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How to Cope with Death: the Cosmist ‘Third Way’
Giulio Prisco   Aug 13, 2012   Turing Church  

Recently on Facebook a friend asked: “Hey, atheist friends, I need your help. I would like to listen and read what do you do when you lose somebody who you loved? I have tried several ways to ease the pain, but it is still there.” He addressed his atheist friends because evidently he didn’t want to hear about a supernatural afterlife.

I took the liberty to offer my vision of a natural afterlife following technological resurrection, based on science and engineering.

My answer (edited):

I cope with the grief from the death of loved ones by contemplating the Cosmist possibility, described by many thinkers including Nikolai Fedorov, Hans Moravec and Frank Tipler, that future generations (or alien civilizations, or whatever) may develop technologies to resurrect the dead. A related idea is that our reality may be a “simulation” computed by entities in a higher-level reality, who may choose to copy those who die in our reality to another reality.

Contemplating these possibilities is my way to cope with grief, I hope you will find your own way.
I realize that these ideas may be rejected without consideration by both believers and atheists. Many believers may reject them because they are based on science and possible future technologies, without any concept of “supernatural” (whatever that means). On the other hand, those fully invested in their atheism may reject them because they sound too much like religion.

Cosmism is one of those “third ways” that are often passionately rejected by those who believe in the old ways, but in my opinion it is a Hegelian synthesis of what is good in the old ways: it is firmly based on science, and at the same time it offers all the important mental devices of religion, including hope in resurrection. It is evident that hoping in an afterlife has survival value for both individuals and societies, because it gives people the strength to continue to live instead of withdrawing (or worse) in despair. Cosmism permits hoping in resurrection without giving up the scientific worldview.

The Cosmist ‘Third Way’, in a nutshell

Long version: See my essay Transcendent Engineering published in the Terasem Journal of Personal Cyberconsciousness.

Shorter version: See my Ten Cosmist Convictions, co-authored with Ben Goertzel, originally appeared in Ben’s A Cosmist Manifestoblog, published in Ben’s book A Cosmist Manifesto.

Very short version: The Manifest Destiny of our species is colonizing the universe and developing spacetime engineering and scientific “future magic” much beyond our current understanding and imagination. Gods will exist in the future, and they may be able to affect their past — our present — by means of spacetime engineering. Probably other civilizations out there already attained God-like powers. Future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Future Gods will be able to resurrect the dead by “copying them to the future.” Perhaps we will be resurrected in virtual reality, and perhaps we are already there. See also Transhumanist religion 2.0.

I have written a lot about these convictions, without calling them “beliefs.” But, following William James, since I am persuaded that these convictions are scientifically plausible, and they give me happiness and drive, I choose to hold them as beliefs. As I say in a note to the Ten Cosmist Convictions, I am not using “will” in the sense of inevitability, but in the sense of intention: we want to do this, we are confident that we can do it, and we will do our f**king best to do it. You know that, if you really want to achieve a goal, you must firmly believe that you will achieve it.

Daring to Hope in Resurrection

Bart Centre gives another answer in the excellent article “Dealing with death: How does an atheist cope?” His answer is “It’s enough for me to know the deceased person loved me and I loved them. Enough to know the pain of illness has subsided. Enough to know their contributions to the world will live behind them and their progeny will carry on.  Enough to know that the cycle of life is unstoppable, inevitable, and is shared by all living things. It’s enough to know that the oblivion of death is no more fearful than the oblivion that was pre-life.  I take comfort in that, we all should.”

Bart’s answer is very good and his considerations are beautiful, soothing and inspiring in their own way, but for me they are not “enough,” because I prefer my own answers. If I were persuaded that death is final and science will never be able to do anything about it, I would certainly take refuge in seeing our lives as small cogs in the wonderful and endless cycle of life, shared by all living things. But I think science will be able to do something about death, and I hope to be copied to the future by means of “future magic” (in the sense of Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law) and to find my loved ones there.

Bart Centre writes: “How easy and comforting it must be to imagine ones dead loved one running in a sunlit field in the afterlife — eternally young, physically perfect, ecstatic, and being chased by their equally ecstatic childhood cocker spaniel.  Or surrounded by a few generations of previously deceased relatives who embrace them and welcome them to eternal life and introduce them to their angel friends…”

It is easy and comforting indeed! How about making it true?

To me, these are not supernatural beliefs, but engineering projects: we will have to engineer resurrection, and build Heaven. These are very ambitious engineering projects for the very far future, so the only things that we can do, here and now, is to try to ensure that our specie has a future out there, to avoid extinction, to develop emerging technologies, and to begin our expansion into space. The Cosmist Third Way offers not only relief from the painful grief of death, but also motivation and drive to make the world a better place, here and now.

