IEET > Rights > Vision > Bioculture > Contributors > FreeThought > Nikki Olson
Transhumanism for Children
Nikki Olson   Apr 2, 2011   Singularity Weblog  

Are children capable of contemplating transhumanism?

It is often pointed out that transhumanism shares many features with religion. It answers questions regarding the nature of the world and humanity’s place in it, offers guidance on how to live, and inspires hope. However, there are a number of important things distinguishing it from a religion, such as the lack of belief in a Deity and its emphasis on the empirical method and reason. Another distinguishing feature relates to the obstacles associated with teaching transhumanism to children.

Although being religious as an adult entails contemplation of many of life’s more difficult questions, following a religion can and does occur at very young ages. Children are able to contemplate God to some extent, usually via the anthropomorphized metaphor of -the father’, they are able to associate simple moral behaviors with ideas of reward and punishment, and they become enthralled in the magic-like elements of religious miracles.

kiddoBut are children capable of contemplating transhumanism?

I arrived at this question after encountering a piece of writing, “Children of Freedom,” by an individual going by the alias ‘Land Pope Black Candy’ (LPBC) who follows the transhumanist subculture group, the Cosmists. In the above article, LPBC suggests that a specialized school be created in order to teach transhumanism to children.

One thing LPBC emphasizes children be taught is how they are beginning a life that will ultimately be very long, if not eternal, by way of radical life extension and the Singularity. He says, “first and foremost, they would be told they won’t die naturally which we strongly believe will have a very strong effect on their behavior and thinking processes”.

The topic of transhumanism in early education is discussed by Mike Treder’s article “Transhumanism as Religion,” where he shows that raising the question of teaching transhumanism in school invariably forces the question of whether or not transhumanism counts as a religion, since if transhumanists “have something to say about values in addition to vectors”, offering a prescriptive approach, rather than just a descriptive approach, then transhumanism does in some sense “go beyond science,” coming into conflict with U.S. legislation regarding the teaching of religion in the public system.

Regardless of whether or not it could be integrated into the public education system, raising the question of transhumanism in early education highlights important distinctions between transhumanism and religion.

There is an intellectual seriousness about transhumanism in its present form which I think makes it difficult for children to identify with. Although religion and transhumanism offer some related visions regarding the future, religion has many fairy tale components; it has a mythological component, making it more accessible to younger people.

However, claiming that transhumanism is void of mythology is not entirely true. With the “Mondo 2000” culture of the 1980’s and 90’s, which was heavily influenced by cyber-punk fiction and continues into the present time, transhumanism-associated memes showed up in young adult subcultures, such as DIY body hacking, synthetic drug culture, and cyber-pagan cultures. Also, some religious organizations such as the Mormon Transhumanist Association incorporate transhumanism into established religious mythos, thus adding more story-like aspects to it.

So there is a kind of a mythology associated with transhumanism, but generally speaking, it’s not one easily accessible or preferred for young children. Perhaps as a belief system it will need some mythology added into it in order to be more accessible to children.

Transhumanism, I think, will likely end up being introduced into the education system and the lives of children slowly, in a kind of self-evident way, through the continued advance of science and technology. It’s only a matter of time before advanced human-computer interfaces become a regular part of classrooms, and genetic engineering becomes something performed, at least minimally, at the stage of conception in humans.

The associated mythology will come later, sometimes created by children as they encounter these kinds of phenomena and offer their own explanations for them. When children become involved, transhumanism will change, and creative young minds will likely add new dimensions to the movement or illuminate aspects we hadn’t noticed before.

I suspect that, for now, the association between children and transhumanism will have to remain in the realm of science fiction, where many of the influential people in this movement first became inspired and shaped it into what it is today.

This article was published originally at the Singularity Weblog, and is reprinted by permission.

Nikki Olson, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, is a transhumanist writer/researcher authoring unique articles on transhumanist culture and advancing technology. Involved in Singularity research for 4 years as a full-time research assistant, she worked on an upcoming book about the Singularity, aided in the development of the University of Alberta course "Technology and the Future of Medicine", and produced educational material for the Lifeboat Foundation. She attained a bachelor’s degree in 2007 at University of Alberta, Canada, in Philosophy and Sociology. Her interests lie in scarcity reducing technology, biotechnology, DIY, augmentation technologies, artificial intelligence, and transhumanist philosophy.



COMMENTS

This may be the most important non-tech IEET piece yet. I’m totally discouraged from the negative adult feedback concerning h+; the sense is we are going nowhere fast politically/socially.
But the article speaks for itself, no need to go further.

I think h+ is just too weird for most adults to comprehend *and* feel comfortable with. And I think that explains the “intellectual seriousness” about transhumanism currently: it’s only the intellectually serious who are really willing to believe in it and explore it’s implications. For the rest, the best we can do for now is to feed it to them as sci fi. They won’t believe it’s for real,  but at least they become familiar with the ideas. Mm the mean time we need more people like Cynthia Breazeal building cute, socially-relevant robots.

