Thursday, October 23, 2008

Transhumanism 2

The quietude of the floral retreat that is Thought Experiments was disturbed yesterday by a noisy debate breaking out on the matter of transhumanism. The entire population of America flooded into our garden, all because of a link from Andrew Sullivan's mighty uber-blog. 
So, to continue the debate - transhumanism is a utopian project and it is, in this light, that it should be assessed. Every age has one or many utopian projects. All fail, often leaving behind a pile of corpses. Transhumanism may seem more firmly based as it relies on science and technology which, alone in human affairs, do show signs of progress. Our accelerating power to transform the world will, inevitably, give us the power to transform ourselves. All sorts of enhancements will occur, not least enormously increased life span. This may not be possible but there are good reasons for thinking it will be. 
Transhumanists may claim a social, political and moral neutrality that distinguishes them from previous utopians. In fact, this is, in part, a consumerist idea - you buy medical immortality much as you would buy a pair of shoes. More importantly, it becomes absurd as soon as you imagine its application in the real world. Many religious people might accept it - I've met a few Christian transhumanists - but more won't. To most Muslims, for example, this will be a very ideological project, one based on western values. In other words, the apparent simplicity of the transhumanist ideal is an illusion. It is based on a facile idea of what people are and what they want and on the assumption that this one project, unlike all others, need not cause fundamental conflict.
Also it is irrational to think humans can stand outside themselves in order to produce a better human. What would he/she be like - Bill Gates, Wallace Stevens or Mother Theresa? We may talk of increased intelligence (though there is currently no consensus on what intelligence is) but without any idea of how it would be used. Furthermore, as Brit so wisely points out in his comments on the previous post, transhumanists ideas of the self turn out to be incoherent. Transhumanists say they can fix that, but they offer to do so by changing me into something that is not me. I will be killed and replaced by another being they will call, for the sake of argument, Bryan Appleyard. He will be an imposter.
In short, humans are fallen and, given our record, the first transhuman creation will probably be a better soldier, perhaps more able to withstand torture. Or, of course, an empty, grinning creature, made happy by the buying of shoes. Oh no, they're already here.

68 comments:

  1. I see the link prompting the invasion is labelled "Appleyard lambastes the transhumanists", which would explain the aggressive tone.

    The irony being that you didn't lambast them at all in that post, though you do in this.

    I agree with everything you say in this post. As a project in itself, I think transhumanism is a potentially catastrophic utopian folly.

    But, possibly hypocritically, I'm all for curing everything. Possibly hypocritically. If we're going to get to epic lifespans, we should get there accidentally as a byproduct of medical advances - it shouldn't be the goal.

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  2. Stuart ArmstrongOctober 23, 2008 9:43 am

    Many religious people might accept it [...] but more won't.

    Then they won't go for medical immortality, and there is no problem. Unless you're arguing that religious people should be able to stop other people getting medical immortality, I don't see the argument.

    What would he/she be like - Bill Gates, Wallace Stevens or Mother Theresa?

    I'd be terrified if transhumanists started getting that specific on what exactly a better human is - imagine everyone as Bill Gates, or Mother Teressa; and imagine transhumanists advocating that ideal.

    But you can still have an idea of "better" even without an idea of "perfect". What is the education system but an attempt to make people better? If humans had better memory, more compassion, tired less easily, had more self-discipline etc... I'd definetly say that there was an improvement. Whether the improvement came about through a better education, or improved technology, is pretty irrelevant.

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  3. Stuart:

    Then they won't go for medical immortality, and there is no problem.

    That's exactly the kind of statement that reveals the alarming hole in the basic understanding of the otherwise brilliant utopian.

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  4. had better memory, more compassion, tired less easily, had more self-discipline etc...

    Compassion and self-discipline? Where did they suddenly come from, stuart? Are they working on them in the labs too?

    Great posts, Bryan. Having scanned the magazine and read the comments, it seems that quite apart from all the flights of technological fancy, you are up against the extreme and very dogmatic libertarian mindset that resolutely denies inter-dependencies between people or communities such as to give rise to obligations and duties, and no objection that can't be dismissed conclusively by chanting "That's your choice." I've been in enough arguments about things like the content of television to know it doesn't take long before someone will weigh in with "If you don't like it, just turn it off." Anon's comment in the post below takes this line to a whole new ontological level:

    I don't understand why anyone would oppose this - those who wish to age normally and die would certainly be free to do so.

    Presumably the sooner the better.

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  5. "it can never be satisfied, the mind, never" (Wallace Stevens).

    i look forward to seeing technological advances demonstrate their own futility.

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  6. And I'm quite grateful for Andrew for pointing me here. Though I dont think anyone was particularly aggressive.

    I'm dubious about the idea of transhumanism as a political movement, as I am atheism.

    Instead I view trans-humanism more as the natural progression of humanity, the direction of the species that has, for some reason, propelled us out of the cave and into our current glass and metal cities.

    Unlike movement transhumanists, I am unsure about where this direction may lead us, but unlike Appleyard I am very excited to find out.

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  7. Re: "you are up against the extreme and very dogmatic libertarian mindset that resolutely denies inter-dependencies between people or communities such as to give rise to obligations and duties, and no objection that can't be dismissed conclusively by chanting "That's your choice." I've been in enough arguments about things like the content of television to know it doesn't take long before someone will weigh in with "If you don't like it, just turn it off."

    Well, I probably like the content of television even less than you, but I will join the chant "If you don't like it, just turn it off."

    I only watch movies and news on television, and dislike most of the rest. I especially dislike the talk shows of self-appointed "ethicists" and self-righteous censors and control freaks who explain to the rest of us what we should or should not want. But I don't complain, and just switch the television off. I know someone likes this stuff, and do not complain as long as they don't try to censure the movies and news that I want to watch.

    I don't deny "inter-dependencies between people or communities such as to give rise to obligations and duties". But I deny to control freaks the right to make decisions for the rest of us.

    Live and let live. Don't judge my sexual preferences, and I will not judge your religious beliefs. Let me make my personal choices, and I will let you make your personal choices. Politics is about making common decisions on common issues, not about oppressing others.

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  8. Re: "you buy medical immortality much as you would buy a pair of shoes"

    And what is wrong with this? Try asking someone who is terminally ill.

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  9. Re: "this is, in part, a consumerist idea - you buy medical immortality much as you would buy a pair of shoes."

