Atheist Pseudoscience

Atheist Zoltan Istvan writes:

‘Sometime in the next decade, the number of worldwide godless people — atheists, agnostics, and those unaffiliated with religion — is likely to break through the billion-person mark. Many in this massive group already champion reason, defend science, welcome radical technologies, and implicitly trust and embrace modern medicine. They are, indeed, already transhumanists. Yet many of them don’t know it because they haven’t thought much about it. However, that is about to change. A transformative cultural storm comprised of radical life improving technologies is set to blow in soon.

Whenever atheists start artificially inflating their numbers and start promising revolutionary changes, my skeptic-o-meter starts to go off. Perhaps Zoltan can better explain to the agnostics and unaffiliated what they believe:

Broadly defined, the word transhuman means beyond human.

Oh, oh. I think I know where this is going.

The growing transhumanist social movement encompasses and encourages virtually all ideas that enhance human existence via the application of science and technology. More specifically, transhumanism includes the fields of radical life extension, Singularitarianism, robotics, artificial intelligence, cryonics, genetic engineering, biohacking, cyborgism, and many other lesser known fields of science.

Hmmm. A social movement built around the idea of using applied science to “enhance human existence.” Sounds familiar. We had one of those in the early 1900s called……eugenics. Certainly, Zoltan doesn’t have in mind a reboot of an updated version of eugenics, does he?

The core of transhumanist thought is two-sided. It begins with discontent about the humdrum status quo of human life and our frail, terminal human bodies.

Atheists discontent with “the humdrum status quo of human life and our frail, terminal human bodies?” What could that mean?

It is followed by an awe-inspiring vision of what can be done to improve both — of how dramatically the world and our species can be transformed via science and technology. Transhumanists want more guarantees than just death, consumerism, and offspring. Much more. They want to be better, smarter, stronger — perhaps even perfect and immortal if science can make them that way. Most transhumanists believe it can.

Whoa! Better, smarter, stronger? This is a reboot of eugenics. But it is eugenics on steroids. For this “science” also promises perfection and immortality! I thought atheists embraced death and were not afraid of it.

These atheist voices and their writings have paved the way for us, and now the 21st Century will bring the age of transhumanism to the forefront of society. The transhumanist hero is the person who constantly eyes improving their health, lifestyle, and longevity with science and technology.

Did he just use the word “hero?” So in his atheistic universe, the “hero” is someone obsessed with Self.

They are not okay with the past age of feeling guilty for aspiring to be different or better than they were born — or for wanting the power to become godlike themselves.

So the atheist proudly announces his desire to become “godlike.” In an atheistic universe, Self gets to decides its own purpose, its own meaning, and even what is right and wrong. So why not go all the way to declare your intentions to become “godlike?”

They have no sin to erase; they have no reason to search for something outside of the material universe.

Better, smarter, stronger, guilt-free, sinless, and godlike. All purchased with science and technology. What could go wrong?

So transhumanism is form of pseudoscience that mixes atheism, narcissism, and the quest for power. Of course, from the Christian perspective, this is all quite predictable.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in atheism, Science and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Atheist Pseudoscience

  1. Crude says:

    I’m reminded of Luke Melhauser, whose big thing is yammering on about how the biggest threat the world faces is the potential creation of an unstoppable God-AI who will attain power and wreak havoc against humanity. Once you start poking around in the atheist religion, it really starts looking a lot less like atheism and a lot more like paganism.

    Oh, and just to be fair, it’s not just the atheists.

  2. Luke Parrish says:

    Most atheists aren’t transhumanists, but that’s hardly to their credit in my opinion — transhumanism has been around for a long time, and is a perfectly respectable position for a nonreligious skeptic. It is the logical conclusion of having compassion towards humanity (i.e. humanism). The idea is to improve human existence by improving on human features — stronger bodies and so forth. It is not like eugenics because it does not rely on brute force natural selection to do so, but other more powerful technologies (most of which are anticipated, some of which exist). Equal access to such technologies is something often debated within the community. (Yes, there’s a whole community, and it is big. If you’ve never heard of transhumanism before Zoltan Istvan started making noise, it is because you’ve been living under a rock.)

  3. Ignostic Atheist says:

    Funny, whenever someone mentions eugenics, my skeptic-o-meter goes off.

  4. Luke Parrish says:

    “Equal access to such technologies is something often debated within the community.”

    Actually I should say it is often advocated within the community. I’m not aware of anyone taking the opposite side or claiming that access should be unequal. However, there is something of the classic libertarian/liberal divide regarding whether we need to aggressively provide for the economically underprivileged versus whether it will work out for itself in a free market.

    Interestingly, in advocating cryonics and life extension I have found that many people outside the transhumanist community seem to respond with the idea that we should only cryopreserve or give life extending drugs to the best and the brightest. That’s more eugenics-like than anything I’ve seen within transhumanism.

    Most cryonicists are content to allow preservation and life extension for anyone who wants it (although they aren’t exactly offering to pay for it). Luckily, thanks to economies of scale, mass cryopreservation would probably be economically viable to provide for underprivileged individuals using taxpayer dollars (or perhaps even purely by charity).

  5. Eugenics is a loaded word that critics love to use. Readers, don’t apply the 20th Century meaning of the word to the 21st Century. Science and technology are changing the species, for the better and the greater good. Furthermore, I do believe most transhumanists and atheists, including myself, would like to make radical life extension science and technology available to all. It’s in the best interest of the species to have everyone become the best they can be.

