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Extending Life is Not Enough

Dr Randal Koene covers the motivation for human technological augmentation and reasons to go beyond biological life extension.

randal_koene_squareCompetition is an inescapable occurrence in the animate and even in the inanimate universe. To give our minds the flexibility to transfer and to operate in different substrates bestows upon our species the most important competitive advantage.” I am a neuroscientist and neuroengineer who is currently the Science Director at Foundation 2045, and the Lead Scientist at Kernel, and I head the organization carboncopies.org, which is the outreach and roadmapping organization for the development of substrate-independent minds (SIM) and also previously participated in the ambitious and fascinating efforts of the nanotechnology startup Halcyon Molecular in Silicon Valley.

Slides of talk online here
Video of Talk:

Points discussed in the talk:
1. Biological Life-Extension is Not Enough Randal A. Koene Carboncopies.org
2. PERSONAL
3. No one wants to live longer just to live longer. Motivation informs Method.
4. Having an Objective, a Goal, requires that you have some notion of success.
5. Creating (intelligent) machines that have the capabilities we do not — is not as good as being able to experience them ourselves… Imagine… creating/playing music. Imagine… being the kayak.Imagine… perceiving the background radiation of the universe.
6. Is being out of the loop really your goal?
7. Near-term goals: Extended lives without expanded minds are in conflict with creative development.
8. Social
9. Gene survival is extremely dependent on an environment — it is unlikely to survive many changes.Worse… gene replication does not sustain that which we care most about!
10. Is CTGGAGTAC better than GTTGACTGAC? We are vessels for that game — but for the last10,000 years something has been happening!
11. Certain future experiences are desirable, others are not — these are your perspectives, the memes you champion…Death keeps stealing our champions, our experts.
12. Too early to do uploading? – No! The big perspective is relevant now. We don’t like myopic thinking in our politicians, lets not be myopic about world issues ourselves.
13. SPECIES
14. Life-extension in biology may increase the fragility of our species & civilization… More people? – Resources. Less births? – Fewer novel perspectives. Expansion? – Environmental limitation.
15. Biological life-extension within the same evolutionary niche = further specialization to the same performance “over-training” in conflict with generalization
16. Aubrey de Grey: Ultimately, desires “uploading”
17. TECHNICAL
18. Significant biological life-extension is incredibly difficult and beset by threats. Reality vs. popular perception.
19. Life-extension and Substrate-Independence are two different objectives
20. Developing out of a “catchment area” (S. Gildert) may demand iterations of exploration — and exploration involves risk.Hard-wired delusions and drives. What would an AGI do? Which types of AGI would exist in the long run?
21. “Uploading” is just one step of many — but a necessary step — for a truly advanced species
22. Thank You carboncopies.orgrandal.a.koene@carboncopies.org

http://www.carboncopies.org/singularity-summit-australia-2012
http://2012.singularitysummit.com.au/2012/11/randal-koene-extending-life-is-not-enough/

There is a short promo-interview for the Singularity Summit AU 2012 conference that Adam Ford did with Dr. Koene, though unfortunately the connection was a bit unreliable, which is noticeable in the video:

Most of those videos are available through the SciFuture YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheRationalFuture

randal-koene-extending-life-is-not-enough

The Quantified Self with Anders Sandberg (in under 2 mins)

Quantified_self_logoThe Quantified Self movement is usefully encouraging loads of people to record metrics about their personal health – the resulting big data will be useful to mine in doing research on how food and lifestyle impact health.
There are also some ethical issues around privacy if personal metrics are used inappropriately.

Here is an interview with Anders Sandberg on QS:

Quantified Self.00_00_03_21.Still034

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Kind regards,
Adam Ford
– Science, Technology & the Future: http://scifuture.org

Review of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari – Steve Fuller

Sapiens, a breif history of humankind - Yuval Noah HarariMy sociology of knowledge students read Yuval Harari’s bestselling first book, Sapiens, to think about the right frame of reference for understanding the overall trajectory of the human condition. Homo Deus follows the example of Sapiens, using contemporary events to launch into what nowadays is called ‘big history’ but has been also called ‘deep history’ and ‘long history’. Whatever you call it, the orientation sees the human condition as subject to multiple overlapping rhythms of change which generate the sorts of ‘events’ that are the stuff of history lessons. But Harari’s history is nothing like the version you half remember from school.

