November 29, 2006

Kramnik and Fritz draw game 3

Vladimir Kramnik had to play tough against Deep Fritz today to salvage a draw. Fritz, despite playing black and being down a pawn for most of the game, pushed hard and controlled much of the play. Kramnik, who opened with Catalan again, was able to hold off the machine after 44 moves. This was made all the more impressive by the fact that Kramnik exchanged a rook for a bishop late in the game. The match was theoretically drawn soon after that.

Kramnik plays for the draw every time he enters into a match with Fritz -- even when he plays white. Several times during the game he offered Fritz an exchange of equal pieces, which Fritz brazenly refused, opting instead to keep pushing for the win. My thinking on the matter is that Fritz calculated a draw as worst case scenario at these junctures and could still sniff a winning position should Kramnik make some mis-plays.

Fritz assumed its own perfect play and calculated either the probability of a loss as very minimal or even nil. Must be nice.

November 28, 2006

Animal welfare notes

Mirror, Mirror: Evidence that psychology, like biology, is conserved between human and nonhuman species augurs a shake-up for science and society. Excerpt:
"This idea isn't new. Charles Darwin placed human beings on the continuum of animal species nearly 150 years ago. Somehow that insight was lost. Nurture is being reconciled with nature, and boundaries that once separated academic disciplines are dissolving, all of which bring models of animal and human behavior to unity. Separation has given over to integration, and what seemed like a haphazard collection of observational anomalies is now taking form as a coherent, human-inclusive, trans-species theory of mind and body."
U.S. Congress has passed an animal terrorism bill: Legislation gives additional legal protection to scientists and companies that provide services and support for animal research. The proposed bill expands protection for scientists by outlawing economic damage against "animal enterprises." It will soon be a crime in the U.S. to trespass, harass, vandalize, or otherwise threaten anyone associated with an animal enterprise, including scientists and their families. Similar legislation was enacted in England last year. Personally, I'd rather be hearing about proposed animal welfare bills like the ones in the UK and New Zealand.

Humpback whales share brain cells with humans: Humpback whales have joined an exclusive evolutionary club alongside humans, gorillas and dolphins, thanks to the discovery of a particular type of brain cell in the large aquatic mammals.

Buddha Break 2006.11.28

"You might try looking at all the stuff that comes up in your head as just a secretion. All our thoughts and feelings are a kind of secretion. It is important for us to see that clearly. I've always got things coming up in my head, but if I tried to act on everything that came up, it would just wear me out. Haven't you ever had the experience of being up on a very high pace and having the urge to jump? That urge to jump is just a secretion in your head. If you felt that you had to follow every urge that came into your head, well..." -- Kosho Uchiyama, Opening the Hand of Thought

  • Ask a Buddhist

  • Annalee Newitz on Happiness Science: There's a scientific basis to the truism that money can't buy happiness.

  • New research suggests people can easily improve their mental outlook

  • Buddha on the brain -- a Salon review of B. Alan Wallace's new book, "Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge." Book description:
    Science has long treated religion as a set of personal beliefs that have little to do with a rational understanding of the mind and the universe. However, B. Alan Wallace, a respected Buddhist scholar, proposes that the contemplative methodologies of Buddhism and of Western science are capable of being integrated into a single discipline: contemplative science.

    The science of consciousness introduces first-person methods of investigating the mind through Buddhist contemplative techniques, such as samatha, an organized, detailed system of training the attention. Just as scientists make observations and conduct experiments with the aid of technology, contemplatives have long tested their own theories with the help of highly developed meditative skills of observation and experimentation. Contemplative science allows for a deeper knowledge of mental phenomena, including a wide range of states of consciousness, and its emphasis on strict mental discipline counteracts the effects of conative (intention and desire), attentional, cognitive, and affective imbalances.

    Just as behaviorism, psychology, and neuroscience have all shed light on the cognitive processes that enable us to survive and flourish, contemplative science offers a groundbreaking perspective for expanding our capacity to realize genuine well-being. It also forges a link between the material world and the realm of the subconscious that transcends the traditional science-based understanding of the self.
  • Removing Obstacles to Development of Buddhism in Russia

  • Prison ministries for Buddhists are growing

    Howard Gardner, proponent of multiple intelligences, envisions 5 minds for the future: The five minds—disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful, and ethical—differ from multiple intelligence in working in a more synergistic fashion as opposed to separate categories of intelligences. Tip of the hat to Al Fin.

  • A Thai Buddhist monk cut off his penis with a machete because he had an erection during meditation and refused to have it stitched back on. I think he's taking this whole unattachment thing a little too far...
  • November 27, 2006

    Kramnik blunders, loses Game 2!

    Vladimir Kramnik, who otherwise played an excellent and aggressive game against Deep Fritz today, blundered in Game 2 at move 34 by not seeing a very obvious mate in one.

    Kramnik played black and obliged Fritz with a Queen's Gambit Accepted. He forced much of the play early on, with Deep Fritz eventually rebounding to equalize the board. Had Kramnik seen Fritz's threat at move 34 the game would have most likely ended in a draw.

    In the diagram to the right, Kramnik moves his queen to E3 threatening a mate of his own and assumes an exchange of queens. At this time he's completely oblivious to the threat in the far right corner, as Fritz's next move is queen to H7: mate.

    That's ugly.

    Interestingly, even one commentator missed the mate-in-one threat. After making his ill-fated move, Kramnik was about to stand-up and take a break when Fritz quickly calculated the checkmate. Kramnik put his hand to his forehead in shocked disbelief.

    Blunders happen, even among the grandmasters.

    But not computers.

    November 26, 2006

    Kramnik and the machine: Game one

    Yesterday was game one of the Vladimir Kramnik - Deep Fritz match-up. There are six games scheduled, with Kramnik looking to claim the million dollar prize. Game one ended in a draw after Deep Fritz defused the opening danger to reach a roughly equal endgame. Game two goes Monday.

    From Chessbase:
    Game one was a vintage Kramnik effort against Deep Fritz. The world champion's precise and methodical style is dangerous against humans and ideal against computer. Kramnik employed the same tranquil Catalan opening he used against Veselin Topalov several times in their world championship match. It's just the sort of line to squeeze a mild positional advantage with minimal risk, something that's especially important when facing a computer looking at eight million moves per second...

    ...Kramnik settled for doubling Black's pawns and getting a tiny endgame edge that was more optical than real. Fritz played some unorthodox moves but never seemed in doubt of the eventual draw. An impressive control game by Kramnik, although it should be much harder to achieve with the black pieces on Wednesday.

    November 25, 2006

    Of philosopher kings and diminishing dictators

    When I listen to George W. Bush speak I’m amazed that he can string several words together. The guy comes across as an absolute dolt. His often incoherent and ridiculous comments have boosted the careers of such comedians as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I’m sure his advisors cringe whenever he steps in front of a microphone, wondering what unimaginable absurdity will spew forth next.

    The lights are on, as they say, but there's nobody home. But quite obviously there's more to the Bush Administration than just Dubya.

    Indeed, Bush is a puppet president if there ever was one. He is not so much a leader as he is a preposterous figurehead who is both sympathetic to and easily manipulated by corporatists and the religious right.

    And it’s not just Bush – his entire administration seems as ineffective and reckless as he his. VP Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have muddled their way through their terms and created innumerable problems overseas.

