (at which time I had discovered enough Immortalist antecedents to stop actively working on conceptual varieties of techno-immortality), first in terms of my methodology for achieving indefinite longevity (i.e., my work in uploading or brain-emulation proper), and then in terms of the enhancement and modification side, focusing on similarities and differences between my vision and those developed in Transhumanism and Immortalism.

While this essay is largely personal and introductory, I think the fact of my independently arriving at many of the conceptual premises and conclusions of Transhumanism and Immortalism, and under different terms, also reifies the more substantial claim that Transhumanism isn’t as far-out as is normatively presumed—or perhaps rather that the “human” isn’t as right-here as is commonly supposed. For that curious creature of clamorous self-determination called Man is most familiar with unfamiliarity, and most at home in alien dendritic jungles, for having gone so far out as to come back around again.

While in 2010 I thought most of my ideas in regards to practical approaches to immortality as already conceived, I now see some differences between my approach and other conceptions of brain-emulation. One is the conceptual development of physical/prosthetic approaches to neuron replication and replacement (i.e., prosthetics on the cellular scale) in addition to strictly computational approaches. Another is several novel approaches to preserving both immediate subjective-continuity (that is, the ability to have subjective experience, sometimes called sentience – as opposed to sapience, which denotes our higher cognitive capacities like abstract thinking, thus humans have sentience and sapience while most non-mammals are thought to lack sapience but possess sentience) and temporal subjective-continuity (the property of feeling like the same subjective person as you did yesterday, or a week ago, or 10 years ago – despite the fact that all of the molecules constituting your brain are gone, having been replaced with identical molecules through metabolism – via molecular turnover rather than full-cell replacement – over the course of a seven-year period) through a gradual (neuron) replacement procedure that are to my knowledge yet to be explored by the wider techno-immortalist community and brain-emulation discipline, respectively.

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.

Bibliography

(June 2012). International Journal of Machine Consciousness, 4 (1).

Browne, M. W. (2011). From science fiction to science: ‘the whole body transplant’. Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/05/science/essay-from-science-fiction-to-science-the-whole-body-transplant.html

Demikhov, V. P. & (1962).Experimental transplantation of vital organs. Basil Haigh, transl. New York: Consultant’s Bureau Enterprises, Inc.

Grabianowski (2007). How Brain-computer Interfaces Work. Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://computer.howstuffworks.com/brain-computer-interface.htm

Hickey, L. P. (2011). The brain in a vat argument. Internet encyclopedia of philosophy, 2011. Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://www.iep.utm.edu/brainvat/

Kurzweil, R. (2005). The Singularity is Near. Penguin Books, p. 63-67.

Martins, N. R., Erlhagen, W. & Freitas Jr., R. A. (2012). Non-destructive whole-brain monitoring using nanorobots: Neural electrical data rate requirements. International Journal of Machine Consciousness, 2011 .Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://www.nanomedicine.com/Papers/NanoroboticBrainMonitoring2012.pdf (URL).

Narayan, A. (2004). Computational Methods for NEMS.Retrieved February 28, 2013 from http://nanohub.org/resources/407.

Pietsch, P. & Schneider, C. W. (1969). Brain transplantation in salamanders: an approach to memory transfer . Brain Research, Aug;14 (3), 705-715. PMID: 5822440

Stoney, W. S. (1962). Evolution of cardiopulmonary bypass. Experimental transplantation of vital organs. Circulation, 2009 (119), 2844-53.

Vagaš, M. (2012). To view the current state of robotic technologies. Advanced Materials Research. Circulation, 2012 , 436-464, 1711.

What is MEMS Technology? (2011). Retrieved February 28, 2013 from https://www.memsnet.org/about/what-is.html

Morality Needs Immortality to Live – Article by Franco Cortese

Morality Needs Immortality to Live – Article by Franco Cortese

“In Order to be Go(o)d, We Can’t Die!” Says Kant

The New Renaissance Hat
Franco Cortese
May 2, 2013
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Dead Immortalist Sequence –  #1: Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Kant is often misconstrued as advocating radical conformity amongst people, a common misconception drawn from his Categorical Imperative, which states that each should act as though the rules underlying his actions can be made a universal moral maxim. The extent of this universality, however, stops at the notion that each man should act as though the aspiration towards morality were a universal maxim. All Kant meant, I argue, was that each man should act as though the aspiration toward greater morality were able to be willed as a universal moral maxim.

This common misconception serves to illustrate another common and illegitimate portrayal of the Enlightenment tradition. Too often is the Enlightenment libeled for its failure to realize the ideal society. Too often is it characterized most essentially by its glorification of strict rationality, which engenders invalid connotations of stagnant, statuesque perfection – a connotation perhaps aided by the Enlightenment’s valorization of the scientific method, and its connotations of stringent and unvarying procedure and methodology in turn. This takes the prized heart of the Enlightenment tradition and flips it on its capsized ass. This conception of the Enlightenment tradition is not only wrong, but antithetical to the true organizing gestalt and prime impetus underlying the Age of the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment wasn’t about realizing the perfect society but rather about idealizing the perfect society – the striving towards an ever-inactualized ideal which, once realized, would cease to be ideal for that very reason. The Enlightenment was about unending progress towards that ideal state – for both Man as society and man as singular splinter – of an infinite forward march towards perfection, which, upon definitively reaching perfection, will have failed to achieve its first-sought prize. The virtue of the Enlightenment lies in the virtual, and its perfection in the infinite perfectibility inherent in imperfection.

This truer, though admittedly less normative, interpretation of the Enlightenment tradition, taking into account its underlying motivations and projected utilities – rather than simply taking flittered glints from the fallacious surface and holding them up for solid, tangible truth – also serves to show the parallels between the Enlightenment gestalt and Transhumanism. James Hughes, for one, characterizes Transhumanism as a child of the Enlightenment Tradition [1].

One can see with intuitive lucidity that characterizing the Enlightenment’s valorization of rationality goes against the very underlying driver of that valorization. Rationality was exalted during the Age of Enlightenment for its potential to aid in skepticism toward tradition. Leave the chiseled and unmoving, petty perfection of the statue for the religious traditions the Enlightenment was rebelling against – the inviolable God with preordained plan, perfect for his completion and wielding total authority over the static substance of Man; give the Enlightenment rather the starmolten fire-afury and undulate aspiration toward ever-forth-becoming highers that it sprang from in the first place. The very aspects which cause us to characterize the enlightenment as limiting, rigid, and unmolten are those very ideals that, if never realized definitively – if instead made to form an ongoing indefinite infinity – would thereby characterize the Enlightenment tradition as a righteous roiling rebellion against limitation and rigour – as a flighty dive into the molten maelstrom of continuing mentation toward better and truer versions of ourselves and society that was its real underlying impetus from the beginning.

