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Book Review: The Transhumanist Wager, by Zoltan Istvan


Chris T. Armstrong


Ethical Technology

August 24, 2013

If you want a dispassionate, unbiased, detached, “objective” examination of the book’s plot, character development, literary style, form, etc., look elsewhere. I will not give you a synopsis of the plot and describe all the main personalities and relationships between the characters. Many other reviewers have done this already. I am going to tell you a bit of what I love about the story and characters, but mostly I will help you to modulate your expectations so that you will be clear as to what this book is and is not. Armed with this information, you may be able to get more out of it than you would have, had you approached it with whatever set of expectations you would have brought to it prior to reading this “review.”


...

Complete entry


COMMENTS



Posted by Giulio Prisco  on  08/25  at  05:24 AM

Chris, great review.

Re “I am a serious nerd and transhumanist and these are my people. I am from their tribe. We are comrades in the same “struggle.” Not a “class struggle” but a struggle to take charge of human evolution and see it through to the next level. Not as a post-human, but as a post-biological being, while retaining the human qualities we choose to and leaving our bio-limitations behind.”

I totally agree, this is our tribe, and these are our people.

Re “transhumanists merely want to be able to work on advancing the human condition through technology and new scientific discoveries to the future benefit of everyone who would like to partake of them.”

I agree, but this is not what Jethro does in the novel. On the contrary, after murdering a lot of innocent bystanders, he becomes a dictator and forces everyone to follow him. His ways are not the ways of Gandhi, but those of Stalin.

Some may think that the end justifies the means, you don’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs and all that, and so the actions of Stalin/Jethro are a necessary evil to create a better world. But to me, transhumanism is defined by its emphasis of autonomy and self-ownership of everyone, and therefore it is intrinsically incompatible with an authoritarian state.

It is easy to affirm the right to freedom for you, and for your tribe. Much more difficult is to affirm the right of freedom for everyone, including those who don’t belong to your tribe and don’t agree with its principles.

Of course, if we are attacked we will have to defend ourselves, but I really hope that we will be able to avoid the Transhumanist Wager scenario.





Posted by dobermanmac  on  08/25  at  09:13 AM

I am very familiar with Atlas Shrugged (and the precursor The Fountainhead), and have also read The Transhumanist Wage (although only once).  Comparing the two is an interesting literary device.  The difference is that the hero in TW specifically created an organization to dominate, whereas the hero in AS specifically created an organization to escape domination.  Furthermore, the stakes in AS were only freedom, whereas the stakes in TW are much bigger: immortality and omnipotence.

BTW, I am so sick of hearing all the wimps and pussies whining about the methods Jethro Knight used to dominate and win.  Get over it - you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet.  He could just as well (and much easier I might add) have created a virus with a vaccine, and wiped out all the people outside his city (perhaps rescuing a few worthy ones).

Dominance/submission is never pretty, and those with weak intestinal fortitude might as well submit now to the tyrant’s inevitable logic: “be reasonable and do what I say.”  Immortality only comes to those who are fit for it.





Posted by Giulio Prisco  on  08/25  at  09:22 AM

@dobermanmac re “I am so sick of hearing all the wimps and pussies whining about the methods Jethro Knight used to dominate and win”

Get over it - some of us are wimps and pussies who don’t like tyrants, domination, and genocide.

re “The difference is that the hero in TW specifically created an organization to dominate, whereas the hero in AS specifically created an organization to escape domination.”

That’s why I prefer John Galt to Jethro Knights.





Posted by hankpellissier  on  08/25  at  10:31 AM

This is my favorite review so far, of Zoltan’s book, which I immensely enjoy.

I agree with dobermanmac’s comment : “BTW, I am so sick of hearing all the wimps and pussies whining about the methods Jethro Knight used to dominate and win.  Get over it”

The book is chock-full of transhumanist philosophy that we all agree upon, but many transhumanists seem hesitant about using actual forcefulness to attain the goals.

their reward for hesitancy, cowardice, laziness, passivity, and over-concern for the “rights” of non-transhumanists - would just be… DEATH.

Jethro’s philosophy is simple to understand. He wants eternal life at any cost.  Sure it’s ruthless… but… people who oppose the book’s message, are they just saying:

“I would like eternal life, but not if it causes any inconvenience to people who disagree with me.”

I didn’t see a big “body count” in Jethro’s book. He doesn’t kill a lot of people to get what he wants, unless they happened to be inside the religious monuments that he destroyed.





