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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Transhumanism
Posted: November 13, 2023 at 4:34 am
Lee Vitaht is a youth from Tip Valley, Nottingham, a slum area where the unemployed are forced to live until society can find a use for them. One day he enters a competition to appear on the Reality TV programme Live Island with the chance to win immortality. Lee Vitaht would love to live forever so he can finally witness Forest win the Prem and possibly see the Broadmarsh Centre flattened. But as Reality TV host Android Marr explains, we work in immortality, not miracles.
AI Up Mi Duck is an interactive fiction game that can be downloaded from itch.io. It explores the impact of technology on our lives and issues of transhumanism - the idea that we can somehow become untethered from our flesh and live forever. Nobody is quite sure exactly what transhumanism means or how it will work, but its got a lot of people interested and generated a load of cults, with Ray Kurzweil, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines (2000), the alpha prophet.
The hope is that emerging technologies such as genetic engineering, AI, cryonics, and nanotechnology can somehow help humans stop ageing and relegate death as a twentieth century inconvenience. One of the most extreme versions of this ideal is that our consciousness can be downloaded and rebooted into some kind of external mainframe computer. Lets just hope the broadband connection is stronger than my GiffGaff connection. But consciousness is not a tangible thing like a foot or finger and so whether you can download something that is difficult to define or locate is a bit of a challenge.
To help me research the game, I read Matt OConnells To be a Machine (2017), and discovered that the idea of connecting ourselves to a wider network may not be that far fetched. The body, after all, is a series of electrical circuits. If this could be emulated somehow, it would completely redefine what it means to be human. For those who cant wait for such innovations, fear not. You can get your frozen corpse stored in a massive cryogenic warehouse in the hope that one day medicine and technology will be able to reanimate the brain, thereby providing a second chance at life. Then theres the hubris of the life hack brigade who think that a strict diet and exercise will help prolong life. If getting up at four oclock in the morning every day to do 1,000 press-ups while bingeing on raw food is the key to eternal life, its a no from me. Its the quality rather than the quantity of life that matters.
In writing this game with animation students from Confetti, one thing became abundantly clear: I dont want to live forever. It would be tedious. Theres only so many times you can get Homer Simpson socks for Christmas or watch fireworks over Trent Bridge before the novelty wears off. Theres something humbling about coming to terms with your mortality that helps you appreciate your allotted three score years and ten.
Posted: October 10, 2023 at 1:07 pm
At the Davos 2022 meeting in Davos, Nokia CEO Pekka Lundmark said that by 2030 "smartphones will be implanted directly into your body". This would coincide with the advent of 6G technology, which is expected to launch by the end of the decade, Azernews reports.
"For years we have seen the elite's relentless pursuit of transhumanism, that is, the merging of humans with machines. They seek to accelerate this transition by making things that humans can't live without (like smartphones) available in transhumanist form." says report.
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Posted: at 1:07 pm
An international double bill presented as part of Tipperary Dance International Festival.
VIS MOTRIX [Moving Force] by Cocoon Dance is the second part of a trilogy on the unthought body, exploring transhuman energies and impulses. In VIS MOTRIX, bodies move through space merging into human-machine hybrids. These other-worldly, fascinating organisms haunt us with a hypnotic power that one cannot escape. What is the driving force, the soul (Vis Motrix) behind the movements of these beings? With this production, CocoonDance continues its research of the unthought body: transhumanism as a traumatic round dance that does not leave our unconsciousness untouched.
Atlas da Boca [Atlas of the Mouth] by Gaya de Medeiros examines the experience of two trans people by exploring the mouth as a place of intersection between the public and the private, between silence and the lasting word, between the sensual and the political. Dissecting the interplay between word and gesture, Gaya de Medeiros delves into the moments in which the mouth hardens to let the words come out roaring.
Warnings: Atlas da Boca contains nudity and sexual references in the text Age: 18+ Running time: 90 minutes
Atlas da Boca is presented in partnership with Dance Limerick, in the framework of Aerowaves, co-funded by the European Union.
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Posted: at 1:07 pm
The US multimillionaire regularly presents himself as the saviour of humanity with Tesla, tunnel drilling company The Boring Company, social media platform X, and also with Neuralink. In the future, people with paralysis due to ALS, MS or a stroke will be able to communicate their thoughts to others via an implant from Neuralink. The implant connects the brain wirelessly to devices outside the body. But the latter company also has some very questionable aspects. "Super scary," columnist Ilyaz Nasrullah calls Musk's plans with Neuralink in Trouw.
The results show that Neuralink does not build illusions. Using such an implant, the company made monkeys play a computer game by controlling the device with their brains. After years of experimenting on mice, rats, pigs and monkeys, Neuralink is ready for tests on humans. But there are quite a few snags in that. Mainly because the company's handling of animal welfare is quite worrying.
Management admitted that Neuralink's experiments at the University of California had caused the deaths of eight animals in recent years. But news agency Reuters dived deep into the matter last year and uncovered very different, shockingly large numbers. Although Neuralink released a reassuring statement, whistleblowers reported as many as 1,500 cases of animal casualties since 2018. In particular, rushed experiments cost many laboratory animals their lives due to infections or other side effects.
Following a trial in March, in which Neuralink was acquitted of animal cruelty, the US Food and Drug Administration FDA gave the company the green light to conduct human trials. "We are excited to announce that we have received FDA approval to launch our first human clinical trial!" Neuralink tweeted on 25 May. Just two months earlier, the FDA rejected a request. At the time, Neuralink could not guarantee the safety of the lithium-ion battery used, and it was unclear whether the wiring could be removed from the brain without damaging it beyond repair.
Since last week, Neuralink has been recruiting subjects with ALS or another paralysis disease for the so-called Prime study. They will receive an implant in their skull the size of a euro coin, a so-called brain-computer interface (BCI). A specialised operating robot, the R1, which Neuralink has developed for this purpose, surgically installs the brain implant under the skull. Delicate power wires connect the interface to 3,000 electrodes in the different brain regions. The entire installation is done under local anaesthesia and takes only half an hour. The implant "measures the electrical signals emitted by neurons. Finally, the speed and patterns of those signals form the basis for movement, thoughts and memories," Musk explained.
