Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bad Humbug, Good Humbug, and Bah Humbug

Blogger Michael Anissimov does not believe in Santa Claus, but he does believe in the possibility, indeed the moral necessity, of overcoming animal predation. To put it another way, he does not believe in telling fantasy stories to children if they will take those stories to be true, but he has no compunctions about telling them to adults with hopes that they will be true.

An obvious difference Mr. Anissimov might wish to point out is that adults are more likely than children to be able to distinguish fantasy from reality. He can (and does) submit his thoughts to their critical appraisal. While that difference does not justify what Mr. Anissimov regards as taking advantage of children by telling them convincing fantasies, it does suggest something about the difference between small children and adults. Small children cannot readily distinguish between fantasy and reality. In fact, there is a great deal of pleasure to be had in the failure to make that distinction. It could even be true that not making it is an important prelude to the subsequent ability to make it. Perhaps those who are fed from an early age on a steady diet of the prosaic will have more trouble distinguishing between the world as it is and as they might wish it to be. But here I speculate.

In any case, surely if one fed small children on a steady diet of stories like the one Mr. Anissimov tells about overcoming predation, they might come to believe such stories as uncritically as other children believe in Santa Claus. I can easily imagine their disappointment upon learning the truth about the immediate prospects of lions lying down with lambs. We’d have to be sure to explain to them very carefully and honestly that such a thing will only happen in a future, more or less distant, that they may or may not live to see — even if small children are not all that good at understanding about long-term futures and mortality.

But in light of their sad little faces it would be a hard parent indeed who would not go on to assure them that a fellow named Aubrey de Grey is working very hard to make sure that they will live very long lives indeed so that maybe they will see an end to animal predation after all! But because “treating them as persons” (in Mr. Anissimov’s phrase) means never telling children stories about things that don’t exist without being very clear that these things don’t exist, it probably wouldn’t mean much to them if we pointed out that Mr. de Grey looks somewhat like an ectomorphic version of a certain jolly (and immortal) elf:


  1. Overcoming predation is hardly a fantasy, if you set your sights low enough -- it begins at home with vegetarianism. The idea is not to get there all at once, but progress towards eliminating the worst incidents -- the prevention of predators savagely eating their prey alive, and the like. When we complete one step, we can then move to the next. The level of suffering that animals experience in the wild is unforgiveable.

  2. You're kind of saying, Michael, that the pressures of evolution which are age old and proven to aid evolution itself are unforgivable. Without sounding too severe, I hope, I will add: Just what kind of crusade are you on, and why do you think you're smarter than nature? (devil's advocate - I agree suffering through an overly savage climate is at an all-time high).

  3. TaylorGrey: Evolution occurs, but it is a process utterly indifferent to the welfare of the conscious beings it generates and should not be glorified as you are doing (committing a sort of naturalistic fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_nature). Once we have the knowledge and power to do so, humanity should begin to reduce the influence of evolution in order to create a more benevolent world for ourselves and other conscious beings.

    If we don't play God with the universe, nobody will.

  4. I subscribe to this blog because I am a transhumanist and I want to see my ideas thoroughly and intelligently challenged. This post however seems to be pure ridicule, with no substantial argument. If you have an argument, please post it. Otherwise, my plan for the next few decades continues to be not only to remove most or all suffering from the lives of wild animals, but indeed to uplift them all to an equal intelligence with ours and grant them full rights as citizens. Anything less seems to me to be taking advantage of our privilege as the first intelligent race on this planet to play a horrible, torturous, inhuman game with those left behind.

    @taylorgrey: Whatever wisdom nature may have, it is clearly not employed toward the end of making this planet a pleasant place to live. We are so far the only conscious moral agents on this planet, and we must execute that role seriously. The Gaia hypothesis is dead wrong: Mommy cannot save us this time. We are alone.

  5. While I strongly support the idea of revising the “blind, pitiless indifference” of nature (to quote Richard Dawkins), I somewhat agree with Rubin's claim that doing so is a fantasy for humans today except in special circumstances (like those Michael highlights in his reply).

