Adam Ford records IEET Fellow David Pearce talking about desire and suffering in relation to Buddhism and Jainism. Published on August 09, 2014.
“May all that have life be delivered from suffering”, said Gautama Buddha. The vision of a happy biosphere isn’t new. Jains, for instance, aim never to hurt another sentient being by word or deed. But all projects of secular and religious utopianism have foundered on the rock of human nature. Evolution didn’t design us to be happy.
Yet the living world is poised for a major evolutionary transition. Natural selection has thrown up a species able to self-edit its own genetic source code; phase out experience below “hedonic zero”; and engineer the well-being of all sentience in our forward light-cone. Intelligent agents will shortly be able to pre-select their own hedonic range: its upper and lower bounds, and hedonic set-points. Posthuman life can be animated by gradients of intelligent bliss - a default hedonic tone orders of magnitude richer than today’s peak experiences.
Why Does Suffering Exist?
No one knows why suffering exists at all. To the best of our knowledge, unpleasant experience doesn’t play any irreplaceable or computationally unique role in intelligent agents. Inorganic robots can be programmed or trained up to avoid and respond to noxious stimuli without undergoing subjective distress. Likewise, nonbiological machines can functionally replicate the role of our nastier core emotions without their “raw feels” - the ugly implementation detail that blights so many lives today.
Fortunately, solving the problem of suffering doesn’t depend on our first solving the Hard Problem of consciousness. Neuroscanning and the tools of molecular biology are deciphering the “neural correlates of consciousness”. If we use biotechnology to eradicate the molecular signature of experience below “hedonic zero”, then on some fairly modest assumptions, phenomenal suffering becomes physically impossible.
So a practical question arises. Which existing psychological functions should we enrich, replicate or scrap? What kinds of function are best offloaded onto smart prostheses rather than biologically tweaked? Ideally, adaptations such as a predisposition to jealous behaviour might be abolished along with their nasty subjective textures. Such Darwinian traits have few defenders, even among bioconservatives. Other roles, notably nociception, will presumably be functionally essential for sentient beings to flourish for the foreseeable future - and perhaps indefinitely. Initially, preimplantation genetic screening of prospective children can ensure tomorrow’s humans are endowed with benign, “low-pain” alleles of e.g. the SCN9A(1) gene to modulate pain-sensitivity. People blessed with high pain tolerance aren’t vulnerable to the life-threatening information-processing deficits of congenital analgesia. Eventually, the avoidance of noxious stimuli can be offloaded onto smart inorganic prostheses, allowing life based entirely on information-sensitive gradients of bliss.
Jul 28, 2014
Enhancing Virtues: Building the Virtues Control Panelby J. Hughes
We have already taken the first steps towards virtue engineering. We already take stimulants to get on top of our day in the morning, and to stay alert when we need to be. We give sex offenders testosterone suppression, alcoholics drugs that make them nauseous if they drink, lap bands for those who can’t control their weight, and anti-psychotics for mentally ill criminals. We just aren’t very precise about our moral engineering yet. The next steps will come from advances in brain science to understand the levers of our moral sentiments and behaviors, and how to push them with targeted nanomaterial-enabled pharmaceuticals and nano-neural interfaces.
Jul 16, 2014
Cyborg BuddhaAdam Ford
IEET Board member Mike LaTorra - a Zen priest and author of A Warrior Blends with Life: A Modern Tao - runs the Trans-Spirit list promoting discussion of neurotheology, neuroethics, techno-spirituality and altered states of consciousness.
IEET Executive Director James Hughes - a former Buddhist monk and attenuated Buddho-Unitarian - is writing a book tentatively titled Cyborg Buddha: Using Neurotechnology to Become Better People.
IEET Board member George Dvorsky - a practicing Buddhist - writes and podcasts frequently from a rationalist, transhumanist, and Buddhist point of view, winning him an award this year as one of the best Buddhist blogs.
The three of us are launching the IEET Cyborg Buddha Project to combine our efforts and promote discussion of the impact that neuroscience and emerging neurotechnologies will have on happiness, spirituality, cognitive liberty, moral behavior and the exploration of meditational and ecstatic states of mind.
Jul 15, 2014
Buddhism & TranshumanismAdam Ford
Adam Ford interviews IEET Director, Mike LaTorra about Buddhism & Transhumanism.
Mike LaTorra writes and teaches in Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA. He is author of A Warrior Blends with Life: A Modern Tao. He serves as President of the Daibutsuji Zen Temple, and is on the Board of Directors of the IEET and Humanity+.
Jun 11, 2014
Your Digital Afterlivesby Eric Steinhart
Most transhumanists are already familiar with digitalism, even if they haven’t heard the name. Digitalism uses ideas from computer science to develop new ways of thinking about old topics. Writers like Ed Fredkin, Hans Moravec, Frank Tipler, Nick Bostrom, and Ray Kurzweil are digitalists. Typically, digitalists are scientists, rationalists, naturalists, and atheists. Nevertheless, they have worked out novel and deeply meaningful ways of thinking about things like ghosts, souls, gods, resurrection, and reincarnation.
May 28, 2014
Consciousness Engineer Mikey Siegel Joins IEET as Affiliate Scholar
Mikey is a roboticist who is promoting the idea of Consciousness Hacking which, in the spirit of the Maker Movement, encourages people to build new tools for exploring and altering the way we think, feel and live.
May 12, 2014
Buddhism and Science: Toward a 3-dimensional science of the mind (54 min)Voices from Oxford
Alan Wallace speaks at a 2-day colloquium on Buddhism and Science at Oxford University on “Toward a 3-dimensional science of the mind”, published 2013.
Apr 22, 2014
Does radical enhancement threaten our sense of self?by John Danaher
If we extended our lives by 200 years, or if we succeeded in uploading our minds to an artificial substrate, would we undermine our sense of personal identity? If so, would it be wiser to avoid such radical forms of enhancement? These are the questions posed in chapter 4 of Nicholas Agar’s book Truly Human Enhancement. Over the next two posts I’ll take a look at Agar’s answers. This is all part of my ongoing series of reflections on Agar’s book.
Apr 6, 2014
Moral EnhancementThe Rational Future
Executive Director of the IEET, James Hughes, discuses moral enhancement with Adam Ford of The Rational Future published on April 4th of 2014.
James Hughes Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a bioethicist and sociologist at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut where he teaches health policy and serves as Director of Institutional Research and Planning. He holds a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago, where he also taught bioethics at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. Dr. Hughes is author of Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future , and is working on a second book tentatively titled Cyborg Buddha.
Mar 1, 2014
The Path of Least Resistance: Tracing a Path to Religious Reconciliation with Posthumanismby Yshua
We are here because we recognize the frailty of human existence and the vastness of our limitations. We are here because we acknowledge that we live in a harsh world which can draw out the very worst of our already-flawed nature. We are here because we believe, in spite of overwhelming challenges, that something better is possible. We believe the path to a higher state of existence demands devotion and sacrifice.