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New Decade’s Message for the 2020s – Gennady Stolyarov II

New Decade’s Message for the 2020s – Gennady Stolyarov II

Gennady Stolyarov II

As 2019 draws to a close, Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the United States Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, expresses hope that humankind will emerge from the “Crazy Years” and offers ten concrete resolutions for human achievement during the 2020s. This message was recorded on December 31, 2019, and is available for viewing here.

As 2019 draws to a close, let us bid farewell and good riddance to a decade which could, in retrospect be referred to using the prophetic Robert Heinlein term, “The Crazy Years” – a turbulent, conflicted decade during which, while glimmers of hope appeared on multiple fronts of technological advancement, society and culture have clearly declined due to the rise of incivility, tribalism, authoritarianism, identity politics, and mass breakdowns of sanity. It is no secret that I had hoped for humankind to have been farther along the path of advancement by now than it has actually come. The great conflict of our decade – between the marvels that have been built by the creative and rational higher faculties of the human mind and the biases, fallacies, vulnerabilities, and atrocities spawned by its darkest evolved recesses – between the Apollonian heights and the Dionysian depths of human nature – will carry on into the 2020s and perhaps beyond. To win this conflict, those of us who desire a brighter future need to advocate for more progress, faster innovation, greater rationality, higher standards of civility and morality, and a long-term outlook that seeks to cultivate the best in human beings.

As the winds of fortune shift, some of us individually will rise, and others will fall. This certainly was the case this past decade. In so many respects, for me, it has been marked by colossal achievements and improvements, but also tectonic shifts in my own life which were not of my initiative – to which I needed to respond and adapt and preserve what I valued in the aftermath. Reflecting back on the end of 2009, and comparing it to today, I realize that absolutely everything about the circumstances of my life is now different… and yet I myself am essentially the same. I believe that it is this core of myself, this fundamentally constant and consistent identity, which has carried me through the crises and enabled me to defy adversity and arise stronger every time – to pursue new endeavors and take on new roles while remaining the same essential individual, to learn from the empirical evidence before me while maintaining the same convictions and understanding of the good. The events of the 2010s have illustrated for me that, indeed, peace and stability in life must ultimately come from within – although it is not a matter of withdrawal into the self or mere self-affirmation, as some popular creeds would claim. Rather, it is the self that must devise and implement solutions to the crises of the day while pursuing consistent improvement in as many dimensions as possible, and preserving that essential core intact.

It is beyond our power to live a decade over again, but we can harness the best of its aftermath and turn the coming decade into a superior and more rational one. Some of us will create resolutions as individuals, and then pursue plans of varying degrees of specificity and likelihood of success. But perhaps it is best to consider the resolutions we would wish to have for humankind as a whole. It is all well and good, of course, to wish for progress and prosperity, but it is also well-known that the resolutions which have the greatest likelihood of succeeding are those which are accompanied by concrete indicators of fulfillment. Therefore, I propose the following ten resolutions for humankind during the decade of the 2020s, which will enable us to empirically identify whether or not they have been fulfilled at the decade’s end.

  1. Construct the next world’s tallest building – because humankind must always reach higher.
  2. Build a base on the Moon – because it is time to colonize other worlds.
  3. Land a human on Mars – because it is time to expand beyond our orbit.
  4. Establish the first fully operational seastead communities – because it is time for human habitation to expand beyond land and for jurisdictional experimentation to resume in earnest.
  5. Have at least one person live beyond 120 years again – mathematically possible given that 10 of today’s supercentenarians are 114 or older; it is time to begin to approach Jeanne Calment’s longevity record of 122 years once more.
  6. Cut all world nuclear-weapon stockpiles in half – more than this has been done before, and so this is really quite a modest goal, but it is imperative to reverse the trajectory of the current arms race. Complete nuclear disarmament by all powers would, of course, be preferable, to finally dispel the “MAD” cloud of annihilation looming over our species.
  7. Compose 100 tonal symphonies – because it is time to rediscover beauty.
  8. Develop medically effective cures for every type of cancer – because, really, it is decades past time.
  9. End the decade with 50 percent of all vehicles on the road at level 2 autonomy or greater – because road deaths are a travesty and should become a relic of a barbaric past.
  10. Experience at least one year in which no country is at war with any other, with “war” including armed insurgencies and terrorist attacks – because national, ethnic, religious, and ideological warfare needs to be relegated to the past.