Posted by Giulio Prisco  on  08/25  at  10:36 AM

@hankpellissier re “He doesn’t kill a lot of people to get what he wants, unless they happened to be inside the religious monuments that he destroyed.”

Hitler didn’t kill a lot of people, unless they happened to be inside the concentration camps.





Posted by Intomorrow  on  08/25  at  10:51 AM

Hitler personally didn’t kill anyone, but during his war:
his generals, officers and soldiers under him killed millions
in combat on the ground, via bombings from the air,
as well as in the concentration camps.





Posted by Giulio Prisco  on  08/25  at  10:52 AM

hankpellissier re ““I would like eternal life, but not if it causes any inconvenience to people who disagree with me.”

I have no issue with Jethro using whatever means to defend his right to pursue eternal life, but I have many issues with his forcing his worldview on others.





Posted by hankpellissier  on  08/25  at  11:04 AM

Hi Giulio - it is clear, both in the book and in actual meat-space, that there are forces - primarily religious - that want to keep transhumanists from technologically achieving radical life extension.

Fundamentalist religions (based on Fear of Hell) will lose their membership if death is technologically overcome.

So, as the book points out - there is a Power Struggle between transhumanists who want Death defeated via technology, and religionists who see that goal as sinful, as “cheating God” etc.

I know there are people like that, my parents for example. I offered them some resveratrol 4 years ago, they wouldn’t touch it. They are aiming for “Heaven.”

Zoltan’s book IMO suggests that this polarity and tension will escalate, and people will need to choose sides.





Posted by advancedatheist  on  08/25  at  12:23 PM

@Guilio:

Zoltan’s novel reminded me of the 1930’s film “Things to Come,“where Jethro Knights acts a lot of like Raymond Massey’s character John Cabal. Both Knights and Cabal want to straighten out a dysfunctional world by organizing the geeks to take down the politicians and warriors, and then create a technocratic utopia on the ruins.





Posted by dobermanmac  on  08/25  at  12:31 PM

@Giulio Prisco Passive resistance is soooo effective that I don’t blame you for “prefer[ing] John Galt to Jethro Knights.”  What I wonder is whether you would be willing to fight for your eternal life.  Survival of the fittest doesn’t mean survival of the most just.





Posted by Giulio Prisco  on  08/25  at  01:16 PM

@dobermanmac re “What I wonder is whether you would be willing to fight for your eternal life.”

Of course. But I would not fight to impose my ideas on others. Live and let live.

@Hank re “there is a Power Struggle between transhumanists who want Death defeated via technology, and religionists who see that goal as sinful, as “cheating God” etc.”

If they don’t try to force me to stop trying to defeat death via technology, I will not try to force them to stop believing in whatever they want to believe.

If I were Zoltan I would have written a different end of the story: Transhumania becomes a spaceship, and Jethro and friends move somewhere in space where they can live free.





Posted by hankpellissier  on  08/25  at  02:16 PM

Hi Giulio—I very much like your idea of an ending where Transhumania goes into space. That would have worked for me as well.

Personally, I think the future will be determined in China and East Asia. With massive investment in research, development and higher education, the Chinese will lead advances in science & medical technology, and market their longevity breakthroughs to the rest of the world.

The Transhumanist’s Wager is an imaginative novel set in an historical time period where the West is still dominant. But the reality IMO is that Euro-American tech, politics and philosophy are waning fast - superseded by East Asia with its own ways of thinking.

Libertarianism and Transhumanism are Western notions that I don’t forsee as being very relevant in 20 years.

In education, if one reads the results of PISA and TIMMS testing, the East Asian nations completely dominate the West. East Asia is building “human capital” at a speed and with a determination that can’t be matched in the West.





Posted by Maya  on  08/25  at  02:18 PM

I take fiction at face value.. In a story, terrible deeds can be portrayed and picturized (filmed in the mind’s eye), but after all..it’s fiction.

It gets dangerous (imo) if fiction were to turn into manifesto.

I believe in converting via example. Expending resources and energy into researching and using science to heal (mind and physical body) rather than wage war. After all, if work is done in silence and the output is immortality, there’s no need to wage war against the “naturals”

...but then again, I write fiction.





Posted by Chris T. Armstrong  on  08/25  at  02:43 PM

I’m very happy to see all the comments so far and I will respond to some specific things later, but since the G-word (genocide) was used already, I’m afraid I’m going to have to subject you to the same chapter-and-verse refutation of that criticism I gave to someone else earlier this morning online…

(For those who haven’t read the book, there be MANY spoilers below.)

