IEET > Rights > Economic > Vision > Staff > Marcelo Rinesi > Technoprogressivism
Why I’m certain no computer could have written this column
Marcelo Rinesi   Nov 4, 2011  

On the face of it, the choice of where we’re applying AI commercially and where we aren’t is deeply weird.

Some people’s job description involves things that we know are mostly computationally feasible: efficient resource allocation, task routing, and the quantitative control of complex symbolic systems. Other people’s jobs are orders of magnitude more difficult from a computational point of view, involving things like the control of physical objects and dealing with poorly structured natural language information and requests. Yet commercial applications of artificial intelligence are overwhelmingly focused on the second set of tasks.

A naive person would assume that it’s because the second set of tasks commands much higher wages, and hence have higher returns to automation. But the opposite is the case; people who allocate resources, route tasks, and so on, that is, people in the first group, are actually much, much better paid, both individually and as a class.

A paranoid person, a game theorist, or an economist studying organizations (assuming there’s much that differentiates those three disciplines) would offer an alternative hypothesis: software hasn’t made any inroads replacing people in the first group because people in the first group are the ones who decide what software gets made and bought.

Call it psychology, economics, or evolutionary biology, a high-level manager will eagerly slash middle management positions – making the same number of people do more work is one of the basics of his or her job description – but replacing middle managers with software would raise uncomfortable questions as to whether management in general can be done by software… and therein, of course, lies madness, anarchy, complete economic ruin, horses eating each other, and so on.

I guess now I should proceed to pad this column up with examples and witticisms, because if the value of what I’m doing resided mainly on suggesting an hypothesis based on publicly available information, then it could eventually be done by software, and that of course is patently impossible.

Trust me. Why would I lie about this?

Marcelo Rinesi is the IEET's Chief Technology Officer, and former Assistant Director. He is also a freelance Data Intelligence Analyst.


It’s a trap!

Marcelo Rinesi is in fact an AI!  :cheese:

So I guess the scenario is something like this.

1. For a short while, commercial AI continues to focus on the second set of tasks, and management structures stay more or less unchanged.

2. Gradually, however, the first type of AIs start to be developed and are taken up by a few small start-ups that lack entrenched opposition.

3. The few small start-ups outcompete the dinosaurs, and a new disruptive technology is born.

4. Within just a few years from now (three or four?), management structures that we currently take for granted will be history.

I don’t think I’ll miss them much, but then I guess that depends who has designed the AIs, and with what purpose. #ows

I think the main concern about AIs is that they become so good at what they do that human workers get laid off in favor of the AIs.  For those who think work will be obsolete, work doesn’t just earn people money to support themselves, their families, and allow leisure spending, it also gives a person a sense of identity and self-worth. 
For now, anything close to an AI is pretty much a glorified adding machine which is still very helpful to the worker (depending on the job).  On top of that, our language is full of puns, exaggerations, meta fores, and so forth that even our most advance computers don’t understand.  So I’m not worried about AI taking our jobs anytime soon, and by the time it is truly developed there will probably be shifts in jobs that allow both people and AIs fair work.

One thing for certain, Christian: everyone wants to be shown to have been correct in having predicted a winning deal, esp. if it is a long shot.
Like say in sports, if the Chargers come from behind to win a game then a guy who betted on them says, “see, I told you they would win!”

Not sure you need all the puns and metaphors to do management or other white-collar jobs. Maybe you need them for marketing, getting clients, understanding the competition, doing deals, that kind of thing. But you’re right, this is a potentially hugely disruptive technology, and people’s sense of identity and self-worth is often a casualty in such circumstances.

But the novella “Who moved my cheese?” springs to mind. The answer cannot be, “ban the machines”. We need to instil in people (starting with ourselves) a sense of self-acceptance that doesn’t depend so rigidly on a specific role or type of contribution. We are who we are. If I get fed, and I am loved, then I can develop my own projects. There are always things to do. No need to insist on doing things that machines can do better than us. This is the attitude we need to spread.

By the way, is the whole of capitalism and market-based economics driven by outdated, Taylorist motivation theory? Just wondering. It obviously does better than traditional Marxism-Leninism, but does the Scandinavian model point us in a direction that could eventually lead to a radically different, and better. way of organising society?

Thinking strange thoughts this evening, must be the speculoos chocolate.

“We are who we are”
LOL.  Sorry, but that reminds me of the song sung by Ke$ha that goes by the same name | D.

Any-who, My point was that we are able to develop true AIs yet so this gives us enough time to make transitions to jobs that don’t require AI, and hopefully allow us to follow our professions more.  Some other things that may slow down the production of AIs, and any other advanced technology, is providing enough energy to power such tech and develop an efficient cooling system to prevent those machines from heating up too much.  So again, I’m not worried about AIs taking out jobs anytime soon.

“My point was that we are able to develop true AIs yet so this gives us enough time to make transitions to jobs that don’t require AI, and hopefully allow us to follow our professions more.”

And my point is “professions” include WMD manufacturers, meth dealers, snuff-filmmakers, and so forth. You forget, Christian, that capitalism is value-neutral; capitalism was probably not what Jesus had in mind.


I was not being ethereal in my last comment, but I should point out that some of those “professions” may prove more difficult to transition to for a good many people.  For example: if a logger loses his job in favor of some self-operating machine, there may be other jobs options available to him but he has been logger his entire working career (lets assume for argument sake that he is around 50) and does not have enough time or flexibility to do anything else.  A similar scenario could occur within jobs that AIs could potentially take over, but like I said before this transition may be slow.

BTW, I don’t know if you misspelled or not but I’m not sure that I know what meth dealers are.