Of course, there are many worthwhile objectives not encompassed above, and it is my hope that efforts to reach those goals will also advance in parallel. You may have a list of ten resolutions for humankind that differs from mine, but they may be compatible nonetheless. The overarching aim, however, is to restore humanity’s much-needed confidence in progress, to emerge from the postmodern swamp of self-doubt and deconstruction and return to the heights of ennobling ambition and creation. Concrete benchmarks to track our progress can also serve the dual purpose of motivating people everywhere to undertake great tasks. A certain President has expressed the desire to make America great again, but I would venture to say that he has not selected the proper means for doing so. I challenge everyone during the next decade to make the world great again and demonstrate that the most impressive achievements and the most lasting solutions to our age-old problems are still to come. This is the message of transhumanism, and I hope that it can become the theme of the next decade – so that when I speak to you again at the decade’s end, we can reflect upon the wonders that have been built.

“Ex Machina” Movie Review – Article by Edward Hudgins

“Ex Machina” Movie Review – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
July 3, 2015

How will we know if an artificial intelligence actually attains a human level of consciousness?

As work in robotics and merging man and machine accelerates, we can expect more movies on this theme. Some, like Transcendence, will be dystopian warnings of potential dangers. Others, like Ex Machina, elicit serious thought about what it is to be human. Combining a good story and good acting, Ex Machina should interest technophiles and humanists alike.

The Turing Test

The film opens on Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) , a 27-year-old programmer at uber-search engine company Blue Book, who wins a lottery to spend a week at the isolated mountain home of the company’s reclusive genius creator, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). But the hard-drinking, eccentric Nathan tells Caleb that they’re not only going to hang out and get drunk.

He has created an android AI named Ava (Alicia Vikander) with a mostly woman-like, but part robot-like, appearance. The woman part is quite attractive. Nathan wants Caleb to spend the week administering the Turing Test to determine whether the AI shows intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human. Normally this test is administered so the tester cannot see whether he’s dealing with a human and or machine. The test consists of exchanges of questions and answers, and is usually done in some written form. Since Caleb already knows Ava is an AI, he really needs to be convinced in his daily sessions with her, reviewed each evening with Nathan, that Nathan has created, in essence, a sentient, self-conscious human. It’s a high bar.

Android sexual attraction

Ava is kept locked in a room where her behavior can be monitored 24/7. Caleb talks to her through a glass, and at first he asks standard questions any good techie would ask to determine if she is human or machine. But soon Ava is showing a clear attraction to Caleb. The feeling is mutual.

In another session Ava is turning the tables. She wants to know about Caleb and be his friend. But during one of the temporary power outages that seems to plague Nathan’s house, when the monitoring devices are off, Ava tells Caleb that Nathan is not his friend and not to trust him. When the power comes back on, Ava reverts to chatting about getting to know Caleb.

In another session, when Ava reveals she’s never allowed out of the room, Caleb asks where she would choose to go if she could leave. She says to a busy traffic intersection. To people watch! Curiosity about humanity!

Ava then asks Caleb to close his eyes and she puts on a dress and wig to cover her robot parts. She looks fully human. She says she’d wear this if they went on a date. Nathan later explains that he gave Ava gender since no human is without one. That is part of human consciousness. Nathan also explains that he did not program her specifically to like Caleb. And he explains that she is fully sexually functional.

A human form of awareness

In another session Caleb tells Ava what she certainly suspects, that he is testing her. To communicate what he’s looking for, he offers the “Mary in a Black and White Room” thought experiment. Mary has always lived in a room with no colors. All views of the outside world are through black and white monitors. But she understands everything about the physics of color and about how the human eyes and brain process color. But does she really “know” or “understand” color—the “qualia”—until she walks outside and actually sees the blue sky?

Is Ava’s imitation of the human level of consciousness or awareness analogous to Mary’s consciousness or awareness of color when in the black and white room, purely theoretical? Is Ava simply a machine, a non-conscious automaton running a program by which she mimics human emotions and traits?

Ava is concerned with what will happen if she does not pass the Turing test. Nathan later tells Caleb that he thinks the AI after Ava will be the one he’s aiming for. And what will happen to Ava? The program will be downloaded and the memories erased. Caleb understands that this means Ava’s death.