In “The Never-Ending Days of Being Dead: Dispatches from the Front Line of Science,” Marcus Chown paints a scene very similar to Centre’s:

“As your eyelids begin to fall, coming down like metal shutters on your life, the hubbub of the world fades to a distant murmur. You draw one last breath…”

“… and it is summer and you are young again. Your favorite dog — the one you loved so much as a child and thought you would never see again — has knocked you to the ground and is licking your face furiously. Through tears of joy, you see your father and mother — long dead — standing over you. They are young — just as they were when you were ten years old — and they are laughing and stretching out their hands to you.”

“What is happening? Have you died and gone to Heaven? Not exactly. You’ve been resurrected as a simulation on a computer at the end of time!”

This is the beginning of the last chapter of the book, dedicated to Tipler’s theories. Also the other chapters inspire beautiful and comforting visions, and show that space-time is a strange and wonderful place, so strange and wonderful that, perhaps, our loved ones who left us can be found somewhere out there. The first chapter is titled “Elvis Lives.”

Continuing the Facebook discussion, my friend said “I don’t think I can suspend disbelief about the Omega Point idea of Tipler.” Well, other “simpler” resurrection mechanisms have been proposed, that don’t require waiting until the Big Crunch.

In “The Light of Other Days”, Sir Arthur C. Clarke (who else?) and Stephen Baxter imagine a near future world profoundly transformed by the invention of a “Wormcam”: a remote viewing device that permits scanning any location at any time, including in the past, by using micro wormholes naturally embedded with high density in the fabric of space-time (every space-time pixel is connected with every other space-time pixel). Soon engineers are able to resurrect the dead: “It was possible now to look back into time and read off a complete DNA sequence from any moment in an individual’s life. And it was possible to download a copy of that person’s mind and, by putting the two together, regenerated body and downloaded mind, to restore her…”

But I am afraid atheists will continue to find suspension of disbelief in possible resurrection technologies very difficult… because the concept of resurrection itself (even if based on science) will continue to sound too much like religion to them.

Just a few minutes ago on the KurzweilAI Forums, another friend said “A friend of mine just died… it’s not enough for me to settle for never laughing with her again. Will we EVER be able to correct the travesty that is Death? And how soon til then?”

My answer:

I am very sorry for your loss. Your grief is my grief, and your hope is my hope.

No, it won’t be soon. I think future scientists will be eventually able to “fish” dead people from the past via Quantum Archaeology (whatever that turns out to be) or other time scanning technologies, and copy them to their present — our future — via mind uploading, but it won’t be soon. The scientific and engineering challenges involved are so huge that I believe it will take thousands of years. Or, as Frank Tipler thinks, billions of years.

But the subjective time that we have to wait is simple to estimate, and much shorter: it is the remaining time that we have to live, plus a few seconds to wake up in the future. From her subjective perspective, your friend may be already there, and waiting for you to join and laugh with her again.

Can I offer this as a certainty? No, I can’t. But I can offer it as a scientifically plausible hope. Make the best of your life as your friend would have wished, and, perhaps, you will be reunited with her when the time is right.

 

Image #1: by Lori Rhodes.

Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.



COMMENTS

This synthesis combines the best aspects of thesis and antithesis while discarding the dregs. That is, the cognition-distorting thought-terminating cliches of traditional religion, which have once been used to placate otherwise-inescapable fears inherent to monkeyhood, have been traded in for a plausible (or, at least, not demonstrably implausible) way to achieve such placation. Instead of averting one’s gaze from the horrors of reality, one looks at them square in the face and seeks a way to extract lemonade from the given lemons. I don’t see a downside.

Thanks SHaGGGz. Now if only we could persuade the rest of the world to see things this way, we would make this planet a much happier place. I consider achieving happiness (or at least placating unhappiness) as a primary value. Not only for its intrinsic good, but also because happier people do better things. If one person is happier, the world can become better for all.

Question: you didn’t seem too enthusiast when I said the same things in the essay “Yes, I am a believer.” Was it the use and endorsement of explicitly religious terms? If so, then there cannot be a single one-size-fits-all formulation of the Cosmist message, and we must learn how to package it in different ways for different audiences.

