Scientists and policymakers are meeting this week to discuss whether geoengineering to fight climate change can be safe in the future, but make no mistake about it: We’re already geoengineering Earth on a massive scale.From diverting a third of Earth’s available fresh water to planting and grazing two-fifths of its land surface, humankind has fiddled with the knobs of the Holocene, that 10,000-year period of climate stability that birthed civilization.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
All I'm saying is that if Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof read my books they would know how to write complex hypothetical narratives
It wasn’t until her bikini thong hit me in the face that I recognized her. It was the sophomore from Holy Cross College I’d interviewed yesterday who had said her deepest desire was to marry a mature gentleman who would see her not just as a piece of flesh but as the intelligent entrepreneur she planned to be. I didn’t recognize her up on that stripper pole on the beach amid all this Spring Break mayhem. She had complained it was difficult to land a good man with all these loose girls sending the wrong impression.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
What I find fascinating about the anatomy of the Culture novels is the dissonance between Banks’s straightforward statements about the Culture and certain recurrent features of the stories he writes. Banks talks about how “nice” the Culture is, and yet we see hidden cruelties and open desires for universal domination. He clearly envisions the overcoming of scarcity as the signal achievement of the civilization made by the Minds, and yet he focuses time and again on objects of unfulfilled desire. He is aware that the very language of the Culture is a subtle but immensely powerful training in “correct” ideology.To some extent these oddities are ... the inevitable consequence of the decision to write novels about the Culture. It is not possible to come up with stories as such about people who are perfectly nice and can have everything they want instantly. But one might also say that people of whom no stories can be told are not really people in any sense recognizable to us; and the lives that they experience are not lives in any sense recognizable to us.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Seeking more intelligence, wisdom, and effectiveness, an indefinite lifespan, and the removal of political, cultural, biological, and psychological limits to self-actualization and self-realization. Perpetually overcoming constraints on our progress and possibilities.
We need to carefully deliberate how best to reduce risks and expedite beneficial applications. We also need forums where people can constructively discuss what should be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
How very odd it is ... that the very moment he arrives at the threshold of his new city, with all its hard-won relief from the sufferings of the past, happens to be the same moment that he runs out of meaning!... The American novel in past years has treated such themes as persons whose lives are blighted by social evils, or reformers who attack these evils.... But the hero of the postmodern novel is a man who has forgotten his bad memories and conquered his present ills and who finds himself in the victorious secular city. His only problem now is to keep from blowing his brains out.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
My previous post on transhumanism and morality elicited a response from James Hughes, whose recent series of essays was my prompt. I thank Prof. Hughes for his response, although it seems to me to confirm more than not the main point of my original post.
I’m confident that Prof. Hughes understands that what we are calling for the sake of shorthand “Enlightenment values” did not present themselves as “historically situated” but as simply true. Speaking schematically and as briefly as possible, it took Hegel (no unambiguous fan of the Enlightenment) to historicize them, but he did so in a way that preserved the possibility of truth. It took Nietzsche’s radical historicism in effect to turn Hegel against himself, and in so doing to replace truth with willful, creative overcoming. That opens the door to postmodernism.
It looks like it is almost axiomatic to Prof. Hughes that all “truths” are historically situated and culturally relative, so in that postmodern manner he is rejecting “Enlightenment values” on their own terms. Nietzsche, shall we say, has eaten that cake. But why then “privilege” “Enlightenment values” at all? Prof. Hughes wants to keep the cake around to the extent it is useful to pursue a grand transformational project (a necessary one, according to at least some of his transhumanist brothers and sisters). But why (assuming there is a choice) pursue transhumanism at all as a grand project, or why prefer one version over another? To this question Prof. Hughes’s axiom allows no rational answer (“Reason,” he writes, “is a good tool but ... our values and moral codes are not grounded in Reason”) although the silence is covered up by libertarian professions, the superficiality of which Prof. Hughes understands full well.