    “Shadow to Light” Blog and those others leaving comments, thank you for all your thoughts.

    Cheers,
    Zoltan Istvan / The Transhumanist Wager

  6. Michael says:

    Luke: The idea is to improve human existence by improving on human features — stronger bodies and so forth. It is not like eugenics because it does not rely on brute force natural selection to do so, but other more powerful technologies (most of which are anticipated, some of which exist).

    Yet that is a distinction without a difference. Eugenics did not rely on the brute force of natural selection. On the contrary, eugenicists sought to give selection a scientific, artificial dimension (by controlling breeding). Genetics was the cutting edge, revolutionary science of the day and scientists, along with science enthusiasts, were convinced it would help bring about a better form of humanity. With transhumanism, the applied science is far more advanced. But the same spirit – the mix of naïve utopianism and the quest for power and control, seems to be at work.

    Zoltan: Eugenics is a loaded word that critics love to use. Readers, don’t apply the 20th Century meaning of the word to the 21st Century.

    I’m not a “critic” who loves to use that word. I am barely familiar with transhumanism. But I am fairly well familiar with the eugenics movement. It is from this vantage that led to me to sense the eugenic-urge behind your quest to become godlike. Instead of dismissing the history of the eugenics movement with a wave of the hand and silly talking points, have transhumanists actually made a serious effort to learn from history?

    Zoltan: Furthermore, I do believe most transhumanists and atheists, including myself, would like to make radical life extension science and technology available to all. It’s in the best interest of the species to have everyone become the best they can be.

    But this is nothing more than a nice sentiment mixed with wishful thinking. You would need to a) make the case the such massively expensive technology could be “available to all” and the b) provide the a very powerful case that it would be “available to all.”

    Look, from what I can tell, transhumanism is pseudoscience that takes us half-way to Crazy Land. But for the fun sake of argument, you have to get beyond platitudes when it comes to making this wonder technology available to all.

    Luke tells us: Interestingly, in advocating cryonics and life extension I have found that many people outside the transhumanist community seem to respond with the idea that we should only cryopreserve or give life extending drugs to the best and the brightest. That’s more eugenics-like than anything I’ve seen within transhumanism.

    It doesn’t matter. You are admitting the existence of many people who are already willing to morph transhumanism into eugenics (actually, that is the logic outcome). How are you going to stop that from happening? With words? With laws? Human reality does not work that way.

    Luke writes: Luckily, thanks to economies of scale, mass cryopreservation would probably be economically viable to provide for underprivileged individuals using taxpayer dollars (or perhaps even purely by charity).

    That’s it? Taxes and charity? I’m sorry, but you need some tough love here – this is childish, magical thinking. We in the West currently possess a level of debt that has hit a 200-year high. Yet ipods and hip replacement surgery are not available to all.

  7. Mark says:

    Transhumanism has nothing to do with eugenics. Eugenics was coerced, did nothing to benefit the people who took part in it, and was based on a faulty understanding of how genetics worked, about a century before we ever mapped the human genome. And narcissism? I fail to see having ambition and wanting to improve one’s self is narcissistic. In fact, last time I checked, narcissists don’t think there’s anything they need to improve about their selves.

  8. Mark Plus says:

    Michael says:

    “Look, from what I can tell, transhumanism is pseudoscience that takes us half-way to Crazy Land.”

    Some neuroscientists and cryobiologists argue that by pushing hard on the frontiers of brain preservation with current and reachable technologies, we can start the project now of trying to turn death from a permanent off-state into a temporary and reversible off-state. They have set up the Brain Preservation Foundation to raise money for incentive prizes towards this goal:

    http://www.brainpreservation.org/

    Michael Shermer, the American critic of pseudoscience and editor of Skeptic magazine, serves as one of this foundation’s advisors, so he apparently considers the idea scientifically defensible:

    http://www.brainpreservation.org/content/advisors

  9. Mark Plus says:

    Michael says:

    “We in the West currently possess a level of debt that has hit a 200-year high.”

    “Debt” in the modern fiat money system equals other people’s financial assets. If you use the U.S. dollar, you live in a closed financial system and your U.S. dollar assets literally can’t come from anywhere else but the Federal U.S. dollar debt. Read up on Modern Monetary Theory to see how this works.

  10. Luke Parrish says:

    Transhumanism is opposite eugenics in that it rejects the Naturalistic Fallacy, i.e. the idea that if something is natural (e.g. brute force selection) it is therefore good or permissible to stand by and watch happen. Sure, eugenics is artificial, but the justification was that it is very closely analogous to what happens in nature anyway to keep populations from losing fitness, and actually helps them adapt to new niches. Transhumanism is taking the opposite approach, that we should not even stand by and watch natural selection do its dirty work, let alone aging.

  11. Michael says:

    Transhumanism has nothing to do with eugenics. Eugenics was coerced, did nothing to benefit the people who took part in it, and was based on a faulty understanding of how genetics worked, about a century before we ever mapped the human genome.

    Of course they are not the same. Yet they both draw from the same well – a mix of naïve, scientific utopianism and the quest for power and control. Both focus on the illusory promise of making a better human.

    And narcissism? I fail to see having ambition and wanting to improve one’s self is narcissistic. In fact, last time I checked, narcissists don’t think there’s anything they need to improve about their selves.