In your previous essay I took issue with your fallacious conflation of the end result of scientific endeavor with the baseless dreaming of superstitious nonsense. Yes, the former may resemble the latter, but is achieved very much despite the latter and in no way validates it. I also took issue with your buying into harmful culture war propaganda that paints atheist activism as being somehow fascistic or otherwise suspect. Your essay here did not repeat those offenses so I had nothing to comment on except my agreement with the overall message of cosmism, which remains unchanged.

I see. Well, we are just beginning to notice (not yet understand) some tiny bits of the science that may permit future advanced beings resurrecting the dead from the past, and we cannot yet predict what technologies future advanced beings may use.

This would have been totally beyond the understanding of our ancestors, and that’s why they developed religion.

Of course, they could formulate the _concept_ that future generations could use advanced science (water mills on steroids, or something like that) to achieve God-like powers and resurrect the dead, without postulating “supernatural” agencies.

And I believe this is exactly what they did. Their Gods helped to ensure a good harvest when they danced and singed the appropriate request. Note that older religions don’t have a metaphysical layer comparable to Christianlty. Zeus was a person very much like us, just much more powerful.

Technology is all about imagination becoming reality. Visionary thinkers imagine a better world, and engineers realize it. Our ancestors made the first steps by inventing religions, and now it is up to us to make the other steps.

No, they couldn’t have formulated that concept from within a worldview that saw the world as inherently anthropocentric and unchanging. The notion of relentlessly-applied skepticism in order to deduce the nature of reality and thus how to build technologies to improve our lives and the nature of our society is fundamentally at odds with this primitive worldview, which has more to do with brutal tribalism and Skinner’s pigeons than the scientific method or enlightenment.

Your equation of these two diametrically opposed worldviews because they can lead to similar outcomes if interpreted a certain way is flowery prose at best. Do not confuse poetry with reality.

I am not an expert of comparative religion studies, but I suspect that “anthropocentric and unchanging” is not an accurate characterization of many religions, especially older ones.

As I see things, the anthropocentric and unchanging view of the world was introduced later, for reasons that have little to do with ethereal philosophy and a lot to do with money and secular power. If reality is unchanging, you should serve your masters without complaining, because that’s the way things have always been and therefore that’s the way things will always be. Marx saw this very clearly.

The scientific method has been applied by farmers since thousands of years. They made observations and formulated scientific models of what must be done to ensure a good harvest. Including, why not, dancing to the Sun God(s)—- probably dancing filled them with positive energy and drive to work harder.

I _do_ confuse poetry with reality, in the sense that I want poetry to become reality. The scientific method is one of several cognitive tools that can be used to transform poetry into reality.

Yes, religion in more societally complex eras has been used as a tool to justify master-slave inequities, just as it was used to justify husband-wife inequities in earlier times. Both relied on a conception of the universe as existing specifically for human life, which was only allowed to be structured a certain way so as to be in tune with the natural order.

The fact that your definition of the scientific method has been loosened to the extent of allowing rain dances as a legitimately scientific exercise shows how far you’ve stretched the bounds of commonly accepted definitions, to the point of meaninglessness. Which is precisely my point.

No, your imagination, which allows for blurring the incongruous boundaries of concepts such that they appear to be identical, can be used to transform poetry into reality.

If rain dances make dancers work harder (which can be proven with MRI scans or something) and better (which can be proven by just looking at the results) in the fields, then they _are_ a legitimately scientific way to get a better harvest.

I will take whatever works, and I want a good harvest.

I think, however, that we should agree to differ on the merit of religious and magick approaches to reality, and focus on how to package the Cosmist vision for the rest of the world.

This discussion shows to me that there are at least two, probably mutually exclusive, ways of packaging the core Cosmist intuition that science and technology will permit building/becoming extremely powerful beings able to perform future spacetime “magic” in the sense of Clarke’s Third Law, and resurrecting the dead.

1) Use strictly scientific terms and no references to religions, for the atheist rationalists.
2) Use poetic images and references to religions, for the believers.

But in using the MRI machine to elucidate the mechanism of action, the notion that there are unseen intentional agents woven into the fabric of reality that are pleased by certain human actions is dispelled, and we unburden ourselves of the negative externalities associated with such a notion. A difference is discerned when the poetic haze is lifted.

Yes, those are two extremes. Or there can, once again, be a third way. We can, like you do, assimilate the similarities from 2) into 1). However, we should, unlike you’ve done, more clearly express truth by identifying the metaphorical nature of such a comparison.

The comparison is metaphorical according to a specific model of the world, where we are observers of something called “objective external reality.”

We owe much of our technological development to this model, and I certainly don’t deny its utility. But quantum physics show that it has its own shortcomings. Like all models of the world, it has its own range of validity beyond which it breaks down.