So I’m also with Nikki: it will be introduced slowly, in a self-evident and more “human” (i.e. less intellectually serious) way, as we gradually bridge the gap between analysis and fiction (story-telling), and start to demonstrate it in practice. One quibble though: just because transhumanism is prescriptive doesn’t make it a religion. By the way it hadn’t occurred to me that teaching of religion is restricted in the legal system: this perhaps explains the reluctance of progressives to accept that the scientific method is itself a religion. Actually a lot of things fit dictionary’s definition of religion. I wonder what the legal one is. In any case I guess transhumanism - if it is sufficiently well-defined - can be taught as one possible “religion” (ideology?) among many?

Peter Wicks,

I just so happened to be at my office this evening when I saw your post in which you ask “Actually a lot of things fit dictionary’s definition of religion. I wonder what the legal one is.”

So I pulled out a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary 9th Edition (used worldwide by Judges and Law Societies), and it defines religions as:

“A system of faith and worship usu. involving belief in a supreme being and usu. containing a moral or ethical code; esp., such a system recognized and practiced by a particular church, sect, or denomination. In construing the protections under the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, courts have interpreted the term religion quite broadly to include a wide variety of theistic and nontheistic beliefs.” [Cases: Religious Societies 1.]

I hope this helped.

Peter Wicks,

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recognizes the Mormon Transhumanist Association as a religious organization pursuant to section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code statute. (Citation: http://transfigurism.org/pages/about/tax-exemption/). “501(c)(3) exemptions apply to corporations, and any community chest, fund, cooperating association or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, to foster national or international amateur sports competition, to promote the arts, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.” (Citation: http://www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/article/0,,id=175418,00.html).

With the Mormon Transhumanist Association receiving legal acknowledgement by the IRS means that courts within US legal jurisdiction will also legally recognize them as not only tax exempt, but more importantly as a full fledged religious organization.

I think that Transhumanist religious organizations that are created and applying for tax-exempt religious status as per 501(c)(3) in the future should not have to go through too many hurdles in being approved so long as they follow the application rules, and necessary bylaws for setting up a non-profit.

Nikki, I enjoyed your article. Here are some thoughts in response: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2011/04/transhumanist-stories-for-child-in-each.html

@Nathan..many thanks, very helpful! (although what a terribly vague definition o religion…it could mean just about any system of belief that is a bit more sophisticated tha “the earth is round”. Perhaps this is the common law system? The legislator says, “uh, whatever” and then the judges decide whatever they want! I caricature of course…) I think there was a “not” missing in the last sentence of your second post btw.

Lincoln Cannon,

Thank you very much for this thoughtful and considered response. What you write adds new dimension to the original sentiment.

“Whatever the reason, we year to live the story, discovering and joining its heroes to the extent they already exist, and creating and becoming them to the extent they don’t yet exist. Our story is our hope. We trust in it. It is meaning. Take it away and nothing remains.

Like everything else, transhumanism matters and will matter only to the extent that it is part of our story.”

-very well put and moving. I am reminded by what you write here of Thomas King’s “The Truth About Stories”, where he repeatedly expresses, ‘The truth about stories, is that’s all we are”.

Contrary to popular belief, I think, the ‘story’ element doesn’t have to be antithetical or antagonistic to the scientific rigor that drives this movement. We can have both scientific truth, and meaning derived through the culture, mythology, and story of the movement.

Thank you again for your thorough response to this article!

Reading Lincoln’s post has made me think further about our recent discussions on religion (mainly in response to Hank’s Denmark post) and in particular the tension between basing one’s beliefs on evidence and having a good story to tell. I agree with Lincoln that “like everyone else, transhumanism matters and will matter only to the extent that it part of our story”. Part of the power of religion is that it tends to involve stories that speak more to people than dryer, more evidence-based (i.e. intellectually serious) belief systems.

Perhaps the important thing is to get good at telling stories, but take care not to confuse them with the truth. Present different versions to people and let the truth emerge.

“Contrary to popular belief, I think, the ‘story’ element doesn’t have to be antithetical or antagonistic to the scientific rigor that drives this movement. We can have both scientific truth, and meaning derived through the culture, mythology, and story of the movement.”

I think there is a tension, though. Randy Olsen’s Don’t Be Such a Scientist is a good reference here: he points out that scientists, when trying to communicate with non-scientists, tend to be too cerebral, too literal, too unlikeable (in particular negative/critical), and bad story-tellers. He also points out that these are also precisely the traits that make us good scientists: we value reason and are suspicious of emotion, we like to make our thinking and communication precise, we are quick to question and criticize beliefs (whether held by ourselves or others), and we don’t like to bend the truth “just” to make a good story. We can (and must) indeed have both, but it’s important to distinguish between the two.

Nikki, I agree that story and science can be consistent. Peter, I also agree that it’s hard work. I suspect that positive futures depend on us doing this hard work.

I teach my children transhumanism and they are quite fond of it.
What’s not to like?  I wrote about it in an essay here, called,
“Hey Kids, Don’t Forget To Take My Brain out of the Freezer”
http://hplusmagazine.com/2009/10/28/hey-kids-dont-forget-take-my-brain-out-freezer/

what they particularly enjoy of course is the belief that they might not die.  I don’t tell them death is inevitable like non-tranhumanist parents.  I tell them about cryonics (hence the title above) and radical life extension and the Singularity and it all makes sense to them.
CHildren with their open-minded imaginations are far more accepting of tranhumanism than the average well-educated but death-memed adult.

