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.