December 1, 2002

December 2002

I added a significant amount of detail to Wikipedia's Transhumanism page, much of it derived from our Betterhumans Transhumanism resource.

Yes, freedom of religion is important, but I would argue that freedom from religion is even more important. Canada and the United States must continue to separate church from state. Moreover, while science can certainly take on religious-like characteristics, it is not a religion. It is a rational methodology that is subject to rejection, correction, normative processes, and critical peer-reviews; religions are dogmatic, unyielding, with little reliance on proven methodologies. Thus, schools must better promote the sciences, and absolutely disallow the teaching of such things as Creationism. I saw a billboard recently that said: "Literacy is a right." I'd go one step further: scientific literacy is a right.

The World Transhumanist Association issued the following press release upon news that the Raelian religious cult had successfully cloned the first human:

Clones Are People Too, Group Says
WILLINGTON, Ct., December 27, 2002 -- Following claims by the Raelian sect to have successfully cloned a human baby, an organization dedicated to promoting appropriate uses of technology is urging the media and the public to remember that human clones are, first and foremost, human.

The World Transhumanist Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes discussion of improving human capacities using technology, believes that it was irresponsible to attempt human cloning before the procedure was perfected.

But the organization, which includes prominent scientists and philosophers, believes that in principle cloning is a legitimate means of procreation. If independent confirmation proves that the Raelians have indeed created a clone, the WTA calls for acceptance of the baby as human.

"It is important that we see a cloned child as what it is -- an individual person who is just as human as you and me. Just because it is cloned doesn’t mean that it has any less human dignity than people who were born in other ways,” says WTA chair Nick Bostrom. “This is an opportunity for us to overcome some of our prejudices. Scare-mongers have argued that a clone would somehow have a diminished degree of humanity. If the claim of human cloning is borne out, we will be faced with the concrete choice between rejecting this view, and denying the dignity of a living human baby.”

Transhumanists have long argued that appropriate uses of technology can allow us to overcome human limitations. Cloning could allow many parents to have children when they would otherwise be unable. As with any technology there is a risk of abuse, but as with many technologies outright bans and irrational actions only increase danger.

The WTA emphasizes, however, that it does not endorse the action of the Raelians in attempting cloning this early. “It would be legally and morally just to hold the parents responsible for any medical side effects that occur as the result of an over-hasty cloning attempt,” says Bostrom. “But the child itself is innocent, and in full possession of human rights and human dignity, whether or not it proves to be a clone.”

Society’s reaction to cloning is also important, the WTA says, as it will test our readiness for coming technological challenges and opportunities. Advances in biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology hold incredible promise, but this promise is at risk from ill-advised prohibitions based on unfounded fears.

”Let us hope for a healthy, happy and long life for the first cloned baby,” says Bostrom, “as we would for any other child.”

Simon Smith and myself finally finished upgrading the Transhumanism resource for Betterhumans.

Human minds are essentially computers. Philosophers and scientists like Marvin Minsky, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, and Hans Moravec have demonstrated the computational characteristics of the human brain. Even though it’s composed of wetware components, the brain is essentially a massively parallel processor that runs (debatably) about 10x16 calculations per second.

And like the primitive PCs we use on a daily basis, our mind-computers interface with other mind-computers; we communicate with our fellow human beings (think of it as organic robot to organic robot interfacing).

Accordingly, instead of thinking about 6 billion people on this planet, conceptualize 6 billion discreet minds with interface nodes that can connect to other consciousnesses. Network connections are established anytime a form of communication takes place. In this Human Communications Wide Area Network (HCWAN), each individual that is capable of transmitting and receiving information can act as both a node and a router. And due to its theoretic universality, the HCWAN can be considered a fully connected network.

There are essentially three different types of communication exchanges in the HCWAN: 1) unidirectional data transfer (e.g. a speech), 2) multidirectional information queries and data exchange (e.g. a conversation), and 3) proxy medium data transfer (e.g. books). Communications technology are constantly improving and enhancing the efficacy of all three. And like the six degrees of separation argument states, there are paths (some short, some long) that interconnect every mind on the planet to each other.

Needless to say, this mind-network topology is massive, and limitations do currently exist. Not every mind can be interconnected directly with every other mind, nor are the connections permanent. And the number of simultaneous connects is limited by human limitations (we can only hold a conversation with a small number of people). And when there's no communication, the channel is closed.

The number and quality of nodal linkages are constrained by many factors, including physical and technological limitations/barriers that inhibit the interfacing between two or more minds, the quality of the mode of communication between agents (including the sophistication of the language, the ability to accurately convey and process thoughts, the integrity of the information that is being transferred (including the level of honesty on the part of the communicator), and of course, the willing establishment of communications between two minds.

Conscious agents can interface any number of ways, including verbal, expressive, and body language. There’s also written text in any number of mediums (analog and digital), and the use of signs, symbols, and metaphors.

And what to two or more interfacing minds communicate? Information, including raw data, intentions, motives, humour, persuasions, emotional states, desires, or simply for the purpose of enjoying the presence of an interfaced mind and delighting in a good conversation.

Prepared by Simon Smith & George Dvorsky

The Omega Point Theory, also called the Quantum Omega Point Theory, is nothing less than an attempt to unify physics and theology in proclaiming the potential for Godlike powers and the possibility for heavenly existence at the end of the universe. Proposed by physicist Frank J. Tipler and expounded in his 1994 book The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead, this theory has spurred both praise and ridicule.

While Tipler's work sounds more like radical science fiction than science, he's no slouch in academia. He's a professor in the Department of Mathematics at Tulane University in New Orleans, writes papers for the International Journal of Theoretical Physics and is well known for his insights into the Cosmological Antrophic Principle. Nevertheless, he has been attacked by scientists, who argue that he has concocted a theory to prove beliefs (some have even tried to have him "fired" from Tulane, which you can't do to a tenured professor). In addition, he has been criticized by theologians, who take issue with Tipler's notion of God.

But despite this, both the theory and the book are hugely important. While not everyone agrees with his eschatological speculations, Tipler's physics are endorsed by such scientists as the influential quantum physicist David Deutsch. And many note that his work marks an emerging renaissance in which advancing science and technology, from quantum physics to genetic engineering, is spawning new cosmologies and philosophies, such as Transhumanism.

God as a universal computer
"Either theology is pure nonsense, a subject with no content, or else theology must ultimately become a branch of physics," Tipler writes in The Physics of Immortality. "The reason is simple. The universe is defined to be the totality of all that exists, the totality of a reality. Thus, by definition, if God exists, He/She is either the universe or part of it. The goal of physics is understanding the ultimate nature of reality. If God is real, physicists will eventually find Him/Her."

The Omega Point Theory is an attempt to do so. With pages of mathematical equations, Tipler constructs an intriguing postulate: If the universe is headed for an eventual collapse, he argues, intelligent life can do some engineering and use the collapse to power a computer with infinite power in which it, and all intelligent life that ever existed, can live forever. Moreover, Tipler believes that the known laws of physics require life to engage in this engineering project.

Is this possible? Tipler believes that intelligent life could colonize the universe using self-replicating probes. Sufficiently advanced intelligences could then alter a collapsing universe in such a way that different parts collapsed at different rates (a "Taub-like" collapse). Intelligent life could then derive energy from the collapse, and this energy would diverge toward infinity as the collapse proceeded toward a singularity. By converting the universe to a computer that fed off the energy, this would allow an infinite amount of information processing and storage.

As the giant universal computer keeps shrinking in size, its power increases to the point at which it can emulate all possible permutations of the universe's history while also allowing all contained entities a heavenly and subjectively eternal existence. And because intelligent life would have to work together to do build the universal computer, Tipler argues, future intelligences will be altruistic and will therefore wantt to resurrect previous beings and give them eternal life. "If any reader has lost a loved one, or is afraid of death, modern physics says: 'Be comforted, you and they shall live again,'" Tipler writes.

Scientific controversy
If Tipler has proven the existence of God and immortality, why hasn't everyone heard of the Omega Point Theory? The reason is that while Tipler's theory represents a stunning paradigm shift, it has also been the subject of much criticism.

For starters there are Tipler's scientific assumptions. He assumes that the universe will collapse into a singularity, but there are alternate theories. The universe could expand forever, meaning that a collapse-powered universal computer isn't possible. After publishing his book, Tipler has admitted the possibility that acceleration could occur in the expanding phase of the universe and invalidate his calculations predicting a collapse. "If the observed acceleration were to continue forever, the Omega Point Theory would be refuted," he has said.

But Tipler hasn't backed down. His recent thinking on the matter leads him to believe that the expansion of life to engulf the universe is exactly what is required to cancel the positive cosmological constant (a.k.a. Dark Energy) driving the expansion of the universe. "As life expands outward, life will require energy, and before the collapse of the universe provides gravitational collapse energy, the energy source will be the conversion of baryons and leptons into energy via electroweak quantum tunneling," he has said.

The prediction of the universe's collapse isn't the only scientific theory under attack, however. Tipler also assumes that future intelligent life will be altruistic and resurrect past life, for example, which he bases on game theory logic. This is a leap of faith. There is no guarantee that future intelligent life will be altruistic, or that it will have an interest in resurrection.