This truer gestalt of the Enlightenment impinges fittingly upon the present study. Kant is often considered one of the fathers of the Enlightenment. In a short essay entitled “What is the Enlightenment?” [2], Kant characterizes the essential archetype of Man (as seen through the lens of the Enlightenment) in a way wholly in opposition to the illegitimate conceptions of the Enlightenment described above – and in vehement agreement with the less-normative interpretation of the Enlightenment that followed. It is often assumed, much in line with such misconceptions, that the archetype of Man during the Age of the Enlightenment was characterized by rational rigour and scientific stringency. However, this archetype of the mindless, mechanical automaton was the antithesis of Man’s then-contemporary archetype; the automaton was considered rather the archetype of animality – which can be seen as antithetical to the Enlightenment’s take on Man’s essence, with its heady rationality and lofty grasping towards higher ideals. In his essay, Kant characterizes the Enlightenment’s archetype of Man as the rebellious schoolboy who cannot and shall not be disciplined into sordid subservience by his schoolmasters. Here Kant concurs gravely from beyond the grave that Man’s sole central and incessant essence is his ongoing self-dissent, his eschewing of perverse obligation, his disleashing the weathered tethers of limitation, and his ongoing battle with himself for his own self-creation.

It is this very notion of infinite progress towards endlessly perfectable states of projected perfection that, too, underlies his ties to Immortalism. Indeed, his claim that to retain morality we must have comprehensively unending lives – that is, we must never ever die – rests crucially on this premise.

In his Theory of Ethics [3] under “Part III: The Summum Bonum, God and Immortality” [4], Kant argues that his theory of ethics necessitates the immortality of the soul in order to remain valid according to the axioms it adheres to. This is nothing less than a legitimation of the desirability of personal immortality from a 1700’s-era philosophical rockstar. It is important to note that the aspects making it so crucial in concern to Kant’s ethical system have to do with immortality in general, and indeed would have been satisfied according to non-metaphysical (i.e. physical and technological) means – having more to do with the end of continued life and indefinite longevity or Superlongevity in particular, than with the particular means used to get there, which in his case is a metaphysical means. Karl Ameriks writes in reference to Kant here: “… the question of immortality is to be understood as being about a continued temporal existence of the mind. The question is not whether we belong to the realm beyond time but whether we will persist through all time…Kant also requires this state to involve personal identity.” [5]. While Kant did make some metaphysical claims tied to immortality – namely the association of degradation and deterioration with physicality, which when combined with the association of time with physicality may have led to his characterization of the noumenal realm (being the antithesis of the phenomenal realm) as timeless and free from causal determination – these claims are beyond the purview of this essay, and will only be touched upon briefly. What is important to take away is that the metaphysical and non-metaphysical justifications are equally suitable vehicles for Kant’s destination.

Note that any italics appearing within direct quotations are not my own and are recorded as they appeared in the original. All italics external to direct quotations are my own. In  the 4th Section, The immortality of the soul as a postulate of pure practical reason, of the 3rd Part of Theory of Ethics, Kant writes: “Pure  practical reason postulates the immortality of the soul, for reason in the pure and practical sense aims at the perfect good (Summum Bonum), and this perfect good is only possible on the supposition of the soul’s immortality.” [5]

Kant is claiming here that reason (in both senses with which they are taken into account in his system – that is, as pure reason and practical reason) is aimed at perfection, which he defines as continual progress towards the perfect good – rather than the attainment of any such state of perfection, and that as finite beings we can only achieve such perfect good through an unending striving towards it.

In a later section, “The Antinomy of Practical Reason (and its Critical Solution)” [6], he describes the Summum Bonum as “the supreme end of a will morally determined”. In an earlier section, The Concept of the Summum Bonum [7], Kant distinguishes between two possible meanings for Summum; it can mean supreme in the sense of absolute (not contingent on anything outside itself), and perfect (not being part to a larger whole). I take him to claim that it means both.

He also claims personal immortality is a necessary condition for the possibility of the perfect good. In the same section he describes the Summum Bonum as the combination of two distinct features: happiness and virtue (defining virtue as worthiness of being happy, and in this section synonymizing it with morality). Both happiness and virtue are analytic and thus derivable from empirical observation.

However, their combination in the Summum Bonum does not follow from either on its own and so must be synthetic, or reliant upon a priori cognitive principles, Kant reasons. I interpret this as Kant’s claiming that the possibility of the Summum Bonum requires God and the Immortality of the Soul because this is where Kant grounds his a priori, synthetic, noumenal world – i.e. the domain where those a priori principles exist (in/as the mind of God, for Kant).

Kant continues:

“It is the moral law which determines the will, and in this will the perfect harmony of the mind with the moral law is the supreme condition of the summum bonum… the perfect accordance of the will with the moral law is holiness, a perfection of which no rational being of the sensible world is capable at any moment of his existence. Since, nevertheless, it is required as practically necessary, it can only be found in a progress in infinitum towards that perfect accordance, and on the principles of pure practical reason is nonetheless necessary to assume such a practical progress as the real object of our will.” [8]

Thus not only does Kant argue for the necessitated personal immortality of the soul by virtue of the fact that perfection is unattainable while constrained by time, he argues along an alternate line of reasoning that such perfection is nonetheless necessary for our morality, happiness and virtue, and that we must thus therefore progress infinitely toward it without ever definitively reaching it if the Summum Bonum is to remain valid according to its own defining attributes and categorical-qualifiers as-such.

Kant decants:

“Now, this endless progress is only possible on the supposition of an endless duration of existence and personality of the same rational being (which is called the immorality of the soul). The Summum Bonum, then, practically is only possible on the supposition of the immortality of the soul; consequently this immortality, being inseparably connected with the moral law, is a postulate of pure practical reason (by which I mean a theoretical proposition, not demonstrable as such, but which is an inseparable result of an unconditional a priori practical law). This principle of the moral destination of our nature, namely, that it is only in an endless progress that we can attain perfect accordance with the moral law… For a rational but finite being, the only thing possible is an endless progress from the lower to higher degrees of moral perfection. In Infinite Being, to whom the condition of time is nothing… is to be found in a single intellectual intuition of the whole existence of rational beings. All that can be expected of the creature in respect of the hope of this participation would be the consciousness of his tried character, by which, from the progress he has hitherto made from the worse to the morally better, and the immutability of purpose which has thus become known to him, he may hope for a further unbroken continuance of the same, however long his existence may last, even beyond this life, and thus may hope, not indeed here, nor in any imaginable point of his future existence, but only in the endlessness of his duration (which God alone can survey) to be perfectly adequate to his will.” [9]

So, Kant first argues that the existence of the Summum Bonum requires the immorality of the soul both a.) because finite beings conditioned by time by definition cannot achieve the absolute perfection of the Summum Bonum, and can only embody it through perpetual progress towards it, and b.) because the components of the Summum Bonum (both of which must be co-present for it to qualify as such) are unitable only synthetically through a priori cognitive principals, which he has argued elsewhere must exist in a domain unconditioned by time (which is synonymous with his conception of the noumenal realm) and which must thus be perpetual for such an extraphysical realm to be considered unconditioned by time and thus noumenal. The first would correspond to Kant’s strict immortalist underpinnings, and the second to the alternate (though not necessarily contradictory) metaphysical justification alluded to earlier.

Once arguing that the possibility of the Summum Bonum requires personal immortality, he argues that our freedom/autonomy, which he locates as the will (and further locates the will as being determined by the moral law) also necessitates the Summum Bonum. This would correspond to his more embryonically Transhumanist inclinations. In the first section (“The Concept of Summum Bonum”) he writes, “It is a priori (morally) necessary to produce the summum bonum by freedom of will…” I interpret this statement in the following manner. He sees morality as a priori and synthetic, and the determining principle which allows us to cause in the world without being caused by it – i.e., for Kant our freedom (i.e., the quality of not being externally determined) requires the noumenal realm because otherwise we are trapped in the freedom-determinism paradox. Thus the Summum Bonum also vicariously necessitates the existence of God, because this is necessary for the existence of a noumenal realm unaffected by physical causation (note that Kant calls physicality ‘the sensible world’). Such a God could be (and indeed has been described by Kant in terms which would favor this interpretation) synonymous with the entire noumenal realm, with every mind forming but an atom as it were in the larger metaorganismal mind of a sort of meta-pantheistic, quasi-Spinozian conception of God – in other words, one quite dissimilar to the anthropomorphic connotations usually invoked by the word.