    Of course, it hasn’t always been like this in the United States. It seems like ages ago now that Bill Clinton, an Oxford Rhodes Scholar, was at the helm of the executive office. And during the 1980’s, while he may not have been the sharpest or best of presidents, Ronald Reagan was the Great Communicator who had a coherent vision for America.

    These days California can boast such leaders as Arnold Schwarzenegger...

    Despite the dumbing down of U.S. politics and politicians (a phenomenon that’s hardly the domain of the U.S. -– as witnessed here in Canada recently with the rise in power of conservative leader Stephen Harper) and the anti-intellectualism that runs frustratingly rampant in North America, there have been many first-rate precedents for cerebral presidents.

    Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the most intellectual U.S. president ever, was Enlightened and pro-science. Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were no slouches either. Jimmy Carter used to correspond and debate with the late evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould (could you imagine Dubya trying to debate a scientist like Richard Dawkins – the mind boggles just thinking about it).

    The situation today with Bush and his corporate puppet masters reminds me of what happened in the Soviet Union after the death of Josef Stalin. It’s a phenomenon that has been referred to as the Law of Diminishing Dictators where each successive leader becomes more useless and ineffective than the last. Puppet masters need puppets without brains or political skill, otherwise they're difficult to control.

    Stalin was a very capable and conniving leader. He was skilled, savvy and brutal enough to lead the Soviet Union through a devastating world war and see his country become a world power. He terrorized his citizenry and terrorized his Politburo even more. He was notorious for his many internal purges to eliminate any potential rivals, giving Hitler the inspiration to do likewise. Needless to say, there was a massive sigh of relief among the Politburo members after Stalin’s passing.

    Resolved to never allow such a powerful and charismatic leader to lead the Soviet Union ever again (i.e. fearing for their collective asses and the ongoing social brutality), the Politburo decided that Nikita Khrushchev, a barely literate peasant, would be a reasonable successor. As benign as he appeared to be, however, he proved to be a bit more unpredictable than expected as witnessed by his 'we will bury you’ shoe-pounding Cuban Missile Crisis tenure. He was eventually replaced by Leonid Brezhnev, who was yet another step down the evolutionary ladder. Brezhnev proved to be very good at two things and two things only: collecting cars and showing off his countless shiny medals.

    Just when the Soviets thought they had outdone themselves with their successive string of low-brow and ineffectual leaders, along comes Yuri Andropov. He was 70 years old when he took office, was in poor health, and died after only 13 months in power. Then came the coup de grace with Konstantin Chernenko, the 73 year old comatose General Secretary. In one infamous moment, Politburo member Viktor Grishin dragged the terminally ill Chernenko from his hospital bed to a ballot box to vote in the 1985 elections.

    By this point in Soviet history the liberal voices in the Politburo were powerful and motivated enough to bring in the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev, but it was already too little too late.

    Thankfully, democracies typically alleviate these sorts of situations prior to the onset of economic and social collapse. That said, elections are often only as good as the quality of the individual voter. It's arguable that the largely anti-intellectual, poorly educated and often fickle North and South American voter is responsible for bringing in such statesmen as Bush, Harper and the populist leftist leaders that are now emerging in the southern hemisphere (although the situation in South America is much more complex than that and worthy of deeper and fairer analysis).

    But there is near-term hope on the horizon both in Canada and the United States. Both countries have Poindexter leaders in waiting: in Canada there is public intellectual Michael Ignatieff (the potential heir apparent to philosopher king Pierre Trudeau) and in the States there is Hillary Rodham Clinton, a graduate of Wellesley College and Yale Law School.

    In the meantime, we shouldn't expect any groundbreaking or progressive social policies from leaders like George W. Bush, but at least we can keep watching the Daily Show and the Colbert Report for our comedy fix.

    November 23, 2006

    Canadian context 2006.11.23

  • Starting late next year, newborn babies in Ontario will be tested for cystic fibrosis in addition to 27 other diseases. Early detection of the disease in newborns will help ensure they receive proper care as soon as possible.

  • Air pollutants and green house gas emissions are still rising in Canada. Monitoring sites across the country between 1990 and 2004 detected that,
    • human exposure to ground-level ozone increased an average of 0.9%
    • greenhouse gas emissions rose 27%
    • the 758 million tonnes of carbon dioxide exceeds the greenhouse gas reduction target of the Kyoto Protocol by 35% making Canada one of the world's highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases
    • the ability of fresh water to support aquatic life in Canada is rated as ‘fair' at 34% of 340 selected sites across southern Canada and ‘marginal' or ‘poor' at 22%
    • GDP increased 47% during this time and the population grew 15%
    • primary energy production rose 44% since 1990, largely as a result of increases in the production of natural gas and crude oil
  • Public intellectual Michael Ignatieff is a Liberal Party leadership candidate and a potential Prime Minister. Is he the philosopher king heir apparent to Pierre Trudeau?

  • A protocol published recently in the Canadian Medical Association Journal offers guidelines to health professionals on how to make the harrowing decisions about who not to treat during a flu pandemic. Essentially, it's about figuring out who has the lowest chance of surviving. "Having said that, there are many people - and I don't mean health-care workers, I mean members of the public - who would argue that . . . those who are younger may be able in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy like a pandemic . . . to make a different kind of contribution back to to society."

  • The Ottawa Health Research Institute, the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, has opened the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research to focus on regenerative medicine. They will not use embryos....for now. The facility will have room for approximately 120 scientists, trainees, and staff in 30,000 square feet of state-of-the-art research space.

  • As if Canadian immigration agents didn't already have enough to worry about, they must now look out for organ trafficking. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has developed internal guidelines for processing visa applications by people who wish to donate organs in Canada -- but the trick will be to filter the illegal cases from the legitimate ones.
  • Transhumanist philosophers want to help you overcome your biases

    A group of philosophers which include such transhumanist thinkers as Robin Hanson, Nick Bostrom, Hal Finney, Peter McCluskey and Eliezer Yudkowsky have launched a blog dedicated to the issue of overcoming bias. The blog is meant as a public forum and is part of Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute.

    Economist Robin Hanson describes the collaborative blog,
    How can we better believe what is true? While it is of course useful to seek and study relevant information, our minds are full of natural tendencies to bias our beliefs via overconfidence, wishful thinking, and so on. Worse, our minds seem to have a natural tendency to convince us we that are aware of and have adequately corrected for such biases, when we have done no such thing.

    In this forum we discuss whether and how we might avoid this fate, by spending a bit less effort on each specific topic, and a bit more effort on the general topic of how to be less biased. Here we discuss common patterns of bias and self-deception, statistical and other formal analysis tools, computational and data-gathering aids, and social institutions which may discourage bias and encourage its correction. Other topics may be discussed to the extent they exemplify important biases and correction issues.
    To get you started, here's a concise list of common cognitive biases.

    November 22, 2006

    Polygamy hits the radar

    Now that same-sex marriage is all but passé as a hot-button topic, the latest rising civil sociopolitical star is the contentious issue of polygamy, also referred to as polygany, bigamy, or the more user-friendly term, polyamory. I am largely in favour of these alternative marital arrangements; the libertarian in me wants to give consenting grown-ups the benefit of the doubt when it comes to forming such unions. Whatever gets you through the night, as Lennon used to say.

    Many of the concerns with polygamy have to do with the potentials for coercion and abuse. As most of us are aware, however, conventional marriages between two people are hardly immune to these sorts of problems -- yet we don't find it necessary to ban traditional marriages on these grounds. What is required are tough and enforceable civil laws against spousal abuse and accessible public and private institutions that can help women in need.