Theological controversy
Then there is Tipler's theology. While he believes that God must be part of the physical universe, many theologians would disagree. And while his future universal computer becomes God by emulating everything, many theologians would argue that this is not God in the traditional sense. The theological denial is connected with the gnostic (or Manichean) heresy. This holds that there is a "spirtual realm" that is superior to the "material realm," which is uninteresting, evil or both. The goal in the gnostic heresy is to escape from the world of matter into the spirit world. "Unfortunately," Tipler has said, "this heresy is widespread even among Christians (who should know better), and it prevents the Omega Point Theory -- or Transhumanism -- from being taken seriously."

Tipler recognizes that most if not all religious leaders reject the idea that humans are just special types of computers, and that such things as mind uploading and artificial intelligence are possible. Instead, he notes, they believe in an "immortal soul" that appears to be some sort of "stuff" not subject to the laws of physics.

But Tipler expects that theologians will come to accept science-inspired insights in the future, and he continues to meet with religious leaders around the world. In fact, the Lutherian Bishop of Hamburg has recently come to accept the Omega Point Theory, so it's possible that religious leaders will find ways to sympathize with Tipler's secular neo-theology.

If not, Tipler's propositions will still be extremely important and influential. He has attempted to construct a testable theory of God and immortality. While it may have scientific and theological flaws, it is arguably the first step toward a secular eschatology that merges religious ideas with current scientific understanding and technological progress. And as with other scientific theories, it will no doubt be refined over time, addressing criticisms along the way.

Added some new quotes from Frank Tipler, Georg Hegel, JBS Haldane, George Lucas, David Brin, David Haig, & Anders Sandberg.

Ending Biblical Brainwash
For better mental and cultural health, it's time we classified religious fundamentalism as a psychological disorder

With tongue firmly in cheek, WTA board member Eliezer Yudkowsky recently proposed an alternative to the traditional holiday festivities: Newtonmas. He also proposed that Santa be replaced by the Fairy of Doubt, who would only bring gifts to those children who did not believe in him ;-)

In light of the introduction of the first Transhumanist non-holiday, it would appear that revisions to traditional carols would seem to be in order. Here are a few of my suggestions:
- Frosty the Cyborg
- All I Want for Newtonmas Is My Two Frontal Lobe Intelligence Augementation Implants
- Fairy of Doubt is Not Coming to Town
- I'm Dreaming of a Gray Goo Free Newtonmas
- Nano Bells
- We Three Posthumans
- Cloned Sheep May Safely Graze
- Deus Ex Machina Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
- Let It Singularity, Let It Singularity, Let It Singularity
- O Come All Ye Uploaded
- Deck the Virtual Reality With Boughs of Holly
- Rudolph the Red Nosed, Two Headed, Fork-Tongued Transgenic Reindeer
- Good King Singleton
- Joy to the World

Congratulations to everyone involved in the first cryonics case in Toronto, including Toronto Transhumanist Association member Brent Erskine. Read Ben Best's report.

Many bioethicists complain that human genomics is an imposition upon the unborn, forcing them to live with the changes their parents enforced upon their physical and cognitive makeup. I'm not so sure I buy this argument. Parents, as the legal guardians of children, already control and regulate many things in their children's lives: their name, the clothes they wear, how they are socialized and educated, and other factors such as socioeconomic status. But more to the point, when parents choose to have children, it's an issue of personal reproductive rights and the right to choose how one will produce offspring from one's own body. In most cases, parents will choose wisely and responsibly when it comes to the health of their children.

How would you feel if you born with some sort of disability, knowing full-well that your parents could have opted to have your genetic makeup repaired at at the embryonic stage? Remember, I'm not talking about screening and aborting fetuses -- I'm talking about the genetic manipulation of blastocysts in petri-dishes. I don't know about you, but I'd be furious. One could argue that it is a human right to not be born with a disability if the condition could be repaired at the embryonic stage.

Of course, this leads to larger ethical issues, specifically when it comes to genetic augmentations. Will parents feel compelled by social conventions to genetically augment their children? Would it be unjust to a child to not enhance them, to not give them every advantage available by medical technologies? Again, I think parents will make the right decisions. Mothers already take care of themselves during pregnancies to ensure healthy children, including careful diets, folic acid, and exercise. Parents will continue to do what they think is necessary to guarantee the healthiest children.

In a recent discussion with fellow Transhumanists on the wta-talk list, it was correctly brought to my attention that my December 4 statement on 'Technological Pathologies' was rather sweeping. They pointed out that some of these technologies could be utilised to desireable ends. For example, it would give people access to their own memories and personalities, giving people the capacity to mould themselves as they see fit. To this end, I will say that at the very least, these technologies will need to be closely monitored and regulated. But as for outright bans, perhaps not.

Some future technologies will need to be classified as pathologies, as they pose varying threats to individuals and society as a whole. Innovations that allow for the engineering and control of another sentient consciousness must be regarded as weapons of mass destruction and therefore prohibited. For example, technologies that would allow for the re-programming or brain washing of sentient beings, the planting of false memories and desires, and other speculative or unforeseen unethical persuasion techniques.

One could argue that modern neuromarketing is an example of this. Corporations are studying the human brain and how it responds to various stimuli. Advertisers use this information to craft extremely persuasive ad campaigns that tap into the viewers' intrinsic proclivities. I consider this to be quite unethical, as it removes a significant amount of freewill on the part of the consumer -- and it's becoming increasingly difficult to avoid advertising.

Perhaps we should worry less about the government gaining control of these technologies than corporations.

The human brain is the most complex mechanism yet discovered in the universe. It is also one of the most underutilized. It's not only that there are 'parts' of the brain that we're not using; it's that we don't know how to use the brain to its full potential. We're not thinking properly. What exactly do I mean by underutilized? Perfect psychological control over all of our body's processes.

Meditative and psychological techniques have tried to help us in this realm, but with varying and limited results. Some yogic masters have remarkable control over their bodies: they can slow their heart rate down, survive extended durations while buried alive, and control pain. But this is only the beginning. In the future, intelligence amplification and other neural enhancements, including nanotechnology and advanced meditative techniques, are sure to introduce the added side-effect of broadened consciousness and bodily awareness. We may be able to control the finer workings of our brain and release or inhibit various neurochemicals. We'll also have better pain management resources. Essentially, we will be able to perform the tasks of many modern pharmaceuticals. Additionally, we will be able to release certain hormones into our system -- you may be able to release pheromones to the environment when you' the mood. ;-)

Capitalism is a privilege, not a right.

The TTA press release re: Leon Kass has been posted on the LongevityMeme Website.

My Betterhumans Transitory Human column, Forward in the Face of Danger, is the featured article for December in the Extropy Institute's Journal for Transhumanist Solutions.

Some observers like to compare the burgeoning Transhumanist movement with Nietzchian philosophies and 20th century style eugenics. I take a different approach: I like to compare the Transhumanist ethic with progressive biologically-based social reforms [see my Transhumanism: The Next Great Threat to Oppression and Inequality article for more], which would include the emancipation of Blacks in the United States in the 19th century.

Prior to the Civil War, most Southerners were unbelievably racist, and refused to entertain the idea of extending full U.S. citizenship rights to blacks. Some believed that blacks were too unintelligent to take care of themselves, and that the slave-race/master-race relationship was the only viable social option. In fact, Southerners believed that they were doing Blacks a favour. And of course, gentlemen Southerners were fearful of exposing their delicate Southern belles to free-roaming Blacks.

Various Luddites (especially agrarians) argued that the South had achieved an extremely desirable social system; many looked at Northern industrialism with disdain. Compounding this was a strong elitist sentiment brought on by the South's respect for the Victorian ethic and aesthetic.

Also, feeling pressure from the emancipation forces from the North, many Southerners looked to the Bible for justifications of slavery, and of course, they found what they were looking for in several Old Testament stories (esp. see Canaan and the descendants of Ham).

There were also arguments from science -- or rather, pseudo-science. Some scientists, including the influential Swiss/American Jean L. R. Agassiz, argued vehemently for slavery. In fact, Darwin sent Agassiz a copy of his book on the origin of species, which contradicted Agassiz's belief in the 'fixity of species'. Agassiz only went so far as to support 'plural origins of mankind,' which provided scientific authority to racial supremacists and pro-slavery forces. Over time he became quite dogmatic and was opposed to the concept of evolution in any form.

And finally, Southerners bandied together to create a sub-nationalist coalition that basically said, "Hey you Yankees, you can't tell us what to do!" And the next thing you had was civil war.

I wonder what lessons this episode in U.S. history holds for Transhumanists.

November 1, 2002

November 2002

The Toronto Transhumanist Association released this press release on November 27, 2002:

Bush Bioethicist Thinks Canadians Should Die
Toronto Transhumanist Association opposes the life extension position of Leon Kass, chairman of the US President’s Council on Bioethics, who will be speaking at the University of Toronto on December 2

Toronto, Ontario, November 25, 2002 -- Most people love healthy life and want to extend it for as long as possible. If the chairman of the US President’s Council on Bioethics had his way, however, all human life would come with a death sentence.

Dr. Leon Kass is a well-known conservative bioethicist. He has spoken out against affirmative action and complained about young women putting off childbirth to build careers. He has criticized the movement towards feminism, gay rights, divorce, single parenthood and premarital sex. He is opposed to abortion, therapeutic cloning and stem-cell research that offers hope for treating many debilitating conditions.