Others have drawn similar conclusions and made similar interpretations. Karl Ameriks summarizes Kant’s reasoning here thusly:

“All other discussions of immortality in the critical period are dominated by the moral argument that Kant sets out in the second critique. The argument is that morality obligates us to seek holiness (perfect virtue), which therefore must be possible, and can only be so if God grants us an endless afterlife in which we can continually progress… As a finite creature man is incapable of ever achieving holiness, but on – and only in – an endless time could we supposedly approximate to it (in the eyes of God) as fully as could be expected… Kant is saying not that real holiness is ever a human objective, but rather that complete striving for it can be, and this could constitute for man a state of ‘perfect virtue’…” [10]

The emphasis on indefinity is also present in the secondary literature; Ameriks remarks that Kant ”…makes clear that the ‘continual progress’ he speaks of can ultimately have a ‘non-temporal’ nature in that it is neither momentary nor of definitive duration nor actually endless”. Only through never quite reaching our perfected state can we retain the perfection of lawless flawedness.

Paul Guyer corroborates my claim that the determining factor is not the claim that mind is an extramaterial entity or substance, but because if morality requires infinite good and if we are finite beings, then we must be finite beings along an infinite stretch of time in order to satisfy the categorical requirements of possessing such an infinity. He writes that ”..the possibility of the perfection of our virtuous disposition requires our actual immortality…” [11] and that ”…God and immortality are conditions specifically of the possibility of the ultimate object of virtue, the highest good – immortality is the condition for the perfection of virtue and God that for the realization of happiness…[12]

In summary, it doesn’t matter that Kant’s platform was metaphysical rather than technological, because the salient point and determining factors were not the specific operation or underlying principles (or the “means”) used to achieve immortality, but rather the very ends themselves. Being able to both live and progress in(de)finitely was the loophole that provided, for Kant, both our freedom and our morality. Kant said we can’t die if we want to be moral, that we can’t die if we want to gain virtue, and that we can’t die if we want to remain free.

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 their Futurists Board and their Life Extension Board) and contributes regularly to their blog.

References:

[1] Hughes, J. J. (2001). The Future of Death: Cryonics and the Telos of Liberal Individualism. Journal of Evolution &  Technology, 6 .

[2] Kant, I. (1996). In M.J. Gregor Practical Philosophy, Cambridge University Press.

[3] Kant, I. (1957). In T. M. Greene Kant selections, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

[4] Ibid,. p. 350.

[5] Ameriks, K. (2000). Kant’s  Theory of Mind: An Analysis of the Paralogisms of Pure Reason: Oxford University Press.

[6] Ibid., p. 352.

[7] Ibid., p. 350.

[8] Ibid,. p. 358.

[9] Ibid,. p. 359.

[10] Ameriks, K. (2000). Kant’s Theory of Mind: An Analysis of the Paralogisms of Pure Reason: Oxford University Press.

[11] Freydberg, B. (2005). Imagination of  Kant’s critique of practical reason: Indiana University Press.

[12] Guyer, P. (2000). Kant on Freedom, Law,  and Happiness: Cambridge University Press.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

MOBI and EPUB Formats of “Eden against the Colossus” Now Available

MOBI and EPUB Formats of “Eden against the Colossus” Now Available

As promised, the Second Edition of my science-fiction mystery novel Eden against the Colossus is now available in additional formats. MOBI and EPUB formats for e-readers can now be downloaded for free. As previously, you can also download a free PDF copy of this book.

My sincere thanks go to Wendy Stolyarov for her work in making this release possible.

Common Misconceptions about Transhumanism – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Common Misconceptions about Transhumanism – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
January 26, 2013
******************************

After the publication of my review of Nassim Taleb’s latest book Antifragile, numerous comments were made by Taleb’s followers – many of them derisive – on Taleb’s Facebook page. (You can see a screenshot of these comments here.) While I will only delve into a few of the specific comments in this article, I consider it important to distill the common misconceptions that motivate them. Transhumanism is often misunderstood and maligned by who are ignorant of it – or those who were exposed solely to detractors such as John Gray, Leon Kass, and Taleb himself. This essay will serve to correct these misconceptions in a concise fashion. Those who still wish to criticize transhumanism should at least understand what they are criticizing and present arguments against the real ideas, rather than straw men constructed by the opponents of radical technological progress.

Misconception #1: Transhumanism is a religion.

Transhumanism does not posit the existence of any deity or other supernatural entity (though some transhumanists are religious independently of their transhumanism), nor does transhumanism hold a faith (belief without evidence) in any phenomenon, event, or outcome. Transhumanists certainly hope that technology will advance to radically improve human opportunities, abilities, and longevity – but this is a hope founded in the historical evidence of technological progress to date, and the logical extrapolation of such progress. Moreover, this is a contingent hope. Insofar as the future is unknowable, the exact trajectory of progress is difficult to predict, to say the least. Furthermore, the speed of progress depends on the skill, devotion, and liberty of the people involved in bringing it about. Some societal and political climates are more conducive to progress than others. Transhumanism does not rely on prophecy or mystical fiat. It merely posits a feasible and desirable future of radical technological progress and exhorts us to help achieve it. Some may claim that transhumanism is a religion that worships man – but that would distort the term “religion” so far from its original meaning as to render it vacuous and merely a pejorative used to label whatever system of thinking one dislikes. Besides, those who make that allegation would probably perceive a mere semantic quibble between seeking man’s advancement and worshipping him. But, irrespective of semantics, the facts do not support the view that transhumanism is a religion. After all, transhumanists do not spend their Sunday mornings singing songs and chanting praises to the Glory of Man.

Misconception #2: Transhumanism is a cult.

A cult, unlike a broader philosophy or religion, is characterized by extreme insularity and dependence on a closely controlling hierarchy of leaders. Transhumanism has neither element. Transhumanists are not urged to disassociate themselves from the wider world; indeed, they are frequently involved in advanced research, cutting-edge invention, and prominent activism. Furthermore, transhumanism does not have a hierarchy or leaders who demand obedience. Cosmopolitanism is a common trait among transhumanists. Respected thinkers, such as Ray Kurzweil, Max More, and Aubrey de Grey, are open to discussion and debate and have had interesting differences in their own views of the future. A still highly relevant conversation from 2002, “Max More and Ray Kurzweil on the Singularity“, highlights the sophisticated and tolerant way in which respected transhumanists compare and contrast their individual outlooks and attempt to make progress in their understanding. Any transhumanist is free to criticize any other transhumanist and to adopt some of another transhumanist’s ideas while rejecting others. Because transhumanism characterizes a loose network of thinkers and ideas, there is plenty of room for heterogeneity and intellectual evolution. As Max More put it in the “Principles of Extropy, v. 3.11”, “the world does not need another totalistic dogma.”  Transhumanism does not supplant all other aspects of an individual’s life and can coexist with numerous other interests, persuasions, personal relationships, and occupations.