    Disgusting, isn’t it. Buying life as easily and affordably like buying a pair of shoes. It this an outrageous insult to the holiness of suffering and the tragically beautiful mistery of death? Perhaps, but this is precisely what I want: to give everyone on the planet easy and affordable access to more health, more life and, why not, more happiness. This is what transhumanism is about.

    My own blog:
    http://transumanar.com/index.php/site/transhumanism_rising/

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  10. I just knew giulio was a true believer. He was never here before the transhumanist post and now he's frothing at the blog mouth. Why is it so darn hard to have a discussion with different viewpoints? Probably the same reason no one knows how to properly debate anymore -- not even our presidential candidates!

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  11. I'm shocked that you suggest that postponing the suffering which death forces upon an individual and all those who love that individual is as trivial as buying shoes. I have watched many of those I love die. Three times I have helped carry a casket. And I have lost count of the funerals I've attended. My parents are both in their seventies now, and your notion that postponing their deaths indefinitely is somehow wrong or inappropriate strikes me as bizarre and inexcusable.

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  12. Philippe Van NederveldeOctober 23, 2008 4:27 pm

    "It is based on a facile idea of what people are and what they want and on the assumption that this one project, unlike all others, need not cause fundamental conflict."

    Au contraire. Don't mistake transhumanists for naive blue-sky idealists. We realize full well, and with due concern, that the major technological changes underway have huge potential for major societal disruptions. It is not because transhumanists would dearly prefer these things to transpire without transitional disruptions... and work diligently for the prevention and mitigation of such foreseeable upsets (see lifeboat.com; foresight.org; crnano.org; singinst.org/)... that we are naive to believe it may all proceed without a hitch.

    "Also it is irrational to think humans can stand outside themselves in order to produce a better human."

    Bryan, with statements like this you are well on your way towards disqualifying yourself as a knowledgeable critic of transhumanism. It shows that you did not understand transhumanism well at all. Show me where transhumanists even consider what you describe as a possible alternative route forward? Transhumanists are not advocating or contemplating that anyone go and stand "outside themselves" to produce better humans. They want to improve *themselves* and from the inside out. Not to make themselves perfect, just to achieve major improvements of what all humans already have. In this sense, transhumanists are meliorists. Transhumanism is the logical and I daresay *natural* extension of technological improvements humans have been making to themselves for centuries: education (= improving your brain faculties); eye-glasses; cochlear implants; motorized prostheses.

    What is so attractive to death and the intellectual limitations imposed on us by our biology that we should suddenly stop dead in our tracks when we are finding out that we can improve ourselves to overcome these limitations?

    If you insist on your right to suffer, we mat roll our eyes, but we won't stop you. Just don't begrudge us our right to -technology allowing- let that cup pass us by.

    If technology allows you to avoid death, suffering, the slow and agonizing shipwrecking of the body which aging is... why put up with it?

    Suffer if you must, but live and let live.

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  13. Philippe Van NederveldeOctober 23, 2008 4:46 pm

    Susan B.: "He was never here before the transhumanist post and now he's frothing at the blog mouth."

    Neither was I. This is a public forum, right? Not a protected conversational space, right? So...

    Also, phrases like "frothing at the blog mouth" are really not helpful and conducive to the kind of high-brow discussions you seem to miss and wish for here... especially given that Giulio has been rigorously respectful and not intemperate.

    "Why is it so darn hard to have a discussion with different viewpoints?"

    Is this not exactly what we are having here? Has this discussion degenerated to some self-defeating pedestrian flame-war? Not that I can see.

    Let's not mis-characterize the respectful candor displayed here for what it is not.

    This is a healthy, spirited debate... so let's call it that and enjoy it accordingly.

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  14. Damien BroderickOctober 23, 2008 4:50 pm

    ...someone will weigh in with "If you don't like it, just turn it off." Anon's comment in the post below takes this line to a whole new ontological level:

    "I don't understand why anyone would oppose this - those who wish to age normally and die would certainly be free to do so."

    Presumably the sooner the better.


    This distortion, this 180-degree reversal, is astonishingly revealing. It was Mr. Appleyard who urged true believers (sardonically? in context, I fear not) to brush up their "pro-death arguments." Let us at least charitably suppose that neither side wishes people to perish "as soon as possible"--but it is those who oppose healthy, indefinite life extension who are the advocates of death.

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  15. Philippe Van NederveldeOctober 23, 2008 5:06 pm

    "transhumanism is a utopian project and it is, in this light, that it should be assessed."

    Not according to transhumanists. We have no interest in any utopias. Instead, transhumanism is deeply rooted in and based on "hard" science and technology.

    Again, we are NOT naive, self-deluding, blue-sky utopians. We are wholly and fully cognizant of how how gritty, mucky and yucky the gutter sides and the dirty underbelly of the human condition can be.

    Most of us -yours truly included- have seen loved ones suffer the slow shipwrecking of the body and the mind visited upon them by diseases and aging. Some of us (transhumanists) have battled or are battling horribly debilitating diseases as we discuss these things here.

    It is exactly because of these experiences AND the knowledge that science and technology are becoming ever more capable at radically preventing and avoiding such suffering that we refuse to resign ourselves to acceptance of sliding down on that slow path towards becoming worm-fodder. Thank you very much, but not for us, please.

    And to dissuade anyone from the temptation of calling transhumanists selfish and undemocratic, please learn that we wish the benefits of science and technology to be available to *all* children of DNA, without exception, at affordable prices or even free.

    One exponent of that philanthropic transhumanist attitude is a project I myself am developing, called "Abundance For All (A4A)". It involves nanofactories, a technology presently under development and expected to reach the masses sometime between 2025 and 2040. Google on *Abundance For All* in a few years (and hopefully sooner). In the mean time, don't make the error of thinking or calling transhumanists selfish or undemocratic.

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  16. Fuck me, the gleaming eyed zombies are among us. Who opened the gates?

    This must be the flipside of all those anti-God books, because it's not very inspiring to believe in a negative after all. T-H seems to break down to this: 'Humanity is profoundly flawed therefore I will trust profoundly flawed humanity to perfect itself.' Hm. That idea worked wonders before. Can't wait.

    As Kurtz said, shortly before dying way upstream: the naivete, the naivete.

