September 29, 2003

Homophobia in the Name of God

Struggling to prevent legalization of gay marriage in Canada and elsewhere, religious groups and social conservatives are proving to be their own worst enemy

By George Dvorsky, September 29, 2003

In mid-September, the issue of gay marriage reached a legislative and emotional high point in the Canadian House of Commons. The world's most annoying opposition party, the Canadian Alliance, tried to quash the ruling Liberal party's attempt to have the definition of marriage expanded to include same-sex couples. The opposition forced a vote for a motion that would reaffirm marriage as solely the union between a man and a woman.

For a few nerve-racking moments on September 16, Canadians across the country held their collective breath as the vote came down to the wire. The motion was defeated by a margin of 137 to 132, with 53 Liberal representatives voting against the wishes of their leader, Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien. Gays and social progressives across the country rejoiced for a brief moment while gazing at each other with a phew-that-was-a-close-one look on their faces. That moment in Ottawa captured just how divided the House remains on the issue, a fair representation of the great divide that splits Canadians over this controversial issue.

And indeed, this story is far from over. Just two days after the Alliance's failure, the party introduced yet another motion to undermine Liberal intentions, this time by introducing legislation that would cement a heterosexual-only definition of matrimony while allowing provinces to provide for same-sex civil unions. And so the discussions rage on with no clear end in sight, forcing both parliamentarians and Canadian citizens to engage in heated debates.

But there's an interesting aspect to this particular debate that I've detected, one that will interest people everywhere whose countries must cope with the tension between conservative ideology and the expansion of tolerance and liberty. As I've listened to the combatants, I've noticed that they're not really conversing with each other—it's more like they're talking at each other. It's as if they're speaking two different and mutually incomprehensible languages.

We are truly dealing with a clash of worldviews here. But ultimately, what it all boils down to is a debate between those who are homophobic—whether they care to admit it to themselves or not—and those who are tolerant and inclusive in regards to the gay lifestyle.

Not surprisingly, as church groups and social conservatives rail against the proposed legislation, and as the debate deepens, the real issues are forced to the surface, the anti-gay bias emerges and the authoritarian religious imposition reveals itself.

As far as I'm concerned, and I'm sure as far as most liberals are concerned, it's all good. The more the religious groups and conservatives talk, the more they embarrass themselves and reveal their true ignorance and irrationality. It's pretty hard, after all, to defend hate, prejudice and intolerance while not looking utterly ridiculous and just plain mean-spirited.

Go to hell

The Roman Catholic Church continues to be its own worst enemy these days. It has shown a despicable unwillingness to deal with the rash of pedophilia among its clergy, it continues to alienate women by remaining staunchly patriarchal and keeping women out of the priesthood and, of course, it still maintains that every sperm is sacred.

As an expert evangelist organization, the church is also guilty of targeting the children of the world, spawning generation after generation of people who are shamed into sexual repression, terrorized by threats of eternal damnation and brainwashed into believing nonsensical pseudoscience.

It comes as no surprise, of course, that a number of Canadian Catholics have jumped right into the fray regarding the gay marriage issue. Right on queue, by coming out into the open with their views, they have inadvertently launched a negative publicity campaign against themselves. And this time they have hit a new high. (Or is that low?) Even my jaw hit the floor in stunned disbelief after reading comments made by a Calgary bishop named Fred Henry.

Addressing his Catholic prime minister, Henry warned that Chr├ętien risks burning in hell if he insists on allowing the passage of the legislation. "He doesn't understand what it means to be a good Catholic," Henry said. "He's putting at risk his eternal salvation. I pray for the prime minister because I think his eternal salvation is in jeopardy. He is making a morally grave error and he's not being accountable to God."

Of course, I'm forced to wonder what Henry thinks is the fate of non-Catholic Canadians and those who, by his standards, are living in perpetual sin.

But alas, he is just being a good Catholic. He's merely honoring the demands made by the Big Guy in Rome. Clearly disturbed by all this gay marriage talk in Canada, Europe and the US, Pope John Paul II and top Vatican officials finally spoke out. Catholic politicians were told that "when recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral."