Misconception #3: Transhumanists want to destroy humanity. Why else would they use terms such as “posthuman” and “postbiological”?

Transhumanists do not wish to destroy any human. In fact, we want to prolong the lives of as many people as possible, for as long as possible! The terms “transhuman” and “posthuman” refer to overcoming the historical limitations and failure modes of human beings – the precise vulnerabilities that have rendered life, in Thomas Hobbes’s words, “nasty, brutish, and short” for most of our species’ past. A species that transcends biology will continue to have biological elements. Indeed, my personal preference in such a future would be to retain all of my existing healthy biological capacities, but also to supplement them with other biological and non-biological enhancements that would greatly extend the length and quality of my life. No transhumanist wants human beings to die out and be replaced by intelligent machines, and every transhumanist wants today’s humans to survive to benefit from future technologies. Transhumanists who advocate the development of powerful artificial intelligence (AI) support either (i) integration of human beings with AI components or (ii) the harmonious coexistence of enhanced humans and autonomous AI entities. Even those transhumanists who advocate “mind backups” or “mind uploading” in an electronic medium (I am not one of them, as I explain here) do not wish for their biological existences to be intentionally destroyed. They conceive of mind uploads as contingency plans in case their biological bodies perish.

Even the “artilect war” anticipated by more pessimistic transhumanists such as Hugo de Garis is greatly misunderstood. Such a war, if it arises, would not come from advanced technology, but rather from reactionaries attempting to forcibly suppress technological advances and persecute their advocates. Most transhumanists do not consider this scenario to be likely in any event. More probable are lower-level protracted cultural disputes and clashes over particular technological developments.

Misconception #4: “A global theocracy envisioned by Moonies or the Taliban would be preferable to the kind of future these traitors to the human species have their hearts set on, because even the most joyless existence is preferable to oblivion.

The above was an actual comment on the Taleb Facebook thread. It is astonishing that anyone would consider theocratic oppression preferable to radical life extension, universal abundance, ever-expanding knowledge of macroscopic and microscopic realms, exploration of the universe, and the liberation of individuals from historical chains of oppression and parasitism. This misconception is fueled by the strange notion that transhumanists (or technological progress in general) will destroy us all – as exemplified by the “Terminator” scenario of hostile AI or the “gray goo” scenario of nanotechnology run amok. Yet all of the apocalyptic scenarios involving future technology lack the safeguards that elementary common sense would introduce. Furthermore, they lack the recognition that incentives generated by market forces, as well as the sheer numerical and intellectual superiority of the careful scientists over the rogues, would always tip the scales greatly in favor of the defenses against existential risk. As I explain in “Technology as the Solution to Existential Risk” and “Non-Apocalypse, Existential Risk, and Why Humanity Will Prevail”,  the greatest existential risks have either always been with us (e.g., the risk of an asteroid impact with Earth) or are in humanity’s past (e.g., the risk of a nuclear holocaust annihilating civilization). Technology is the solution to such existential risks. Indeed, the greatest existential risk is fear of technology, which can retard or outright thwart the solutions to the perils that may, in the status quo, doom us as a species. As an example, Mark Waser has written an excellent commentary on the “inconvenient fact that not developing AI (in a timely fashion) to help mitigate other existential risks is itself likely to lead to a substantially increased existential risk”.

Misconception #5: Transhumanists want to turn people into the Borg from Star Trek.

The Borg are the epitome of a collectivistic society, where each individual is a cog in the giant species machine. Most transhumanists are ethical individualists, and even those who have communitarian leanings still greatly respect individual differences and promote individual flourishing and opportunity. Whatever their positions on the proper role of government in society might be, all transhumanists agree that individuals should not be destroyed or absorbed into a collective where they lose their personality and unique intellectual attributes. Even those transhumanists who wish for direct sharing of perceptions and information among individual minds do not advocate the elimination of individuality. Rather, their view might better be thought of as multiple puzzle pieces being joined but remaining capable of full separation and autonomous, unimpaired function.

My own attraction to transhumanism is precisely due to its possibilities for preserving individuals qua individuals and avoiding the loss of the precious internal universe of each person. As I expressed in Part 1 of my “Eliminating Death” video series, death is a horrendous waste of irreplaceable human talents, ideas, memories, skills, and direct experiences of the world. Just as transhumanists would recoil at the absorption of humankind into the Borg, so they rightly denounce the dissolution of individuality that presently occurs with the oblivion known as death.

Misconception #6: Transhumanists usually portray themselves “like robotic, anime-like characters”.

That depends on the transhumanist in question. Personally, I portray myself as me, wearing a suit and tie (which Taleb and his followers dislike just as much – but that is their loss). Furthermore, I see nothing robotic or anime-like about the public personas of Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, or Max More, either.

Misconception #7: “Transhumanism is attracting devotees of a frighteningly high scientific caliber, morally retarded geniuses who just might be able to develop the humanity-obliterating technology they now merely fantasize about. It’s a lot like a Heaven’s Gate cult, but with prestigious degrees in physics and engineering, many millions more in financial backing, a growing foothold in mainstream culture, a long view of implementing their plan, and a death wish that extends to the whole human race not just themselves.

This is another statement on the Taleb Facebook thread. Ironically, the commenter is asserting that the transhumanists, who support the indefinite lengthening of human life, have a “death wish” and are “morally retarded”, while he – who opposes the technological progress needed to preserve us from the abyss of oblivion – apparently considers himself a champion of morality and a supporter of life. If ever there was an inversion of characterizations, this is it. At least the commenter acknowledges the strong technical skills of many transhumanists – but calling them “morally retarded” presupposes a counter-morality of death that should rightly be overcome and challenged, lest it sentence each of us to death. The Orwellian mindset that “evil is good” and “death is life” should be called out for the destructive and dangerous morass of contradictions that it is. Moreover, the commenter provides no evidence that any transhumanist wants to develop “humanity-obliterating technologies” or that the obliteration of humanity is even a remote risk from the technologies that transhumanists do advocate.

Misconception #8: Transhumanism is wrong because life would have no meaning without death.

Asserting that only death can give life meaning is another bizarre contradiction, and, moreover, a claim that life can have no intrinsic value or meaning qua life. It is sad indeed to think that some people do not see how they could enjoy life, pursue goals, and accumulate values in the absence of the imminent threat of their own oblivion. Clearly, this is a sign of a lack of creativity and appreciation for the wonderful fact that we are alive. I delve into this matter extensively in my “Eliminating Death” video series. Part 3 discusses how indefinite life extension leaves no room for boredom because the possibilities for action and entertainment increase in an accelerating manner. Parts 8 and 9 refute the premise that death gives motivation and a “sense of urgency” and make the opposite case – that indefinite longevity spurs people to action by making it possible to attain vast benefits over longer timeframes. Indefinite life extension would enable people to consider the longer-term consequences of their actions. On the other hand, in the status quo, death serves as the great de-motivator of meaningful human endeavors.

Misconception #9: Removing death is like removing volatility, which “fragilizes the system”.