    I do have one concern about polygamy, however, and it is about parental accountability. I sometimes worry that, like the failed communist experiment where communal ownership meant no responsibility, shared guardianship over children will result in lack of parental accountability. That said, my feeling is that biological parents will likely take the lion's share of the responsibility, so this may not be an issue. Moreover, there is truth to the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child; multiple caregivers (assuming they do their job) can only be to the benefit of children.

    The Web has been filled with discussions on this topic recently. Here are some links and quick blurbages:

    Husband and wives (Guardian): "Over the years a blind eye has been turned to the practice of polygamy in the United States. But the trial of a Fundamentalist Mormon for assisting in the rape of a minor could change all that. Ed Pilkington visits Utah and uncovers a closed world of 'sisterwives', underage marriages and banished teenagers."

    Polygamists Fight to Be Seen As Part of Mainstream Society (Washington Post): "Valerie and others among the estimated 40,000 men, women and children in polygamous communities are part of a new movement to decriminalize bigamy. Consciously taking tactics from the gay-rights movement, polygamists have reframed their struggle, choosing in interviews to de-emphasize their religious beliefs and focus on their desire to live "in freedom"..."

    Is There a Case for Legalizing Polygamy? Blogger Gary Becker writes, "For a long time I have found the practice of polygamy intriguing, and have wondered why opposition to this form of marriage is so strong in the United States and most of the world....Why the strong opposition to polygyny if it would be so rare? If modern women are at least as capable as men in deciding whom to marry, why does polygyny continue to be dubbed a "barbarous" practice?"

    Economist Bryan Caplan has made his polygamy lecture notes available. Arnold Kling chimes in about "Polygamy, Jealousy, and Social Peace." Caplan responds by saying we need "Facts Not Fear."

    The positive image of polygamy in media
    (The Daily Evergreen): Polygamy loves company – especially in the American media.

    November 21, 2006

    Buddha Break 2006.11.21

    Reclusive writer Robert Persig, author of the seventies bestseller Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, is interviewed by the Guardian. Persig talks about about anxiety, depression, the death of his son and the road trip that inspired the best selling philosophy book of all time. The interview offers some sobering insight into Persig's somewhat dark and somber state of mind and his ongoing battles with mental illness (including his experience with electroshock therapy). Excerpt:
    "I could not sleep and I could not stay awake,' he recalls. 'I just sat there cross-legged in the room for three days. All sorts of volitions started to go away. My wife started getting upset at me sitting there, got a little insulting. Pain disappeared, cigarettes burned down in my fingers ...but then a kind of chaos set in. Suddenly I realised that the person who had come this far was about to expire. I was terrified, and curious as to what was coming. I felt so sorry for this guy I was leaving behind. It was a separation. This is described in the psychiatric canon as catatonic schizophrenia. It is cited in the Zen Buddhist canon as hard enlightenment. I have never insisted on either - in fact I switch back and forth depending on who I am talking to."
    While I'm no expert in Zen Buddhism, the impression I get from the interview is that Persig's condition is not so much a reflection of his personal enlightenment or the attainment of Zen nothingness as it is his battle with terrible tragedies and depression.

    Interestingly, he notes at the end of the interview how he is on anti-depressants due to a "chemical inbalance." It's the 'human' aspect to his story -- the harsh realness of life -- that I find most poignant.

    SciAm's article, "Darwin at the Zoo," asks: "Did humans invent right and wrong, or are these feelings part of the inheritance from our primate ancestors?" Behavioral scientists are learning that social animals have hard-wired moral skills and that humans are not unique inventors of empathy and morality. Excerpt:
    In reality, de Waal reminds us, dogs are social, wolves are social, chimps and macaques are social, and we ourselves are "social to the core." Goodness, generosity and genuine kindness come just as naturally to us as meaner feelings. We didn't have to invent compassion. When our ancestors began writing down the first codes of conduct, precepts, laws and commandments, they were elaborating on feelings that evolved thousands or even millions of years before they were born. "Instead of empathy being an endpoint," de Waal writes, "it may have been the starting point."
    The article reviews the book, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal, Stephen Macedo (Editor), and Josiah Ober (Editor).

    There was A Free-for-All on Science and Religion recently at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA. Excerpt from the NYT article:
    Maybe the pivotal moment came when Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate in physics, warned that “the world needs to wake up from its long nightmare of religious belief,” or when a Nobelist in chemistry, Sir Harold Kroto, called for the John Templeton Foundation to give its next $1.5 million prize for “progress in spiritual discoveries” to an atheist — Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist whose book “The God Delusion” is a national best-seller.

    Or perhaps the turning point occurred at a more solemn moment, when Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and an adviser to the Bush administration on space exploration, hushed the audience with heartbreaking photographs of newborns misshapen by birth defects — testimony, he suggested, that blind nature, not an intelligent overseer, is in control.
    Sam Harris also reports from this conference.

    November 20, 2006

    Synesthetic art and interpretation

    Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which two or more bodily senses are paired. Individuals with this condition are, for example, able to 'hear' colours or 'see' sounds. Subsequently, many synesthetes use their experiences to assist in their creative process.

    Synesthetic art is qualitatively and aesthetically distinguished from more traditional forms of art. Interestingly, there has been no shortage of synesthete artists. Notable examples include Vladimir Nabokov, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Jean Sibelius, Duke Ellington, Franz Liszt, and more recently Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin).

    Duke Ellington once said, "I hear a note by one of the fellows in the band and it’s one color. I hear the same note played by someone else and it’s a different color. When I hear sustained musical tones, I see just about the same colors that you do, but I see them in textures. If Harry Carney is playing, D is dark blue burlap. If Johnny Hodges is playing, G becomes light blue satin." And it was said of Franz Liszt that when he "first began as Kapellmeister in Weimar (1842), it astonished the orchestra that he said: 'O please, gentlemen, a little bluer, if you please! This tone type requires it!' Or: 'That is a deep violet, please, depend on it! Not so rose!' First the orchestra believed Liszt just joked; more later they got accustomed to the fact that the great musician seemed to see colors there, where there were only tones."

    Synesthesia is not exclusive to artists, of course. Physicist Richard Feynman saw colored letters and numbers. He once said, "When I see equations, I see the letters in colors – I don't know why. As I'm talking, I see vague pictures of Bessel functions from Jahnke and Emde's book, with light-tan j's, slightly violet-bluish n's, and dark brown x's flying around. And I wonder what the hell it must look like to the students."

    While neurotypicals are able to perceive and appreciate synesthetic art, their subjective interpretation of these works may not be entirely complete or accurate. Some synesthetes create art to convey the synesthetic experience, while others use their condition simply to create novel works of art that can only really be fully appreciated by themselves or other synesthetes. In this sense, their condition can be construed as a cognitive gift allowing for multi-sensory and cross-sensory artistic expression and interpretation. It is not inconceivable that future neurotechnologies may endow some willing neurotypicals with synesthete like capabilities so that they may partake in this type of art.

    Here are some examples of visual art (at least to us neurotypicals) as expressed by the synesthete mind:

    This is a visual representation of how a synesthetic 'sees' a dog barking

    "Vision" by Carol Steen; Oil on Paper; 15 x 12-3/4 inches; 1996

    "Weekends Are Taller than Weekdays" by Marcia Smilack; Giclee Print on Watercolor Paper, 40 x 60 inches; 2003. This is a good example of ordinal linguistic personification where numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities.