And on December 2, 2002 he’s coming to Toronto to push a conservative position on extending healthy lifespan in a talk called “Why Not Immortality,” which will be the Ninth Annual Alloway lecture of the University of Toronto’s Joint Centre for Bioethics.

In a previous talk called “L'Chaim and Its Limits: Why Not Immortality?” Dr. Kass made his position on life extension quite clear: “Biological considerations aside, simply to covet a prolonged life span for ourselves is both a sign and a cause of our failure to open ourselves to procreation and to any higher purpose. It is probably no accident that it is a generation whose intelligentsia proclaim the death of God and the meaninglessness of life that embarks on life's indefinite prolongation and that seeks to cure the emptiness of life by extending it forever,” Kass said in that talk. “Confronted with the growing moral challenges posed by biomedical technology, let us resist the siren song of the conquest of aging and death.”

While Kass is entitled to his opinions, the Toronto Transhumanist Association is calling on journalists to take this opportunity to examine the issue of life extension and the dangers posed by Kass’s chairmanship of the US President’s Council on Bioethics. The TTA believes that life extension is a personal choice and that research into extending healthy lifespan should continue unencumbered by religiously influenced government policy.

“Nobody is denying that life extension poses challenges,” says TTA president Simon Smith. “But the goal should be to confront those challenges through an informed dialogue, not through the imposition of a conservative agenda. People listening to Kass’s talk should remember his position. He influences the direction of US government policy on aging- and health-related research, funding and legislation. The US in turn influences the world. If Kass thinks life extension is a bad idea, can we honestly expect that it won’t have major implications?”

What’s worse, while claiming to be a defender of human dignity, Kass has essentially declared that not all people are equal when it comes to the care they can come to expect. “Kass represents an affront to the rights of the eldery,” says TTA vice-president George Dvorsky. “The aging Baby Boomer population needs to take heed of this man and his stance against progressive health technologies, particularly as they apply to medical practices that can extend life and the treatment of suffering and aging itself. Kass is trying to convince all eldery people that they should complacently accept and deal with all aging-related diseases and simply shut up and die. As a result, he has not only revealed a discriminatory stance that targets the eldery and the kind of care they are legally entitled to, but he has also exposed his pro-death agenda.”

This RAND report from last year is a must read for Transhumanists and other future-oriented thinkers:
The Global Technology Revolution: Bio/Nano/Materials Trends and Their Synergies with Information Technology by 2015 (PDF)

Never before has the future been filled with such promise while fraught with such peril. But now isn’t the time to shy away from progress.

Added some new quotes: Ray Kurzweil, Peter Singer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Galileo Galilei & others.

The Skeptics Society calls him Darwin's Dangerous Disciple. Wired magazine calls him the Bad Boy of Evolution. And The New York Times has described his books as "the sort of popular science writing that makes the reader feel like a genius." He is Richard Dawkins, zoologist, ethologist and evolutionary biologist extraordinaire.
Born in 1941 in East Africa, Dawkins is best known for his first book, The Selfish Gene (1976). In this book he advances the case for a selfish entity -- the gene -- that "works" to preserve and propagate itself. Dawkins argued that the Darwinian theory of evolution via natural selection operates at the level of the gene and not at that of groups, species or even individuals. It is for this reason that Dawkins has been referred to as a neo-Darwinist.
Dawkins describes natural selection as the "nonrandom survival of randomly varying genetic instructions." Thus, it is a two-stage process: the production of random mutations in the genes of every new generation and the nonrandom effect of the environment on each individual gene, causing some to die, and others to survive to pass on their mutations.
Consequently, Dawkins introduced the powerful concept of the "replicator" as the unit of evolution and described it as follows: "The selfish-gene idea is the idea that the animal is a survival machine for its genes. The animal is a robot that has a brain, eyes, hands, and so on, but it also carries around its own blueprint, its own instructions. This is important, because if the animal gets eaten, if it dies, then the blueprint dies as well. The only genes that get through the generations are the ones that have managed to make their robots avoid getting eaten and succeed in living long enough to reproduce."
Dawkins's interest in how genes behave over time is the very definition of an evolution based on the flow of information. "It rapidly became clear to me that the most imaginative way of looking at evolution, and the most inspiring way of teaching it, was to say that it's all about the genes," he has said. "It's the genes that, for their own good, are manipulating the bodies they ride about in. The individual organism is a survival machine for its genes."
Extending evolutionary theory
Dawkins also wrote The Extended Phenotype (1982), in which he outlined concepts of the "genotype" (i.e. an egg gene), "phenotype" (i.e. a chicken) and "extended phenotype" (i.e. a chicken and its nest). He argued that to study the evolution of a bird without studying the evolution of its nest would be absurd. Each is necessary for the survival of the other. For humans, this means that our technological developments are literal extensions of ourselves, now as necessary for our evolution as we are essential to their evolution.
Dawkins also introduced the theory of memes -- by analogy with genes -- to describe a selfish, self-replicating idea, one that survives and evolves through generations. He conceived memetics not as a theory of human culture but "to make the point that what matters in any theory of Darwinism is self-replicating information." The human brain provides a new foundation for replication, but rather than genes it's replicating ideas. "You have in effect, a new primeval soup. Once you have got that new primeval soup, a new replicator could be the basis of a new Darwinism," he has said. Human evolution, Dawkins postulates, is a function of a co-evolution between genes and memes.
It would not be an understatement to suggest that Dawkins has done more to redefine the definition of life than anyone since Charles Darwin.
Meeting of biology and technology
Long fascinated by computers, Dawkins is also a proficient programmer, and has been around computers since the age of paper tape and influenced by their presence. "You would go to a computer room and you'd be smothered by paper tape and machines chuntering everywhere. You'd feel that you were in a room surrounded by all sorts of digital machinery -- translators, copiers, and so on," he has said. "And that is what a cell is like. A cell is a digital data-processing room filled with the equivalents of tapes and cards and bits and bytes floating around everywhere. At a poetic, metaphoric level, exposure to computers helps you to understand the world of DNA."
In fact, Dawkins has written computer programs in an attempt to simulate aspects of evolution. His Blind Watchmaker program is a model of artificial selection with randomly generated variation and a limited kind of embryology that generates forms in two dimensions.
Dawkins also refers to the "Son of Moore's Law," the convergence of rapidly accelerating developments in information technology with the genetic sciences. "If asked to summarize molecular genetics in a word, I would choose 'digital,'" he has said. He believes that by 2050, through the use of supercomputers, scientists will be able to read the language of DNA. Humans will be able to have their own personal genome projects -- they will have the complete text of their genes -- and doctors will be able to provide prescriptions catered to individual genomes. "I conjecture that an embryologist of 2050 will feed the genome of an unknown animal into a computer, and the computer will simulate an embryology that will culminate in a full rendering of the adult will be a way of signifying the completeness of our understanding," he has said.
Dawkins also suggests that it may someday be possible to reanimate an extinct ancestor of Homo sapiens, possibly an australopithecine. And he believes this would be a good thing. "I can see positive ethical benefits emerging from the experiment," he has said. "At present we get away with our flagrant speciesism because the evolutionary intermediates between us and chimpanzees are all extinct. In my contribution to The Great Ape Project, initiated by the distinguished Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer, I pointed out that the accidental contingency of such extinction should be enough to destroy absolutist valuings of human life above all other life. 'Pro life,' for example, in debates on abortion or stem cell research, always means pro human life, for no sensibly articulated reason. The existence of a living, breathing Lucy in our midst would change, forever, our complacent human-centred view of morals and politics. Should Lucy pass for human? The absurdity of the question should be self-evident, as those South African courts trying to decide whether particular individuals should 'pass for white.' The reconstruction of a Lucy would be ethically vindicated by bringing such absurdity out into the open."
Anti-religious atheist
A devout atheist, Dawkins has done much to promote atheism and skepticism. In fact, his anti-religious sentiments sometimes overshadow his scientific contributions. He holds a passionate revulsion of what he calls fatuous religious prejudices, which he believes lead to evil. In particular, the Roman Catholic Church has attracted his ire. "It is one of the forces for evil in the world, mainly because of the powerful influence it has over the minds of children," he has said. "Regarding the accusations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, deplorable and disgusting as those abuses are, they are not so harmful to the children as the grievous mental harm in bringing up the child Catholic in the first place."
Dawkins says that the universe is a difficult enough place to understand already without introducing additional mystical mysteriousness that's not actually there. "The kinds of views of the universe which religious people have traditionally embraced have been puny, pathetic, and measly in comparison to the way the universe actually is," he has said. "The universe presented by organized religions is a poky little medieval universe, and extremely limited." Rather, says Dawkins, the universe is genuinely mysterious, grand, beautiful and awe inspiring. Through his work, he has certainly made it seem so.
Dawkins is currently the Charles Simonyi Professor for the Understanding of Science at Oxford University as well as a Fellow of New College.

The Wall Street Journal calls him the most prominent professor Australia has ever produced and the most influential ethicist alive today. Others have called him one of the most challenging philosophers in the world. Ethicist, animal-rights activist, philosopher, political scientist and Transhumanist, Peter Singer has garnered as much respect as he has condemnation. Yet, the controversy that surrounds him arises from his conviction in challenging long-established ways of thinking -- or ways of avoiding thinking.