In school historical events were explained in terms more or less recognizable to the agents involved. In contrast, Harari reaches for accounts that scientifically update the idea of ‘perennial philosophy’. Aldous Huxley popularized this phrase in his quest to seek common patterns of thought in the great world religions which could be leveraged as a global ethic in the aftermath of the Second World War. Harari similarly leverages bits of genetics, ecology, neuroscience and cognitive science to advance a broadly evolutionary narrative. But unlike Darwin’s version, Harari’s points towards the incipient apotheosis of our species; hence, the book’s title.

This invariably means that events are treated as symptoms if not omens of the shape of things to come. Harari’s central thesis is that whereas in the past we cowered in the face of impersonal natural forces beyond our control, nowadays our biggest enemy is the one that faces us in the mirror, which may or may not be able within our control. Thus, the sort of deity into which we are evolving is one whose superhuman powers may well result in self-destruction. Harari’s attitude towards this prospect is one of slightly awestruck bemusement.

Here Harari equivocates where his predecessors dared to distinguish. Writing with the bracing clarity afforded by the Existentialist horizons of the Cold War, cybernetics founder Norbert Wiener declared that humanity’s survival depends on knowing whether what we don’t know is actually trying to hurt us. If so, then any apparent advance in knowledge will always be illusory. As for Harari, he does not seem to see humanity in some never-ending diabolical chess match against an implacable foe, as in The Seventh Seal. Instead he takes refuge in the so-called law of unintended consequences. So while the shape of our ignorance does indeed shift as our knowledge advances, it does so in ways that keep Harari at a comfortable distance from passing judgement on our long term prognosis.

Homo Deus YuvalThis semi-detachment makes Homo Deus a suave but perhaps not deep read of the human condition. Consider his choice of religious precedents to illustrate that we may be approaching divinity, a thesis with which I am broadly sympathetic. Instead of the Abrahamic God, Harari tends towards the ancient Greek and Hindu deities, who enjoy both superhuman powers and all too human foibles. The implication is that to enhance the one is by no means to diminish the other. If anything, it may simply make the overall result worse than had both our intellects and our passions been weaker. Such an observation, a familiar pretext for comedy, wears well with those who are inclined to read a book like this only once.

One figure who is conspicuous by his absence from Harari’s theology is Faust, the legendary rogue Christian scholar who epitomized the version of Homo Deus at play a hundred years ago in Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West. What distinguishes Faustian failings from those of the Greek and Hindu deities is that Faust’s result from his being neither as clever nor as loving as he thought. The theology at work is transcendental, perhaps even Platonic.

In such a world, Harari’s ironic thesis that future humans might possess virtually perfect intellects yet also retain quite undisciplined appetites is a non-starter. If anything, Faust’s undisciplined appetites point to a fundamental intellectual deficiency that prevents him from exercising a ‘rational will’, which is the mark of a truly supreme being. Faust’s sense of his own superiority simply leads him down a path of ever more frustrated and destructive desire. Only the one true God can put him out of his misery in the end.

In contrast, if there is ‘one true God’ in Harari’s theology, it goes by the name of ‘Efficiency’ and its religion is called ‘Dataism’. Efficiency is familiar as the dimension along which technological progress is made. It amounts to discovering how to do more with less. To recall Marshall McLuhan, the ‘less’ is the ‘medium’ and the ‘more’ is the ‘message’. However, the metaphysics of efficiency matters. Are we talking about spending less money, less time and/or less energy?

It is telling that the sort of efficiency which most animates Harari’s account is the conversion of brain power to computer power. To be sure, computers can outperform humans on an increasing range of specialised tasks. Moreover, computers are getting better at integrating the operations of other technologies, each of which also typically replaces one or more human functions. The result is the so-called Internet of Things. But does this mean that the brain is on the verge of becoming redundant?

Those who say yes, most notably the ‘Singularitarians’ whose spiritual home is Silicon Valley, want to translate the brain’s software into a silicon base that will enable it to survive and expand indefinitely in a cosmic Internet of Things. Let’s suppose that such a translation becomes feasible. The energy requirements of such scaled up silicon platforms might still be prohibitive. For all its liabilities and mysteries, the brain remains the most energy efficient medium for encoding and executing intelligence. Indeed, forward facing ecologists might consider investing in a high-tech agronomy dedicated to cultivating neurons to function as organic computers – ‘Stem Cell 2.0’, if you will.

However, Harari does not see this possible future because he remains captive to Silicon Valley’s version of determinism, which prescribes a migration from carbon to silicon for anything worth preserving indefinitely. It is against this backdrop that he flirts with the idea that a computer-based ‘superintelligence’ might eventually find humans surplus to requirements in a rationally organized world. Like other Singularitarians, Harari approaches the matter in the style of a 1950s B-movie fan who sees the normative universe divided between ‘us’ (the humans) and ‘them’ (the non-humans).