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  17. Hard to see how any of this will make much sense until there is a commonly accepted theory of the self, we fully understand how the brain works and have a useful answer to the mind/brain question. Until then, the issue of whether a fully replicated me is still me or not me is a bit of a debating game. We simply don't know enough. We do surely know, though, that the human condition is suffering regardless of how long we live and in what state of health. And so far, the only answers which address that (the human condition, not just health versus illness) have all been philosophical.

    A while ago, Bryan intimated that he would sweep all before him with a post on eliminative materialism which I'd guess might have some bearing on this. But I think he got distracted by some fishy goings-on in a Greek taverna.

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  18. Philippe Van NederveldeOctober 23, 2008 5:41 pm

    Vernon said: "T-H seems to break down to this: 'Humanity is profoundly flawed therefore I will trust profoundly flawed humanity to perfect itself.'"

    Wrong. A disingenuous, uncharitable and intentionally misleading mis-characterization too.

    Try this instead: 'Human biology is flawed, but thankfully not so flawed so as to be blind about its flaws... and thankfully not so flawed that it is able to use the not-unimpressive intelligence and technological skill which it has, to do what it can to overcome the flaws it found in itself.'

    We are that rare species of animals capable of self-improvement, my friend. It's in our *nature* to improve ourselves. Why fight it?

    Fighting our innate, natural drive and aspiration for self-improvement is unnatural.

    So, take a long hard look in the mirror and go easy with throwing around that zombie label, OK?

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  19. Nah mate, I think I'll stick to it.

    Read a history book. Any one, just pick a century, a decade even. A year. A week. A day. Marvel at all the successful attempts to build utopia!

    Holy cow.

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  20. Stuart ArmstrongOctober 23, 2008 6:05 pm

    Then they won't go for medical immortality, and there is no problem.

    That's exactly the kind of statement that reveals the alarming hole in the basic understanding of the otherwise brilliant utopian.


    You think I don't know the negative consequences of acheiving medical immortality? :-) But I'm not going to do the other sides work in this argument. Please spell out precisely what negative consequences will arise, why these are game breakers, and why society won't deal with these changes as they've dealt with so many.

    had better memory, more compassion, tired less easily, had more self-discipline etc...

    Compassion and self-discipline? Where did they suddenly come from, stuart? Are they working on them in the labs too?


    Probably; and if they're not, they should. Both of them have a genetic component, so it's certainly possible to improve them. There are drugs that improve focus, and self-discipline is not so different; on the other hand, longitudinal studies demonstrate that compassion increases when happiness does (all else being equal), so that would be a promising area.

    I wish pharmaceutical companies would focus their attention in these area, rathen fritting it away on sexual enhancers and minor mood pills.

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  21. Indeed, and I wish MacDonald's would focus on fortifying broccoli.

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  22. My objection, Stuart, was only to your suggestion that the religious could simply opt out of medical immortality and there's an end to the matter.

    I object because that strikes me as somewhat wishful thinking, to say the least.

    I don't think that therefore requires me to predict every negative consequence of a large scale transhuman project. In fact, I don't really believe in predictions other than as a bit of fun because everyone is always wrong about everything. But if I were forced to guess at the first wave of happenings, mighty rows about funding, a big ding-dong about whether immortality was a fundamental human right, and some sort of religious terrorist campaign would be towards the top of my list of expectations, and a universal acceptance of simple consumer choice would be a long way towards the bottom.

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  23. I honestly do not understand why you guys are "debating" transhumanism. It is simply something that the people who are into it will do as a matter of personal choice. Being opposed to life extension is as silly as being "opposed" to people working out at the gym or undergoing elective surgery. As long as it is done privately, I fail to see how transhumanism is any more "controversial" than body building or cosmetic surgery.

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  24. Philippe Van NederveldeOctober 23, 2008 7:25 pm

    Vernon said: "Marvel at all the successful attempts to build utopia!"

    Shoot for the stars, settle for the Moon. Through a long process of trial and error, we do progress. We're the animals who traveled safely to the Moon and back. Pretty impressive trick for a Great Ape, I would say.

    If it can be done, it will be done. So we'll shoot for indefinite longevity. Even if we fail and have to settle for extreme life-extension instead, a swiftly increasing number of us will ask: "Where do I sign?"

    Who knows, we may then live just long enough to see (and actively contribute to) yet another concerted attempt at it... and another.

    And sooner or later we will no longer have to settle for the Moon and set sail for the stars... with the indefinite longevity needed for such a long journey...

    Maybe we'll remember you then and *really*, genuinely wish you were there. Not to smugly tell you "See, we told you so.", but to really enjoy your companionship on that long, long, long road ahead.

    You may be missed... but you'll probably have a choice to avoid that and instead just be there. The more the merrier ;-)

    Oh, again, we have zero interest in utopias. We've read the history books, been there, done that, we have the T-shirts... we're totally not interested in pie-in-the-sky unrealistic daydreamer fantasies. We are rather roll-up-our-sleeves hands-on engineering types and are working diligently to - baby-step by baby-step - realize tangible daily-life realities. Guess what, we are even enjoying it. You should try it: it's incredibly interesting and even fun ;-)

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  25. Scared of being human, the Transhumanists. Trying to escape it when y'can't. You are going to die and when you reach that time you'll be as scared as when you first came up with this idea to extend because you didn’t get over it in the first place.

    THE BIG FEAR OF DEATH. Nah, it's going to happen and you must work through your juvenile night terror with hard reading, hard getting-to-know-life experiences so you can assimilate life and its counterbalance, death. DON'T BE AFRAID OF DYING! Accept it. Welcome it even. It's only the big OR to our HERE.

    Greedy bastards.

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  26. Your first post struck me as moderately closed-minded, but not offensive. This new one is actually aggressively insulting. I suppose this was your intention? To stop transhumanists from commenting on your blog site, by wantonly attacking them?

    To cite just a few of the bizarre, dishonest statements in this post:

    Transhumanists may claim a social, political and moral neutrality that distinguishes them from previous utopians.

    What?? Who claims a social, political and moral neutrality? I don't even know what this would mean?

    What distinguishes transhumanists from earlier utopians is the same thing that distinguished the Wright Brothers from earlier individuals attempting controlled human flight. It's the same thing that distinguished modern chemists (with their ability to actually transmute elements) from alchemists. I.e.: the possession of technologies appropriate to the underlying vision.



    Also it is irrational to think humans can stand outside themselves in order to produce a better human.