One definition of genocide (from Wikipedia): Genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, Caste, religious, or national group.”

Yes, there is attempted genocide in this book, but it is coming from the EXACT OPPOSITE direction from what you have alleged.

You will not find anywhere in this book that any group is deliberately targeted for destruction by the leader of the transhumanists, Jethro Knights, merely because they are a member of a particular group. Rather, they are killed because they have declared war and attacked the transhumanists. You will, however, find REPEATED examples of religious extremist groups and the governments of many countries targeting transhumanists for destruction…GENOCIDE…as a GROUP.

Many scientists are murdered by terrorists BECAUSE of the group they are a part of - transhumanists - and the Navies of many countries surround the transhumanist city and fire an all-out missile attack in an attempt to totally destroy it and wipeout an entire group of people - BECAUSE of the group they belonged to - including about 10,000 of the world’s top scientists and engineers for the CAPITAL CRIME of what?…wait for it…DOING SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING. And after that failed, many world governments targeted them for NUCLEAR annihilation because they were transhumanists.

Yes, you will also find innocent people being killed in this war (WHICH WAS DECLARED ON THE TRANSHUMANISTS WHO ONLY WANTED TO BE LEFT ALONE TO CREATE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY THAT THE WHOLE WORLD EVENTUALLY BENEFITTED FROM), as innocent people are killed in ALL wars, but they are not killed because they are unworthy, or weak, or stupid or don’t “contribute to the goals of transhumanism.”

To the contrary, Knights widely publishes the exact times and locations of his planned counterattacks, REPEATEDLY in the media, SPECIFICALLY to minimize the amount of innocent loss of life.

From the book:

“We will attempt to avoid casualties to the populace. Infrastructure will be left untouched wherever possible.”…“We want to TEACH the people of the outside world, not DESTROY them; we want to CONVINCE them, not DICTATE them; we want them to JOIN us, not FIGHT us.”

If these are the words of a genocidal maniac, he appears to be the LAMEST genocidal maniac in history. He should have his Genocidal Maniac Card revoked IMMEDIATELY.

The people who ended up dying in these attacks were those who insisted on staying at a targeted site in spite of Jethro’s REPEATED warnings.

Yes, there comes a time in the book where, after REPEATED attacks on the transhumanists and threats of future ESCALATED attacks, Jethro tells his attackers that if they attack one more time and with even greater force, he will “annihilate” them…the people attacking him, NOT the entire world of “unfit” people. In this scenario, are the transhumanists the aggressors attempting a genocide or are they defending themselves against a genocidal aggressor?

This is clearly self-defense. They had been pushed to the limit and needed to remove a constant threat. And it must be pointed out that he never did annihilate them. To the contrary, he tried to kill as few people and only as many of the “right” ones as necessary. Please recall that when the transhumanists successfully defended themselves against the world’s great Navies that attacked them, they sent out boats to rescue as many survivors as they could.

This was not the course that the transhumanists wanted, but the rest of the world continually escalated their WAR on them and showed NO SIGNS letting up on their attempted GENOCIDE of them, so the transhumanists, with their superior technology and tactics, had little choice but to de-fang this GENOCIDAL MONSTER and replace its world dominance with a system that would bring progress and a great improvement in the quality of life to the world in general.

Knights says to the transhumanists: “...take the inventions, technologies, discoveries, and new fields of science we have created here and share them. Share them all: the cures for cancers, the anti-aging innovations, the aerospace advancements, the biotech tissues, the neurotech enhancements, the microchip improvements, the robotic technologies; anything and everything that will kick-start their economies, spawn new commerce, and enhance relations with the world’s people.”

Again, this sounds like no genocidal dictator I’ve ever heard of, but maybe I’m weird. wink

So really, let’s not sling the G-word around so matter-of-factly.

If you absolutely INSIST on mentioning genocide, however, it would be TOTALLY accurate to mention the attempted genocide by the many world governments against the transhumanists.

Make sense?





Posted by Giulio Prisco  on  08/26  at  03:14 AM

@Chris T. Armstrong re “Again, this sounds like no genocidal dictator I’ve ever heard of, but maybe I’m weird”

Tens of thousands of innocent bystanders are murdered in useless symbolic actions (destroying places of worship everywhere). If that is not genocide, I think we are not using the same language.