I don’t rule out the applicability and “local validity” of other, different models of reality. Perhaps we create the world as we observe it, as in Wheleer’s observer-participant model. In other models of reality, the comparison may appear more than metaphorical.

I just know that I don’t know, and therefore I try to follow Shakespeare and keep my mind open to more things in heaven and earth than we can see at this moment.

Yes, there are things that we don’t know, and enough known unknowns to render some novel interpretations of ontology not entirely beyond the pale.

But now you are depicting theories of quantum mechanics that say very specific and limited things about the nature of “objective external reality” and how an observer is related to the collapse of the wave function, as saying that an observer literally manifests whatever deranged thought pops into their head into reality. I take this as the same sort of fallacious analogizing that draws upon genuine scientific ambiguities to conclude in ideas such as the “law of attraction” from the rightly- and widely-condemned “The Secret”. 

I don’t think the fact that there exist limits to our knowledge validates the notion that all things are equally worthy of thinking/believing.

“The secret” is trivially true in the sense that optimist positive thinking helps more than defeatist pessimism. It may, or it may not, be valid also in a deeper sense.

You re-exemplify my point with that defense of something that is absurd and harmful. Just because an aspect of an idea can be interpreted as true in some way doesn’t mean that it should be defended. We are blessed with the capacity for cognition of a granularity so high that it doesn’t necessitate us having to settle for tangentially related but ultimately very distinct ideas in order to express a particular idea. We can do better. You can do better.

@SHaGGGz - It seems to me that the difference between our positions is related to different assumptions (or lack thereof) about reality. You assume the existence of an objective, universal reality model that can be applied in any given context, while I don’t see the need to make this assumption. An analogy: there is an integer larger than any given integer, but no integer is larger than all other integers.

How is your position distinct from the position that there is no such thing as reality, that anyone can believe whatever they want and there is no meaningful way to say that they are right or wrong? That the very notion of truth is meaningless?

@SHaGGGz re “that defense of something that is absurd and harmful”

I said that positive thinking helps, which is just common sense. I don’t see how it can be absurd and harmful. Then I said that the “law of attraction” may or may not be true. In other words, “let experiment decide,” which is how science works. How can that be absurd and harmful?

The Secret is absurd and harmful.

I think the notion of truth is meaningful, but in a given specific context. Right and wrong are also meaningful notions, but, again, in a given specific context.

Newtonian physics is true and right for the engineer who needs to build a bridge, but false and wrong for the engineer who needs to computes general relativistic corrections to the orbits of GPS satellites, or the behavior of a semiconductor.

I don’t see the need to assume the existence of a global truth independent of the context. In science and engineering, we build models of reality able to make useful predictions, and we use whatever model is appropriate to the circumstances at hand.

Re “The Secret is absurd and harmful.”

Now you are repeating yourself without explanation.

I said that positive thinking helps, which is just common sense. I don’t see how it can be absurd and harmful. Then I said that the “law of attraction” may or may not be true. In other words, “let experiment decide,” which is how science works. How can that be absurd and harmful?

What is wrong in the paragraph above?

“It seems to me that the difference between our positions is related to different assumptions (or lack thereof) about reality.”

Not sure. It seems to me that the difference between your positions has more fundamental drivers, having to do more with differing sensibilities than with different views of reality. It seems to me that SHaGGGz values objective truth and reason very highly, while Giulio values things like faith and hope more strongly. What is clear, of course, is that we need both, and since this is indeed obvious it should be possible to move this dialogue forward in such a way as to increase mutual understanding.

I haven’t read The Secret, but know enough about the law of attraction to suspect that I would find doing so an annoying waste of time. Often I experience feelings of disgust and frustration, similar to those that seem (reading, or perhaps over-interpreting, between the lines) to be reflected in SHaGGGz’s comments, when I come across discourse that appears to ride rough-shod over objective truth and reason and then resorts to arguments of the type “There’s no such thing as objective reality anyway.” But zooming out a bit, I for one can accept that ideas such as the law of attraction have their place, gross simplifications though they are. SHaGGGz says that we can do better, but if that is supposed to apply to humanity as a whole it is pretty clear that most people want and need forms of inspiration that they can easily grasp, and which speak to them, without necessarily being intellectually rigourous or in perfect accordance with reality.

Regarding the Cosmist vision and its potential to console those who grieve, I have yet to draw much consolation from such ideas, since to me they seem too remote. Again, I think this is primarily a matter of sensibility. But of course I very strongly support the development and promotion of such visions.

