IEET > Vision > Staff > Hank Pellissier > Futurism > Technoprogressivism
My Favorite H+ Philosophers - David Pearce, Martine Rothblatt, and Ursula K. Le Guin
Hank Pellissier   Sep 16, 2012   Ethical Technology  

Transhumanism needs an Enhancement. A Facelift, an Upgrade, some Serious Augmentation. H+ espouses the utopian potential of accelerating technology, but philosophically-culturally-ethically, it’s stale. Flailing weakly like a Shiny Android Paralyzed in a Tar Pit.

What’s wrong? This: it’s fanbase is limited. The Terasem Survey reveals the narrowness of transhumanist appeal: 90.1% is male, 55.2% is under 30 years old, 64.4% is unmarried, 85.4% is white, 37.9% are in math, science, or computers.

Where’s everyone else?

Reporter Joe Quirk jested in a hplusmagazine article that the 2010 Humanity Plus Summit resembled an Asperger’s Convention, and a recent io9/IEET essay by George Dvorksy is titled, “How Autism is Changing the World for Everybody.” Temple Grandin, the autistic cow-whisperer / authoress of The Way I See It, has asserted that her mindset has produced the world’s great innovators, remarking, “if the world was left to you socialites, nothing would get done and we would still be in caves talking to each other.”

Let’s concede that individuals with ASD contribute mightily to tech advance - NASA has been estimated to be 50% ASD, and high-ranking Singularitarians are probably just as prolifically gifted/afflicted. Accepting this, let’s recognize that their population is minuscule; only 1 out of 88 children have ASD (1 out of 54 boys) claims Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization.

What about the 98.86% of humanity with chatty, emotional, social-communication non-ASD needs? The Future is Theirs, too. What do “Social Empaths” want in a Transhumanist TommorowLand? I’ll tell you what they don’t want…

Social Empaths don’t want an eternal techie 24/7 future existence that’s compulsively fixated on gadgets, gizmos, space-travel-through-black-holes, quantum physics, robots, cognitive competition, and supposedly-Friendly A.I. masters ruling them via the machinations of distinctly-unfriendly elitist inventors.


Social Empaths want a softer, cuddlier, easier, gooier, goofier, happier Future. They want a culturally rich world that values aesthetics, modulations in tone, nuance, fantasy, intuition, satire and lyrical metaphor. Social Empaths (SEs) want to share and process feelings. SEs want to communicate intimately, with delicious, extravagant language. SEs want to be sensitive, tender and occasionally childlike. They are, at their best and worst, like Olivia the Pig or Ferdinand the Bull.

Is Transhumanism praising, accommodating or even respecting these Social Empathetic frontal lobe desires? No. H+ vision and appeal thus far is mainly techno-philiac, narrow, blinkered. That’s why the average liberal arts Jenny and Joe doesn’t line up to drink Kurzweil Kool-Aid.

In case you haven’t noticed - Transhumanism isn’t a viral phenomenon. It’s not a Pied Piper with billions of global citizenry traipsing behind us, gushing over our digital forecasts.

I’ll publish 1,000 articles in 2012 as blog editor of IEET. I’ll fling them into the ether via social news sites, and watch… The result? Hits aren’t skyrocketing. Au contrare. They’re level.. a flatline. Humanity is largely reading… something else. Anything else.

Transhumanism is a dwarfish demographic, perhaps so minuscule we merit the “Robot Cult” moniker that’s slapped on us by an unnamable malicious detractor (DC).

What’s wrong? What can we do?

(Am I just a complainer? No.. I want… something… Bigger. Something very Successful to sprout from H+ work…)

When I first got involved in transhumanism I read the three required books in the canon: The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil; Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler, and Ending Aging by Aubrey de Grey. I loved the ideas they espoused; I paused frequently because the books gave me shivers and mind-rushes. They hooked me.

But… now what?

H+ers have new lingo: “grey goo”, “wake up the universe,” SENS,” etc. Many are willing to abandon the meatbag and jump rapturously into The Singularity with a chemically-preserved brain ensconced inside a metallic Russian 2045 cyborg.

But the rest of the world - most of our family and friends, right? - don’t grok our enthusiasm.

“Read the books!” we suggest.

“Boring,” they retort. “Not my thing.”

What should we do?  How can we increase our numbers? My suggestion is:

H+ needs to expand it’s dogma so it appeals to Social Empaths. We need to “flesh out” the Transhumanist message by promoting philosophers who offer visionary ideas that are attractive to another, more populous segment of homo sapiens that dwells on the opposite end of the autistic spectrum.