    However, I think there is a non-trivial chance that our technologically advanced descendants will be able to do something about the problem. In order to encourage them to take action, and in order to ensure that they think twice before undertaking other projects that might multiply wild-animal suffering throughout the cosmos, I think we should focus our efforts now on promoting the meme that the brutality of nature is unacceptable. I envision a society in which people realize that the "natural" agony of, say, a frog being swallowed and digested alive by a snake is no more tolerated than the "natural" suffering of a child afflicted with malaria. I commend Michael (and Dave Pearce, initially) for helping to advance this idea.

  6. As other commenters have noted, I see in this article a preponderance of (longwinded) dismissals with funny metaphors, backed by no attempt to genuinely understand the science and theory behind what's been dismissed.

    Overcoming predation is not something that can be done with today's technology, or any extension of what's in the works. It will take a vast amount of energy and a much more developed understanding of the workings of ecosystems, biology, and climate to even consider. What's being discussed today is the inherent value in striving for such an outcome.

  7. Both human predators and non-human predators currently cause immense suffering. So do the ravages of aging. Yes, a world without predation or aging may indeed be "a thing will only happen in a future, more or less distant, that they may or may not live to see." Yet why condemn future generations to suffer in the same way as we do? Even if (pessimistically) the project takes hundreds of years (or millennia) to complete, is the ultimate goal of a world without (involuntary) suffering any less worthwhile? Horrific scenes like:
    will otherwise be played out indefinitely - unless we take the technical steps needed to stop such horrors for good.

  8. thanks dave your statement "-unless we take the ...for good" is a clear refreshing statement of the proper utility and promise of technology

  9. @Mr. Anissimov - Good to hear from you. You say that “the level of suffering that animals experience in the wild is unforgiveable.” Who or what is it that you are not forgiving?

    @taylorgrey - Thanks for commenting. You say that “suffering through an overly savage climate is at an all-time high.” On what do you base that claim?

    @Pope Salmon the Lesser Mungojelly - You say that your “plan for the next few decades” is to “remove most or all suffering from the lives of wild animals.” Which ones? All of them? How do you intend to do that? How do you expect to “uplift them all to an equal intelligence with ours”? With what authority do you hope to “grant them full rights as citizens”? (By the way, if you “want to see [your] ideas thoroughly and intelligently challenged” and don’t want to be ridiculed, why do you employ such a ridiculous pseudonym?)

    @djadvance - You criticize the above post for not tackling the relevant “science and theory.” But don’t you then go on to admit (correctly, in my view) that there isn’t really any serious science to discuss?

    @Mr. Dawrst - Thanks for commenting. Your strategy, as I understand it, is to propagate the principle (or sentiment) “that the brutality of nature is unacceptable” so that someday, when we are in a position to do something about it, we will not hesitate to take action. What if we are never in a position to do something about it without doing more harm than good? What would it mean for people to hold unacceptable something that is unavoidable?

    @Mr. Pearce - Thanks for commenting. You seem to be willing to limit your project of painlessness to vertebrates, at least at first. Even so, this would mean not only “reprogramming” (as you put it) the cats that are your essay’s special focus, but of course also wolves and other canids, carnivorous bears, sharks, birds of prey, and so on. The scope of this proposed undertaking is so vast — many millions of animals around the planet “reprogrammed” in a vast reordering of the natural world — that, as you suggest, it would require universal surveillance and (given the miserable track record of scientific management) supervision by a better-than-human intelligence. In short, your project’s success depends on the development of new God-like knowledge and powers. But why shouldn't our successors solve the problem of pain among wild animals by just eliminating them altogether — painlessly escorting them out of existence? What, in such a future, are animals for? And what are they for today?

  10. @Mr. Keiper: You state that the success of the suggested project requires "God-like knowledge and powers". How do you define this? From the point of view of 1700s technology, our modern semiconductors could be seen as "God-like", even though they are obviously well within our capabilities. Advances in biotechnology require us to be neither all knowing nor all powerful.

