December 31, 2007

Odds of Mars getting plastered by an asteroid lifted to 1 in 25

The red planet could really get smucked in late January.

The chances of asteroid 2007 WD5 striking Mars on January 30 has been raised from 1.3% to 3.9%.

Those odds are astronomically high by, uh, astronomical standards. That's a 1 in 25 chance. The uncertainty region during the Mars encounter now extends over 400,000 km along a very narrow ellipsoid that is only 600 km wide. The time of impact is estimated to be January 30, 2008 at 10:56 UT (5:56 a.m. EST) with an uncertainty of a few minutes.

Asteroid 2007 WD5 measures more than 160 feet in diameter and is traveling towards Mars at a speed of 30,000 miles per hour. Initial calculations show that it may crash in the equatorial region creating a crater more than a kilometer in diameter. The release of energy would be similar to the 1908 Tunguska object that exploded over remote central Siberia and wiped out 60 million trees.

According to Dr Arvind Pranjpe, professor at the Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCCA), "If 2007WD5 indeed crashes onto Mars, it will be a big moment for scientists. The impact of the explosion, and the dust storm it will kick up will all be closely studied. It will give us a chance to study a freshly created crater, which is rare."

There would be no effect on Earth should the asteroid hit Mars.

Except, of course, for the impact on our nerves. Asteroid 2007 WD5 was only discovered 2 months ago. Had it been heading towards Earth, we would have been utterly helpless to respond.

The asteroid was discovered on November 20, 2007 by NASA-funded Catlina Sky Survey, an organization that is a part of NASA's Near Earth Program which looks out for astronomical bodies coming close to the Earth.

In the future, should a similar threat face Earth (like Apophis), we might be able to nudge NEOs out of the way.

December 28, 2007

C-Realm Podcast interview part II

Here's the second part of my recent interview by KMO at C-Realm. In this episode I primarily address the sociological impacts of radical life extension.

December 21, 2007

'Tis the season to be nominated for a science blogging award

How cool is this? My article, The Fermi Paradox: Back With a Vengeance, is being considered for entry into the Science Blogging Anthology, "Open Laboratory 2007." The annual contest, which is organized by Science Blogs, recognizes the best science writing of the year.

My Fermi post was adapted from the talk I gave at TransVision 2007 back in July. The article was subsequently Slashdotted on August 5.

Fellow IEET member Moheb Costandi also has a pair of articles in the contest, The rise and fall of the prefrontal lobotomy, and An Illustrated history of trepanation.

Here's a list of all the entries.

December 19, 2007

C-Realm Podcast interview

I was recently interviewed by KMO for the C-Realm Podcast.

In this episode KMO speaks to Bill McKibben and gets his insight into the "transhumanist agenda" and what it means to remain human in an engineered age. I provide the counterpoint and discuss the ethical and sociological implications of transhumanism.

December 13, 2007

Grinspoon: Who Speaks for Earth?

There's a provocative new article by David Grinspoon, author of Lonely Planets, about the METI debate in SEED Magazine:
After decades of searching, scientists have found no trace of extraterrestrial intelligence. Now, some of them hope to make contact by broadcasting messages to the stars. Are we prepared for an answer?

Zaitsev has already sent several powerful messages to nearby, sun-like stars—a practice called "Active SETI." But some scientists feel that he's not only acting out of turn, but also independently speaking for everyone on the entire planet. Moreover, they believe there are possible dangers we may unleash by announcing ourselves to the unknown darkness, and if anyone plans to transmit messages from Earth, they want the rest of the world to be involved. For years the debate over Active SETI versus passive "listening" has mostly been confined to SETI insiders. But late last year the controversy boiled over into public view after the journal Nature published an editorial scolding the SETI community for failing to conduct an open discussion on the remote, but real, risks of unregulated signals to the stars. And in September, two major figures resigned from an elite SETI study group in protest. All this despite the fact that SETI's ongoing quest has so far been largely fruitless. For Active SETI's critics, the potential for alerting dangerous or malevolent entities to our presence is enough to justify their concern.
Interesting quote by Michael Michaud, a former top diplomat within the US State Department and a specialist in technology policy: "Active SETI is not science; it's diplomacy. My personal goal is not to stop all transmissions, but to get the discussion out of a small group of elites."