So much for the separation of church and state. Well, I suppose that the whole idea of divorcing religion and politics was never in the interest of the religious elites in the first place. And it's pretty obvious that they haven't gotten their head around the concept. For example, Bruce Clemenger, president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, recently stated that "it is tragic to see the fundamental issue of the nature of marriage being sacrificed to party politics."

Clearly, there's confusion among the religious as to the distinction between a civil marriage and a religious one. The same-sex marriage debate has highlighted how poorly tolerated is our right to be free from religion.

The anti-gay bias

Of course, homophobia is not exclusive to the adherents of the Abrahamic faiths, although one could argue that Western homophobia stems from that particular religious ethic. Recent statistics in Canada show that the gay divide is also a generational one. A recent poll found that more than 60% of respondents younger than 35 support same-sex marriage while an equal percentage of seniors oppose it.

These statistics are not too surprising. It was under the tutelage of the older generation that gay-bashing was a common occurrence and queers and fairies were considered best kept in their closet. It's this deep and ingrained sense of repugnance towards homosexuality that characterizes the moral sense of this older generation and other less tolerant folk. And while some could handle gay unions, the thought of gays raising children—and potentially passing on their faggy sociocultural germs—is too much for most to bear.

While not nearly this severe in tone, and while she would adamantly deny that she is homophobic, Canadian bioethicist Margaret Somerville comes perilously close to perpetuating these kinds of attitudes. It was in her recent column for Betterhumans, "Culture is Wedded to Nature," a rebuttal to columnist James Hughes, that she revealed her true colors. She argued that gay parenting would represent a social experiment, one that would put innocent children at risk. Ultimately, what her argument boils down to is an assumption that gays will make poor parents. Actually, not just poor parents, but dangerous parents.

Why all lesbian mothers or gay fathers should make poor parents is a profound mystery to me. And why all heterosexual parents should be naturally gifted and competent is an equally ponderous proclamation. Clearly, this is an anti-gay prejudice and a pro-hetero bias that lacks any coherent evidence or sense, and is not based in any reality that I'm a part of.

Just keep on talking

Poking fun at orthodox Catholics and reactionary bioethicists and exposing them for what they are is like shooting fish in a barrel; it's far too easy. But it's important that they keep on talking because they make my job as a progressive social activist much easier. I can quote them verbatim and let them embarrass themselves. The absurdities and prejudices in their arguments and actions are self-evident.

Of course I say this with some tongue in cheek. Considerable work still needs to be done, and a passive approach could be dangerous. The tensions between conservatives and liberals is as strong as ever, with each side working earnestly to see its vision of a just and safe society actualized. Thankfully, as far as liberals are concerned, there are a number of activists and politicians working in the direction of expanded tolerance and equality.

For example, while the Alliance party is working to send Canada back to the Dark Ages, Svend Robinson of the New Democratic Party is working to take Canadians into a more diverse and egalitarian future. In a move designed to counter the Alliance and expand on the Liberal party's legislation, the NDP introduced a motion to protect gays and lesbians from hate speech. Bill C-250, sponsored privately by Robinson, will bring sexual orientation into the country's hate propaganda laws alongside color, race, religion and ethnic origin.

Robinson's bill was approved by a vote of 143 to 110—an extreme rarity for a bill introduced in this manner by a private member of a minority opposition party. "It's been a good week for equality in Canada," an emotional Robinson said outside the Commons. "I feel proud to be a Canadian.' His response was understandable; he has been working since 1981 to have this particular bill passed.

Frustrated by Robinson's views, and worried that religious texts could be considered hate literature, Alliance justice critic Vic Toews denounced Robinson by saying, "His ideology is fascism, not free speech."

Yup, just keep on talking. Keep on talking.

Copyright © 2003 George Dvorsky

This column originally appeared on Betterhumans, September 29, 2003.

Tags: , , , , .

post to del.icio.us

September 15, 2003

And the Disabled Shall Inherit the Earth

Uninhibited about technological modification, they're poised to be the first posthumans

By George Dvorsky, September 15, 2003

Walking in downtown Toronto the other day I encountered a cyborg -- and no, it wasn't Steve Mann or one of his EyeTap-wearing acolytes. Rather, it was a man with a prosthetic arm.