Meth is methamphetamine.
Your comment wasn’t ethereal. My dispute with ‘conservatives’ (and this relates to many other threads at IEET) is that it isn’t free market vs. statist, it is between those who want change and those who do not. I don’t like change but know that one has to adapt and don’t mind if AI eventually takes over all tasks- I’m afraid of people, not machines.

“I’m afraid of people, not machines.”

Interesting comments! I see your point post-post. Of course if the machine happened to be a drone and I was the target, then I’d be afraid of the machine, but it’s people who programmed it. And there are plenty of people out there I’m afraid of, or at least would be if I encountered them in a dark alley.

I guess at the end of the day, we’re never really afraid of people, machines or anything else. We’re afraid of *what might happen*. (Or what might not happen.) Would be interesting to have a thread on what *are* afraid of. The singularity happening? The singularity not happening? Systemic collapse? The status quo? Change? Lack of change? Death? Disability?

Much as I like to emphasise the need for positive visions, in order to realise them it’s also necessary to identify scenarios we fear, and take steps to avoid them.

@Christian any lyrics there? 😊

“The status quo? Change? Lack of change? Death? Disability?”

All the above, Pete. Perhaps death and disability aren’t as feared as pain. Being in an accident beyond one’s control and then bedridden in pain is something to fear. Or let’s take going out with a whimper, not a bang; say one at the age of 105 is in a nursing home: not much to do save for existing until it is time to go out with a whimper. And then there’s change. Can’t speak for others, but I’m not afraid of change, just don’t like speeding up to adapt to increasing change, it’s about survival of the fastest. Old-fashioned Americans don’t get that, they think they can live their old-time (albeit with all the latest gadgets) lives yet still keep up. They are attempting to have it all, they are trying to retain their old time religion, their old time ambiance, their Waltons and Little House On The Prairie lifestyles, expecting the outside world to make them feel integrated in some way though linked to the past. Pete, they’d need a Holodeck for that.
However we all live in a fantasy world to some extent. My friends are similar to ancient Egyptians in thinking the afterlife will be like this life, in the mind’s eye they think they will hunt deer & elk in Heaven, eat the same venison in Heaven as they do now, while watching the same Clint Eastwood DVDs.
“My fellow Americans, you can have it all—on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

I guess we have to live in a fantasy world, “to some extent”, otherwise we’d go crazy. Besides, reality is far too complicated for us to take in, so in a sense we are inevitably living a fantasy.

Here’s another thing we may he afraid of, at least those of us who tend to think too much: the ultimate pointlessness of it all? #Petertheexistentialist

“the ultimate pointlessness of it all”

Could you clarify on that Peter?

@ post-post

“it’s about survival of the fastest”

Some of the changes you expect may not happen as fast as you think.  technology is a good example of this.  Its changes tend to be more sporadic that continuous, with advancements occur in bursts that last until a road block gets in the way and does not continue until it is removed.  Some examples of potential road blocks, which I mentioned before, may be energy requirements and proper cooling systems.

“Could you clarify on that Peter?”

Uh, mainly I was in a crappy mood yesterday evening. But I think many, many people go through moments - or even long periods - where nothing really seems to have any value. This can be triggered by many things: it might be genetic/depression-related, it might be the result of fatigue, disillusionment, loss of faith (e.g. in religion), or simply an excessive tendency to analyse. Analysis helps us to understand and to hone our actions once we’ve decided what we want, but on its own it doesn’t help us to find meaning, purpose, joy. For that one needs other techniques, such as mindfulness.

I think it’s no coincidence that existentialist philosophers tended to suffer from and emphasise this problem. They were coming off Christianity, as one comes off a drug.

Herbert Marcuse criticised Existentialism, especially Being and Nothingness (1943), by Jean-Paul Sartre, for projecting anxiety and meaninglessness onto the nature of existence itself: “Insofar as Existentialism is a philosophical doctrine, it remains an idealistic doctrine: it hypostatizes specific historical conditions of human existence into ontological and metaphysical characteristics. Existentialism thus becomes part of the very ideology which it attacks, and its radicalism is illusory”.

In Letter on Humanism, Heidegger criticized Sartre’s existentialism:

Existentialism says existence precedes essence. In this statement he is taking existentia and essentia according to their metaphysical meaning, which, from Plato’s time on, has said that essentia precedes existentia. Sartre reverses this statement. But the reversal of a metaphysical statement remains a metaphysical statement. With it, he stays with metaphysics, in oblivion of the truth of Being.

Logical positivists, such as Carnap and Ayer, say Existentialists frequently are confused about the verb “to be” in their analyses of “being”. They argue that the verb is transitive, and pre-fixed to a predicate (e.g., an apple is red): without a predicate, the word is meaningless.


Personally, I feel that existence is telic.

The Singularity is our Telos.

Cybernetics and teleonomy

Julian Bigelow, Arturo Rosenblueth, and Norbert Wiener have conceived of feedback mechanisms as lending a teleology to machinery. Wiener, a mathematician, coined the term ‘cybernetics’ to denote the study of “teleological mechanisms.” Cybernetics is the study of the communication and control of regulatory feedback both in living beings and machines, and in combinations of the two.

In recent years, end-driven teleology has become contrasted with “apparent” teleology, i.e. teleonomy or process-driven systems.

Teleonomy is the quality of apparent purposefulness and of goal-directedness of structures and functions in living organisms that derive from their evolutionary history, adaptation for reproductive success, or generally, due to the operation of a program.