    Why do you assume a human would need to completely "stand outside themselves" in order to produce a better human?

    By the same argument, one could "prove" that societies can never approve. Because after all, it is irrational to assume a society can stand outside itself in order to produce a better society. Right? Er, no wait, that's completely irrational. Medieval society did incrementally improve itself into modern society, developing innovations like modern representative democracy, capital markets, social welfare and so forth.

    Let me take a very simple example: plugging a sort of flash-memory and internet access device into the human brain so as to enable cognitive access to Google, calculators and software programs, etc.

    Do you really believe this will never be possible? Do you really believe this will not radically alter human thought, allowing us to dream up new things we cannot, in our current state, invent? Do you really believe that making this leap forward will require us to "step outside ourselves" in some mysterious and infeasible way?

    The transhuman future will come mostly step by step, though there may be sudden leaps as well. We don't need to improve ourselves by a factor of 100 all at once, we just need to improve ourselves 5% at a time, over and over. Think about compound interest.


    Furthermore, as Brit so wisely points out in his comments on the previous post, transhumanists ideas of the self turn out to be incoherent


    Since when does it take particular wisdom to throw insults around?

    Brit did not demonstrate incoherence of transhumanist ideas in any logical way, he just uttered the word. Furthermore he refused to provide any references to any systematic body of thought underlying his accusation of "incoherence." He just presented it as his "wise opinion." Color me unconvinced.

    Apparently your idea of "wisdom" is simply to flatly declare your personal opinion without any rational argument (or references to rational arguments) to back it up.

    Furthermore, he completely ignored my rational arguments against his point, simply reiterating his initial, unsubstantiated point.

    Transhumanists may possibly wind up being wrong, but by and large we are devoted to intellectual, rational, logical argument. This is another thing that distinguishes us from prior utopian movements. And apparently it's also something that distinguishes us from you and some of the folks you consider "wise."

    Yecch. I feel the same way I do after arguing with a Jehovah's Witness who comes to my door peddling their own special variety of senselessness. When folks refuse to adhere to logic and reason, and just throw insults and rhetoric around, conversation becomes basically useless.

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  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  28. Why don't you be more explicit and just come right out and say that you are an advocate of death, and physical and mental suffering.

    That is really what your perspective amounts to!

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  29. Someone wrote:


    THE BIG FEAR OF DEATH. Nah, it's going to happen and you must work through your juvenile night terror with hard reading, hard getting-to-know-life experiences so you can assimilate life and its counterbalance, death. DON'T BE AFRAID OF DYING! Accept it. Welcome it even. It's only the big OR to our HERE.

    Greedy bastards.


    I'm not afraid of death. I just prefer to avoid it if possible. And it seems it may be possible.

    Similarly, I'm not particularly afraid of my car breaking down on the highway. It doesn't petrify me with terror. But obviously it's a bad thing and better avoided if possible.

    Why you find this attitude so peculiar is very bizarre to me.

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  30. Philippe Van NederveldeOctober 23, 2008 9:16 pm

    Snakepit said: "DON'T BE AFRAID OF DYING!"

    What, where, who ever gave you the idea that transhumanists are scared of death? Seems you missed the part that mentioned that transhumanists care about death as one additional, elective option. If at some far future moment a transhumanist decides that after a couple hundred or thousands of years of existence, he's had it and put a complete stop to his life... other transhumanists will have nothing but respect for his sovereignly free choice.

    By the way, did you know that, thanks to human ingenuity, average human lifespans have been steadily lengthening ever since antiquity? The "natural", technologically unassisted average human lifespan was somewhere well below age 40.

    That means that all the years you live above your 40th are brought to you thanks to direct and indirect human technological meddling with health and life.

    So, when you reach your 70th or 80th birthday, will that make you a "greedy bastard" too?

    Thought not.

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  31. 'To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious!'
    Count Dracula

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  32. Must have been something you said Bryan.

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  33. Susan B said:

    >Why is it so darn hard to have a discussion with different viewpoints? Probably the same reason no one knows how to properly debate anymore...

    I'm keen for a well-informed debate to take place.

    If any of the anti-transhumanists writing (or reading) these comments feels sufficiently confident that:

    (1) they do understand what real transhumanists think (as opposed to just being fixated on some ludicrous caricature of transhumanists), and

    (2) their own anti-transhumanist arguments have real substance (as opposed to being obscurantist piffle),

    then I would be delighted to see them step up and take part in an old-fashioned real-world debate.

    I am the current organiser for meetings of the UKTA - the UK Transhumanist Association. We hold real-world get-togethers in central London roughly once a month, usually on Saturday afternoons. See our meeting blog for an idea for what we've covered in recent meetings.

    For our December meeting - most likely on 20th Dec - I'm planning the topic to be "Evaluating Transhumanism: the world's most dangerous idea, opium for the geeks, or the world's most important idea?"

    If anyone would like to speak at this meeting, please drop me an email, on dw2cco [at] googlemail [dot] com. (I'm open to suggestions for rewording the topic.)

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  34. Ben:

    Yecch. I feel the same way I do after arguing with a Jehovah's Witness who comes to my door peddling their own special variety of senselessness. When folks refuse to adhere to logic and reason, and just throw insults and rhetoric around, conversation becomes basically useless.

    I'm sorry you feel that way, I thought we were getting along ok.

    I don't question your adherence to reason and logic. You've got a definition of identity, I gave you a thought experiment that forces you to look at that definition, and to your credit you followed your logic consistently to the conclusion that both you and a replica of you are simultaneously and equally you, and that you exist in two places at once.

    It happens that for me and Bryan (and I would guess the majority of people), that renders your notion of identity incoherent. Maybe we're wrong, or maybe you are, but it was a fair debate.

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  35. Brit, could you send me your email? I can't seem to find it.

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  36. i wonder what a hugely-extended lifespan - say, 1000 years - would do to memory, and how memory defines our sense of self. When i was 6 a year seemed to last almost forever; not it's gone in what feels like 2 months (i'm only 32!). If the transhumanists couldn't undo this apparently universal effect of age, then presumably - if this scrunching of experienced time continues - by the time i'm 1000 my sense of my past will be pretty weird, the year 2500 will seem almost simultaneous with the year 2700, for example, just as i confuse things that happened in 2005 and 2006 now.