More on this debate here and here.

Astrosociobiology article on Wikipedia deleted

The astrosociobiology page on Wikipedia has been deleted. For the sake of posterity, I present its final incarnation here:


Astrosociobiology (also referred to as exosociobiology, extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI), and xenosociology) is the speculative scientific study of extraterrestrial civilizations and their possible social characteristics and developmental tendencies. The field involves the convergence of astrobiology, sociobiology and evolutionary biology. Hypothesized comparisons between human civilizations and those of extraterrestrials are frequently posited, placing the human situation in the same context as other extraterrestrial intelligences. Whenever possible, astrosociobiologists describe only those social characteristics that are thought to be common (or highly probable) to all civilizations. Since no extraterrestrial civilizations have ever been studied, the subject is entirely hypothetical and necessarily self-referential.


1 Methodologies
2 Assumptions
2.1 Possible unique aspects of Earth life
2.2 Counter-argument: abundance of alternative sources
3 Possible extraterrestrial characteristics
4 Civilization types
5 Notable astrosociobiologists
6 See also
7 References
8 External links


Sociobiology attempts to explain animal behavior, group behavior and social structure in terms of evolutionary advantage or strategy and using techniques from ethology, evolution and population genetics. Sociobiologists are especially interested in comparative analyses, particularly in studying human social institutions and culture.

Astrobiology is the speculative field within biology that considers the possible varieties and characteristics of extraterrestrial life. Astrobiologists speculate about the possible ways that organic life could come into being in the universe and the potential for artificial and postbiological life.

Astrosociobiologists, like evolutionary biologists and sociobiologists, are concerned with the phenomenon of convergent evolution, the evolutionary process in which organisms not closely related independently acquire some characteristic or characteristics in common, usually (but not necessarily) a reflection of similar responses to similar environmental conditions. Examples include physical traits that have evolved independently (e.g. the eye), ecological niches (e.g. pack predators), and even technological innovations (e.g. language, writing, the domestication of plants and animals, and basic tools and weapons). Astrosociobiologists take the potential for convergent evolution off-planet and speculate that certain ecological and sociological niches may not be Earth-specific or human-specific and are archetypal throughout the universe.

However, there may be limits to this kind of speculation, particularly if there is a dearth of comparable habitats to our own across the galaxy. Some thinkers, while acknowledging that biological and social evolution may follow similar patterns across the universe, also note the problem of evidence and the absence of extraterrestrial contact. Simon Conway Morris, in his book, Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, notes life's "eerie" ability to repeatedly navigate to a single solution. "Eyes, brains, tools, even culture: all are very much on the cards," he writes. "So if these are all evolutionary inevitabilities, where are our counterparts across the galaxy? The tape of life can only run on a suitable planet, and it seems that such Earth-like planets may be much rarer than hoped. Inevitable humans, yes, but in a lonely Universe."[1]


In order for astrosociobiologists to embark on speculations about the condition and characteristics of extraterrestrial civilizations, a number of assumptions are necessarily invoked:
1. Extraterrestrial civilizations exist
2. Extraterrestrial civilizations operate in agreement with the known laws of physics
3. Extraterrestrial civilizations must in some part resemble our own, both in terms of: a) morphological and psychological characteristics, and b) civilizational traits and tendenciesIn other words, astrosociobiologists assume that intelligent life arises from similar environmental conditions and similar evolutionary processes as humanity.
It is currently difficult to tell if these are valid assumptions. For example, the Rare Earth hypothesis and the Fermi Paradox suggests that we might be alone in the galaxy. It's also conceivable that aliens and their civilizations may scarcely resemble our own. Astrosociobiology also involves a fair degree of environmental determinism. Astrosociobiologists counterargue that all of these points can be countered by the Copernican principle and the self-sampling assumption (a variant of the anthropic principle). We shouldn't assume, they argue, that we're unique and we should start from the premise that we are very typical.