Who’s testing whom?

During a blackout, this one of Nathan in a drunken stupor, Caleb borrows Nathan’s passcard to access closed rooms, and he discovers some disturbing truths about what proceeded Ava and led to her creation.

In the next session, during a power outage, Ava and Caleb plan an escape from the facility. They plan to get Nathan drunk, change the lock codes on the doors, and get out at the next power outage.

But has Nathan caught on? On the day Caleb is scheduled to leave he tells Nathan that Ava has passed the Turing Test. But Nathan asks whether Caleb thinks Ava is just pretending to like Caleb in order to escape. If so, this would show human intelligence and would mean that Ava indeed has passed the test.

But who is testing and manipulating whom and to what end? The story takes a dramatic, shocking turn as the audience finds out who sees through whose lies and deceptions. Does Mary ever escape from the black and white room? Is Ava really conscious like a human?

What it means to be human

In this fascinating film, writer/director Alex Garland explores what it is to be human in terms of basic drives and desires. There is the desire to know, understand, and experience. There is the desire to love and be loved. There is the desire to be free to choose. And there is the love of life.

But to be human is also to be aware that others might block one from pursuing human goals, that others can be cruel, and they can lie and deceive. There is the recognition that one might need to use the same behavior in order to be human.

If thinkers like Singularity theorist Ray Kurzweil are right, AIs might be passing the Turing Test within a few decades. But even if they don’t, humans will more and more rely on technologies that could enhance our minds and capacities and extend our lives. As we do so, it will be even more important that we keep in mind what it is to be human and what is best about being human. Ex Machina will not only provide you with an entertaining evening at the movies; it will also help you use that very human capacity, the imagination, to prepare your mind to meet these challenges.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright, The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit

“Human Nature” is Tautological (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

“Human Nature” is Tautological (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published March 10, 2009
as Part of Issue CLXXXIX of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 23, 2014
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CLXXXIX of The Rational Argumentator on March 10, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 23, 2014

What is meant by the term “human nature”? In one sense, it is supremely uninformative. The “nature” of any existent can be defined simply as “that which that existent is.” To say that “X is human nature,” is simply to say “X is what humans are and/or do.” This is fine by itself, provided that it is not used as an explanation for any particular human characteristic or activity. X may be human nature, but X does not occur because of human nature. To say that human nature is the cause of any phenomenon is to say that such a phenomenon causes itself. To say that “some people steal because of human nature” is to say that “some people steal because they steal” or that “some people steal because that is the way humans are.” This is not particularly enlightening as to why some people actually steal.

The striking fact about uses of “human nature” in discourse is that the term is virtually never invoked to account for all the wonderful things people do. Few, if any, people say that humans build great buildings, create art, invent machines, and save lives because “that’s just human nature.” But when it comes to some humans killing, stealing, lying, raping, and committing a host of other abuses, “human nature” virtually never leaves the discussion. This leads me to suspect that a lot of presuppositions are smuggled in under the umbrella label of “human nature” which are not implicit in the term. Namely, most people whose discussions are peppered by the term frequently presuppose that all human beings somehow have even the worst vices “in their nature.”

If “human nature” is “the way human beings are,” then it is clearly contrary to empirical evidence to suppose that killing, stealing, lying, and other vices are inherent in human nature. We can find numerous examples of good, upstanding people who have never killed or stolen – and even a few whom we cannot imagine lying. Surely, “the way they are” is such that they do not kill, steal, or lie. This is as much a part of their human nature as killing, stealing, and lying are a part of the natures of genocidal dictators in North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Sudan. There is no reason to suppose that anyone is capable of any vice just because some people have been observed engaging in some vices.

The facts that some people do commit vices that others do not commit and that no vice is universal to human beings indicates to us that no vice is inherent to human nature – the way humans are. Rather, every vice is incidental to human nature. That is, the natures of some humans happen to be vicious, just as the natures of some cats happen to be white (not that there is anything wrong with white cats). But vice is no more an inseparable part of humanity than whiteness is an inseparable part of cathood. It may well be that some people will always be irreparably vicious, no matter what external stimuli short of death are applied to them. This is why it may be reasonable to advocate killing genocidal sadists and other comparable entities. But this is no commentary on all the other humans of this world.