But this was no ordinary artificial limb, not some pathetic old school attempt to emulate the human arm with a chunk of shiny beige plastic. No, this particular prosthetic barely resembled a human arm, looking more like something out of a Terminator movie. It was robotic, sleek and very high tech. In fact, I think I was jealous.

Compared to a natural human arm, however, it did lack in functionality and grace. Still, just looking at it made me realize that it won't be long before future prostheses, for all intents and purposes, will be better than my biological appendages.

And what's more, the disabled will in all likelihood be encouraged to try out the latest models, to experiment with the latest in prosthetic neural interfacing and advanced cybernetics. Those in the handicapped community tend to be more willing to accept people in various forms and to be more open in their ideas about what it means to be "normal," or even human.

And as the disabled are discovering, when it comes to prostheses and other assistive devices, the sky's the limit; they no longer feel compelled to mimic the human form. For the handicapped, the impetus towards "human normalization" is as irrelevant and useless a notion as it is offensive.

Indeed, the disabled are no longer accepting the limitations of the "normal" human body. They are truly bridging the gap between the biological and the mechanical, the human and the posthuman.

As an ironic consequence, the disabled are poised to leapfrog the rest of humanity and enter early into the ranks of the posthuman.

Benefiting from technology

By a long shot, the greatest beneficiaries of technology have been the disabled. Ever since that first lame hominid used a walking stick as a cane, handicapped people have depended on various tools to help them overcome injuries or physical deficiencies.

More recently, the differently abled have had access to such technologies as wheelchairs, artificial limbs and cochlear implants. And the prognosis for the future has never looked better.

There have been a number of recent advances in neural interfacing technologies -- technologies that help people control devices with various brain signals. For those who have lost motor function arising from brain or spinal cord injuries, strokes or neurodegenerative diseases, neural interfaces will provide the keys to increased physical and social activity.

For example, researchers at the Center for Neural Interface and Brain Control and the University of Michigan's Direct Brain Interface Project are working on micro-electro-mechanical systems technology in hopes of developing neural interfaces that can obtain control signals from undamaged sensorimotor areas of the brain. Paralyzed people could regain certain motor functions by controlling neuroprosthetic devices such as artificial arms and wheelchairs.

Amputees will also be able to use neural interfaces to control advanced prostheses. At the Palo Alto Rehabilitation Research and Development Center, developers are working on the Nerve Chip, a device that provides a direct interface to peripheral nerves within an amputee's nerve stump and derives electrical control signals suitable for controlling limb prostheses.

And as electromyographic pattern recognition technologies improve, so too will the prostheses; multifunction control of prosthetics is right around the corner. Such an advance would allow individual finger movements and coordinated movements of the hand, wrist and elbow -- unlike the robotic movements allowed by the "six degrees of freedom" we find in today's totally powered arm prostheses.

Neural interface technologies are also being used to help those who have lost their sight. The Dobelle Group has developed a TV camera that is connected to the brain to create artificial vision for the blind.

There is even light at the end of the tunnel for those who are utterly "locked in" to their bodies, namely quadriplegics. Breakthroughs in brain-machine interfacing are enabling the severely disabled to control computer interfaces by sheer thought alone.

For example, Phil Kennedy, a neuroscientist and CEO of Neural Signals Inc., has successfully fused the human brain with a computer. By strategically placing a handful of electrodes near a few good neurons, Kennedy has allowed his patients to write words on a computer screen just by thinking about it. Future patients endowed with subcranial cortical implants, believes Kennedy, will learn to use signals to control what they want. As researchers such as Kennedy are discovering, the flexibility and adaptability of the brain is astounding.

And supplementing these lines of research are advances in nerve cell regeneration, axon guidance, and stem cell biology which may significantly help restore the motor functions of those with severe spinal cord injuries.

Helping themselves

Needless to say, much of the enthusiasm needed to stimulate the development of these technologies has come from the disabled themselves.

Actor Christopher Reeve, for example, the victim of a 1995 accident that left him completely paralyzed, has been a tireless and outspoken campaigner of clinical research to help the physically disabled. To this end, Reeve has established the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, an organization committed to funding research that develops treatments and cures for paralysis caused by spinal cord injury and other central nervous system disorders.