We must cast our net wider into the sea of humanity.  We must capture the Social Empaths.

Will this be… difficult? NO.  Already, we have several writers with the words and wisdom we need for this purpose; we just haven’t been listening to them.

Who are they?

Here’s my Trio of Favorite Trans-Philosophers:

David Pearce

My elevation of David Pearce, the British author of the “abolitionist” manifesto “The Hedonistic Imperative”, should surprise no one - I’ve championed his empathetic ideas ever since we collaborated, near suicidally, on a Feb 2011 IEET essay titled, Women-Only Leadership - Would it Prevent War? - it received 161 comments, mostly vicious, before the thread was mercifully cut. 

Pearce regards his meticulous, passionate work as “morally urgent and technically rational” and I wholeheartedly agree. He promotes a “negative utilitarian” concept that Suffering In All Sentient Creatures Must Be and Can Be Eliminated via “paradise engineering” - genetics, nanotechnology, neurological anesthetics and pharmacological pain-killers. His level-headed Buddhistic ambition, if actualized, would transform us into happier and ethically “better humans.”  Pearce is also a third-generation vegan, an animal rights activist, a promoter of in-vitro meat, and he and I are evidently - in the H+ scene - the two biggest “Manginas” (a comically rude term for male feminists.)

Pearce’s insistence that suffering needs to be annihilated has been largely treated with indifference by the predominantly high-pain-threshold Nietzschean and/or Aspergerian POV in H+. When the Terasem Survey asked respondents to rate the importance of “ending sadness and unpleasant emotions,” only 25.8% ranked it as “very important.” Conversely, 34.1% regarded David’s quest as “not very important,” with another 16.8% noting that they “didn’t care.” The percentile of transhumanists who are vegan is also a mere 1.7%. Topping off his marginalization is the fact that 58.1% of transhumanists surveyed don’t know who David Pearce is and only 12.2% view him as someone they “very much” admire.

He received recent acknowledgement, though, from Zero State, which has adopted “abolition of involuntary suffering” as the eighth item in their Consensus International Principles. David also travels and lectures widely; he has significant followings in Brazil, Colombia, and Stanford University. IMO, he’s an exemplary transhumanist because he craves freedom from the shackles of Darwinism; he recognizes that we must grab the reins of our Evolution, we must manipulate and surpass the limitations of our present biology. His philosophical ambition is simultaneously fresh, futuristic, and as ancient as the 2,500 year old Third precept of Siddhartha.

Martine Rothblatt

Martine Rothblatt is a Renaissance transhumanist with stunning accomplishments in multiple, diverse fields. A partial list includes:

  1) She invented satellite radio, uniting the world with broadcast satellite communications.
  2) She’s authored numerous ground-breaking books, such as Apartheid of Sex and From Transgender to Transhuman.
  3) She’s produced films - 2B: The Era of Flesh is Over, and The Singularity is Near.
  4) She founded Terasem Movement Inc., a transhumanist NPO.
  5) She established the online World Against Racism Museum.
  6) She set up two mindful services, LifeNaut, and CyBeRev.
  7) She proposed the Two Stars for Peace solution to the Middle East crises, in which Israel and Palestine become the 51st and 52nd states of the USA.

She’s done all this, but I believe her most stunning success has been in her Family Life (an arena that H+ generally disregards). Martine has been married for 30 years to Bina Aspen - they’re biracial - and they have four children. Martine deserves a Greatest Wife and Mother Award because:

  8) When her daughter Jenesis was diagnosed with life-threatening pulmonary hypertension, she created the PPH Cure Foundation and a biotechnology company - United Therapeutics Corporation - to develop a medicine to save the life of her daughter. She also returned to the ivory tower to earn a PhD in Bioethics.
  9) She wrote Unzipped Genes - Taking Charge of Baby-Making in the New Millennium, a code of ethics to guide childbirth decisions in the future.
  10) After being married for 12 years, s/he switched her gender from male-to-female and her name from Martin-to-Martine. Did this traumatize her relationship with Bina? No, they survived happily. Martine has explained on the Howard Stern show that she is “Bina-sexual”, i.e., she’s only sexually interested in Bina, regardless of what gentalia she has.
  11) Uxorious, continued. Martine has created, via Hanson Robotics and $125,000, a Bina48 robot that resembles and impersonates her spouse. The sophisticated humanoid thinks, feels, and tells jokes independently, and has been interviewed numerous times.

Despite this epic narrative, Martine Rothblatt is a relatively unknown H+ figure. In the Terasem Survey - funded by her own foundation - 66.1% of respondents said they didn’t know who she was! Only 6.1% said they admired her “very much.” Like David Pearce, she is massively overlooked.