Truth’s contextuality doesn’t mean it’s impossible to deduce falsehood. The primitive religious worldview is (as best as we can reasonably deduce) false. We may be able to one day do some feats that resemble the beliefs of said religions, but those beliefs are still false as they rely on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of said feats. I don’t know of what conceivable “context” there could be where this is not the case.

I decided to avoid going into The Secret any deeper than necessary as it’s drifting increasingly off-topic, but the most salient harm in my mind is the implication that the unfortunate are to blame for their lot as they didn’t “think positive” enough. Other harms abound, and you can look into them if you’re curious. The relevant point here is that there are better ways to more clearly express a thought so as to avoid its negative baggage.

@Peter: I’d say I have quite a bit of faith and hope, seeing as I’m open to the radical possibilities listed in this article. My bone of contention with what Jiulio is saying is rather subtle, some would say finnicky. He is saying that the fact that futuretech may provide results that are similar to the baseless dreamings of primitive tribals is the same thing as saying their beliefs were correct. I’m saying they weren’t correct, due to the nature of epistemology. He is satisfied with the low-resolution resemblance between the two, and I’m not.

@Peter - I value reason very highly, with the caveat that I consider it as one among many cognitive tools. I am not very interested in “objective truth”, because I think science works very well without this abstract notion. See previous comment. I studied theoretical physics with strictly positivist mentors, who drilled this (in my opinion correct) epistemology into me.

I don’t value faith much. What I value above anything else is happiness (for everyone), and hope as a necessary condition for happiness.

re “the most salient harm [of “The Secret”] in my mind is the implication that the unfortunate are to blame for their lot as they didn’t “think positive” enough”

Yes, that is a very unpleasant implication. I see what you mean.

However, positive thinking is _very hard_ to practice. It doesn’t come natural to me, not at all.

But I see that there are some lucky persons to whom it comes natural. They can easily see themselves achieving their goal (actually, they seem unable to see themselves _not_ achieving it) and, that is a fact, they usually do achieve it, and with very limited effort.

There are many skills that I don’t have, but this is one that I really regret not having, because I can see that it helps a lot.

@SHaGGGz - let’s suppose that:

- Old shamans thought that ingesting substance X makes hunters and warriors more successful, because it puts the Gods in a favorable disposition.
- Modern scientists think that ingesting substance X makes hunters and warriors more successful, because it sharpens their reflexes and decreases their fears.

As children of our times, we tend to find the second explanation correct and the first one absurd.

But we cannot deny that the old shamans were right: ingesting X makes hunters and warriors more successful, as they thought. Their model of reality gives useful results in the context of hunting and war.

As a student of the history of science, I think we have seen too many fundamental paradigm shifts and deep conceptual revolutions to harbor any delusion that our own models of reality are The Truth with a capital T. They will most likely be superseded by new models that give more useful results, just like the models used by modern scientists have superseded those used by old shamans.

Therefore, I don’t condemn the shamans or those who find aesthetic value in their models of reality. They did get something right… as we did. Future generations will do better.

Nifty businessmodel you got there, boss. 😊

@K ???

I am pleasantly surprised at how your ideological work is developing. You have a remarkable tap on the mystical side of things. You exchange views with Ben Goertzel often? He struck me as remarkably spiritual(ist) after I read his book. I am surprised how things turn out, that’s all.

@Giulio: Your epistemology makes a mockery of truth. If someone wears their lucky hat and then wins the lottery, we aren’t justified in saying the hat caused the win. We value knowing the true causal mechanisms at work because we can then generalize this knowledge to novel situations. Saying that obviously false beliefs are “locally true” when they happen to coincidentally stumble upon truth perverts the search for truth and us as inquisitive beings. It’s a useless copout. We don’t have to delude ourselves into thinking that our current paradigm is absolute Truth in order to recognize falsehood when we see it. We may only be able to asymptotically approach Truth due to our knowledge of the world being intermediated by a less-than-perfectly-reliable sensory apparatus, but that doesn’t mean that we should dispense with the pursuit altogether. Our paradigms will be superceded, and our descendants can appreciate the “aesthetic value” of our false beliefs without confusing this for their being true or glossing over their falsehood.

I still think there’s a difference in sensibilities reflected in this dialogue. Giulio says he doesn’t condemn the old shamans, but as far as I can see no-one is suggesting that we should. Closer to the heart of the disagreement, perhaps, is the question whether we should indeed condemn (Giulio’s words again) “those who find aesthetic value in their models of reality”. Again, I’m not sure that anyone is suggesting that we should, but if such aesthetic preferences lead people to embrace models that are not merely wrong (as all models inevitably are) but obviously wrong because they have been superseded by models with far greater explanatory power, then we might indeed have good reason to object (even if “condemn” is too strong a word).

