Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
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Buddhism and Transhumanism: The Technologies of Self-Perfection

June 15, 2012

James Hughes, IEET Executive Director, speaking at the August 5, 2004 Faith, Transhumanism and Hope Symposium, Trinity College, University of Toronto. (and yes, seven years later I’m still working on that book…)


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Posted by Andrew  on  07/02  at  09:13 PM

I love this show. I LOVE IT. I think technology can and will open our minds. But as someone with fierce depression I don't find at all that any of the pallet of antidepressants, disparate or mixed, make me any better able to deal with life. Popeye the sailor eats spinach and then storms into the fray, but its a fray he feels virtuous about. I eat prozac and sing the Popeye theme song and rush into the slog of my work/life and... No, it doesn't work. Depression, at least for me is more than just a slothful psycho-anemia. Its a real problem with what I'm doing. But what I'm doing is earning a living. Do I quit? (earning a living?) Maybe I just need a better drug. or maybe, the problem isn't social, but political. Maybe depressed people should get together and slip drugs into the drinking water of complacent people making them change their copacetic view, instead of closing our sociopolitical blinds and dosing up on exuberants. I'm not a buddhist or a philosopher and I'm sure I got this wrong. I'm just reacting, but mostly I really respect your show and thoughts.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  07/03  at  05:33 AM

Wonderfully uplifting talk!

@Andrew...if you're problem is boredom at work (which is what I'm kind of reading between the lines), you might try reading Tim Ferris's Four-Hour Work Week, if you haven't already. It's gloriously rebellious, and what's more it seems to work.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  07/03  at  05:58 AM

One comment on the talk, though. At one point James attacks the notion of "authenticity". Specifically, he attacks the notion that by making qualities like wisdom and concentration easy to achieve, simply through a technical upgrade, the achievement will be less meaningful, less "authentic". (I'm paraphrasing, but I hope I've got the jist.)

While I agree on the specific point, I think it misses a different, much more credible in my view point about "authenticity", which is that people just find it difficult to identify with future beings that are living in this technological paradise. It's just too weird, too far removed from our current experience. I know I've made this point before, but I feel it could do with a wider discussion. It seems to me that one of the better reasons for being conservative (there are lots of very bad ones) is that we naturally identify with what we know, with what is familiar. Try to change too rapidly, even if the change is for the "better" in some (utilitarian?) sense, and we lose that sense of continuity of identity that makes it all seem meaningful.

Posted by andrew  on  07/29  at  02:46 AM

I'm just beginning to read Ferris but before I get into it (I prefer the arrogance of commenting on a work before I read it), I'm not 'bored' at work. OK so, what if you lived on a slave plantation and you were a depressed slave, and you were given the choice of picking any of the agricultural products grown on the farm (choice is important). You say "no. My problem is that I want not to work on the farm picking anything". So then, you are offered some antidepressants and the opportunity to work in the masters house as a servant (contingent on the completion of service training of course). "NO," you say. "I don't want to be a 'slave' at all." But this is a fantastic dream. You are what/where you are. The struggle is there, with the social reality, not with your own career/life. Your depression might lead to an impetus toward solidarity with depressed fellows, instead of just a desire to treat the melancholy in isolation. I guess I just don't think that the tech will solve social inequities (or existential crises) that have persisted for hundreds of years without a real fight, even with the big-tech.

Posted by Michael Nuschke  on  09/21  at  03:12 PM

Thanks Dr. J.!
7 years old but even more relevant!
Would be interested in hearing more about "the book".


p.s. methinks that while we communicate in concepts, enlightenment 'itself' is beyond "conceptual ego-mind". Interesting that Kurzweil has commented that science will likely not be able to find or fully explain mind/awareness...

Posted by CygnusX1  on  06/15  at  08:42 AM

Thanks for re-surfacing this great talk – I missed this first time round.

Should we take the stress out of the struggle for the attainment of enlightenment? Can we even? – I would like to for myself. I feel I am running out of time and the "anxiety", (not fear, nor fear of death), is that I will depart neither more nor less than I am, but the same?

Although environments play a key role in satisfaction and notions of freedom, (are we humans genetically programmed towards social mobility?), the realisation that for the most part we are all serfs and slaves to the socioeconomic system really means that we cannot escape the world as it is presently? We need to change the world view, and thereby the world, and if constructive and non-dangerous recreational drugs can help progress peace and sedate natures, then why not?

Wisdom cannot be bottled and prescribed however.

The dangers and negatives to this, of course, have already been highlighted many times here at IEET in the past – the possible unethical abuse related to the suppression of wills through providing yet another "opiate for the masses". I cannot deny, however, that if a suitable and legal escapist drug were commercialised and made readily available, that I would most likely make full use. Addictions are easily provided, even today. As yet I defer and reject all substances, (except occasional fluid intoxication's).

Cultivation of enlightened personalities should be encouraged by all means necessary, (and wisdom then shared), and both the motivations and possible means to this end should be widely advocated.

Merging of consciousness and sharing of wisdom, (briefly mentioned here also), is an engineering project that I still feel is as worthy as biological and neuro-psychological tweaking and advancement – why? Because I believe "Collectiveness" and "Unity" is still the greater goal.

Posted by Low Platelets  on  07/12  at  09:14 AM

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Posted by James Arbuthnot  on  07/14  at  12:15 PM

They are incompatible. Buddhism teaches that existance is suffering and to avoid suffering one must remove all desire. Transhumancers desire to live forever, desire to defeat death, desire to attain immortality, so will forever be disappointed as this isn't physically possible, it's a dream that is totally against nature.

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