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The Vatican saw Teilhard as a threat to the integrity of Catholicism, and insisted that his religious writings not be published.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.