The subjects can then use their minds to control a computer cursor or keyboard. Conversely, the devices can also control parts of the subjects. Initially, the research was intended to help people with paralysis. With brain implants, the company may also be able to help people with obesity, autism, depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson's, and epilepsy get rid of their symptoms. "It's like a Fitbit (fitness tracker, Ed.) in your skull with little wires," Musk said during the product demonstration.
But it doesn't stop there; Neuralink also wants to provide healthy people with a technical extension in the future. They, too, should be able to communicate wirelessly with the digital world around them using an implant. With an implant, they can not only expand their memory with an external hard drive but also upload new skills at lightning speed and communicate telepathically with their autonomous car.
This development is currently in its infancy. However, according to Musk, a brain-computer interface will soon become as common as a smartphone. Surfing the web using our brains and communicating telepathically via a chip will become the norm, believes the US billionaire. In the future, humans and computers will work together and share their knowledge and experience.
If humanity does not grow with the development of artificial intelligence, it will eventually fall behind technology, Musk expects. "Humans need to merge with machines to avoid becoming like monkeys," he says.
This development should produce smarter and more powerful people. But who wants this? At Cybernews.com, IT change manager Neil Hughes wonders how it will feel when the artificially intelligent text generator ChatGPT soon starts communicating with the human mind like a second internal voice. It is not imaginary. After all, ChatGPT has recently been able to see, hear and speak. A translation computer is therefore no longer needed. Artificial intelligence recites it internally, and humans simply mimic it.
Human bodies may be upgraded in the future to avoid becoming obsolete or worn out. Musk, therefore, does not rule out brain-computer interfaces merging the human mind and artificial intelligence (AI), giving a human "an AI extension of himself". After all, humans are evolutionarily "work in progress".
The distinction between humans and technology is increasingly blurred by this development. The fusion, also called cyborg, is a form of human enhancement.
That raises all sorts of new questions, IT professional Hughes realises. Will companies, governments or hackers soon have access to the most intimate thoughts and experiences? Will it allow them to subject humanity to a form of surveillance, manipulation and control that a dictator dreams of today? Will there be a thought police? Will a techno-elite class emerge with enormous power and privileges?
Jason Thacker, ethicist at The Ethics and Religious Commission of the American Southern Baptist Convention, puts his finger on Musk's way of thinking. This is based on "a materialistic and evolutionary worldview". Musk wants to give human evolution a helping hand. The vision of life behind this is so-called transhumanism. "Musk, along with many other transhumanists, is trying to improve our fragile humanity," he said.
And that goes a long way. Like the French philosopher Ren Descartes, transhumanists conceive of humans as a duality of mind and body. They see the mind as "software" and the body as "hardware". The real personality consists of the mind, thoughts and emotions. The body is a kind of container which can be changed or replaced by another. The human mind can then be uploaded into a robot and live on digitally forever, even if the body is dead. The presentation of Tesla's self-learning humanoid robot Optimus last week shows the direction that development is taking. Its capabilities mimic human capabilities quite lifelike.
Because of the speed at which this technology is developing and its complexity, legislation and ethical reflection are hopelessly behind. Hughes: "So it may be time to take our foot off the accelerator and reduce the speed of technological change." He advocates "responsibility and caution".
Ethicist Thacker goes a step further. "Human beings have value because they were created by God in His image and likeness. Our body need not be discredited, as if it does not have the capabilities we need to flourish. Then Christ as Man would also have had shortcomings."
The Christian worldview is so much "richer and more coherent" than Musk's, Thacker argues. It is an "ethical framework that upholds the dignity and respect of every human being". People are "embodied souls who, if they belong to Christ, will receive the ultimate 'upgrade': salvation in God's time by God's power".
This article was translated by CNE.news and published by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on October 4
Posted: at 1:07 pm
GEELONG Arts Centre has announced the six recipients of its latest Creative Engine grant packages.
The announcement celebrates Geelong Arts Centres first class of Creative Engine grant recipients since opening the doors to the centres $140 million redevelopment in August.
The centre is providing both financial support and in-kind studio access valued at more than $59,000 within the new state-of-the-art venue
Now in their fourth year, the grants are designed to directly benefit local G21 artists and other artists with strong connections to the community in their development of new and distinctive work.
Since December 2018, Creative Engine has supported 51 creative projects.
The selected projects span multiple artistic disciplines, including screenwriting, traditional and experimental theatre, music, and puppetry, but all meet the programs three selection criteria: Connection, Innovation and Thoughtfulness.
Ignition recipients are awarded $5,000 plus in-kind studio access, plus mentoring opportunities.
This years recipients areImaginary Friends, by Georgie Rose, a multi-disciplinary artistic puppetry performance that will be whimsical, playful and inspiring; andSWARM, by Melinda Chapman, a multi-art performance work that explores artificial intelligence and transhumanism through the lens of its impacts on seven family members and one synthetic person in the 2030s, and
Jump Start recipients are awarded $3,000 and in-kind studio access.
The recipients in this latest round areUnder Milk Wood, by Christine Davey, a subversive theatrical adaptation of the 1954 Dylan Thomas radio drama, which examines the global through the personal; andLost Horizon, a new theatrical adaptation of James Hiltons classic 20th century novel, which was the first paperback novel printed for a mass market, adapted into film in 1937, then musical theatre in 1973.
Place to Make recipients are awarded in-kind studio access.
The recipients arePsyched, by Serah Nathan-Sinnathamby, a 6 x 3 minute original concept narrative series developed for television that follows the misadventures of Alina, a woman who admits herself to a psychiatric hospital in an attempt to win back her ex-boyfriend; andPreparing for Release, by Rachel Brennan, who has been working with Nick Huggins and Isaac Barter over the past 10 months to record nine tracks as part of a coming release project.
We have been so energised by the recent opening of Geelong Arts Centres $140 million redevelopment, and we are genuinely excited to lend our support to these incredible emerging creatives rooted in the G21
region through the latest Creative Engine grant round, Geelong Arts Centre chief executive officer and creative director Joel McGuinness said.
Creativity is the lifeblood of Geelong Arts Centre, and the projects were backing through this grant initiative represent a rich tapestry of artistic forms.