    For instance, "surveillance" need not be universal. Wildlife will soon be confined to managed parks, due to environmental destruction. Trials are already underway for elephant contraception - a blessing given the alternative of herd "culling" given the problems of overpopulation.

    Although you point out that we have a "miserable track record of scientific management", past failures do not preclude future success. By the end of this century, we may have a number of geoengineering projects underway.

  11. Rubin's post reminds me of the hysterical protests during the pre-anesthesia days. Anesthesia was delayed for decades because religious elements and society in general felt it was unnatural and not as people are intended to be -- many, many people thought that a world with anesthesia was a fantasy comparable to that of Santa Claus, if you will.

    Of course, ask someone going into even routine surgery today if they'd prefer not to have anesthetic as God intended and you'd not just have your surgeon's license taken away but be arrested in the process. Times change, as does what people think God wants or intends or what people think is possible.

  12. Adam, in regards to your comment to Mr. Pearce, you seem to be echoing (knowingly, I suspect) the work of Michael Pollan on the subject. I'm thinking in particular of his essay "An Animal's Place", in which he writes:

    However it may appear to us, predation is not a matter of morality or politics; it, also, is a matter of symbiosis. Hard as the wolf may be on the deer he eats, the herd depends on him for its well-being; without predators to cull the herd, deer overrun their habitat and starve. In many places, human hunters have taken over the predator's ecological role. Chickens also depend for their continued well-being on their human predators -- not individual chickens, but chickens as a species....

    Yet here's the rub: the animal rightist is not concerned with species, only individuals. Tom Regan, author of
    The Case for Animal Rights, bluntly asserts that because "species are not individuals... the rights view does not recognize the moral rights of species to anything, including survival." [Peter] Singer concurs, insisting that only sentient individuals have interests. But surely a species can have interests -- in its survival, say -- just as a nation or community or a corporation can. The animal rights movement's exclusive concern with individual animals makes perfect sense given its roots in a culture of liberal individualism, but does it make any sense in nature?

    The essay is a must-read for those interested in this topic. It suggests that, although we as humans can and should treat animals far more humanely than we currently do, the benevolent removal of all suffering from nature could be achieved only by eliminating all creatures that can suffer. (A group which, if we think carefully about our definition of suffering, may well include far more than just vertebrates or animals.) But surely the extinction of a species is a greater tragedy than whatever suffering is necessary to its existence.

  13. @jevans - Thanks for your comment. The language of “God-like” was not my own: it came from Mr. Pearce’s essay, in which he mentions the need for “suitable surveillance and computer control” and speaks of our coming acquisition of “God-like powers over Nature’s creatures.”

    Also, might I point out a potential tension in your comment? You think that we are smart enough to embark on grand geoengineering projects aimed at manipulating the planet’s average temperature, but you think that we aren’t smart enough to be able to preserve any unmanaged wilderness?

    midnightsun - I look forward to reading Mike Jay’s book to better understand the nature of the historical objections to anesthesia; his article that you link to doesn’t name these critics or give any real sense of their arguments. But, at least based on that article, it seems that those critics were objecting not to the possibility of chemicals that could render a man insensate, but to the wisdom of employing them. By contrast, Mr. Pearce’s proposed massive project to eliminate pain among wild animals is so distant a prospect that it invites skepticism about the most basic technical questions.

    Mr. Schulman - Thanks very much. I wonder if, reading the Natalie Angier piece, you found yourself thinking of The Happening.

  14. @Adam You understand my strategy correctly.

    What if we are never in a position to do something about it without doing more harm than good? That may very possibly be the case, and if so, it would be unfortunate. However, I think that the potential upside if humans can eventually make a difference (or at least if animal advocates succeed in encouraging them not to make things much worse) is sufficiently large that if you multiply (magnitude of potential impact) times (probability of having such an impact), the expected value is still vast.

    And what would it mean for people to hold unacceptable something that is unavoidable? Nothing special, really. That's true of many things: Take the Holocaust, for example. We can't avoid the historical event, but we can surely find it unacceptable. I think the same unacceptable-but-unavoidable trait is true of most wild-animal suffering today, as well.