    Notice the self-improvement is about getting “stronger, smarter, and godlike.” We see the same attitude in Hollywood actors, with their obsessions with plastic surgery, diets, and physical fitness. Narcissists are always focusing on such forms of self-improvement.

    Some neuroscientists and cryobiologists argue that by pushing hard on the frontiers of brain preservation with current and reachable technologies, we can start the project now of trying to turn death from a permanent off-state into a temporary and reversible off-state. They have set up the Brain Preservation Foundation to raise money for incentive prizes towards this goal:

    Prize incentives for brain preservation? Yep, sounds like pseudoscience to me.

    Michael Shermer, the American critic of pseudoscience and editor of Skeptic magazine, serves as one of this foundation’s advisors, so he apparently considers the idea scientifically defensible

    Shermer is an atheist activist and helps promote Peter Boghossian’s pseudoscience about “faith viruses.” So all you have told me with this point is that a) he applies his skepticism selectively and b) he is afraid of death. Hate to break it to you, but transhumanism sure looks like a pseudoscience.

  12. Michael says:

    Transhumanism is opposite eugenics in that it rejects the Naturalistic Fallacy, i.e. the idea that if something is natural (e.g. brute force selection) it is therefore good or permissible to stand by and watch happen. Sure, eugenics is artificial, but the justification was that it is very closely analogous to what happens in nature anyway to keep populations from losing fitness, and actually helps them adapt to new niches. Transhumanism is taking the opposite approach, that we should not even stand by and watch natural selection do its dirty work, let alone aging.

    Eugenics rejected the “Naturalistic Fallacy” likewise in its attempt to improve the human race. Their approach was analogous to nature simply because that was the best technology they had back then. But like modern transhumanists, they were very optimistic and enthusiastic and didn’t give much thought to what could possibly go wrong.

  13. Luke Parrish says:

    Are you sure the naturallistic fallacy played no part in their rationalizations? That the fact that Nature Herself oppresses, kills, and sterilizes the weak and unfit, was not part of the reason this seemed like an okay thing to do? The basis for rejecting this is not found in nature, but in our own humanity. We feel empathy for those oppressed by eugenics, and want to stop whatever we are doing that is hurting them. But if we are consistent, we must also feel empathy for those oppressed by nature itself — to actually step in and do something about the problems.

    Some transhumanists may be motivated by narcissism. I don’t know which category I would fall under — my own dislike of suffering, death, and overall mediocrity does play a part. But I’m aware that others are out there in worse shape than me, and they would benefit more than me by these technologies. It cannot all be laid at the feet of narcissism. The fact that I feel pain with regards to human frailty is a reminder that others feel it too, and that this is a topic that extends significantly beyond my own self interest. If it were just me, I might simply learn to deal with it and stop thinking so much about technologies that could help billions.

  14. Mark says:

    “Look, from what I can tell, transhumanism is pseudoscience that takes us half-way to Crazy Land. But for the fun sake of argument, you have to get beyond platitudes when it comes to making this wonder technology available to all.”

    Obviously you haven’t been paying attention to history. Not only is technology’s rate of growth accelerating, how quickly it disseminates is as well. When electricity becomes a power source, it took around forty years for a third of the American population to acquire it, when the cellphone was invented, something that has more computing power than the entirety of NASA during the mooning, it only took around nine years for virtually everyone to have one. Even if that wasn’t the case, this “if I can’t have it then no one else can” mindset you’re promoting here is incredibly childish.

    “Notice the self-improvement is about getting “stronger, smarter, and godlike.” We see the same attitude in Hollywood actors, with their obsessions with plastic surgery, diets, and physical fitness. Narcissists are always focusing on such forms of self-improvement.”

    Except these forms of self improvement that they practice are completely superficial.

    “Prize incentives for brain preservation? Yep, sounds like pseudoscience to me.”

    “Shermer is an atheist activist and helps promote Peter Boghossian’s pseudoscience about “faith viruses.” So all you have told me with this point is that a) he applies his skepticism selectively and b) he is afraid of death. Hate to break it to you, but transhumanism sure looks like a pseudoscience.”

    Sorry, but do you even know what pseudoscience means? Transhumanism is already happening. And this is going off on a tangent, but faith of any kind is a virus, at least in the way that it propagates itself, there’s even a whole field of study devoted to it called memetics, about how ideas spread.

    “Eugenics rejected the “Naturalistic Fallacy” likewise in its attempt to improve the human race. Their approach was analogous to nature simply because that was the best technology they had back then. But like modern transhumanists, they were very optimistic and enthusiastic and didn’t give much thought to what could possibly go wrong.”

    Forcibly sterilizing people by assuming that they’re weak and wouldn’t reproduce if society didn’t artificially hold them up? That’s not rejection, that embraces the fallacy. Transhumanism doesn’t do that, it empowers the weak. Giving the blind visual prostheses, the deaf cochlear implants, the disabled prosthetic limbs, the weak of heart pacemakers, the facially disfigured plastic surgery and skin grafts? That’s Transhumanism. Some will do it purely out of self preservation and vanity, sure, but many more will do it so they won’t have to leave their loved ones and so that they won’t have to leave them, to elevate art, music, and literature to heights you could not even imagine, to answer questions of science and philosophy that we’ve been pondering from the moment we could ask them, to explore entire universe before us, to pursue knowledge. If you want to pass on this, fine. If you’re cool with embracing death on the very slight off chance there’s something waiting for you on the other end, fine. But please cut the technophobic demagoguery, and don’t be so presumptuous as to call everyone who doesn’t see things the way you do narcissists.