We look forward to fostering their growth and impact.
For more information on Creative Engine, head togeelongartscentre.org.au/creative-engine
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Posted: August 24, 2023 at 11:26 am
Each of us experiences the climate crisis. We try to adapt to it: buying face masks to brave smoke-filled air outdoors or air purifiers to clean it indoors, turning up the air conditioning to insulate ourselves from excessive heat, preparing to evacuate our homes, if need be, when another hurricane hits the coast. We wonder where we can settle down that wont go to hell in a handbasket during our lifetime. Some of us wonder whether we should bring children into this world.
The climate crisis prompts questions that challenge our very being. We ask ourselves: Who am I in this increasingly unstable world? What is to become of me? Such questions can lead to despair, or lead us to look away, but, as we will see, they can also positively challenge the way we think about ourselves.
Our current political and economic circumstances lead us to think of ourselves as useful cogs in a machine, and of our identity in terms of certain hoops we need to jump through: go to college to get well-paying jobs, climb the property ladder, and make sure we have adequate savings for retirement. However, the climate crisis can prompt us to rethink these suppositions. What good are retirement savings if the world is burning? We need a much richer concept of self a fully realised self that is worth preserving.
The concept of self-realisation acknowledges our strong drive to preserve ourselves and to persevere in the face of the climate crisis. This self-concept is much richer and more expansive than is commonly recognised. Its not enough to preserve your narrow, personal self. You are part of a vast, interconnected Universe, where your wellbeing crucially depends on maintaining relationships and connections with others, including nonhuman others.
The Norwegian philosopher Arne Nss (1912-2009) coined the term deep ecology. The main idea of deep ecology is that we should address the ecological crisis through a paradigm shift. Rather than tinkering with concrete targets (such as CO2 emissions), we must radically re-envisage how we engage with the world. Nss was a wide-ranging philosopher with varied interests. Among many other things, he was a huge fan of the Sephardic Dutch philosopher Baruch de Spinoza (1632-77), particularly of his Ethics (1677), which Nss re-read frequently, and which plays a key role in his environmental philosophy.
Arne Naess reading Spinozas Ethics. Courtesy Open Air Philosophy
Nss is famous in his home country. He is considered a national treasure, widely admired for his social activism, mountaineering, philosophy textbooks, and even his practical jokes and spectacular feats such as climbing the walls of the tallest building at the Blindern campus of the University of Oslo while being interviewed by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. He was a man of polarities: on the one hand, a member of an eminent Norwegian family, appointed as a full philosophy professor at Oslo aged 27 in fact, the only philosophy professor in Norway at the time. On the other hand, he published his extensive works with little regard for prestige or fame, including in obscure ecological magazines with small print-runs. This partly explains why Nss still remains relatively unknown in English-language academic philosophy. Especially in later life, he approximated what his friend and fellow environmental philosopher George Sessions called a union of theory and practice, practising his ecophilosophy by spending extensive time outdoors, hiking and mountaineering until well into his 80s. Nss had a spartan vegan diet consisting of unseasoned boiled vegetables. After retiring early, he gave much of his pension away to various projects such as the renovation of a Nepalese school.
Nsss notion of self-realisation is inspired by many philosophical traditions, including Mahayana Buddhism and Gandhis philosophy of nonviolent resistance. Another important inspiration was from Spinoza. According to his Ethics, everything in nature has a conatus, a fundamental striving to continue to exist: Each thing, as far as it can by its own power, strives to persevere in its being.
We see this fundamental tendency not only in humans but also in trees, bees and geese, and even inanimate objects such as tables, mountains and rocks. Things dont spontaneously disintegrate and they tend to keep their form over time; even something seemingly transient like a fire will try to keep itself going. How can we understand this universal drive? Nss situates the conatus in a bigger picture of nature, namely, one that helps us to persevere and affirm ourselves as expressions of nature. Spinoza argued that there is only one substance, which he called God or God or nature. Nature and God are coextensive, as God encompasses all of reality. So, Spinozas God is similar to what we now call the universe, the totality of all that is. This totality expresses itself in infinitely many modes, such as thought and physical bodies. We, like everything else, are expressions of this one substance.
When our surroundings are hurt, we feel hurt too
Unlike a traditional theistic God, Spinozas God has no overall higher purpose, no grand design. This God is perfectly free and acts in accordance with its own laws, but doesnt desire anything. Nature simply is, and it is perfect in itself. As Nss put it in 1977: If it had a purpose, it would have to be part of something still greater, eg, a grand design. As Nss interprets him, Spinozas metaphysics is fundamentally egalitarian. There is no hierarchy, no great chain of being with creatures lower or higher. We are on an ontological par with fish, oceans and beetles. A bears interests roaming about in the Norwegian countryside matter just as much as those of the surrounding farming communities.
Nature as a whole expresses its power in each individual thing. It is within these expressions of power that we can situate the drive to preserve our own being. To actualise ourselves, we need to understand what our self is. Nss thinks that we underestimate ourselves, writing in 1987: We tend to confuse it [the self] with the narrow ego. Self-knowledge is partial and incomplete, this lack of knowledge prevents us from acting well.
Here again is a clear influence of Spinoza. Spinoza thinks that knowledge and increased (self-) understanding help us to increase our ability to act, and hence our ability to persevere. We can realise this expansive conception of self by considering our relation to place, an idea that Nss draws from Indigenous thought. We often feel attached to places of natural bounty and beauty, to the point that we might feel that, as Nss said: If this place is destroyed something in me is killed.
Loss of place has by now well-documented effects on mental health, including eco-anxiety, which arises from a sense of loss of places to which people feel a strong emotional connection. When our surroundings are hurt, we feel hurt too. Inuit communities in northern Canada feel homesick for winter. This spontaneous feeling of connection to place signals to us that our self does not end at our skin, but that it includes other creatures. Indigenous people, through their activism and landback movements, demonstrate that there is more to the self than these metrics. In a letter in 1988, Nss tells the story of an indigenous Smi man who was detained for protesting the installation of a dam at a river, which would produce hydroelectricity. In court, the Smi man said this part of the river was part of himself. Differently put, if the river were altered, he would feel that the alteration would destroy part of himself. In his view, personal survival entailed the survival of the landscape.
