Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, March 28, 2008

Critique or Defamation?

Over in the Moot, reader "Smartypants" distinguishes "sustained critiques of transhumanism versus sustained critiques of transhumanists," and then proposes that "[m]uch of your analysis on this subject, and even the analysis that looks like a critique of the philosophical underpinnings, actually falls in the latter category."

Let me get this straight. Are you saying this is the case because I am reading claims and conduct attributable to actual people?

The "-ism" is grasped as a generalization from the assertions and behaviors of the actual "-ists," surely?

Even your work on superlative technocentricity is a canard as it relates to what transhumanists see as the 'philosophy' of transhumanism. It's based largely on your ongoing observation of numerous examples of superlative discourse issuing from transhumanists.

Uh, yes that's true. It's based on what people actually say and do, rather than on the way they promote themselves. Non members have no responsibility to ensure that their critiques tow the Party Line, after all.

And you will forgive me, but "transhumanism," so-called, is simply not a philosophy in any meaningful sense. It isn't a world view encompassing all the dimensions of human life or meaning nor does it seek to hold its historical moment whole in thought -- it is far too focused in its instrumental concerns to pass muster as a philosophy worthy of that name, in my understanding of what philosophies do. There are lots of things that are valuable that aren't philosophies so transhumanists really shouldn't take that assessment too harshly. But I will add that to the extent that philosophizing does happen in "transhumanist" social and cultural spaces, I have to say none of that thinking seems to me unique or original enough to demand a new name to describe the perspective. Reductionism, technocracy, scientism, Social Darwinism, disdain of the flesh, and techno-utopianism aren't exactly new perspectives in North Atlantic intellectual life since 1660. Sorry.

You may see no difference between these categories, but your transhumanist interlocutors surely do, and will continue to accuse you of attacking strawmen until you seriously engage with the structures of transhumanism

It is commonplace for members of marginal sub(cult)ures to mistake critique for defamation -- even when they are making claims in argumentative forms that seem to solicit warranted belief.

It is not me, it is the transhumanists who claim to be members of a subculture and a movement with which they identify. You can't claim to identify with a marginal community exhibiting discernible traits and beliefs generally in common, and then complain that every attribution of such generalities are "strawmen" because they fail to account for dime-thin differences of expression among the members.

If you make an argument, you open yourself to critique, if you just want to offer up expressions of faith for the Faithful, don't publish your writing for a general audience.

If you willingly raise the banner of a movement, you become answerable to its tendencies as discerned from generalizations from actual things its members say and do.

I am forever being castigated by transhumanists for "unseriousness" because I won't indulge in what they think of as "technical" discussions, few of which pass muster as technical in the first place for those who are not already True Believers, or because I won't indulge them in their demand that I treat every individual member as a completely distinct ab initio creation whose every utterance and shade of conviction I must grasp in its glorious individuality before I can be said to do justice to it, individual differences that appear significant only to the individuals themselves from the perspective of their already shared True Belief in the generalities that interest me.

Sorry, every fundamentalist will assure you that only those on the Inside know what it is to treat them "seriously," that critics and outsiders are missing the real originality, the real significance, the real force of their views, the true complex beauty of their system, and so on.

(starting with the foundational documents of the WTA) rather than the discourse of transhumanists."

Well, first of all, I am not a True Believer and so you are not empowered to insist to me that the only texts worthy of my consideration are the canonical texts of your Church. This is a straightforward fundamentalist demand. It would not be responsible, but actively irresponsible for me to confine myself to such materials if what I am looking for is an objective and sound accounting of how people who identify as transhumanists differ in what they say and do and want from people who do not so identify.

But I want to say that this is especially so for many of the documents you are talking about here, which are functioning as promotional documents designed to attract mainstream media attention and paid memberships and other forms of support.

This latter task is harder, less fun, but probably bears more fruit for you professionally in the end.

Back here on planet Earth, you will find that there are few professional gains to be made by taking the PR documents of an extremely marginal Robot Cult at face value, or at any rate reading them without the context of representative statements by members that elaborate and sometimes subvert the expectations generated by such promotional materials.

By the way, there is little in the way of professional benefit that attaches to attacking Robot Cults either. I do it because it is the right thing to do, not because I think it is some kind of boon to my career. Believe me, it isn't.

59 comments:

De Thezier said...