Hi Hank. I do the same, with similar results. My approach includes both humor and reverence.

@Peter,

I agree, the ‘confusing it with truth’ is where the problem lies. I think it is more or less to be expected with childhood, in the ‘fantasy’ sense of this division at least, since young children don’t divide ‘real’ and ‘non-real’ very well. However, when ‘confusing it with truth’ happens at the adult level, when there is a failure in being able to identify scientific, rational, ‘truth’ from ‘nonsense’, then there is indeed a problem. But I would point out that we don’t tend to confuse great science fiction stories with truth, instead, they illuminate and make come alive the scientific realities that they portray.

So there is tension, agreed. Incorporating non-empirical, emotional etc. aspects, yet having them not being confused with or stray us from doing good science requires perhaps a new ontology, a new way of looking at the combination of ‘science’ and ‘non-science’, or, of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’. Starting to think of both as necessary I think is a good first step.

Hank,

Thanks for sharing your article. I hadn’t come across it before.

Educate your kids regarding the awesome-ness of the Universe/Cosmos and of nature and evolution, of complexity and the notion of “potential”, and of the true “connectedness” to all things; That trans-humanism is not restricted to dystopian visions; That trans-humanism is neither by choice nor by determination but is inevitable. That fear is the irrational speculation and thought process of the current mindset that tries to reconcile doubts.

No need to make up stories, they will face the same fundamental philosophical questions of existence and with the same vigour and curiosity that we all have faced them, with just a little more wisdom and knowledge. They will thus create their own future and ethos and hopefully change this world for the better where we have not yet succeeded.

“That trans-humanism is not restricted to dystopian visions”.

CygnusXI I disagree (again, sorry!) with your claim that there is “no need to make up stories” (and I’m happy that Hank is leading the field!) but your comment quoted above has made me think: is part of the problem that dystopian stories sell better? And if it is, why is that and what can we learn from it?

One of the reasons dystopian stories tend to sell better, at least in the developed world, is that people are relatively affluent and comfortable, and (partly for that reason) bored, so they seek titillation in stories about dystopian futures. This is not altogether bad: it sensitises us to the risks, and at least familiarises us with *some* of the possibilities. But there’s an imbalance, so to add to the challenge of sorting fact from fiction, perhaps we also need to get good at telling stories that are both positive and exciting (even for jaded adults). Impossible? I don’t think so. We just need to make sure there is some adversity to be overcome (otherwise it ain’t a story), while aweing the audience with the wondrous possibilities. I’m getting quite excited just thinking about it…

I recently purchased an Xbox/Kinect for my 2 nieces (14 and 8) and nephew (5).

I am often reminded of Amber in Stross’ “Accelerando”...kids will probably out pace us and teach us a thing or two.

After doing the basic set up for the Kinect, I pretty much turned it over to my 8 year old niece, who has never owned a video game console in her life, and she learned how to use the system with minimal guidance from any of the adults in the room, who in some cases, had more difficulty with it.

I agree with Hank, do the same, and can report similar results.

I think kids appreciate being told the truth about the way the world works, and not being lied to, or confused with concepts (particularly with huge networks of *false*, made-up, pre-scientific memes, protecting and supporting each other) which end up proving to be… totally false. I honestly think it is pathetic that most people can’t seem to do better than this. Telling a kid lies about the world only gives them more work (or at least those curious enough kids that *really* want know how the world really works) to try to figure out the truth on their own.

I think most religious indoctrination is psychologically dangerous and often damaging to a child’s psyche (which can have serious repercussions in the adult’s psyche, and the adult’s important choices in life). I personally did not appreciate being lied to, as a child, one bit, and I resent religion (in general) for having created such a system in which parents systematically (must) lie to their kids about the way the world works. And the lies eventually come out, because it could not be otherwise. The ‘made-up’ stuff soon rears its ugly head. And, within the world’s most prevalent and pervasive religions… *what* is not ‘made-up’ stuff?

The fact that many people are openly delusional, regarding religion (the presence of a personal god that listens to their prayers, etc.), does not mean that we need to teach children that delusion is OK. Certainly not after a certain (very young) age… Fiction is OK. But told as fiction. But there is no need to tell your kids that dragons (or miracles) are real, when we know that they’re not.

Religious fiction, told as truth, has even been described as a form of child abuse. Don’t children (certainly children of a certain age…) have a right to the truth? To being told, educated with *facts*, what we *know* about the world, and not what some folks thousands of years ago thought about it? (or even what all those followers who *still today*, rather irrationally and irresponsibly if you ask me, latch on to those thousand+ year-old visions think about it…).  Check out Humphrey’s essay “What Shall We Tell The Children?”

However, there is no dishonesty when telling kids about what is *possible*, using our exponentially advancing technologies, and well within the limitations imposed by the laws of physics (in our current understanding of the natural world). There is no dishonesty when telling your kids that intelligences superior to any human intelligence that ever existed are possible (and even likely), in the coming decades. And so on. There is nothing wrong with a sense of wonder about the possible.