For Nss, there is no grand, external purpose to our lives other than the purposes we assign to them. But because our wellbeing depends on factors outside of us, there still is some sense in which we can be worse off or better off, and it is rational to strive to be better off. In this sense, self-realisation is distinct from happiness. A tree that flourishes and does well, with leaves gleaming in the sun and birds nestling on its branches, is realising itself although we dont know whether it is happy.
A similar concept is articulated in the work of the Black American feminist author Audre Lorde (1934-92). For her, survival does not only mean having a roof over your head and food on the table. As Caleb Ward explains in a recent blog of the American Philosophical Association, for Lorde there is a difference between safety and survival. Safety is what we are told we must try to realise: we study, get a mortgage, and a job, to protect ourselves from the vicissitudes of life. Survival on the other hand, which is closer to self-realisation, is a concept that receives virtually no attention in policy or life advice: survival includes living out and preserving [Lordes] identity across its many aspects: as Black, as a woman, as a lesbian, as a mother. Ward quotes one of Lordes talks:
Drawing together these insights from Lorde, Nss and Spinoza, we can say that the climate crisis seriously hampers our ability for self-expression. Its degradation of our sense of place and belonging makes it difficult for us to realise ourselves as human beings. Increasingly, we are pushed to settle for safety from immediate threats posed by the degradation of the environment. We cannot even begin to think about how to preserve ourselves in all the diverse aspects of our existence, and therefore cannot really survive. This is in part why the climate crisis is so corrosive to our sense of self: it impedes our ability to know ourselves.
Self-realisation implies a unity of acting and knowing: you need to know yourself accurately as part of a vast, interconnected nature, and as more than a narrow ego. Once you know this, you can begin to act. By contrast, lack of knowledge (of ourselves, as conceived of a larger whole) immobilises and disempowers. Unfortunately, the climate crisis is undergirded by massive denialism. This denialism is more than us looking away as individuals. It is bankrolled by wealthy elites and fossil fuel companies in the face of inescapable climate degradation. As Bruno Latour writes in O atterir? (2017), or Down to Earth (2018):
The super-wealthy have tightened their grip on democracy, creating politically motivated diversion tactics, such as blaming so-called metropolitan elites (educated people) for the worsening economic circumstances of working-class people, or pointing the finger at refugees arriving in precarious boats on the shores of wealthy countries. The climate crisis lies behind nostalgic nationalist throwbacks to some imagined past, such as MAGA and Brexit.
Seeking prestige, fame and wealth seems like it will help us realise ourselves but, actually, we are in their power
Unlike some other recent thinkers such as Jason Stanley, Latour argues that these movements are only superficially like early 20th-century fascism. Rather, they represent a novel political order that is based on climate-change denial, where wealthy elites aim to create gated communities and escape routes by deregulation and disenfranchisement. All the while, they try (in vain) to realise themselves in things that seem ultimately unfulfilling and empty: superyachts, short trips into space or into the deep sea, and buying up entire islands.
By influencing and subverting the democratic process, they try to encourage deregulation so as to pull more and more resources toward themselves. Realising (at some level) that this is not sustainable, they retreat into increasingly remote fantasies such as TESCREAL (an ideological bundle of -isms: transhumanism, extropianism, singularitarianism, cosmism, rationalism, effective altruism and longtermism). Its promoted by philosophers at the University of Oxford such as Nick Bostrom, Hilary Greaves and William MacAskill. They envisage a future where humanity will transform itself into a posthuman state (facilitated by so-called liberal eugenics and AI), colonise the accessible Universe, and plunder our cosmic endowment of resources to produce astronomical amounts of value (for an overview, see mile Torress recent essay for Salon). The happiness of these future posthumans, most of whom would be digital, justifies neglecting current-day problems. For the purposes of evaluating actions, Greaves and MacAskill write, we can in the first instance often simply ignore all the effects contained in the first 100 (or even 1,000) years, focusing primarily on the further-future effects. Short-run effects act as little more than tie-breakers. The TESCREAL world leaves little scope for the diversity of expression of being human: the joyful, vulnerable and diverse ways of being in, for instance, Traveller and Roma communities, Indigenous societies, and more.
Why do the wealthiest people seek to actively deny the climate crisis rather than address it? The philosopher Beth Lord, drawing on Spinoza, argues that they are in the grip of bad emotions. Normally, our emotions help us seek out what is good for us and avoid what is bad. We have three basic affects: joy, sadness and desire. Desire is an expression of the conatus: we seek things that bring us joy and avoid things that bring us sadness. Overall, this aids our self-preservation. However, because of the complex ways in which our emotions intermingle, it is possible to be mistaken in them and to desire things that really do not help us to realise ourselves. Seeking prestige, fame and wealth seems like it will help us realise ourselves but, actually, we are gripped by them and are in their power.
While these misconceptions are prominent among the wealthiest elites, we see them in everyone. The ethicist Eugene Chislenko argues that we might all be climate crisis deniers in some sense. Not that we literally deny that there is a climate crisis or influence policy to fuel denialism, but that we look away, much like a person in grief who realises someone is dead but has not been able to integrate the loss into her life. As Chislenko writes: We say it is real, but we rarely feel or act like it is. We go to an airline booking site to visit a friend for the weekend; we still think we might see the Great Barrier Reef some day; we have no plans that match the scale of the change.
And the reason for this is, in part, that we feel like addressing the climate crisis would demand substantial sacrifices on our part, which seem like a drop in the ocean given the scale of the problem. As Nss writes: when people feel they unselfishly give up, even sacrifice, their interest in order to show love for Nature, this is probably in the long run a treacherous basis for conservation. How then do we get out of this situation of collective denialism?
We have now seen what self-realisation is and how it is tied to knowledge. By increasing our knowledge, we increase our power. For example, knowing that pathogens cause infectious disease led to great advances in preventing or reducing transmission through vaccines. Similarly, to be able to act in the face of the climate crisis, we need knowledge, and for that we can look directly at Spinozas philosophy for inspiration.