Dale Carrico said:

"transhumanism," so-called, is simply not a philosophy in any meaningful sense. It isn't a world view encompassing all the dimensions of human life or meaning nor does it seek to hold its historical moment whole in thought -- it is far too focused in its instrumental concerns to pass muster as a philosophy worthy of that name, in my understanding of what philosophies do.

To use self-described "transhumanist philosopher" Nick Bostrom's own words in a debate about this very subject:

''Transhumanism is an ideology, and yes a comparatively primitive one insofar as it has not yet received anywhere near the degree of careful elaboration as have some other ideologies.''

giulio said...

"every fundamentalist will assure you that only those on the Inside know what it is to treat them "seriously," that critics and outsiders are missing the real originality, the real significance, the real force of their views, the true complex beauty of their system, and so on"

Dale, where the f-u-c-k is this fundamentalism? We are open to imaginative possibilities and options, and you are closed to them. It seems to me that you are the fundamentalist here. Of course, as a fundamentalist you are in the best position to know how fundamentalists think and act, so I will agree with your passage quoted.

De Thezier said...

Giulio said:

Dale, where the f-u-c-k is this fundamentalism? We are open to imaginative possibilities and options, and you are closed to them. It seems to me that you are the fundamentalist here.

Why do you associate fundamentalism with lack of imaginative possibilities and options? The term "fundamentalism" is used to characterize religious advocates as clinging to a stubborn, entrenched position that defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence.

Regardless of the imaginative possibilities and options H+ists are open to, many of them cling to a stubborn entrenched position on these possibilities and options that often defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence. Discussion of "living forever" and "immortality" is often the best example of this fundamentalist positioning.

No offense but you seem to be the personification of a fundamentalist.

jfehlinger said...

> > We are open to imaginative possibilities and options,
> > and you are closed to them.
>
> Why do you associate fundamentalism with lack of imaginative
> possibilities and options?

Whatever the implications of the word "fundamentalism", I would contend
that the "official" (Web-PR-based) "transhumanists" are very
much crippled by a "lack of imaginative possibilities and options".

While their tripartite platform is very much a thing of the
imagination, the range of possiblities (or, I would contend,
probabilities) exhibited by it is very narrow indeed, and
very dogmatically defended.

As Ayn Rand elucidated her principles while standing on one
leg, I will enumerate the Three Planks of Transhumanism:

1. AI. A very retro, rather silly notion of artificial
intelligence rooted in Marvin Minsky's early career.
With Gordon Moore and Vernor Vinge tacked on.

2. MNT. K. Eric Drexler, no more, no less, and
nobody else need apply.

3. Immortality. (And Dynamic Hair Management).

Michael Anissimov said...

I don't believe these planks are true, but they made me laugh anyway. I especially like #2.

jfehlinger said...

> Non members have no responsibility to ensure that
> their critiques tow the Party Line, after all.

Oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear. I can't help myself.

It's **toe** the line. As in, lining up by putting the
toe of your shoe right up against a mark on the ground.
Like what we used to have to do in gym class, remember?

The metaphorical freight is that of submission to authority,
obeying orders in scrupulous detail.

Volga boatmen is the wrong image, here.

(Will I now be banished to Siberia? ;-> )

giulio said...

"The term "fundamentalism" is used to characterize religious advocates as clinging to a stubborn, entrenched position that defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence.... Discussion of "living forever" and "immortality" is often the best example of this fundamentalist positioning."

Most transhumanists do not "cling to", but rather "consider" imaginative possibilities and options. As far as reasoned argument or contradictory evidence is concerned, I would not be here if I were closed to it, but none of your, Dale's and Jim's arguments persuade me.

Most objections seem to me non-arguments: "it is so because I say so", or "it is so because it is so, and you are stupid if you don't see it". Sorry, I am open to persuasion but if you guys want to persuade me you will have to do _much_ better than that.

You say NO, I say perhaps. Who is the fundamentalist?

Dale Carrico said...

Giulio, just so you know, once everybody has grasped the robotic inevitability with which you will object to every claim you dislike by saying "I know you are, but what am I," this powerful rhetorical gambit loses some of its luster. Rummage around in your bag of tricks for something else occasionally. For example, Think of the children!

Dale Carrico said...

It's **toe** the line.

D'oh!

giulio said...

"saying "I know you are, but what am I"

But this is not what I am saying. I am saying that I am not a fundamentalist, you are.