Ursula K. Le Guin

What’s this? You shake your head, you frown, you disagree and dispute my inclusion of the 1970s scifi icon… You retort, “Ursula K. Le Guin is Not H+! Who says she is?  Nobody!”

You’re right, actually. In the Terasem Survey, not a single respondent out of 818 mentioned her in the category of transhumanists they did, or did not, admire. Multiple other scifi writers were acclaimed in the poll - David Brin, Isaac Asimov, Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, William Gibson, and others… but no UKLG.

But hey, hear me out. My contention is this - Ursula K. Le Guin has already contributed enormously to transhumanism, and her eloquent literary offerings must be far more attention in the future. Here’s three obvious gifts she has supplied H+ with:

1) Left Hand of Darkness - ranked 2nd in the All Time Best SF Novels list by Locus - created an androgynous, gender-switching world that immensely appeals to many transhumanists. In the Terasem Survey, 13.4% of respondents said they wanted to someday have a hermaphroditic body, and an astonishing 33% noted in comments that they wanted male/female fluidity in the future. Ursula K. Le Guin provides a vision in Left Hand of Darkness of a society that escapes “apartheid of gender” because everyone is both XY and XX. Did all 33% read Left Hand of Darkness? No, they didn’t have to. Ursula’s utopia is in the mind-hive now.

2) The Dispossessed. Ursula’s other great novel also impacted H+, particularly in the political sphere. When Terasem Survey respondents were queried about their favorite governing structure, many replied “Anarchist-Taoist” - the philosophy of Anarres, the inhabited moon in The Dispossessed. The integrity and values of Anarres - no property ownership, for example - are favorably compared in the book to the capitalist, competitive, cynical civilization of Urras, a planet that mirrors Earth’s First World nations. I can’t claim every anarcho-syndicalist-transhumanist-taoist has read The Dispossessed, but Ursula’s world based on partnership, not oppression, empathy, not exploitation - signifies a hope that has sequestered itself in the longing imagination of many transhumanists.

3) The World for World is Forest. Ursula’s short, sorrowful novella was an environmental warning three decades ago that resurfaced as the main inspiration in “Avatar” - top-grossing film of all time. Her green advocation of sustainable environmental policies is a suggestion that has not yet been heeded. The novella also presents an ansible device, essentially a prophecy of the cell phone. The book’s inhabitants also practice “lucid dreaming” - an empowerment concept that remains popular today.


When I glance at the list above, I think to myself, Yes! This is What Transhumanism Should Look Like!

I want a new species of H+, a trans-transhumanism that’s empathetic, socially aware and friendly. Not just robot-friendly, tech-friendly and Friendly AI. No. I want a transhumanism that’s family-friendly, child-friendly, environmental-friendly, animal-friendly, and female-friendly. It doesn’t have to be a virtual sentimental chick-flick immersion, it just has to make us morally better.

I’m going to promote the empathic virtues of the three philosophers above, at IEET and on a personal website designated precisely to that cause.

If you want to help, please leave your contact info in comments below.








Hank Pellissier serves as IEET Managing Director and is an IEET Affiliate Scholar.


Thanks Hank, this is an excellent article, and an excellent initiative. I share your admiration for these three thinkers, and your wish for a softer, cuddlier, easier, gooier, goofier, happier Future.

I am a unrepentant, in-your face, old-school transhumanist who looks forward to"to abandon the meatbag and jump rapturously into The Singularity with a chemically-preserved brain ensconced inside a metallic Russian 2045 cyborg.” This is my thing.

But I see that our ideas are not viral, which is too bad because they are beautiful ideas, and I appreciate also the softer approach that you propose. The two approaches are not mutually exclusive, we can have one AND the other. This is the magic word: AND.

Let’s pay more attention to David, Martine, and Ursula indeed, and there are also others. Who are the great communicators who can reach the majority of social emphats better than we have done so far?

Sorry, I have to dispute the myth of women’s empathy. Women, especially of childbearing age, automatically categorize the men they meet into dominance hierarchies of reproductive fitness, and in our dysfunctional regime of women’s sexual freedom, they regularly disregard, dismiss and reject the kinds of men (the beta males) who would make good husbands and fathers in favor of having their fun with thugs, bad boys and cads. In fact, many women despise beta males (the majority of men, in other words, because men’s sexual desirability follows a Pareto distribution) and support political policies hostile to these men’s interests, in effect telling them to STFU, stay at their jobs and pay exorbitant taxes so that women like Sanda Fluke can “marry the state” as a surrogate husband, instead of those boring and sexually yucky betas, and have it keep their Malthusian belts stay stuffed with “free” contraceptives. Some “empathy” for the majority of the male population there.

