Friday, December 02, 2005

Uncommon SENSe

Reporter: So what are you doing to live longer?

Justice: Absolutely nothing!

Reporter: ?

Justice: When my father died over a year ago, what was most disturbing to me was the fact that all his dreams, ambitions and projects died along with him. It forced me to accept the fact that there is a greater probability that I will die and stay dead than live long enough to see a posthuman future. That's when life extension stopped being an egotistical pursuit of immortality and became a social cause…

Reporter: What do you mean?

Justice: Rather than Americanizing healthcare and banning anti-aging therapies, I think that a modernized universal healthcare system and culture, AND life extention medicine are actually the solutions to controlling healthcare spending in the coming decades, ensuring state-of-the-art healthcare, and keeping our parents and ourselves living longer.

Reporter: Life extension as a social cause… Brilliant!

Apatheism, Allognosticism and the American Religious Landscape

Dionysos Thriambos, a modern disciple of Aleister Crowley, wrote:

"Today's world of heavily mediated experience--television, processed foods, automobile transport, &c.--lends itself to the cultivation of the two elements that most characterize the religion of the modern Occident: apatheism and allognosticism. It is these two qualities of the religious culture that signal the transitional phase from which post-Christian Western culture is now emerging.

Apatheism is a neologism taken from the words "theism" and "apathy." A theist is one who believes in the existence of God as a fundamental principle. Apathy is the condition of not caring. Demographers tell us that over 90% of Americans believe in God, but less than half of those are able to further characterize their relationship with that poorly-defined entity. The remaining quasi-majority are allognostics, whose "belief" is a matter of taking what they see as the intellectual course of least resistance. Apatheism and allognosticism are like two peas in a pod.

Leaving aside the thorny enigmas of historical Gnosticism, a "gnostic" theological perspective might be described as one which maintains that direct human experience of the divine is both possible and necessary for spiritual redemption. The gnostic perspective can be considered as the polar opposite to the agnostic. While "agnosticism" is used colloquially to denote an ambivalence about the existence of the divine, it more technically refers to the conviction that direct human experience of the divine is impossible and/or irrelevant to human welfare. Jesus of the Christian gospels appears to have been a gnostic under these terms, and the Deist "founding fathers" of the US were agnostics.

The bulk of American "Christianity" can be described as allognostic, from the Greek root allo, meaning "other." Allognosticism consists of the belief that direct human experience of the divine is possible only for other people, such as the Pope, Old Testament Prophets, popular televangelists or dead relatives. It is sometimes codified in a doctrine of sacerdotalism: the requirement that a priest intercede on behalf of the worshipper in order to make religion efficacious. Allognosticism should invite derision from any thinking individual. In the contemporary development of American mass culture, allognosticism is implicit everywhere, to the point that it discredits most established religious forms.

The doctrine of vicarious atonement underlying Christianity as a whole is especially appealing to the allognostic mentality. Along with the provincial historical precedent, this appeal to ubiquitous allognosticism helps explain why religion and Christianity are interchangable terms for most apatheistic Americans. And the dominance of the allognostic element in Christianity signals both the usefulness of that religion to hypocritical demogogues, and its uselessness to sincere and free individuals.

Christianity has had two basic reactions to apatheism, which it justifiably sees as a dilemma. One has been to coddle it by focusing on social concerns and no longer addressing metaphysical issues. The hope implicit in this approach is that greater participation in a socially-rooted church will eventually integrate the allognostic followers with the intentions of metaphysically-oriented leaders. The other reaction consists of fundamentalism, i.e. a dogmatic absolutism that appeals to the fear and uncertainty of modern life. In both cases, allognosticism is used as a functional basis for promoting "faith," when it really constitutes its primary weakness.

The modern agnostic approach can be seen in atheism and humanism, while the neo-pagan movement is the best current example of Western gnostic religion. But these options fail to draw on the strength of the Christian symbolic environment, an environment that remains powerful and close at hand, even though the faith that formed it is weak and obsolete."

Despite being an unrepentant agnostic secular humanist, I have often wondered whether the First Church of Historical Jesus can form a genuine post-Christian alternative to these cases?