    Let's say i live for 100,000 years. The accumulated mass of memory would pose quite a problem, i think. i'm sure you could 'do' things to my brain to make the information storable & retrievable, but i suspect it would no longer be memory in the human sense, so much as information such as one stores on a hard drive - the thing about human memory is it constitutes the self (to some extent), whereas information such as one might detach & store electronically is colourless, just data of one kind or another. i can convert colours & shapes, sounds and smells, into code, but not the experience of having been there, then, of having been the i i was and so am.

    i suspect the transhuman future would be one of increasing dehumanisation, in which we farm out the human faculties which are in fact aspects of the imagination (by which i mean how we experience reality, that which makes us vividly conscious) to machines, so we remember virtually nothing in the old way, as part of the imagination, but can retrieve data from memory sticks - data uncoloured by the self, data which is finally alien to the self; and so the self lives in an alien world, like one of Blake's imprisoned figures subject to the domination of the senses untransformed by the imagination.

    Being merely human, we can't evaluate our situation except from a human perspective, and so while i'm all for trying to cure cancer etc., i think it would be prudent to assume that we can't foresee our future with an omnijective clarity, and so it might be well to be a little guarded about supposing we can re-engineer humanity & bring about the New Jerusalem. Hence the large difference between Dante's use of 'trasumanar' (Paradiso, Canto I) and technological transhumanism: Dante supposes an extra-human point of reference, namely God, whereas the transhumanists are trying to bootstrap themselves beyond humanity, using humanity as the only reference.

    Who knows, it may work, but it's epistemologically dodgy and will probably just lead to a race of huge balding men in shirt-sleeves and ties, sitting around eating bacon doughnuts for eternity.

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  37. What if it's true that "[a]n evolving approach to the science of pleasure suggests that each of us contains multiple selves—all with different desires, and all fighting for control. If this is right, the pursuit of happiness becomes even trickier. Can one self bind” [sic] another self if the two want different things? Are you always better off when a Good Self wins? And should outsiders, such as employers and policy makers, get into the fray?"--Paul Bloom, "First Person Plural,"The Atlantic, November 2008.

    I don't buy it myselves-- but ask us again later. Right now we're comtemplating How to live to 114 (in theory). Some of the "habits" some of us like, and some, some of us don't.

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  38. Crikey, they're still banging on.

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  39. we wish the benefits of science and technology to be available to *all* children of DNA...

    Children of what?! These guys are going to single-handedly start a religious revival.

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  40. Prior to reading this debate, I assumed, somewhat complacently, that transhumanists were indeed a bunch of technophilic fanatics and utopians.

    I have to say, however, that most of the posts from the transhumanists in this debate were very impressive and well-reasoned. It was, instead, the counter-posts which appeared to be largely abusive and dismissive.

    I remain in doubt about the wisdom of transhumanism, but I also wonder about the honesty of those who attack them. As the transhumanists point out, they are advocating meliorism, not utopianism, yet they continue to be mis-represented as utopians. That type of mis-representation sets the alarm bells ringing, and I wonder how many of those who oppose transhumanism do so because they believe that the only type of salvation is religious salvation.

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  41. Stuart ArmstrongOctober 24, 2008 3:44 pm

    But if I were forced to guess at the first wave of happenings, mighty rows about funding, a big ding-dong about whether immortality was a fundamental human right, and some sort of religious terrorist campaign would be towards the top of my list of expectations, and a universal acceptance of simple consumer choice would be a long way towards the bottom.

    Don't underestimate the ability of religions to adapt to new circumstances! Religions have changed many times in the past, and will do again. And the option of medical imortality, if possible, will probably become a universal human right once it gets cheap enough. If the presciption is relatively simple, then if will dramatically improve health around the world - instead of plethora of different health issues, the situation will reduce to "here is medical immortality, how do we make this specific procedure available to anyone who wants it".

    I only forsee really serious problems if it was anounced simultaneously that:
    a) medical immortality is possible (as opposed to just ever-extending life/health spans)
    b) it is obscenely expensive, and
    c) the price will not go down any time soon.

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  42. >>we wish the benefits of science and technology to be available to *all* children of DNA...

    Peter Burnett:
    >Children of what?! These guys are going to single-handedly start a religious revival.

    Children of all of us. More choices please, less chained to what we were born with. Allow those who want, to help humans live fuller, healther, longer, happier, more productive lives.

    Does anyone disagree that immunizations have generally improved our lives? Or glasses? Or contraceptives? These are transhumanist technologies for transhumanist-thinking people.

    Or ask yourself why is it that 1/2 of the human species are limited to a ~20 year period to grow/nurture/support their families? What choices do infertile couples have when nature doesn't work for them? What choices does a woman have when she must stop her prime career years to begin her family? For example.

    These are facets of life today with which technology can help and support. And also very transhumanist.

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  43. The idea that transhumanism is some kind of utopian movement is obvious bunk. In order for it to be a utopian movement, its promulgators would have to advocating it as a national or global program. If "H+" magazine is representative of the motivations of its promulgators, it is very clear that they are not promoting it as such a universalist program that everyone who have to partake in. Rather, "H+" strikes me as one of these glossy computer magazines or wired magazine where it just throws all of these ideas out like they are "products" you can soon buy at your local "Best Buy" store.

    How can this be misconstrued as some kind of utopian project? Judging from the H+ magazine, transhumanism is no more of a utopian movement than the 24hour fitness club network.

    You guys (meaning critics) are way over the top on this.

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  44. As the transhumanists point out, they are advocating meliorism, not utopianism, yet they continue to be mis-represented as utopians.

    I don't think so, Gordon. No doubt they have their strident radicals and their more patient Fabians, but if all they were about was alleviating pain and disease and extending healthy lifespans, they wouldn't need a fancy philosphical name and worldview to redefine humanness. They would just be called medical researchers. You have fallen into the same trap as the person who lets a marxist convince him he just wants to cure poverty or an environmentalist who say she just wants clean rivers. More havoc has been caused by that little suffix "ism" than any other.

    I wonder how many of those who oppose transhumanism do so because they believe that the only type of salvation is religious salvation.

    No doubt quite a few, but they are clearly not the only ones. However, do you think that makes them wrong or disenfranchises them?

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  45. Well, I can safely say this attracted alot of attention.

    Anyway, in my experience, transhumanism is more or less gearing up for the future. Preparing to deal with problems of technologies that are only beginning to surface into the public world.