  15. Crude says:

    Even if that wasn’t the case, this “if I can’t have it then no one else can” mindset you’re promoting here is incredibly childish.

    He’s not promoting an ‘if I can’t have it then no one else can’ mindset. He’s pointing out the fringier aspects of transhumanism for what they are. Have you been helping anymore people freeze their bodies/brains based on the faithful hope that a technology will be invented that will reverse the damage done to them during the process?

    And this is going off on a tangent, but faith of any kind is a virus, at least in the way that it propagates itself, there’s even a whole field of study devoted to it called memetics, about how ideas spread.

    ‘Whole field of study’? Last I checked they couldn’t even keep a single journal dedicated to ‘memetics’ going. Can you please point me at who’s, say… getting their degree in memetics?

    Also – ‘faith of any kind is a virus’? If so, transhumanists are infected.

    Transhumanism doesn’t do that, it empowers the weak. Giving the blind visual prostheses, the deaf cochlear implants, the disabled prosthetic limbs, the weak of heart pacemakers, the facially disfigured plastic surgery and skin grafts? That’s Transhumanism.

    No, it’s really not. I suppose you could always push that if you like and broaden the definition of ‘transhumanism’ to ‘something various Churches have been engaged in for ages’. Feel free.

    to elevate art, music, and literature to heights you could not even imagine,

    Funny, I’ve noticed a whole lot of decline in those things despite the onset of technology. Special effects have gotten better. So have video games and some (of course) comp related tech. It hasn’t led to lock-step improvement in much of anything in those areas.

    If you’re cool with embracing death on the very slight off chance there’s something waiting for you on the other end, fine.

    ‘Slight’? You have no odds calculations that weren’t pulled out of your posterior. And do you really think ’embracing’ or ‘not embracing’ death ultimately determines whether you’ll avoid it? It’s still an eventuality on transhumanism, save for the most absolutely idyllic varieties a la The Omega Point – which just goes to show transhumanism’s religious underpinnings. The whole area is rife with what would be called polytheism and paganism in any other age.

  16. Crude says:

    Oh, and by the way? If you want to get more people onboard with transhumanism, here’s a few friendly tips.

    * Call “Zoltan” out for credulously associating irreligion, or even atheism, with reason, science, technology and more. You’re doing yourself no favors by trying to turn transhumanism into some special little atheist clubhouse.

    * Emphasize what openness or positive aspects there are to transhumanism. You know that far and away most religious people and theists are boosters of technology that can repair damaged limbs, etc. Again, stop trying to pretend that when a man gets a prosthetic arm that it’s ‘Transhumanism!’ and, better yet, ‘Not Christianity!’ Christians were devising prosthetic limbs to help the needy before you were born.

    * Be self-skeptical. Transhumanism ’empowers the weak’? Not necessarily. It’s entirely possible – and we see this with technology in other cases – that the advance of technology will be used to exploit the weak. The entire NSA fiasco recently wouldn’t be possible without advances in technology.

  17. Mark says:

    “He’s not promoting an ‘if I can’t have it then no one else can’ mindset. He’s pointing out the fringier aspects of transhumanism for what they are. Have you been helping anymore people freeze their bodies/brains based on the faithful hope that a technology will be invented that will reverse the damage done to them during the process?”

    Aside from that specific aspect, cryonics, I could point out the general trend in the rapid rise of life expectancy. I fail to see what exactly is so fringe about acknowledging that.

    “‘Whole field of study’? Last I checked they couldn’t even keep a single journal dedicated to ‘memetics’ going. Can you please point me at who’s, say… getting their degree in memetics?

    Also – ‘faith of any kind is a virus’? If so, transhumanists are infected.”

    You got me there. But if you want to get into semantics, defining faith as confidence in something without regard to evidence, the most faith like aspect of transhumanism I can think of would be defining the date of the Singularity as precisely 2045, but even then even it has a strong mathematical basis in the actual acceleration of computing power that we can observe right now.

    “No, it’s really not. I suppose you could always push that if you like and broaden the definition of ‘transhumanism’ to ‘something various Churches have been engaged in for ages’. Feel free.”

    trans·hu·man·ism
    tranzˈhyo͞omənizm/
    noun
    noun: transhumanism
    1.
    the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, esp. by means of science and technology.

    Uh, seems to fit the bill to me.

    “Funny, I’ve noticed a whole lot of decline in those things despite the onset of technology. Special effects have gotten better. So have video games and some (of course) comp related tech. It hasn’t led to lock-step improvement in much of anything in those areas.”

    I’m guessing you haven’t been paying much attention to the art world, if any. Even if the imagery, songs, and books people are putting out now are objectively worse than what came before them, which I’d be willing to contend, the content of the entirety of these fields would see a net improvement with every contribution considering you still have the past to draw from.

    “‘Slight’? You have no odds calculations that weren’t pulled out of your posterior. And do you really think ‘embracing’ or ‘not embracing’ death ultimately determines whether you’ll avoid it?”

    Okay, fine, 50/50 then, which is still quite a gamble if we’re talking about eternity here, or at least living a couple centuries or even decades longer. Though the odds of the afterlife being specifically what you expect it to be, is still slight, unless you want to dismiss, with a wave of the hand, the other couple thousand religions that you don’t practice. And I don’t think not embracing it makes it anymore more or less likely I’ll avoid it, any more than not being a Jehovah’s Witness makes it anymore more or less likely I won’t ever need to worry about dying from blood loss.