Posted by Chris T. Armstrong  on  08/26  at  05:16 PM

@Guilio Prisco

Well then, let’s find some common ground by looking at someone that EVERYONE can agree is guilty of genocide: Hitler.

Imagine if Hitler had used the Jethro Knights approach: Announced repeatedly, through the media that at all of his various gas chambers in different countries he was going to turn on the deadly gas at particular locations, on particular days and times.

And after all of those warnings, at one of his locations a bunch of people purposefully showed-up so they could be there when the gas was released and they died.

If this had been Hitler’s story, he would not be the number-one most famous genocidal murderer in history. He would be a footnote about some lunatic who wanted to be a genocidal dictator but was so STUPID that he warned people about his gassings so they could easily avoid becoming a victim, and about some other suicidal lunatics who delivered themselves to be gassed at ONE of the locations. No Holocaust. No charge of GENOCIDE. Just a bizarre event.

Remember, genocide is the intentional destruction of a particular group of people who were selected BECAUSE they belonged to that particular group. Knights’ CLEAR intention was to destroy these places without ANYONE getting killed. That’s why he warned the ENTIRE WORLD of exactly when it was going to happen. And the WHOLE WORLD listened except a few hundred irrational people.

Knights didn’t select any particular group of people to be killed, because of their ethnicity, or because they were homosexuals or gypsies, as Hitler did. The people who placed themselves at the targeted site, selected THEMSELVES. This was a MASS-SUICIDE, not a genocide.

The book says that “hundreds” of people, including the Pope, chose to be at the Vatican at the time when the bombing was scheduled. They were all killed. In addition to all the previous warnings, the people at the Vatican “were repeatedly warned by the police and the media to depart the area.”

Many other places were destroyed after the Vatican but there was no mention of any other people intentionally placing themselves in the path of those bombs, so it appears that these few hundred people made themselves the EXCEPTION to this otherwise casualty-free operation.

As far as it being a “useless symbolic action,” I would propose that Knights had a PRAGMATIC reason for doing this and not merely a symbolic one. Remember that this was right after the transhumanists had successfully defended themselves in a war declared on them by an alliance between religious people and many governments.

Just as after WWII, the victors didn’t let Germans continue to use all their Nazi buildings to hold Nazi meetings, and they didn’t let the Japanese Emperor, who some (most?) Japanese people believed to be a god, just carry on with business as usual, retaining all his power and status, Knights wanted to erase the infrastructure and, yes, some symbols, of the two forces that had banded together to TRY to commit, yes, GENOCIDE, on the transhumanists.

He didn’t want government and religion to have their same old places to congregate at and start-up their shenanigans all over again. They had already proven themselves to be a TOXIC MIXTURE of fearful bronze-age mythologies and military power. They miscalculated and lost the war and were no longer in charge…and Knights intended to keep it that way.





Posted by Rick Searle  on  08/26  at  07:25 PM

I have not read the Transhumanist Wager, but did find elements,
as discussed on Singularity 1 troubling:

http://www.singularityweblog.com/zoltan-istvan-the-transhumanist-wager-is-a-choice-well-all-have-to-make/

But I’ll bring up something else. Why the assumed conflict between even a vastly increased human longevity and traditional religion?

No large religion that I can think of opposed the near DOUBLING of human longevity over the 20th century, so why would they naturally stand opposed to increases in human longevity unless, that is, transhumanist enable such a conflict by using religious rhetoric and ideas like immortality, and present themselves as the only vehicle for “spiritual” truth?

In a bar room brawl between a religious guy and a trans-humanist I wouldn’t comfortably wager on the trans-humanist. The religious guy, after all, thinks he is loosing much less if he losses his life while the trans-humanist has everything on the table.

Better, I think, to find common ground with religion in terms of social goals which might include increased longevity itself. After all, if only for mundane ends- religions want to keep their believers around for as long as possible like every other human institution that is not a suicide cult. 