This sentiment was an extrapolation by a commenter on Taleb’s ideas in Antifragile. It is subject to fundamentally collectivistic premises – that the “volatility” of individual death can be justified if it somehow supports a “greater whole”. (Who is advocating the sacrifice of the individual to the collective now?)  The fallacy here is to presuppose that the “greater whole” has value in and of itself, apart from the individuals comprising it. An individualist view of ethics and of society holds the opposite – that societies are formed for the mutual benefit of participating individuals, and the moment a society turns away from that purpose and starts to damage its participants instead of benefiting them, it ceases to be desirable. Furthermore, Taleb’s premise that suppression of volatility is a cause of fragility is itself dubious in many instances. It may work to a point with an individual organism whose immune system and muscles use volatility to build adaptive responses to external threats. However, the possibility of such an adaptive response requires very specific structures that do not exist in all systems. In the case of human death, there is no way in which the destruction of a non-violent and fundamentally decent individual can provide external benefits of any kind worth having. How would the death of your grandparents fortify the mythic “society” against anything?

Misconception #10: Immortality is “a bit like staying awake 24/7”.

Presumably, those who make this comparison think that indefinite life would be too monotonous for their tastes. But, in fact, humans who live indefinitely can still choose to sleep (or take vacations) if they wish. Death, on the other hand, is irreversible. Once you die, you are dead 24/7 – and you are not even given the opportunity to change your mind. Besides, why would it be tedious or monotonous to live a life full of possibilities, where an individual can have complete discretion over his pursuits and can discover as much about existence as his unlimited lifespan allows? To claim that living indefinitely would be monotonous is to misunderstand life itself, with all of its variety and heterogeneity.

Misconception #11: Transhumanism is unacceptable because of the drain on natural resources that comes from living longer.

This argument presupposes that resources are finite and incapable of being augmented by human technology and creativity. In fact, one era’s waste is another era’s treasure (as occurred with oil since the mid-19th century). As Julian Simon recognized, the ultimate resource is the human mind and its ability to discover new ways to harness natural laws to human benefit. We have more resources known and accessible to us now – both in terms of food and the inanimate bounties of the Earth – than ever before in recorded history. This has occurred in spite – and perhaps because of – dramatic population growth, which has also introduced many new brilliant minds into the human species. In Part 4 of my “Eliminating Death” video series, I explain that doomsday fears of overpopulation do not hold, either historically or prospectively. Indeed, the progress of technology is precisely what helps us overcome strains on natural resources.

Conclusion

The opposition to transhumanism is generally limited to espousing some variations of the common fallacies I identified above (with perhaps a few others thrown in). To make real intellectual progress, it is necessary to move beyond these fallacies, which serve as mental roadblocks to further exploration of the subject – a justification for people to consider transhumanism too weird, too unrealistic, or too repugnant to even take seriously. Detractors of transhumanism appear to recycle these same hackneyed remarks as a way to avoid seriously delving into the actual and genuinely interesting philosophical questions raised by emerging technological innovations. These are questions on which many transhumanists themselves hold sincere differences of understanding and opinion. Fundamentally, though, my aim here is not to “convert” the detractors – many of whose opposition is beyond the reach of reason, for it is not motivated by reason. Rather, it is to speak to laypeople who are not yet swayed one way or the other, but who might not have otherwise learned of transhumanism except through the filter of those who distort and grossly misunderstand it. Even an elementary explication of what transhumanism actually stands for will reveal that we do, in fact, strongly advocate individual human life and flourishing, as well as technological progress that will uplift every person’s quality of life and range of opportunities. Those who disagree with any transhumanist about specific means for achieving these goals are welcome to engage in a conversation or debate about the merits of any given pathway. But an indispensable starting point for such interaction involves accepting that transhumanists are serious thinkers, friends of human life, and sincere advocates of improving the human condition.

Second Edition of “Eden against the Colossus” Now Available for Free PDF Download

Second Edition of “Eden against the Colossus” Now Available for Free PDF Download

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
January 21, 2013
******************************

I am delighted to announce that the Second Edition of my novel Eden against the Colossus (originally written in 2002-2003, and published in 2004) is now available for free download in PDF format. Click here to download and read a copy. I shall also endeavor to make the book available in other e-publishing formats in the near future.

The novel’s official home page has also been updated. You can go there to download the book and read reviews by others. I encourage you to submit reviews of your own to me in the manner described on the page. Additionally, I invite you to read the introduction to the Second Edition below.

   Introduction to the Second Edition

It has been some ten years since I wrote Eden against the Colossus. I worked on this book gradually from July 2002 through July 2003, with some light edits made in the summer of 2004, for online publication in July of that year. In October 2011, Lulu.com, the former host of the e-book, took it down inexplicably. I decided then that I never again would risk the availability of my work being put in jeopardy due to the whims of an external host. Hence, I have worked this past year to release this second edition, entirely free of charge, for as many electronic and e-book formats as I could manage.

In the course of creating the second edition, I performed some thorough editing, largely for style and not content. The aim of the editing process was to retain as much of the original intent and vision of Eden against the Colossus as I could, while improving the phrasing of certain sentences and sometimes modifying or clarifying a few peripheral details to render the story more internally consistent. My writing style has progressed considerably in the past decade, and I have endeavored to apply some of what I have learned in order to enhance this work – but not enough to alter its fundamental structure, plot, or ambience. Moreover, I have not diminished the substance or sophistication one bit.

Science fiction is shaped by the author’s ability to project the future from present circumstances. Upon re-reading and editing this work, it was interesting for me to contemplate the actual changes that had occurred in the world during the intervening ten years, and how they aligned with my predictions. In some ways, I am more optimistic about the future (especially the most proximate century) than I was when I wrote this book. Some of the technologies I anticipated, such as electronic ink, are already ubiquitous (though not facilitated by nanobots and an interface between the mind and an e-reader, as I had imagined). Other technologies, such as in vitro meat, are around the corner in our time – but have taken humankind in my projection some 750 years to arrive at.

I wrote Eden against the Colossus prior to my exposure to the work of Aubrey de Grey on indefinite human life extension and the work of Ray Kurzweil on exponential growth in computing technology, artificial intelligence, and the concept of the technological singularity. Even the Intergalactic Protectorate – with all of its technological marvels – is a pre-singularitarian society in Kurzweil’s sense. I suppose that it had to be one in order for me – from the vantage point of the early twenty-first century – to have been able to conceive of its various aspects. This fictional universe is also one in which sentient machines have not emerged – as I considered them impossible at the time of writing. There are numerous intricate robots on various scales – to be sure – but all of them remain instruments of man. Humans do, however, have numerous technological enhancements to their bodies and minds – a combination of biotechnology and computing add-ons – that serves as a soft parallel to Kurzweil’s concept of the merger of man and machine into an enhanced being of vastly greater cognitive capacity. The dialogue of the characters is far more advanced than most spoken discourse today; think of an entire society possessing the literary skills of elites during the 18th-century Enlightenment – in their speech.

 It is important to understand this hypothetical future as one conditioned by centuries of retrogression, war, and gradual, staggered recovery of civilization. Perhaps it represents one of the less palatable tracks of civilizational progress – where the Malthusians and Luddites set back prosperity and innovation for centuries, but where the human will for life, achievement, and expansion comes out ahead anyway – eventually. I certainly hope that, in the real world, we can do better to prevent the de-civilizing process from taking hold during the early third millennium. I harbor now – to a greater extent than I did ten years ago – the hope of personally someday living in a world where the level of human advancement and prosperity has surpassed what I envisioned here.