    Of course, for ease of use, it'd be better to call everyone here against tranhumanism neo-luddites. Though of course you prefer to believe that death, pain and lack of choice is the better way. If any of you can please tell me exactly 'why' you believe such seeming nonsense, I, and others, would be most grateful.

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  46. Though of course you prefer to believe that death, pain and lack of choice is the better way. If any of you can please tell me exactly 'why' you believe such seeming nonsense,

    Tempting as it is to answer it's because that's how we get our kicks, perhaps you can tell us why you are so troubled. Have we not been repeatedly assured that this is all about free choice and that those who choose to take a pass will be perfectly at liberty to do so. No pressure here, right? Different strokes for different folks? So why all the polite proslyetizing? Is anybody threatening to ban your efforts?

    You wouldn't by any chance be worried about competing for research resources or moral objections to certain types of research, would you?

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  47. Philippe Van NederveldeOctober 25, 2008 2:22 pm

    Peter Burnet said: "So why all the polite proslyetizing? Is anybody threatening to ban your efforts?"

    For multiple reasons. In part because the interests of transhumanists have not yet achieved mainstream acceptance. Also because there is a shrinking but still large and vocal contingent of bio-conservatives and bio-luddites who actively oppose and try to prevent, derail or frustrate research and medical practices to which they have moral or other objections.

    We are at the point where early christianity was in its first couple of centuries: a still relatively small but swiftly growing group of people who see things a bit differently.

    Changes sweep through our modern societies far more swiftly and ever faster these days... so we have good hopes that it will not take us 2000 years for there to be billions of people seeing things essentially our way.

    To avoid any ambiguity, transhumanism is NOT a religion, cult, or sect. We are not a fatih-based movement. We do not 'believe' in anything. At best, we have a number of strong convictions, solidly rooted in science and technology.

    Carl Sagan once famously said that the essence of the rationalist, scientific, Enlightenment attitude is to say: "I do not want to believe, I want to find out."

    Transhumanists are a group of humans who want to find out... and keep pushing the envelope of the technologically achievable. If it can be done, it will be done. We thrive on great challenges.

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  48. Peter: "Have we not been repeatedly assured that this is all about free choice and that those who choose to take a pass will be perfectly at liberty to do so."

    Yes. Transhumanism is all about personal freedom and self-ownership. Once technology provides optional indefinite lifespans, it will be up to each person to make her or his own choice. I certainly hope that most people will choose life instead of death, but cannot and would not do anything to force anyone.

    Peter: "You wouldn't by any chance be worried about competing for research resources or moral objections to certain types of research, would you?"

    Note that I do NOT think highly speculative research should receive much public funding at this moment, because I think there are more urgent things to do with public funds. Of course, private companies and foundation can and should spend their money as they want.

    But when it comes to moral objections, if you have moral objections to certain types of research, then simply stay away from those types of research. Don't practice them if you are researcher, and don't support them with your money and time. And of course, as a citizen you can participate in the political debate and indicate how you wish to see public funds are resources used.

    But not private funds and resources - don't tell me how I have to use my time, money and resources: I have a violent allergy to that. Also, note that banning research is stupid: the result can only be driving research abroad and/or underground.

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  49. Sorry, overlapping typos in my last comment. I mean "as a citizen you can participate in the political debate and indicate how you wish to see public funds and resources used".

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  50. Re: "If all they were about was alleviating pain and disease and extending healthy lifespans, they wouldn't need a fancy philosphical name and worldview to redefine humanness.... More havoc has been caused by that little suffix "ism" than any other."

    You know Peter, part of me agrees with you on this point. Looking back at history, I see that -isms and monolithic ideologies, religions and systems of thought have done more harm than good, and caused lots of suffering that could and should have been avoided.

    I think no ideology has all the answers, and that's why we should stop looking for one and focus on _ideas_ instead of _ideologies_. That is why I am not extremely keen of "transhumanism" as a term. Instead of thinking of transhumanism-as-ideology, I prefer thinking of transhumanism-as-good-ideas, with one unifying flavor: that the actual happiness of concrete persons is much more important than any abstract ideological or "ethical" preconceived notions.

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  51. I will tell you Guilio – and all the other Transhumanists - how to use your money: enable some kind of life to the wretched impoverished way way before improving - God forbid! - extending the lives of a spoilt elite.

    I think of Mr Burns having his special treatments. Miserable old cnut.

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  52. Snakepit - actually, I sympathize with the political position you are expressing. For your information, many transhumanist dedicate significant amounts of time, energy and money to programs aimed at improving the lives of less fortunate persons, everywhere on the planet. I am not rich, but I volunteer time and donate money to several humanitarian causes.

    I only disagree on "way way before". New technologies are usually available to elites first, spoilt or not, then regulatory measures and market forces make them available to the majority of the population. My first cell phone was big and heavy like a brick and expensive like hell, now most people (in the western world) have a light and cheap one in their pocket.

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  53. Phillipe:

    OK, let's see if I am following here. You are not a religion (perish the thought), cult or sect. You are not faith-based. Indeed, you don't "believe" in anything. You are just a few nice ultra-rational folks with big hearts engaged in a growing and exciting movement to beat Christianity's record for there to be billions of people seeing things essentially our way?

    You sound like the Esperanto movement.

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  54. Here we are living finite lives, and we suffer and die. By watching what we eat, getting exercise, and looking both ways, we can live healthier and extend our lives. We can also take pills and many of us have benefited from medical procedures that have given us more years or made this living less painful. My lifespan has been extended with a stent, for instance, when a while before, my heart attack would have necessitated tricky and debilitating surgery, albeit lifesaving. Decades before this, I would have stayed dead. But I came back (in a hospital bed, not in the back of a van).

    So here we say, screw mere medical advances, screw taking step by step advances through life-giving and/or life-enhancing procedures. Let's set big goals. Let's look at alleviating suffering altogether, and maybe alleviating death altogether. Let's then look at what we have for technology and knowledge, even wisdom, that can get us there, and, furthermore, let's look at what we need, what we do not yet have, and develop it. Let's all say that this is what we will strive for. Let's go for it, and we will call this great movement transhumanism.

    If the above two paragraphs are fair, then I'm good with it. However, it is utopian. If you respond that it is practical, and convince me that it is practical, then I will respond and say that utopia has now become practical.