Posted by Intomorrow  on  08/26  at  11:33 PM

“If this had been Hitler’s story, he would not be the number-one most famous genocidal murderer”

Chris, your’s is a comprehensive comment; merely one critique concerning the above quote: we cannot say for sure Hitler was the most genocidal muderer, or even the most famous. What Hitler did was set off WWII in Europe, which also took pressure off Japan so it could conquer much of Asia: the West was busy with Europe and had less time and resources for tackling Japan.
Also, though this is a niggling point, Hitler didn’t usually order his lackeys to kill: he would say “pacify Poland by all necessary means”, and his people did the rest. So they couldn’t seriously claim they “ver just followink orders.”
What they could claim was that Hitler was a charismatic man who was intelligent and extremely persuasive. Was Hitler evil? If evil is defined as lacking justice, yes—but by this definition so was Stalin. And so were the Third Reich’s allies: Romania, Slovakia, etc. (To this day eastern Europe is more overtly racist and homophobic than the West).
BTW, America’s incinerating peasants in Vietnam with Napalm was as evil as anything the totalists did.. it was lacking in justice. However unlike what the totalists did, it is considered water under the bridge because America is supposedly the greatest nation in the world and could roast peasants with Napalm if such was considered tactically correct at the time. When you’re God’s country, you get a pass when cooking human flesh.





Posted by Chris T. Armstrong  on  08/28  at  01:10 AM

@Rick Searle

“Why the assumed conflict between even a vastly increased human longevity and traditional religion?”

I think the reason it doesn’t make sense to you is because you seem to be viewing life-extension as the sole or maybe just the PRIMARY focus/pursuit of transhumanism, while it actually encompasses a lot of other ideas and technologies, elements of which can produce a, shall we say, DYSPHORIC state in people with an extreme/fundamentalist kind of religiosity.

More than the effort to dramatically increase life/health span, it is the inevitable consequence of this increase once it approaches an extreme level that irks them in a very fundamental way and that is: IMMORTALITY, which you alluded to later in your post.

From the book:

“Opponents said transhumanism and its immortality mantra were anti-theistic, immoral, not humanitarian, and steeped in blasphemous egoism. They insisted that significantly altering the human condition and people’s bodies via science and technology was the devil’s work, regardless of how lucrative it might be for the economy. Many opponents said transhumanism was proof the end times was coming. Others labeled it ‘the world’s most dangerous idea.’”

In addition, early in the book, two major figures in transhumanism are talking:

“They want to burn us at the stake,” Langmore whispered, when he caught a glimpse of the rowdy masses near the rotunda’s front entrance. Barricaded by dozens of nervous police, an ocean of screaming, faith-touting protesters thrust incendiary posters into the air.
“Well, we *do* want to kill their god.”
“I thought you just wanted to clone it.”

As ALWAYS, it is the most mentally-challenged extremists who are the issue. The moderate, live-and-let-live religious sects are not the problem.

The author, Zoltan Istvan, has said that he got the nature and tone of the religious opposition in the book by researching present-day religious extremists’ paranoiac views on transhumanism. It’s quite easy to find hysterically fearful religion-centered anti-transhumanism rants online today. I run across them on YouTube all the time while searching for things of a Singularitarian/transhumanist nature.

He also said that the escalated fervor of the opposition in the book, relative to the present time, is of a time that he projects to be 5-10 years in the future.

Right now, news about The Singularity and transhumanism is increasing but still fairly subdued and sparse. When news of human enhancements of various kinds are reported, they are still somewhat “incremental” or at least not so grand or paradigm-toppling that they cause a huge disturbance in the Zeitgeist-Force-thingy.

However, as the breakthroughs begin to pick up in frequency and game-changing-ness and to the extent that they begin to encroach into more and more territory that extremely religious people have always considered to be their ordained monopolistic domain, the push-back is expected to increase immensely.

Some transhumanists openly mock and generally refuse to give deference to gods of ALL persuasions. They also propose that religions are obsolete, harmful, and superfluous in a transhumanist future and should be done away with. This kind of intolerance will not be tolerated by the most rabid religious zealots.

In the book, there is a heated discussion between the leader of the transhumanists and the leader of the religious opposition:

Belinas declared, “That’s so typical of your overman breed, of which you are its chief architect and philosopher. Your problem is that you’re not an atheist; you’re not even an antitheist. You’re an apatheist—one who doesn’t care to find out if he should know God.”
“That’s true,” Jethro answered simply. “It’s just not an expedient use of my time. I have too much value in my own life for the need to consider, or want, anything else.”
“You’ve never been fearful you might be wrong about that? You’ve never been afraid you might miss out on knowing the Creator of the universe?”
“Nope. Never.”