    A piece by Elaine Crowder

    November 17, 2006

    Kramnik and the machine

    The best chess player who is made out of meat is set to compete against Deep Fritz in a 6-game tournament starting Saturday November 25 in Bonn, Germany. Vladimir Kramnik, the reigning classical chess champion, is poised to win one million US dollars should he win.

    The 30-year old Kramnik, like his computer playing predecessor Garry Kasparov, is taking the event very seriously -- and not just from the perspective of wanting the money or being a tough competitor. He notes that,
    "Fritz examines millions of moves per second. It is extraordinarily difficult to play against such a calculating monster. Right from the start you are walking on a very narrow ridge, and you know that any inattentiveness will be your downfall. It is a scientific experiment and I will have to fight very hard for my chance."
    Kramnik believes that, should he win, it may mark the last time a human defeats a premier chess playing machine.

    Indeed, it has been nearly 10 years since Deep Blue defeated Kasparov. Chess playing computers, needless to say, have been steadily refined since then. As it stands, the elite grandmasters are now at best able to draw these number crunching behemoths. Kramnik achieved a draw against Deep Fritz in Bahrain in 2002, and Kasparov tied Deep Junior in New York a year later.

    This match follows on the heels of Kramnik's controversial victory over Veselin topalov at the 2006 FIDE World Chess Championships.

    I'll be blogging more about the Kramnik-Fritz tournament as it progresses. If you would like to challenge me to a game, I'm sentdev at Gameknot.

    Death to CopyBot! Long live CopyBot!

    As a SL user, I knew something like CopyBot was going to happen eventually; I'm surprised it's taken this long. There are some very interesting parallels to SecondLife's CopyBot and the potential for nano-instigated post-scarcity society and its tumultuously pending impact on the world's economy. Jamais Cascio offers a very good summary and analysis of the situation.

    November 16, 2006

    Canadian shame at the UN's conference on global warming

    Canada has embarrassed itself terribly at the UN's global warming conference in Nairobi, Kenya. Conservative environment Minister Rona Ambrose used the occasion as an opportunity to take a piss at the previous Liberal government and its Kyoto failings instead of outlining any new policy platform or vision for the future.

    Ambrose's speech was considered highly inappropriate. A number of environmentalists and opposition parties were openly shocked by her partisan attack. Matthew Bramley, a climate change policy analyst at the Pembina Institute, remarked that "It was like a speech at the House of Commons."

    What's particularly upsetting is that Canada is now regarded, quite justifiably, as one of the world's worst contributors to anthropogenic global warming. Just days before Ambrose's speech Canada was given the "Fossil of the Day" prize -- an award given out by environmentalists to nations they say have delayed, obstructed or stalled the negotiations. After yesterday's shameful showing, Canada picked up its second Fossil award. Activist Maia Green said Canada had won again for, among others things, "misleading" the world, "repudiating" the Kyoto Protocol and "flagrantly ... washing its political laundry on the international stage".

    Last year, in a report published by by researchers at Simon Fraser University and released by the David Suzuki Foundation, Canada was rated one of the worst environmental performers in the world. Compared to 30 other industrialized nations, Canada ranked 28th in economic co-operation and development, 28th in energy consumption and 26th in greenhouse gas emissions. Disturbingly, the report also indicated that Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are 2 times higher and major smog-causing air pollutants are 2-3 times higher than the average. Canada has remained 28th out of 30 since 1992.

    The Conservative minority government is clearly not prioritizing environmental issues, nor is it working to uphold the existing international frameworks. A BBC report from last January titled "Will Kyoto die at Canadian hands" stated that "When the history of the Kyoto Protocol comes to be written, Canada will appear as a particularly influential figure in the narrative." Indeed, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear that he does not support Kyoto, and worse, has yet to set out what his climate policies will look like -- adding to the frustration stemming from Ambrose's recent speech; it was a squandered opportunity.

    Months into the Conservative party's reign it is becoming frightfully apparent that this government is offering no leadership in regards to global warming -- arguably the most pressing issue of our time.

    Buddha Break 2006.11.16

    I'll start off today's Buddha Break with some quotes:

    "The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description... If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism." -- Albert Einstein

    "The coming of Buddhism to the West may well prove to be the most important event of the Twentieth Century." -- Arnold Toynbee, Historian

    "Buddhism has transformed every culture it has entered, and Buddhism has been transformed by its entry into that culture." -- Arnold Toynbee

    "My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims." -- Dalai Lama

    "The Dalai Lama seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the foreigners who had recently come to Buddhism; he said he thought Americans and other Westerners had an affinity for Buddhism because they didn't believe anything until it was proven. The Buddha, he reminded me, told people not to follow anything blindly, for Buddhism is not based on belief so much as rational experiment. If, like a scientist, you replicated the Buddha's experiment, you should get the same good results -- enlightenment." -- Lama Surya Das

    I found these quotes while reading Michael Shermer's review of the Dalai Lama's book, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. Coincidently, I am currently reading Lama Surya Das's book, Awakening the Buddha Within: Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World. I recently re-read Stephen Batchelor's masterful and life-altering book, Alone with Others: An Existential Approach to Buddhism.


    Why do we stick to our bad habits? Why do so many people ignore public warnings and advertisements about the dangers of smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating, stressing out and otherwise persist in habits and behaviours that we know aren't good for us? According to a University of Alberta researcher it's because we aren't getting at the underlying reasons of why we persist in bad habits or risky behaviour.


    It's been shown that high IQs protect kids from traumatic events. A new U.S. study has found that children who are more intelligent than their peers at age 6 were less likely to experience traumatic events by age 17 and, if they did, were less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


    Paul Harris discusses Daniel Goleman's new book, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships and asks, "How Do You Measure People Skills?" Harris writes,
    Goleman's new book, Social Intelligence, has two themes. First, he situates emotional intelligence much more explicitly in the context of interpersonal relations. If the hallmark of the emotionally intelligent is awareness and regulation of the self, the hallmark of the socially intelligent is awareness of, and sensitivity toward, other people. Second, he ties his proposals concerning social intelligence to the burgeoning field of social neuroscience.
    Goleman is no stranger to Buddhism, the author of such books as Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health (2003) and The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology (2005, co-authored with Chogyam Trungpa).


    Ryan McReynolds is an accidental Buddhist.


    Lin Jensen describes the mind that dwells nowhere. He writes,
    Although worry is typically an anxious effort to prepare for some future event, a worried mind is not a ready mind. It’s too busy planning ahead. I sometimes fret over the violence that marks our species, turning us against one another. But no matter how serious and justified this worry of mine might be, it won’t help when the time comes to act. Even the best strategies and plans, as fit for an anticipated occasion as they might seem, get in the way when discrete momentary choice and action are required. This exact moment is forever the time for a beginner’s mind, the mind that dwells nowhere.

    November 15, 2006

    Interviewed for Alcor's Cryonics Magazine

    I was recently interviewed by Alcor for an upcoming Cryonics Magazine article on the ethics of cryonics. Here's a sneak peak:
    According to George Dvorsky, deputy editor of Betterhumans and co-founder of the Toronto Transhumanist Association, “the ‘information’ that’s encoded in the brain and in constant flux is the person.”

    To most cryonicists, it seems straight-forward that “you” are the information encoded in your brain. While this information exists, you are still “alive.” When it’s gone, so are you. But this concept of information theoretic death is not widely known, let alone accepted. Many still cling to a primacy of body over mind.