    “Be self-skeptical. Transhumanism ‘empowers the weak’? Not necessarily. It’s entirely possible – and we see this with technology in other cases – that the advance of technology will be used to exploit the weak. The entire NSA fiasco recently wouldn’t be possible without advances in technology.”

    Technology has always done more to bridge gaps than make them. I’m sure if you got the chance to step in a time machine to go back, you probably wouldn’t be willing to relinquish what technology has given you now, I know I sure as hell wouldn’t. Speaking of the NSA specifically, you wouldn’t have the like of Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, or Julian Assange either without these advances in technology.

    “Emphasize what openness or positive aspects there are to transhumanism. You know that far and away most religious people and theists are boosters of technology that can repair damaged limbs, etc. Again, stop trying to pretend that when a man gets a prosthetic arm that it’s ‘Transhumanism!’ and, better yet, ‘Not Christianity!’ Christians were devising prosthetic limbs to help the needy before you were born.”

    It’s great that many of the religious have embraced it, though it seems to be the religious fringe that are transhumanism’s most ardent critics. And I don’t think we have Christianity to thank for prosthetic limbs, anymore than we have Islam to thank for Algebra, Paganism to thank for Socratic thinking, or Hinduism to thank for heliocentric theory.

  18. Crude says:

    Mark,

    Aside from that specific aspect, cryonics, I could point out the general trend in the rapid rise of life expectancy. I fail to see what exactly is so fringe about acknowledging that.

    ~10 years over how many decades? And how much of that is due to technology?

    But if you want to get into semantics, defining faith as confidence in something without regard to evidence, the most faith like aspect of transhumanism I can think of would be defining the date of the Singularity as precisely 2045, but even then even it has a strong mathematical basis in the actual acceleration of computing power that we can observe right now.

    How about their beliefs about the technology? We have on the one hand the idyllic ‘We’ll be immortal, maybe even resurrect humans, and be gods’ views of some, and on the other, ‘We have to stop the eventual and inevitable robo-hivemind-god from wreaking havoc on us’?

    Uh, seems to fit the bill to me.

    Like I said, I’m game. Are you going to concede that the Catholic church and other Christian groups were and are at the forefront of transhumanism?

    I’m guessing you haven’t been paying much attention to the art world, if any. Even if the imagery, songs, and books people are putting out now are objectively worse than what came before them, which I’d be willing to contend, the content of the entirety of these fields would see a net improvement with every contribution considering you still have the past to draw from.

    Why assume they’ll draw from them? Again, why this assumption that technological advancement goes hand in hand with improvement? It also creates new problems, some of them pretty dire.

    Okay, fine, 50/50 then, which is still quite a gamble if we’re talking about eternity here, or at least living a couple centuries or even decades longer.

    Did you think my problem was your odds were too low? Are you just pulling these odds out of the air? And as I said, the varieties of transhumanism that promise immortality are the very ones where the ‘faith’ gets pretty extreme.

    Technology has always done more to bridge gaps than make them. I’m sure if you got the chance to step in a time machine to go back, you probably wouldn’t be willing to relinquish what technology has given you now, I know I sure as hell wouldn’t. Speaking of the NSA specifically, you wouldn’t have the like of Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, or Julian Assange either without these advances in technology.

    We wouldn’t *need* Snowden without the technology – that’s the point. We wouldn’t need quite a lot of things. And I absolutely love technology – specific technology, particular technology. How do you feel about coal plants and nuclear weapons?

    It’s great that many of the religious have embraced it, though it seems to be the religious fringe that are transhumanism’s most ardent critics. And I don’t think we have Christianity to thank for prosthetic limbs, anymore than we have Islam to thank for Algebra, Paganism to thank for Socratic thinking, or Hinduism to thank for heliocentric theory.

    First – then why not take my advice and ditch the ‘this is Club Atheism’ aspect of transhumanism? Attempt to sell it on its merits. Either way: I said Christians, not Christianity. But even on those terms – those feelings of narcissism you advise fighting, that desire to do better? A lot of that is culturally brought over from a very prominent Christian history. They really did build and develop new prosthetics. They apply them to this day.

  19. Michael says:

    Even if that wasn’t the case, this “if I can’t have it then no one else can” mindset you’re promoting here is incredibly childish.

    I am not promoting any such mindset. I am just highlighting the wishful thinking. It is wishful thinking that extrapolates from cherry picked examples (electricity and communication devices) to a technology that supposedly masters biology to make us perfect and immortal. It is even more wishful thinking that this imaginary technology, if it did exist, could and would be available to all.

    I am more interested in what lies underneath all this wishful thinking. This desire to be smarter, stronger, better – the “hero” who would be godlike. Do you want to be a god, Mark?

  20. Mark says:

    “10 years over how many decades? And how much of that is due to technology?”

    Still pretty rapid compared prior to the turn of the 19th century, and it doesn’t seem like it’ll stop anytime soon. I don’t know what else you could primarily credit it to though.

    “How about their beliefs about the technology? We have on the one hand the idyllic ‘We’ll be immortal, maybe even resurrect humans, and be gods’ views of some, and on the other, ‘We have to stop the eventual and inevitable robo-hivemind-god from wreaking havoc on us’?”

    Well I’m sure most transhumanists fall somewhere in the middle, but yes, falling on either extreme takes faith.