    Yet there is more, there are the hard practicalities. There is talk about uploading memories and mental states, such that they can be downloaded into less-suffering bodies. Brit has gone far to bring up problems with this train of thought that maybe some transhumanists might be taking too seriously--problems that are at least serious concerns, that should be gone over with a fine tooth comb, applying all philosophies and wisdom theories that we can conceive of. The fear of giving up one's body, because, theoretically, a downloading of one's "self" or being will take place afterward, is a reasonable fear. There is no way to calculate the probability of failure. We can "only" measure and observe the physical.

    It is not enough for transhumanists to be questioning what they are doing--yes they must. But this is first step only. In this world, it is up to others to speak into what transhumanists are doing as well. All of us are here. If it were true, and I am not saying that it is, but if it were true that masses of transhumanists are drinking veritable poisoned kool aid, others would be speaking into that conversation to say don't do it--as best as they could. Responses might be "This will make me immortal, not poison me. You are wrong and will die. I am right and will live." It might also be that tranhumanists are drinking mere snake oil. No harm. But still, others would and maybe should speak into the conversation and say, "Hey, there's nothing to snake oil. It doesn't work." And that they "maybe should" is good enough. Again, not that this is so, but the transhumanist answer still might be, "I will drink this snake oil, and it will make me immortal. You do what you want."

    Yours,
    Rus

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  55. Peter Burnet:
    >If all they were about was alleviating pain and disease and extending healthy lifespans, they wouldn't need a fancy philosphical name and worldview to redefine humanness....

    In fact, many of the ideas of self-transformation, longevity, and immortality are very old. Lao Tzu and the Chinese philosophers (spiritual transformation, elixirs), the Hindu Atharva Veda, Aristotle (improving natural processes) Cassiodorus and Pappus (conquering nature), Zosimos (regenerating nature), Jabir Ibn El-Hayyan (also known Geber, imitate nature and erase the distinction between natural and artificial products), Francis Bacon (alchemy and experimental chemical science), George Darwin (put alchemists' ideas in a biological context), and Paracelsus (the homunculus) all show threads of today's ideas going back a couple of thousand of years. It _is_ helpful to identify the ideas and if one can, denote those ideas with particular words when one has discussions with others and each other. I don't like 'isms' generally.

    >They would just be called medical researchers.

    As a scientist, I can tell you that researchers don't work in a vacuum, they work in a political and socio-economical context. Ideas matter in such a context because those those ideas are translated into public funding for particular kinds of research, and laws banning other particular areas of research.

    We can use your medical researchers, as one example. Has anyone noticed the large increase in multiple births today, especially in the U.S.? Multiple pregnancies are not an evolutionary advantage on the body of today's women. It is an odd situation arising from various technologies that leapfroged while other technologies were banned. Triplets happen naturally in 1/8000 births, Qudruplets in one out of 800,000, Quintuplets naturally in one in 40 million. Today those numbers have increased thousands of percent. Fertility drugs and other assisted reproduction technology (ART) have existed for decades, however enough aspects (embryo studies) are legally banned to make embryo transfers (how many) into a kind of black art. Fertility doctors don't know how many will implant because little research is allowed, so frequently many are transferred, fingers are crossed so that the clinic's high pregnancy success rate can be advertised, and then the extra embryos are killed off with potassium chloride (those who can afford the extra costs) or not, which gives you, voila, triplets. Meanwhile half million frozen embryos remain in storage in hundreds of US clinics, with the owners are indecisive for how to dispose of them, and federal laws banning their use for medical research.

    And there are other aspects of ART that are bound in the socio-political fabric. IVF has existed for decades, yet the methods of body preparation (hormonal stimulation of the egg follicles or to prepare the uterine lining for reception of the fertilized egg) have not changed for more than ten years. The woman cannot escape the daily injections and bruises; so why has the medical field not advanced to provide the same ease that women have with contraceptives? Apparently the market can't yet support the extra research and not enough (or any) public funding exists. A gray area lagging in sufficient support.

    Another example is egg freezing. Egg freezing is a viable technology since 2002, but the societal progress for acceptance is extremely slow and is considered by the official medical bodies (e.g. American Society for Reproductive Medicine) to still be an experimental procedure, even though the egg extraction portion of egg freezing has been in practice in IVF for 20 years. Many doctors will freeze eggs for cancer patients, but will not offer the option to fertile women. They think that it is unethical to 'normalize' a woman's waiting to bear children. They think that the only interests served for such a service are those ambitious, unforgiving work cultures and don't see it as one of an array of choices that women and their partners would like to have in viewing their long-term lives. Costs for a young woman undergoing such a procedure is also prohibitive (~USD 10 000) at that early point in her life.

    So you see, it is easy to say, 'just call it medical research', but the binding of that research in the socio-political fabric is strong. What I hope, and what people who share similar human-enhancement views hope, is that the such technological ideas are openly discussed, people are educated and become involved in a way that scientific progress can be made (funding and stupid bans removed) so that everyone can benefit and with fewer risks.

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  56. Peter: "You are not a religion (perish the thought), cult or sect. You are not faith-based. Indeed, you don't "believe" in anything. You are just a few nice ultra-rational folks with big hearts engaged in a growing and exciting movement".

    I do detect the intended irony of course, but I think this characterization is basically correct.

    The analogy with Esperanto is not correct in my opinion, but it does have some valid elements. Esperanto was to be a better language that everyone could use as a second language to communicate with others. Other engineered languages such as Lojban may be more successful in specific application areas - Lojban has been proposed as trade language between humans and machines. But instead of using Esperanto or Lojban, the people on the planet have chosen (often broken) English as universal trade language, much like Latin in the middle ages and French in the 18th and 19th century. Other engineered languages have been very successful. For example Swahili was designed as a regional trade language, and Hebrew was revived from old text to replace the Yiddish spoken by many early settlers from central Europe. Esperanto failed because it was a solution looking for a problem. But when there was a clear problem to solve, such as the lack of a regional trade language or the need to boost a new national identity, engineered languages have been successful.

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  57. giulio, amaragraps et. al.:

    I thank you for your courteous and reasoned replies. I don't want to take up too much more of our host's bandwith, but perhaps he will return to this subject some time and we can have another go.