Possible unique aspects of Earth life

It is possible that the unique conditions on Earth allow for specific technologies to develop which would take many times longer for a civilization not having these conditions to achieve. The list of possibly unique conditions on Earth, and of related discoveries, is quite long. Some examples:
* The Hall-Héroult process and the Bayer process, if not discovered in the late 19th Century, might have led to a delay in the creation of aluminium-dependent technologies, such as aircraft and rocketry.
* The Moon produces tides, and offers some protection from asteroids, comets, and radiation. [2]
* Many discoveries were essentially accidental, such as the discovery of penicillin. Others were based on a theoretical insight, such as the transistor.
It is possible that the conditions for the creation of hydrocarbons, coal, or natural gas would not exist on other planets. These fuels were essential for us to move past dependence upon wood and animal based energy systems. Although waterwheel, wind, and solar energy technologies existed, they were not developed further until suitable industrial techniques were found to produce better materials. These techniques consume massive amounts of energy, and therefore could not be powered by the unimproved technologies. A similar argument could be made that without fossil fuel technologies, more powerful technologies, such as nuclear reactors, could not develop.

Counter-argument: abundance of alternative sources

Human perception has a natural bias towards the known energy development paths of Human civilization. It must also be noted that during both the 1973 energy crisis and the 1979 energy crisis highly industrialized societies continued to function; many moved towards developing alternative energy technologies on a massive scale under the assumption that these could provide the energy needed to continue industrial and commercial processes should fossil fuel supplies be compromised in some critical way.

Given this development, it is possible that a society could develop without a stage where fossil fuel based energy production occurs. This version of Buckminster Fuller's argument on current solar income conforms with Paul Hawken's idea of restorative economy, stating that fossil fuel based energy production is not essential nor desirable given the effects and alternatives.

Possible extraterrestrial characteristics

Given these assumptions, astrosociobiologists attempt to make predictions about those characteristics that may be common to all extraterrestrial societies. For example, based on human experience, astrosociobiologists conclude very broadly that all civilizations go through similar developmental stages, including stone age and agrarian culture, industrialization, globalization, and an information age. Similar assumptions are made about the development of technological innovations (universal technological archetypes) and scientific breakthroughs (including the rough chronological order in which these advancements are developed). The possibility also exists for the existence of common cultural and meta-ethical characteristics of advanced societies (i.e. the notion that advanced societies will independently reach the same conclusions about ethics, morality and social imperatives).

Astrosociobiologists also theorize about the existence of developmental mechanisms that constrain and give directionality to the evolution of organisms and society itself. One such guiding evolutionary force is the notion of the megatrajectory. Posited by A. H. Knoll and R. K. Bambach in their 2000 collaboration, "Directionality in the History of Life," Knoll and Bamback argue that, in consideration of the problem of progress in evolutionary history, a middle road that encompasses both contingent and convergent features of biological evolution may be attainable through the idea of the megatrajectory:
We believe that six broad megatrajectories capture the essence of vectoral change in the history of life. The megatrajectories for a logical sequence dictated by the necessity for complexity level N to exist before N+1 can evolve...In the view offered here, each megatrajectory adds new and qualitatively distinct dimensions to the way life utilizes ecospace. – [3]
According to Knoll and Bambach, the six megatrajectories outlined by biological evolution thus far are:
1. the origin of life to the "Last Common Ancestor"
2. prokaryote diversification
3. unicellular eukaryote diversification
4. multicellular organisms
5. land organisms
6. appearance of intelligence and technology
Some astrosociobiologists, such as Milan Ćirković and Robert J. Bradbury, have taken the megatrajectory concept one step further by theorizing that a seventh megatrajectory exists: postbiological evolution triggered by the emergence of artificial intelligence at least equivalent to the biologically-evolved one, as well as the invention of several key technologies of the similar level of complexity and environmental impact, such as molecular nanoassembling or stellar uplifting.