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

The bravest face to put on this intuition is that computers will transition to superintelligence so soon – ‘exponentially’ as the faithful say — that ‘us vs. them’ becomes an operative organizing principle. More likely and messier for Harari is that this process will be dragged out. And during that time Homo sapiens will divide between those who identify with their emerging machine overlords, who are entitled to human-like rights, and those who cling to the new acceptable face of racism, a ‘carbonist’ ideology which would privilege organic life above any silicon-based translations or hybridizations. Maybe Harari will live long enough to write a sequel to Homo Deus to explain how this battle might pan out.

NOTE ON PUBLICATION: Homo Deus is published in September 2016 by Harvil Secker, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Fuller would like to thank The Literary Review for originally commissioning this review. It will appear in a subsequent edition of the magazine and is published here with permission.

Video Interview with Steve Fuller covering the Homo Deus book

Steve fuller discusses the new book Homo Deus, how it relates to the general transhumanist philosophy and movementfactors around the success of these ideas going mainstream, Yuval Noah Harari’s writing style, why there has been a bias within academia (esp sociology) to steer away from ideas which are less well established in history (and this is important because our successfully navigating the future will require a lot of new ideas), existential risk, and we contrast a posthuman future with a future dominated by an AI superintelligence.

Yuval Harari’s books

– ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’: https://www.amazon.com/Homo-Deus-Brief-History-Tomorrow-ebook/dp/B019CGXTP0/

– ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’: https://www.amazon.com/Sapiens-Humankind-Yuval-Noah-Harari/dp/0062316095/

Discussion on the Coursera course ‘A Brief History of Humankind’ (which I took a few years ago): https://www.coursetalk.com/providers/coursera/courses/a-brief-history-of-humankind

Should We Re-Engineer Ourselves to Phase Out our Violent Nature?

team-david-pearceDavid Pearce reflects on the motivation for human enhancement to phase out our violent nature. Do we want to perpetuate the states of experience which are beholden to our violent default biological imperatives .. or re-engineer ourselves?

Crudely speaking – and inevitably this is very crudely speaking – that nature designed men, males, to be hunters and warriors – and we still have to a very large degree a hunter/warrior psychology. This is why men are fascinated by conflict & violence – why we enjoy watching competitive sports.
Now although ordinary everyday life for many of us in the world is no longer involves the kind of endemic violence that was once the case (goodness knows how many deaths one will witness on screen in the course of a lifetime) one still enjoys violence and quite frequently watch men being very nasty towards each other – competing against each other.
Do we want to perpetuate these states of mind indefinitely? Or do we want to re-engineer ourselves?David Pearce

David-Pearce---Should-We-Re-Engineer-Ourselves-quote

Wireheading with David Pearce

Is the Hedonistic Imperative equivalent to wire-heading?
People are often concerned about the future being a cyber-puink dystopia where people are hard wired into pleasure centers like smacked out like lotus eating milk-sops devoid of meaningful existence. Does David Pearce’s Hedonistic Imperative entail a future where we are all in thrall to permanent experiential orgasms – intravenously hotwired into our pleasure centers via some kind of soma like drug turning us into blissful-idiots?

Adam Ford: I think some people often conflate or distill the Hedonistic Imperative to mean ‘wireheading’ – what do you (think)?

David Pearce: Yes, I mean, clearly if one does argue that were going to phase out the biology of suffering and live out lives of perpetual bliss then it’s very natural to assimilate this to something like ‘wireheading’ – but for all sorts of reasons I don’t think wireheading (i.e. intercrainial self-stimulation of the reward centers and it’s pharmacological equivalent) is a plausible scenario for our future. Not least there will presumably always be selection pressure against wireheading – wireheads do not want to have baby wireheads and raise wirehead children.
I think a much more credible scenario is the idea that were going to re-calibrate the hedonic treadmill and allow ourselves and our future children to enjoy lives based on gradients of intelligent bliss. And one of the advantages of re-calibration rather than straight forward hedonic maximization is that by urging recalibration one isn’t telling people they ought to be giving up their existing preferences or values is that if your hedonic set-point (i.e. your average state of wellbeing) is much higher than it is now your quality wireheads - white of life will really be much higher – but it doesn’t involve any sacrifice of the values you hold most dear.
As a rather simplistic way of putting it – clearly where one lies basically on the hedonic axis will impose serious cognitive biases (i.e. someone who is let’s say depressive or prone to low mood) at least will have a very different set of biases from someone who is naturally cheerful. But none-the-less it doesn’t entail, so long as we aim for a motivational architecture of gradients of bliss, it doesn’t entail giving up anything you want to hold onto. I think that’s really important because a lot of people will be worried that somehow that if, yes, we do enter into some kind of secular paradise – it will involve giving up their normal relationships, their ordinary values and what they hold most dear. Re-calibration does not entail this (wireheading).