    “Like I said, I’m game. Are you going to concede that the Catholic church and other Christian groups were and are at the forefront of transhumanism?”

    Yeah, sure, as long you’re also willing to concede that many of it’s greatest detractors are also religious, such as George Bush’s Bioethics Council.

    “Why assume they’ll draw from them? Again, why this assumption that technological advancement goes hand in hand with improvement? It also creates new problems, some of them pretty dire.”

    Well maybe because people still do? Regardless of what everyone is doing, technology still shatters the limitations on these art forms. Painters now can do things with Photoshop, and sculptors with Zbrush and 3DSMax, that likes of Rembrandt of Michelangelo wouldn’t even dream of doing, and they do. Trust me, I’m a pretty good artist, you could argue with me on the state of literature and music perhaps, I personally prefer the contemporary stuff, but art is definitely improving thanks to technology. I think you really underestimate the human desire to innovate and push boundaries.

    “Did you think my problem was your odds were too low? Are you just pulling these odds out of the air? And as I said, the varieties of transhumanism that promise immortality are the very ones where the ‘faith’ gets pretty extreme.”

    Personally, I don’t care what the odds are. Even if I was laying on my death bed, with 99.9% certainty that heaven was waiting for me, that still wouldn’t cut it if I didn’t have to be there.

    “We wouldn’t *need* Snowden without the technology – that’s the point. We wouldn’t need quite a lot of things. And I absolutely love technology – specific technology, particular technology. How do you feel about coal plants and nuclear weapons?”

    Even with the NSA, it’s still easier than ever to communicate anonymously. That’s the one of the biggest reasons the Arab Spring got off the ground. The NSA is a really small price to pay for being able to access almost all of humanity’s knowledge at your fingertips, instead of having it selectively spoon fed to you by the church or the secular state. Coal plants I’ll give you, though nuclear weapons never being used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite the two nuclear superpowers being at each other’s throats for like sixty years, says a lot about the odds of them ever being used again. And if nuclear fission gets mastered it’d definitely be worth it.

    “First – then why not take my advice and ditch the ‘this is Club Atheism’ aspect of transhumanism? Attempt to sell it on its merits. Either way: I said Christians, not Christianity. But even on those terms – those feelings of narcissism you advise fighting, that desire to do better? A lot of that is culturally brought over from a very prominent Christian history. They really did build and develop new prosthetics. They apply them to this day.”

    I don’t think I ever thought of transhumanism as club atheism, though I guess Zoltan seems to.

    “I am not promoting any such mindset. I am just highlighting the wishful thinking. It is wishful thinking that extrapolates from cherry picked examples (electricity and communication devices) to a technology that supposedly masters biology to make us perfect and immortal. It is even more wishful thinking that this imaginary technology, if it did exist, could and would be available to all.

    I am more interested in what lies underneath all this wishful thinking. This desire to be smarter, stronger, better – the “hero” who would be godlike. Do you want to be a god, Mark?”

    You could also extrapolate from the rise in life expectancy, like I said, we most likely will live substantially longer lives than our predecessors. Even if immortality was somehow physically and theoretically impossible, it’s better to set the bar higher rather than lower.

    And do I want to be a God? Well, did the Wright Brothers want to fly an F-22? Gee, I don’t know, maybe, though I personally would like to have some level of omniscience, I can’t stand being ignorant about anything.

  21. Crude says:

    Mark,

    Still pretty rapid compared prior to the turn of the 19th century, and it doesn’t seem like it’ll stop anytime soon. I don’t know what else you could primarily credit it to though.

    Sanitation.

    Yeah, sure, as long you’re also willing to concede that many of it’s greatest detractors are also religious, such as George Bush’s Bioethics Council.

    Who’s the religious person on that one? Francis Fukuyama?

    Well maybe because people still do? Regardless of what everyone is doing, technology still shatters the limitations on these art forms. Painters now can do things with Photoshop, and sculptors with Zbrush and 3DSMax, that likes of Rembrandt of Michelangelo wouldn’t even dream of doing, and they do. Trust me, I’m a pretty good artist, you could argue with me on the state of literature and music perhaps, I personally prefer the contemporary stuff, but art is definitely improving thanks to technology. I think you really underestimate the human desire to innovate and push boundaries.

    And I think you underestimate the fact that technological innovation doesn’t automatically translate into artistic drive. I’m at least passably familiar with the technologies you’re talking about – they are amazing in a technical sense, but it’s not nearly as clear-cut as you’re making it out to be. Especially with regards to literature, which you put on the list – that I think was some clear overreach. That said, I agree that tech has advanced in art categories – it just doesn’t translate quite the way you seem to suggest.

    Even with the NSA, it’s still easier than ever to communicate anonymously. That’s the one of the biggest reasons the Arab Spring got off the ground. The NSA is a really small price to pay for being able to access almost all of humanity’s knowledge at your fingertips, instead of having it selectively spoon fed to you by the church or the secular state. Coal plants I’ll give you, though nuclear weapons never being used since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, despite the two nuclear superpowers being at each other’s throats for like sixty years, says a lot about the odds of them ever being used again. And if nuclear fission gets mastered it’d definitely be worth it.