Eden against the Colossus is a humanist work, and a proto-transhumanist one. It embraces reason, industry, innovation, and technological progress, and thoroughly critiques and condemns the enemies of human development. Though it will be apparent to the reader from even the prologue, the book is intended as a response to and refutation of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, which I still consider to espouse a worldview that is most diametrically opposed to my own. What would the society glorified by Ishmael really look like? Is it truly compatible with the human condition as it can be and ought to be? These questions are explored here in depth. I still think that most of my answers to them are correct, and worthy of consideration – especially as compared to their antitheses. It is particularly important for the ideas of reason, individualism, and technological progress to be spread today – in the face of misguided attacks from such diverse individuals as Leon Kass, Sherwin Nuland, Daniel Callahan, John Gray, and Nassim Taleb, which, if embraced by too many of our contemporaries, could seriously damage the advancement of civilization and our own life expectancies and standards of living. I might have phrased some of my statements differently had I written this work today, but the overall emphasis and intellectual direction are on target. I am rendering this book available to all for free download and redistribution, because I consider it essential to spread sophisticated discussion of these ideas and to counter the opponents of meliorism on both the Left and the Right.

Along with being a science-fiction tale, this book is a philosophical mystery story, which implies that not all pieces of information will be available to the reader immediately. I assure you, however: they will be accounted for. Reality brooks no contradictions, and any fiction that pretends to have value in this world cannot, either.

I have seen fit, as part of the mystery, to invent an entirely new language, which the reader will perceive to be quite confounding. It is meant to be. And, of course, the confusion is meant to be resolved.

 This book is not what it seems when you begin reading it. If it were merely about a straightforward ideological disagreement, or about interaction with an extremely different alien species, it could perhaps be phrased better in a treatise. Even though it may seem that I am telling you a lot of the ideas in the book, this is just one of the mechanisms used to show you this story.

To those who are expecting light reading, this book is certainly not that. It must both set up an elaborate future world and develop the mystery within it. The book must necessarily get off to a slow start, but once the background is explicated, the story begins to take on a life of its own, and careful reading of the early passages will pay intellectual dividends to the reader during the latter half. If you appreciate a text that is constructed with great care and in which every fact and every statement is selected with a logical purpose, then you will enjoy Eden against the Colossus.

An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s “Afterlife” Video – Video by G. Stolyarov II

An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s “Afterlife” Video – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov, an atheist and transhumanist, critiques the video “Afterlife” – is a compilation of remarks by Seth Andrews (TheThinkingAtheist) and other famous YouTube atheists regarding the religious concept of life after death. However, the video goes beyond merely (correctly) critiquing ideas of the afterlife, and reflects an unfortunate acceptance of human mortality itself. The “Afterlife” video does present many interesting and valid insights, but it unfortunately throws the metaphorical baby — indefinite human life extension, driven by scientific discoveries and technological innovation — out with the bathwater — religious myths of an afterlife, unsubstantiated by evidence and arising out of a desire to attain comfort in the face of mortality.

Commentators to whom Mr. Stolyarov responds include DarkMatter2525, DPRJones, Evid3nc3, HealthyAddict, Laci Green, Thunderf00t, Mark Twain, and Vladimir Nabokov. He invites any of these commentators (except, of course, Twain and Nabokov) to discuss these ideas further.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.

Support these video-creation efforts by donating at The Rational Argumentator: http://rationalargumentator.com/index.html

References:
– “Afterlife” – Video by TheThinkingAtheist
– “An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s ‘Afterlife’ Video” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “The Movement for Indefinite Life Extension: The Next Step for Humankind” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
Resources on Indefinite Life Extension (RILE)
– “The Real War – and Why Inter-Human Wars Are a Distraction” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “How Can I Live Forever?: What Does and Does Not Preserve the Self” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” – Wikipedia

An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s “Afterlife” Video – Article by G. Stolyarov II

An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s “Afterlife” Video – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 21, 2012
******************************

The video “Afterlife” is a compilation of remarks by Seth Andrews (TheThinkingAtheist) and other famous YouTube atheists regarding the religious concept of life after death. However, the video goes beyond merely (correctly) critiquing ideas of the afterlife, and reflects an unfortunate acceptance of human mortality itself. As a lifelong atheist and transhumanist – a resolute foe of senescence and death and a seeker of indefinite life extension – I offer my critiques of the statements and quotations made in this video. The video does present many interesting and valid insights, but it unfortunately throws the metaphorical baby – indefinite human life extension, driven by scientific discoveries and technological innovation – out with the bathwater – religious myths of an afterlife, unsubstantiated by evidence and arising out of a desire to attain comfort in the face of mortality. As much as I respect Mr. Andrews and others quoted here, I must regretfully conclude that “Afterlife” embraces the other side of the religious coin: the premise that the only way to try to beat back the alleged inevitability of one’s eventual non-existence is through an unsubstantiated fantasy. But there is another, fully secular, fully human-centered option: the progress of our civilization and its eventual ability to conquer the age-old (and old-age) perils plaguing humankind.

I would welcome an in-depth discussion with Mr. Andrews or any of the other commentators in the video regarding this alternative to the religious afterlife – an alternative that can affirm and extend the precious, only life that each of us has. I hope that more atheists can recognize that transhumanism is the logical implication of rejecting a teleological, theistic worldview and amplifying all that is best about us as humans, so that the purpose of the universe can be what we make of it.

Vladimir Nabokov: Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats at hour).

My Response: In the “prenatal abyss”, one has never been alive, so one does not know what one is missing – or that one is missing, in fact. But once one is alive, one is able to anticipate one’s own non-existence – which is the worst fate of all for an individual, worse than eternal torture or eternal boredom (neither of which is realistic in any case). Furthermore, when one is alive, one has the ability to discover the history that came before one’s time. One has no way of knowing or observing the future after one’s death.

Mark Twain: I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

My Response: Being dead presupposes having once been alive. Having never existed makes one a mere potential among trillions of possible beings. Having existed once but not anymore means that one’s entire self – a fully formed universe of memories, sensations, thoughts, and aspirations – has become snuffed out. For each of us, there was a time when we did not have all that we have now: our lives. But, now that we have it, to lose it would be intolerable. It would literally be the undoing of everything we have ever been or done or aspired toward.

DarkMatter2525: The universe would continue in its ways if humanity weren’t here to witness it.

My Response: True, but to the individual, it is the same as if the entire universe has been extinguished. Whatever goes on after one’s death, one cannot experience it or be aware of its existence – and hence the only significance it might have is in terms of one’s anticipation of how it might be. That anticipation can only take place while one is alive and is necessarily fraught with extreme uncertainty. It cannot compare to the real thing – to living in the future. I want to live a millennium from now, not merely speculate about how it might be.

HealthyAddict: The universe is absolutely massive, and we are virtually insignificant in it.

My Response: The vastness of the universe in no way diminishes the significance of the individual. What is valuable, what is important is a function of entities that can pursue values or make judgments of importance. Only living, conscious entities can actively pursue values – and the very idea of values only makes sense in the context of the survival and flourishing of such living, conscious entities. The universe is vast, but the lives of humans and possibly other sentient beings are still of the ultimate importance – since it is the human scale on which valuation occurs. Size and importance are not related.