Adam Ford: That’s interesting – people think that you know as soon as you turn on the Hedonistic Imperative you are destined for a very narrow set of values – that could be just one peek experience being replayed over and over again – in some narrow local maximum.

wirehead-utility-function-hijacking1024x448David Pearce: Yes – I suppose one thinks of (kind of) crazed wirehead rats – in fairness, if one does imagine orgasmic bliss most people don’t complain that their orgasms are too long (and I’m not convinced that there is something desperately wrong with orgasmic bliss that lasts weeks, months, years or even centuries) but one needs to examine the wider sociological picture – and ask ‘is it really sustainable for us to become blissed out as distinct form blissful’.

Adam Ford: Right – and by blissed out you mean something like the lotus eaters found in Odysseus?

David Pearce: Yes, I mean clearly it is one version of paradise and bliss – they call it meditative tranquility (not doing anything) – but there are other versions of bliss in which one is hyper-motivated. It seems that, crudely speaking, motivation (which is mediated by the meso-limbic dopamene system) and raw bliss (which is associated with mu-opiod activation of our twin hedonic-hotspots) – the axis are orthogonal. Now they’re very closely interrelated (thanks to natural selection) – but in principle we can amplify one or damp down the other. Empirically, at any rate it seems to be the case today that the happiest people are also the most motivated – they have the greatest desires – I mean, this runs counter to the old buddhist notion that desire is suffering – but if you actually look at people who are depressive or chronically depressed quite frequently they have an absence of desire or motivation. But the point is we should be free to choose – yes it is potentially hugely liberatery – this control over our reward architecture, our pleasure circuitry that biotechnology offers – but let’s get things right. We don’t want to mess things up and produce the equivalent of large numbers of people on Heroin – and this is why I so strenuously urge the case for re-calibration – in the long run genetically, in the short run by various no-recreational drugs.

Clearly it is one version of paradise and bliss – they call it meditative tranquility (not doing anything) – but there are other versions of bliss in which one is hyper-motivated.David Pearce

Adam Ford: Ok… People may be worried that re-calibrating someone is akin to disrupting the continuum of self (or this enduring metaphysical ego) – so the person at the other end wouldn’t be really a continuation of the person at the beginning. What do you think? How would you respond to that sort of criticism?

wireheading - static David PearceDavid Pearce: It depends how strict ones conception of what personal identity is. Now, would you be worried if to learn tomorrow that you had won the national lottery (for example)? It would transform your lifestyle, your circle of friends – would this trigger the anxiety that the person who was living the existence of a multi-millionaire wasn’t really you? Well perhaps you should perhaps you should be worried about this – but on the whole most people would be relatively relaxed at the prospect. I would see this more as akin to a small child growing up – yes in one sense as one becomes a mature adult one has killed the toddler or lost the essence of what it was to be a toddler – but only in a very benign sense. And by aiming for re-calibration and hedonic enrichment rather than maximization, there is much less of a risk of loosing anything that you think is really valuable or important.

Adam Ford: Okay – well that’s interesting – we’ll talk about value. In order to not loose forms of value – even if you don’t use it (the values) much – you might have some values that you leave up in the attic to gather dust – like toys that you don’t play with anymore – but you might want to pick up once in a thousand years or what not. How do you then preserve complexity of value while also achieving high hedonic states – do you think they can go hand in hand? Or do you think preserving complexity of value reduces the likelihood that you will be able to achieve optimal hedonic states?

David Pearce: As an empirical matter – and I stress empirical here – it seems to be the case that the happiest are responsive to the broadest possible range of rewarding stimuli – it tends to be depressives who get stuck in a rut. So other things being equal – by re-calibrating ourselves, becoming happy and then superhappy – we can potentially at any rate, yes, enrich the complexity of our lives with a range of rewarding stimuli – it makes getting stuck in a rut less likely both for the individual and for civilization as a whole.
I think one of the reasons we are afraid of some kind of loss of complexity is that the idea of heaven – including in traditional christian heaven – it can sound a bit monotonous, and for happy people at least one of the experiences they find most unpleasant is boredom. But essentially it should be a matter of choice – yes, someone who is very happy to, let’s say, listen to a piece of music or contemplate or art, should be free to do so, and not forced into leading a very complex or complicated life – but equally folk who want to do a diverse range of things – well that’s feasible too.