Sergio, while I sympathize (deeply) with your concerns regarding religion, there is no difference between some religious views and discussions of what is possible. The challenges are honest religion and inspiring science.

Is transhumanism a religion? Definitely. But because it would appear to be “politically correct” and can be associated with mainstream science, it should have no problem making its way into the classroom, unfortunately.  It’s funny to me how often secular people criticize religious people as being closed minded and yet the truth is that secular people stubbornly hold onto their beliefs just the same!

Why isn’t anyone talking about the possible horrible, negative consequences of transhumanism?  As defined by some of the movements own leading experts, the end of humanity is up to a coin toss!  Does the possibility that we might create human-like creatures (whose intelligence will exponentially surpass our own and who could then determine that the rest of us are fit for either slavery or worse, termination) scare any of you sober?!  Nobody wants to discuss the fact that the armies of the world are just as much apart of this as scientists and that lots of the funding for this kind of research comes from military budgets!! The world we live in is bad enough without introducing new “super-soldiers” that are genetically engineered to be killing machines!  The U.S. army has admitted they are interested in splicing human and animal DNA in order to get a soldier that can see like a hawk and smell like a wolf…well how about when the soldier starts craving blood and flesh?!?!

“The prospect of building godlike creatures fills me with a sense of religious awe that goes to the very depth of my soul and motivates me powerfully to continue despite the possible horrible negative consequences.” -Prof. Hugo De Garis, artificial brain designer

Good grief that sounds an awful lot like Dr. Frankenstein!!! 

@ Cameron..

I agree, smelling like a Wolf stinks? But what if the use of animal enzymes can help eradicate disease or promote longevity? It’s not all about creating Chimera’s, and it’s more likely that super soldiers would be supplanted by high-tech and robotic weaponry, taking human’s away from the battlefields if possible?

As far as creating artificial life is concerned, I believe that our own human limitations will dictate the timescales and successes and thus all these things will happen, but, to coin the phrase, “in God’s good time”? Can man and women create life? - it happens everyday, consciousness may be more fundamental than the biology would suggest, so it may be impossible to “create” this, machines will either achieve consciousness or not, again by the “grace” of “potential”? So what is there really to fear but fear itself?

The Frankenstein story is relevant, yet it can be applied to any new life/child that we bring into the world, its really all about love and betrayal?

This article begs the question:  What purpose will children serve in the Singularity?

The author places considerable emphasis on scientific “truth”, even though science cannot answer why the scientific method works; there is a higher truth than science, and children (and certain cheerful adults) recognize this.

The child is enthralled not only by miracles, but by sheer existence.  A crumpled box of cigarettes is fascinating.  Indeed, it seems the goal of the Singularity is to eliminate awe and wonder altogether—in children and adults.  Nothing is amazing, because a computer can replicate it.  This presupposes, however, that universal understanding—a distinctly human trait—is performed with a part of the body, and clearly it is not, otherwise animals would by now have tried it.

The problem, as I see it, is not generating enthrallment for the Singularity among children; it is re-capturing enthrallment for anything among the intellectually strong.  If existence is a binary file, children will have no purpose in the Singularity.  Rather, the future seems a race to win the lottery—the winner or elite few who achieve nano-immortality (if it proves feasible, a hypothesis I have shown above to be dubious) will have no need of other persons.  The Singularity, in its essence, I would call “Practical Narcissism”; the 1:1 transfer function of human concupiscence applied to the material world.

Let us not forget that the super-intelligence has already infiltrated our world—even assimilating to himself a collection of atoms; He is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.  Only the preaching of Christ can convince hearts to turn away from sin—which includes the utilitarian goals of transhumanists.

Great to see this writing Nikki and to hear from you! I’ve been teaching transhumanism to kids for a decade or so, mainly to my three children, to my Unitarian Universalist religious education classes, at after school technology or sci-fi clubs run by me, or through my book “21st Century Kids” (which has been called a transhumanist book for kids-you can read about it on Amazon—but it is a great primer for transhumanist minded parents to read with their kids and open up many discussions of possibilities).  A while ago I wrote a piece on explaining cryonics to children: http://www.depressedmetabolism.com/2008/07/04/teaching-children-about-cryonics/  but, I always talk about humanity’s history, as well as our possible futures—and mention that cryonics is one concept that our family has chosen to try (always in a realistic vein explaining that it is only a small chance etc).  My own children have been raised as “transhumanists” but are very main stream as well, quite a part of their peer cultures—currently ages 14, 12 and 9. If I have more kids, I’ll raise them the same way (as signed cryonicists, they can choose to keep their arrangements or not when grown—and for that matter support the movement or not—each of my children have varied levels of interest).  I’ll share the same concepts with my grandkids, depending on their parents’ comfort levels of course—but in our family we have a strong sense of responsibility to do community service, I’ll just as well share that with my grandchildren.  I think more parents should educate their kids about possibilities of our technology—while educating them about history as well.