The term was coined to stand in contrast with teleology, which applies to ends that are planned by an agent which can internally model/imagine various alternative futures, which enables intention, purpose and foresight. A teleonomic process, such as evolution, produces complex products without the benefit of such a guiding foresight. Evolution largely hoards hindsight, as variations unwittingly make “predictions” about structures and functions which could successfully cope with the future, and participate in an audition which culls the also-rans, leaving winners for the next generation. Information accumulates about functions and structures that are successful, exploiting feedback from the environment via the selection of fitter coalitions of structures and functions. These features also have been described by Robert Rosen as an anticipatory system which builds an internal model based on past and possible futures states. Teleonomy is related to programmatic or computational aspects of purpose. Richard Dawkins has also described the properties of “archeo-purpose” and “neo-purpose” in his talk on the “purpose of purpose.” In the later part of his working with a theory of social evolution and a related theory of world-history, Talcott Parsons adopted the concept of teleonomy as the fundamental organizing principle for directional processes and his theory of societal development in general. In this way, Parsons tried to find a theoretical compromise between voluntarism as a principle of action and the idea of a certain directionality in history.

You know how if one doesn’t worry about something then one worries about something else? religion is much the same: if an empty religious head isn’t filled with one religious memeplex, that empty head is filled with another.

I’m also rather impressed with John Smart’s evo-devo universe :cheese:

I’m glad that some people here believe in some form of purpose in the universe.  Then again, If there was no purpose or reason for anything, why would we bother with ethics?  In fact, a lot of the things IEET advocates wouldn’t make any sense.

Bad purpose can be worse than no purpose: better to be atheist than subscribe to bad religion. Charles Manson would have been better off as an atheist than a chop-chop hamburger eschatologist—rather common, you know.

@ post-post

I know that their are bad religions out there, but I hope you don’t assume that all religions and faiths are.  Besides, don’t atheists also feel some sense of purpose?  I find it hard to imagine someone who is convinced that they are without any purpose and not feel empty and depressed about it.  How did we get so far off topic?  I thought this thread was about AIs taking over certain jobs.

“Then again, If there was no purpose or reason for anything, why would we bother with ethics? In fact, a lot of the things IEET advocates wouldn’t make any sense.”

Like Mike says, there is no *objective* meaning to the universe, but we can assign our own meaning. We can also, of course, choose to *believe* in some higher purpose, and believe that this does *not* come from us but is rather given by God, the cosmos, whatever. I’m actually ambivalent about this myself, which is why my reference to “the ultimate pointlessness of everything” was, indeed, partly the result of a crappy mood. What I do know is that so far I have not been convinced by any belief system that assigns objective meaning to the universe. By contrast, since I figured out (with the help inter alia of self-helpl books) that it was up to me to assign meaning, i.e. to decide what I want to stand for in this world, and that this was a free choice and not a matter of obligation, I’ve been a lot better off: both emotionally, and in terms of my effectiveness and the quality of my relationships.

Evolution is the Telos.

The universe is a 2 bit 3 state computer. It cannot help but evolve itself.

Religion, however, is pretty much always wrong. Primarily, because it externalizes it’s “deity”. We know from studying holism and set theory that this is impossible.

Take, for example, the property of God as being omninpresent (a precondition for being “godlike”).

How is it possible for an entity to be omnipresent, and not in total unity with all that exists?

This is the biggest error most religions make, to separate and externalize the deity from existence.

And there’s a reason for it. If they taught that the deity was in unity with existence, the paradigm of guilt and repression and control would fall apart. For example, how can their be damnation of any part of existence, when all parts of existence are in unity with deity? How can any part of god commit sin? And then where is the need for repentance?

The principle of unity defies all religions.

Evolution is the Telos.

“How did we get so far off topic? I thought this thread was about AIs taking over certain jobs.”

That’s one of the things I love about this blog 😊

Post-post is right: “no purpose” is better than bad purpose, so we should not glorify “having a sense of purpose” as being always a good thing. You’re right of course as well: it’s difficult to be happy and not have any sense of purpose. But I don’t think you have to believe that purpose is God-given or absolute in any sense. Recognising the fundamental subjectivity of one’s values helps us to understand and relate to people who’s values differ from ours, rather than going into some kind of neurotic meltdown, as people tend to do (and end up going to war or blowing up people on buses).

“How did we get so far off topic? I thought this thread was about AIs taking over certain jobs.”

Alright, when AI takes over jobs (or careers) those affected may feel less self-worth, sense of purpose, or no self-worth/sense of purpose at all. However IMO less or no self-worth/sense of purpose at all is more positive—or shall we say less harmful—than an inflated sense of self-worth/bad purpose; in some cases, naturally. The dictum is: first do no harm, which is difficult but not impossible. Your problem might be a certain degree of Christian absolutism, not fundamentalist, however still an extremist take on Christianity. Too much of a good thing. Like if you pray two hours a day you are a pious Christian; whereas unless you live in a monastery, praying 20 hours a day would make you a nut.
As Mike and Peter wrote, it is subjective. You want to steer a course between the Scylla of idealistic Christianity, and the Charybdis of pragmatism. You are not unbalanced at this time, Christian, yet in later life it will be easy to become unbalanced, easiest thing in the world… screwing it up is only natural—not screwing it up is hard. David Koresh and Manson didn’t decide to become murderous nuts, they drifted into it slowly without their realizing it. Now of course they are extreme examples; but take for instance Jim and Tammy, or the fictional Elmer Gantry: they did not wake up one morning to say to themselves,
“let’s let things slowly slide out of proportion.”
What happened was, it creeped up on them in their slowly becoming delinked from being relatively well-balanced.