For all sorts of reasons I don’t think wireheading… is a plausible scenario for our future. Not least there will presumably always be selection pressure against wireheading – wireheads do not want to have baby wireheads and raise wirehead children.David Pearce

– video/audio interview continues on past 10:00

High Impact Technologies with Andrew Barron

Well that’s an open-ended question: What technologies will have high impact in the future?
I think what we are seeing at the moment – and we are seeing it quite rapidly – is the fusion of the biological sciences and the information sciences period – so it goes beyond AI.
We’re seeing a capacity to manipulate and rewrite genomes – again we are actually need an involvement of an AI to do that properly – but we really are truly seeing a fusion of the biological and information sciences which is opening absolutely transformative technologies – that we probably can’t quite properly predict or name currently – but I imagine that the future would see explosive growth in this area and the emergence disciplines that we can’t even imagine currently.

Andrew Barron - High Impact Technology.New Capacities to manipulate genomes
Yep.. exactly… exactly – so new capacities to manipulate genomes – and equally we are getting much smarter about the risks of that and much more careful with that – but we are realizing also that the genome itself is highly self-organized and massively data-heavy – and yet this fusion of biology and information sciences is liberating entirely new disciplines – and it’s happening at such a pace.  I mean, just in terms of my life as a scientist – we’ve gone from – when I was at school we were told that the human genome was impossible – informatically impossible – there would never be enough computing power in the world to sequence the human genome.  Now we’re sequencing genomes for just over $1000 very very quickly and easily – our challenge now is to be intelligent in what to do with that data.

Andrew Barron - High Impact Technology- Significant Strides in Technology
What’s interesting about the iPhone is not the technology itself – it’s the way that it has changed human behavior.  So we’ve suddenly adapted very very very rapidly to a carryable device that enables us to have immediate communication / immediate access to databases and reference libraries – and their capacity to store endless amounts of images if we choose to do so – and we’ve adapted to that seamlessly – to a point when people feel lost and panic if their phone is broken or is taken away from them.  That’s the more interesting interesting impact of the iPhone – and I think what that says is that we’re going to see humans adapt very quickly easily to other forms of wearable or insert-able technologies – I think we’ve shown by the iPhone example that we have a capacity embrace that kind of change – if it offers convenience and ease and improves our connectivity and quality of life.
In terms of technology though I think that the biggest strides will come from biological – there is research that fuses biology and technology – I think that we are on the cusp of that – the more interesting technological changes will come not through simple technology – but by an understanding of how our brains work – by understanding the human brain.  If we can actually crack that and then interface that with technology – that will get completely transformative technological solutions.
So in the far future could we see humans being a mixture of technology and organic solutions – and would be basically see a re-imagining of humanity – in a far future?  Again I see no reason why not in a far future.

Andrew Barron - AI.00_03_16_08.Still001

Andrew Barron is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. With his team at Macquarie they are exploring the neurobiology of major behavioural systems such as memory, goal-directed behaviour and stress from a comparative and evolutionary perspective. In 2015 Andrew was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship to develop a computational model of the honey bee brain.

Andrew’s PhD (Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge 1999) considered the possibility of the retention of memory through metamorphosis in Drosophila. Prior to his move to Macquarie in 2007 Andrew had the opportunity to work with and be mentored by Prof. Ben Oldroyd (University of Sydney), Prof. Gene Robinson (University of Illinois), Prof. Mandayam Srinivasan and Prof. Ryszard Maleszka (Australian National University).

Andrew Barron - High Impact Technology. - title

Nietzsche, the Overhuman, and Transhumanism – Stefan Lorenz Sorgner

Did Nietzsche have something like Transhumanism in mind when he wrote about the Übermensch?


Abstract

Bostrom rejects Nietzsche as an ancestor of the transhumanist movement, as he claims that there were merely some “surface-level similarities with the Nietzschean vision” (Bostrom 2005a, 4). In contrast to Bostrom, I think that significant similarities between the posthuman and the overhuman can be found on a fundamental level. In addition, it seems to me that Nietzsche explained the relevance of the overhuman by referring to a dimension which seems to be lacking in transhumanism. In order to explain my position, I will progress as follows. First, I will compare the concept of the posthuman to that of Nietzsche’s overhuman, focusing more on their similarities than their differences. Second, I will contextualise the overhuman in Nietzsche’s general vision, so that I can point out which dimension seems to me to be lacking in transhumanist thought.”