Henry Bowers,

Interesting question,“What role will children have in the Singularity?” We should assume that by 2045 children are being augmented through genetic engineering, at least in minor ways. And that they too are using cognitive augmentation of other sorts. They will still be children, of course, but not the same kind of children, which adds another element to this discussion. Essentially, I think, it is too difficult to make accurate predictions about such things right now, and talk about children circa 2045 would be highly speculative. 

 

Shannon,

Thank you for sharing this information. There is a conflict that arises (discussed in NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/11/magazine/11cryonics-t.html) when only one person, of a long-term relationship, signs up for cryonics, and by extension, I think, when the whole family (of a loving close family) isn’t signed up together. It is moving to hear how you have all planned for cryonics!

I look forward to discussing Transhumanism and children with you in greater detail in the future. Good to know about “21st Century Kids”, I will be reading that right away smile

Don’t forget, though, that children are more or less the property of their elders, children are captive audiences; so if their guardians want them to be technophobes, they will raise them as such.

postfuturist,

Certainly children are more or less “property” of their parents but also of the government in their country’s jurisdiction. They’re considered, under common law/commercial law jursdictions, respectively, as “chattel” (lawful) or “property” (legal) to parents and simultaneously under commercial law are considered registered “property” and legal persons of the government via a legal joinder, created upon their registration.

Yes, if children are nurtured and surrounded by technology, they will turn out this way. There is, perhaps, a role of children who “get technology” from birth… if one believes in Locke’s philosophical doctrine of ‘Innatism’, the assertion is that children will have to knowledge which they genetically possess innately passed down to them from their parents genes. Nature and nurture (parents and also via transhumanist-friendly religion, media, peers, etc.), I think, both play a role in producing [Transhumanist] 21 Century Kids.

You people are going about it in a completely wrong way.

Children are not concerned with death. They don’t even have a concept of death. All they have is a concept of their parents, and even that is not very well developed until the age of 5 or so. You could easily replace one’s parents with complete strangers before 5, and they would completely forget anything about it by the time they grow up.

Now, let me show you how “teaching transhumanism to children” is done properly (never mind that the concept is utterly meaningless).

First of all, pick children of at least 6 years old, but no older than 10. Kill all of their parents in some freakish accident, so that they grasp the concept of death. While they are finally realizing they will never, ever, again see their parents, introduce an escape hatch into their thought processes - “We will bring your parents back to life through transhumanism, cyborgization, and brain pattern replication. Your parents will be even more perfect than they were before.” Then give them a hybridized-augmented version of their parents, built from their DNA that was stored in a government-sponsored National DNA Bank Program.

The plus in hplus? No parents to complain about the way their children are manipulated.

On a side note…

Does transhumanism mean post-human (no humans left to speak of, just computerized bodies), or in-human (no humanity left to speak of, just pure utilization of computerized body resources)... and does it even make any difference?

“Certainly children are more or less ‘property’ of their parents but also of the government in their country’s jurisdiction.”

Your’s above is a half-truth: if parents default on their guardian responsibilities then afterwards (NOT before) a child becomes a ward of the state and thus becomes state chattel. Frankly, the more exposure to libertarians and their propaganda, the more I dislike them—though not libertarianism itself per se. However if you are not a libertarian, I apologize in advance for being excessively suspicious.

postfuturist,

“if parents default on their guardian responsibilities then afterwards (NOT before) a child becomes a ward of the state and thus becomes state chattel.”

- When two people have a child they have full, undeniable lawful custody of that child until the point of ‘legal registration’, usually with the state or provincial registration authorities (and an assumed agreement with the country of the registration). Birth registration creates a legal entity of that child called a ‘legal person’. Upon this registration of the legal ‘person’, a joinder between the child and the legal entity, the ‘person’, creates certain statutory duties for the parents that they have now tacitly agreed to.

Because America, Canada, and most other countries in the western world are still operating under common law jurisdiction, with unalienable rights, no government “authority” has the power to compel parents with chattel ownership of unregistered children to do anything, nor do they have the authority to take away their lawfully claimed chattel.

It is this registration that creates certain rights, duties and privileges, all which are specifically outlined in statutory Birth Registration, and Child Welfare “Acts”. If parents of the registered children do not comply with said duties under the aforementioned statutes they then risk losing their children, and transferring sole legal custody; making them a “ward of the state”, as you stated. These statutes change all the time making it very difficult for the public to stay informed, and many parents have lost children to the government on mere suspicion of illegal activity. Furthermore I am not stating half-truths and I will happily back up my arguments with evidence.


“Frankly, the more exposure to libertarians and their propaganda, the more I dislike them—though not libertarianism itself per se. However if you are not a libertarian, I apologize in advance for being excessively suspicious.”

- Frankly your assumptions and pigeonholing are unappreciated and have no place on a forum of this nature. But, since you apologized; then apology accepted.

“Frankly your assumptions and pigeonholing are unappreciated and have no place on a forum of this nature. But, since you apologized; then apology accepted.”


