July 1, 2008

My transhumanism and life extension talk for the CFI

I gave this talk in April 2008 for the Center for Inquiry Ontario.


Martins said...

is there a second part to this conference ? It kinda ended too soon...

George said...

I'm afraid that's all there is. You'd have to contact the Center of Inquiry for Ontario for more information about this.

JM Inc. said...

I think this is part of the problem that transhumanists have, it's the communication problem. That was certainly an interesting presentation George, and I can't claim to know how it went over at the CFI, but I can't say I'd have done it at all the way you did it.

You're speaking to an audience largely composed of Humanists, but you focused to a large extent on the, in a sense, "it would be cool" factor. Speaking as somebody who is familiar with these sorts of concepts, that presentation came off as very starry-eyed and hypothetical, and I can't say it would have aroused me to take an interest in what you were talking about, because you approached it from the "it would be cool" perspective.

You didn't relate it back to anything viscerally real within the contemporary world context, at least, nothing specifically for Humanists to be interested in. The best part, in my opinion, was the discussion of the historical lines of transhumanist-type thought, but then you dived head-first into simply explaining about ideas like NanoNeural Networks and respirocytes.

It's been my experience that, in discussing things which sound like science fiction, the first and most important step that must be taken to establish a bridge of visceral understanding, that intuitive sense that "this is relevant, this is real", is to first attempt to deconstruct the real world context and show how it goes together with what you're talking about.

Example: These technologies - coming soon (cite examples, references: synthetic biology, deep-brain stimulation, you did well on this point), why do this? - foundations of Humanism, foundations of secularism, ethical foundations of today's world that nobody objects to, in other words, where do these technologies come into play such that we all agree on them (you have to be able to sweep aside the Bill McKibbenses, and Bill McKibbens-like doubts in the audience who hold that there are rock-solid secularist, humanitarian, or otherwise rational reasons to completely foreclose on these options for society)? Before going into the what/where/how of NanoNeural virtual reality, mind transfer, or whatever it is you're selling, you have to explain the social precedent, rather than just assuming that, as transhumanists unfortunately often tend to do, everybody agrees that "these technologies would be really, really cool". Clearly, we know, that doesn't cut it for many people, and many times they've just got it up their nose that some things are icky or that there's just got to be something wrong with this somehow - we're not all Peter Singer-esque rationalists who are able to put aside strongly held presumptions if they are rational non sequiturs. I didn't really feel you convincing me we should want these technologies, especially since you, and the video was indeed cut off at the end so maybe I missed something, but you very much just skimmed over the "to what end" aspect of the discussion, which in my opinion is the single most important aspect of the whole discussion, followed in a close second by the "how" of dealing with the social and economic ramifications, and jumped right in, as I said, to the "respirocytes would let you run a hundred metre dash while holding your breath" part.

I hope I'm not sounding hypercritical, you just didn't convince me, and as a Humanist and serious technophile, I'd rather see these possibilities presented in a way that is most likely to convince people, although, as I've admitted, I really don't know how this presentation went over. How did it go over, by the way?

Adam Manning said...

Great talk.. very interesting especially linking transhumanism to Englightenment thinkers from the 18th century. Like your sense of humour as well!