So who winds up representing these men’s interests, almost by default? Religious conservatives, of course, with their support of politicians who offer to restrict abortion, access to contraception and welfare for women with bastard kids. Rolling back women’s sexual freedom will increase the supply of women unspoiled by promiscuity, abortions, single motherhood and welfare dependency who will make good wives and mothers for beta males.

Progressives have wanted to categorize the modern conservative movement as a “war on women,” but this war had provocation on the women’s side. Women’s selfishness and hedonism have alienated a lot of men who might otherwise feel inclined to take them under their protection.

@Guilio - thanks for your comments. Yes, expanding the fanbase of H+ would be nice - let me know your ideas of other thinkers who appeal to Social Empaths.

@ advancedatheist - That is your opinion, are you one of the “antifeminists” who wrote in when David Pearce and I wrote our article mentioned above?

regarding altruism and women, here’s an article below:

WASHINGTON - Looking for volunteers? The person most likely to say yes is a married white woman between 35 and 44 who’s a college graduate, works part-time and has at least one child under 18, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey released last month.

One’s conception of God /posthuman superintelligence is typically going to be very different if one has an extremely high AQ ( cf. than if one is, say, a mirror-touch synaesthete with an extremely low AQ. Presumably, truly posthuman superintelligences will transcend such simple-minded dichotomies as an systematizing /empathizing (cf.–systemizing_theory) cognitive style. But for poorly understood reasons, in humans at least there is often some kind of tradeoff - though a minority of people can switch quite fluidly between cognitive style as appropriate.

What I do find disconcerting, however, is the percentage of transhumanists who believe that phasing out the biology of suffering either isn’t very important or simply “don’t care” - apparently just over half, if Terasem Survey is credible. [Is it really that high?] Such an attitude of mind was probably fitness-enhancing for young hunter-warrior males on the African savannah (and for Genghis Khan ) But it’s not a recipe for full-spectrum superintelligence.

Hank, you’re a lot braver than me at putting the contrast between different conceptions of transhumanism so starkly.

@ David - this will be hard to read, but here are the stats recording what transhumanists thought was important.

If you add up the “don’t care” and “not much” categories under “ending suffering…. the total is 50.9% - more than half.

22. Which of these inventions and ambitions interest you?
very much quite a bit not much don’t care don’t know

colonizing the Moon 34.9% (262) 35.3% (265) 19.3% (145) 10.1% (76) 0.3% (2) 750
colonizing Mars 46.5% (349) 33.2% (249) 12.7% (95) 7.2% (54) 0.4% (3) 750
mining the asteroids 41.5% (311) 34.8% (261) 16.4% (123) 6.9% (52) 0.4% (3) 750
building a Dyson Sphere 35.9% (267) 28.1% (209) 21.4% (159) 7.5% (56) 7.1% (53) 744
immortality 72.1% (545) 15.9% (120) 8.6% (65) 2.9% (22) 0.5% (4) 756
radical life extension 78.8% (595) 16.8% (127) 2.9% (22) 1.3% (10) 0.1% (1) 755
ending social inequality 60.7% (460) 21.9% (166) 10.2% (77) 6.5% (49) 0.8% (6) 758
ending poverty 67.7% (513) 22.4% (170) 5.7% (43) 3.8% (29) 0.4% (3) 758
ending sexism 56.1% (425) 23.2% (176) 11.9% (90) 7.9% (60) 0.8% (6) 757
ending gender 16.2% (122) 11.7% (88) 34.2% (257) 35.1% (264) 2.8% (21) 752
brain enhancement 84.1% (635) 13.0% (98) 2.1% (16) 0.7% (5) 0.1% (1) 755
nanotechnology 73.6% (559) 22.4% (170) 2.8% (21) 0.9% (7) 0.3% (2) 759
artificial intelligence 75.4% (570) 18.0% (136) 4.8% (36) 1.7% (13) 0.1% (1) 756
stem cell technology 55.1% (418) 32.7% (248) 8.6% (65) 3.0% (23) 0.5% (4) 758
cloning 22.1% (167) 30.4% (229) 33.7% (254) 12.9% (97) 0.9% (7) 754
ending religion 44.2% (334) 17.5% (132) 17.6% (133) 19.8% (150) 0.9% (7) 756
ending oppressive governments 72.1% (545) 21.6% (163) 3.7% (28) 2.2% (17) 0.4% (3) 756
maximizing health 84.5% (641) 13.2% (100) 1.7% (13) 0.4% (3) 0.3% (2) 759
DIY 43.3% (326) 28.8% (217) 13.1% (99) 4.5% (34) 10.2% (77) 753
quantified self 34.3% (255) 28.9% (215) 15.7% (117) 5.8% (43) 15.3% (114) 744
ending property and money 32.7% (245) 19.7% (148) 24.9% (187) 20.5% (154) 2.1% (16) 750
ending sexual repression 54.3% (410) 25.2% (190) 12.6% (95) 6.5% (49) 1.5% (11) 755
ending sadness and unpleasant
25.6% (192) 21.0% (158) 34.1% (256) 16.8% (126) 2.5% (19) 751
ending speciesism (animal cruelty) 42.6% (322) 27.7% (209) 17.5% (132) 11.5% (87) 0.7% (5) 755
economic development 43.0% (325) 35.4% (268) 15.6% (118) 4.8% (36) 1.2% (9) 756
ending war 68.5% (520) 20.3% (154) 6.5% (49) 3.7% (28) 1.1% (8) 759
ending environmental destruction 63.1% (478) 22.2% (168) 9.0% (68) 5.7% (43) 0.1% (1) 758