He has put forth arguments on the permissibility of euthanizing certain disabled newborns, for example, and has proclaimed that significant advances in medical technology require us to think in new ways about how we should make critical medical decisions about life and death. Our increased medical powers mean that we can no longer run away from the question by pretending that we are 'allowing nature to take its course,'" he writes. "In a modern intensive care unit, it is doctors, not nature, who make the decisions."

Important works
Throughout his long career Singer has remained deeply committed to arguing for the reduction of suffering in the world, the ethical treatment of animals and the improvement of the environment for the benefit of all. The author of Animal Liberation, first published in 1975, Singer is widely credited with triggering the modern animal-rights movement. Through such works he has done much to promote personhood theory, the utilitarian-inspired belief that sentience matters, that all sentient beings should be treated humanely and that nonhuman animals should be protected by a charter of rights.

Singer has also published How Are We to Live?: Ethics in an Age of Self-Interest, in which he argues that people should give away all their wealth beyond what's required to live a simple life. He also reflects on what it means to live a good life, reviving the time-honoured idea that turning away from self-centredness and towards others' needs makes for a satisfying life. Singer is also known for Practical Ethics, one of the most widely used texts in applied ethics, and Rethinking Life and Death, which received the 1995 National Book Council's Banjo Award for nonfiction.

Transhumanist flavour
A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation, published in 2001, has a characteristically Transhumanist flavour. In this book, Singer argues that in today's world, many sociobiological constraints on human nature and politics have become irrelevant. He goes further by suggesting that ingrained human selfishness and hierarchy is what has prevented society from achieving proper egalitarian social reform. Singer envisions a Transhumanist future in which genetic and neurological sciences can be employed to identify and modify the aspects of human nature that cause conflict and competition. He also supports socially subsidized, but voluntary, genetic improvement, while rejecting coercive reproductive policies and eugenic pseudoscience.

James Hughes, secretary of the World Transhumanist Association, was recently asked to participate in the Future Humans workshop held in Seattle. The workshop was sponsored by the Foundation for the Future, an organization established by Walter Kistler, an inventor and aerospace entrepreneur. Hughes was asked to make a statement on the future of humanity for the next 1000 years:

"If we can keep from destroying ourselves, after one or two hundred years we will have conquered aging, disease and the worst forms of poverty. Work will be optional, we will be repairing Earth's shattered ecosystem, and will have begun settling Mars and Europa. We will control our brains and bodies. We will be able to edit our desires and memories, and change our gender painlessly. If renegade AIs take out your shuttle you'll be able to boot yourself off that morning's backup. So that will leave the next 800 years for the really interesting developments.

By the year 3000 the descendents of the human race will be colonizing a widening sphere of galactic space, inhabiting a wide variety of forms. The bulk of intelligence will have migrated from organic to nonorganic platforms, on molecular-scaled computing media. But there will also be an even wider variety of organic life, on Earth and in space, than exists today. One of the certain challenges for this galactic social ecology will be the same as today: how to build a cultural and political system where the powerful respect and help the weak, where all intelligent beings feel empathy for other beings no matter what differences exist in their bodies or minds. I imagine the biggest challenge to future empathy and equality will come from the difference between the inconceivably fast and vast capacities for thought and feeling of the non-organic personalities compared to the plodding and limited organic persons.

A more profound threat to our understanding of society will be the creation of collectivities beyond one body-one brain-one personality. Extremely rapid brain-to-brain communication and connection to the global web will make our current individuality seem horribly lonely. Some groups will choose to share memories, thoughts, feelings and even identity, while some powerful individuals will spread themselves out over multiple organic and robotic platforms. One person or hive mind may exist simultaneously in animal, human and robotic bodies. Will these Borgs get one vote or a million in the Solar Federation? And if we only give the Borg one vote will they insist on assimilating the rest of us?

Because of these conflicts and the need for collective action and defense, I think it is clear that we will still need government in the future. Ensuring that those governments preserve some degree of freedom, equality and solidarity will be one of the most important projects of the next millennium. In other words, death will be overcome by 3000, but not taxes." -- James Hughes

Added some new quotes -- Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Henry Sumner Maine, and more.

There are subsets to consciousness, such as our decision making skills that we base on our capacity to predict outcomes (another way of saying rational free will). However, I'm not convinced that there is such a thing as personal identity that is quantifiable in this context; it may be an emergent effect. The minute-by-minute sense we have that we are a coherent self that exists continuously over time may be a necessary illusion for survival and cognitive functionality.

For instance, if you had no memories and no capacity to project yourself into the future, you would most certainly have no sense of self; you'd just be a non self-reflexive agent processing your environment in real-time. Moreover, the notion of personal identity may be culturally instilled. Many of us, particularly those from religious backgrounds, were taught to accept vitalistic conceptions of self, that there is a 'soul' or some other component of self (spiritual or material) that exists over time (from birth to death).

Would I be acting unethically if I were starving and my only recourse for survival was to kill an animal? If the answer is yes, one must answer the question: why is my life more valuable than the animal's? Is it because I'm more sentient (would you kill rats that infested your house; what about a gorilla infestation, would you kill them?) Is it because I'm capable of doing more good and beneficial acts than the animal (I can perform more acts of kindness and make more persons happier than the bear can)?

How are we to act?
For me, acting unethically is the act of causing unjustifiable harm. Just because something is in one's best interest doesn't give one entitlement to harm others, especially if one defines 'best interest' as the attainment of a personal maximum fitness peak.

We should be able to strive for the attainment of a personal maximum fitness peak without harming others (this can include an individual or a consenting group like a society); live and let live. Harm involves the prevention of others from attaining their own personal maximum fitness peaks (killing, coercion, etc.) if they were doing no harm to you.

Thus, there will be 'ethical' limits to what can and can't be done. For example, is a deer cull justifiable if the intent is to prevent human deaths caused by deers wandering onto roads? The issue here is not that human life is more valuable than a deer's; instead, the argument is that there is a human right to traverse along a certain stretch of highway without a certain amount of existential risk involved. That, at least to me, seems somewhat unreasonable, given that a number of significantly highly sentient creatures will have to die for an issue that's not threatening life (unless the act of traversing that stretch of highway is somehow enabling that person to live – like an ambulance racing off to a hospital).

You are not acting unethically if you harm someone who is acting unethically against you (i.e. someone is harming you without proper justification). And here we get into trouble because of the subjectivity involved. What I consider to be harmful may not seem harmful to you.

What are human rights?
I'd rather refer to this as "natural rights" because it's less limiting and speciest. Essentially, the conviction that there are strong and inalienable moral entitlements, defenses, and protections or "protective norm." It's the acknowledgement that highly sentient beings don't require a particular capacity to have these rights (or by virtue of some particular transaction or relationship), just the endowment of sentience.

Are human rights negotiable?
I don't like the word `negotiable' in this context. Perhaps I'm being idealistic, but the development of natural rights should be arrived through rational and moral discourse.


As I become more knowledgeable and intelligent, and as I gain more rational comprehension and control over myself and my place in my environment, the more capable am I of becoming empathetic.

Homo sapiens have an advanced sense of self. What I mean by 'advanced' is that humans, as far as I know, are the only animals that are existential (i.e. we know we're going to die). Assuming this is the case, the only animals on this planet that my statement would apply to are humans (and pending posthumans). Thus, non-human animals like mice and eagles are excluded. They hunt out of sheer instinct and the need to survive. They have no way of altering the conditions such that they don't need to kill to survive. We do. Moreover, they haven't developed any advanced sense of altruism or compassion -- they don't really project themselves onto their prey, and they have no comprehension that they're harming other sentient creatures. I'm sure some primates have developed empathy skills, but certainly not to the degree that humans have. Moreover, our empathy skills are now being steadily enhanced by culture; as we learn more about how organisms work, the better we understand the harm we are doing to ourselves and other life-forms.

Our culture is intelligent. It has been under construction for the past 10,000+ years, and it is getting more and more refined.

For example, in the West we have very developed normative political, judicial, and social systems. These systems have been under constant reviews, revisions, and trial-and-error developments, and their current condition is the result of generations upon generations of work (somewhat Darwinian if you think about it). They are not random or chaotic systems, but rather, very specific systems designed quite well for specific purposes; and for better or worse, they are functional and intelligent systems that operate to maintain order and fairness. Thus, when we discuss human intelligence, it must be placed in context with the cultural intelligence that supplements it.

When a SI entity eventually comes into existence, be it posthuman or artificial, it will have access to (or be programmed to access) all human cultural intelligence, including our moral and ethical standards and expectations. The result could quite possibly be supermoral agents residing in a SI-cultural system.

The alternative is to suppose that the SI comes up with a malevolent 'solution' in a vacuum and consequently through pure logic.

So, I have a hard time believing that radically advanced superintelligence (SI) will stomp on us like we do ants. I don't buy the paranoid and apocalyptic arguments that are put forth by so many Transhumanists. If we, with our limited and unaugmented brains can develop an active axiological discipline and develop enforceable contractual-like arrangements between various agents -- regardless of their capacities -- then imagine what superintelligent-supermoral (SI-SM) entities will be capable of.

Where the danger resides in SI-AI, though, is the possibility of badly programmed AI, a runaway Singularity, or a transcending upload.

