After a former NSA contractor revealed extensive US government data mining operations, pundits, activists, and journalists proclaimed “I’m outraged the government would do this!” But there was also another type of response, though more muted. Some of us said “I sure as hell hope the government is doing this.”
Many people are concerned about our size and status in the universe. The universe is mind-bogglingly big, old, empty, and largely inhospitable to life; we are small, short-lived and confined to a remote and humdrum corner of it. This difference in scale is often thought to have some philosophical implications. In particular, it is thought to rob us of significance, meaning and value. But is this right?
A lot of people would like to live forever, or at least for much longer than they currently do. But there is one obvious impediment to this: our biological bodies break down over time and cannot (with current technologies) be sustained indefinitely. So what can be done to avoid our seemingly inevitable demise? For some, like Aubrey de Grey, the answer lies in tweaking and re-engineering our biological bodies. For others, the answer lies in the more radical solution of mind-uploading, or the technological replacement of our current biological bodies.
It should be self-evident that recent NSA revelations bring up some grave concerns about civil liberties. But they also raise other profound and troubling questions – about the privatization of our military, our inflated expectations for digital technology, and the increasingly cozy relationship between Big Corporations (including Wall Street) and Big Defense.
James lived a life of idle self-indulgence. He gambled, fornicated, drank his fill and ate the finest foods. The quintessential libertine. John, on the other hand, lived a life of charity and self-sacrifice. He worked to improve the lives of others, to relieve suffering, to combat poverty and illness. No doubt James had a good time, but surely John had the more meaningful life?
After 237 years, we’re becoming a colony again. Our nation’s losing the right to self-determination it fought so hard to win, and it’s happening on a scale unseen since the days of George III. As is so often the case these days, this wholesale loss of our rights is being underwritten by corporate interests. And, as usual, it’s being called “bipartisan” – by corporations who “buy” both Republican and Democratic “partisans.”
I’ve occasionally dipped my toe into the literature on the meaning of life and reported back my findings on this blog. I don’t know if anyone has found these reports to be interesting or worthwhile. I worry that my approach to the topic has been too piecemeal and unsystematic, gradually feeling its way into the key debates and concepts, without ever properly sketching out the broad theoretical topography. But perhaps that is the only way one can really learn about a topic like this.
Did you know that Apple Computer was a foreign entity? Did you know that it’s more Irish than anything else, at least as far as taxes are concerned? Or that it pays very little in income tax, even though its products wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for projects funded by U.S. taxes?
The new mindfulness extends to every area of life. Communication and romantic relationships often exist now on much improved ground compared to even a few years ago. Now friendship is under the spotlight.
For the purposes of this paper, I will only address one potential regulatory scheme, and only in conjunction with prosthetic enhancement available in the near future ( less than 10 years) that augments slightly, but not significantly, human biological capabilities. I will not address the convergence of technology and the regulatory scheme needed to address that.
News reports tell us that more than 500 people have now died and more than 2,500 were injured in Savar, Bangladesh, while the toll in West, Texas stands at 15 dead and over 200 injured. Behind these two disasters is a common thread of greed - and a common need for unionized resistance.
One benefit to society that neural augmentation brings is an increase in the availability of education. Websites like Wikipedia and databases of scholarly articles already give anyone with access to the Internet access to vast amounts of information on virtually any topic. Excellent schools like MIT, through their OpenCourseWare program, offer free online classes in many subjects. If the human brain is augmented as Kurzweil suggests, this educational benefit will become even more pronounced. People will be able to upload information directly into their minds, and will be able to retain vastly more information than they can now.
Prosthetic devices have helped restore functionality in humans who suffer from diseases requiring amputation or from limbs lost in battle for over three thousand years. I will begin this paper by explaining some of that historical journey. Next, I will highlight a few of the prosthetic devices available today to demonstrate that much, but not all, of that functionality can now be restored. Then I will explain what the future of prosthetic devices might look like if they faithfully adhere to Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns.
Is life absurd? Should we bother with it? Does it matter either way? Rightly or wrongly, Thomas Nagel’s 1971 article, “The Absurd”, is one of the most celebrated and widely-cited contributions to the literature on these questions. I certainly am struck by how frequently people refer to it in conversations I have with them about this topic. It seems like anyone with even a dim awareness of literature will have heard of Nagel’s piece.
Since the austerity crowd won't own up to a mistake, I will: I engaged in a kind of thought experiment last week, after we first learned that austerity economics is partly based on a spreadsheet error. I wondered, What if you were a government leader who sincerely believed those figures, or an economist who made the mistake of a lifetime? My empathy was misplaced. This discovery hasn't changed government policy one bit—at least not yet. Economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff seem surprisingly unremorseful. And austerity's paid pitchmen are still hawking their wares.
I’ve been meaning to recommend Michael Huemer’s latest book — The Problem of Political Authority — for some time. I don't have much to say about it, except that it is the most comprehensive and tightly-argued defence of political anarchism that I’ve ever come across.It is a book of two halves. In the first half, Huemer looks at the problem of political authority, which he says consists in two sub-problems. The first being the problem of political legitimacy, i.e. does the state have to make certain laws and enforce them by coercion? The second being the problem of political obligation, i.e. do people have an obligation to follow the laws made by the state?