    Dvorsky says, “Traditional bioethicists argue that a person remains a person until all biological activity has stopped.” Witness the struggle over the Terry Schiavo case. While medical sensibilities are migrating toward a neurological definition of being alive, it has not reached the consciousness of the American public.

    Latest edition of Terasem's journal features my uplift paper

    The Terasem Foundation has published its latest edition of The Journal of Personal Cyberconsciousness. An abbreviated version of my animal uplift paper, "All Together Now," is featured in this edition.

    Interestingly, Martine Rothblatt's paper, "On Genes, Bemes, and Conscious Things" was also published. Martine and I presented these papers on the same panel at the Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights Conference hosted on May 26-28, 2006, at Stanford University in California.

    Other articles in this edition include William Sims Bainbridge's "Strategies for Personality Transfer" and Paul Almond's "Indirect Mind Uploading: Using AI to Avoid Staying Dead."

    November 14, 2006

    Uplift imperialism?

    One of the cases I make in my animal uplift paper, "All Together Now," is that biological uplift is related to the phenomenon of cultural uplift. I use the example of the colonization of the Americas to show how technologically disparate cultures have fared during these types of interactions. I basically argue that the resultant benefits of technological and social advancements have far outweighed the negative aspects of culture clashes.

    A similar point was recently made by Joel Waldfogel in his Slate article, "Master of the Island: Which country is the best colonizer?" In particular, Waldfogel describes the work of James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote of Dartmouth College who consider the length of European colonization on the current standard of living of a group of 80 tiny and isolated islands. They essentially ask: Are the islands that experienced European colonization for a longer period of time richer today?

    The answer is yes. Their key findings are that,
    the longer one of the islands spent as a colony, the higher its present-day living standards and the lower its infant mortality rate. Each additional century of European colonization is associated with a 40 percent boost in income today and a reduction in infant mortality of 2.6 deaths per 1,000 births.
    Reasons for the improvements, say the researchers, include trade, education, and democratic government. They also concluded that exposure to European colonizers benefits living standards for reasons apart from these advantages. My own feelings as to what may account for this are the synergistic effects of cross-cultural transmission. It's well known, for example, that the Iroquois Great Law of Peace was a direct influence on the make up of the U.S. constitution. The cross-pollination of ideas is often a good thing.

    Looking ahead to the future, and in considering the welfare of nonhuman persons, we will likely witness the transmission of both memes and genes to animals. Human societies will apply uplift biotechnologies for humanitarian purposes and help nonhuman animals live safer, healthier and more dignified lives.

    This proposed call to action has been criticized as being a form of imperialism (although I'm somewhat partial to the notion that this is a type of Fabian imperialism). But as history has shown, it is arguable that 'imperialism,' aside from its frequent use as a pejorative, can be a good thing and a driver for progressive change.

    These issues are already pertinent today. Take the recent issue of the Ebola virus spreading to the Congo's gorillas. The virus is being transmitted to this already endangered species by bats. It's been proposed that the gorillas should be vaccinated against Ebola -- an intervention that would most certainly qualify as biological uplift (an immunity to a virus is a biological enhancement). This is just one small example of what is possible.

    Imperialism or mercy? At what point do humanitarian efforts cross into the murky waters of imperialism? And if it's imperialism, for what possible gain?

    [As an aside, I'm not quite sure this qualifies as uplift, but a male panda in China is being shown sexual instructional videos (i.e. "panda porn") to encourage him to get it on with the Mrs.]

    November 13, 2006

    Canadian Context 2006.11.13

    Along the lines of what I'm doing with the 'Buddha Break,' I'm going to start blogging regularly about sci-tech, and bioethical and political issues as they pertain to Canada. These postings will be titled, "Canadian Context."

    For those of you who are in Canada, I hope this will bring to light some of the issues we're facing today as progressives, and for those outside of Canada, this should give you an idea of how we compare to your own country. Please feel free to submit article ideas.

    Our right-wing minority government, led by born-again Christian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is fostering an American style Christian right in Canada. Chris Hedges has penned an article about this for The Nation titled, "Letter From Canada: The New Christian Right." Hedges writes,
    Harper, who heads a minority government, is a member of the East Gate Alliance Church, part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a denomination with 400,000 members that believes in the literal word of the Bible, faith-healing and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Women cannot be ordained in his church, homosexuality is a sin and abortion is murder. Canada, however, is unused to public displays of faith, and Harper has had to tread more lightly than George Bush. But many fear the prime minister is taking a cue from the Bush Administration and slowly mobilizing Canada's 3.5 million evangelicals--along with the 44 percent of Canadians who say they have committed themselves to Christ--as a power base. Harper has spent the past three years methodically knitting a coalition of social conservatives and evangelicals that looks ominously similar to the American model.
    You can read the entire article here.

    The province of Ontario is considering legislation in which there is assumed consent for organ donation. In other words, your organs are donated at the time of your death unless you have explicitly stated otherwise. This will be an extremely difficult piece of legislation to pass, but an excellent idea in my opinion. There are severe organ donor shortages in Canada right now.

    A recent study from the University of Alberta has discovered that Canadian medical school graduates often don't have a clue about how to perform basic surgical procedures. Researchers discovered that many medical school graduates in Canada have not received adequate training in basic surgical skills, such as suturing and tube placements. This study was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Surgery.

    Human clinical trials are increasingly being outsourced to the developing world: Generex Biotechnology Corporation has entered into an agreement with the Lebanese-Canadian Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon to conduct a human clinical trial of the Antigen Express synthetic avian influenza vaccine.

    November 10, 2006

    Buddha Break 2006.11.10

    Stephen Batchelor analyzes boredom from the Buddhist perspective; he's also following the Dharma while in the war zone.

    Meditation tips: Nine Stages of Training the Mind by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

    I Feel Your Brain: Sharon Salzberg speaks with Daniel Goleman about altruism, mirror neurons, and how the human brain is wired for compassion.

    Sam Harris is an atheist Buddhist who meditates and is working on his PhD in neuroscience. He also says that religion is the root of all evil. Can you say kindred spirit?

    Researchers who are studying the science of happiness are analyzing Buddhist monks and their practices.

    Former UK MoD warns that 'aliens could attack at any time'

    I would be remiss to pass up this post: The former British Minister of Defence, Nick Pope, is warning his fellow Brits that extraterrestrials may "attack at any time." I'm not going to say anything about this because other people are saying it for me.

    November 9, 2006

    US accountability in Iraq

    Now that the Hindenburg that is the Republican party is quickly collapsing, a number of Americans are hopeful that their troops can be recalled from Iraq.

    I'd like to take this opportunity to remind these particular Americans that they started this bloody mess -- illegally I might add -- and they better be prepared to see this one through to its completion.

    Leaving Iraq at this particular point in time would be a catastrophe. The country currently sits on the brink of civil war, with Shias and Sunnis ready to pounce at each other's throats. There is a better than excellent chance that a full-out civil war would erupt followed by the fall of the current regime should the US presence be removed. A fundamentalist regime along the lines of Iran would likely follow suit, a problem that the US would have to eventually deal with at any rate.

    I have two prescriptions for the situation.