In a sense it is precisely the willingness to embrace a belief that I call “faith”, including when one does so for essentially aesthetic reasons. (There are others of course, chief among them arguably being social pressure, with financial/professional incentive coming a close second.) The opposite of blind faith is radical scepticism, and both are equally crippling. A balance has to be struck, but we tend to strike the balance in different places: some of us prefer to hold our belief systems to a very high standard of accuracy, others are willing to place more value on beliefs that inspire, even when they seem to conflict with evidence. This is what I mean by “valuing faith”, and it does seem to be reflected in Giulio’s thinking.

I don’t really agree that science works perfectly well without the notion of objective truth. The scientific endeavour depends on the idea that there is something “out there” to be studied, and one cannot just decide what will turn out to be true: one has to do the experiment, and respect the results. You may not like to call the “objective truth”, but it underpins the endeavour, and the one who sticks to an outdated, disproved model of reality for aesthetic reasons has left the path of science. The question is how much this matters, and extension how tolerant or intolerant we should be of those who indulge their aesthetic preferences or social/professional interests in this way. I favour some middle ground between complete tolerance and complete intolerance. The old shamans did not know better, but many of our contemporaries do.

@Peter re “The scientific endeavour depends on the idea that there is something “out there” to be studied”

I think it is more precise to say that the scientific endeavour depends on the idea that we can build models of “something out there,” able to quantitatively and accurately correlate the perceptions (observations, measurements) of different observers. This works perfectly well without abstract speculations on the (unobservable” “objective reality” of the models.

@SHaGGGz re “We value knowing the true causal mechanisms at work because we can then generalize this knowledge to novel situations.”

A set of colliding billiard balls is a useful model of a fluid, because it permits predicting many features of actual fluid behavior. But this knowledge cannot be generalized to other features of actual fluid behavior, like superfluidity, without breaking down (like all models do when pushed beyond their range of validity).

We don’t know of any casual mechanism able to explain the (observable and measurable) correlations between entangled particles separated by a space-like interval (out of each other’s light cone), and Bell has demonstrated that there cannot be any casual mechanism compatible with quantum mechanics as it is currently understood.

@Giulio
Nobody would bother to build models of “something out there” unless they believed that there actually WAS something out there to be modelled, and which cannot simply be redesigned at will. This is not about abstract speculation (though obviously this type of discussion necessarily involves quite a high level of abstraction), it’s about clarifying how far we should be associating our own, partly faith-based but also scientifically plausible, visions of the future with outdated and obviously wrong models of reality such as those reflected in some (more fundamentalist) versions of contemporary religion.

Clearly you are in a different position to people like Alex McG and Lincoln C in that you don’t clearly subscribe to a specific religious tradition, but in a way the debate is the same: you seem much more comfortable associating yourself with such traditions than the likes of me and SHaGGGz, and in your case I suspect it is partly a question of sensibility: you prefer to associate with those who dare to believe in the “transcendent” (for want of a better word) than to avoid associating with the fundamentalists who also form (whether we like it or not) part of those traditions, and you prefer to be flexible with regard to intellectual rigour rather than disassociate yourself from such traditions. I’m not saying this is better or worse than the position SHaGGGz is defending, and I have defended in the past, only that it seems at least partly to be a question of sensibility.

If we could agree on this I think it might help us to establish whether there is our disagreement is really important/fundamental or merely a reflection of differing preferences. As you said earlier in this thread, we need to package our positive (Cosmist or other) messages in different ways for different audiences, and this might help us to do so without feeling we are betraying something important.

@Peter - the last points are about physics. I am saying that I accept the standard positivist epistemology laid out by Mach in the 19th century and adopted by most modern physicists after Bohr and the founders of quantum physics (with the notable exception of Einstein).

Wittgenstein: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof must one be silent.” We can speak of correlations between experimental results, and of whether theoretical models can predict them accurately. If they do, we tentatively accept the theoretical models, until they are invalidated by experiment. As a physicist, I don’t feel the need to speak about a “ultimate reality out there,” which is probably unspeakable of in Wittgenstein (and Bell) sense.

As someone who likes to think and to write about “transcendental” things, without my physicist hat, I like very much to speculate about metaphysics and the nature of reality, and yes, I do prefer to associate with those who dare to believe in the “transcendent.” But this has little to do with my ideas about scientific epistemology which, as I said, were inspired by positivist teachers who would find the sole mention of “transcendence” outrageous.