Pete’s last comment was posted while I wrote my last one, so he basically already explained it.
The following is another example of being out-of-proportion (which, again, is common): today’s Joe Paterno flap, a silly furore concerning a football coach. Or the death of boxer Joe Frazier a few days ago. Boxing isn’t even a sport, it is merely beating people up, however sports maniacs revere a boxer in the ring as if he were a Saint Paul on the road to Damascus.
The above can be related to the topic at hand; we have to rein in our extremism, our extremism is always potential, so we attempt to keep it potential and not actual. As Peter might write, someone who is laid-off due to AI would be better off for everyone’s sakes (including his own) waiting in line at the unemployment or welfare office than waiting on a bus with a bomb strapped to his torso.
Don’t want to single out America, but America does set a bad example in this regard. Barry Goldwater was a genuine conservative yet he was hyperbolic when he said,
“extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice…”
Goldwater said it for effect; there are times when extremism is warranted, justifiable- rationalizable at least. However we don’t want to be extremely extreme, because such would be… extreme. No reason to get our panties in a bunch because Joe Paterno was forced out of his coaching position; no reason to sob piteously because Joe Frazier died. And no reason for Christians to get bent out of shape concerning abortion, or because gays want to marry. Or for instance if someone in your family looked at some racy photos on the Web, you wouldn’t want to start a nuclear war or something.

Let’s not be extremely extremist about all these things.

“Evolution is the Telos. The universe is a 2 bit 3 state computer. It cannot help but evolve itself.”

I’m wondering. The very concept of evolution depends on the concept of time, right? Evolution has to take place over time, otherwise it’s not evolution. But what is time? I seem to remember there was an article about that here recently, which I don’t think I read, but clearly it’s controversial: perhaps connected with the second law. Is it really meaningful to say that the universe evolves over time, or is it rather the structure of the omniverse that gives us the impression (illusion?) of both evolution and time.

Anyway, as I’ve said before what seems to me to be missing from this type of analysis is any concept of free will and choice, and I think that just makes it wrong. However much we may meditate on the immutability of evolution, the inevitability of technological progress, and so on, the fact remains that in our day-to-day experience we make choices, and those choices lead to more or less reliable outcomes. It is my belief that in those futures where human (or post-human) civilisation grows, this phenomenon of choice and intention will gradually replace the mechanisms of evolution, and the second law. The Telos will become something we choose, not something we have to passively accept. In the mean time, we need to steer our way from disaster (fortunately Merkel is starting to say the right things, to take one example), and work within the constraints of the second law, social darwinism etc.

You’re right, we shouldn’t see God as something/one external (btw did you really just use Gödel’s theorem to disprove God? That would be cool), but in “internalising” the concept of God to a more pantheistic concept of Telos you also need to internalise the concept of intention (from “God’s will” to “our will”). Not abandon it altogether.

“screwing it up is only natural—not screwing it up is hard.”

Indeed - the second law (of thermodynamics in case anyone was wondering) in action!

But maybe there really are futures where human intention expands to the point where it is screwing up that is hard. Arguably it’s already started - see e.g. Pinker’s analysis of declining (per capita) rates of violent death throughout history.

Of course, the reason we’ve been able to beat the second law locally is that earth (via photosynthesis) has been exporting entropy to outer space, and recently we’ve been burning up all those fossil fuels. It could all end in collapse, of course. Or we could find a way to make the system more resilient (as well as fairer #ows), use technology to get massively more efficient at exporting entropy (solar power), and keep growing towards bright and sunny futures, where screwing up is hard to do (except in fun ways).

Didn’t Neil Sedaka sing ‘Screwing Up Is Hard To Do’?

Pete, perhaps time is standing still and we are moving through it? at any rate to get on-topic slightly, I don’t care if AI takes over everything, OWS is from a technoprogressive viewpoint a positive (because after an entire decade of post 9-11 drift—though it is difficult to say what the situation is at your end of the pond—it is pleasing that there are glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel again, as in the ‘90s).
However one can quite safely say OWS is a nascent movement and one might say we inch ahead at a snail’s pace; we’ve got to speed up the snail’s metabolism without harming him.

we’ve got to speed up the snail’s metabolism without harming him.

Lol! Here’s to rocket-propelled snails then.

See, you’re starting to get it :cheese:

Control the memeplex


Slipping past position
You know i watch you drive
Watching you painted in chrome Max Factor
And feeling number one
All alone now I can see you a way to the drone
Radio waves hitting your brain from the phone
Yes i can see

I can see what’s on your mind
Cause you’re never alone
I am the voice inside your head
And the eyes in your radio
I am the eyes in your radio

Hello Mr. Racecar driver
You know I’m watching you too
In the trauma room brain dead
Still you went faster
Now your number means nothing
Mr. Nickel Plated candy man
Are you feeling lifeless in aluminum?
Splitting decisions to the core
As everyone dances in the fast lane


With all that’s fake, there’s sense to make
From toys that break
It’s time to throw away all the bad things that you hated
You scared yourself away
Now hate’s what you appreciate
That’s why people lie
People like you
People like me
So go away

“there’s a man who runs the country
there’s a man who tries to think
and they’re all made out of plastic
when they melt they start to stink”:

@BTW, nothing wrong with Christian Corralejo’s piety, but unless someone lives in a monastery or convent great compromises have to be made. Though Hank is correct the overwhelming majority of Christians are imbeciles, they are careful to protect their own interests in a very capitalistic manner—one might say for their own and their family, friends, associates (plus dynastic ambitions) self-preservation, Adam Smith comes first, Jesus Christ comes in at second place. An interviewer asked a televangelist in the ‘80s, the heyday of televangelism, why he was so interested in money.
He answered:
“because I’m not stupid.”
So there are a few Christians who may appear to be imbeciles, yet who are not.
And my friends can live in their Clint Eastwood past. Yet for how long without a holodeck? how long before the outside world intrudes?

Somewhat on-topic, but related to the collateral point I’ve incoherently made for 2 decades:
we are empathetic towards those laid-off due to AI taking over their tasks, however to some degree much can and is done to help them. We no longer live in a laissez faire world, rather—depending on location—a state-capitalist/democratic-socialist/socialist-capitalist-hybrid/populist, etc., world; so there is no doubt the laid-off are assisted in some ways.

