David Pearce and I recently discussed relating Buddhism to the abolitionist project – both have the reduction of suffering located at the heart of their purposes. However, is there a necessary connection between desire and suffering? David argues no – highlighting a difference between emphasis of a traditional Buddhist approach to mitigating suffering through the elimination of desire and a biotech/transhumanist approach that David advocates.
David also argues that the ‘Noble 8 fold path’ is not a panacea – it won’t re-calibrate ones hedonic treadmill, which leaves most of us, especially depressives, in a very unfortunate state of mind.
Also meditation may not necessarily lead to the abolition from suffering in the animal kingdom – meditation turns one’s focus inwards, while a ‘high-tech Jainist’ approach would involve employing a wide variety of technological approaches to reducing suffering in the wild.
Traditional buddhists focus on mitigation of suffering though acceptance – though transhumanists focus on transcendence. From a personal point of view, it makes sense to accept ones limitations, seeing the world as it is – especially when we were living in a time without the illumination of the scientific method, and the rigorous standards of engineering that we have today. Today, especially with medicine, we can question things that are currently beyond our control – a patient with cystic fibrosis may look forward to new drugs appearing out of the end of the pipeline of big pharma. Furthermore, people like Donald Ingber and colleges at the Wyss Institute question the limitations of medical trials and engineer ‘organs on chips’ to aid in medical trials – another example is Liz Parrish at Bioviva who is doing human trials on herself to test the efficacy of gene therapy to safely rejuvenate telomere length to increase cellular heath which hopefully translates into increased health-span of the superorganism (in this case Liz, and in the future, anyone with access to this technology).
Buddhism seeks to see things as they are – and accept what is – transhumanists question ‘what is’, and armed with enlightenment values and progress in science/technology will look to empiricism to understand what is through understanding the laws of physics – our future engineering projects will be shaped by our understanding of what is. Many modern buddhists look to science to understand what is – including the Dali Lama – and have an intriguing outlook about the future that can, and often does seem to correlate with outlooks of transhumanists who are not just interested in self-improvement, but compassionate about the wellbeing of all sentient life. To a large extent at the atomic level, material is fungible – aided with nanotechnology & biotechnology it seems very plausible that we will be able to shape the environment away from the horrors of darwinian life – but we are not super smart or moral, so in the process we may make it much worse – hense the need to really understand ‘what is’ in order to bring about ‘what should be’ – for that, I believe we may require superintelligence (which may come in the form of advanced AI – the creation of which has it’s own problems).