Another sense of the term “insignificance” might simply be “powerlessness” or “vulnerability” – without a moral judgment attached. It is true that humanity is still in its infancy, and still extremely fragile. Numerous natural disasters, originating on earth or in outer space, could severely damage or destroy our species. But this should only motivate us to expand our sphere of influence through technology and its application to the colonization of space and the enhancement of our bodies. If we are weak relative to the inanimate forces of the universe, then we must become stronger – as individuals and as a species.

Evid3nc3: I see no evidence that the rest of the universe cares that we exist or is even capable of caring. But I don’t really need validation from the rest of the universe to find my own life important.

My Response: I agree. There is no teleology built into the universe. What this means is that we must do our own caring; we cannot rely on the universe as a crutch – except in that we should utilize the laws of nature as instruments to advance our well-being. It is up to us to protect ourselves and expand our sphere of influence in the universe. And we should all, like Evid3nc3, find our own lives important – which is precisely why we should make every effort to prolong our lives – which are the source of that ultimate importance for us.

Laci Green: It’s just absurd to me how many people live for dying.

My Response:  I agree that it is wrong to live for dying or to anticipate that one’s individuality and vantage point into the world will persist after one’s physical body is destroyed. Rather than live for dying, one should live for living – and act to keep on living. To do so, one should support (at least morally) the emerging efforts to prolong human lifespans. One should also educate oneself about the possibility of indefinite life extension within the coming decades, as well as the developments that are occurring today to help bring this goal closer to reality.

Seth Andrews: I think fragile, fearful humans were terrified of death, and so they wrote their own ending to the story – this happy fantasy, a place where they’ll be reunited with people they’ve lost, they’ll experience constant joy, and of course they’ll never, ever die.

My Response: I think this is indeed the predominant motivation behind the origins of religion. People who could not hope to avoid death through technology sought to comfort themselves and to make everyday pursuits more tolerable by convincing themselves that their existence does not cease at death. In effect, religion is ersatz-immortality: a poor substitute for the real thing, but enough to trick many people into not realizing the grave implications of death. But in an era when technology is advancing so rapidly that there is hope for us and our contemporaries to live indefinitely – there are two main attitudinal dangers. The first danger is continuing to believe that the ersatz-immortality is good enough and that it justifies not striving hard for the real thing. The second is the other side of the same coin – unfortunately embraced by too many atheists: rejecting both the ersatz-immortality and the real thing, abandoning the most profound triumph for our species, when we are – in historical time – on the verge of achieving it. I support abandoning the fantasy, but I do not support relinquishing the reality – literally – and acquiescing to becoming food for worms.

DPRJones: The concept of an afterlife diminishes the value that we place on our lives and the here and now.

My Response: I agree that this could be the case, if the expectation of an afterlife discourages people from striving to both improve and prolong this life. As an atheist, I hold that this life is the only one there is – and it is indeed the most precious life there is and could be. Therefore, to lose this life is to lose everything, and so the foremost ethical objective should be to hold onto this life.

DarkMatter2525: An unlimited supply of anything, including life, means that its existence cannot be appreciated.

My Response: For all practical purposes, the air on Earth is inexhaustible by humans. Does that mean that we do not appreciate the ability to breathe and sustain our lives in that way? Does this mean that air is not essential to us or any less important to our lungs than if we had to ration it or purchase canisters of oxygen to carry around? Certainly not. While scarcity of a resource is a key determinant of its monetary price, the idea that scarcity is somehow necessary for mental appreciation is highly flawed. Use-value (utility) and monetary “value” (price) are not the same. We should – and can – appreciate a thing or a condition for its own qualities qua thing or condition – and the benefit those qualities confer upon us. How many of those things or conditions exist or are going to exist does not matter.

Furthermore, the fact is, we still live one moment at a time. We do not have all of eternity at our disposal at any given moment, no matter how long we live. We only have the given moment, and a limited range of possibilities for what we can do right then. Thus, a kind of temporal scarcity will always exist – in the sense that some activities and satisfactions will always be more remote in time than others, and we will have to wait and strive for the ones that are more remote.

DarkMatter2525: If life is eternal, then there should be no sense of urgency.

My Response: Value is not derived from urgency, but from improvement of the human condition and, subsequently, from enjoyment of the fruits of that improvement. A work of art or music is not any more beautiful because of the urgency with which we experience it; it is beautiful because of its intrinsic constituent characteristics – the brushstrokes and notes that comprise it. Indeed, urgency detracts from value by inducing a stressed, rushed, crazed, and hectic experience where we miss important aspects of life because we worry that we will not have the time to do whatever we consider to be higher on the priority list. With less urgency, we could partake of more of the good things in life and have a longer-term perspective – planning for the future and treating ourselves and others with more respect and consideration. We could be more frugal, since we would enjoy the fruits of saving directly. We could take better care of our living spaces – both locally in our homes and on the scale of planets. We could still fulfill all of our highest priorities – and more of them, too, since we would have more time. But longevity itself would reshape our priorities and enable us to gain a more balanced, deliberate, and sophisticated perspective on our lives.

For me, the greatest happiness comes from those serene moments where I do not have to rush anywhere and do not have to worry about falling behind. It comes from having accomplished and from having done something good that could later – with purpose and deliberation – be the stepping stone for something even better. In the midst of intense work, happiness is that plateau of leisure between the past and the future, the reaffirmation that life can be good when it amounts to a progress that never hits a permanent wall. Urgency detracts from happiness by preventing one from truly enjoying life in a leisurely fashion – as opposed to trying to cram in as much as possible now, now, now – expecting (fearing, perhaps) that there might not be much time left.

Thunderf00t: I do not fear being dead, but the concept of the alternatives offered by the religious do trouble me. [Regarding Heaven], there does appear to be one constant: It will last for eternity. Imagine that. Imagine eternity. […] The first hundred years may be possible; the first thousand – more painful; the first ten thousand – insufferable. But this is just the start. An eternity in heaven would be hell for me.

My Response:  I agree that Heaven as imagined by the religious would probably be a somewhat uninteresting place, since one would spend all of one’s time in it “glorifying God”. But this problem has nothing to do with experiencing an indefinite existence. It is a great poverty of imagination to be unable to think of what one could do with ten thousand years, or a much longer timeframe. Think: could you even consume all of the literature, music, art, and culture that humankind has created up to the present if you had ten thousand years? Indefinite longevity would bring about unprecedented richness, depth, and breadth of experience – as well as the immensity of individual learning and refinement, and the possibility to pursue multiple careers and many more hobbies than one currently can.

Furthermore, if Thunderf00t dislikes the prospect of an eternal existence, why would an eternal non-existence be any better or more preferable? Once you are dead, you are dead forever – and cannot choose to go back to not being dead. On the other hand, if you are alive indefinitely, and you feel tired, you could choose to take a nice long non-lethal nap or vacation and resume your activities when you are refreshed and in a better mood. Those who feel tedium or boredom now might later feel more like finding something meaningful and interesting to do in this vast universe. To die is to deny oneself this ability for an improvement in one’s outlook and enthusiasm.

The great and all-too-common error made by Thunderf00t is to see all of an individual’s life as a simultaneous totality rather than the way it is actually experienced: one moment at a time. While Thunderf00t might be unable to conceive of what he would do with ten thousand years, he probably knows what he would like to do the next minute, or the next day, or the next week. If he could live and work in this way – experiencing one day at a time – while remaining at his physical and intellectual prime – would there ever be a day when he would consciously decide that he would rather die tomorrow? Only a person in tremendous suffering could conceivably make such a choice. With technological and moral progress taking away ever more of that suffering, the desire to keep on living should become strengthened until no sane, rational person would ever want to die.