Introduction

Nietz-wordsWhen I first became familiar with the transhumanist movement, I immediately thought that there were many fundamental similarities between transhumanism and Nietzsche’s philosophy, especially concerning the concept of the posthuman and that of Nietzsche’s overhuman. This is what I wish to show in this article. I am employing the term “overhuman instead of “overman,” because in German the term Übermensch can apply to both sexes, which the notion overhuman can, but overman cannot. I discovered, however, that Bostrom, a leading transhumanist, rejects Nietzsche as an ancestor of the transhumanist movement, as he claims that there are merely some “surface-level similarities with the Nietzschean vision” (Bostrom 2005a, 4).

In contrast to Bostrom, I think that significant similarities between the posthuman and the overhuman can be found on a fundamental level. Habermas agrees with me in that respect, as he has already referred to the similarities in these two ways of thinking. However, he seems to regard both of them as absurd. At least, he refers to transhumanists as a bunch of mad intellectuals who luckily have not managed to establish support for their elitist views from a bigger group of supporters (Habermas 2001, 43).1

In addition, it seems to me that Nietzsche explained the relevance of the overhuman by referring to a dimension which seems to be lacking in transhumanism. In order to explain my position, I will progress as follows. First, I will compare the concept of the posthuman to that of Nietzsche’s overhuman, focusing more on their similarities then on their differences. Second, I will contextualise the overhuman in Nietzsche’s general vision, so that I can point out which dimension seems to me to be lacking in transhumanist thought.
Nietzsche, the Overhuman, and Transhumanism – Journal of Evolution and Technology

Bio: Dr. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner is director and co-founder of the Beyond Humanism Network, Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) and teaches philosophy at the University of Erfurt. He studied philosophy at King’s College/University of London (BA), the University of Durham (MA by thesis; examiners: David E. Cooper, Durham ; David Owen, Southampton), the University of Giessen and the University of Jena (Dr. phil.; examiners: Wolfgang Welsch, Jena; Gianni Vattimo, Turin). In recent years, he taught at the Universities of Jena (Germany), Erfurt (Germany), Klagenfurt (Austria) and Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany). His main fields of research are Nietzsche, the philosophy of music, bioethics and meta-, post- and transhumanism.

 

sorgner

Also see David Pearce’s critique on whether Nietzsche was a transhumanist.
Various articles on transhumanism and Nietzsche at IEET.

Science, Technology & the Future

Meta: Overman / Übermensch, Will to Power & Transhumanism, The Last Man
2014 08 02 01 16 09

Was Friedrich Nietzsche a Transhumanist? A critique by David Pearce

Bioconservatives often quote a line from Nietzsche: “That which does not crush me makes me stronger.” But alas pain often does crush people: physically, emotionally, morally. Chronic, uncontrolled pain tends to make the victim tired, depressed and weaker. True, some people are relatively resistant to physical distress. For example, high testosterone function may make someone “tougher”, more “manly”, more resilient, and more able to deal with physically painful stimuli. But such strength doesn’t necessarily make the subject more empathetic or a better person. Indeed, if I may quote W. Somerset Maugham, “It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.”

To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not – that one endures.Friedrich Nietzsche - The Will to Power, p 481
You want, if possible – and there is no more insane “if possible” – to abolish suffering. And we? It really seems that we would rather have it higher and worse than ever. Well-being as you understand it – that is no goal, that seems to us an end, a state that soon makes man ridiculous and contemptible – that makes his destruction desirable. The discipline of suffering, of great suffering – do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far?Friedrich Nietzsche - Beyond Good and Evil, p 225
“I do not point to the evil and pain of existence with the finger of reproach, but rather entertain the hope that life may one day become more evil and more full of suffering than it has ever been.Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Of course, suffering doesn’t always enfeeble and embitter. By analogy, someone who is emotionally depressed may feel that despair is the only appropriate response to the horrors of the world. But the solution to the horrors of the world is not for us all to become depressed. Rather it’s to tackle the biology of depression. Likewise, the solution to the horrors of physical pain is not to flagellate ourselves in sympathy with the afflicted. Instead it’s to tackle the biological roots of suffering.

See also the article at IEET

i09 article on eliminating suffering

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