not sure about Ursula le Guin - wizards of earthsea was very pro death.

I also think it’s a bit strange that so many transhumanists and H+ers don’t seem to think getting rid of suffering is all that important, or at least that so many of them put its importance below that of such things as “building a Dyson sphere”, or “colonizing the asteroids”, two ambitions which are obviously of dire urgency and importance. Those are some seriously skewed priorities, imho.

Although, the majority of transhumanists who responded (70.3%) thought that ending animal cruelty was important and/or interesting, so there is some hope for abolitionists. It’s not all bad news!

“Progressives have wanted to categorize the modern conservative movement as a ‘war on women,’ but this war had provocation on the women’s side. Women’s selfishness and hedonism have alienated a lot of men who might otherwise feel inclined to take them under their protection.”

no one would say women are angels—save for the over-enamored alpha males who live in a partially romantic dreamworld
wherein they think their women and children are perfect (and of course they can argue that they are perfect in God’s eyes or somesuch nonsense). It’s happened to me many times in the past; a guy would take out photos of his wife and children and say ‘what angels they all are’.
And no-one is going to say women were born tabula rasa; however you’ll notice teenage females do not necessarily seek out alpha males (my experience is they go for anyone who pays great attention to them) so right here we can see the cultural conditioning. As for the tendency to seek out the alpha, that’s far more pronounced in men; war films are powerful evidence of that, glamorizing military heroes is worse than women simpering over a piece of Hollywood fluff. Plus, it is changing: if Justin Bieber is an alpha male, then alpha males are improving. Better Justin Bieber than Geo. Patton demanding blood, guts and entrails.
Though I’m now loathe to make predictions on how the situation might or might not improve further, to frame it religiously: women are more sinned against than sinning, that is my judgment call and I will stick to it unless you can demonstrate hard evidence to the contrary. So far you show justifiable anger yet nothing more, the same sort of anger we feel towards traffic cops who give us tickets—“those stuck-up pigs”, we think; and they are stuck-up pigs. Question always is, though, what are the mitigating circumstances? Cops don’t run the ‘system’, they work for it; that goes double for women; women don’t own or run the system. Men do.
Those who own the biggest hired guns rule the ‘system’—and men, not women, own those hired guns.

@Hank, “ending suffering” is not the same as “ending sadness and unpleasant emotions”, and I think would have a significantly different stat profile.  If there were no negative emotion, we would be missing a major impetus to win rather than lose at any competition, to succeed rather than fail at any endeavor, or even to avoid pain and injury.  The sense of “suffering” is of a more protracted, severe, and involuntary state, and I think many more respondents would clock in as caring about it “very much” or “quite a bit”.

great article Hank

I have been working tirelessly to bring more of my TH curious sisters about, and I believe the gender gap is closing. (not just because of my efforts, but, you know)

But I also believe that the Future is still young, so to speak, and as technology marches forward, the social empaths, (who are to a larger degree represented by women since less women are ASD) will play a greater role in creating the softer, cuddlier Future you speak of.

@Kennita - you’re right, I think “ending suffering” would have been a better choice of words, sorry I didn’t use that, it would have been clearer

@Lutzka - I hope you’re right! Tell your friends to contact me and I’d love to get articles from them

Kennita, intuitively you’re right. It’s a cruel dilemma. Without negative emotions, we’d be trapped in a stagnant Brace New World. For as long as organic life depends on the signalling role of the pleasure-pain axis, lifelong well-being might seem impossible. Not least, there would be selection pressure against perpetual happiness. Happy lotus-eaters will be out-competed and out-bred. Discontent is adaptive.