    First, the US needs to put more effort into the Iraqi occupation; what's required is more money, more troops, better organization, and a clear direction for ensuring both short-term and long-term stability. Important facets to this re-organization would be the establishment of a tougher regime that is stubbornly secular in nature but at the same time tolerant of religious plurality. The US also needs to invoke an economic restructuring plan along the lines of post-war Germany's Marshal Plan (and not this half-assed moping around that's the current story). Where Saddam Hussein kept opposing Shia and Sunni forces in check by applying an iron fist, the Americans can hope to achieve the same degree of stability by establishing strong and sound institutions and by helping the Iraqi people re-build their economic infrastructure.

    Second, because this is a humanitarian problem, the rest of the world needs to become involved and help. This US should not be expected to deal with Iraq on its own -- even if it did attack the country without the support of the UN's Security Council. The UN, which is already outstretched in places like Afghanistan, needs to play a part, but it requires much greater global support than it is currently receiving.

    These two strategies would cost more money and resources, but would most assuredly result in fewer lives lost (both Iraqi and American) and go a far way to ensure long-term stability in Iraq -- and by consequence to the entire region.

    In a perfect world the Iraqi people could solve their domestic problems on their own, but this is far from a perfect world. I look at any ongoing presence in Iraq as nothing more or less than a humanitarian project -- not unlike the types of campaigns that are frequently called for to deal with sectarian and racial violence in Africa.

    The unprecedented electoral success of the Democrats does not excuse the United States from their actions and current responsibilities in Iraq. I hope a policy like the one I described will be considered and put into place by the Democratic Party and the greater international community.

    November 8, 2006

    An Ravelingien: Humanized chimeras and human dignity

    An Ravelingien of Ghent University has published a paper titled, "On the moral status of humanized chimeras and the concept of human dignity." Definitely up my alley. Here's the abstract:
    Recent advances in the technology of creating chimeras have evoked controversy in policy debates. At centre of controversy is the fear that a substantial contribution of human cells or genes in crucial areas of the animal’s body may at some point render the animal more humanlike than any other animals we know today. Authors who have commented on or contributed to policy debates specify that chimeras which would be too humanlike would have an altered moral status and threaten our notion of ‘human dignity’. This setting offers a productive opportunity to test the notion of human dignity and to emphasize some of its weaknesses as an ethical tool. Limiting chimerism experiments on the basis of whether or not it undermines or challenges human dignity implies a clear demarcation of those characteristics which are typically, and importantly, human. Evidence of our evolutionary ties and behavioral similarities with other animals seem to annul all attempts to define the uniquely human properties to which human dignity may be attributed. Hence, it has been suggested that the particular moral status associated with humans cannot be explained for beyond an intuitive basis. In what follows, we will argue that the difficulties inherent in the notion of human dignity lie not in the impossibility to acquire a list of properties which are unique to humans, but rather in the difficulty to demonstrate the moral relevance of these properties, and particularly the relevance of their being human. We offer an alternative interpretation of the concept of dignity which is not necessarily related to being human.
    An Ravelingien Ph.D. is an assistant researcher in bioethics at the Department of Philosophy, Ghent University. An has focused on various strategies meant to counter the organ shortage, such as transgenic xenograft organ transplants from pigs. An is currently working on on ethical and social implications of cognitive enhancement.

    The paper can be downloaded here.

    [via the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies]

    Don't be an April Fool

    I am a fairly mischievous person. It's one of the reasons why I like to pull pranks. I also like to keep people on their toes and remind them that they shouldn't blindly believe everything they are told or read.

    This is why April Fool's is one of my favourite days of the year. Over the past several years I have crafted fake articles and published them as genuine. Two of my personal favourites include "Computer Virus Spreads to Human", (2003) and "DARPA to Develop Einstein-Rosen Bridge" (2006).

    An excerpt from the DARPA article reads,
    DARPA, the US military’s advanced concepts research team, is working on an ambitious project to create nothing less than an ‘Einstein-Rosen bridge'. Referred to by some physicists as ‘timeholes,’ it is thought that the US military is set to introduce time travel to the battlefield by the end of the decade.

    “This is clearly the future of armed conflict,” says DARPA lead scientist Tetsuo Hasegawa, “the ability to go back in time and destroy the enemy before tensions have even arisen would represent an unprecedented advantage in the history of warfare.”
    I still LOL when I read that last paragraph.

    But the trouble with publishing articles like this is that a startling number of people think it's real. And then the article goes viral and becomes a disinformation menace. This is what happened with my 'virus' article. That one spread so badly that it even made some spam-alert lists. If you Google for the article, you'll see that it's still cross-linked and discussed at a number of sites.

    A part of me feels bad and irresponsible when this happens, but as I stated earlier, I think it's important to remind people that they should question every single thing they read.

    And I get a kick out of it.

    So, you've been warned nearly 5 months in advance; beware my blog on April Fool's.

    Leadership changes at the WTA

    James Hughes, who became the Executive Director of the World Transhumanist Association (WTA) in 2004, has resigned his position. The primary reason for Hughes's decision is his desire to put more effort into the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET). He will be replaced by WTA Vice Chair Giulio Prisco. Hughes will continue to serve as Board Secretary for as long as the Board allows and will continue to provide advice and information to the WTA.

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. J for his dedication and hard work over the years. I'm personally grateful to him for his help in getting the Toronto Transhumanist Association up and running and for his tremendous efforts in helping me organize TransVision 2004 in Toronto. Best of luck with the IEET, Dr. J.

    I would also like to congratulate Giulio Prisco on his new appointment and wish him all the best in his new capacity as the Executive Director of the WTA.

    What follows is J's outgoing statement and Giulio's incoming statement:
    Dear transhumanist friends

    I became Executive Director of the WTA in the Spring of 2004. Since that time I think we've accomplished quite a lot:

    - doubled our active membership, which is currently around 3800 people in more than one hundred countries.

    - held three global conferences, leading to our plans for Transvision 2007 in Chicago which looks set to be the largest and most visible Transvision yet.

    - hired our first staff-person, Marcelo Rinesi, who has played an invaluable and often invisible role in fielding day-to-day administrative issues, and in building our extremely cost-effective communications and data-management infrastructure.

    - facilitated the growth of dozens of transhumanist organizations around the world. Especially exciting has been the Trashumanist Student Network, which has grown dramatically, and which promises to nurture the next generation of transhumanist public intellectuals and activists.

    - built relationships with allied organizations and prominent thinkers and activists, from the secular and free-thought movement, to bioethicists, to activists for cognitive liberty, reproductive rights and global security.

    - adopted our three new programmatic priorities

    - greatly expanded the recognition and understanding of transhumanist memes among both intellectuals and the public. "Transhumanist" is now routinely used in magazine and newspaper articles as an adjective that doesn't need explication.

    However, there is a long list of projects that we have wanted to launch, but which I have not been able to find the time to launch, and these have weighed on my mind:

    - a thorough, and professional, redesign of the website.

    - recruitment and appointment of a Board of Advisors.

    - fundraising, through grant-writing, appeals to philanthropists, and direct mail solicitation.

    - recruitment and coordination of volunteers and interns.

    - incorporation of the WTA as an NGO with the United Nations.

    - writing and production of leaflets, booklets and chapter project materials.

    - identification of activist projects, and coordination of activist campaigns, to engage our members and chapters.

    Part of our difficulty has been the challenge of recruiting consistent and sustained volunteer efforts when we are all so busy, and involved in so many related important activities. In my case, since 2005 my attention has been increasingly drawn to the opportunities for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, of which I have also been the Executive Director, to develop a high profile as a technoprogressive thinktank that can complement WTA activism. Running two nonprofit organizations without salary - while working a paying job, writing, producing a radio show, and raising a family - has made it difficult to give the WTA as much energy and attention as it deserves.

