Metaethics is one of those fields where the wheels grind very, very slowly. I do think it’s making glacial progess. But just as there has been huge resistance over the centuries to the idea that God does not exist, so there has been huge resistance to the idea that there are no objective moral oughts, in the strong sense of “objective” that ordinary folk and many philosphers seem to want.
Transhumanism has a lot of opponents. Some people think we’re insane Robot Cultists drooling as we watch science-fiction movies and cowering in fear every time some aspect of our frail biology rears its head. Others think we’re immoral or philosophically confused or a hoard of imbeciles and will not deign to argue with us.
Civilizations always think they’re immortal, Eagleman noted, but they nearly always perish, leaving “nothing but ruins and scattered genetics.” It takes luck and new technology to survive. We may be particularly lucky to have Internet technology to help manage the six requirements of a durable civilization:
1. “Try not to cough on one another.” More humans have died from epidemics than from all famines and wars. Disease precipitated the fall of Greece, Rome, and the civilizations of the Americas. People used to bunch up around the infected, which pushed local disease into universal plague. Now we can head that off with Net telepresence, telemedicine, and medical alert networks. All businesses should develop a work-from-home capability for their workforce.
2. “Don’t lose things.” As proved by the destruction of the Alexandria Library and of the literature of Mayans and Minoans, “knowledge is hard won but easily lost.” Plumbing disappeared for a thousand years when Rome fell. Inoculation was invented in China and India 700 years before Europeans rediscovered it. These days Michelangelo’s David has been safely digitized in detail. Eagleman has direct access to all the literature he needs via PubMed, JSTOR, and Google Books. “Distribute, don’t reinvent.”
3. “Tell each other faster.” Don’t let natural disasters cascade. The Minoans perished for lack of the kind of tsunami alert system we now have. Countless Haitians in the recent earthquake were saved by Ushahidi.com, which aggregated cellphone field reports in real time.
4. “Mitigate tyranny.” The USSR’s collapse was made inevitable by state-controlled media and state-mandated mistakes such as Lysenkoism, which forced a wrong theory of wheat farming on 13 time zones, and starved millions. Now crowd-sourced cellphone users can sleuth out vote tampering. We should reward companies that stand up against censorship, as Google has done in China.
5. “Get more brains involved in solving problems.” Undertapping human capital endangers the future. Open courseware from colleges is making higher education universally accessible. Crowd-sourced problem solving is being advanced by sites such as PatientsLikeMe, Foldit (protein folding), and Cstart (moon exploration). Perhaps the next step is “society sourcing.”
6. “Try not to run out of energy.” When energy expenditure outweighs energy return, collapse ensues. Email saves trees and trucking. Online shopping is a net energy gain, with UPS optimizing delivery routes and never turning left. We need to expand the ability to hold meetings and conferences online.
But if the Net is so crucial, what happens if the Net goes down? It may have to go down a few times before we learn how to defend it properly, before we catch on that civilization depends on it for survival.
Respondents to a recently concluded IEET reader poll chose Dolphin as the animal whose consciousness they would most like to briefly inhabit. Given a dozen animals to choose from, Fish ranked dead last.
It’s all very well to enunciate lovely-sounding values like Joy, Growth and Choice ... but in real life we’re faced with difficult decisions. We’re faced with choosing one being’s joy over another’s, or choosing joy versus growth in a given situation, and so forth.
Over at Science Progress, Andrew Plemmons Pratt reports that US District Court Judge Robert Sweet handed down his judgment last week in the long-running dispute about gene patents. This case is based on litigation brought by a coalition of groups that have sought to challenge the controversial patents owned by Myriad Genetics on two genes connected to breast and ovarian cancer.
Transhumanists like to talk about immortality, anti-aging, and life-extension. These three ideas are often used interchangeably and for most debates, such as over issues of Malthusian catastrophes or existential boredom, they apply. But what if we only conquered the middle of the three; what if we could only slow the aging process, but not add years to our lives? What would the world look like? What would life be like?
Dr. J. chats with Alastair Hunt, professor of English at Portland State University, about the attempts to ground citizenship in humanness. This episode also contains the second half of an interview with Gary Greenberg about his book The Manufacturing of Depression. MP3
From On Point: In the age of the Internet, new worlds have flowered online — and giant communities engaged in virtual environments and role-playing games. The biggest of the massive multi-player online role-playing games is “World of Warcraft.” More than eleven million enthusiasts pay a monthly fee to immerse themselves in a vast digital world of elves and orcs and trolls and warfare. One of them is sociologist William Sims Bainbridge. Now he’s come out to say he may have found the future of human civilization in an online game.
The recent TED talk by Sam Harris brings important metaethical issues into the popular arena. Is there a way to establish the objectivity of morality, and in particular the objective bindingness of utilitarian morality?
While it may be impolitic now for technoprogressives to focus on uploading, for radical life extension advocates it is invaluable to have access to brief and compelling arguments in favor of the efficacy of such a process.
We’ve announced today that Kyle Munkittrick is joining the IEET in the position of Program Director: Envisioning the Future. So that you can get a better idea of who Kyle is and what he will bring to our organization, I conducted a brief online dialog with him.
Understanding human-technology relations is a project of significant import, both for transhumanists aiming to overcome our limitations through technological means and for ethicists interested in questions concerning technology’s influence on the human condition.
The beginning of the modern period in the pursuit of radical human enhancement and longevity can be traced to fin-de-siècle/early twentieth-century scientific and technological optimism and therapeutic activism.
Biologist and former Catholic priest Francisco J. Ayala has been awarded this year’s Templeton Prize for his work in affirming spirituality. His best-known popular book is probably Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, published in 2007.
The body has a lot of change to go through on the path to post-humanity. There is a lot of room for improvement and enhancement. Even with all of these cool improvements and enhancements though, my cynical side emerges. While these would be great, are we giving ourselves too much credit that the choices we will make on the route to post-humanity will be practical? Isn’t society a little more vain that that? Seriously? The desire for youth and beauty is by no means a new phenomenon.