However, there a technically elegant solution. In principle, at any rate, we can retain the functional analogues of our nastier Darwinian emotions without the nasty “raw feels”. Compare the very happiest “hyperthymic” people alive today, like the hugely productive transhumanist scholar Andres Sandberg. Imminent mastery of our reward circuitry should allow radical genetic recalibration of the hedonic treadmill for those of us who aren’t so blessed - and also for our future children. Hedonic tone (“liking”) is different from motivation (“wanting”). Technically, at least, everyday life could be richer than today’s peak experiences - and yet we could still be intensely motivated to succeed in everything we attempt.

I’m less convinced we should be competing “against” anyone in zero-sum games. [“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail” - Gore Vidal]  Competitive status-seeking is deeply rooted male primate psychology. But I hope that as transhumanists we can aspire to transcend that psychology. Dong so, I think, will require biological / genetic intervention as well as a cultural sea-change. One powerful additional reason for systematically discouraging competitive status-seeking is touched on in Hank’s brave essay “Women-Only Leadership: Would it prevent war?” [cf.  - no, IMO, simply diminish its likelihood.] It’s naive to imagine most men have transcended the biology of our hunter-warrior mind-set that was genetically adaptive on the African savannah. Catastrophic nuclear war this century is all too likely - and we’re sleep-walking towards the abyss. I know some transhumanists believe the biggest threat to humanity lies in non-friendly AI; I think it lies in us.

@David re “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail” - Gore Vidal

Sad, and true for most people I fear. I think I am relatively immune, but it must be one of those things that come with age.

Which brings me to:

“Competitive status-seeking is deeply rooted male primate psychology.”

We have discussed this before. If my life experience is any good, females can be as viciously and cruelly competitive as males. Sometimes even more, because they often don’t fight themselves, but manipulate others who fight for them, so they have the potential benefits without the potential risks.

Perhaps the experience that comes with our grey hairs can be a better moderator of ancient impulses…

But I wouldn’t like to lose the imagination and daring impulse of younger people in decision making. A society governed by seniors would stagnate and become a residence for third age.

In summary, men and women, young and old, all can give a useful contribution to governance based on a valid and unique perspective. This is one of the (very few) cases where I prefer to leave well enough alone.

@David re “In principle, at any rate, we can retain the functional analogues of our nastier Darwinian emotions without the nasty “raw feels”.”

Or developing better technologies to control emotions. Drugs are old technologies to control emotions, but not very precise and with different effects on different persons. With a good “emotions control panel” (there is a fun example in Charlie Stross’ last novel) you can choose whether to tune up or down the volume of one’s aggressive side, based on what is best for the actual circumstances.

The survey was very well put together, but as has already been pointed out, it doesn’t capture all the nuances of Transhumanist’s beliefs. I suspect I share many of David Pearce’s hopes for humanity, and I will have to read his writings, now that I’m aware of them. Thanks for that, Hank.

Personally, I have no regrets from having left a nearly perpetual state of disthymia. Associating with the many optimistic Transhumanists has been a part of that. That said, I think it is the social empath part of me that would retain negative emotions. My experience has been that these were very important for my understanding other people and for truly enjoying joy. I guess it’s time to start reevaluating this perspective and see how it is modified.

@Giulio, yes indeed. Whether we consider chimpanzees or humans, females can be just as cruelly competitive as males. In chimpanzees and humans alike, the nature of that cruelly competitive behaviour tends to vary as a function of different male and female reproductive strategies. Thus it’s almost always males who wage aggressive territorial attacks on rival troops / tribes. Genes and culture have co-evolved. However, one reason I don’t actively write or campaign for the election of an all-woman political class to replace today’s male-dominated politics is that I’m sceptical such a sea-change is politically feasible. So we’re unlikely to know whether such a revolution would really reduce the likelihood of nuclear Armageddon. Let’s hope the pessimists are wrong.

I agree with you about designing a good “emotions control panel”. However, there are some Darwinian emotions, for example jealousy, that we might fruitfully set to zero. Our nobler feelings can (I hope) be massively enriched.

@David re “I agree with you about designing a good “emotions control panel”. However, there are some Darwinian emotions, for example jealousy, that we might fruitfully set to zero. Our nobler feelings can (I hope) be massively enriched.”

um, I am not so sure, because most coins have two sides. A undesired emotion can be so strongly correlated with a desired one, that setting the former to zero also sets the latter to zero. I am afraid that aggressiveness and jealousy are strongly correlated with the ability to respond to threats, which is useful even in a non-violent society.