Unfortunately, little can be done to aid the sentimental. When I moved from the Northeast to the Midwest, the nostalgia slowly crept into me, via osmosis, as I aged. Now, if an old-fashioned person lives self-sufficiently at a truly rural site, they can live in the past—as so many do. Yet living in the past but plugged into an urban & suburban setting (and it is virtually impossible not to be fairly integrated in such a case), a person wants the state to preserve the old-fashioned memes. A social conservative does just that; wanting to ‘conserve’ the past while moving into the future.
More and more it appears this an impossibly Janus-like (not to mention Herculean) endeavor. My friends’ Manichean VR, connected to their Christianity, is Clint Eastwood (or Charles Bronson, say) chasing a little demon to his cinematic death, growling “make my day, punk!”
So my overarching question remains: how can so many move into the future while being so fearful of delinking from the past? in the future, will they be able to move into the future at all? it may appear obvious, but it is an open question; at least one might hope so.

I’ve been reading a lot of your guy’s comments and I have a lot to say about them.  First of all, I wouldn’t bother trying to prove or disprove the existence of God sense he is not falsifiable.  Also, just because there is a certain quality or property that is incomprehensible or just hard to understand does not disprove something’s (or someone’s in this case) existence.  Their are still a lot of things we don’t know about gravity yet we accept that it exists.  I should also add a phrase that a former biology professor of mine told my class: “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.  By the way post-post, Hank’s comment sounded about Christians sounded a lot like a sweeping generalization to me.
Secondly, I also don’t fully trust people but not to the extent of wanting them to lose their jobs to AIs.  Though their are some bad people out there I have met a good many decent and honest people and to say that you would prefer the company of machines (in other words things) rather than those kinds of people is unthinkable to me.  Besides, If machines do achieve person-hood, how could we be certain that they would any better than we are?  They would be modeled after ourselves won’t they?
Thirdly, I may not know your personal lives but it seems to me that you that you don’t think there is any purpose because you move to fast to fully consider it (By the way, It is my opinion that idea of having a bad purpose is a result of some form of deception or personal choice). I’m most convinced when I move away from technology and start asking myself questions in my head like these: How do mere chemicals create voices and images that are so clear in my head? Why are we able to find enjoyment in things when they are irreverent to our survival?  We can survive without perceiving beauty, finding certain senses pleasurable, or specific tastes delicious, so why do we?  Why am I even able to ponder such things?  the list goes on.  I have so many more things to say but sometimes it hard for me to express them.

A bit off topic, but I’ve made some posts on different threads about what my opinions on human enhancement and trans-humanism are and no one has responded to them yet.  I’m currently working on an English paper and science fiction novel that involve those topics.  I have them all posted under the “Natasha & H+ profiled on NPR” article and I’d really appreciate it if you guys read and commented on my posts.

One more comment for this weekend, albeit a more concise one:

it breaks down to the conflict being not between—as it strongly appears to be from what we hear about us all the time—statists versus collectivists, but
between those who want change/or at least can readily adapt to it; 
and those who reject change/can’t adapt
As I remember it, the definition of conservatism is to stop change and rein in desire—that is to say human appetites. ‘Conservatives’ can certainly rein in appetites, yet can they stop change? No, to stop change they would have to stop time itself, stop motion (and surely many mystics think God can somehow stop time-motion).

Most of you know all this in some form; it is for newbies such as Christian who are curious; people like him are the people we have to reach.

“How do mere chemicals create voices and images that are so clear in my head? Why are we able to find enjoyment in things when they are irreverent to our survival? We can survive without perceiving beauty, finding certain senses pleasurable, or specific tastes delicious, so why do we? Why am I even able to ponder such things? the list goes on. I have so many more things to say but sometimes it hard for me to express them.”

Wrote I wouldn’t comment again this weekend (so as not to perseverate), however your question “I’ve made some posts on different threads about what my opinions on human enhancement and trans-humanism are and no one has responded to them yet” deserves an answer: many high-functioners don’t have time and do not know how to adequately reply to laymen’s questions. In my case, you ask so many expansive questions, the question is where to start—something I’m not good at. Let’s begin with this:
“[h]ow do mere chemicals create voices and images that are so clear in my head?”.
I’m not up on ontology, phylogeny, Christian; however it may be simplistically expressed that you are anthropomorphizing ‘reality’. Say for a random illustration a healthy guy lies in bed contemplating his navel all day, seeing God in his belly button lint. You and I would agree he is in urgent need of professional counseling, yet from a mystical viewpoint he may in fact be seeing God.
You get the problem?
But we wont go anywhere in that direction. Merely for now say we want to be spiritually openminded but not so openminded our brains fall out. Don’t you think there can be a balance between idealistic piety (the present state of Christianity) and a balanced pragmatism? a balance between the guy who sees God in his belly button, and a Spock the Vulcan who is perplexed at the illogic of humans?

“Don’t you think there can be a balance between idealistic piety (the present state of Christianity) and a balanced pragmatism?”

I do, though I don’t think the brain the the navel cavity is a proper analogy.  My point is that are thoughts, emotions, and perception of self may work through chemicals, but they do a lot of incredible things and have been influential in powerful ways.  Back to your question.  You seem to think that if a person is religious he/she is irrational.  This may be true for someone who is an extremist or in some weird cult but it is not always the case for all religious people.  In my case I’ve taken several logic, critical thinking, and science classes and I try to apply what I learn in my everyday life.  When you mentioned the balance you immediately reminded me of the three components of man that I first read about in C. S. Lewis The Abolition of Man (C. S. Lewis is one of my main spiritual and intellectually influences). The three components include the head-reason and logic, the chest-sentiments and spirituality, and the stomach-appetite (needs and desires).  In short summary, the head controls the stomach through the chest but if man were to do away with the chest, the head would be overwhelmed by the stomach.