Not one to shy away from what he sees as a just fight, and undaunted by controversy, Reeve has taken a number of groups to task on what he sees as backwards policies in regards to cloning and stem cell research -- including George Bush and the Catholic Church.

And a number of disabled individuals are starting to see the radical potential for assistive technologies -- not just to patch various disabilities, but to completely redefine what we mean by "overcoming" a disability.

In a Wired article from two years ago, "The Next Brainiacs," paraplegic journalist John Hockenberry candidly illuminated the disabled perspective. "We live at a time when the disabled are on the leading edge of a broader societal trend toward the use of assistive technology," he wrote. Innovative new technologies, argued Hockenberry, are changing conceptions of what it means and even looks like to be human. "Humanity's specs," declared Hockenberry, "are back on the drawing board, thanks to some unlikely designers, and the disabled have a serious advantage in this conversation. They've been using technology in collaborative, intimate ways for years -- to move, to communicate, to interact with the world."

Similarly, Alan Pottinger, the founder of Ascender Alliance, an advocacy group for disabled transhumanists, is another outspoken handicapped activist. An Extropian and futurist, Pottinger advocates the removal of political, cultural, biological and psychological limits to self-realization and augmentation.

"Humanity," states Pottinger, "has always adapted the environment to suits its needs." The cyborg transformation of human society is already underway, he argues, and is one of the driving factors in the creation of a posthuman society.

Pottinger concedes, however, that the path taken to posthumanity will be markedly different for the disabled. "Within the able-bodied world there is little variation from person to person, at least in terms of physical form," he says, but "within the disabled community there are a huge number of variations." This variation, argues Pottinger, means that the disabled "agenda will differ from that of the able-bodied as our augmentation will require different procedures."

Furthermore, the disabled are openly acknowledging that human normalization is not on the agenda. "Is walking ability that important?" asks Pottinger. In the past perhaps, but Pottinger believes humanity has reached a point in its development where physical capability has begun to be overtaken by mental agility. "Machines," says Pottinger, "which take their orders in the form of simple physical inputs, now control most of our production processes, while in other cases other machines build the machines themselves."

Human input is slowly dropping off, he notes, so much that disabled people might be right in arguing that physical ability is not as vital as society makes it out to be. "The development of a computer-orientated society is well underway, if not already complete," contends Pottinger, "and it is something that has brought major benefits to both the disabled and able-bodied community."

Potential ramifications

This idea, that the disabled are already on a different evolutionary path from the rest of society, is not so outlandish. It is unlikely -- at least initially -- that those in the disabled community will face the same sort of social inhibitions against augmentation that would surely greet me, a non-disabled person, should I want to upgrade one of my biologically endowed components. In fact, it will probably be some time before us "normal" or "non-disabled" persons will be able to apply cybernetic technologies to ourselves without being stigmatized.

Moreover, I foresee the day when bioconservatives will start to get squeamish about all of these cyborgs walking around, and seek to impose their limited vision of humanity upon the disabled. Today, the bioconservatives wouldn't dare raise such a stink, mostly because of their myopic visions of the future and their dedicated adherence to stunting political correctness. Eventually, however, as the disabled become full-fledged cyborgs who only marginally resemble their non-cyborg human counterparts, the biocons will no longer be able to remain silent on the matter -- especially considering that the rest of society will be knocking at the gates.

But critics of transhuman technologies, be they assistive or augmentative technologies, are starting to get a grip on what's happening. For example, the notion of brain-machine interfaces in particular frightens a number of people.

Mara Shalhoup, in her article on Kennedy's subcranial cortical implants, worries about the potential for "supervillains." The creation of implants, she believes, "introduces the ethical dilemma of a more manipulative use of what's called brain-computer interfacing, a way of warping the technology to turn an average brain into a superpower." If these technologies can unlock those caged by their bodies, she says, "imagine what it could do for those in perfect health...you would become capable of intellectual and, possibly, physical feats unknown to man."