Moreover, it is essential to recognize that prevailing trends with regard to behavior change over time. 300 years ago, if two Western, upper-class males had a dispute, it would often culminate in a duel to the death. Today, the disputants would be more likely to sit down and quasi-civilly discuss their differences. The statistical prevalence of each kind of behavior has changed dramatically. Moreover, the change has been an unambiguous improvement. “What humans are” does not need to be static and set in stone. Rather, as incentives, institutions, and motivations change, so does behavior – and the sum of our behaviors constitutes our “natures.”

The view of “human nature” that I have presented thus far is fully in accord with the principle of individualism. This principle asserts that each human being is fundamentally different and should be judged on his or her own qualities, and not on the qualities of other human beings who happen to share some direct or indirect association. Moreover, individualism holds that each human being can control his or her own behaviors to a substantial extent. Each person is free to choose virtue but is just as free to choose vice, and each person must be prepared to be judged by the rest of us on the basis of his or her choices. The question remains, of course, what would motivate people to choose virtue as opposed to vice?

Granting that people always have free will to act virtuously or viciously, what would lead people to want to pursue either course of action? Earlier, I described some incentives for moral behavior that motivate people to pursue virtuous and beneficial courses of action with regard to themselves and others. On the other hand, what motivates vice? The kinds of vice that do damage to others – killing, stealing, infliction of injury, and deception – all seem to stem from some sense of personal inadequacy. Either one does not have enough things and wishes to take away the things owned by others, or one feels slighted, deprived, or persecuted in some manner by others and wishes to correct this perceived victimization by destroying its perceived source. Harm that people do to themselves seems to stem either from a conviction that their lives are not quite worth living or from a simple failure to consider all of the long-term harmful consequences of their decisions.

Exploring the common human motivations for committing immoral acts might lead us to an understanding of how to alter these motivations and direct the “natural” desires of more people toward virtue. For instance, if a person is motivated to steal by a lack of food, then if this person had food, he might not resort to stealing (provided, of course, that he recognizes the change in conditions and does not continue to resort to stealing due to the inertia of habit). On the other hand, the new-found presence of food might get the person to focus on some other attribute he believes to be lacking in his life – say, a car – and steal that. How might it be possible to get such a person to refrain from stealing? Clearly, all people perceive some kinds of inadequacies in their lives. The ways that people’s incentives are structured will lead them to consider whether moral or immoral means are the best ways to compensate for such inadequacies.

The proper incentive structure to give to each person is such that the costs of any vicious act will be greater than its perceived benefits. I note that these costs can be both external – such as any kind of punishment – or internal – such as a feeling of self-loathing and disappointment for having committed an immoral act. Well-developed internal aversions to vicious conduct reduce the need for external incentives to encourage virtue. A wide variety of institutions, technologies, and patterns of interaction shape both people’s external and internal incentives. Yet what is most important to remember is that we are not fated to be locked into any particular configuration of incentives, motivations, and outcomes. These continually fluctuate and sometimes experience radical directional shifts. In shaping these incentives, we ought to lose the defeatism of those who claim that “human nature” will forever sentence us to suffer evil instead of correcting it. Rather, we must act such that our individual, incremental effects are for the better rather than for the worse.

Read other articles in The Rational Argumentator’s Issue CLXXXIX.

The Humility of Futurism – Article by Adam Alonzi

The Humility of Futurism – Article by Adam Alonzi

The New Renaissance Hat
Adam Alonzi
April 20, 2014

Civilization operates as if its troubles and their solutions will be as relevant tomorrow as they are today. Likely they were obsolete yesterday. How preposterous do the worries and aspirations of yesteryear seem now? What has not been refined since its conception? Our means of subsistence, entertainment, expression and enlightenment continue to change, although, at least unconsciously, they are accepted as stable. Change, once gradual, now quickens exponentially. Countless professions have been created and destroyed by advances; old orders have been destroyed, new ones have arisen; our world outlooks have been revolutionized by new discoveries over and over, although a sizable portion of the world is unwilling or unable to understand a man like Aubrey de Grey and an equally sizable portion of the population is still struggling with Copernicus. A Futurist accepts himself and his ideas as incomplete, therefore he actively works to improve upon them. Futurism is the first ideology that explicitly accepts the necessity and desirability of change.