Responding to your other post, there are things that change as time goes by.  However, the worry is that those who try to radically change everything are veering away from the one thing that has be constant throughout our history.  C.S. Lewis sum it up very well after describing how it exists in other cultures and religions. in quote, it is “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are” (C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, pg.18).  As he says in his book, this is something we cannot neglect. 

“How do mere chemicals create voices and images that are so clear in my head?”

Who says they do? I don’t think you can possibly derive subjective experience from objective theories. Everything we think we know about the world is, ultimately, theory. Even the idea that the earth is round. Subjective experience is primordial, and in particular our subjective experience certain of the present moment. Everything else is secondary, and (to me at any rate) less real.

On the God vs gravity analogy, actually gravity doesn’t exist. Things fall because of the curvature of space-time, at least according to general relativity. But the concept of gravity has played an essential role in our understanding of reality: in the first place the out-there, objective reality we study in science class, and then through that our subjective reality. Despite having been brought up by active church-going parents and being an active Christian myself until age 22, I never found the concept of God to play that kind of role. In fact, looking back I would say my faith was based more on fear than anything else.

The origin of the voices and images in your head may be a mystery, but that doesn’t mean that God is the solution.

As for why are we able to find enjoyment in things that seem, at first glance to be irrelevant to our survival, I recommend that you read some evolutionary psychology.

I’m not sure whether you include me among those that “don’t think there is any purpose”. As I wrote above, I’m personally ambivalent about the value of looking for objective, absolute meaning. In any case my lack of conviction in belief systems (including theistic ones) that do assign such a meaning is not the result of moving too fast. I would say it’s more the result of having a generally sceptical mindset, combined with the lack of any convincing evidence (that I have yet come across) that there is.

Peter Wicks

The example I gave was of what convinces me that purpose exists and it goes far more in depth than what I was able to post.  My point is that most of you guys seem to be so hurried to make changes and advancements that you don’t stand still long enough to consider such things.  You don’t have to be religious or of a certain faith to feel a sense of purpose, it’s just what usually comes with religions and faith.  I’m sorry to hear that your faith was based more on fear, it should never have been that way.  After all, does a sword beckon you to come closer or an extended hand? As the voices in the head, I was just giving my personal experience, but don’t you guys hear anything when you are thinking about something or asking something in your head?  Maybe try listening to the things you say and ask in your head (assuming you do).  For me the voice I hear is my own.

Christian, Sure I say and ask things in my head. I guess we all do, right? And yes, the voice I hear is my own. Whose else would it be? Now where those thoughts come from, that’s another matter. Certainly we don’t need to be so reductionist and say it’s “just” chemicals interacting. On one level it is, of course, but such a description has very little explanatory power. Dawkins’ idea of memes comes closer: the thoughts that we think, the questions we ask, we do so because we heard them (or something similar, which we’ve tweaked a bit) from elsewhere.

One thing I’ll agree on: you have to have faith in order to live. We all have faith, for example in the objective existence of reality (however much we might protest otherwise) and basic laws of cause and effect. At least we act as if we do, so if we profess otherwise then we lack coherence between words and actions.

What annoys me a little is your assumption that just because we disagree with (or are at least reticent about) your faith in the existence of absolute, objective purpose it is because we are “hurried to make changes and advancements”. This borders on the insulting. We would hardly be engaging in this type of conversation if we weren’t willing to stand still long enough to consider such things. It’s just we’ve come to different conclusions. Perhaps you find this threatening?

Peter Wicks

I never intended to be insulting in any way and I deeply apologies for that. It wasn’t till after I made my post that I notice that our differing conclusions is more based on skepticism rather than moving too fast.  I’ll try not to do that again.

BTW, post-post mentioned that the reason that I have not received any responses to my opinions and thoughts about human enhancement and trans-humanism was because you guys didn’t have the time or didn’t know how to respond to them.  Is this true for you or iPan or anyone else here?  they’re still under the “Natasha & H+ profiled on NPR” article if you want to look at them.

It can be related to the topic at hand. Deism makes some sort of sense, at least it will do for now. So if AI does take over all tasks it wont concern me in the slightest because if God has no active role in the cosmos—only having created it—we are not usurping God, because God ceased being CEO long ago.

No hostile takeover if there is no longer anyone at the top to be demoted.

God does exist, Christian, but only in the mind—God is internal, not external. And God can’t help you all that much; for instance if you jump off the rim of the Grand Canyon flapping your arms, praying that God will fly you up like a bird, the result is absolutely predictable: Splat, Crunch.. that’s the end of you. So one might say God’s powers are very limited.
Nothing wrong with you, Christian, however your family must be quite superstitious. Believing God exists in some way is acceptable, yet say they happen to think angels are singing at prayer time; it may merely mean they drink too much wine before they pray so they are hearing voices.
Can’t really say either way. For example, you might believe in a Roman Catholic God, while a black woman believes in a Black Lesbian God. You can get people to agree on certain things, but not on God’s nature. IMO there is no difference between listening to music, believing in God, watching a porno; it is all electro-chemical stimulation as far as I know at this time—a video, with audio, inside the mind.


your perception of God is once again incorrect but I’m not going to argue with you about it.  But I will say this, this is why it is hard to evangelize in the the U.S. ; we have become so comfortable and distracted with the things we have (mostly technology) and our daily lives that we tend to push Jesus out on the front porch so to speak.  Even churches do this sometimes.  They may do good works and all that but they forget how much they actually need him.  So in that context, many Christians are imbeciles.  Ironically, this all reminds me of a song I’ve heard on a Christian radio station:

In my own little world it hardly ever rains
I’ve never gone hungry, always felt safe
I got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet
In my own little world, population me

I try to stay awake during Sunday morning church
I throw a twenty in the plate but never give ‘til it hurts
And I turn off the news when I don’t like what I see
It’s easy to do when it’s population me

What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose I could be living right now, Outside my own little world

“it may merely mean they drink too much wine before they pray so they are hearing voices.”