    But one last word to giulio on Esperanto. I think the analogy may be much more telling than you allow. The Esperanto movement and its adherents weren't just about reducing the bottom line for traders by 5% through savings on translation costs. It was a case study in the hyper-rationalism folks can get swept up in when they set out to cure what they see as the irrational side of human nature and existence. Much as transhumanists see death and disease as the ultimate unnecessary and unpleasant irrationalities (as they surely are), so Esperanto buffs saw a multilingual world as irrational and divisive, and responsible for misunderstanding and conflict. Much as hardcore transhumanists seem to be coming to see radically extended life as an unadulterated boon only the ignorant, superstitious and uneducated would fail to appreciate, so Esperanto activists saw a universal language crafted on logic and reason as a powerful antidote to war and conflict. Much as they simplistically blamed all conflict on illogical fears of "the other", so you seem to be taking our instinctive, natural impulses to protect ourselves and our loved ones from pain and death and promising to relieve us of that terrible burden with absolutely no downside. More years of happy family Christmas dinners and sexy holidays in Majorca? Who could possibly object to that?

    You both are trying to fulfill two of mankind's atavistic, eternal dreams, they to abolish conflict and instill universal brotherly love, and you to abolish suffering and death. But they soon moved into their own irrationalities born of a profound misunderstanding of the human condition. Like you, they lived the dream in magazines and at conferences where they spent too much time complimemnting one another on their forward-looking brilliance, dismissed critics as hidebound by "old ways of thinking" and ignored such hard questions like how to explain civil wars and family feuds and the fact there is really no correlation between contact, friendship, trade ec. and an absence of conflict. The hard reality is that proximity and comprehension can be and always have been as much a source of conflict as remoteness, and perhaps more.

    In any event, it never took, but a hardy band of believers still soldier on today, more as a quirky hobby than a creed. I wouldn't dream of opposing or interfering with them, except perhaps for fun on a blog, but I suspect that if the true believers among them had ever attained power, they would have started by encouraging the universal teaching of Esperanto, then mandated it, then restricted and possibily even abolished other "irrational"languages and then finally become very nasty towards those that refused to play along. And I don't have much doubt that some in your circle would be equally purposeful in trying to effect the radical transformations of the essence of human consciousness and existence that you would need to do to solve the myriad pragmatic and existential challenges and objections you would have to confront. 'Cause that's what Utopians do. In the end, simply repeating shibboleths about education, choice and exciting new futuristic technologies would be revealed as articles of faith, not the pragmatic, rational arguments you seem to believe they are.

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  58. Peter Burnett said: "I thank you for your courteous and reasoned replies. I don't want to take up too much more of our host's bandwith, but perhaps he will return to this subject some time and we can have another go."

    Gee, I just started reading and commenting on this subject last night before bed. I wake up and now it's dead? I was looking forward to some good conversation. Life's too short and good times just don't last long enough.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  59. Rus:

    Life's too short and good times just don't last long enough.

    I see you are a closet transhumanist. :-)

    Sorry if I sounded like the blogmeister, I just meant my participation.

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  60. Very cool. Now, thirty years ago, before the final word:

    Six Million Dollar Man & Bionic Woman.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  61. Peter: "giulio, amaragraps et. al.: I thank you for your courteous and reasoned replies. I don't want to take up too much more of our host's bandwith, but perhaps he will return to this subject some time and we can have another go."

    I thank you Peter, and all other oarticipants, for this stimulating discusion, and certainly I do not wish to impose too much bandwidth on this discussion space. I am sure those who wish to continue the discussion can easily find us.

    I agree with many of the considerations you make in this post. It is true that we "spend too much time complimemnting one another on their forward-looking brilliance", and not enough time communicating with others - I want to change that. And yes, there is always the danger that today's new ideas become tomorrow's old articles of faith. I will oppose that if I am still around. I do not want to see a monolithis transhumanist ideology replacing other monolithic ideologies - I want to see some transhumanist ideas disappearing into the fabric of our society.

    My coordinates:
    Giulio Prisco
    http://cosmeng.org/index.php/Giulio_Prisco
    Blog: http://transumanar.com/

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  62. I guess I really did come late. That's three people assuming the conversation is over here, just as I arrive. And me clicking in waiting for more in the thread. We all know there is no bandwidth issue.

    I guess also there is nothing left to say, not much more to it, no points to be answered here. We're so sure of ourselves. We've got it all figured out as far as what happens to consciousness on the upload and download? Seriously? You really think so? B.S. You wish.

    Yours,
    Rus

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  63. Rus:

    Ask them whether, if they succeed in doubling our average lifespan, people will be encouraged/expected to work twice as long and devote twice as many years to raising children. I'll bet they tell you that will be a matter of individual choice. If you then want to tackle the issue of responsibilities for caring for the aged, you are a braver man than I.

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  64. A better assumption, Rus, is that other aspects have a higher priority on some of our lives. My day job is a spacecraft (New Horizons) that is out of hibernation through middle December, and my weekends and evenings (if I can stay awake; fatigue in the third trimester is considerable) is spent on writing my next grant proposal and preparing for my baby, which should be arriving in 6-8 weeks. It's been nice chatting, though. Ciao!

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  65. Not according to transhumanists. estetik We have no interest in any utopias. burun estetigi Instead, transhumanism is deeply rooted in and based on "hard" science and technology. gögüs büyütme Again, we are NOT naive, self-deluding, blue-sky utopians. gögüs estetigi We are wholly and fully cognizant of how how gritty, mucky and yucky the gutter sides and the dirty underbelly of the human condition can be. gögüs küçültme Most of us -yours truly included- have seen loved ones suffer the slow shipwrecking of the body and the mind visited upon them by diseases and aging. vajina daraltma Some of us (transhumanists) have battled or are battling horribly debilitating diseases as we discuss these things here. lazer epilasyon. It is exactly because of these experiences AND the knowledge that science and technology are becoming ever more capable at radically preventing and avoiding such suffering that we refuse to resign ourselves to acceptance of sliding down on that slow path towards becoming worm-fodder. karin germe Thank you very much, but not for us, please. estetik And to dissuade anyone from the temptation of calling transhumanists selfish and undemocratic, please learn that we wish the benefits of science and technology to be available to *all karin ameliyatlari* children of DNA, without exception, at affordable prices or even free. saç ekimi

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  66. elberry said...
    "it can never be satisfied, the mind, never" (Wallace Stevens).

    i look forward to seeing technological advances demonstrate their own futility.

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