From disabled to superman

While I don't necessarily buy into Shalhoup's paranoia, I agree that these technologies are a sign of radical things to come. And it certainly appears that the disabled will be the first to partake of the advances.

Interestingly, many in the disabled community will choose to be willing test subjects; many have nothing to lose and are eager to try out the latest innovations -- if not for themselves, certainly for those in the disabled community who will follow after them.

And as the disabled courageously experiment with their bodies and strive to overcome the injustices and indignities of their disabilities, they will subsequently reinvent themselves for the future. They will be undaunted and unfazed by their departure from human morphology and functionality, while the rest of humanity will watch and take inspiration. And then play catch-up.

Copyright © 2003 George Dvorsky

This column originally appeared on Betterhumans, September 15, 2003.

Tags: , , , , , .

post to del.icio.us

September 1, 2003

September 2003

September 30, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: James Pinkerton responds to Yuval Levin's column "Science, Politics, and the New Utopians."
.: Paul Davies's bio page on Edge.org.

September 29, 2003
LATEST SENT.DEV ARTICLE
Homophobia in the Name of God
Struggling to prevent legalization of gay marriage in Canada and elsewhere, religious groups and social conservatives are proving to be their own worst enemy By George Dvorsky

September 29, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Vernor Vinge interview.
.: Paul Davies on E.T. and God.
.: Oh, oh. Apparently men are doomed to extinction.

OTHER NOTES
.: I was interviewed today by Kevin Miller, a 3rd year university student from Carleton University in Ottawa. Specifically, we spoke about cryonics, public opinion, and the state of the industry.

September 26, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Lev Navrozov is interviewed about nanoweapons. Check out his Webpage on world threats.
.: Chet Raymo of the Boston Globe wants to know who gets the smart pills.
.: News Forge has an article about MIT's Emerging Technologies Conference.
.: Check out Emeagwali's speech about his search for the holy grail of immortality.
.: Read the WTA news for September 20, 2003.

OTHER NOTES
.: Paul Lewis wants the Democrats to join together and form the next Canadian province. It's a very tongue-in-cheek but flattering article, but one must take it with a grain of salt; Unfortunately, I only wish that Canada were the utopia that it's often described and assumed to be. The gay marriage issue is by no means over and remains an issue that is splitting the country, we have an obnoxious right-wing, populist party as the official opposition in parliament, we are consistently undergoing dubious experiments with "Americanization" reforms (i.e. ongoing privatization of such things as health care and hydro), our socialist democratic party is an organizational and ideological joke, and while we may have favoured Kyoto, we remain one of the world's worst polluters, particularly here in Ontario. We still have ways to go.
.: I'm now on Tribe.net. It's proving to be a great way of networking with like-minded individuals. Tribes that I'm a member of include Nanotechnology, Cognitive Science, Meditation, Toronto, Quantum Physics, Immortalists, Bloggers, Buddhism, MEMEMACHINE, Radical Cyborgs, Singularitarians, The Libertarian Left, and Transhumanists. I also started my own tribe, Agnostics, of which there are now 5 members.
.: What I'm reading these days: Robert Pepperell's The Posthuman Condition: Consciousness Beyond the Brain and From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice by Allen Buchanan, Dan W. Brock, Norman Daniels, and Daniel Wikler. I'm also reading and reviewing a pre-release version of James Hughes's upcoming book, Cyborg Democracy: Free, Equal and United in the Posthuman World, and I'm helping with the next version of the official Transhumanist FAQ.

September 25, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Chris MacDonald asks, "Will the 'Secular Priests' of Bioethics Work Among the Sinners?" in Bioethics.net.
.: The Slate on Neal Stephenson's new book, Quicksilver.
.: Here's another 'we're all living in a simulation' article that deals with the multiverse hypothesis.

September 22, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Simon Smith says we ignore our past at our own peril.
.: James Hughes argues that a guaranteed basic income will help when all our jobs are taken over by robots. I'm so there.
.: Richard Dawkins says that atheists are people too and he has the memes to prove it.
.: Transhumanist philosopher Mark Walker prefers the term panhumanism to posthumanism. It's all personhood ethics and democracy to me.
.: Chinese ID cards are set to contain genetic samples.
.: Sixty scientists say that cloning humans is still dangerous. Hello, Raelians? Are you listening?