Can you imagine the reactions of some particularly aggressive and ideology-addled future gang of Muslim extremist mental patients as they become more and more aware of the existence and activities of transhumanists who reject their precious Mohammed and even Allah himself as nothing but useless bronze-age mythological figures and create new technologies that muck with God’s greatest creation and never turn toward Mecca to bow down and pray and probably even let women DRIVE, for Pete’s sake? These infidels must DIE!

You said: “In a bar room brawl between a religious guy and a trans-humanist I wouldn’t comfortably wager on the trans-humanist. The religious guy, after all, thinks he is loosing much less if he losses his life while the trans-humanist has everything on the table.”

Yes. For the vast majority of the world, who have accepted the inevitability of their death in a few decades or years (and are sometimes derogatorily referred to as “death-ists” by transhumanists), their death is not NEARLY as big of a deal to them as it is for a transhumanist. A death-ist has a few years to lose, so it is MUCH easier to find a few other things that they may place a greater value on than the preservation of their life, while a transhumanist believes s/he will miss out on a chance for physical IMMORTALITY if they fail to preserve their life above “all else.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher in the transhumanist hierarchy of values. In the book, the First Law of Transhumanism is:
“A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.”

Yes. Finding common ground is preferable to waring with each other and with religious moderates this seems at least possible. It remains to be seen whether this can be done with the most inveterately strident of the religious folk, however.

We shall see…





Posted by Chris T. Armstrong  on  08/28  at  01:58 AM

@Intomorrow

LOL grin <chuckling>
[I’m not ridiculing your point. It just strikes me as very funny for some reason…you can always count on a, “Well, ACTUALLY…” response online, even when you think you have solidly settled “facts” on your side.]

It’s hilarious to me that we can’t even get universal agreement on the preeminent grandeur of Hitler in the Genocidal Maniac Pantheon.

OK, I take your correction that he doesn’t necessarily posses the highest statistical rating on his collector’s card in the Greatest Figures in Genocide series.

I guess I was going by a more colloquial/anecdotal impression that I get when almost everyone (amongst us laypeople) eventually pulls out Hitler as the #1 poster boy for genocide.

So much so that it was necessary to create, Godwin’s Law…“Godwin said that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.”

…and the fact that WWII has become the quintessential example of a “just war” because Hitler was such a universally agreed upon example of a supreme genocidal-istic—I just made that word up wink—icon and all-around “dick-wad.”

But, in the future, I shall refer to him as a “pretty good” example of genocidal INTENT, if not one of personal, hands-on followthrough…“one among many,” an “also ran”…more of a Reagan-esque, macro-manager, so to speak. wink





Posted by Rick Searle  on  08/28  at  09:30 AM

@Chris:

Again, I am not quite comfortable commenting without reading the book, but will risk it in any case.

It seems to me that this idea of apocalyptic war between religion and trans-humanism seems to come right out of Christianity itself only Zoltan and others have merely switched the characters around.

We need to critically look at those assumptions. Religion hasn’t mounted a significant challenge- or even cared all that much about- all the incredible changes due to technology we have ALREADY had- “flying machines” “horseless carriages” “open heart surgery”. Muslims didn’t protest all that much when we landed on the sacred moon. The Church doesn’t excommunicate the majority of its members who use birth control technology despite it prohibitions etc, etc.

“Can you imagine the reactions of some particularly aggressive and ideology-addled future gang of Muslim extremist mental patients as they become more and more aware of the existence and activities of transhumanists who reject their precious Mohammed and even Allah himself as nothing but useless bronze-age mythological figures and create new technologies that muck with God’s greatest creation and never turn toward Mecca to bow down and pray and probably even let women DRIVE, for Pete’s sake? These infidels must DIE!”

This is not meant to be sharp – but have you actually ever spoken with a Muslim? Muslim have been aware that others do not believe in Allah or “never turn toward Mecca” since they existed. They have always existed in a world of pluralistic beliefs. The monotheistic religions already posit that other religions are “false” and atheism has been around for a long time. 

The major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism are enormously flexible institutions and have proven capable of assimilating almost anything. The better wager would be in them absorbing transhumanist features as well- not in them having to engage in a war to the death.

I do, however, see a danger point on the question of equality. Religion might actually come to the side of those left out of likely technological gains including taking a moral stance in defense of the young as opposed to the old.

Yet this is only likely to happen if trans-humanist/ techno-progressive fail to see these problems as central and adequately address them in the first place. There is no need to go looking for bogey-men. We have met the enemy and it is ourselves.   