I try not to insult you so the least you could do is not insult my parents, especially with false assumptions, and I don’t need to be a prophet to predict that all the secular mindsets will eventually backfire on us.

Before anyone comments, I’m sorry if the thing I said about secular mindsets offends anyone.  It was just that post-post’s comment about by parents getting drunk on wine before praying was so infuriating to me.

@Christian No need to apologise, I was only a *little* annoyed 😊

Re Natasha & H+, in my case the explanation is that I generally focus on one or two articles/threads at a time, and I haven’t focused on that one so far. Might take a look later.

Hi Christian, I’ve looked now at your entry on the Natasha & H+ thread. (Also listened to the podcast, which is excellent as an introduction, it has certainly piqued my interest in Natasha’s work.)

What I’m more interested in for now, though, is how your emphasis on “Jesus” fits in with your general worldview. What do you even mean when you use this word? Are you talking about the historical man who (allegedly) lived 2000 years ago and was crucified under Pontius Pilate? Do you believe he was/is the Son of God, and if so what does this mean? Did he rise from the dead?

I agree with much of what you write in your reply to post-post, in particular the bit about the dangers of staying in our (technology-enhanced) comfort zones. But why Jesus? I was brought up in that tradition as well, and there is certainly plenty of inspiration to be drawn from it, but as I’ve commented elsewhere on this blog I think it’s important for those who find such ideas attractive to sort out what’s really helpful in their religious traditions (e.g. “love thy neighbour as thyself”) from the stories that people tell each other and then make the mistake of believing as it they were true. In a sense science is a story as well, but it at least has the merit of being evidence-based. Why would you want to believe that the “Jesus” that Christians talk about is anything more than a fictional story, albeit a very influential one, loosely based on events that happened 2000 years ago, and about which we know little for sure?

your perception of God is once again incorrect but I’m not going to argue with you about it.

Please answer me this, I’ve been dying for a x-ian to give me a straight answer:

Why don’t you religious types study set theory?

In set theory, a universal set is a set which contains all objects, including itself.

Omnipresence or ubiquity is the property of being present everywhere. According to eastern theism, God is present everywhere. Divine omnipresence is thus one of the divine attributes, although in western theism it has attracted less philosophical attention than such attributes as omnipotence, omniscience, or being eternal.
In western theism, omnipresence is roughly described as the ability to be “present everywhere at the same time”,[1] referring to an unbounded or universal presence (at the same time, some (like the Jehovah’s Witnesses) claim God is not omnipresent). It is related to the concept of ubiquity, the ability to be everywhere or in many places at once.

Get it?

Frederiek Depoortere’s Badiou and Theology (Philosophy and Theology) is a challenging, fascinating introduction to Alain Badiou aimed (as the title and series subtly suggest) at theologians.  Badiou is best known to theologians as the atheist-Maoist-Marxist author of Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (Cultural Memory in the Present), but Depoortere highlights instead the more central themes of Badiou’s philosophy.

What might those be?  Depoortere’s book answers in several ways.  Early on he summarizes a 1999 lecture of Badiou’s in which he reviews the sickness of contemporary philosophy, whether in its hermeneutic (Hedegger, Gadamer), its analytic (Wittgenstein and disciples), or its postmodern (you know who) guise.  Despite their differences, these three trends share two flaws: all assume the end of metaphysics, which means the end of truth, and all assume that language is “the crucial site of thought.”  Badiou finds both of these themes disastrous.  Philosophy is dead unless it can “establish itself beyond the multiplicity of language games” (Depoortere’s phrasing – this is the Kantian agenda, as described by Hamann) and unless philosophy can affirm Truth, it has no way to stand against “the monetary uniformity imposed on us by global capitalism.”

True philosophy adheres to a “fixed point within discourse, a point of interruption,” an event to which one remains absolutely loyal.  Hence Badiou’s interest in Paul, “a poet-thinker of the event.”  Badiou’s own Damascus Road is less transcendent: It’s May 1968.  A philosophy loyal to the event is characterized by revolt, logic, universality, and risk – all the features of genuine philosophy.  As Depoortere puts it, “Without ‘the discontent of thinking in confrontation with the world as it is’ (revolt) and ‘a belief in the power of argument and reason’ (logic), true philosophy is seen as not being possible.  True philosophy ‘addresses all human beings as thinking beings since it supposes that all humans think’ (universality’ and is, finally, always a decision which supports independent points of view’ (risks).”

That’s one way to put it.  Another way is in Badiou’s own words: “mathematics is ontology.”  This equation, Depoortere tells us, is “the basis of his entire philosophical system.”

Mathematics offers a way past the relativity of language, and also offers a way of getting into basic traditional questions of philosophy – one and many, for instance, infinity, the void.  And for Badiou it also offers a way of conceiving a world with no more room for God.

We can start with Badiou’s concise description of the problematics of the one and many: “if being is one, then one must posit that what is not one, the multiple is not.  But this is unacceptable for thought, because what is presented is multiple and one cannot see how there could be an access to being outside all presentation.  If presentation is not, does it still make sense to designate what presents (itself) as being?  On the other hand, if presentation is, the multiple necessarily is.  It follows that being is no longer reciprocal with the one and thus it is no longer necessary to consider as one what presents itself, inasmuch it is.  This conclusion is equally unacceptable to thought because presentation is only this multiple inasmuch as what it presents can be counted as one.”  Badiou claims that the only escape from this dilemma is to decide that “the one is not” and to posit instead that “there is no one, only the count-as-one” (il n’y a pas d’un, il n’y a que le compte-pour-un).”  One is always an operation, never a presentation.