OTHER NOTES
.: Picked up the new A Perfect Circle CD on the weekend, Thirteenth Step. Joy.
.: Using GnuCash open source accounting software on my new Linux machine. I'm also using Grip to create *.ogg files (an open source audio format) instead of MP3s. Geez, listen to me, I am turning into a Linux zealot! And a geek! Oh, wait a minute, I already am a geek.

September 19, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Those pesky gamma ray bursts may not be as bad as we thought. As an aside, cosmologist Milan M. Cirkovic notes that hypernovaes may cause massive gamma ray bursts that can sterilize as much as a quarter of a galaxy! Er, not good.
.: It's never too late to start that low calorie diet.
.: An anti-transhumanist rant from the religious right, Remaking Humans: The New Utopians Versus a Truly Human Future.
.: Top 100 guitar players according to Rolling Stone.

September 19, 2003
LINUX
Yay, I've migrated over to Linux! My new system is running Red Hat 9. I feel so....so...cleansed. Moreover, now I can become a Linux zealot amongst my other zealotries.

September 18, 2003
LATEST SENT.DEV ARTICLE
And the Disabled Shall Inherit the Earth
Uninhibited about technological modification, they're poised to be the first posthumans, By George Dvorsky

September 18, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Yuval Levin writes about Science, Politics, and the New Utopians.
.: Jonathan Rauch wonders if frankenfoods will save the planet.
.: Is the first human clone embryo ready for implantation?

September 18, 2003
INTERPOL
Saw Interpol play the Kool Haus in Toronto last night. A truly amazing show -- an excellent live band.

September 15, 2003
TODAY'S LINK:
.: The Chinese Brave New World.

September 15, 2003
REECNT RSCHEEARCH
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

September 12, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Robert Wright on 9/11 two years after.
.: Live in the West? Surprise! You're rich!
.: Listen to this speech by Vanessa Foster, Chair of the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition, who spoke at TransVision 2003.
.: Madison Ave. is a cool place that offers a forum for the transgendered, including their friends and families.

September 11, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Check out these cool lab notes from Berkeley Engineering: video games where you can control the movements of another person, pens with haptic feedback, the latest in virtual reality, etc.
.: The Riken Brain Institute in Japan has announced a project to create a brain by 2023. A commendable goal, and an even more commendable timeframe, but I don't think so. Talk to me once we figure out how our own brains actually work.
.: Check out the Ivory Lab blog.
.: What the next generation of wearables will look like.

September 10, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Kenan Malik on why there is nothing wrong with humanism.
.: Erik Baard of the Village Voice uncovers scientists who refuse to get paid for their dangerous (i.e. military) ideas.
.: I'm not quite sure what to make of this idea to sell sterilization to drug addicts.
.: New Scientist reports that learning disabilities result from general problems in the brain rather than specific genetic or neurological defects
.: Hey folks, let's get with the program here: flash mobs are happy mobs.

September 9, 2003
PARAPSYCHOLOGY AND TRANSHUMANISM?
I received an email today from Giuseppe Vatinno who is currently studying physics in Rome. Like me, Giuseppe has an interest in both transhumanism and parapsychology, and he asked me if I thought the two fields could somehow be merged. Here's my response:

Hi Giuseppe, wonderful to hear from you. Re: parapsychology and transhumanism -- that's a good question, and I'm not sure I have an answer to that. Parapsychology needs to mature as a scientific discipline, and I have a feeling that it can only do so once we have a better understanding of how consciousness works and what its relationship is to quantum phenomenon. I believe the answers to many of the questions posed by parapsychology will be answered/refuted by these particular avenues of research.

Once we understand *why* there is such a thing as parapsychological phenomenon (I'm not even sure we're asking the right questions yet), we can start to analyze how it works and what it is. Eventually, given this comprehension, we may someday be able to engineer ourselves and our conscious abilities to exploit our understanding of parapsychological phenomenon. So, for example, I would speculate (and it's mere speculation), that we could enhance our telepathic abilities. We might also be able to manipulate the material world with our minds in a way more profound than just influencing random numbers on a computer screen.