Spinoza lived a very sparse, propertyless existence in rented rooms, and tried to stay away from fame and the limelight. He declined a prestigious professorship at the University of Heidelberg, and did not wish to be named as the sole heir of a friend, even though it would have made him independently wealthy for life, choosing instead to grind lenses to sustain himself. So he did not think that flourishing or, in his terminology, blessedness (beatitudo) could be found in material wealth and fame. Instead, his work as a lens-grinder offered more opportunities for self-realisation, because it made him part of the interconnected, budding community of early scientists at the start of the scientific revolution, many of whom used lenses in their telescopes and microscopes.
While Spinoza did not see blessedness in this-worldly wealth, he didnt think it could be found in an afterlife, either. In the 17th century, people commonly believed that you could achieve blessedness after you died if you followed the moral norms and willingly abstained from certain pleasures during your lifetime. However, Spinozas radical insight is that you can achieve blessedness in this life. As he writes:
The notion of blessedness is closely linked to Spinozas view of self-realisation. Recall that Spinoza sees God as nature. Self-realisation requires that we accurately understand ourselves as modes of God and thereby come to love God. But what does such an accurate understanding entail? One recent interpretation is offered by Alex X Douglas in his book on the topic, The Philosophy of Hope (2023). For Spinoza, blessedness is a kind of repose of the soul or mental acquiescence. It arises from the intellectual love of God or nature. For Spinoza, knowledge increases our power, and hence our self-preservation, by knowledge. If our emotions mislead us (as when we seek prestige or fame), we actually decrease our self-preservation because we are pushed to serve external goods. The highest knowledge we can hope to achieve is knowledge of the Universe as a whole. This knowledge is also knowledge of the self, because each of us is an expression (mode) of God. Douglas clarifies that this does not mean that we are parts of God, like jigsaw puzzle pieces. Rather, each of us an individual damsel fly, a rose, a mountain or a cloud expresses the whole, in its own particular way.
Once we understand ourselves as ecological selves, this will feel like preserving our expanded self
Once you realise that you are an expression of the whole of nature, you come to realise that, although you will die, you are also eternal in a non-trivial sense, since the one substance of which you are an expression will endure. Spinoza also makes the strong claim that, if we are rational, we cannot but love God. It is the rational thing to do, because the love of God spontaneously and naturally arises out of an accurate understanding of ourselves and the world. Once you realise this, you achieve blessedness.
As weve seen, Spinoza says that flourishing or blessedness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself. Once we achieve this, we no longer have to constrain our lusts, because they will dissipate when we achieve this cognitive unity with the rest of nature. All this talk about tempering ones lusts may feel moralistic and old-fashioned, but Spinoza brings up an important point, namely that engaging in pursuits such as Last Chance Tourism visiting places on Earth soon to disappear due to the climate crisis or deep-sea exploration for fun is ultimately self-destructive. Similarly, we might feel that renouncing steak, or giving up flying for frequent conference travel or for pleasure, might be restraining ourselves.
But once we understand ourselves as ecological selves, and understand how we are part of fragile, large ecosystems and the planet, this will feel like preserving our expanded self, rather than cutting ourselves short. As Spinoza explains in his Short Treatise on God, Man and his Well-being (c1660), since we find that pursuing sensual pleasures, lusts, and worldly things leads not to our salvation but to our destruction, we therefore prefer to be governed by our intellect. Paradoxically, we underestimate how rich our ecological selves really are. We dont give ourselves enough credit, on how we are able to derive genuine contentment and wellbeing from simple pleasures that do not involve destroying the planet. Rather, we think that we need infrastructure-heavy, expensive things to make us happy, where happiness always lies just around the corner.
Self-realisation increases our power. As we saw, we chase things we imagine will bring us joy, such as wealth and prestige, but which decrease our power, because they have us in their thrall. Active joy in a Spinozist sense is an intellectual understanding of yourself and your relationship to the world. An example of this is the work of Shamayim Harris. When her two-year-old son, Jakobi Ra, was killed in a hit and run, she resolved to transform her dilapidated, postindustrial Detroit neighbourhood into a vibrant village: I needed to change grief into glory, pain into power. Buying up houses for a few thousand dollars, she transformed the area into the eco-friendly Avalon Village with a library, solar energy, STEM labs, a music studio, farm-to-table greenhouses, and more. Such resilient, walkable and child-friendly communities provide a great scope for self-realisation. In an important Nssian sense, Harris created a home for herself and others. Nsss ecosophy is all about home, but in a broader environmental and ecological sense, where self-realisation is the ultimate norm.
There is a beauty about self-realisation. Through wise and rational conduct, we would be able to find new citizenship, a way of being in nature, a polis that also includes nonhuman animals and plants. This way of being would increase our power of acting, and respond to our drive for self-realisation.
There is not one set way for us to be. There is not even an ideal that humans must evolve toward, as in the TESCREAL universe. Nature has no ultimate teleology. We matter as we are right now, not (only or mainly) as future hypotheticals, and we can envisage a world where humans, animals, plants, but also mountains and rivers, have their own multifaceted identities and where they exist in community with each other. Such a world can hold diversity of thought and expression. Our way out of the climate crisis must therefore begin by a reconceptualisation of ourselves as ecological and interconnected selves.
Self-realisation as conceived by Nss, Spinoza and Lorde is at heart a joyful, affirmative vision. It does not start from the premise that life is inherently filled with suffering. Once we achieve self-realisation, living well becomes easy due to the unity of blessedness and virtue. However, it is difficult to attain because of our collective climate denialism. Its not that one day we will wake up and be self-realised. We need to achieve that perspective change and realise we are interconnected selves that can flourish only with the rest of nature. It is perhaps fitting to end with the final lines of Spinozas Ethics:
With thanks to mile Torres, Bryce Huebner, Johan De Smedt, Oscar Westerblad, Phyllis Gould, David Johnson and Ivan Gayton for comments on an earlier draft.
Posted: August 20, 2023 at 11:29 am
Posted: at 11:29 am
Are we animals? This question, seemingly simple, delves into our many theories of personal identity. While our daily lives define us as human beings, the theory of "animalism" challenges this perspective. Philosopher Eric Olson argues that our fundamental identity aligns with being biological organisms within the animal kingdom. This puts the existence of a human essence in question and has implications for life after death, consciousness transfer, transhumanism and even environmental responsibility.