    The Arab Spring that gave us the Muslim Brotherhood, and now what looks like a military-run state? And you really think all of humanity’s knowledge is at your fingertips? Here’s another perspective to think about – people are wired into what is in reality a highly conditioned culture more than they ever were previously. People spend far less time in their own thoughts, they receive advertising (and not just from companies) in ways that would have seemed dystopian a few years ago. Note that I’m no luddite – I’m a programmer who dabbles in art and the like too. I enjoy technology. But there are tradeoffs, there are risks, and things go in ways we do not expect.

    Also, nuclear weapons never being used since Hiroshima.. what’s that, not even a century? And part of the advances of technology is putting that in more and more hands, in easier and easier ways – see Iran. See the bird flu work being done. Again, tradeoffs.

    I don’t think I ever thought of transhumanism as club atheism, though I guess Zoltan seems to.

    It’s not just him, but he’s a convenient example. Really, he fantasizes about 1 billion mere irreligious, and in his mind he makes them into atheists who are super-enthusiastic about science? Okay, that’s not on you – but you can understand why religious people are looking at transhumanism, seeing guys like him, and going well this sure seems like a steaming pile.

  22. Mark says:

    “Sanitation.”

    Still technology. Not transhuman per se, but still technology. And life expectancy still hasn’t stopped rising since it became accessible in 1st world nations.

    “Who’s the religious person on that one? Francis Fukuyama?”

    Uh, pretty much everyone, with the exception of like five people, most of whom still had pretty conservative stances on stem cell research. I recall one actually got terminated from her post for her liberal views on stem cell research.

    “And I think you underestimate the fact that technological innovation doesn’t automatically translate into artistic drive. I’m at least passably familiar with the technologies you’re talking about – they are amazing in a technical sense, but it’s not nearly as clear-cut as you’re making it out to be. Especially with regards to literature, which you put on the list – that I think was some clear overreach. That said, I agree that tech has advanced in art categories – it just doesn’t translate quite the way you seem to suggest.”

    It doesn’t automatically translate into artistic drive, but those that do have it are dis-inhibited by it. Same thing for literature, it doesn’t create better writers, but it certainly makes it a lot easier to research content to draw from, to disseminate your ideas, and get feedback on them for people striving to be better writers.

    “The Arab Spring that gave us the Muslim Brotherhood, and now what looks like a military-run state? And you really think all of humanity’s knowledge is at your fingertips? Here’s another perspective to think about – people are wired into what is in reality a highly conditioned culture more than they ever were previously. People spend far less time in their own thoughts, they receive advertising (and not just from companies) in ways that would have seemed dystopian a few years ago. Note that I’m no luddite – I’m a programmer who dabbles in art and the like too. I enjoy technology. But there are tradeoffs, there are risks, and things go in ways we do not expect.

    Also, nuclear weapons never being used since Hiroshima.. what’s that, not even a century? And part of the advances of technology is putting that in more and more hands, in easier and easier ways – see Iran. See the bird flu work being done. Again, tradeoffs.”

    Um, I’m pretty sure the Muslim Brotherhood was around before the Arab Spring. I’ll concede that it isn’t much of an improvement over the governments it has sought to overthrow, but that’s not the point. I mentioned it because it goes to show how much easier it is to organize grassroots movements against the people ruling us. But yeah, most people have swallowed the blue pill, but for those who do question the status quo, at least the red pill is an option now.

    I’ll give you Iran though, but looking at Pakistan and India, there doesn’t seem to be any certainty that Iran would risk MAD with the likes of Israel. The potential is definitely there, and the consequences are horrifying I’ll admit. The new synthesis of Flu is pretty scary, though with the decimation of diseases like polio via vaccination, I think the tradeoff has been worth it in that regard.

    “It’s not just him, but he’s a convenient example. Really, he fantasizes about 1 billion mere irreligious, and in his mind he makes them into atheists who are super-enthusiastic about science? Okay, that’s not on you – but you can understand why religious people are looking at transhumanism, seeing guys like him, and going well this sure seems like a steaming pile.”

    I did like his book, but he is way too extreme for my tastes. But yeah, both sides have done a lot to alienate each other.

  23. Luke Parrish says:

    “Have you been helping anymore people freeze their bodies/brains based on the faithful hope that a technology will be invented that will reverse the damage done to them during the process?”

    The extreme form of cryonics — the accusation you’d see if anyone were really basing this on faith — goes like this: If you talk someone out of cryopreserving themselves, you are guilty of murdering them. If you don’t select cryonics for yourself, you are committing suicide.

    I don’t know of anyone who actually says this, but if you’re going to talk about extremes and fringes, this is what you are up against. Most people do not take such an approach, but instead moderate their views to account for uncertainty and human fallability.

    We don’t know for sure that cryonics would save anyone’s life, therefore nobody is necessarily guilty of murder per se, even if it works. However, it still follows even in this moderate viewpoint that the deaths are unnecessary and tragic in the event that the lives could have been saved. Sort of along the lines of failure to engineer a sturdy enough sea-wall in a hurricaine region. You need not have 100% faith in the existence of a hurricaine to invest in a precautionary measure against it. If the tragedy is large, you budget for that uncertainty.

    However, it is not actually the strongest form of the argument if we consider simply the effects of people signing up (considering how hard it is to estimate the value of that). It is likely more important to consider the effects on research funding if you speak out against cryonics versus in favor. The effects on how soon we make breakthroughs that reduce or eliminate the fundamental uncertainty of the venture — the damage of cryopreservation.