What kinds of changes can we expect the human species to undergo in the next 25 years? 100 years? Here are some ideas:
- Genetics - continual progress in the germ-line re-engineering/evolution of the human race including the elimination of all genetic diseases (probably around 2030); genetic augmentations (including intelligence, beauty, and physical attributes)
- Specieation of Homo sapiens, a la Darwin's finches
- Androgenization of some post humans
- Cyborgization of Homo sapiens - replacing failing components, adding prosthetics to enhance human performance, adding nanites and other technological innovations into our systems for monitoring and regulation and to supplement existing systems (e.g. white blood cell helpers), etc.
- Re-engineering Homo sapiens for adaptability to specific environments and environmental stressors, including harsh environments and space; miniaturization and de-noising of humans - making ourselves more efficient, more resilient, and less susceptible to unwanted biological/evolutionary vestiges; hyperminiaturization into nanite quantum computers.
- Abandonment of corporealness; uploading into supercomputers and living in unbound VR environments

October 1, 2002

October 2002

I was honoured when the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence asked me to make a statement. Here's what I had to say about the SIAI's efforts:

Human technological evolution stands at the threshold of revolution; by virtue of this, so too does all of humanity. At some point this century, perhaps in the next fifty years, our machines will start to exhibit accelerating greater-than-human intelligence. The broader ramifications of this ‘singularity’ are as sweeping as they are unfathomable. That we are on the verge of potential radical positive change is unquestionable; that we should not stand idle and wait like bystanders to see if it happens is equally unquestionable. As Alan Kay once said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence is engaged in the most significant foresight and planning activity that I am aware of. While the greater part of academia and the so-called intelligentsia sleepwalks through this critical time in history, SIAI is actively working to not only predict the implications of superintelligent AI, but to proactively manage and guide its development towards desirable directions. Years from now we will be grateful for their efforts, and I sleep easier at night knowing there is at least one group critically and responsibly examining these issues.

Have Feminists Forsaken the Future?
Conservative bioethicists are using women's rights as a facade for removing reproductive freedoms. Few women's advocates seem to notice.

Transhumanism: The Next Great Threat to Oppression and Inequality
Transhumanism doesn't threaten human dignity, as Wesley J. Smith argues in National Review Online, but is the logical next step for civil liberties.

The International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design (ISCID) recently published a philosophical theory by Christopher Langan on the nature of reality. Called the Cognitive-Theoretical Model of the Universe (CTMU), Langan boldly posits an astounding 'theory of everything' that brings together complexity, information, design, computational, and observation theories. In his paper he writes: "Inasmuch as science is observational or perceptual in nature, the goal of providing a scientific model and mechanism for the evolution of complex systems requires a supporting theory of reality of which perception itself is the model (or theory-to-universe mapping)." Information, argues Langan, is the "abstract currency of perception" and a theory of everything must explain how "reflexive self-processing" achieves a self-contained description of reality. Langan writes: "Consider the universe as a completely evolved perceptual system, including all of the perceptions that will ultimately comprise it. We cannot know all of those perceptions specifically, but to the extent that they are interactively connected, we can refer to them en masse." In his paper's abstract, he describes his theory as a supertautological reality-theoretic extension of logic: "Uniting the theory of reality with an advanced form of computational language theory, the CTMU describes reality as a Self-Configuring Self-Processing Language or SCSPL, a reflexive intrinsic language characterized not only by self-reference and recursive self-definition, but full self-configuration and self-execution (reflexive read-write functionality).

Langan is also arguing an Intelligent Design theory, claiming that a scientific model supporting ID is long overdue. This paper has the potential to be quite an attention grabber. Once I have the chance to read the entire paper I'll have more to say...unless of course it makes my brain explode -- talk about your challenging read; Langan has an IQ of 195, which only occurs in one in a billion births!!

September 1, 2002

September 2002

Added a prediction to the Prescience section.

Updated the Quotes section. New quotes from Max Planck, Carl Sagan, & Kraftwerk among others.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the controversial Jesuit mystic, was truly a theologian, philosopher, and scientist ahead of his time. Teilhard coined the terms Noosphere and the Omega Point, now fixtures of the transhumanist vernacular. Teilhard, a radical Catholic who seems to be gaining in stature with each passing year, stands to bridge the gap between orthodoxical Christianity and 21st century theology and philosophy.

Unlike most Christians of his day, Teilhard wholly accepted the observations of empirical science. Not one to shy away from notions of punishable hubris, he believed it was the human mission to explore God’s creation: “There is less difference than people think between research and adoration.” He gauged the divorce of science and religion as an unfortunate and antithetical development. In his worldview, science was the fuel that powered faith. In this sense, Teilhard’s vision for humanity was not too far removed from those of humanists and transhumanists. In fact, he spoke of the emergence of neo-humans.

The Vatican saw Teilhard as a threat to the integrity of Catholicism, and insisted that his religious writings not be published. He was forbidden to teach or even to speak publicly on religious subjects, and he was banished from his native France.

However, in light of recent scientific and technological developments, Teilhard’s writings have been reinvigorated. He will most likely go down in history as the first transhumanist Christian. He essentially predicted the Internet and World Wide Web, including its predicted future manifestation, the Noosophere (or superconsciousness). He also affirmed Darwinian processes and believed that “there is an absolute direction of growth , to which both our duty and our happiness demand that we should conform.” He believed it was the human function to complete cosmic evolution, and went so far as to say that: "Christ is realized in evolution.”

Although his writings are heavily laden with Christian mythology, and thus quite unpalatable for the majority of transhumanists, his teachings may introduce an entire generation of Christians to the progressive and optimistic world of transhumanism.

Related readings:

Phenomenon of Man
by Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

The Divine Milieu
By Pierre Teilhard De Chardin

“Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Toward a Science Charged with Faith”
by Charles P. Henderson

“Absolute Versus Human Perfectionism”
by Mark Walker

“The Problem of Evil Solved”
by Mark Walker

New Article
Book Review – John Brockman (Ed.) The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century
Transhumanists tend to have rather grand expectations for scientific and technological developments over the next 50 years. In fact, it is this resultant urgency that gives the movement its rasion d’etre. Thus it was with some anticipation that I picked up John Brockman’s new anthology, The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century. I was curious to see how the conclusions of ’25 of the world’s leading scientists’ would compare to those of transhumanists. My interest increased after reading the table of contents as there were a number of essay titles that were immediately applicable to transhumanism

New Article
Religious Fundamentalism as a Viral Psychological Disorder
Richard Dawkins once described religious memes as mind viruses. Might he be right? In this brief article I argue that, at the very least, fundamentalism that borders on fanaticism can most certainly be classified as a personal and social psychological health issue.

Future Viruses
Several months ago, lab technicians working on a research experiment for the U.S. military successfully managed to replicate a virus from its DNA source code. Oddly enough, they chose a rather lethal virus, and I can only suspect that this was done to further punctuate their point. Similarly, Richard Dawkins, in his recent essay, “Son of Moore’s Law,” conjectured that “an embryologist of 2050 will feed the genome of an unknown animal into a computer, and the computer will simulate an embryology that will culminate in a full rendering of the adult animal.” In other words, it’s going to get progressively easier to render life from the DNA code, including lethal viruses. The most potent threat to face humanity during the next 15 to 75 years will be the deliberate or accidental release of lab-created pathogens.

Assuming we get there, and that the transhumanist projections for pending technologies are met, by the mid-point of the 21st century biologists will have to scramble to identify new viruses, determine propagation vectors and modus operandi of these viruses, and then disseminate anti-viral ‘definition lists’ to immune-system nanobots to counter them. Yes, human bodies will be teeming with immune-system supplementing nanobots, and perhaps they will have their definition lists updated regularly via wireless whenever a new virus is detected. The same may be true for robots and cyborgs who will have to combat viruses that infect software and mechanical processes. Even those who have uploaded themselves into computers (possibly living exclusively in VR environments) won't be safe; Ray Kurzweil suspects that by late century, well over half of the world's computer processing power will have to be devoted to combating computer viruses (Kurzweil, 1999).

Eventually, however, it's more than likely that our vulnerable wetware biologies will succumb to these diseases. In sheer Darwinian fashion, the only survivors may be robots and cyborgs, because their morphologies may be more robust. It may not be a good idea to remain completely biological as we venture deeper into the bizarre 21st century.

Your Quantum Existence
Quantum physics implies that consciousness does not arise from reality, but reality arises from consciousness. In a digitally quantum (or Platonic) world, linearity has virtually no meaning. By virtue of your necessary existence, your observations force the rendering of all the intricate threads of circumstances -- all the way from the Big Bang to the present moment -- that guarantee your presence in the personal universe you currently reside in.

Future Space Travel
When I watch Star Trek now I have to laugh. The idea that conventional Homo sapiens will be roaming around the galaxy in starships in the 24th century now seems preposterous. The rigors of space, we are learning, are going to be much harder on our biological forms than we once thought. More to the point, however, the human species is going to emerge from the 21st century as something barely resembling our current manifestation. Imagine what we (or our synthetic progeny -- 'Mind Children', as Moravec calls to them) will look like 300 years from now! It's inconceivable, really. No, in all likelihood, Earth's first interstellar explorers will be artificially intelligent robots/probes, perhaps even von Neumann machines/probes. A von Neumann machine is something that is able to build a working copy of itself using materials in its environment. This is often proposed as a cheap way to mine or colonize the entire solar system or galaxy [an early fictional treatment was the short story "Autofac" by Philip K. Dick, published in 1955, which actually seems to precede John von Neumann's original paper about self-reproducing machines: von Neumann, J., 1966, The Theory of Self-reproducing Automata]. A von Neumann Probe is a von Neumann machine able to move over interstellar or interplanetary distances and to utilize local materials to build new copies of itself. Such probes could be used to set up new colonies, perform megascale engineering or explore the universe. If and when posthumans follow in their wake, they may take on the form of specialized cyborgs, or as wave-patterns in a computer, or even as electromagnetic signals sent into space at the speed of light awaiting arrival at an compiling station. Ah, to boldly go where no wave-pattern has gone before.