Right now it’s Sunday afternoon. There is large pile of washed, but as yet un-ironed clothes on a seat in my living room. I know the ironing needs to be done, and I’ve tried to motivate myself to do it. Honestly. The ironing board is out, as is the iron, I have lots of interesting things I could watch or listen to while I do the ironing, and I have plenty of free time in which to do it. But instead I’m in my office writing this blog post. Why?
Corporate interests and their elected representatives have created a world of illusion in order to resist paying a decent wage to working Americans. They’d have us believe that minimum-wage workers are teens from ’50s TV sitcoms working down at the local malt shoppe.
It has oft been observed that people are uneasy about the prospect of advanced enhancement technologies. But what is the cause of this unease? Is there any rational basis to it? I’m currently trying to work my way through a variety of arguments to this effect. At the moment, I’m looking at Saskia Nagel’s article “Too Much of Good Thing? Enhancement and the Burden of self determination”, which appeared a couple of years back in the journal Neuroethics.
Okay, it’s been awhile but at long last I’m going to finish off my series on Michael Hauskeller’s article “Human Enhancement and the Giftedness of Life”. To recap, in this article Hauskeller tries to refine, rehabilitate, and reconstruct Sandel’s giftedness argument against enhancement. I’m covering this as part of an ongoing series of posts looking at hyperagency-based objections to enhancement.
Is there something disturbing about the drive for human enhancement? Is it unwise? Likely to reduce the quality and meaning of our lives? Likely to deprive us of something of great value? Several prominent philosophers argue that it is. Among them is Michael Sandel, who several years back argued that enhancement was unwise because it caused us to lose our appreciation for the giftedness of our lives. More precisely, he challenged proponents of enhancement on the grounds that its pursuit would give rise to a state of hyperagency, i.e. a state in which virtually every aspect of our lives is open to our control and manipulation.
A while back, I wrote a post about Michael Sandel’s case against human enhancement. As noted at the time, Sandel’s central claim was that enhancement was bad because it caused us to lose appreciation for the gifted nature of our lives. On the face of it, this doesn’t look to be a particularly persuasive argument, and indeed it has been repeatedly criticised in the literature since it was originally presented (see the earlier post for some examples of this). But maybe there is more to Sandel’s argument than meets the eye? Michael Hauskeller certainly seems to think so. In his 2011 article, “Human Enhancement and the Giftedness of Life”, he tries to rehabilitate, refine and reconstruct Sandel’s argument, defending it from common criticisms, and turning it into a powerful objection to the human enhancement project. Over the next few posts I want to take a fairly detailed look at Hauskeller’s attempted rehabilitation.
As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve recently begun reading two books on the ethics of human enhancement. One of those books is called Humanity’s End and it’s by Nicholas Agar. Agar seems like an interesting character. In an earlier book he defended a liberal position on positive eugenics. This suggested he had a willingness to embrace certain forms of enhancement. And yet in this book he offers an argument against radical human enhancement. There’s not necessarily an incompatibility between the two positions, but it’s an interesting shift nonetheless.
What makes receiving a badge for completing a task so exciting? Why does seeing a progress bar almost full make us itch until we finish it? Gamification—the combination of game-design principles and elements—implements cognitive psychology and decision-making theory as its scientific foundation. If gamification were stuffed shells, science is the shell, and everything else is stuffing.
This is the second part in my series looking at pornography and the free speech principle. The series is focusing on the arguments analysed in Andrew Koppelman’s article “Is Pornography “Speech”?”. In part one, we looked at Frederick Schauer’s argument. In this post, we will look at John Finnis’s one. Both authors suggest that pornography is not covered by the FSP.
This post considers whether or not pornography should be covered by the free speech principle (FSP). According to this principle, all (or most) forms of speech should be free from government censorship and regulation. But this raises the question: which types of symbolic productions are covered by the FSP? And is pornography among them?
Democratic Legitimacy and the Enhancement Project Klaming and Vedder (2010) have argued that enhancement technologies that improve the epistemic efficiency of the legal system (“epistemic enhancements”) would benefit the common good. But there are two flaws to Klaming and Vedder’s argument. First, they rely on an under-theorised and under-specified conception of the common good. When theory and specification are supplied, their CGJ for enhancing eyewitness memory and recall becomes significantly less persuasive. And second, although aware of such problems, they fail to give due weight and consideration to the tensions between the individual and common good.
A couple of weeks back, I looked at David Owens’s article “Disenchantment”. In this article, Owens argues that the ability to manipulate and control all aspects of human life — which is, arguably, what is promised to us by enhancement technologies — would lead to disenchantment. Those of you who read my analysis of Owens’s article will know that I wasn’t too impressed by his arguments. Since then I’ve been wondering whether there might be a better critique of enhancement, one which touches upon similar themes, but which is defended by more rigorous arguments.
This post is the second part in a short series about the meaning of life. The series is working primarily off Gianluca di Muzio’s article “Theism and the Meaning of Life”, which appeared in the journal Ars Disputandi back in 2006. However, I’m trying to develop some formal reconstructions of Di Muzio’s arguments so as to improve my understanding of the arguments in this debate. My central contention, which is worth keeping in mind while reading this post, is that the debate is concerned with finding the necessary and sufficient conditions for a life that is worth living (i.e. meaningful = worthwhile).