January 26, 2008

Obama en Espanol

A photo I took in front of a Chicago bookstore last year. If only I knew then what I know now.

January 25, 2008

Marquis de Condorcet, Enlightenment proto-transhumanist

Marquis de Condorcet (1744-1794) was a hugely influential Enlightenment era thinker who contributed significantly to the rise of secular humanism and helped plant the seeds of transhumanism. He is said to have best represented the ideals of the Enlightenment.

To this end, Condorcet advocated for a liberal economy, free and equal public education and constitutionalism. He also advocated for the primacy of reason as way to liberate humanity from the church, authoritarianism and nature.

He was a brilliant mathematician and political scientist; he forged the two disciplines together and became the first person in history to effectively use mathematical principles to study social science.

Condorcet speculated about utopian possibilities and wrote a piece on the perfectability of society. He gave no concrete definition of a "perfect" human existence, but he believed that the progression of the human race would inevitably continue throughout the course of its existence. His thoughts prompted Thomas Malthus to write his famous paper on unsustainable population growth.

His most influential work from a transhumanist perspective was his book, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind, which he wrote when he was in hiding after the French Revolution and subsequently published posthumously.

In this book he argued that reason and science can and should be applied to better develop humanity's intellectual and moral faculties. He thought that all facets of nature should be re-evaluated and conformed to the needs of human intelligence.

He wrote,
The time will therefore come when the sun will shine only on free men who know no other master but their reason; when tyrants and slaves, priests and their stupid or hypocritical instruments will exist only in works of history and on the stage; and when we shall think of them only to pity their victims and their dupes; to maintain ourselves in a state of vigilance by thinking on their excesses; and to learn how to recognize and so to destroy, by force of reason, the first seeds of tyranny and superstition, should they ever dare to reappear among us.
He pin-pointed a number of factors that he believed were responsible for the various inequalities and injustice that inflicted humans -- a list that included disparities in wealth, status, education and -- of interest to transhumanists -- length of life.

Indeed, Condorcet was an early advocate of life extension and saw no reason why it shouldn't be a part of humanity's inexorable path towards perfectability.

As he wrote,
The real advantages that should result from this progress, of which we can entertain a hope that is almost a certainty, can have no other term than that of the absolute perfection of the human race; since, as the various kinds of equality come to work in its favor by producing ampler sources of supply, more extensive education, more complete liberty, so equality will be more real and will embrace everything which is really of importance for the happiness of human beings ....
Read more about Condorcet here and here. Read excerpts from A Sketch here.

Sausage horror

Via riot rite right clit clip click.

Go veg.

Sandberg: Heteronormativity in Preschool Robotics


January 23, 2008

Heath & Britney: Why mental health is no laughing matter

Yes, I’m devoting a sermon blog post to discuss Heath Ledger and Britney Spears. Please allow me a moment to get all high-and-mighty as I'm reeling from the news of Heath Ledger’s passing.

The news yesterday that Ledger had died of an apparent suicide made my heart sink (as of this writing the cause of death is inconclusive, but it appears that this is the case). I find it tragic when people die under any circumstances, but suicides make it doubly so. Mental health is a grossly undervalued aspect of personal health and very few resources are devoted to helping people cope with problems such as depression and anxiety.

With Ledger’s passing, I’m reminded of Britney Spears’s situation and what appears to be her inexorable path to oblivion.

And how nobody cares.

Actually, I take that back: we care about Britney insofar as we need to take a piss on people who are more popular and successful than we are. It makes us feel better to see others fail. We need our daily dose of schadenfreude--and who better to laugh at than Britney Spears.

Tee-hee, silly, Britney. Oops! Looks like she did it again!

Well, we aren’t laughing this morning upon hearing about Ledger’s death. Suicides happen. And it might happen to Britney unless she gets some help.

Her hair-shaving episode was indication that she's likely having suicidal ideations. There have even been rumors about attempts; her irrational behavior is no secret. It appears that she’s manic-depressive and could probably use some medication and some real therapy outside of Dr. Phil and the celebrity circle. She needs to go away for a while and get better.