Retrospective with Perspective: 9/11 one year later
The events of September 11, 2001 shocked the world. The horrors and callousness of that day were unthinkable, with virtually everyone commenting that it was something right out of Hollywood. As we reach the one year anniversary of 9/11 we should pause to reflect on what has happened since, and to assess the world’s reaction to those events.

Since 9/11, global military and security spending had spiraled: Over $1.6 trillion is now spent annually on military weapons (all figures $U.S.). At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, organizers spent an estimated $300 million on security measures, or approximately $125,000 per athlete. By contrast, the 1999 WTO meetings in Seattle had a mere $5 million to spend on security.

This is in response to the deaths of less than 3000 people. By contrast, in the last twelve months:
· more North Americans were murdered by their spouses
· three times as many people died from food poisoning
· five times as many people were killed by drunk drivers
· ten times as many people committed suicide
· 100 times as many people died from smoking

North American governments are now planning to spend more than 20 billion dollars a year to help fight terrorism. Coincidentally, 20 billion dollars a year just happens to be the amount the World Health Organization has estimated it would take to end hunger in the world. On September 11th alone, it's estimated that:
· 24,000 people died of hunger
· 6020 children were killed by diarrhea
· 2700 children were killed by measles
· 1411 women died in childbirth
· 3288 children were made homeless by war

For an additional investment of 48 billion dollars a year (or less than 0.4 per cent of world military spending), we could:
· ensure that all children - both boys and girls - receive a primary education
· reduce the number of maternal childbirth deaths by three-quarters
· reduce the number of children who die before the age of five two two-thirds
· stop the spread of AIDS

Military and security spending is obviously important. Yet, one cannot help but think that a disproportionate amount of resources are being poured into alleviating a threat that has been grossly over-exaggerated. Moreover, it is obvious that the industrialised nations of the world are neglecting their humanitarian obligations to the people living in the underdeveloped parts of the globe. And what’s worse, the money is clearly there.

Note: This article was prepared with information from INFACT, The New Internationalist, CBC Radio, The Toronto Star, and the UN Forum on Global Poverty.

20th century atrocities aside (and as long as we remain vigilant, we will never incur a repeat), there appears to be a correlation between moral and ethical progress with scientific and technological progress.

The Hedonistic Imperative
From a certain perspective, one could argue that organisms thrive and survive based on the pleasure and pain principle. Animals exhibit certain behaviours and tendencies because it feels good to do it. It feels good because the genes want it that way: they control the organism like a puppet, and the strings that the genes use are pleasure and pain. An animal does not want pain, so it's 'pulled' away from certain behaviours. Unsafe behaviours will often result in pain, while prosperous behaviours result in physical and psychological rewards. Thus, animals perform their gene-propagating duties because it feels good and reduces stress. For example, minks experience as much stress when they're hungry as when they cannot access pools of water (see Georgia Mason, Cambridge University).

Have humans transcended the pleasure and pain principle? Yes and no. We understand why we are drawn to certain behaviours, so that gives us a bit of an advantage. However, I would argue that a pleasure threshold exists, where if pleasure gets too intense, free-will and rational thought disappears.

Let's assume that someone invents a pleasure machine in the future. This machine would provide intense and sustained physical pleasure to any person who chooses to use it, and they can stop the experience at any time (note: this thought experiment does not include psychological pleasure such as happiness). What would happen if you tried it? Before you answer, realize this: we're talking physical ecstasy of massive proportions. Words would not be able to describe how good it feels. Essentially, you'd be a zombie.

Humans must have a pleasure threshold, where once that threshold has been surpassed, an individual's free-will disappears and he is essentially dead. The pleasure is so intense that the person cannot bring themselves to stop the device. Now let's take this further: suppose we could achieve immortality and then start the pleasure machine (just suspend your disbelief as to how this could happen; perhaps robots could take care of energy and physical requirements while humans play with their pleasure toys). Would you start the device and experience extreme physical pleasure for all eternity? Is this desirable to you? Is this desirable for intelligent life? Would this essentially achieve the religious goal of eternal bliss in the afterlife (or are you only allowed to achieve psychological bliss in heaven)? Why should there be a moral distinction between the material and mystical realms?

These are tougher questions than they appear. It brings into play a whole number of axiological issues. What's the ultimate purpose of life? Is it goal oriented? Is it pleasure oriented? Or is there something else of greater moral and ethical value? Is psychological pleasure more 'valuable' and desirable than physical pleasure? But more to the point, will the human species have a choice in the matter? It is conceivable that the end-state of advanced intelligent life is the adoption of the hedonistic imperative. The human species may not consciously choose this, as the desire for intense physical pleasure may supercede rational argument.

Posted a new prediction in the Prescience section.

How Are You Smart?
I’ve never taken an IQ test. I’ve looked at the questions and assumed that I would do very poorly. But I never once thought that I had ‘low’ intelligence. The test just seemed too limited to me. It didn’t seem fair that a person’s intelligence could only be assessed by asking questions that test things like logic and pattern recognition skills. My suspicions were affirmed after discovering the findings of Harvard education professor Dr. Howard Gardner. In his book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983), Gardner argues that there is not one but eight different types of intelligences: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical-rhythmic, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. [This line of thinking brings to mind Daniel Goleman’s notion of 'emotional intelligence']

Here’s how Gardner breaks down his intelligence types:
Verbal-Linguistic: Adept at reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Sensitive to language, the connotations of words and rhythm of poetry. Loves books, story telling, jokes.
Logical-Mathematical: Adept at calculating, classifying and understanding cause-effect relationships. Loves order, math, puzzles, problem-solving and number games.
Visual-Spatial: Adept at perceiving forms and thinking in images. Sensitive to visual details. Loves drawing, designing, map-reading and orienteering.
Musical-Rhythmic: Adept at keeping time and staying in tune. Sensitive to pitch, timbre and rhythm. Loves listening to music, singing and playing instruments.
Bodily-Kinesthetic: Adept at controlling the body and manipulating objects. Sensitive to touch and movement. Loves dance, role-playing, sports and crafts.
Interpersonal: Adept at interacting with other people. Sensitive to others’ feelings and motives. Loves working and playing in groups and assuming leadership roles.
Intrapersonal: Adept at identifying and expressing own thoughts and feelings. Sensitive to personal strengths and weaknesses. Loves daydreaming and being alone.
Naturalist: Adept at recognizing elements in nature. Sensitive to environmental issues. Loves being outdoors, studying nature, gardening, rock collecting and animal care.

August 1, 2002

August 2002

My Reading List These Days
I am currently reading John Brockman's The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century, and I'm sure that will inspire some postings, so stay tuned. I'm also reading Elaine Morgan's The Descent of Woman (1982), and I hope to write some follow-up comments on that as well.

The Song Meme
The better the song, the better its chances of being replicated. If a song is no good, then not a whole lot of people will be interested in acquiring or passing it on. This does not imply quality, however. Instead, the most potent survival strategy that a song can possess is mass appeal (which can also be influenced by marketing and the artist's popularity). The best place to see this in practice is in MP3 file sharing. Some songs are easy to find over the Internet, while others remain elusive. Those songs that are easy to find have good survival/replicative strategies.

But past reward is no guarantee of future gain. As time passes, the artistic merit of a song is what keeps it alive. With the artist out of the limelight, and without any marketing tricks, a song will only remain popular if it's a good one. Thus, in the short-term, mass appeal is what's important, but if you want a long-term survival strategy, your song has to be a good one.

Another survival strategy that an MP3 can adopt is leeching off the name of a valid MP3. Some record companies, frustrated by MP3 file sharing, toss bogus songs into the MP3 meme pool that have the names of popular songs. MP3 traders inadvertently download and propagate these songs.

Future Music
One cannot help but be emotionally affected by a song. How a melody, key, or rhythm does this to our emotional state is still the cause of some mystery to me. I do believe, however, that a good melody is drug-like. Once we are familiar with a melody we can anticipate what's coming next while listening to the song, and that feels good (this explains why songs seem to get better with each listen). The anticipation, once rewarded by the actual linear passage of the melody, causes a positive emotional state in the listener (i.e. the pleasing melody causes a kind of transitory 'high' in the listener).

A great piece of music is one that takes the listener on an emotional journey. Artists hope to convey these emotional states through careful crafting of their compositions. This is quite transcendent; the artist is trying to evoke an emotional response in the listener. This is limited, however, by the 'emotional capabilities' of the listener; some people just cannot feel the proper highs and lows, or they are unable to properly decipher the emotional message as intended by the artist.