According to the excellent definition given above: "The term "fundamentalism" is used to characterize religious advocates as clinging to a stubborn, entrenched position that defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence".

You just admitted this yourself: "I won't indulge in what they think of as "technical" discussions". Or in other words, what is important for you is not the feasibility, or infeasibility, of technical (yes, technical) options, but only your preconceived abstract objections. If this is not fundamentalism, please tell me what it is.

The heart is not a feeling, it is a pump. Keeping it in constant repair is not ethics, it is hydraulics. What plumbers do, a quite technical thing. Now, if you can tell me why this particular pump cannot be kept in a state of constant repair, I am all ears.

Dale Carrico said...

Giulio, what was key to the sentence you have quoted without comprehension, is that the discussions Robot Cultists think of as "technical" fail to pass muster as technical.

You say the heart is not a feeling, but Superlativity is nothing but feelings and faith cloaked in the superficial trappings of scientificity. You see, there actually is no such thing as a pump that has been kept in a state of constant repair. Can you point out an eternal imperishable pump? Who are these plumbers I am too non-technical and fundamentalist to talk about, the ones who maintain imperishable pumps, that prove (somehow) that imperishable hearts and imperishable bodies are "technical" ("yes, technical" -- you insist) "options."

Options? In what universe? Technical? According to what specifications? Such an eternal imperishable pump, together with its plumber (and "what plumbers do" with these imperishable pumps, presumably), and this robotic imperishable heart, all of this is entirely a fancy, a magical pump, an imaginary plumber, a hyperbolically hypothesized robot heart.

When you go on to act as though your fairy magic pump exists, and then castigate me for my refusal to talk about the technical specs of your non-existing never-existing magic fairy pump, well, the usual hilarity ensues.

Yes, I am indeed accusing you of being a fundamentalist in your True Belief and more specifically in your adherence to a "movement" formation of subculture -- and when you reply that you are not but I am, well, I don't know what to tell you, guy, but this is literally replicating the form of "I know you are but what am I." That's what that form consists of.

I don't know if these puzzling exchanges are artifacts of our language difference or if you really are just an unbelievably careless reader or what have you. But you simply are surreally and serially not getting the points that you seem to imagine you are refuting with such devastating rejoinders. No doubt you will say the same of me now and the joyless minuet can grind along another turn on the floor.

The only reason I persist in this rather thankless series of exchanges, is because you are such a high-profile and widely respected transhumanist that I think it is very useful, if always a little flabbergasting, to expose the stature of your thinking given your status in your movement.

jfehlinger said...

> Most transhumanists do not "cling to", but rather "consider"
> imaginative possibilities and options.

That's not my experience **at all**.

Most transhumanists (in the limited sense we're talking about
here -- the SIAI/WTA/ImmInst, etc. axis -- cling to:

1. Market fundamentalism. Libertarians, Objectivists,
what have you -- the differences among 'em, while worthy
of schisms and excommunications among the faithful are,
as Dale says, "dime-thin" for the rest of us.

2. The supremacy of the digital computer. "It don't
mean a thing if it ain't got that -- silicon bling."
What's going on here? Technology ends with "Intel
inside?" Give me a break!

3. Some of the more narcissistic prejudices of the
human race. Like, it's the most important thing in the
universe not to die and to stay young and beautiful
(or to **become** beautiful, if you're not already)
forever. Well, maybe **not**, y'know? Olaf Stapledon,
anybody, for a taste of **real** transhumanism?

Speaking of which, Second Life seems to me to be the height
of -- I'm not sure what, exactly, but something jaw-droppingly
silly. I read _Permutation City_ and _Diaspora_
and enjoyed 'em just fine, but polis-dweller-wannabes in cheezy
flat-screen CGI? (I gather you have "sex" in Second Life --
after **purchasing** the requisite genitals -- by essentially
agreeing with your partner to submit your avatars as
arguments to an animation script (a "pose ball", I think
it's called). Then you watch the results
on the screen. Though I gather there's a guy who calls
himself Stroker Serpentine who is working on -- USB
vibrators, or something.)

Life as a CGI Barbie doll (who needs Dynamic
Hair Management after all?):

Somewhere over the rainbow
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Wash 'n' wear
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Pinky and me
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Spandex
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Hello kitty
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Heavenly bodies
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Leather
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Santa Claus is comin'
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Love at first bite
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Tally Isham's got nothin' on me
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It goes on and on.

jfehlinger said...