    So I have offered the WTA Board my resignation as WTA Executive Director, effective as of the installation of WTA Vice Chair Giulio Prisco as my replacement. I intend to remain on the WTA Board, subject to member-electoral approval of course, and I will continue to serve as Board Secretary for as long as the Board allows. In that capacity I believe I can continue to provide advice and information to Marcelo, Giulio and the Board on the administrative intricacies of our work.

    I am delighted that Giulio has agreed to assume the position of Executive Director, as I have confidence that he has the administrative experience, technical skills, dynamic imagination, and political acumen that it demands. Giulio has been a member of the Board leadership since its inception, speaks Spanish, English, Italian and Hungarian, and has pioneered the WTA's growth in new areas such as the virtual world Second Life.

    In closing, I would like to say that, despite the tumultuous arguments that have occasionally roiled the WTA Board, it has been an honor to serve as the first WTA Executive Director. We've accomplished as much as organizations with a hundred times our resources, and yet, because we are transhumanists, we will always have a very long list of items that we have yet to accomplish. After all, we intend to ensure a bright future for intelligent life until, or beyond, the heat death of the universe. I expect that any progress we make on that ambitious goal will be appreciated by future generations.

    J. Hughes
    WTA Secretary
    And here's Giulio's statement:
    This is my first message to the list after taking over as Executive Director of the WTA. I will do my best to continue the hard and
    excellent work of James - please send me a friendly, or even unfriendly reminder If you think I am not doing so.

    This is a short outline of how I see things at this moment:

    Thanks to the work of all transhumanists, our worldview is now much better known than a few years ago, and we should keep working to make it even better known. I firmly believe that transhumanism can give hope and happiness to billions of conscious beings on our planet and beyond.

    We are still severely limited by human and financial resources. Unfortunately some groups active in the opposite camp of the human enhancement debate do not have such severe limitations. I cannot even begin to imagine what we could achieve if we were much better funded and had many more volunteers and a few paid staff. On the funding side, we plan to dedicate more effort and organization to fundraising. On the activism side, we need more volunteers. So, please, if you (YES, YOU) are not already active in some WTA project, think what you can and wish to do for the WTA and drop us a line.

    Most of us are comfortable with clean rational arguments, but every advertiser know that rational arguments alone do not sell. So I believe we should pay a lot of attention to clever marketing, developing a sexy image, being fashionable and in tune with the zeitgeist etc. If they use advertising to sell disgusting drinks, why shouldn't we use it to sell beautiful ideas?

    We have a powerful vision of pristine beauty for a future world. Of course, the problems of today's world get in the way of our dreams. I think we cannot and should not avoid getting our hands greasy with today's big issues. On the contrary, we must make sure that our voice is heard by policy-makers. We wish to achieve the status of a NGOs in consultative status with the UN and other global organizations, and also (through Chapters) play a role in national policy debates. I am proud of what Riccardo has achieved in this respect in Italy and hope to repeat the experience in other nations (pragmatism: I am all for global governance, but today's system is build on nations and we must work within the system).

    Since I am mentioning politics: I cannot and do not want to hide that, like everyone, I do have my own political ideas. At the same time, I have stated on occasions that I believe politics should be more like engineering: finding workable and flexible solutions to specific problems in view of practical constraints and within a loosely stated ethical framework (e.g. basic human rights). So I hope that we transhumanists can, without of course giving up our own individual political preferences, demonstrate how rational people can find win-win solutions to actual problems.

    Best to all,

    NYT: An Up-Close Look at a 2 Percent Difference

    From the NYT article, An Up-Close Look at a 2 Percent Difference:

    “Chimpanzees,” which will be shown on most PBS stations tomorrow night, tugs at the heartstrings, but tastefully. Sad, slightly sentimental music and luscious nature photography drive home the story of the thousands of chimpanzees who have been brought to the United States, mostly for human profit in medical research and the entertainment industry...Happily this is also the story of humans who are dedicated to making the chimpanzees’ remaining years far less traumatic.

    Cyborg diseases of the future

    Once I become a cyborg, please remind me to get my immunization for Metalosis Maligna.

    Via Next Nature: "Metalosis Maligna is a [fictional] documentary by Floris Kaayk about a disease which affects patients with medical implants. Sourcing from such implants a wild metal growth ultimately transforms human patients into mechanical looking constructions."

    Watch the video (54 mb, Quicktime).

    Wired discusses Aronofsky's 'The Fountain'

    Wired recently published an article about Darren Aronofsky's upcoming sci-fi film, The Fountain. The article, "The Outsider," is a must-read for Aronofsky fans and sci-fi film buffs in general. The film itself should be of interest to life extensionists and transhumanists in general.

    For Aronofsky, the seminal science fiction films of previous eras – like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars – had dared to reimagine space and time. "2001 was the first sci-fi movie to deal with real physics," he explains. "Kubrick introduced his audience to a zero-g world with no up and down or left and right. Then Lucas came along with Star Wars and kicked it all into hyperdrive." He felt that in the past three decades, the visual innovations introduced by these directors had degenerated into a set of stale conventions, particularly an overreliance on digital imagery. After seeing The Matrix, Aronofsky became determined to be the next director to push the genre into new territory. "No matter how good CGI looks at first, it dates quickly," he says. "But 2001 really holds up. So I set the ridiculous goal of making a film that would reinvent space without using CGI."

    Seven years later, Aronofsky has done just that. Opening in the US on November 22, The Fountain has already proven to be his most controversial and divisive film. Some early reviews have been scathing, and its first press screening at the Venice Film Festival was greeted by a chorus of boos. The following night, though, festivalgoers gave the movie a 10-minute standing ovation.
    You know you're on the right track when they start comparing your movie to 2001: A Space Odyssey. And the fact that some people booed this movie has me really interested. Hopefully this movie will live up to all the hype.

    Children's hospital trike

    This tricycle is brilliant and very thoughtful.

    "Children in hospital should be allowed to play as much as they can. To personalize the impersonal environment on the children's ward, Jetske Verdonk designed Zieken+huis, a drip-cum-tricycle, and a curtain around the bed, to which children can attach their get-well cards."

    This is the result of graduation projects from the Dutch Design Academy Eindhoven. More can be seen here.

    (photo by Eric Anthierens)

    IEET at the UN Dec. 1

    If you're in New York on December 1st, you should check this out:

    On Friday, Dec. 1, 2006 a panel of bioethicists & physicians, including IEET Executive Director James J. Hughes, will discuss the impacts of emerging neurotechnologies on cognitive liberty at the United Nations.

    The panel will be held on the 2nd floor of 777 UN Plaza in New York City from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and the Appignani Center for Bioethics, the United Nation bioethics liaison office of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

    Cost: Pay at door: $12 General Public | $6 Students

    Contact: 212-687-3324 (tel) | 212-661-4188 (fax) | E-mail:

    Meeting theme:

    Growing knowledge in the neurosciences, enhanced by exponential advances in pharmacology and other neurotechnologies (technologies that monitor and manipulate the brain) are rapidly moving brain research and clinical applications beyond the scope of purely medical use. These emerging neurotechnologies offer expanded intelligence, memory and senses, giving us greater ability to understand and control our own minds. But they also expand the avenues for possible coercion and invasion of mental privacy. What is the state of cognitive liberty today? What steps do we need to take to protect cognitive liberty, mental privacy and freedom of choice in light of these neurotechnologies?