Noted that you did not deny you possess libertarian tendencies smile

Maybe I am far too suspicious, but I distrust legal sophistry, it appears to hide intentions both positive and negative. Of course what you write concerning state contractual control is entirely valid, however it is secondary; first comes parental control and such cannot be obfuscated no matter what legal jargon we use. State control is more remote than parental control, so if you want to bring up state control (and there is no reason you should not) you ought to also mention the power that the wealthy have. First off I’m—being no optimist—not a marxist. Second, if one accepts the premise that the wealthy own a given nation such as Canada or America, then their control is as potent as state control. One might therefore write that ‘plutocracy’, for lack of a more concise term, is secondary while state control is tertiary. I do not know—but neither do you. Hard science is different, you can be more accurate, but legal, political, social, religious, economic, ethical, etc., matters are based on obfuscation, weasel-words cosmetically made up in legal lipstick and rouge to hide the intentions.

“These statutes change all the time making it very difficult for the public to stay informed.”

Above is the exact locus, plus not only is it relative to time
(quote change all the time unquote) it’s also relative to place: nation, province, city, town, perhaps even villages have somewhat differing statutes. And what is a statute, what in fact is a legal system? is ‘it’ even a system or is it more nebulous than a system? we know that over thousands of years our statutes have evolved and been codified into legal ‘systems’ than as you correctly wrote change all the time; they are arbitrary & capricious, based on the whims of judges, legislators, political executives, attorneys, and all the rest. Including the public—everyone is involved to a greater or lesser extent in the arbitrary, capricious merry go round of legal ‘systems’ all over the planet.
If you think I’m being too abstract and hyper-intellectual here, aren’t legal ‘systems also abstract and hyper-intellectual?

One more (PROMISE) comment : the answer to Nikki’s question is yes, children are capable of contemplating transhumanism, appreciating immortalism and perhaps becoming involved in h+. Yet, again, it depends on their parents/ guardians. IMO it’s important to understand how religious and other old-fashioned parents are opposed to h+ not only on ethical grounds but also sheer nostalgia, wanting to inculcate their children with what they were brought up with themselves, plus the influence of grandparents; and you all know what the score is on grandparents—they are frightful cornballs. We should all get medals for putting up with them on holidays for instance… Santa Claus, Jesus H. Christ, fruitcakes, Easter bunny, we just don’t want to be Scrooges yelling “humbug!”
One example comes immediately to mind: the individual Amish may not at all like living primitive lives in such a modern country, but they simply don’t know any different or any better. Alrighty, I vented my spleen on this topic, no more of it; it is safe to come back to comment in deconstructing my deconstruction of someone else’s constructivism. Let a thousand flowers bloom.
Far be it from me to not accentuate the positive.

“the individual Amish may not at all like living primitive lives in such a modern country, but they simply don’t know any different or any better.”

- Kevin Kelly would disagree: http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2009/02/amish_hackers_a.php

postfuturist, I apologize if I came across abrupt and confrontational in my previous post, it wasn’t the intention.

People in society tend to have a misconception about the Amish - a misconception that this culture is inherently opposed to the use of technologies. Kevin Kelly, as linked on my above post and as mentioned in a chapter in his latest book from fall 2010 “What Technology Wants”, has painted a very different picture of what one normally perceives of Amish culture. Indeed it is the sterotypical ‘Old Order’ Amish that most tend to think about, that are the ones usually associated with having strict luddite views of technology; sticking to utilizing several hundred year old archaic forms of farming, communication, and transportation. Kevin has eloquently portrayed his view of Amish differently, showing that some groups and orders of Amish are much more open to new adopting new technologies, without getting too immersive, in order to improve their lives.

Upon reviewing your last post I realize now you could have replaced “Amish” with “Luddite” and still made the same point. And that you were using Amish as an example, but were likely referring to neo-luddite ‘Preservationist Thinkers’ (i.e. Bill McKibben) who promote and perpetuate a culture of fear that not only turn our grandparents into “frightful cornballs” when it concerns advancing technology, transhumanism, and immortalism (better stated as ‘Life Extension’), but also a lot of other people of all age groups.

Agreed on all points. One quibble is: without grandparents to transmute archaic memes how would those memes be passed from one generation to the next? I sure wouldn’t want to be a child in today’s confusing world; with all the models of reality being presented to children how would they become aware of h+ with what is obscuring their vision today? many adults can handle information overload, but can children? not well, as their minds are moving in several directions at once; plus it appears computers are exacerbating it.
Sometimes it feels as if we are being deliberately smothered in anachronism. Problem is, it’s difficult to decide what is wheat and what is chaff. WFB’s book the ‘Jeweler’s Eye’ concerned this inability to distinguish between a meme which has gone beyond its expiration date, and a meme which still has some shelf life left—unfortunately though by cosmic time the pace is in the blink of an eye, by our still (at this time) short lifespans the process of phasing out outmoded memes is moving at a snail’s pace. So what do we do? we let it ride, we may not like outmoded memes cluttering our lives but we accept those memes because we can’t escape from them.
I don’t trust the GOP, however there’s always a mixture of good & bad intentions involved,
the more positive GOP intentions are related to the Politics of Nostalgia, not merely to an interest in having the upper hand in well nigh all policies. That is to say the GOP and other ‘conservatives’ press their advantages to the fullest but the Jeweler’s Eye indecision comes into play as well… what curricula is to be dumped, what curricula is to be retained? therefore how to assist students to even arrive at the topic of h+ if ancient memes obscure a vision which would let adults get past Square One—let alone young students? Here’s another example of what is wrong: elementary education (higher education is of relatively high quality) has been, is being, correctly described as “not about the children”; in other words education today is parents, teachers, administrators attempting to decide who rules, who gets to execute the educational agenda. Elementary education thus becomes a laboratory, and the children become lab specimens being bombarded with as you previously mentioned “change all the time.” If adults can scarcely cope with contradiction and information overload, then how can children?
Perhaps children today are a bit more resilient, though; don’t know, but I know I could not take being so young & impressionable and being subject to such back and forth, the scholastic to-ing and fro-ing involved. It is said (and hasn’t it always been said) children today lack respect for their elders. Yet perhaps a good reason for disrespect exists, maybe students deep down feel as if they are being experimented upon. If education “is not about the children”, then it is not only about the teachers, the parents, the administrators, but also about educational experimentation; frankly, treating children as if they were guinea pigs to be inculcated with every arbitrary, capricious scholastic whim of their elders.