What are we? Human beings, of course. Were also parents, friends, readers of online articles, and much more. And were animals: biological organisms of the animal kingdom. That may seem rather obvious. Our planet is home to some eight billion members of the primate species Homo sapiens. And those animals seem to be us. When you see yourself or someone else, you see an animal. Wherever that animal goes, you go, and vice versa. We dont appear to be anything other than these animals.
Philosophers call the claim that were animals animalism. You may be surprised to hear that its a minority view in contemporary philosophy. And in fact most of us are at least inclined to believe things that are incompatible with it.
Take, for example, the doctrine of life after death. Billions of people believe (or at least profess to believe) that when we die and are cremated, we nevertheless continue existing in a conscious state. Were resurrected in the next world, or reborn in this one. Thats not consistent with our being animals. When an animal is burnt to ashes, thats the end of it. To say that it might continue existing and remain conscious is like saying that a manuscript burnt to ashes might continue existing and remain legible. An animal cannot have life after death. If we have life after death, we cannot be animals.
You may not believe in life after death. But many nonreligious people believe in the possibility of uploading. Imagine that all the psychological information encoded in your brain is read off by some sort of scan. (This, we may imagine, destroys or erases the brain.) The information is made into a digital file and transferred to a computer. Its then used to program the computer so as to create a thinking, conscious being there: someone psychologically just like you were when you were scanned, or at least as much like you as a purely digital person could be. Even if this will never be technologically feasible, the thought goes, it could be done, if only we knew how. And maybe this process would not merely create a psychological duplicate of you in the computer, but would transfer you yourself from your animal body to the digital realm.
if you have a property that no animal has, youre not an animal. The same, in fact, goes for life after death: if its even possible for us to have it, then were not animals
But whether or not thats true, its not possible to upload an animal into a computer. An animal is a material thing, and you cant get a material thing into a computer by scanning it, uploading the information thereby gathered, and then programming the computer in the right way. You can no more upload an animal than you could upload a brick or a tree. (Imagine trying to move a consignment of bricks to Australia by uploading them then inviting your Antipodean counterpart to download them at the building site.) You cant move a material thing by a mere transfer of information: you have to move some matter. The animal might be damaged in the scanning process, or even killed, but it stays where it is.
I doubt whether anyone will ever actually be uploaded. But even the possibility of our being uploaded is inconsistent with our being animals. It would mean that you have a property that no animal has: the property of being uploadable, given the right technology, into a computer by a process of scanning, data transfer, and programming. And if you have a property that no animal has, youre not an animal. The same, in fact, goes for life after death: if its even possible for us to have it, then were not animals, as its not possible for an animal to have life after death.
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The argument that moves most philosophers to deny that were animals does not involve uploading or life after death, but an imaginary medical procedure. Imagine that your brain is transplanted into my head. (My own brain is destroyed to make room for it.) If the operation is successful, the result will be someone with your brain and the rest of me. And we would expect him to have your beliefs, memories, plans, and personality, for the most part at least, and not mine. Who will he be: you with a new body, or me with a new brain? (Or perhaps neither?) It will seem to him as if hes you, as hell have memories of your past and no memories of mine, and hell be surprised when he looks in the mirror and sees my face. Would that appearance be correct?
Its tempting to answer yes: that you would go with your transplanted brain. The operation cuts away all your parts except your brain, moves you across the room, and then gives you a new skull, torso, and limbs to replace the ones you lost. Its not strictly a brain transplant, but a body transplant.
But what would happen to the animalthe one now sitting there and reading this article? Would it go with its transplanted brain? Would the operation cut away all the animals parts except its brain, move it across the room, and then give it a new set of parts to replace the ones it lost? Would it move an animal from your body to mine? Surely not. The animal would simply lose an organ: it would stay behind with an empty head. It may even remain alive, though incapable of consciousness. There are two animals in the story, and the operation would move an organ from one of them to the other, exactly as a liver transplant does.
So if you would go with your transplanted brain, the operation would move you from one animal to another. You would leave your animal body behind. But a thing cant leave itself behind. If you could leave that animal behind, you cannot be that animal. And theres no other animal you could be: if youre any animal at all, youre the animal that would stay behind in a brain transplant. Animalism implies that you yourself would stay behind, and donate your brain to me.
Again, no one is actually going to have a brain transplant. But if you would go with your brain if it were transplanted, you have a property that no animal has: the capacity to go with your transplanted brain. The animal does not have this capacity, as the operation would only leave it with an empty head. And if you have a property that no animal has, you cannot be an animal. Thats the reasoning that leads most philosophers to reject animalism.
At this point you may wonder why anyone would suppose that we are animals. I said that we appear to be: when you see yourself, or someone else, you see an animal. We dont appear to be anything other than the animals we see in the mirror. But of course things are not always as they seem. Is there any better reason to accept animalism?
Consider what it would mean if you were not the animal. There would then be two conscious beings thinking your thoughts: you and the animal. If thats not already absurd, think of how you could ever know which of them was you.
There is. Its possible for an animal to think and to be conscious. Dogs can recognise their home, feel hungry, and remember (or forget) where they left their favourite ball. And clearly human animals are not psychologically inferior to dogs. They can recognise their home, feel hungry, remember where they left their ball, and much more. The animal you see in the mirror is a thinking, conscious being. And you are a thinking, conscious being. Doesnt that suggest that you are that thinking animal? How could you be something other than the animal thinking your thoughts?
Consider what it would mean if you were not the animal. There would then be two conscious beings thinking your thoughts: you and the animal. If thats not already absurd, think of how you could ever know which of them was you. You may take yourself to be the non-animalon the grounds, perhaps, that you would go with your brain if it were ever transplanted and leave the animal behind. But the animal, sharing your brain, would presumably believe for the same reason that it was not an animal. Yet it would be mistaken. And for all you could ever know, you yourself might be the one making this mistake. Even if we were not animals, we could never know it, undermining any reason we may have to suppose that were not.