    Speakers include:

    James Hughes Ph.D. is the author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future. Dr. Hughes teaches Health Policy at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut, and serves as Trinity’s Associate Director of Institutional Research and Planning. He is the Executive Director of the World Transhumanist Association and its affiliated Institute for Emerging Technologies. Dr. Hughes will moderate the panel.

    Elizabeth Phelps Ph.D. is currently a Professor of Psychology and Neural Science at New York University. Her Phelps Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience has earned widespread acclaim for its groundbreaking research on how the human brain processes emotion, particularly as it relates to learning, memory and decision making. Dr. Phelps is the recipient of the 21st Century Scientist Award from the James S. McDonnell Foundation and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    John P. Morgan M.D. is a physician and professor of pharmacology at the City University of New York Medical School. Dr. Morgan has published approximately 100 articles, book chapters and books, largely focused on the clinical pharmacology of psychoactive drugs. His latest book, Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts (The Lindesmith Center, New York, 1997) reviews the latest scientific and medical research and debunks the common marijuana myths.

    Bradley Lewis MD, PhD teaches cultural studies at the Gallatin School at New York University, with affiliated appointments in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and the Department of Psychiatry. He is the author of numerous articles published in academic journals, is the cultural studies editor for The Journal of Medical Humanities, and author of Postpsychiatry: Theorizing Psychiatry, Prozac, and DSM.

    The IHEU-Appignani Center for Bioethics focuses on raising awareness of bioethical issues confronting the international community and promotes a human-centered approach, developing and implementing an international program for lobbying. The Center is a new initiative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the international umbrella organization for humanist, ethical culture, rationalist, secularist and free-thought groups. IHEU holds a special consultative status with the United Nations, a general consultative status with UNICEF and the Council of Europe as well as operational relations with UNESCO in Paris.

    The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies ( examines the social implications of technological progress, promoting public policies that distribute the benefits and reduce the risks of accelerating innovation. The IEET is chaired by Dr. Nick Bostrom of Oxford University, and served by Dr. James Hughes of Trinity College (Hartford CT) as its Executive Director. The thirteen Fellows of the IEET span expertise from nanotechnology, neurotechnology, biotechnology and information science to bioethics, philosophy and health policy. The IEET publishes the Journal of Evolution and Technology ( and hosts the Changesurfer podcast.

    November 7, 2006

    TransVision 2007 announced

    The World Transhumanist Association's annual TransVision conference will be held in Chicago next summer. The dates have been announced as July 26 to July 28 July 24 to 26. Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey will be the keynote speakers. I will be there and I hope you will be too.

    Last year's TransVision was held in Helsinki, Finland, and the year before in Caracas, Venezuela. I organized TV04 which was held here in Toronto.

    Next year's conference will be organized in part by the Transhumanist Student Network which is based in Chicago. TransVision conferences bring together the world's foremost transhumanist and futurist thinkers. TV07 is not to be missed.

    November 6, 2006

    Helping families care for the helpless

    Bioethicists who work in health care are frequently called upon to make difficult decisions in often less than desirable situations. Thankfully, the steady introduction of new technologies provide ethicists, health practitioners and families with a variety of options. The trick these days is to choose the most desirable course of action. But the fact that most new technologies and the manner in which they are applied often appear shocking and radical at the outset makes ethical decisions even more difficult.

    Take the recent case of a severely disabled 6-year old girl and her parents' decision to administer her estrogen treatments to deliberately stunt her growth. According to her parents, the reason for wanting the girl to remain small have to do with their ability to care for her on an ongoing basis. The fear is that she will grow too large such that the parents will no longer be able to care for the girl and will have to be institutionalized. The girl was also given a hysterectomy.

    At first blush, this sounds quite bizarre and even a bit extreme. My own initial reaction was negative; any time I hear about constraints (or what might even be considered mutilation) being deliberately imposed upon someone my alarm bells go off. But after deeper analysis, I have come to conclude that I agree with the parents and their medical advisers.

    Before I get into my reasoning it’s important that that the girl’s condition be described for proper context. She is 6-years old and suffers from severe combined neurologic and cognitive impairment; she is physically disabled and will permanently have the mental capacity of an infant. There is currently no known treatment to help alleviate this. The girl can respond to her parents and siblings by vocalizing and smiling in response to care and affection. She is described as being an “integral, and much loved, member of the family."

    That said, her parents recently came to the conclusion that her continued growth would soon start to pose a problem. Children with combined neurologic and cognitive impairment are utterly dependent on their caregivers much like an infant is – they cannot bathe, dress and transport themselves without assistance. In these cases, the responsibility almost always falls on the parents. Over time, as the child grows into an adult, these challenges increase.

    Given these factors, and considering the loving and healthy household that the girl currently finds herself in, the question must be asked: Will the estrogen doses and hysterectomy reduce the quality of life for this girl? One could make a strong case that, by virtue of the fact that her parents will still able to care for her, that her quality of life will in fact increase (or remain consistent) relative to the kind of care she might hope to receive by her parents should she not receive these treatments, or considering the introduction of a 3rd party and her potential response and adjustment to it.

    Moreover, this girl is severely disabled enough such that her self-awareness is virtually negligible. She is barely engaged with her outer and inner worlds. Nonetheless, like an infant, she requires care such that she remains comfortable and finds herself in a loving environment. Ultimately, however, the estrogen doses are not so much for the girl as they are for the parents. Aside from the enhanced care that she will receive from her parents as a result of the treatments, the doses will have no bearing whatsoever on the girl given her permanent condition.

    A colleague of mine noted that there are some potential abuse issues that need to be addressed. For example, is the resource-crunched medical establishment more inclined to have parents take the burden of care? Is this a way of passing the buck? Is the hysterectomy really necessary?

    These are valid concerns, but I think they can all be addressed.

    First, I believe the wishes of the parents are what is driving this decision and not the demands of the medical institution. In this case, it appears to me that the needs and desires of the parents are being met.

    As for the hysterectomy, I have to question the value of keeping this girl fertile. If the concern has something to do with the girl’s dignity being violated, then I have to protest by arguing that the girl lacks the cognitive capacity to experience any sense of indignity. Nor do I believe this is somehow demeaning or undignified to humanity in general; the treatments will endow her with a body that more closely matches her cognitive state – both in terms of her physical size and bodily functioning. The estrogen treatment is not what is grotesque here. Rather, it is the prospect of having a full-grown and fertile woman endowed with the mind of a baby.

    Stepping back a bit, it’s obvious that this is an undesirable situation to begin with. I have to wonder if this case qualifies as a so-called ‘wrongful birth.’ On a related note, the UK's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology are now urging health regulators to consider allowing the "active euthanasia" of severely disabled newborn babies (notably when babies are born with such debilitating and painful conditions as severe spina bifida). "A very disabled child can mean a disabled family," notes the College, "We would like the working party to think more radically about non-resuscitation, withdrawal of treatment decisions, the best interests test, and active euthanasia, as they are ways of widening the management options available to the sickest of newborns."

    One would hope that future medical technologies will help severely disabled children overcome their debilitating impairments – but the reality of the situation is that such treatments are quite a ways off. This girl is alive in the here-and-now and as such should be given the appropriate level of care. And of equal importance, the family's needs have to be considered as well. In this particular case, it will be through the estrogen treatments that the parents will be able to make the best of a difficult situation.