In this most recent article for H+ magazine, Matthew Bailey argues there is a lot of mythology in the Singularity community:

“In fact, it’s out of the desire to educate people about these topics that the religious ideology and myths surrounding the Singularity arise. People have a need to create a narrative to make sense of the information they have. These narratives are created by stories or myths, which then are used to justify actions that reinforce those narratives.

The creation of a narrative is an excellent tool in helping people to understand a thing. However, this does not mean that the myths behind the narrative are all true. It is important to differentiate between the stories we tell to make sense of the world and the reality in which we live.”

http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/04/14/the-technological-singularity-as-religious-ideology/

As he explains, while this is true for certain subcultures of this movement, and for those that don’t understand it very well, it is not true of the ethos itself. (The Singularity is itself a scientific/technological hypothesis around which these mythological interpretations and extrapoloations occur)

But if there is this mythology, (talk about God as the culmination of the Singularity, for example) why then is it (still) difficult to teach this to children? Seems to me the answer is that the mythology is not a very prominent component, nor is the mythology very similar to religious mythology.

When you mythologize wisdom, you get superstition and religion.
When you mythologize science, you get science fiction and propaganda.

Dor,

“When you mythologize science, you get science fiction and propaganda.”

-Ok, but you don’t need to confuse science fiction stories with truth. In order to not become confused between the two, you could use wisdom.

-and to point out a positive aspect of mythology, it serves to illuminate and give life to scientific truth. 2001’s ‘HAL’ for instance, is a fictional character. And some people do get confused about AI because of their knowledge of HAL (confusing mythology with reality). But people that understand AI don’t get confused, anymore than they get confused reading a poorly researched science paper, they are, under most circumstances, able to separate ‘story’ from ‘reality’. I think the story of HAL illuminates some very real human fears etc. regarding AI. The bottom line: The key is being able to tell the difference between the two…

-in getting back to children, though, telling the difference is not as easy (which raises some ethical concerns, as well as the concern that we would, in introducing Transhumanism to them through mythology (which would make it easier for them to grasp, perhaps), have them grow up with badly formed viewpoints on Transhumanism).

That seems to suggest that we can be wise or engage in science without making story, which is a story that is not aware of itself. I prefer self-aware stories.

That also seems to suggest that story cannot be true, religion cannot be reasonable, and knowledge should not lead to art and advocacy. These positions do not match my experience.

On the other hand, clearly there are risks of superstition, dishonesty and dogmatism that we should work against.

What do we have to lose anymore by inculcating children with h+ memes? the biosphere is more at risk, the political situation has been stagnant since the Cold War ended.
We don’t want to make bad ethical choices but we do so by default.

“That also seems to suggest that [a?] story cannot be true.”

In a sense it can’t: reality is always going to be more complex than any story we can tell about it. This also goes for other forms of knowledge: it will always be simpler and will resonate to a lesser or greater degree, but never totally. But non-stories - as Einstein’s field equation or Schrodinger’s equation - sometimes resonate with reality extremely well, in a way that a “story” (if by “story” we mean something you can tell to a five-year old and they would understand) can’t.

A story can’t be self-aware, but I agree that the idea that we can be wise or engage in science without making stories about it is itself a story, and that it is helpful if story-tellers are aware that they are telling stories. (Which is also a story, although by now the hypothetical five-year old may be getting somewhat confused…)

Really interesting points raised.

I agree that stories can be true, and I agree that they are partially true in the sense that can’t capture all vantage points nor aspects of experience at once. They capture reality as a particular group of people see it, and at best can express ideas/wisdom that resonates with humanity as a whole.

This gets into the realm of philosophy of language.

A single sentence itself can be true in that it can be verifiable. For instance, ‘The dog is on the mat’, is a true sentence, if the dog is indeed on the mat. Very few sentences (and very few scientific formulas for that matter) have the ability to be verified to this degree.

For instance, if you report: ‘the dog is on the mat and he is having a good nap’ (now making an inference that you can’t really verify), the truth value of what you report decreases. The second part of the sentence is a bit of a ‘story’; it’s the story you tell, it’s an inference, accounted for by the dog’s deep breaths, relaxed position, look of contentment etc. It might be true, but you can’t validate it (at this point in time anyway). We all deviate from the ‘truth’ in this sense, even when we are talking about events in real life.