Of course, all this is dependant on a number of factors. For instance, we might find that the cause of parapsychological phenomenon is not what we think it is, or that we'll never be able to understand the quantum consciousness link.

September 9, 2003
TTA ANNOUNCEMENT
I am now the president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association. Here's the official announcement:

The Toronto Transhumanist Association is pleased to announce that George Dvorsky will be taking on the role of President effective immediately. Simon Smith, who held the position for the first year of the TTA's existence, will be assuming Dvorsky's position as Vice-President.

Under the new arrangement, Smith will be able to devote more of his time and focus to Betterhumans while George will assume responsibility for leading the development and management of the TTA.

Priorities for the next several months include general and student outreach to increase membership, the establishment of an advisory board and the building of an executive staff.

If anyone would like to help with the TTA, please contact Dvorsky at george@betterhumans.com.

September 9, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Jeff Patterson, who maintains the Gravity Lens blog, passed on a link to an article which claims that Japan will soon have 20,000 people over age 100.
.: Nicholas Thompson argues that there is a growing division between the GOP and science.
.: Read why minds and technologies are made to merge: Natural-Born Cyborgs.
.: Read about consciousness beyond the brain: The Posthuman Condition.
.: Wired's Kristen Philipkoski says it takes genes to make Olympians.
.: The Ascender's Alliance is an organization for disabled transhumanists (look for my column on Betterhumans next week about the disabled and posthumanism).

September 8, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Julian Savulescu wonders if we should select the best children.
.: Help to put a Permanent End to hunger, illiteracy and environmental degradation.
.: Reason's Tim Cavanaugh on the false confessions about the "New Anti-Catholicism."
.: Simon Smith lauds the pioneers of human redesign.

September 5, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Nick Bostrom narrates a BBC show featuring interviews with Max and Natasha Vita-More, William Haseltine and Gregory Stock.
.: Do you honour the new Humane Rights?
.: Chris Phoenix and Mike Treder believe that the age of molecular nanotechnology is closer than we think (Small Times).
.: Help the study of proteomics through distributed computing.

September 4, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Learn how not to cryonically preserve someone
.: Reason's Bailey on the ethics and politics of not medically treating children
.: The New Zealand Herald is reporting that computer modelling is the future of medicine and I believe them
.: You should go to the Accelerating Change Conference and explore the future of accelerating change (whoa, check out that list of speakers!)

September 3, 2003
GOD AND THE MANY WORLDS INTERPRETATION
The Many Worlds Interpretation, much to my surprise, does not eliminate the possibility that the meta-universe was consciously designed. In fact, if we can prove that a meta-universe is engineerable within our multiverse (i.e. the metasystem that expresses the multiverses) then by virtue of the MWI, which implies that all probable events must happen across the spectra of all universes, then the construction of a metasystem that generates many worlds must also happen.

September 3, 2003
LIVING ETHICALLY IN ALL YOUR MANY WORLDS
Many scientists, philosophers, and thinkers are starting to buy into the Many Worlds Interpretation of existence. This list includes Stephen Hawking, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, David Deutsch, and, as I recently learned, Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eli described the MWI as "beautiful"). I'm starting to see the efficacy of this theory as well.

Essentially, the MWI tells us that at each given moment-slice, we are copied a near infinite number of times into probabilistically varying universes. One of the implications of this theory is that across the spectrum of multiverses everything must happen so long as it is probable. The implications of this on free-will are troubling, but David Deutsch argues that the MWI does not deny the existence of free-will. I'm not sure I understand Deutsch in this context, but that's why he's a world famous quantum physicist and I am not.

If the MWI can be proven to be true -- and recent advances in quantum computing may help establish this at an empirical level -- it changes everything, yet it changes nothing. The ethical and moral framework surrounding our lives remain unaltered.

By virtue of the MWI, it truly appears that there is no meaning or purpose to existence. This revelation, however, does not preclude the necessity and validity of living a moral life; we need to remain cognizant of the suffering of other persons and life forms. In an indifferent and cruel universe, we should strive to create our own purpose and our own standards for what it means to live morally and ethically in relation to other persons and life forms. The same holds true for determining value and desirability. By virtue of the fact that intelligence can create an ethical code of conduct and standards in this universe, intelligence subsequently establishes meaning in the universe.