It also appears that Britney is incapable of getting help for herself and that her sycophants aren’t likely to intervene in a way that’s required. It’s sad that the system isn’t set up so that a person could be flagged and offered help. I’m not even sure what to suggest in this case…

But what’s certainly not helping is the endless barrage of media parodies and the collective snickering that’s going around. We wouldn’t laugh and make fun of someone with cancer or diabetes. This is no different. We all need to adopt a much better attitude about mental health and stop treating it like some kind of stigma.

As we think of Heath Ledger today, let’s hope that Britney gets the help she needs to avoid a similar fate.

Interviewed by 'The Future and You'

I was recently interviewed by Stephen Cobb for his podcast, 'The Future and You.' You can listen to the interview by following this link.

Here's Cobb's description of the interview:
George Dvorsky, executive editor of betterhumans.com, is this week's featured interview. Betterhumans.com is a webzine with News, Articles, and interactive features serving the transhumanist community. George Dvorsky is also the co-founder and president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association and has served on the Board of Directors for the World Transhumanist Association.

One of Canada's leading futurists, activists and award winning bloggers, George Dvorsky has written and spoken extensively about the impacts of cutting-edge science and technology.In this capacity he has been interviewed by: The BBC, Radio Free Europe, and by the British newspaper The Guardian. He's also been on the Canadian television news-magazine The Hour.

Hosted by Stephen Euin Cobb, this is the January 23, 2008 episode of The Future And You. [Running time: 84 minutes]

Topics include:

Why there is a negative perception of transhumanism in the general public, and what we can do about it.

Why the mainstream medical community is working hard to achieve the goals of transhumanism (without realizing it) and will continue to work toward them with or without our encouragement.

The vaccination of children is a perfect example of the transhumanist ideal, George explains, since it is an engineered hyper-immunity produced by technological intervention.

Why the complete end of personal privacy may be unavoidable and imminent.

We as a species find ourselves living with an increasing array of apocalyptic technologies, George says, and we have to learn how to live with these things since we can't un-invent them.

His personal expectations of The Singularity.

Life extension in general, and how long he personally expects to live.

Why the areas of transhumanist thought that remain controversial are those more removed from just keeping people healthy, and more in the direction of making people better than they ever were before. These areas include such things as increasing the human IQ, life extension, and wiring computers directly into the human brain.

As well as many other subjects.

January 6, 2008

Overcoming gender

Your gender is a constraint. This is an inalienable truism, regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman.

We can no longer deny that males and females are profoundly different. The hallucination is over. Scientists and behaviorists are discovering that men and women differ not just physically, but cognitively and emotionally as well. These differences are not merely the result of gender-specific socialization; they are innate—the result of thousands of years of sexual competition and selection.

Your gender assignment and sense of sexual identity is an imposition. Like many of your other characteristics, you are largely the result of a genetic lottery that happened beyond your control. Consequently, you are in no small way predetermined. Your physical and psychological capabilities are very much constrained and dictated by your genetic constitution.

Sure, the environments that we find ourselves in and the ways in which we are socialized play a contributing factor to our health, personalities and broader perspectives. But let’s not fool ourselves, each and every one of us has characteristics that are forever limited by our genetic code.

Barring the application of enhancement biotechnologies, I will never be able to conceptualize music as profoundly as Beethoven, nor will I ever be able to visualize numbers like Pierre de Fermat. No amount of studying, hard work or dedication will ever change this. I am physiologically incapable of acquiring these capacities.

Similarly, my gender plays an integral role in determining who I am, what my preferences are, and ultimately what I’m capable of.

And that bothers me.

Gender is a disease

Like the work being done to bring about a radical life extension revolution, and whose proponents argue that aging is a disease, we likewise need to change our perceptions about gender. There are a number of areas where we can see how our genders work to our disadvantage and why we would want to do something about it.

Men have the double-edged sword of being, in general, physically advantaged. While this tends to contribute to male dominance over women, it has also placed men in dangerous situations and environments. Males are conventionally the members of society who are sent into combat and are expected to perform hazardous—and sometimes sacrificial—work.

Aside from the overtly obvious physical dimorphism that separates men from women, there are also a number of cognitive and behavioral differences that work to stratify humans along gender lines.

