January 17, 2007

My rebuttal to Cameron on Beliefnet

Several weeks ago Beliefnet interviewed ethicist Nigel Cameron to get his opinion on such things as nanotech and enhancement technologies. He basically argued that these future technologies will diminish what it means to be human and even usher in a neo-feudalist society.

Beliefnet recently offered me the opportunity to respond to Cameron's concerns. In the interview, titled "Nanotechnology Will Reshape Humanity," I discuss such things as security, privacy, nanotech and the ethics of enhancement.

Here's an excerpt:
Q: Will art really be art if the artist’s brain is enhanced by technology? For example, a painter or musician?

A: Art will be art so long as there are artists who claim that they are making art.

Art and technology are indelibly linked; all artists employ technique in their work and/or use tools to assist with their creations or performances.

Cognitively gifted individuals have created some of our most cherished works of art. Leonardo DaVinci may have been the most brilliant person who has ever lived (among his many talents, he could write two different sentences simultaneously with both hands). Most of the great composers, including Mozart and Beethoven, had perfect pitch and other cognitive endowments.

Enhancement technologies will not only give future artists unprecedented skills, they will also allow everyday people like you and me to engage as deeply into art as any of history’s greatest artists. Augmentation technologies will democratize and better distribute talent.
You can read more here.

2 comments:

muddlehead said...

Nigel Cameron claims, as you summarize, that "these future technologies will diminish what it means to be human ..."
Cameron says, "...ask yourself, what are the things that make humans most human? When are we being truest to ourselves? With these enhancements...You end up with the end of the human community, the new feudalism." (Shortened by me).

Let's briskly 86 the feudalism bit (it's irrelevant) and just consider "What it means to be..." a something. As you have mentioned in an earlier post, there's a new idea on the ontological block: the doctrine you call "panprotopsychism." (I call it "panexperientialism." They're both inelegant terms but what can one do?) Whitehead was the foremost exponent of this doctrine, which you correctly summarize thus:

You wrote, "Whitehead in particular saw the universe not as being comprised of 'things' but of 'events.' In this sense reality is a kind of process where consciousness emerges from temporal chains of occasions." What's more, he held that all these events comprise some element of mindfulness.

Aha! To put it briefly: if there are no material things but only "droplets of experience," as Whitehead put it, then there is no room for those philosophical bugaboos, "essences." What exists, is not essential things, but droplets of experience connected by relationships. Matter and essence disappear. And Cameron's beloved static meaning of humanity dissolves too. Change the relations and you change the event. Change the phone number and you change the subscriber.

The changes in our culture are changing us, even now, long before any major Singularity has had time to work its magic. So Cameron is completely wrong to assert there's any essential "humanity" that can be distorted or disfigured by any conceivable technology.

The meaning of the word "humanity" has always been changing along with the relationships between people and their environments.

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