September 3, 2003
TODAY'S LINK
.: The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology has published A Technical Commentary on Greenpeace's Nanotechnology Report. The original report was called "Future Technologies, Today's Choices."

September 3, 2003
RE: MY COLUMN ON FUTURES MARKET (PAM)
Letters critical of my article, "Progressive Ideas in Government? Don't Bet on It," are starting to come in. Here's a recent exchange I had with an anonymous reader (my replies are in blue):

> Anonymous trading is the key to any gains that the added "insight" would likely produce from such a 'futures' market--but not for the population in which a violent event is likely to be carried out.

Incorrect -- the assumption is that "insight" will translate to prevention. In this regard, a futures market would *directly* benefit any targeted population.

> For the person making the bet, it is profit from first-hand knowledge of an impending violent action. It is the equivalent of insider trading. It seems to me that any knowledge that is parlayed into a successful bet would necessarily result from collusion. Precisely the reason why no "trader" is going to hedge a bet if he is not allowed to remain anonymous.

I agree that anonymous bets are a bad idea, and I said as much in the column. That being said, you make it sound like all the trading will be done by nefarious opportunists hiding sensitive information. I don't think this is a fair characterization; do Wall Street traders only bet based on "insider information?" Obviously not. Rather, traders will make bets based on a spectrum of incoming data, extrapolations, and inferences.

> Existing futures market are a specious analogy: the outcomes do not result in murder, mayhem, turmoil, or war. PAM is designed to validate the blood-money that spies, govt. officials, assassins, etc., would make from their actions.

I don't share your line of reasoning, your lack of faith in governmental institutions, nor your cynicism.

> PAM is another example of the extremist ideology which pervades this countries institutions today. how this is useful to progress, science, or rational debates about society and the tools it uses is beyond me. given your previous ideas/thoughts, im flummoxed as to why you think PAM is remotely useful.

It is useful to progress in that it represents a novel, safe, and effective means of information gathering for the purpose of *preventing* bloodshed. You believe that PAM will change, validate, and motivate political agendas; I believe those particular arenas will remain unaffected by the trading inasmuch as predicted events may be thwarted.

September 2, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: Bruce Bower explores Mind-Expanding Machines (i.e. cognitive prosthetics) in Science News
.: Read about the Brain of the Future
.: The Pentagon is drawing unwanted attention regarding its technological projects
.: The Dalai Lama is Investigating the Mind at a sold-out conference

September 2, 2003
TTA ELIEZER YUDKOWSKY TALK A SUCCESS
We had about 15-20 people show up for Eliezer's talk -- pretty good turnout. Thanks to Eli for giving the presentation.

September 2, 2003
BETTERHUMANS DEBATE A SUCCESS
Thanks to James Hughes and Margaret Somerville for that great debate on Friday night. It was truly a historical night for both Betterhumans and transhumanism.

September 2, 2003
IN GOOD COMPANY
Over the course of this past weekend I got to spend time and meet with bioethicist and transhumanist James Hughes, bioethicist Margaret Somerville, and AI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky. Not too shabby company. Actually, my apartment could have been renamed the Toronto Transhumanist Bed & Breakfast as I hosted both J and Eli this weekend.

September 1, 2003
LATEST SENT.DEV ARTICLE
Progressive Ideas in Government? Don't Bet on It
The US outcry against a proposed terrorism futures market demonstrates the difficultly of converting innovative ideas into policy By George Dvorsky

September 1, 2003
TODAY'S LINKS
.: The final installment of the Smith & Cohen debate
.: Martin Rees wonders if we are alone in the universe
.: Thomas Brain writes about Robotic Freedom in the age of automation and the need for a universal minimum income
.: Way cool scientist: Evans Walker Harris. Be sure to check out his ideas on consciousness.

September 1, 2003
BETTERHUMANS FRONT PAGE REDESIGN
Check out the recent cosmetic and functional changes to Betterhumans. We now have a drop down menu for the Resources section, and we've added an Around the Web section.