Threats, physical assaults and homicides are an indelible male feature across all cultures and typically the result of male-male competition over resources that work to increase reproductive fitness. Males tend to have more accidents than females across their entire life spans. For every girl that is injured on a playground, four boys are likewise injured. Boys burn themselves more than girls. Roughly twice as many females across all ages suffer from significant levels of anxiety and depression than their male counterparts; women are more prone to suffer from eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Looking at latent cognitive abilities, boys and men have slightly higher average IQ scores than girls and women. Females across all ages consistently outperform boys and men on tests that assess the speed of matching arbitrary symbols to numbers. In measures of sensitivity to verbal cues, females almost always outperform males.

Needless to say, these gender differences are general tendencies. Men and women do not all fall within these parameters. But what these statistics reveal is that across the entire population males and females are stratified in a non-trivial way.

Sex differences also impact on occupational interests and achievement—differences that contribute greatly to the wage and social status advantage that men enjoy in most (if not all) industrialized nations. The acquisition of the educational credentials required for a lucrative career in a field such as engineering – a math intensive field – is made easier for men by virtue of cognitive factors that are less pronounced for women.

And of course, as long as women carry, give birth, and nurture their offspring, they will be set at a social disadvantage and even face subjugation. As cyberfeminist Donna Haraway noted in her Cyborg Manifesto,
"...control strategies applied to women's capacities to give birth to new human beings will be developed in the languages of population control and maximization of goal achievement for individual decision-makers. Control strategies will be formulated in terms of rates, costs of constraints, degrees of freedom. Human beings, like any other component or subsystem, must be localized in a system architecture whose basic modes of operation are probabilistic, statistical."
Consequently, Haraway saw true female liberation occurring through the application of cybernetics and the subsequent alleviation of biological pressures on women. As Haraway famously noted, "I'd rather be a cyborg than a goddess."

The end of immutable sexual characteristics

While reproductively necessary, the ongoing presence of gender has proven problematic over time. Humanity is far removed from its evolutionary heritage and environment. Moreover, evolution makes for a poor moral compass. We value fairness, non-arbitrariness and egalitarianism -- even in the genetic sphere; the ongoing presence of gender should therefore trouble us. We should strive for a post-Darwinian condition.

We are, often at a subconscious level, working to become postbiological. Most of us are in denial about or in opposition to this, but the level of control that we seek over our minds and bodies is in tune with this goal. We are perpetually working to transcend our biological vulnerabilities and constraints. This will eventually get us to the oft spoken and quasi-mythological posthuman condition.

Most efforts to achieve a postgendered state have largely focused on non-biological solutions, namely through social, educational, political and economic reform. While environmental strategies can be effective and important in their own right, they will continue to experience limited results on account of their inability to address the root of the problem: human biology.

Transhumanist postgenderism, as differentiated and further elucidated from mainstream feminism and postmodern/deconstructionist cyberfeminism, calls for a more equitable distribution of gendered traits across the two sexes and the elimination of those gendered characteristics that are deemed disadvantageous. Postgenderism in this form calls for actual reproductive and medical interventions for the achievement of these ends.

People deserve access to biotechnologies that will help them control their morphological, cognitive and reproductive characteristics. In a postgendered world, individuals will have the option to remain gendered, to experiment with their sex and sexuality, to mix and match gendered characteristics, or to reject gender altogether. The idea is to exact control over our bodies and minds. A postgendered condition does not necessarily imply the end of all gendered characteristics, it merely signifies the end of fixed and traditional gender assignments wrought by evolutionary processes. In this sense, persons who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery are humanity's first postgenderists.

There are other postgender biotechnologies in existence today. Birth control pills are a well established method that thwarts our reproductive natures, and menstruation suppression has all but arrived. Other physiological factors, such as hormonal influences and neurotransmitters, will soon be addressable.

Looking ahead to the future, there's the possibility for male pregnancy and neurological interventions to normalize male and female cognitive functioning. More radical solutions to help persons become truly postgendered include the advent of artificial wombs, virtual reality and whole brain emulation.

At the social level, the broader suppressive and controlling social megastructure that exists and thrives on gender differences will be undermined by the postgenderist agenda. It will mark the end of sexual politics.

Thus, it is through the application of substantive and real biological interventions that the problem that is gender will most meaningfully be addressed. Postgender-tech will be an integral component to the larger collaborative struggle to achieve a genetically egalitarian, posthuman, and postbiological condition that works to the betterment of both individuals and society in general.