But take another kind of sentence that can be very true, such as ‘time heals’. This is not a scientific formula, at least not expressed in this way, (and this expression is usually used to refer to emotional wounds) but it is a sentence that we would say is ‘very true’, despite not being able to validate it empirically (yet). It resonates with reality, and human experience, extremely well.

In stories, the ‘truth’ in a story is truth of the second kind, where the ‘truth’ is that it resonates with human experience, it expresses ‘wisdom’, and so on. Many secular children’s stories/films have this character, and in watching them children are socialized into the belief system/moral code of the culture in which they live.

We don’t take issue with children learning about ‘the circle of life’ from The Lion King, and so I don’t see why the same cannot be true of stories and films that teach Transhumanist ideas. They are part ‘truth’ (as a given culture sees things, at least), and part fiction (the events in the Lion King never took place). 

When discussing HAL, I meant to show that people’s perceptions of what AI could be altered by the fiction, because they might become confused about AI, especially when the story of an AI, is not very much like AIs that do (and could) exist. This is a problem with science fiction, since authors often mix things that are very likely to come true, but with things that are not.

Fictional stories also have the ability to ‘come true’, especially when values get implemented in stories that affect people’s feelings about the science itself. You can see how this happens by comparing science fiction of the West with that of Japan. Science fiction in the West tends to portray robots as fearful, whereas in the east, they are more friendly. Yet both cultures think their stories about future tech are insightful, have ‘truth’, have foresight, etc, becasue to some extent the fiction has beome reality. 

@Nikki…Indeed we’re getting into the philosophy of language…a favourite subject of mine smile

While it’s common to describe expressions such as “time heals” as “very true”, I personally have reservations with using such terminology in the context of otherwise precise communication. (In the context of casual conversation it’s fine of course.) time doesn’t always heal: sometimes it just allows wounds to fester. In fact it’s a good example of a statement that resonates with some aspects of reality, but not others, but which is also evocative and can therefore, like all good stories, be an effective means of communication.

I suppose the question is really how do we want to use the word “true”. On the overall point I’m very much with you and Lincoln: we need to develop some good stories about transhumanist ideas. (Kurzweil did a pretty good job on Colbert I thought.) but maybe the word “true” is better reserved for more precise forms of communication?

@Peter

Yes, good points. There is also a self-fullfilling prophecy element to ‘time heals’, I suppose, which affect its truth value in each individual situation. And I agree, the word ‘truth’ might be better reserved for empirical truths etc.

Either way, I am glad we agree that stories need not be damaging or threatening, that they can actually be beneficial, to Transhumanism.

I haven’t yet read Shannon Vyff’s “21st Century Children”, which is fiction she wrote for the purpose of teaching Transhumanism ideas to children.

 

Generally fiction as fiction can be an excellent way of speaking “truths”. It is fiction as history or fiction as prophecy or fiction as news that repeats the mistakes of the past. If we agree that filling a child’s head with fictions about God at an age when they are too young to understand metaphor is inappropriate, then the same logic/premise applies to any ideology. If a child is too young to understand the nuance or implications of the concepts, then the child’s autonomy isn’t being respected.
So Giant Robot is no different than Lion King: fiction as fiction.  Intensionally saying that x,y,z outcomes are what will happen, when we have no clear idea of what exponential technological change will really mean, is little different.

“If a child is too young to understand the nuance or implications of the concepts, then the child’s autonomy isn’t being respected.”

What autonomy? A child is continually being bombarded with messages from his/her environment (that is to say, information that the child perceives as messages) and thus forms his/her developing model of reality, values etc.

Personally I *don’t* agree that filling a child’s head with fictions about God at an age when they are too young to understand metaphor is inappropriate. If “respecting a child’s autonomy” is a helpful concept at all then I think it has to mean something like teaching children to question what they are told, and protecting them from emotional trauma that could curtail their psychological freedom. (In other words, to avoid “because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk”.)

Within those constraints, I suggest we tell them whatever stories we feel like: about God, about giant robots, about the lion king, about remembering to take Hank’s brain out of the freezer. And yes, let some of them be about transhumanism! So they grow up to be *happy* transcendent post-humans.

Unfortunately, lower education is still not about students; it is about turf wars involving parents, teachers, administrators. You can’t go by what people say—you have to go by their behavior, you have to cut through the smiles & public relations to get a closer approximation of what is going on in lower education. And to say lower education isn’t so bad is to say there is a great deal of punch in the turdbowl.
Today’s child is a guinea pig, not a student.

@Lincoln:

That we should work against dogmatism seems itself a dogmatic proposition, doesn’t it?

Unlike superstition and dishonesty, it seems dogmas can be reasonable and honest.

The danger, I would say, is “blind” dogmatism—failing to prod dogmas for the reasonable arguments behind them—with a blind rejection of absolutes as proving equally fruitless.

Hi Henry. I suppose I wouldn’t call it “dogmatism” unless I consider it to be what you are calling “blind dogmatism”.

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