Along similar lines, historian of science Steven J. Dick, in his 2003 paper "Cultural Evolution, the Postbiological Universe and SETI," posited a central concept of cultural evolution he called the Intelligence Principle:
The maintenance, improvement and perpetuation of knowledge and intelligence is the central driving force of cultural evolution, and that to the extent intelligence can be improved, it will be improved. [– [4]]
It is through the application of this principle, argues Dick, that speculations about the developmental tendencies of advanced civilizations can be made.

The difficultly of engaging in such speculation, however, is that it is highly theoretical; there is very little empirical evidence. Moreover, humanity hasn't progressed through these later developmental stages. Astrosociobiologists currently have no data to support the idea that human civilization will continue on into the foreseeable future. Indeed, in considering the Fermi Paradox, scientists may actually have a data point suggesting a limitation to how far advanced civilizations can develop.

However, with each advancing step that the human species takes, astrosociobiologists will assume that extraterrestrials--both past and present –will have gone through similar stages.

Civilization types

A method for classifying civilization types was introduced by Russian astronomer Nikolai Kardashev in 1964. Known as the Kardashev scale, classifications are assigned based on the amount of usable energy a civilization has at its disposal and increasing logarithmically:
* Type I - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available on a single planet, approximately 1016W.
* Type II - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single star, approximately 1026W.
* Type III - A civilization that is able to harness all of the power available from a single galaxy, approximately 1036W.
Human civilization has yet to achieve full Type I status, as it is able to harness only a portion of the energy that is available on Earth. Carl Sagan speculated that humanity's current civilization type is around 0.7.

Notable astrosociobiologists
See also

1. ^ Morris, Simon Conway (2004). Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60325-0.
2. ^ Comins, Neil F. (1995). What if the Moon Didn't Exist?: Voyages to Earths That Might Have Been. Harper Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092556-6.
3. ^ Knoll, A. H.; R. K. Bambach (2000). "Directionality in the history of life: diffusion from the left wall or repeated scaling of the right". Paleobiology 26 (4): 1-14.
4. ^ Dick, Steven J. (2003). "Cultural Evolution, the Postbiological Universe and SETI". International Journal of Astrobiology 2: 65-74.

External links

December 8, 2007

The problem with 99.9 % of so-called 'solutions' to the Fermi Paradox


Sure everyone has a convenient answer to the Fermi Paradox, but nearly all of them fail the non-exclusivity test. While some solutions to the FP may account for many if not most of the reasons why we haven't detected signs of ETI's, they cannot account for all.

For example, take the notion that interstellar travel is too costly or that civs have no interest in embarking on generational space-faring campaigns. Sure, this may account for a fair share of the situation, but in a Universe of a gajillion stars it cannot possibly account for all. There's got to be at least one, if not millions of civs, who for whatever reason decide it just might be worth it.

Moreover, answers like the ‘zoo hypothesis,’ ‘non-interference,’ or ‘they wouldn’t find us interesting,' tend to be projections of the human psyche and a biased interpretation of current events.

Cosmological determinism

Analyses of the FP need to adopt a more rigid and sweeping methodological frame.

We need to take determinism more seriously. The Universe we observe is based on a fixed set of principles -- principles that necessarily invoke cosmological determinism and in all likelihood sociological uniformitarianism. In other words, the laws of the Universe are moulding us on account of selectional pressures beyond our control.

Civilizations that don't conform to adaptive states will simply go extinct. The trouble is, we have no say in what these adaptive states might be like; we are in the business of conforming such that we continue to survive.

The question is, what are these adaptive states?

Strong convergence

Transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom refers to this as the strong convergence hypothesis -- the idea that all sufficiently advanced civilizations converge towards the same optimal state.

This is a hypothesized developmental tendency akin to a Dawkinsian fitness peak -- the suggestion that identical environmental stressors, limitations and attractors will compel intelligences to settle around optimal existential modes. This theory does not favour the diversification of intelligence – at least not outside of a very strict set of living parameters.