    In the event of a breakthrough that lets people be cryopreserved and reanimated without any damage, there would suddenly be a method to reduce much of the inequity surrounding terminal illness. A cancer patient could take a “nap” for many decades with no worsening of their condition, until a safe and effective cure for their condition could be found. They would be spared the harsh inequity of today’s risky, painful, and often inadequate approaches to treating their condition.

  24. Crude says:

    The extreme form of cryonics — the accusation you’d see if anyone were really basing this on faith — goes like this: If you talk someone out of cryopreserving themselves, you are guilty of murdering them. If you don’t select cryonics for yourself, you are committing suicide.

    What exactly is the faith claim there?

    The faith claim comes in with: ‘You can avoid dying! See, what you do is freeze your body at these temperatures. It preserves you! Of course it does tremendous damage to you, particularly your brain, which we think is all there is to your existence. But magical future-science will find a way to reverse that!’ This is on par with Raelians – who, I suppose, are just another branch of transhumanists.

    However, it is not actually the strongest form of the argument if we consider simply the effects of people signing up (considering how hard it is to estimate the value of that). It is likely more important to consider the effects on research funding if you speak out against cryonics versus in favor. The effects on how soon we make breakthroughs that reduce or eliminate the fundamental uncertainty of the venture — the damage of cryopreservation.

    So we should be dishonest about the prospects and what we know about future prospects of cryonics in order to keep research money flowing? Research money for, shall we say, an up in the air idea to say the least?

  25. Luke Parrish says:

    Supporting this does not require dishonesty. Many people are convinced that cryonics is worth spending their own money on given the currently available data. We can tell that they are not taking a leap of faith because they are not committing to complete certainty — they are not accusing doctors of murdering their patients for not cryopreserving them. Even if we doubt whether the investment will pay off, we should respect their decision, because this encourages more research and could lead to more information being available, including information that leads to better forms of cryonics. Remember, this is the kind of thing that can save billions of lives if it works — it is like preventing nuclear war.

    As to the brain, materialists are not all of the same mind as to how the brain represents your personal identity. Some say that it is the particular brain, whereas others say that it is the pattern that the brain happens to encode within itself. If that pattern can be read from a vitrified brain in the far future, and recreated as a healthy brain, cryonics will be a success by that criteria. On the other hand, in the event that the brain is repaired directly, because the damage was not so bad, most materialists would accept that the person has survived. Either situation puts dualists in a tricky situation, as they cannot prove whether the soul left and returned or whether it left permanently and a new one was created after.

  26. Crude says:

    Supporting this does not require dishonesty. Many people are convinced that cryonics is worth spending their own money on given the currently available data. We can tell that they are not taking a leap of faith because they are not committing to complete certainty — they are not accusing doctors of murdering their patients for not cryopreserving them.

    It does require faith, and you can take a leap of faith without complete certainty. What’s more, murder requires knowledge and intent – it’s not like they think doctors or patients necessarily have either.

    Even if we doubt whether the investment will pay off, we should respect their decision, because this encourages more research and could lead to more information being available

    I wonder if you take this same attitude towards Pascal’s Wager, because it would be trivial for me to construct an argument and set of reasoning that goes along almost those same general lines.

    Remember, this is the kind of thing that can save billions of lives if it works — it is like preventing nuclear war.

    So could ESP research, ‘if it works’.

    As to the brain, materialists are not all of the same mind as to how the brain represents your personal identity. Some say that it is the particular brain, whereas others say that it is the pattern that the brain happens to encode within itself.

    Moot point, since both are damaged by the entire process.

  27. Mark says:

    “I wonder if you take this same attitude towards Pascal’s Wager, because it would be trivial for me to construct an argument and set of reasoning that goes along almost those same general lines.”

    Well, heaven and hell aren’t falsifiable, unless you count NDEs which aren’t that consistent. If you froze someone and woke them up a couple decades or so later, you could at least falsify the promises of cryonics based on whether or not they were still alive.

    “So could ESP research, ‘if it works’.”

    Except we don’t even know how ESP is supposed to be physically or theoretically possible. At least with cryonics we know how it’s supposed to work and have got it to work on simpler organisms like human embryos.

  28. Luke Parrish says:

    “It does require faith, and you can take a leap of faith without complete certainty.”

    Here we might have to split hairs regarding the definition of faith. I think the main concept behind faith is a surprisingly high level of certainty relative to the amount of publicly verifiable evidence, such that your own credibility becomes the primary basis for others to believe. So if I think heaven is real because an angel visited me in the night (assuming no physical traces like feathers and dna), it could be considered faith, but if an angel appears in front of witnesses every tuesday that’s not faith.

    “What’s more, murder requires knowledge and intent – it’s not like they think doctors or patients necessarily have either.”

    Okay, but the documentation for why cryonics might work is online, and has been in the public eye for many decades.

    “I wonder if you take this same attitude towards Pascal’s Wager, because it would be trivial for me to construct an argument and set of reasoning that goes along almost those same general lines.”

    The similarity is kind of superficial, since the evidence for heaven/hell cannot be verified to even exist. I can point to frozen embryos, electron micrographs, and so forth, and I might be wrong, but it wouldn’t be the same kind of utter vacuum that we see with regards to heaven/hell.

    “Moot point, since both are damaged by the entire process.”

    Not moot, since the question that actually matters is not whether they are damaged but whether it is reasonable to suspect they can be repaired. The case for repair is stronger if scanning to a digital medium is an acceptable intermediate form that it can take. Thus from the perspective of people who think the pattern is the basis of identity, it is less likely to be a waste of money.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s