> The heart. . . is a pump. [I]f you can tell me why this
> particular pump cannot be kept in a state of constant
> repair, I am all ears.

Perhaps because the manufacturer neglected to publish
the maintenance manual?

Anonymous said...

Can you fix a broken leg that doesn't have a maintenance manual published by the manufacturer?

Michael Anissimov said...

Hydra, the cnidarian, is biologically immortal. What say you now?

Dale Carrico said...

Cool!

PS: You, like me and everybody else reading these words, are still going to die.

Michael Anissimov said...

The point is, I came up with a counterexample to your claim, a "technical example", one might say, and here you are, dismissing it outright (even though it contradicts what you said earlier), and totally incapable of responding to it in a substantive way. You are only capable of cultural critique, and just about nothing else.

Meanwhile, Anonymous clearly devastated Jfehlinger's argument... tell me, is there a substantive point you guys can actually make that isn't easily dismissed? You seem to sprinkle them within your critiques, however often you choose to focus on the psychology of transhumanists, a straw man formed by your refusal to look at the underlying technical arguments.

AnneC said...

I must admit I'm a bit perplexed by this ongoing argument. I mean, I used to think it was important to rally against "deathists", but then I realized that they were mostly imaginary. Nobody knows what "level" of healthy longevity is going to eventually be possible -- we're still running the experiment, and will likely always be running the experiment for as long as there are people. The way I see it, the question of what will happen to sentient life eventually, in the far-off distant future where you start running up against things like the heat death of the universe, is unavoidably metaphysical as opposed to practical for anyone alive today.

Practically speaking, all we can do is agree that better healthcare for everyone is a good thing (so long as it does not engage in "optimality policing" and instead permits a proliferation of plurality while holding consent and choice as primary values), and work to help create and disperse better healthcare throughout the world's population. And just as some branches of healthcare-oriented R&D are devoted to areas like pediatrics, podiatry, cardiology, etc., some branches are likely to always focus on meeting the needs of the aged (seeing as even "advanced" longevity treatments are likely to entail the need for a person to seek periodic maintenance).

So, I guess I'm confused as to how someone writing on a blog could be considered a threat to the development of the most effective possible longevity medicine. Is that what people are afraid of? If so, that seems pretty weird to me. It's not like Dale saying, "You're going to die someday" is some kind of magic spell that's going to make actually-effective medicine not work for you.

Whatever medicine you get to benefit from (regardless of how much life it grants you or anyone else) will still work regardless of how many people are reminding you of your physical vulnerability.

And what can't work simply won't work.

And we'll find out what works and what doesn't work over a period of many, many years, probably via much trial and error and struggle. Time will tell what is possible and what is not.

And we'll still all be vulnerable to some things, right up until the end of time, by the mere fact of being material beings in a universe fraught with random events and probably-dangerous unknowns.

YOU (random reader) might not actually believe that people are inevitably (or with enough good old elbow grease) going to "transcend" physical reality and become god-like superbeings, but there are people out there that do believe such things, and I do think it's worth pointing out that such beliefs exist and indeed distort what might otherwise be a decently productive discourse on improving longevity-oriented healthcare. Not for the sake of "killing ambition" or getting people to "lie down and die" or suffer needlessly, but for the sake of helping ensure that whatever good things CAN happen in reality DO happen in reality.

In other words, I'm at the point now of thinking that too much of the wrong kind of enthusiasm could actually be counter-productive to the stated goals of the enthusiastic. And I think anyone who really, really wants a given thing to happen should be similarly concerned.

Richard Jones said...

Michael, if you want to get your teeth into something technical you're welcome to make a comment about my remarks on the origin of amyloid diseases on the de Gray piece below. And rather than making rhetorical points on your own blog about how "In the 16 years since its publication, no one has yet found a mathematical error in Nanosystems" you could actually address my own entirely technical critique of the MNT proposals.

I think Dale is entirely right to criticize your project on a rhetorical level, because that's the level at which it mainly exists. I hear you arguing very loudly that your favoured superlative technology projects are possible, but I don't see you actually doing a lot of the technical work that would be needed to make them happen.

Richard Jones said...

I think Anne is entirely right. If you do want to make progress on finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease, as I'm sure we all do, how do all these claims about immortality help the hard work of doing the biomedical science of working out what's causing the disease, and the nanotechnology that might permit new ways of getting drugs across the blood brain barrier?