The space of all possible minds...that survive

Consequently, our speculations about the characteristics of a post-Singularity machine mind must take deterministic constraints into account. Yes, we can speculate about the space of all possible minds, but this space is dramatically shrunk by adaptationist constraints.

The question thus becomes, what is the space of all possible post-Singularity machine minds that result in a civilization's (or a singleton's) ongoing existence?

And it is here that you will likely begin to find a real and meaningful explanation to the Fermi Paradox and the problem that is non-exclusivity.

December 7, 2007

Best albums of 2007

Time once again for my round-up of the year's top albums.

It was a particularly strong year for music and I was fortunate to be able to listen to a lot of it. Over 125 albums to be exact. My genres of choice included alternative rock, post-rock, experimental, metal, post-metal, industrial, alternative country, electronica and ambient.

This year I rated each album out of 10 stars. A 9+ rating means it's a classic, above 8 is excellent, and anything between 7.0 and 7.9 is still worth your while. Stay away from anything below 6.9.

My album ratings for 2007:

#1. 23 by Blonde Redhead (9.4)
Beautiful, sweeping and melodic dream pop. Stand-out tracks: "23", "Silently," "The Dress," and "Top Ranking." Top ranking indeed.

#2. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon (9.3)
Every track shines on this classy, fun and perfectly crafted album; one of the great bands of this decade. Stand-out tracks: "Don't Make Me a Target," "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case," and "Don't You Evah."

#3. Fear of a Blank Planet by Porcupine Tree (9.2)
Best prog album of the year by a long-shot, and one of Porcupine Tree's best albums yet. Stand-out tracks: "Sleep Together," "Anesthetize," and "Sentimental."

#4. Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? by Of Montreal (9.1)
Alt-pop, anyone? More fun than anyone should be allowed to have with one album. Stand-out tracks: "Bunny Ain't No Kind of Rider," "Faberge Falls for Shuggie," and "Labrinthian Pop."

#5. In Rainbows by Radiohead (9.0)
Unexpected greatness after a 4-year hiatus; Radiohead still matters. Stand-out tracks: "15 Step," "Bodysnatchers," and "House of Cards."

6. Children Running Through by Patty Griffen (8.9)
The only alt-country diva who comes close to Neko Case; unbelievable vocal performances and solid songwriting. Stand-out tracks: "Stay on the Ride," "Getting Ready."

7. Year Zero by Nine Inch Nails (8.9)
Reznor is relevant again. "Survivalism," "The Beginning of the End," "Vessel."

8. Andorra by Caribou (8.8)
Smooth, melodic and organic; sets a new standard for what can be done with samples. "Melody Day," "After Hours."

9. Excellent Italian Greyhound by Shellac (8.8)
This is what happens when you let recording engineers make an album; can you hear me now!!?? "Be Prepared," "The End of Radio," "Steady As She Goes."

10. Neon Bible by Arcade Fire (8.8)
Despite the hype, they deliver; these guys are for real. "Keep the Car Running," "Intervention."

11. Sky Blue Sky by Wilco (8.8)
Bringing that 70s FM sound to the 21st century -- guitar solos and all; Tweedy's melodies slay. "Either Way," "Impossible Germany," "Shake it Off."

12. Mirrored by Battles (8.8)
Four very talented guys who sound like eight very talented guys. "Atlas"

13. White Chalk by PJ Harvey (8.8)
Mmmmm, PJ on the piano. "The Devil"

14. Trees Outside the Academy by Thurston Moore (8.7)
This album is so good. Sweet arrangements, and even sweeter songwriting. "Off Work," "The Shape is in a Trance."

15. Population by The Most Serene Republic (8.7)
Best post-rock release of the year; another excellent addition to the very characteristic Toronto music scene. "Why So Looking Back," "Solipsism Millionaires."

16. Person Pitch by Panda Bear (8.7)
Brian Wilson meets experimental post-rock. And rollercoasters. "I'm Not," "Bros," "Take Pills."