  15. Mr. Dawrst - Your comparison to the Holocaust strikes me as pretty silly for the obvious reason: it already happened, while you’re prescribing what should happen in the future. At any rate, you say that there’s “nothing special” about people holding unacceptable something that is unavoidable. This is just a secondary point, but it strikes me that that sort of mismatch could easily be a recipe for either disenchantment or radicalism.

    More broadly, am I correct in understanding that the kind of enterprise that you and Mr. Pearce are proposing would need as a prerequisite (1) vast reductions in the numbers of wild carnivores, or (2) vast increases in our abilities to monitor wild animals and to modify their behavior, or both (1) and (2)?

  16. @Adam Keiper: The words are the same, but the intention and meaning are not. Certainly the technological advances necessary appear "God-like" from our current point of view. In this sense, humans have developed "God-like" powers again and again. But it appears from your original comment that you use the term as a synonym of impossible.

    Thanks for your views on my comment. It isn't about intelligence so much as incentives. As for unmanaged wilderness, I think we will be smart enough to not preserve it.

    @Ari Schulman: I think your point is very interesting. I would argue however, that species themselves are not morally central, as species do not have the capacity to experience pain. Pain happens within minds, and only individuals have minds. Therefore I would disagree with retaining a species if suffering is necessary for its existence. I'm also not sure how a species can have interests.

    I believe that our fundamental disagreement here is on the nature of ethical value. Would either of you please share your definition of value with us?

  17. @Adam I'm suggesting that the suffering of wild animals right now -- as well as in the past and in the future -- is unacceptable. Similarly for the deaths of thousands of children today due to preventable diseases. And so on. By "unacceptable" I just mean "bad and worth preventing."

    Assuming we do advance to an advanced technological state, my best guess for what will happen is that post-humans will basically eliminate wildlife in order to extract resources for computing power and virtualization, unless perhaps a deep-ecologist movement acts to ensure the preservation of physical wilderness on earth. So I expect that (1) will happen. This isn't unwelcome, because we can create much better virtual worlds than the physical one we have right now.

    If people do insist on preserving "real, physical" wildlife, the best way to prevent wild-animal suffering within it might be to re-engineer animal brains such that the pain-vs.-pleasure axis is replaced by happiness-vs.-more-happiness axis. In that case, prey could continue to be eaten but wouldn't dislike the experience. You might classify this under your category (2), although it would require no changes to ecology as such, as long as animal motivations remained intact.

    The above scenario is rather speculative, however, and I'm not terribly concerned whether it works out or not. Really, what I'm most interested in is not wildlife on earth but on other planets. I want humans to think carefully about the suffering of wild animals before blindly spreading life into the cosmos through, say, terraforming, directed panspermia, or even creating new universes. And I hope that if they encounter low-level wild-animal-type life on other planets, they'll eliminate it and use that planet's resources to create computational power for simulations of much more pleasant experiences.

    In general, I don't see the point of preserving existing wildlife under the post-human scenario: That seems like status-quo bias. Surely we wouldn't create wildlife as it is if we were starting from scratch? Of course, unless and until post-human technology does become possible, we now rely on the natural environment to sustain human survival, to enable agriculture, ensure oxygenation of the atmosphere, and so on.

  18. @jevans and Alan Dawrst: I agree with the general principle that humans ought to be concerned with animal suffering, and in particular ought to reduce the extent to which they currently cause it. But I would point to something you said, Mr. Dawrst, about a scenario in which animals could be "re-engineered" to experience no pain, so that "prey could continue to be eaten but wouldn't dislike the experience." Don't prey have good reason to dislike being eaten? If your response is that they will dislike it but not the experience of it, then I would ask: for an animal, is there any distinction between the fact of an event and the experience of it?

    Forgive me, then, if I've misunderstood your conclusions ("Therefore I would disagree with retaining a species if suffering is necessary for its existence"), but there is something unspeakably tragicomic in the notion of the human race committing genocide upon every last species in the animal kingdom in order to follow some first principles of ostensible benevolence towards it. (Where's a Swift, Voltaire, or Vonnegut when you need him?) Further, why support "not retaining" animal species but retaining the human species in the event that it too cannot be entirely freed of suffering? Is there any reason beyond "status-quo bias"?