I am sure we will have reliable tools for optimized mood and emotion control someday, but we don’t have them yet, and we must solve today’s problems with today’s tools.

Yes Hank, good article with which i largely agree.  What can be, should be, has been done (largely unsuccessfully), to increase mass appeal of our ideas and more importantly our “marketing” terminology, besides your sound suggestions, is a vast area for ongoing discussion.  Resistance to the label is far greater than that to the technologies that lie at the base of our beliefs.  Convenience tech is picked up in steadily increasing numbers across the planet, and survival tech is grasped at by all but the most foolhardy fundamentalists.  The label will come into prominence once we decide to actively engage in the political process, and that will require a lot of deep reflection, research and discussion.
One word of caution regarding language:  Lady Gaga and Mullah Omar have “fans” (fanatics), we don’t want them.  It’s inherent in transhumanist thinking to want to exploit the strengths of popular culture without succumbing to its many falsities.

@advancedatheist:  you must know a lot of weird woman, sorry mate.  I’m not saying they’re not out there, guess i’m just fortunate enough to stay away from them.

@Giulio:  You know i agree with you on many things, but in regard to jealousy i’m with David.  As a teenager I went through a 3-day hell phase working through my first and last bout of jealousy during which i managed to completely separate the (vague) notion of love from the (very concrete) one of jealousy.  During the ensuing years of the countercultural upheavals i had plenty of opportunity to solidify these gains espousing and practising my ideas of “free love” within and without long term relationships.
If some barbarian warrior king takes your woman (it’s usually that way around) against her will something quite different from jealousy (even though it resonates throughout) sets in:  a mixture of wanting to liberate the damsel in distress, defend one’s “property”, and mostly to restore the previous state of stability (happiness).  Underlying all this is the insidious drive of the selfish gene to perpetuate, which also drives jealousy, and which to conquer is one of our currently most pressing tasks.  If by contrast your mate decides to leave you or to reduce your status from “the one” to “another one”, the result is usually pure jealousy with its attending emotions of pain, fear and anger.  Submitting to it results at best in pointless self-torture, at worst in violence and the successful establishment of a master-slave relationship.  Jealousy has no place in civilized human concourse.

Giulio, just to back up René‘s point. I agree with you that (this side of utopia) the ability to respond to threats is vital. But threats to what exactly? Jealousy, for example, exists because of threats to the inclusive fitness of one’s genes in the ancestral environment rather than because there is anything intrinsically threatening about, say, another man chatting to one’s wife.

For sure, functional analogues of a capacity for anxiety, for instance, will probably be necessary indefinitely. But I think jealousy - and even the functional analogues of jealousy - might well be condemned to the dustbin of evolutionary history. We know the feeling can be transiently eliminated by a drug like MDMA (Ecstasy). I hope we find safe and sustainable ways to eliminate jealousy for good.

This is true of a number of other nasty Darwinian emotions. Is there any ethical case for conserving e.g.

@David, there is nothing “good” or “bad” in emotions. We are biological machines with firmware designed by Darwinian Evolution, Inc. Our emotions are just part of that firmware, and usually we find perfectly logic evolutionary explanations for all common emotional responses.

We are transhumanists, and we think we can do better than nature. So we can (and should) re-engineer our emotional firmware according to the values that we choose. I am totally in favor of developing “safe and sustainable ways to eliminate jealousy for good.”

I don’t happen to suffer from jealousy, but I see that it is a very powerful emotion in others, and I know that usually Darwinian Evolution, Inc., has very good reasons for its design decisions. All that I am saying is that re-engineering our emotions is difficult, and at every step there is the risk of throwing the baby away with the dirty water. Of course this does not mean that we shouldn’t try.

@ David: “I hope we find safe and sustainable ways to eliminate jealousy for good.”

@ Giulio:  “we must solve today’s problems with today’s tools.”

We have the tool (our brains) and we have the way (using it).  I had hoped that my brief personal account would clarify that i did it, meaning that it can be done.  I can provide more details if required.  And I have seen others do it.

There may be many reasons that it’s done so rarely:  lack of discipline, resolve and opportunity, lousy therapists, a half-conscious recognition that it would mean the loss of a way to derive twisted pleasure from feeling wronged, being successful in using it for domination, etc.