Imagine a future technology that could synchronize music to the emotional state of the listener. I've read some suggestions that future music will be composed and generated by the emotional state of the artist. But I've got a better idea: how about music that can manipulate the emotional state of the listener. By using some hand-waving technology, we could conceivably have music that taps into the emotional centers of our brain and cause a specific emotional response. For example, we could have a piece of music with sad, happy, playful, and frightening parts. The emotion-management technology would 'force' the listener to feel the emotional state as intended by the artist. Listeners could have absolutely sublime experiences. They could be thrust into feelings of despair and be slowly brought up until the climatic moments of bliss and ecstasy -- all synchronized to music. Imagine the potential 'trips' that listeners could take. [Note: In a way, rave culture has already tapped into this. Ravers take psychopharmaceuticals (such as ecstasy) to enhance and alter the emotional and perceptual experience of electronic music; a good spinner or electronic artist will try to tap into the emotional state of his audience].

Posted new prediction in the Prescience section.

Quantum Physics & Telepathy
Is there such a thing as telepathy? As I'm discovering, there are many people who believe so. There are a host of parapsychology departments and institutions that have been actively conducting experiments in mind-to-mind communication, precognition, and out-of-body experiences (aka 'remote viewing'). Psychedelics, it would appear, have an effect on consciousness that allow for such communication and observation (see Jean Millay's Multidimensional Mind). Additionally, Buddhism and other meditative philosophies have helped conceptualize and better facilitate these innate capabilities. (Thong Len may be another extension of this phenomenon).

Let's assume for a moment that these speculations are valid and that "telepathy" truly exists. How can we account for such a thing? Is there some sort of chemical transference between individuals? Is our body language conveying certain clues? Or is our science too primitive to explain it? These may partially explain the conundrum, but it does not sufficiently solve the puzzle. I thought about this, and I came up with a theory:

Yes, telepathy is theoretically possible. My consciousness is tied to both the physical and quantum realms. As I observe and measure the universe, it falls perfectly into place just for me (i.e. the observer forces the collapse of the wave function). The same thing happens to you, independent of my observations. We are all living in our own 'worlds,' and these 'worlds' are being revealed only to the specific observer; our personal-worlds are only as large as our observational field, and anything not observed is in a state of indeterminancy. For example, if we have a face to face conversation, everything behind me in my 'world' is in a state of unobserved indeterminancy, so it's not really there. But in your personal-universe, because you're looking at me and the world behind me, it has collapsed into a perceptually coherent world. Yet, I can interact with you. When we communicate, we are truly interfacing, but it only appears that we are in the same physical environment (or world). Thus, even though we can interact in the same room together, we are actually in our own physical worlds. So, the physical world is an illusion of sorts, or at the very least, it is one of our two environments. The other place we reside is the quantum dimension. Thus, by virtue of the fact that we can communicate and interact in the physical world (our interaction is not an illusion), our consciousness must be linked in the quantum environment.

Our verbal communication transpires in the physical world, but telepathic communication is conducted through the quantum dimension. Somehow, a consciousness that is in a telepathic link has tuned into another consciousness. It is a physical or cognitive state of the brain in the physical world that allows for this, and it would appear that psychedelic drugs and meditation help trigger these modes of consciousness. One way of looking at it is that a consciousness has tunneled through the quantum maze to get to another consciousness. It has tuned into the proper frequency.

I recently contacted Stuart Hameroff on this topic and asked him his opinion. He informed me that at the Quantum Mind Conference in 2003 there will be "compelling" evidence in favour of "telepathy." So, it would appear that I'm not the only one thinking along these lines. Another prominent thinker involved in this topic is Sir Roger Penrose (see his Shadows of the Mind and his discussion of microtubules). There are a host of people working on this issue at this time. I also e-mailed the quantum physicist David Deutsch, who is a telepathy skeptic, and have not received a response. Nor have I received a response from The Skeptics Society.

If this is all true about telepathy, what does it all mean? What does this mean to Transhumanists? Well, now I'm pretty sure that posthumans will have telepathy in the strong sense of the term, and possibly precognition. It may be achieved by future breakthroughs in psychopharmacology, neurology, or through advanced meditative technologies (or a combination of all three). How our relationships will change with each other and our place in the physical world is anybody's guess. I hope to write more on this particular topic in the near future.

I just finished listening to CBC's Quirks & Quarks. They had a special on about how we should react to first contact with an extra terrestrial civilization. It was a hard listen for many reasons, namely outdated science and an utter lack of imagination. I'm not sure that we can accurately speculate as to the nature of extra terrestrial life any more. I do not believe that aliens will arrive in spaceships, nor will they have any kind of political or cultural structure that we can relate to. I seriously doubt that we'll communicate via primitive radiowaves. It is unlikely that they will be organic or even humanoid; they would probably arrive as some kind of superintelligent machine consciousness, or in nanotechnological form (see Kurzweil, 1999), or even as a copy of themselves encoded in electromagnetic waves.

My point is this: extra terrestrial life is nothing like we think it is. We have no idea what our own civilization will be like in 50 years, let alone an advanced alien race. The human species is most likely on the verge of a technological singularity. How superintelligence will change our lives is still anybody's guess. It would appear that the human race will emerge from the 21st century as an entirely new species, or as several different new species. It's very likely that we'll be cyborg. Will advances in quantum computing and physics introduce new frontiers for exploration? Is the physical world really worth our trouble? How will consciousness change after superintelligence? How will we apply nanotechnology? What about our morals and goals? Will we adopt the hedonistic imperative? Or will we go into the depths of space as an expanding bubble of intelligence (see Hans Moravec)? We simply do not know yet!

I will say this, however: if an advanced intelligence does arrive at our planet sometime in the next few years, the proper response should probably be: "Please show us mercy."

Dinosaurs and Intelligent Life
Some paleontologists have speculated that had the asteroid not smashed into the earth 65 million years ago that eventually one species of dinosaur would have evolved human-like intelligence and developed civilizations (e.g. the Troodon). I think this is highly unlikely. First of all, the dinosaurs had a 250 million year reign, and during all that time nothing even came close to being human-like. Moreover, the environment was not conducive for intelligence to evolve. Dinosaurs had to adapt physically rather than cognitively. What I mean by this is that dinosaurs were so fierce and brutal, that they had to adapt by evolving either fiercer predatory skills or improved defensive traits (e.g. speed, size, and armour). Intelligence, while surely beneficial to some dinosaurs, was always secondary in importance to physical prowess. And finally, the dinosaur morphology did not lend itself to tool making. They had short and awkward arms, which greatly inhibited their ability to manipulate the environment in ways that early humans could.

Drake Equation
According to SETI, the N in the Drake Equation stands for "the number of civilizations in the Milky Way Galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable." In other words, N stands for the number of civilizations in our galaxy that have comparable technology to our own. Carl Sagan believed the number was around 10. Many people believe that Sagan was being unreasonably pessimistic, and that surely there must be more advanced life in our galaxy. I, on the other hand, believe that Sagan was overly optimistic. I would put the figure to N=<0.1>0.01 (i.e. 1 in 10 to 1 in 100 galaxies contain advanced intelligent life). In my estimation, technologically advanced civilizations are extremely rare. We are a freak of nature. Too many different and improbable variables had to come into play for us to advance from tree dwelling mammals to the atom-splitting species we are today.

I believe the galaxy is teeming with life. However, as complexity of life increases, prevalency decreases. There are probably millions of earth-like planets in our galaxy with prokaryote and eukaryotic life forms. There are probably thousands upon thousands of earth-like planets with complex animals such as fish, reptiles, and mammals. It is likely that there are hundreds of planets with primate or hominid-type creatures. And it is likely that there are dozens of intelligent species stuck in hunter-gatherer lifestyles. It is quite likely that the steps from hunter-gatherer to agrarian to feudal to industrial are far more difficult than we assume. But perhaps the most difficult evolutionary step is the one that causes a primate-like creature endowed with long arms, dexterous hands, and a large brain, to suddenly become bi-pedal -- an evolutionary quirk that still defies proper explanation (see Elaine Morgan, 1982). Humans are a truly bizarre organism.

Humans and Technology
We have a symbiotic relationship with technology. We are dependant on technology for survival, while technology cannot replicate and evolve without our intervention (at least for the time being). Moreover, we are entrenched in a positive feedback loop. We make technology, which in turn enables us to make better technology, which in turn enables us to make even better technology, and so on.

Intelligence and Rationality (Part V)
As discussed in Part IV, sentience is a qualitative trait that varies from species to species. Its strength is dependant on the sophistication of an organism’s communicative capabilities; the more social the animal, the more sentient it is (the sense of self increases as the interfacing capabilities of a consciousness increases). If a mind cannot communicate with another mind, then self-awareness is unlikely, if not impossible. In a very significant way, sentience is dependant on the presence of other minds. Thus, I theorize that a sentient consciousness cannot exist unless it can interface (or network) with another consciousness.

What are the ways in which two consciousnesses can interface and transfer data? There are many: verbal and written language, facial expressions, body language, chemical transference (e.g. pheromones), and many more (some of which we may not even be aware of, such as telepathy or telepathic-like communication that is experienced at a subconscious (or conscious) level). Also, our verbal and written languages can be classified as technologies, and like our other technologies, they are subject to improvements. While our biological communicative skills remain largely unchanged, our verbal/written skills are steadily evolving and gaining in sophistication. As a result, our sense of self may continue to increase.