Or maybe the animal would not be thinking your thoughts: youre the only thinker there, and the animal is no more conscious or intelligent than a stone. That would enable you to know that youre not the animal. Thats what most opponents of animalism say. But its quite a startling claim. The animal has a functioning brain: the same brain that you have. What could prevent it from using that brain to think just as you do? Opponents of animalism have no satisfying account of why human animals cant thinkor of what sort of non-animals we might be.
It seems more likely that animals can think, and in particular that the human animal now looking at your computer screen is thinking just as you are. And surely youre not one of two such thinking beings. Given the undeniable fact that you are thinking, it follows that the animal is you. You are an animal.
What if the animalists are right? What would it mean if we really were animals? Weve seen that it would appear to rule out the possibility of life after death or of uploading ourselves into computers. And it would mean that transplanting your brain into my head would not give you a new body, but would give me a new brain. But is there anything further? Would accepting animalism change our thinking about anything else?
It might. Our being animals would imply that we are reliant on a certain sort of environmentone thats currently threatened by climate change. The opponents of animalism agree that we require such an environment, because our animal bodies do and we rely on those bodies. But if were not animals ourselves, there remains the faint hope that we might one day overcome this reliance. Perhaps the right technology could enable us to exchange our animal bodies for something inorganic that could function even in the extreme conditions that climatologists are warning us about. Climate change may finish off the corals, the penguins, and the polar bears, but we might be able to survive it by transforming ourselves into heat- and drought-resistant robots. This thought, however unrealistic, may weaken the resolve to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions.
If my organic parts were cut away and replaced, one by one, with inorganic prostheses, the animal would not gradually become inorganic. It would only become gradually smaller and have more and more gadgets attached to it.
But if were animals, there is no such hope. An animal can no more be transformed into a robot than it could be uploaded, resurrected, or reincarnated. Why is that? Even if were animals now, couldnt future technology make us into non-animals?
The thought is that we could replace our parts with inorganic prostheses that do the same thing only better. Even our brains might be replacedbit by bit, perhaps, to preserve the continuity of our mental liveswith computer chips. This process could eventually make us entirely inorganic. But whatever merits this thought may have, its not something that could happen to an animal.
Suppose I had a bullet lodged in my shoulder from my days as a mafia hitman. Would it be a part of the animal sitting here? Would the animal be made partly of flesh and blood and partly of lead? No: the bullet would be inside the animal but not part of it. Thats because it was never involved in the activity that makes up the animals life: growth, maintenance, metabolism, and so on. Animals are made up of living tissue and the bullet is not. The animals life would go on around the bullet but not within it. Strictly speaking its a part of the animals surroundings.
Now imagine that my arm is amputated and replaced with an inorganic prosthesis. Does the prosthesis become a part of the animal? Again, the answer is No. However useful I may find it, its not made of living tissue and is never involved in the activity that makes up the life of the animal. Its not nourished by the animals blood supply, or repaired and maintained as bones and muscles are. When my arm is cut off, the animal loses a part and gets smaller. And fitting a prosthetic arm doesnt make the animal bigger again by giving it a new part. It only changes the animals surroundings. A transplanted organic arm could become a part of the animal by being assimilated into the animals life-activitiesthats what happens in real-life transplantsbut not a prosthesis.
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And the same goes for any other inorganic object attached to or implanted into me: a stainless-steel hip joint, an artificial heart, an electronic brain implant, or what have you. If my organic parts were cut away and replaced, one by one, with inorganic prostheses, the animal would not gradually become inorganic. It would only become gradually smaller and have more and more gadgets attached to it. Eventually it would become unable to maintain its living functions and would die. The gadgets may continue to function. They may even make up a robot with a mental life like mine and memories of my life. But that machine would not be an animal, or anything that was previously an animal. It would not have grown from an embryo. No animal has the capacity to become inorganic: it can only be replaced by something inorganic. We ourselves could have that capacity only if we are not animals.
Animalism implies that our organic nature and our dependence on the environment are unalterable features of us. At most we could replace ourselves with a population of heat-resistant robots. Accepting this might, perhaps, make us just a bit more environmentally responsible.
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Posted: May 10, 2023 at 10:31 am
Life as we know it is changing, probably more quickly than any time in history. That is just a hunch, based on how quickly technology is advancing and how culturally we seem to be more distracted by controversies and entertainment on our phones and less concerned and informed about important issues that actually have great consequences to our culture, our future, and our very existence.
We dont want to be political or religious so ignorance is bliss as to how corrupt our national political system, agencies and leaders are. We suspect something isnt right and we are uninformed about things like regulatory capture (industry controlling and funding government agencies that used to be objective and for the public good) which actually brings harm to our people.
We were tested during COVID and found to be willing to give up our freedom of speech out of fear of being exposed to disinformation, as well as other Constitutional freedoms.
We are fighting for medical freedom over our own bodies and our doctors are losing their licenses for having educated, yet differing, politically incorrect opinions from what the state and federal government have mandated as truth. Now the U.S. is considering giving away our freedom to the World Health Organization when another pandemic happens.
We would all be under the governance and control of the WHO, whose leader was placed in his position by China and is not even a medical doctor. Regardless of who the leader is or who put him in the position, we should be in control of our own country with people who we vote into office, because at the root its always about control. And very often the end justifies the means.
As things move quickly and leaders from the President and Congress to the WHO and the World Economic Forum scramble to control people, how much easier would it be in a world where we are all transhuman?
Soon the fight may extend past freedom of speech and personal medical freedom into transhumanism, artificial intelligence (AI), and singularity. These are hot complex topics that have been at the forefront of scientific and philosophical discussions for decades but more so right now. The idea of using technology to enhance human abilities and create intelligent machines has both advantages and dangers.
Have you ever heard of Human 2.0? Some believe it is the next phase of evolution, where we create machines that are more intelligent than we are. Elon Musk has repeatedly warned against AI, as he invests in it, that it could literally end our civilization and humanity.
Advantages of transhumanism and AI
Transhumanism is the belief that humans can and should use technology to enhance their physical, intellectual, and emotional capabilities. This philosophy promotes the use of genetic engineering, cybernetics, and other technologies to improve human lives. One of the primary advantages of transhumanism is the potential for increased lifespan and improved health. By using technology to enhance the human body, scientists could potentially eliminate many of the diseases and conditions that shorten human lifespans.