“the feeling can be transiently eliminated by a drug like MDMA (Ecstasy)”:  with the correct repeated application of tools like it i’m sure it can be eliminated permanently.  It wasn’t my drug of choice (not widely available in the 60/70s), but for over a decade i have successfully performed virtually all of my “self-analysis” work before and during my time as a professional transpersonal psychotherapist with the help of LSD and to a lesser degree other psychoactive drugs.  But jealousy I have fought and conquered before that period.

“H+ needs to expand it’s dogma so it appeals to Social Empaths.”

Hank, you are correct to talk of “dogma” here. Being dogmatic is the reality of each and every sufficiently large movement of mostly-neurotypical humans. (Has to do with another thing you mentioned, that normal people reply “Boring!” when told to read or think too much, among other things.) I wish you well in your project, insofar as you’ll continue to be openly honest regarding issues such as these.

Personally, I try to genuinely value non-dogmatism, which necessarily makes me an elitist, even though I don’t like the fact that that’s the way things work.

(This despite me being the kind of “Robot Cultist” who has significant background in the activities typical of “Social Empaths”, such as having been a full-time animal rights activist. Actually, now that I got going mentioning not-typical-Robot-Cultist features of mine, I’ll also mention one of my coolest “achievements” on that front, that of having been adopted as a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International—on an activism issue completely unrelated to the others I alluded to here.)

@Giulio , @René 
There are indeed people who either aren’t especially prone to ugly Darwinian emotions such as jealousy, or who can effectively suppress such feelings. But they (you?) aren’t typical. The reason they aren’t typical is that our would-be ancestors on the African savannah who mastered such ignoble sentiments usually weren’t the ones who passed on their genes. At least for most people, a (conditionally activated) predisposition to jealousy is as involuntary as sneezing. The same is true, to a greater or lesser degree, of other nasty Darwinian emotions. Later this century, we should be in a position to decide which Darwinian emotions should be abolished altogether [e.g. jealousy?) and which should be preserved in the form of functional analogues [e.g. anxiety] minus the nasty “raw feels”. 

Here we’ve focused on human emotions we may be lose - and the pitfalls of dong so. But much more exciting IMO is what we’ll gain:  the enrichment of our emotional repertoire promised by re-engineering our limbic systems - set against a backdrop of hugely enhanced hedonic tone: “superhappiness”.

@Giulio, you say “there is nothing ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in emotions.”

Is there really nothing inherently wrong with Schadenfreude, pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others?
I’m sure we’ve all felt it on occasion (I derive a guilty pleasure from watching )
But shouldn’t we aim to abolish Schadenfreude altogether?

Or were you making a point about meta-ethical anti-realism?

@David - “Later this century, we should be in a position to decide which Darwinian emotions should be abolished altogether”.  I have a pretty good idea based on my own life experiences of which ones should be abolished, and i presume you do too.  I can’t find statistic on how many people are suffering and die yearly through the effects of jealousy (and its nasty cousin envy), but my very conservative guess would be hundreds of thousands.  This problem must, and more importantly can, be addressed now, not in 2090 (by that time it shouldn’t have existed for decades).

As for schadenfreude (i like the vid) it’s just a minor irritant that rarely leads to infliction of suffering.  Just to experience it doesn’t hurt anyone else, and creates, as the word implies, joy (literally of damage, more precisely of someone else’s frustration), a feeling i always welcome.  Recently i’ve had many occasions for schadenfreude watching Romney repeatedly self-ignite, and my pleasure doesn’t carry a hint of guilt.  Schadenfreude is intimately connected with rivalry.  One wouldn’t experience it if one’s wife or brother breaks a leg, but if a political or economic rival does.  Both the hunter for you and Romney in my case are our rivals because they represent a value system incompatible with ours.  If the damage is done directly to the rival, the resulting feeling is joy of having won (at least this round) rather than him having lost.  The typical schadenfreude experience is based on damage resulting from sources not under our control, with the bonus of seeing him “lose” without our having to expend any effort.  The whole phenomenon of rivalry has to be addressed (abolished as well in my view) without throwing out the baby of “healthy” competition.  Once that’s done schadenfreude will evaporate in the process.

@David re “were you making a point about meta-ethical anti-realism?”

Yes, and also pointing out that there are simple evolutionary explanations for “bad” (and “good”) emotions. Schadenfreude has a simple evolutionary explanation: if others fail and are seen failing, I have more chances to reproduce.

@Rene’ re “Just to experience it doesn’t hurt anyone else”

I think you are making a very important point here. Whatever emotions you experience in the privacy of your head and hormonal system don’t hurt anyone else. It is only what you _do_ that can hurt others.

Therefore I am in favor of measures to limit the damage done to others, but against forcing people to undergo emotional therapy for its own sake.

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