A mind can collect data not only from another consciousness, but from the environment as well (including predators and the non-living environment). Our surroundings are constantly conveying information to us, and our minds can perceive this data using sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Thus, data reception from the environment is another player in the consciousness game. However, minds cannot transfer data to the environment. Minds can only transfer data to other minds -- a crucial step in the evolution of self-awareness. I don't believe that an organism can evolve a strong sense of self without significant bi-directional communication skills. Sensory environmental stimuli by itself will not result in the emergence of sentience. Many simple organisms (such as insects, amphibians, and fish) perceive the environment using their senses, but these perceptions control the organism's behaviour; there is no conscious analysis. Their instinctual scripts activate based on their interpretation of the environment at any given time. Also, bees are capable of transferring messages to other bees (namely, the location of good flowers), but again, there is no self-conscious intent on the part of the communicating bee; sentience is negligible as instinct dominates over self.
But as members of the same species begin to communicate with each other, and as this results in better survival strategies, both communication skills and sentience can improve over time. Strong sensory capabilities may be a direct correlate to the rise of consciousness and intelligence, but strong bi-directional communicative capabilities are a direct correlate to sentience.

Human Reproduction & Sexuality
I've been reading up on Carl Djerassi recently, and he brings up a good point about human reproduction and sexuality. Djerassi, the inventor of the birth control pill, argues that couples currently leave fertilization to pure chance. Parents, aside from deciding to have a child, have no control as they roll the genetic dice. This limitation, says Djerassi, will eventually be a thing of the past, as couples will be able to select many characteristics of their offspring. In such a world, the act of sexual intercourse would be strictly recreational, while human reproduction would be left to the lab. This would almost certainly facilitate another sexual revolution on par with the effects of the birth control pill which was introduced in the 1960s.

New Logo
Thanks, Paul -- it looks great.

Intelligence and Rationality (Part IV)
Are animals conscious in the same sense that humans are? Are they sentient? If so, what is to distinguish between human sentience and animal sentience? I believe that sentience, or the sense of self, is experienced by both humans and many animals. Most of the larger mammals (particularly social animals such as pack animals and the primates) probably experience a greater sense of self than we have traditionally assumed. When a dog begs for a piece of chocolate, in his own mind, using the canine analog to semantic language, he is saying to himself: "I really like chocolate, and I would like to have some." To me, that is not only a sign of intelligence, but of self-awareness as well. The dog is not acting on instinct (or set scripts) alone. The dog is exerting a certain degree of free-will and subjective preference (qualia).

Sentience and language capabilities are a direct correlate. Dogs, as descendants of wolves, are pack animals, and pack animals are social creatures. They communicate which each other using body language and physical interactions. It's this same communicative neural hard-wiring that has enabled dogs to follow verbal commands from their human companions (and probably also explains why humans have the capacity for verbal language). Since dogs have fairly strong communication skills, I believe they are quite self-aware. I'm also starting to think that animals such as elephants, whales, and primates are quite sentient (we may need to rethink animal rights issues as a result; for more on this particular topic, see Peter Singer).

Aside from language skills, consciousness and sentience do not appear to be traits that are directly coded into our brains. Rather, consciousness may be an emergent effect of the brain's activities (see Kurzweil, 1999). Every atom in our brain gets replaced during the course of our lives, yet we still feel that we are the same person.

However, I think it's fair to say that humans are more sentient than the other animals. Due to our greater intelligence, language skills, and culture, we are better able to conceptualize and verbalize the sense of self. A 'lesser' primate, I would argue, with a few neural tweaks and enhancements (particularly in the language centers), could conceivably have a similar sense of self that humans have. Thus, sentience is a qualitative characteristic; there are low, medium, and high levels of self-awareness. Humans currently have the highest sense of self. We are capable of verbalizing: "I think, therefore I am." Additionally, we have existential awareness, we are aware of our own mortality, we are empathetic, we worry, and we plan for the future. But by no means have we reached the pinnacle of sentience. I believe that as we further develop our physical selves, and as we learn more about the nature of our existence, our sense of self will also continue to evolve and expand. And who knows -- for all we know, in the large scheme of things, we may have, in relative terms, the self-awareness of a goldfish.

Commentary [updated from 2002.07.29, now removed]
Should the human race adopt a mission statement? Yes. We need to develop our sciences and ourselves so that we are no longer at nature's mercy. Richard Dawkins put it well: "I want to change the world in which I live so that natural selection no longer applies." This does not imply that nature has no value or that it is 'bad'. Just because we are getting better at controlling nature doesn't mean that we are somehow outside of it. We will always be a part of nature, and we should seek to establish and maintain an effective harmony with it.

There are two popular counter-arguments to this stance: we must 1) stop 'playing God' and 2) allow nature to follow its course. As a secular humanist, I reject the first argument. Humans are in control of their own destiny, and they are accountable to themselves, the entire species, and all life on this planet. We did not ask for these responsibilities, but as the most intelligent, self-aware, and technologically/culturally advanced species on this planet, we have a moral obligation to accept those responsibilities. There is no higher power at work that will solve our problems for us; to believe otherwise is irresponsible, if not delusional. As for the second argument, we have been 'tampering' with nature for the past 13,000 years, if not longer. It is impossible to live on this planet and not 'tamper' with it. We are as biological as any other creature on Earth. Some examples of this include our tool making skills, agriculture (which is artificial selection, aka genetic engineering), and our medical sciences (are we 'tampering' with nature when we cure a disease or immunize ourselves?). Another reason for rejecting the second argument is the 'conscious nature' fallacy. People often refer to nature as Mother Nature, or as some other quasi-sentient entity that knows what it's doing. This is simply not the case. Nature is a broad term used to describe the emergent effects of many different laws at play, namely physical and chemical reactions and natural selection. If I may quote Dawkins again: "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. "

And yet, humans have assigned a high moral value to the end results of these processes, namely life and existence itself. Why? Because intelligent life is capable of morally transcending the laws of nature. Most of us do not believe that 'survival of the fittest' is acceptable social behaviour. Instead, as we become more aware of ourselves, and as our collective intelligence increases, we are becoming morally and ethically stronger. For example, our empathy skills are increasing with each generation; the more we know, the better we can understand and sympathize with all life. Gender, racial, cultural, sexual, ageist, disabled, and class prejudices are slowly dissipating from collective and personal consciousnesses. Violence is gradually becoming an unacceptable way of resolving disputes. These trends will be sure to continue in the future, but only if we continue to seek a deeper understanding of ourselves and our existence.

Some Transhumanists have used the software analogy to describe the pending improvements to the human species, claiming that we are working towards Humanity version 2.0. While this is somewhat apropos of what Transhumanism is working to bring about, taking the analogy further reveals some of the dangers and pitfalls we need to avoid en route.

For example, would we start applying such terms as 'beta units,' and 'bugs' (or is that 'known issues' according to the Microsoft lexicon?) to posthuman works in progress? Personally, I wouldn't want to have children that are de facto beta versions of a posthuman (i.e. protoposthumans), full of genetic and technological defects. Yuck. The transition to a posthuman condition must be managed better than that. Also, the term Humanity 2.0, as it now stands, is meaningless. I am not sure that we can or should define a Humanity 2.0, other than a commitment to the increased health and general improvement of the species. In the future we should only describe a human as being either human or posthuman. Thus, a posthuman is to be defined as anyone who has had their genetic information altered (either before or after birth), or anyone who has had an implanted and somewhat permanent technological augmentation or enhancement. [On this last point, that I use a calculator doesn't make me posthuman, even though it's giving me abilities far beyond what I am naturally capable of. But if that calculator were to be permanently imbedded in my body somehow, then that would make me posthuman.]

We need to travel this path slowly and steadily. There will be no declaration of Humanity 2.0. We will just get better and healthier, dealing with each biological and technological issue as they come. There will be problems and side effects, though (how could there not be?), and top priority should be placed on managing and minimizing those problems. Talking about 'versions' and 'revisions' is contrary to the Transhumanist vision which seeks instead to honour the dignity and well-being of all humankind in all their forms.

Quantum Physics
According to Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics, the world is not as it appears. It’s interesting to see how the mind-body problem continues to persist in science and philosophy, and is arguably stronger than ever. Specifically, the issue is with the phenomenon known as quantum ‘splitting,’ or ‘mind-splitting.’ Essentially, every time you’re forced to make an observation or decision, you get copied (or split) into the other worlds of all probable outcomes. You, an observer, do not notice the persistent splitting. You’re just observing outcome after outcome after outcome. Life appears seamless and coherent. Little do you realize that all possible outcomes are being perceived by your consciousness’s copies in the other worlds; and just like you, they don't notice the splitting either. Their worlds are just as coherent as yours. This is why some quantum physicists are starting to refer instead to the Many Histories Interpretation. For example, take the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. According to this exercise, the moment you check to see if the cat is dead or alive, you are split into one of two possible states: one that observes the dead cat and one that observers the living cat. [The mind-splitting phenomenon came to mind recently after an interesting occurrence here in Ontario last week. During the course of one single day, a man won $50,000 at the track betting on a long shot and he won $12.5 million in the lottery. My reaction? Well, ya -- in an infinite universe where all probable outcomes are observed, this is going to happen from time to time, and some seemingly miraculous events will be observed by us in our own historical time-line.]