What Agnes Heller calls “reflective postmodernism” describes a response to the dilemma Prof. Hughes is facing that to my mind is not without problems, but at least seems intellectually respectable. Armed with Nietzsche’s paradoxical truth that there is no truth, the reflective postmodernist is alive to irony, open to being wrong and playful in outlook. But above all, the reflective postmodernist is an observer of the world, having abandoned entirely the modern propensity to pursue the kind of grand, “necessary,” transformational projects that made the twentieth century so terrible. Absent such abnegation, I don’t see how the postmodern-style adherence to “Enlightenment values” Prof. Hughes recommends for transhumanism can be anything more than anti-Enlightenment will to power.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Prof. Hughes diagnoses that “transhumanists, especially of the libertarian variety, have retreated too far from Enlightenment moral universalism, towards moral relativism.” His concluding prescription:
We need to reassert our commitment to moral universalism and the political project of equality for all persons and institutions of global governance powerful enough to enforce world law and individual rights.... [But] we partisans of the Enlightenment cannot defend moral universalism by re‑asserting that rights are God‑given, natural, or self‑evident. We have to acknowledge that rights and moral status are social agreements, shifting daily with the balance of political forces seeking to limit and expand them. Moral universalism needs to be tempered with respect for diversity and, where meaningful, respect for individual consent and collective self‑determination. Our moral universalism needs to acknowledge the limits of our current perspective, the possibility that some of our universals may in fact be parochially human, and that our descendants may come up with better ethical and political models.
There is a technical term for what Prof. Hughes suggests here: having your cake and eating it too. Unless he is imagining some kind of neo-Hegelian universal and homogenous state, in what sense can rights and moral status be universals if they are a matter of social agreement and choice? (I’ll try to take up in a later post the question of what Prof. Hughes has to say elsewhere about powerful global governance.) At the same time, what are respect for diversity, individual consent, and collective self-determination (an interesting tension is surely possible between the last two) being presented as except putative universals, despite the fact that Prof. Hughes introduces them as ways to temper moral universalism?
Prof. Hughes’s hopes for the future seem equally confused. When he suggests that what we think of as universals might really just be expressions of the “parochially human,” that might seem to open the door to the progressive uncovering of genuine universals based on a less limited perspective. But in fact all he will commit to is that our descendants may come up with “models” for behavior that are “better.” The way he has framed the issue, he can really only mean better for them, according to whatever balance of forces will operate in their world. That may or may not look better, or be better, for us.
It is surely true that there is an irreducible element of Enlightenment thinking in transhumanism, but it has little to do with transhumanist politics and morality per se, and is to be found rather in the topic of another of Prof. Hughes’s posts: scientific and technical progressivism. For the most part, though, transhumanism seems to rely on thinkers who reacted against Enlightenment liberal universalism, as is the case of Mill, whose utilitarian libertarianism explicitly eschews any rights foundation. Indeed, the éminence grise behind transhumanism may well be that great anti-liberal and anti-Enlightenment thinker Nietzsche. Too few transhumanists, if any, have fully come to grips with the significance of a crucial point of agreement with Nietzsche: that mankind is nothing other than a rope over an abyss, a rope leading to the Superman.
Monday, March 1, 2010
There is much in Mr. Anissimov’s post that we disagree with. There is also a heap of, shall we say, odd reasoning. (To pick just one example, he finds it “unacceptable” that the human body cannot withstand “rifle bullets without severe tissue damage.” But of course bullets hurt us; that is what they are designed to do.) But all in all, we’re happy to help set Mr. Anissimov on the right path, and it is encouraging to see him concede that there are valid criticisms of transhumanism and that there are problems in transhumanist thinking. Here’s hoping that more of his ideological comrades follow his lead.
Charles T. Rubin, New Atlantis contributing editor.
Adam Keiper, New Atlantis editor.
Ari N. Schulman, New Atlantis senior editor.
Brendan Foht, New Atlantis assistant editor.
Mark Gubrud, Futurisms contributor.
- Machine Morality and Human Responsibility
- Beyond Mankind
- Why Be Human?
- Our Bodies, Ourselves
- The Rhetoric of Extinction
- Man or Machine?
- Artificial Intelligence and Human Nature
by Adam Keiper and Ari N. Schulman
- Humanism and Transhumanism (Fred Baumann)
- The Trouble with the Turing Test (Mark Halpern)
- Disenchanting Determinism (Caitrin Nicol)
- The Anti-Theology of the Body (David B. Hart)
- Ageless Bodies, Happy Souls (Leon R. Kass)
- Transitional Humanity (Gilbert Meilaender)
- Till Malfunction Do Us Part (Caitrin Nicol)
- Methuselah and Us (Diana Schaub)
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- Geoengineering: Falling with style
- Quick Links: Fake Ray Kurzweil, 30 Rock, Avatar
- "The Geek's Guide To Getting Girls"
- Now you can ignore the Singularity while checking ...
- An Ambiguous Utopia
- Why Hope?: Transhumanism and the Arts (Another Res...
- The Transhuman and the Postmodern (A Further Respo...
- Transhuman Morality 2.0 (Responding to James Hughe...
- “Transhumanists Have a Problem”
- Will it Blend?: Apples and Philosophy of Mind
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