  19. I have little to add to Ari’s comment, with which I am in full agreement. But thank you for your candor, Mr. Dawrst. I am struck, yet again, by the radicalism of the transhumanist vision. Those of us who oppose transhumanism because of its assault on human being and society may well find new allies among those who concern themselves with the defense of wildlife.

  20. is there any distinction between the fact of an event and the experience of it?
    That is a good question, because, e.g., motivation to avoid being eaten is very closely associated with suffering. However, as a proof-of-principle for the point that the two can be partly dissociated, consider the following scenario. Animals are re-engineered such that they expect that being eaten would be undesirable and therefore try to avoid it. However, once captured, the motivation to escape turns off and experiences of immense pleasure turn on during the consumption process. If the prey animal did somehow escape, it would forget that it had experienced pleasure and again aim to avoid being caught. I don't claim this would completely eliminate suffering due to predation -- the stress of being chased would remain -- nor do I claim the idea is realistic or easy to accomplish. But I do think it suggests that the hedonic value of an experience can be distanced from motivations regarding it.

    why support "not retaining" animal species but retaining the human species in the event that it too cannot be entirely freed of suffering?

    Well, in the post-human scenario, I'm not sure that suffering humans would remain. Isn't the entire idea of transhumanism that humans would choose to replace themselves with something better? Elimination of wildlife is, in that sense, just an extension of the idea to animals: Replacing suffering animals in nature with something better (e.g., happy simulations). The main difference is that animals can't volunteer to change, but we can see that doing so would be in their interests. Similarly, babies can't choose to avoid painful diseases, but we can see that it's in their interests to give them vaccines.

  21. Adam, many thanks for some thoughtful responses. Could you possibly clarify a few points?

    If presented with an example of terrible suffering in wild animals - e.g. hyenas slowly eating the face and trunk off a trapped baby elephant as noted above - do you believe it is unethical for humans to intervene? If so, on what grounds? Must we really confine ourselves to passive observation - and taking photos as the horror unfolds? Or is your objection to intervention purely or mainly practical - i.e. the worry that any initiative would probably do more harm than good? We'd both agree that a decision not to take action in such horrific circumstances would be morally unacceptable if the victim were human. So are you arguing that there is a fundamental ethical distinction between our obligation to intervene to help members of our own species (or race, tribe, etc) and the plight of members of other species? Isn't such a distinction arbitrary - a reflection of our anthropocentric bias?

    Clearly, there is a difference between piecemeal interventions and the kind of systematic ecosystem redesign (involving immunocontraception, in vitro meat, genomic rewrites, nanotech, etc) explored in "Reprogramming Predators". And yes, ill-considered, botched interventions might quite conceivably make things worse. Hence the critical need for comprehensive prior research and feasibility studies. But presumably it's vital to weigh risk against reward here. Thus compare another massively ambitious global undertaking, this time dating to the last century, namely getting rid of smallpox. Undoubtedly, saving millions of human lives had - and will continue to have - potentially immense and unpredictable ramifications. However, health policy-makers decided that the risk-reward ratio [in terms of lives saved, blindness and pock-marked disfigurement avoided, etc) justified the global mega-project in question. Now for sure, the proposal to decommission (or re-engineer) the higher reaches of the food-chain utterly dwarfs anything humans have technologically attempted to date. Eradicating smallpox world-wide was easy in comparison. But IMO the scale and intensity of wild animal suffering (via asphyxiation, disemboweling, being eaten alive, etc) means that the project needs to be seriously evaluated. With power over Nature comes complicity in its cruelties - a complicity that can only grow.

    "What, in such a future, are wild animals for?" Here you ask a deep philosophical question I purposely avoided discussing in the essay. As you know, transhumanists hold some pretty radical views that I won't attempt to expound here. But not least, the prospect of reprogramming predators - rather than phasing predators out all together - is designed to appeal to the "compassionate conservative" who seeks simultaneously to minimize cruelty and suffering but also to maximize preservation of the status quo.