US Democrats Adopt Innovation Agenda

Didn't see this till today: the Democrats have adopted a new "InnovationAgenda" to campaign on (PDF Version):

- Create an educated, skilled workforce in the vital areas of science, math, engineering, and information technology;

- Invest in a sustained federal research and development initiative that promotes public-private partnerships;

- Guarantee affordable access to broadband technology for all Americans;

- Achieve energy independence in 10 years by developing emerging technologies for clean and sustainable alternatives that will strengthen national security and protect the environment; and,

- Provide small businesses with the tools to encourage entrepreneurial innovation and job creation.

Its not exactly a promise of a nanobot in every neuron, and uploads for everyone, but its a good first step. In specifics it includes the goals of:
Double overall funding for the National Science Foundation, basic research in the physical sciences across all agencies, and collaborative research partnerships; restore the basic, long-term research agenda at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to conduct long-range, high-risk, and high-reward research.

Create regional Centers of Excellence for basic research that will attract the best minds and top researchers to develop far-reaching technological innovations and new industries, and modernize existing federal and academic research facilities.

Modernize and permanently extend a globally competitive R&D tax credit to increase domestic investment, create more U.S. jobs, and allow companies to pursue long-term projects with the certainty that the credit will not expire.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

"Race" is Not a Scientific Concept: Alternative Directions

From L'Observatoire de la genetique: "Current efforts to designate large clusters of human genetic variation as "races" are scientifically inaccurate and therefore inhibit both basic and medical research. The proposed nomenclature is borrowed from imprecise and changeable lay vocabularies, rather than from scientific standards. It assigns supposedly "continental" labels to clusters, but the clusters do not correspond to continents, and the names given to the clusters do not correspond with their geographic boundaries. A better approach would be to develop categories recognizing that the clusters are based on "Large Diffuse Geographic Populations" (LDGP), with precise geographic descriptions of the boundaries of such groupings. Such an approach would highlight the lack of association between these large clusters and the distribution of most medically relevant alleles. It would also facilitate consistency across scientific studies, which currently use so-called "racial" labels to refer to different groups from one study to the next."

The Ubermensch, the Superman and the Posthuman

In the most vicious yet thorough attack against transhumanism to date, Klaus-Gerd Giesen, a professor of political sciences at the University of Leipzig in Germany, wrote, among other things, in Transhumanism and Human Genetics (a polemical article written in French for the Genetics Observatory, a project of the Centre for Bioethics of the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal):

Encasing the figure of the nietzchean superman - which, by the way, is a constant reference for transhumanists - in an absurd biological materialism that would no doubt amuse the German philosopher, transhumanists push their nihilism to the point of speculating about the members of the privileged stratum of society eventually enhancing themselves and their offspring to a point where the human species, for many practical purposes, splits into two or more species that have little in common except a shared evolutionary history.
Since it is a criticism that I often hear that may or may not have some validity, I decided to re-familiarize myself with the exact definition of these terms in contention. According to Wikipedia, "in Thus spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche explains the steps through which man can become an Ubermensch (the equivalent English translation would be 'over-human'):
  1. By his will to power, manifested destructively in the rejection of, and rebellion against, old ideals and moral codes;
  2. By his will to power, manifested creatively in overcoming nihilism (any philosophy that, rejecting the real world around us and physical existence along with it, results in an apathy toward life and a poisoning of the human soul) and re-evaluating old ideals or creating new ones.
  3. By a continual process of self-overcoming (mastery of one's existential needs and desires).

The most common misconception about the Ubermensch is that it is equivalent to the ideals of Nazism, and that it is related or equal to the concept of Herrenvolk ("master race"). The concept of racial supremacy or antisemitism is absent in Nietzsche. It is widely believed that Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, contributed greatly to this misconception by deliberately misrepresenting his work, and the Nazis themselves reinterpreted and incorporated hodgepodge elements of many philosophical and religious texts, including Nietzsche's.

The translation of Ubermensch as "superman" may compound the misconception. Uber can have a variety of meanings, as in Uberwindung ("overcoming"), uberstehen/durchstehen ("come through"/"get over"), ubersetzen ("translate"/"take across"). Some scholars therefore prefer the translation as Overman, since the point of the Ubermensch is that man needs to overcome himself.