17. Cease to Begin by Band of Horses (8.7)
Not quite up there with My Morning Jacket, but definitely a band that's coming into their own; solid sophomore release. "Islands on the Coast"

18. Beauty and Crimes by Suzanne Vega (8.7)
Yes, Suzanne Vega released an album this year -- and you should be sorry you missed it. "Anniversary," "Ludlow Street."

19. Friend Opportunity by Deerhoof (8.7)
Cute, quirky and sometimes non-sensical; I think these guys might actually be geniuses. "Matchbook Seeks Maniac," "Perfect Me," "+81"

20. Fables from a Mayfly: What I Tell You Three Times Is True by Fair to Midland (8.7)
Pop-metal that doesn't offend; dramatic, confident, and solid from start to finish. "Dance of the Manatee," "Walls of Jericho."

21. Death is this Communion by High on Fire (8.7)
A metal purist's delight; this is what thunder would sound like if it formed a band. "Death is this Communion," "Fury Whip."

22. Wincing the Night Away by The Shins (8.7)
Not as dazzling and fresh as their first two releases; maybe I'm starting to take their brilliance for granted. "Sleeping Lessons," "Sea Legs," "A Comet Appears."

23. Cross by Justice (8.6)
Absolutely huge sound design; I'd write more but I have to go dance now. "D.A.N.C.E.," "Phantom," "Genesis," "Tthhee Ppaarrttyy," "Valentine."

24. Drums and Guns by Low (8.6)
Sadcore that actually uplifts. "Hatchet," "Pretty People."

25. The Apostasy by Behemoth (8.6)
Polish blackened death metal brutality. "Slaying the Prophets Ov Isa," "Be Without Fear."

26. City of Echos by Pelican (8.6)
Consistently excellent instrumental post-rock that comes oh so close to post-metal. "A Delicate Sense of Balance," "Spaceship Broken Need Parts," "City of Echoes."

27. Challengers by New Pornographers, The (8.6)
Proving that they are in fact mortal, it's their weakest album yet, but the Neko tracks shine; still better than most bands. "Go Places," "Myriad Harbour," "All the Old Showstoppers."

28. Kala by M.I.A. (8.6)
Crank this sucker; brilliant use of samples and crazy beats. "Bird Flu," "Bamboo Banga," "Boyz," "Hussel."

The rest:

29. West by Lucinda Williams (8.5)
30. Liars by Liars (8.5)
31. Friend and Foe by Menomena (8.5)
32. Daydream Nation by Sonic Youth (8.5)
33. Harvest by Naglfar (8.5)
34. Conqueror by Jesu (8.5)
35. Nil Recurring by Porcupine Tree (8.5)
36. Make Another World by Idlewild (8.5)
37. The Boy With No Name by Travis (8.4)
38. Send Away the Tigers by The Manic Street Preachers (8.4)
39. The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse by The Besnard Lakes (8.4)
40. The Shepherd's Dog by Iron and Wine (8.4)
41. Night Falls Over Kortedala by Jens Lekman (8.4)
42. Amoeba by Hacride (8.4)
43. Snakes and Arrows by Rush (8.4)
44. Fort Nightly by White Rabbits (8.4)
45. Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird (8.3)
46. Ithyphallic by Nile (8.3)
47. Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers (8.3)
48. Here We Go Sublime by The Field (8.3)
49. Boxer by The National (8.3)
50. Grinderman by Grinderman (8.3)
51. Saltbreakers by Laura Veirs (8.2)
52. The Fragile Army by Polyphonic Spree (8.2)
53. Serpent Saints by Entombed (8.2)
54. Untrue by Burial (8.2)
55. Down Below It's Chaos by Kinski (8.1)
56. Passenger by Mnemic (8.1)
57. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank by Modest Mouse (8.1)
58. Grindstone by Shining (8.1)
59. Drastic Fantastic by KT Tunstall (8.0)
60. Grindhouse - Deathproof by Various Artists (8.0)
61. The Good the Bad and the Queen (8.0)
62. Oh, Perilous World by Rasputina (7.9)
63. Rapid Eye Movement by Riverside (7.9)
64. Ire Works by Dillinger Escape Plan, The (7.9)
65. Cassadaga by Bright Eyes (7.8)
66. For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver (7.8)
67. Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective (7.8)
68. No Shouts No Calls by Electrelane (7.8)
69. The Last Sucker by Ministry (7.7)
70. The Blackening by Machine Head (7.7)
71. Samus Octology by Irepress (7.6)
72. Songs III Bird on the Water by Marissa Nadler (7.6)
73. Ghosts Will Come and Kiss Our Eyes by Hrsta (7.6)
74. The Stage Names by Okkervil River (7.5)
75. The Sun by Fridge (7.5)
76. Ordo Ad Chao by Mayhem (7.5)
77. Widow City by Fiery Furnaces (7.4)
78. Pocket Symphony by Air (7.4)
79. With Oden on Our Side by Amon Amarth (7.4)
80. Visitations by Clinic (7.3)
81. The Reminder by Feist (7.3)
82. The Mix-Up by The Beastie Boys (7.3)
83. Favourite Worst Nighmare by Arctic Monkeys (7.2)
84. And Your City Needs Swallowing by I Am the Ocean (7.2)
85. Release the Stars by Rufus Wainwright (7.2)
86. Restless in the Tides by Forever in Terror (7.2)
87. Copia by Eluvium (7.2)
88. The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn by CocoRosie (7.2)
89. Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem (7.2)
90. Family Tree by Nick Drake (7.1)
91. Country Mouse, City House by Josh Rouse (7.1)
92. The Con by Tegan & Sara (7.1)
93. La Cucaracha by Ween (7.1)
94. From Beale Street to Obliveon by Clutch (7.1)
95. The Marrow of a Bone by Dir En Grey (7.1)
96. An Ocean Between Us by As I Lay Dying (7.1)
97. Astronomy for Dogs by The Aliens (7.0)
98. Icons, Abstracts Thee [EP] by Of Montreal (7.0)
99. Deliver Us by Darkest Hour (7.0)
100. Shadows in the Light by Immolation (7.0)
101. In Stormy Nights by Ghost (7.0)
102. A Weekend in the City by Bloc Party (7.0)
103. Icky Thump by White Stripes (6.9)
104. Yours to Keep by Albert Hammond Jr. (6.9)
105. Tears of the Valedictorian by Frog Eyes (6.8)
106. New Wave by Against Me! (6.8)
107. In Sorte Diaboli by Dimmu Borgir (6.7)
108. Yours Truly, Angry Mob by Kaiser Chiefs (6.6)
109. Elect the Dead by Serj Tankian (6.6)
110. The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter (6.5)
111. Foley Room by Amon Tobin (6.5)
112. This Age of Silence by Anterior (6.5)
113. Xenosapien by Cephallic Carnage (6.5)
114. Places Like This by Architecture In Helsinki (6.4)
115. It's A Bit Complicated by Art Brut (6.4)
116. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend by Miranda Lambert (6.4)
117. Living With The Living by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (6.3)
118. Volta by Bjork (6.3)
119. Under the Blacklight by Rilo Kiley (5.9)
120. Some Loud Thunder by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (5.8)
121. Never Hear the End of It by Sloan (5.8)
122. Punch by Sondre Lerche & the Faces Down (5.7)
123. Vena Sera by Chevelle (5.6)
124. Era Vulgaris by Queens of the Stoneage (5.6)
125. Our Love to Admire by Interpol (5.2)
126. Chrome Dreams II by Neil Young (4.9)
127. United Abominations by Megadeth (4.6)
128. One Man Revolution by The Nightwatchman (4.2)

Comments welcome! Please feel free to submit your own top five.