  22. A brief note on early objections to anaesthesia as commented on by "midnightsun" above. Alas Mike Jay's excellent "The Atmosphere of Heaven" isn't yet available online. But see "Utopian Surgery: Early arguments against anaesthesia in surgery, dentistry and childbirth"
    for a discussion of early controversies. As late as 1839, the distinguished French surgeon Alfred-Armand-Louis-Marie Velpeau observed: "The escape from pain in surgical operations is a chimera... 'Knife' and 'pain' in surgery are words which are always inseparable in the minds of patients". However, as you note, most of the controversy centred around the wisdom rather the feasibility of anaesthesia - at least once its surgical practice started to spread across the globe.

  23. @Mr. Pearce - A quick response to your last short comment: The ellipses in your quotation of the great Velpeau distort his meaning. Here’s a fuller rendering of what he said in 1839 (with omissions emphasized): “The escape from pain in surgical operations is a chimera which it is idle to follow up today. ‘Knife’ and ‘pain’ are always inseparable in the minds of patients, and this necessary association must be conceded.

    Velpeau is cautious, at least in that statement, to avoid claiming that anesthesia would be forever impossible. Rather, he seems to want to avoid giving patients false hope that their surgeries could be pain-free. This is a compassionate and prudential warning. Short of any further context, I find nothing to fault in his remark.

  24. Adam, I blush to say you are absolutely right - I should have tracked down the original quotation rather than lazily using a secondary source. Thanks.

  25. @Mr. Pearce - I am grateful for your queries and comments above. A few quick replies:

    I have no objection to putting a terribly suffering animal (wild or domesticated) out of its misery, depending on the circumstances — although I am unprepared to argue that there is a positive moral principle that obliges intervention. I certainly do think that there are fundamental ethical distinctions to be drawn between man and animal, and that the origins of those distinctions need not be arbitrary or dependent on private revelation. (See, for example, Hans Jonas’s classic essay “Tool, Image, and Grave.”)

    Principled moral questions aside, I agree with you that the massive project you envision might “make things worse” if “ill-considered” or “botched.” I would go further: Even amply considered and perfectly executed interventions could have unanticipated terrible consequences despite “comprehensive prior research and feasibility studies.”

    Of course, it’s hard to have a serious discussion about the practicality of your project. The smallpox campaign makes for an interesting contrast. Smallpox vaccination was more than a century old before the global eradication project was even conceived, and so the project was, from the very outset, shaped by an understanding of practical realities. Your project, by contrast, is sparked by idealism and unencumbered by practical considerations — not least because it assumes the invention of several enabling technologies, which makes discussions about practical feasibility at present pretty empty.

    Finally, you say that it is “vital to weigh risk against reward.” But it seems to me that you have your thumb on the scales. What risk is there, in your eyes? If your project were to go terribly awry — say, resulting in the rapid but painless death of all macroscopic animals — you would see that as no great loss, would you? As far as I can tell, you and Mr. Dawrst see no intrinsic value in the existence of non-human animal life. (You are conspicuously silent on the subject, while Mr. Dawrst baldly speaks of eliminating wildlife and replacing it with “happy simulations.”) In your judgment, the existence of animals has no inherent value, but the phenomenon of animal suffering is a great moral calamity. By those lights, your project is pretty much all reward and no risk.

    Or do I misunderstand you? To repeat the question you avoided discussing in your essay and deferred in your last comment, what are wild animals for? Does animal life have an intrinsic value?

  26. A lot of good questions here, and I know it's often better to pose them than to proffer answers, but the former role being well-covered here, I'll pitch in some answers.

    To answer Adam's question, wild animals are not for anything, because they were not created by people. Only human creations have a purpose for their existence.

    That is not to say that humans may not value the existence of wild animals and other splendors of Nature. Clearly, these rank high among the things that we do value, and that make our own existence seem (to us) worthwhile (at least sometimes).