Depoortere digresses into set theory to explain this non-being of the one.  Set theory posits that no set can belong to itself; “the set of all cars is not itself a car.” As Bertrand Russell pointed out, this means that “there are collections which are not sets, or, formulated differently, there are multiples that cannot be counted as one.”  Yet this creates a paradox.  Suppose A is the collection of all sets that do no belong to themselves; is A itself a set?  If it is, then by definition A does not belong to A; but not belonging to itself is the condition of being a set, so A does belong to A.  But we can’t derive “A belongs to A” from “A doesn’t belong to A.”  On the other hand, if we start from the premise that “A belongs to A” we end up conclusion that “A doesn’t belong to A” since A is the collection of all sets that don’t belong to themselves.

Rather than accepting this aporia, Badiou wants to find a way out of the impasse and does so by positing the axiom that paradoxical collections like A cannot be considered sets.  For Badiou, A as the collection of all sets that do no include themselves is a description of U, the universe, which is “the collection of all possible sets.”  This means, in turn, “that the universe is not a whole, not a one, but an infinite ‘multiplicity ‘made’ of nothing but multiples of multiples.”  This gives Badiou a way of understanding infinity, a way that is resolutely antitheist.

“God is dead.”  Badiou agrees, but recognizes that Nietzsche’s declaration is ambiguous.  It could mean that the God of Christianity is dead – which he is since we can no longer encounter him (Badiou says); it could mean the god of metaphysics is dead – nonsense, since this god was never alive; or it could mean that the nostalgic poetic god of Heidegger is dead – and good riddance, Badiou says.  And the mathematical pointer to God offered by Georg Cantor, the founder of transfinite set theory, is no longer plausible either, Badiou insists.  Cantor was able to show that actual infinities do exist, and can be thought mathematically, but Cantor believed that beyond this “increasable actual infinite” that mathematics can describe there is an “unincreasable or Absolute actual infinite” that is God.  Badiou saw this as Cantor’s way of dealing with the problem of paradoxical sets: “If a multiplicity cannot be counter-as-one in a coherent way, it is because it escapes from mathematics’ grasp.  There, where the count-as-one fails, one humps into the Absolute, ‘the Infinite as supreme-being,’ or God.”  For Badiou, Cantor is still a theologian: There is still one beyond the multiplicity.

Badiou finds what he thinks is a neater way to dispose of the paradox: “It suffices to axiomatically rule out these sets.”  Following the work of set theorists after Cantor, Badiou argues for a “laicization or secularization of the infinite in which there is neither need nor place for God.  Or, to put it more concisely: for Badiou, set theory demonstrates that ‘God is truly dead’ and enables a genuine atheism.”  Set theory rules out an ultimate unity, and it secularizes and immanentizes infinity.  Set theory disproves God.

But this, Depoortere says, only works because Badiou has excluded the possibility from the start.  According to the “axiom of foundation” followed by Badiou (and other set theorists) paradoxical sets are simply ruled out axiomatically.  Kenneth Reynhout (quoted by Depoortere) says that this is “a priori exclusion by fiat, and a fiat that serves no useful purpose other than making that specific exclusion.  It would not be an exaggeration, therefore, to rephrase the axiom of foundation in this way: ‘there are not other infinities than the ones we construct.’”  In that case, the argument that “eliminates the need for an extramathematical, theological infinite can rightly be regarded as begging the question.”  Reynhout further raises the question of whether the axiom of foundation imposes “an unacceptably limitation of the scope of ontology from the very beginning.”

Cantor’s theological version of set theory (which I’ll briefly summarize in another post) is just as plausible as Badiou’s atheistic one.

“It was just that post-post’s comment about by parents getting drunk on wine before praying was so infuriating to me.”

We do have to be polite; however excessive politeness can be smarm—the most negative feature of Christianity. I’ve been to churches, mosques, Buddhist gatherings (Buddhism can be a philosophy or a religion, or both), LDS houses, synagogues, etc; Christians have been and are to this day the smarmiest. And the pushiest due to their insistence on preaching the Gospel to all the world—at this point would rather join a mosque than visit a church even once more.
Christian, IMO the cosmos does not contain God’s love, the cosmos is mostly empty, bitterly cold (absolute zero is many locations) space. I do accept God as existing, but only inside the mind—not outside.
Again, we have to be diplomatic, but not suck-ups writing pablum like some sort of mutual admiration group; that is not writing, that’s typing!


PS, Christian,
one of the great mysteries, in fact almost certainly The greatest mystery, is how the cosmos, omniverse, came about. Did God create the cosmos (Alpha), or did the cosmos always exist, contracting and expanding; and of course parallel cosmi, dying cosmi leaving remnants into other cosmi. All the rest of it.
So just say for starters the cosmos always has existed, and at one time God was elected—or merely took charge—then resigned later with a really unbeatable golden parachute.
Naturally such is nothing but speculation. But why is it more speculative than anything you write here?: unless you can prove God appointed you to a consultive position and has you at His (or Her’s: God may be female or hemaphroditic) board meetings then I will assume you don’t know any more about God than I do.
And what of angels versus demons? since the Devil can “appear as an angel of light” how do we know those who hear angels are not hearing demons? At any rate, I accept Jesus, but no longer accept Christianity.

Too much of it has become old and stale.

... God, as you know from SF, can be AI. Frankly, it appears God can be anything one wants God to be; of any gender or lack thereof.

Christian, didn’t mean to offend you with the wine remark, but you can’t always not offend unless you don’t communicate at all. I’m deeply offended by rightist Christians at technoprogressive sites and elsewhere—however they are stuck with me and I’m stuck with them. Perhaps you could write a piece for IEET someday summarizing your views? you might possibly adapt one of your school papers.
Technoprogressivism needs an infusion of youthful blood to prevent sclerosis!

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