Posted by Chris T. Armstrong  on  08/28  at  11:16 AM


@Rick Searle

I think the important difference in this scenario is that the kinds of technological progress you mentioned that religious people didn’t balk at in the past, were not so fundamentally paradigm-destroying as far as the nature of what it is to be human and whether we may no longer even be considered “human” by some people as we upload our consciousness into other “processing media”; can merge with other consciousnesses; concepts of a dualistic soul fall by the wayside; gender becomes irrelevant or fluid and can be changed at will; and a slew of even more fanciful projections of future extreme post-bio/human possibilities, which people openly speculate about today. If this kind of thing freaks one out, there is no shortage of freakout-fuel to be had and it is only going to increase.

The author, in interviews, has said however, that he doesn’t see this scenario to be a forgone conclusion. It is a cautionary tale of what COULD happen if we go down one possible path. But, he sees hope in the younger generations who seem to be less bound by ancient religious ideas and are generally more open to technology since it is just a natural thing for them. His hope is that the older generations just die out before they can raise much of a fuss and it’ll be much smoother sailing with the next generations.

He also acknowledges that this myopic religious view is much worse in America than in many other parts of the world like Canada, Scandinavia and other parts of western Europe, Japan (I would guess), etc., where religion is culturally very marginal.

And yes, I know MANY Muslims (many of my teachers and friends from India and Africa are Muslim), but I was not talking about THEM: The MAJORITY of SANE Muslims who are no danger to anyone and whom I regularly defend against people who place all Muslims in one suspect terroristic category. I was VERY careful to specify the precise subset of Muslims I was talking about: a “particularly aggressive and ideology-addled future gang of Muslim extremist mental patients.” I consider religious extremism of ALL denominations to be “a form of mental illness” or, slightly more charitably, to be “a form of mental DECREPITUDE” at the very least. People who believe it is perfectly rational to behead people for minor infractions that the rest of the world doesn’t even view as crimes, are nothing more than a gang of ideologically-poisoned Medieval mental patients and deserve to be called-out as such by the rest of the SANE world.





Posted by Rick Searle  on  08/28  at  02:00 PM

@Chris:

“I think the important difference in this scenario is that the kinds of technological progress you mentioned that religious people didn’t balk at in the past, were not so fundamentally paradigm-destroying as far as the nature of what it is to be human and whether we may no longer even be considered “human” by some people as we upload our consciousness into other “processing media”; can merge with other consciousness; concepts of a dualist soul fall by the wayside; gender becomes irrelevant or fluid and can be changed at will…”

I think this assumes a kind of vertical takeoff or ease of near term technological feasibility that seems unlikely. We’re pretty far from uploading the mind, we’re not even sure how the brain of the lowly worm c elegans works and we’ve had a complete map of its brain since 1986.

http://incubator.rockefeller.edu/?p=730

Cracking the genome didn’t lead straight to Gattica, but so far at least, has been a bust. I could go on…

All of the problems transhumanists are proposing we solve are “wicked"problems and likely to both take a very long time to solve, not all be solved, or be solved in ways we can’t predict. Religion, en mass, will have a long time to adjust to any qualitative changes in the human condition as a consequence.

There will always be a minority of fanatics in any group- even trans-humanist, I should add. No war between trans-humanism and religion is predetermined unless, that is, trans-humanist keep writing books in which they blow up the Vatican.





Posted by Chris T. Armstrong  on  08/28  at  03:54 PM

Yeah, if it were a vertical or “hard” takeoff, some (a lot of?) people would really “lose their shit.” But I wasn’t assuming that. I was just thinking that one or two impressive successes COMBINED with wild speculation and declarations of INTENSIONS by some transhumanists could inspire some zealots to try to stop it BEFORE it could get to the more scary levels, particularly if they believe the more aggressive timelines of Kurzweil, et al, that say that BIG improvements in longevity, human-level AI, and “whole brain emulation” may be only a few decades away.

I tend to think that even the impending “threat” of these things can set some people off, based on the near apocalyptic and greatly fearful interpretations of this stuff that can be easily found on the web today and we’re just at an embryonic stage of transhumanism right now.

Of course, I could be over-thinking it and could be entirely WRONG…which is THEORETICALLY possible, since I HAVE been wrong once or twice before. wink

Haha…YES, maybe you could make a case that this story may end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy judging by the amount and level of vitriol in the hate-mail Zoltan Istvan has reported receiving.

We shall see…






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