    Preservation of life on Earth in all its splendor, beauty, grace, ugliness, cruelty and fated tragedy, is one of the primal values we know and affirm. That means not destroying it ourselves, and preventing its wholesale destruction by any natural causes (a massive meteor strike, e.g.) to the extent we may be able to.

    The project of engineering a replacement for wild animals (and the rest of Nature, along with ourselves) is one more offense to, and would-be assault upon, values we hold without justification, and without which we would indeed be caught in the transhumanists' swirlpool of mindless logic, drifting toward the ontological absurdity of refashioning Nature into a giant computer for "simulations of pleasant experiences."

  27. I have a question for the critics of trasnhumanism here. Assuming that the kind of nanotechnology that you talk about here gets developed, I think it can be used to make artificial islands in the ocean and that the ocean city-state concept will be feasible. Think of it as Hong Kong V2.0.

    Since many of you here seem to think that the trasnhumanist post-mortal society that we intend to create is incompatible with existing society, it seems to me that the solution where everyone is happy would be for the transhumanists to create their own cisty-state. Such a city-state would be politically independent but would freely trade and do business with the rest of the world. It would be a transhumanist version of Singapore.

    I think this idea is beneficial to both transhumanists and traditionalists alike. Many of us tranhumanists would love nothing more than to have a city-state of our own. A city-state that reflects our own dreams and desires as well as our self-image, politically independent so that we can live by our own principles and ideals. It should appeal to traditionalists because we would no longer trouble them with our presence.

    I think the transhumanist city-state idea represents an ideal positive-sum solution to the so-called ethical delemmas of trasnhumanist and allows everyone to be happy with who they are.

  28. Kurt9 - If you scroll up and read the previous comments on this post, you’ll see that the scenario of your island paradise doesn’t really mesh with the hopes, or at least the expectations, of some transhumanists. It’s hard to square your live-and-let-live vision with, say, the idea that the planet’s natural resources will be stripped “in order to extract resources for computing power and virtualization.”

    That said, it is interesting to me how common is the idea that cutting-edge science cannot contentedly coexist with standing political regimes or moral traditions and so should seek out an island hideaway. Unless I’m mistaken, there’s a touch of that in the new “seasteading” movement. But it’s hardly a novel impulse. Our journal, The New Atlantis, takes its name from the famous four-century-old fable in which Francis Bacon, one of the fathers of modern science, imagined an island housing the world’s most advanced scientists.

  29. Adam - I don't pay much attention to the whole AI/upload/virtualization scenario because I consider it a fantasy. Its not going to happen for technical reasons I do not want to get into here. The future is pretty much the same as it is right now except for it being very "biological". I have never bought into the "singularity" concept either for the same reasons. The planet's resources are not about to be stripped to create some kind of upload virtual reality paradise. I can understand your concern about these scenarios because I am not very keen to them either. If the AI/upload people want to create their virtual paradise, they should go somewhere else (say, the outer solar system) to create their system and leave the Earth as it is. In any case, I would forget about these kinds of scenarios because they are not technically possible (of course, my comments here will get me into hot water with those who believe in these scenarios). So, my concept of an independent city-state is still valid.

    The idea that our cutting edge science, particularly radical life extension, is incompatible with current social regimes comes from you guys, not from us transhumanists. I assume this is the basis of any hostility towards transhumanism because I cannot see any other reason for anyone to be hostile towards our dreams and desires.

    I am perfectly content to live within the current societies such as Japan or the U.S. providing the corrupt force of government in these places is not used to prevent the development and dissemination of radical life extension (and associated wealth creation exponential manufacturing). After all, it is you guys who express hostility towards radical life extension which, in turn, prompts people like me to get interested in city-state concepts such as seasteading. If current sociey is perfectly accepting of us living as post-mortal transhumans, we are perfectly happy to live within the existing societies.

    Also, I like living in my physical body. I enjoy doing thing to improve my physical appearance and attractiveness. I like physical existance but am dysmorphic. That's why I'm into life extension, as well as other related personal transformation technologies. I have no desire to upload even if it were possible.


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