DarkMatter2525: Given eternity, anything that can be accomplished, will be accomplished. Beyond all achievements, there would only be limitless, pointless existence.

My Response: Considering that over a thousand new books get produced every day, doing or accomplishing “everything” would be impossible – since our minds’ conception of the possibilities will always outpace our ability to actualize those possibilities. DarkMatter2525 is assuming a finite, static set of possible accomplishments. In reality, the scope of possible accomplishments and activities grows every day at much faster rate than any given human has the ability to pursue those accomplishments and activities. One cannot experience today all that has been created even today by the billions of people now alive. The longer we live, the smaller will be the fraction of available pursuits in which we will be able to engage at any given time. Even if humans are able to enhance their minds radically in order to process and memorize as much text as a computer can – the human creative faculty would be able to generate proportionally more text as well, so that the volume of available output would still accelerate away from the ability of any human to process all of it. And books are just one subset of human activity – which will become increasingly diverse and multifaceted as our civilization advances. And think of all those billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, that we have yet to explore and colonize!

Laci Green: When I think about my own death, I used to feel scared, but I don’t think I do anymore.

My Response: I hypothesize (though I cannot be sure) that Ms. Green only sees death in the abstract for now. She is young and healthy, and it is easy to rationalize away the significance of death when it is remote. This is a coping mechanism that many people have, and it works particularly well when everyday life is reasonably good. But how many people can have this equanimity when death approaches – when it is too late to do anything about it? If Ms. Green does not wish to experience fear regarding the prospect of her eventual death – fine. I have no problem with people choosing to focus on other matters in an everyday context. However, I sincerely wish that she and others who do not feel scared would nonetheless have an intellectual awareness of the great destruction wrought by senescence, decay, and death. Then they could – calmly or cheerfully, as they please – support research and advance moral arguments that assist humankind in beating back this menace. I advocate not fear, but action.

AronRa: I’m not afraid of being dead. After we die, we will not know the truth at that point. We will not know, wish, think, remember, dream anything.

My Response: Precisely, and that is the worst possible fate. Our very being, our “I-ness” – that which makes all other experiences possible – will be extinguished, and not even the memory of our once having existed will remain with us.

Seth Andrews:  I don‘t really find this sad or tragic either. I don’t really welcome death, but I don’t live in fear of the end. And I’ve come to see it as just another part of the natural world.

My Response: Not all that is “natural” is good – and, indeed, nature offers ways out of the problem of senescence by showing us numerous species that do not experience the ravages of biological aging or experience them at a much slower rate than we do. Since, in its truest sense, the word “natural” is just an expression for “what is” – Mr. Andrews is committing the Panglossian fallacy – the view that “whatever is, is right.” Cancer is natural, and it is brutal. Also natural is the fact that 99.9% of all the species that ever existed are now extinct. Just because this is natural, does not mean that we should accept it for ourselves. We can remake the outcomes of nature by studying the laws of nature and harnessing them for our own benefit. Once we have secured our continuing existence, we can work to eventually create a more humane, less predatory environment for all life forms that deserve it. We already do this to some extent with domestic pets and certain other useful animals – though, arguably, not to the extent that a more morally developed and resource-rich society might accommodate.

Thunderf00t: In some respects, we never die. Our lives are entangled with those who come after us, just as our lives are entangled with those who came before us. [Faraday, Newton, and Pasteur affect everyone’s lives today.] Death is not the end. We are intertwined with both lesser and greater things.

My Response: It is true that our lives have an impact on others, and that impact can extend beyond the lifespan of the individual. It is also true that we sometimes do not even perceive all the ways in which we impact others and others impact us. However, while our influence on the rest of the world might be a source of pride or reassurance to us in life, in death it means nothing – because we would not be aware of it even as a general concept without any particular details. Others who remain alive might still hazily and incompletely remember the dead individual, of course – but that memory is an asset to them, not to the dead. I benefit from the existence of Faraday, Newton, and Pasteur – good for me. But they are oblivious to this at present.

Laci Green: Just because there is no grand scheme it plays into does not mean there is not something beautiful about what is going on here.

My Response: I agree that the universe, or existence, has no grand scheme. But it is not clear to what “beautiful” phenomena Ms. Green is referring. There is true beauty in existence, but there are also true nastiness and cruelty and injustice. It is important to recognize the beautiful and good elements of the world, while struggling to eradicate or reform the bad. The real war we must fight is against the forces of ruin, and we should not lapse into the Panglossian fallacy of accepting absolutely anything that occurs on a regular basis as somehow “beautiful” or even remotely palatable.

ZOMGitsCriss: Ironically, the only part of me that is immortal is my material body. […] Every atom of me will be recycled back into the universe.

My Response: A long time ago (when I was fourteen), I tried to find consolation in that idea as well. It worked for about two hours. But then I realized that what matters is the arrangement of those atoms and the temporal continuity of that arrangement. I gain and lose atoms all the time, but each individual atom is not what makes me who I am. The essence of who I am, rather, is the manner in which those atoms interact with one another within the overall structure of my body – including my mind. When that is gone, I am gone.

DarkMatter2525: Even though a cell might not last forever, the role it plays in the larger organism is important, and that is how I see myself – as a part of something bigger.

My Response: But that “something bigger” does not care about DarkMatter2525, by his own earlier admission! So why should he care about it enough to be willing to be a mere cog in it? And if, as Laci Green says, there is no grand scheme to it all, then what exactly is he a part of? In terms of purpose, the only alternative to a teleological worldview, where purpose is “built into” the universe, is a humanistic worldview where purpose originates from the self – based on the biological requirements of one’s own survival, which, once sustained at a certain level, enable the individual to use his will to shape the universe to give it purpose. But in order to confer purpose upon an initially purposeless cosmos, one has to exist and to keep existing. Once existence stops, the purpose-giving process also stops, and so the “something bigger” is also no more.

ZOMGitsCriss: Knowing that this life is the only one I have makes me a lot more conscious of my actions, makes me want to do something with this short life I have.

My Response: I agree that knowing that this is the only life we have should make this life the greatest value to us – to be treated with the utmost seriousness and respect. We should seek to do great things with our time – but we should also seek to prolong our time, which is in itself a monumental and glorious undertaking.

Seth Andrews : There’s too much to learn, too much to see, too much to know, too much to experience. I’m not just going to exist. I’m going to live.

My Response: Certainly, some conditions of existence are better than others, and mere survival is not all there is to life. Flourishing can occur when life is lived in a way that fulfills an increasingly sophisticated series of human needs – ranging on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from basic material sustenance to self-actualization. But pursuing the higher needs by no means undercuts or conflicts with the more basic needs. Indeed, the higher needs are largely unattainable unless one already lives in a prosperous, peaceful civilization where the basic needs are so easily fulfilled that one almost takes them for granted.

All too many people perceive survival as somehow antithetical to enjoying life – but in fact enjoyment of life is not possible without being alive. Therefore, if one wishes to do more of the things that make life enjoyable, one should strive to live as long as possible – far beyond the paltry eighty or so years that comprise the current average life expectancy in the Western world.