December 4, 2007

Aubrey: Old people are still people

Aubrey de Grey in Cato Unbound: Old People Are People Too: Why It Is Our Duty to Fight Aging to the Death:
It has been obvious to me since my earliest days that the eventually fatal physiological decline associated with getting older is both tragic and potentially preventable by medical intervention. It was, therefore, a matter of some consternation to me to discover in my late twenties that my view on this matter was not universally shared. In this essay I explode various myths and illogicalities that surround the effort to combat (and especially to defeat) aging, with an emphasis on some that are often perpetrated by currently influential commentators.

"...a web-based service that helps you read and understand your DNA. After providing a saliva sample using an at-home kit, you can use our interactive tools to shed new light on your distant ancestors, your close family and most of all, yourself."

Transhumanist and artificial heart recipient Peter Houghton dies

Sad news in the transhumanist community today: Peter Houghton, the first man in the world to be fitted with a permanent artificial heart, has died at the age of 68.

Houghton, a devout Catholic, frequently talked about how his artificial heart gave him a second lease on life; without the prosthesis he would died seven years ago in 2000. He never blushed at the labels 'cyborg,' 'bionic,' or 'robotic.' For him, this was not some kind of trite science fiction whimsy -- it was a reality that was keeping him alive when he should have been dead.

To that end, he was an avid supporter of the World Transhumanist Association and an advisor to the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Peter worked tirelessly on behalf of Britons with heart disease and those needing artificial organs.

We are grateful to Peter Houghton for his contributions over the years. He will be missed.

December 1, 2007

Buddhism vs Transhumanism? (more)

From the "Buddhism vs Transhumanism?" comments section Casey writes:
Can you amplify your statement about Buddhism being concerned with "the optimization of subjective experience?"

It seems to me that subjectivity, or the idea that there is a discrete "you" to futz with, is the first thing to be transcended through unconditioned acceptance.

Take away the film, the projector and what do yo have? The bulb, which is analogous to the necessarily mysterious, unconditioned mind.

Buddhism is fundamentally against "add-ons" to the individual sphere, as mind is already junked up with the projections of ego as is. The practice, as I understand it, is more about stripping away.

That said, I'm curious about scientific improvements to the biological species, as well as the possible transference of consciousness to a non-bio realm. But for now, I'll continue plodding down the Path.
Indeed, while Buddhists would deny the existence of the self, there is no denying the fact that we observe (what appears to be) reality and are deeply entrenched in the condition that is life. Escape into monastic existence is not in the cards for most of us, and Buddhism is sympathetic to this.

Having a transhumanistically optimized mind is one thing (ie augmented intelligence and memory), having an optimized consciousness is quite another. How we interpret the world and how we internalize moment-to-moment processes (particularly as they are driven by our emotions) is where I think Buddhist discourse is particularly helpful and can work to inform the transhumanist mission.

Working to develop the ideal conditioned mind is the central goal of intrapersonal Buddhist practice, and to this point in history meditation has been the key method in achieving this. Might there be other ways? Imagine a future mod that could immediately rewire a mind to be as disciplined and aware as those of practicing monks.

Sign me up.

Today, a number of Buddhists use the latest in neuroscience to study the make-up of conditioned minds in order to gain an understanding of the neurochemical and cognitive processes behind such functions as happiness and mental acuity. This will not just help to improve meditative and mindfulness practices, but also in the development of the so-called contemplative sciences and advanced neurotechnological interventions.

As for improvements, I do not believe there is anything within Buddhist discourse that forbids human enhancement. Intention is what matters. If we enhance to keep up with social pressures, then that is a problem. If, on the other hand, we work to alleviate human suffering and foster meaningful lives, then I believe modification is in tune with Buddhist values.

The space of all conscious life is likely to be hugely vast, and Buddhists naturally understand the importance of respecting different kinds of sentient life.

On this topic, check out: Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge by B. Alan Wallace and The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality by Dalai Lama.

A sneak peek into the new Betterhumans?

Check out this sexy conceptual front page mock-up for Betterhumans. While it's unlikely that we're going to go with this exact design, it should give you an idea of the direction we have in mind for next phase of Betterhumans (which is slated for re-launch in January).

Click image for larger version