@Peter re “you prefer to be flexible with regard to intellectual rigour rather than disassociate yourself from [those who dare to believe in the “transcendent”]”

I will concede this, in the sense that I see intellectual rigor as a tool, rather than as an end. At the same time, I am very fond of intellectual rigor as well, and try to practice it when I consider it appropriate (which is often, but not always).

How about we go back to:

“This discussion shows to me that there are at least two, probably mutually exclusive, ways of packaging the core Cosmist intuition that science and technology will permit building/becoming extremely powerful beings able to perform future spacetime “magic” in the sense of Clarke’s Third Law, and resurrecting the dead.

1) Use strictly scientific terms and no references to religions, for the atheist rationalists.
2) Use poetic images and references to religions, for the believers.”

It seems to me that 1 and 2 are indeed mutually exclusive, in the sense that those who like 1 won’t like 2, and vice versa.

Is there a 3? (and then 4, 5…)

Perhaps 3 must involve art, powerful words and images, emotionally charged impressions, personal charisma, and sensuality. The audience is different from 1 and 2, and the message should be crafted appropriately.

If this is the case (and I think it is), then I need help. I can handle both 1 and 2 but I am very weak on 3. I look forward to hearing Khannea’s opinion.

@Giulio
I think the distinction between your “physicist hat” and “non-physicist hat” thinking is useful, in that it is precisely the blurring of the two that is disturbing for some of us. I suspect this is somehow what SHaGGGz was getting at when he insisted on clearly identifying the metaphorical nature of poetic images and references to religions. It’s not really clear to me what you would be losing by accepting such an approach, which could then be extended to include the other non-rational communication tools you mention under 3. Also, I don’t think anyone should object to simple _references_ to religions, in terms of both their historical role in driving understanding and scientific endeavour and their contemporary and potential future role in motivating positive change, just as long as we don’t try to embrace their claims as “true” when in fact they are non-evidence-based and scientifically implausible.

In any case, I certainly agree that something along the lines of 3 is essential, so I support your call for those with talents in that area to get involved. And money helps too, of course (not least because it can buy PR services).

@Peter - but I do accept this approach. Physics and mysticism may seem blurred when the same person speaks of both (e.g. Isaac Newton, Erwin Schrödinger, and very modestly yours truly;-) but they are separate cognitive modes, each useful in its own range of applicability.

I don’t think they are incompatible though, and I consider some claims of religion, such as the existence of super advanced beings who somehow create/d our would, and the resurrection of the dead, as _scientifically_ possible.

Everyone is many different persons sharing a skull. I can be a complete asshole when I am drunk and miserable, and so can you (I guess) but we are also nice guys 😊

Personally I don’t have the slightest problem with metaphysical speculation. Is this what you mean by “mysticism”? (Is this also what Khannea was referring to when she praised your “tap into the mystical side of things”?) I also support in general your “soft rationality” approach, including as you have explained it here (i.e. intellectual rigour as tool to be applied as appropriate). What worries me more is dogged adherence to outdated worldviews, and this is what many (atheists) object to in religion, and makes them/us, unlike you, reluctant to associated their views with religion in general.

I still go back to the point about sensibilities: I really don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to this. There are good reasons to associate ourselves with “religion” in a general sense, and good reasons not to do so. So we might as well go with whatever comes most naturally to us as individuals.

@Peter re “What worries me more is dogged adherence to outdated worldviews, and this is what many (atheists) object to in religion, and makes them/us, unlike you, reluctant to associated their views with religion in general.”

Cosmism is a _new_ worldview, which is based on science, and at the same time “resurrects” 😊 religious ideas of Gods, heaven and resurrection, in a new scientifically plausible formulation. I find more aesthetic appeal in seeing Cosmism as an evolution of religion, but others can see it as something new and independent of religion.

Re “There are good reasons to associate ourselves with “religion” in a general sense, and good reasons not to do so. So we might as well go with whatever comes most naturally to us as individuals.”

Yes! (see above). Cosmism can be formulated by atheists for atheists, and by believers for believers.