The German adverb "ubermenschlich" is common and used in contexts such as "mit ubermenschlichen Kraften gelang es ihm…": "with a force no human being is capable of he managed to…" or "with superhuman force…", the connotation is that of leaving the human sphere. Parallel constructions can be found in ubernaturlich ("no longer natural", "transcendental"), uberirdisch ("heavenly", literally "unearthly"). "Superman" lacks the German connotation of a sphere beyond human knowledge and power. In addition, Mensch is less specifically male than the English man, closer at times to the English human. Mensch is to be understood as a neuter form of a noun.

Nietzsche's writings are spiritual and philosophical in character, and do not state that the central ideas are biological, psychological, sociological, or sociobiological. His ideas have no firm connection to the claim of superiority of any particular race or ethnicity, and thus they are not racist in themselves."

On the other hand, a Superman, or more precisely, "a superhuman is an entity with intelligence or abilities exceeding normal human standards. Superhuman can mean an "improved" human, for example, by genetic modification, or as what humans might evolve into, in the distant future. Occasionally, it could mean a "normal" human with unusual abilities, such as psychic abilities or exceptional proficiency at something. Superhuman can also mean something that isn't human, but considered to be "superior" to humans in some ways. A robot that easily passed the Turing test, and could do some things humans can't, could be considered superhuman. A very intelligent or strong alien could be considered superhuman. The concept of the superhuman is quite popular in science fiction, where superhumans are often mutants or genetically engineered."

And finally, according to the Transhumanist FAQ, a Posthuman is a hypothetical future being "whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer human by our current standards ... Posthumans could be artificial intelligences, or they could be uploaded consciousnesses, or they could be the result of making many smaller but cumulatively profound augmentations to a biological human. The latter alternative would probably require either the redesign of the human organism using advanced nanotechnology or its radical enhancement using some combination of technologies such as genetic engineering, psychopharmacology, anti-aging therapies, neural interfaces, advanced information management tools, memory enhancing drugs, wearable computers, and cognitive techniques."

Since the Ubermensch is obviously not related to the concept of the superman of science-fiction nor the posthuman of transhumanist speculation, the Ubermensch should never be a reference for transhumanists or anti-transhumanists.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Liberalism Resurgent: A Response to the Right

Liberalism Resurgent is a web site that stands up for liberalism. More than ever before, opponents of liberalism are broadcasting pseudo-science, demagogic politics, crank economics, and think-tank propaganda in easily parrotted sound bites. This site is a gateway to an entire arsenal of liberal studies, statistics and state-of-the-art arguments that refute their myths. Form your own opinions from credible sources such as mainstream scholars and the National Academy of Sciences, and benefit from a more complete picture than you normally find on the mass market.

Among its resources:

The Short FAQ on Liberalism -- A quick but extensive overview of the tenets of liberalism, designed to correct the many myths propagated by its critics.

The Long FAQ on Liberalism -- An encyclopedia of liberal arguments, debunking nearly 120 common political myths with studies, statistics and arguments.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Changing the world one story at a time

Participant Productions believes in the power of media to create great social change.

Their goal is to deliver compelling entertainment that will inspire audiences to get involved in the issues that affect us all.

The movie is just the beginning.

They hope their films will raise awareness about important social issues, educating audiences and inspiring them to take action.

You can get involved in the issues that matter to you on their new social action website,!

Movies have the power to inspire. You have the power to act. Participate!

MKYOTO: The Tectonic Movement

Get into the tectonic movement, the art of expressing yourself on the Kyoto Protocol.
Montreal is hosting the United Nations' Conference on climate changes. Your artworks, messages and thoughts will be shown in the Panoscope 360° at the Palais des Congrès between November 28th and December 9th 2005.
10,000 dignitaries are listening !

Monday, November 28, 2005

Priests urge stem cell opposition by comparing it to Nazi experimentation

From CNN: "The battle over embryonic stem cell research moved into the pews Sunday, as Roman Catholic priests across Missouri urged churchgoers to oppose a petition seeking a [state] constitutional amendment that would protect the controversial work."

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A Failed Presidency?

From "Instead of focusing on this administration's screw-up du jour, isn't it time for the mainstream media to start taking real account of the messes Bush has created already?"