Similarly, the development of AI has the potential to revolutionize virtually every aspect of our lives. AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of data and identify patterns that humans would not be able to detect. This technology can be used to improve healthcare, education, and many other industries. For example, AI-powered healthcare could help doctors diagnose and treat diseases more accurately and efficiently, potentially saving countless lives.
Dangers of transhumanism and AI
However, there are also many dangers. One of the most significant risks is that the development of these technologies could exacerbate existing social inequalities. For example, if only wealthy individuals have access to life-extending technologies, it could widen the gap between the rich and poor. Similarly, if AI-powered systems are primarily used by corporations and governments, it could lead to further concentration of power and decreased accountability.
There are also concerns about the potential for AI to become too intelligent and out of control. This scenario, known as "superintelligence," is often portrayed in science fiction as a catastrophic event that could lead to the extinction of humanity. While many experts believe that this outcome is unlikely, there is still a significant risk that AI could be used to carry out harmful actions, intentionally or unintentionally.
It makes me think of the Matrix movies where almost all the humans are hooked up to a pod living in a dream reality while serving as batteries for the matrix. Civilization and humanity are destroyed when humans no longer have the freedom to be human, to make decisions, to love, to travel, to experience our world, to serve and work for each other rather than a centralized power, and when we lose the ability to have a soul. Its one thing we believe separates us from machines and animals. We have a soul. We are creative, spiritual beings and sometimes unpredictable.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil, author of the book Age of Spiritual Machines, predicted in 1999 that machines with human-level intelligence would be available from affordable computing devices within a couple of decades, revolutionizing most aspects of life. He says nanotechnology will augment our bodies and cure cancer even as humans connect to computers via direct neural interfaces or live full-time in virtual reality.
Kurzweil predicts the machines "will appear to have their own free will" and even "spiritual experiences." He says humans will essentially live forever as humanity and its machinery become one and the same. He predicts that intelligence will expand outward from earth until it grows powerful enough to influence the fate of the universe, and goes on to say that Singularity will represent the culmination of the merger of our biological thinking and existence with our technology, resulting in a world that is still human, but that transcends our biological roots. There is disagreement on whether computers will one day be conscious.
Others believe that transhumanism, AI, singularity, and Human 2.0 are the dreams and inventions of wealthy men who want to find a way to cheat death, live forever and be their own God. Its also feared that while there could be some advantages, people may also be able to be controlled by the internet, electricity or other means.
How far is too far? We already have the knowledge of the world at our fingertips on our mobile devices. We already have the ability to have technology aid our hearing, eyesight, movement, etc. Neurolink takes things even further. We have to consider how far can we go before we are someone or something else entirely? And how easily can we be controlled? How compliant will we become by choice? What would be the implications to our society and our freedoms? What does it mean to be human?
There are complex issues that need to be researched and debated. People would do well to unhook from the matrix, ask questions, and be cautious of who is in control as we shape our technological future.
Posted: at 10:31 am
We're living in an age of what Mary Harrington calls cyborg feminism. This feminism, Harrington explains, is a vision of what freedom is thats inseparable from the technologies that make it possible.
The author of the recently released book Feminism Against Progress, Harrington argues that by turning women into simulacrums of their real selves, todays feminism isnt really as empowering as it likes to think. I sat down with Harrington during her recent trip to Washington to discuss cyborg feminism, why first-wave feminism got memory-holed, and the relationship between transhumanism and the transgender movement.
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Thanks to the advent of birth control, a transhumanist technology leading to the availability of abortion and even the popularity of the transgender movement, were told we no longer have to worry about the particulars of our bodies because we can transcend them, Harrington explained. This isnt true, of course, but it is the prevailing cultural message that imbues everything from our media to our textbooks.
This all means that womens personhood and participation in society are now predicated on the ability to alter the natural functioning of their own bodies, a message that, despite its hostility to women, has ironically been pushed by mainstream feminism.
If you believe that your participation in society and your personhood as such are structurally predicated on your access to birth control and legal abortion, then you are in a sense inseparable from the machine, she explained. You dont exist as a person except through your integration with these technologies.
This perspective underlies the pro-abortion movement, which, according to this logic, makes abortion a necessary prerequisite for a womans full personhood. And yet, pro-life principles actually undergirded much of first-wave feminism, but that part of history has been erased by the winners of the feminist movement, the ones who valued freedom over care.
First-wave feminism has been almost completely memory-holed because its problematic from the point of view of the feminism we now have, Harrington said. (Not only is early feminists' stance on abortion hopelessly archaic, but so is their support for the domestic sphere as a bulwark against the atomization of modernity.)
If cyborg feminism has won and it has freed women from their own bodies and their obligations to their children, why shouldnt it also free them from their gender? For young people whove grown up with the internet, this logic is easy to follow. Yet Harrington, who describes herself as extremely online, isn't anti-technology. Technology can be used for good, provided were intentional about orienting it to how people are and not how we think people ought to be, she said.
She gave the example of Keeper, a new dating service aimed at producing marriages that describes itself as driven by AI and relationship science, guided by human care. There are also a variety of natural family planning apps that serve as a digital alternative to hormonal birth control. And then theres remote work, which can help families return to the preindustrial standard of the household as its own economy.
But most new technologies seem to want to transcend the natural desires and designs of our bodies. Harrington warns against this disembodying effect of digital technologies, which we see in the rise of the transhumanist juggernaut.
Despite pushing the transgender movement, this school of thought doesnt actually care that much about transgender people, she argues. The celebration lasts only as long as a man is becoming a woman, or vice versa. But if that person chooses to detransition, the support evaporates.
What that suggests to me, she said, is that really theyre the cute mascots for something which is much bigger than trans identity and is much more about delegitimizing the idea of human nature as such and opening it up to commerce.
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Gender identity crises are good business. The sex reassignment industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And the only thing holding it back, as with the other excesses of modern feminism, is the anti-cyborgs.
Theres still broad cultural support for the idea that there are some things which are sacred. You cant touch them, Harrington said. That intuitive sense still exists for a great many people, and theres no way you can deregulate human nature unless you can get rid of that first, or at least make it deplorable. The point where it becomes low status is the point where big biotech can really take off.