Agreed, but with one remaining caveat: your distinction between “atheists” and “believers” still jars with me. In fact, this has got me re-reading your article “Yes, I am a believer,” in order to remind myself what precisely you mean (or meant then) by describing yourself as a “believer”. Of course, in a trivial sense we are all believers, atheists and theists alike. Even agnostics (which possibly describes my own position better than “atheist”, although my preferred label is “FAPP atheist”) have to be leave in something, just not in the existence or non-existence as something or someone to whom we apply the label God or gods. At the time you wrote that article you were clearly provoked by the ascendancy of militant atheism, not least here at IEET, and this led you to come down off the fence in the other direction. And that’s fine with me…just as along as we avoid propagating the myth that those (such as SHaGGGz and myself) who don’t consider ourselves religious somehow lack faith (aka belief), hope, or a sense of the transcendent.

@Peter: If you care to wade through a jungle of nitpickery in that article’s comments section, you can see the great lengths I went to to demonstrate that Giulio is in fact not a “believer” in the context of what most people mean when they speak of traditional religion; his beliefs are indistinguishable from ours/Dawkins/atheists in general. He continues to deny this fact due to an emotionalistic warping of logic - er, I mean his “sensibility.”

@Peter re ” At the time you wrote that article you were clearly provoked by the ascendancy of militant atheism”

I am provoked by thought-policing in all its forms, colors, flavors and shades. Respect my ownership of my thoughts (no—- respect everyone’s ownership of their thoughts) and I will be your friends. Of course I would never criticize your not considering yourself religious, that would be thought-policing.

@SHaGGGz re “He continues to deny this fact due to an emotionalistic warping of logic”

Don’t we all? Emotions are much more powerful than logic.

@Giulio: “Of course I would never criticize your not considering yourself religious, that would be thought-policing.”
This is a significant distortion of what is commonly meant by “thought policing” especially in the context of fascism. Exchange of ideas, often entailing criticism, does not amount to fascism.

“Don’t we all? Emotions are much more powerful than logic.”
That all of our conceptual thought ultimately arises out of the primordial soup of emotion is unavoidable and unremarkable. Steadfastly denying an unambiguous fact is neither of these things.

No, but sending others to forced therapy for their ideas does, and that’s the kind of things that I have seen militant atheists propose.

I am against fascism, in all its forms, colors, flavors and shades. Somebody who proposes to send others to forced therapy for their ideas is a fascist.

And what is the “unambiguous fact”?

Such proposals are so fringe and obviously at odds with the Enlightenment values that mainstream and/or militant atheism advocates that they can safely be ignored.

The unambiguous fact that you are an atheist.

No, they must not be ignored, but denounced as fascist.

When has the militant atheist community denounced these proposals as fascist? They cannot claim a moral high ground until they do.

I believe in a God who can do miracles and resurrect the dead, how on earth can I be an atheist???

Sigh. Surely you haven’t forgotten our discussion already, have you? All of this ground has been trod.

Indeed. You remain persuaded of your opinion, and I remain persuaded of mine. I enjoy the discussion though.

Since I am not a (particularly) militant atheist I shall not comment directly on what people who are might or might need to do in order to “claim moral high ground”. This is not what interests me. What interests me is how we can best promote dialogue, understanding and mutual respect between those who consider themselves religious and those who don’t. I do agree with SHaGGGz that criticism is an essential part of such a dialogue, and should not always be seen as the beginning of a slippery slope towards “thought policing” or some other evil, but thanks Giulio for reminding me that it was indeed a comment redolent of fascism (or indeed Stalism/Maoism) from a militant atheist turning up on your FB feed that triggered your earlier article.

Personally I don’t regard Giulio as an atheist, not even a FAPP atheist: as long as he accords some credible meaning to the idea that God exists then that makes him a theist in my book. In any case I don’t really care. What I do care about, thoughts not being branded as an “unbeliever” (by contrasting me with so-called “believers”) just because my beliefs don’t have a particularly theistic or religious character, or because I tend to weight in on the atheist side of such debates. And SHaGGGz does have a point about emotionalistic warping. It doesn’t bother me as much, inter alia because I support Giulio’s “soft rationality” concept, but while I also enjoy these discussions they would be ultimately pointless if we weren’t willing to shift our positions at all. Beliefs are essential, but so is being prepared to question them, and so is being prepared to change our decisions about how we use language (which, in a sense, is what all this comes down to).

@Peter re “What interests me is how we can best promote dialogue, understanding and mutual respect between those who consider themselves religious and those who don’t.”

Same here. Regardless of the arguments that we make in these (very enjoyable) discussions, atheists will not become believers, and believers will not become atheists. But all will understand better the positions and feelings of the others. We all want to make the world a better place (and often agree on what “a better place” means), and this is something that we must do together.

I have very little interest in persuading others of my views. I put them on the table for those who may find them useful.

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