It is a mistake to think we have reached the final stage of our journey. Plateaus are mirages conjured by the shortsighted; human evolution is a mountain without a peak. If a man has eyes, let him see all we have done and all we have yet to do. Let him gain the humility religion and liberalism have failed to inculcate into him and so many others. Each generation repeats this mistake. There is no evidence to suggest we are complete or are doomed now only to regress. Naysayers seem motivated to dismiss the triumphs of others out of fear they themselves will appear even less significant. Historically the distant future has received little attention compared to such pressing questions as the number of angels on the head of a pin or the labor theory of value. This may be thanks to a fondness for the apocalyptic, a fascination which certainly has not faded with time, but it is also attributable to the egotistical need to stand out. All epochs are transitions. The advances of this decade have failed to restore popular faith in progress, yet the very word is misleading. Faith does rest not upon an empirical foundation. There are scores of popular beliefs founded upon little or no evidence. Yet the proof of progress is all around us. Death wishes and earth-annihilating misanthropy aside, we can trace the modern disdain for the march forward to the fashionable nonsense of academia.

Speculations and prophecies, even conservative estimates based on careful analysis, are treated with derision by the public. To say one has faith in technology is misleading. To compare the singularity to the rapture is like comparing planetary motion to Santa Claus. One is rooted in scripture, the other in observation. The doomsayers, secular and religious alike, enjoy forecasting our demise. The essential corruption critics charge Western civilization with is common to all; it is called human nature. It is meant to be transcended, not through critiques of immaterial “cultural entities,” but by improving our bodies and our minds through bioengineering. No belief is needed here. We do not rely upon a outworn holy book or the absurd dialectic of the Marxists. We change and adapt because we must. This is a point of pride, not one of shame. We do not worship the past; we have shrugged it off. Compared to the ridiculous claims circulating in the cesspool collectively referred to as “the humanities” this is a sane position, yet it is treated with nothing by scorn by those who, wishing so ardently to distance themselves from Western civilization, bite the hands that feed them, clothes them, and shelters them. While they navigate by GPS, post their inane tangents on social media sites, and try with all their might to discredit the culture to which they owe their lives and livelihoods, others push forward. Self-proclaimed critics of Western civilization should consider trading their general practitioner for an Angolan witch doctor. It is hard to respect those who do not practice what they preach.

Postmodernism and cultural relativism, though they have pretensions of completeness and delusions of permanence, are but passing fads. Something devoid of usefulness or, for that matter, a coherent hypothesis, cannot last long when technology is generating so much benefit to so many people. A meme will continue to propagate itself long after it has served its purpose, to the detriment of competitors and to society at large. It is the duty of Futurists and Transhumanists to demolish the acceptability of rubbish in academia and in the media. The Luddites are more dangerous than the Creationists. Hubris is barely acceptable in the hard sciences, but in an absolutely unempirical discipline like philosophy, it is deplorable. Our first priority should not be political or religious; it should be scientific. To whom do we owe our prosperity, and to whom do we owe our future? To whom do we owe our lives and the lives of our children? How many of us would not be here today were it not for the men and women of modern medicine? This is not the end. Forget the weary and the overwhelmed; they are weak. Forget the ones who have no desire to climb higher; they are unfit. Cast aside the ones who pray fervently for the undoing of their own species; they are the most vile of all. This is not the end. This is our beginning.
Adam Alonzi is the author of Praying for Death and A Plank in Reason. He is also a futurist, inventor, DIY enthusiast, biotechnologist, programmer, molecular gastronomist, consummate dilletante and columnist at The Indian Economist. Read his blog Cool Flickers.
Help the next generation embrace a progress-filled vision of the future by supporting the illustrated children’s book Death is Wrong (free in Kindle format until April 22, 2014), and the campaign to distribute 1000 paperback copies to children, free of cost to them. The Indiegogo fundraising period ends on April 23, so please consider making a contribution today.

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.


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.

Non-Apocalypse, Existential Risk, and Why Humanity Will Prevail – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Non-Apocalypse, Existential Risk, and Why Humanity Will Prevail – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Doomsday predictions are not only silly but bring about harmful ways of approaching life and the world. Mr. Stolyarov expresses his view that there will never be an end of the world, an end of humanity, or an end of civilization. While some genuine existential risks do exist, most of them are not man-made, and even the man-made risks are largely in the past.


– “Transhumanism and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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:

– “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.