I think they are entirely counterproductive - the media, the public and the politicians who represent them can't make any judgement on the technical issues, but they are well able to detect the ideological and rhetorical baggage underlying the superlative claims, and this directly affects support and priority-setting for the actual research that I hope we all want to see done.

De Thezier said...

Giulio said:

Most transhumanists do not "cling to", but rather "consider" imaginative possibilities and options. As far as reasoned argument or contradictory evidence is concerned, I would not be here if I were closed to it, but none of your, Dale's and Jim's arguments persuade me.

How many times do I have to explain to you that the willingness to engage critics does not prove that you are open-minded or that you are not a fundamentalist?!? Proof would be an honest confession that some reasoned arguments and contrary evidence presented here has actually made abandon or, at the very least, question some of your long-held beliefs.

Most objections seem to me non-arguments: "it is so because I say so", or "it is so because it is so, and you are stupid if you don't see it". Sorry, I am open to persuasion but if you guys want to persuade me you will have to do _much_ better than that.

I think you have clearly demonstrated to all of us that you are *not* open to persuasion when you repeat the same old arguments or counter-arguments that you previously conceded were fallacious.

You say NO, I say perhaps. Who is the fundamentalist?

I have never said No to the possible emergence of technological developments that could threaten unprecedented harm while they could promise unprecedented emancipation for humanity nor have I said No to to morally inspired designs for social life that are constrained by realistic considerations of human psychology and social/technical feasibility. However, I have and will continue to say No to techno-utopian and techno-immortalist fantasies that are the products of fertile and fertile imaginations unhampered by the normal constraints of scientific and philosophical discipline.

giulio said...

Re Richard's last comment:

This is certainly a valid point, but I don't think it is a very strong one. It is not like a majority of biomedical and nanotech researchers are focusing on highly speculative and imaginative future developments. I guess a large majority is working at practical problems that can be addressed by current and short term technology development.

There have always been people whose primary focus is more speculative than the majority of their contemporaries. And they have a positive effect. The writings of Sir Arthur Clarke have excited the imagination of two generations and encouraged many people to become scientists and engineers. Most of them are not designing space elevators for the next century, but better engines for next year's cars.

giulio said...

"you repeat the same old arguments or counter-arguments that you previously conceded were fallacious"

Example, please.

De Thezier said...

Giulio said:

Example, please.

How many times have you argued that any criticism of your beliefs is an inappropriate act of "thought-policing" and then conceded that it wasn't "thought-policing" after all only to repeat this ridiculous accusation later over and over again?

Dale Carrico said...

If what you really want is to be like the late great Arthur C. Clarke (many of whose works have inspired me for over thirty years), then actually learn to write stories and stop pretending futurological blue-skying makes you a policy-wonk or some kind of scientist.

There are differences in the reasonable warrant of belief in instrumental, moral, esthetic, ethical, and political modes (to say the least). It is helpful to be mindful of these sorts of differences.

Eric said...

Perhaps giulio is a robot.

That would explain much as what passes for 'AI' in the real world just ends up going in circles like that.

giulio said...

"How many times have you argued that any criticism of your beliefs is an inappropriate act of "thought-policing" and then conceded that it wasn't "thought-policing" after all only to repeat this ridiculous accusation later over and over again?"

I have indeed conceded that you guys cannot be accused of "thought-policing" since, as you correctly pointed out, real thought-policing is defined by the use of force while, thank the Robot God, you do not have the power to enforce conformity to your belief. I conceded this point here a few weeks ago and, contrary to your claim, have not repeated this accusation after. Please correct me with an example if I am mistaken.

De Thezier said...

thank the Robot God, you do not have the power to enforce conformity to your belief.

Even if I had that power, it would against my principles to enforce conformity to my beliefs especially since, unlike some people, I always question my beliefs on a regular basis.

I conceded this point here a few weeks ago and, contrary to your claim, have not repeated this accusation after. Please correct me with an example if I am mistaken.

Well, my point is that you already made this concession in the past. But, regardless, the fact that you would made such a ridiculous accusation is a sign that you have a fundamentalist personality.

giulio said...

"Well, my point is that you already made this concession in the past. But, regardless, the fact that you would made such a ridiculous accusation is a sign that you have a fundamentalist personality."

No, I had never made this concession in the past (example, please). I have made it after you have made a point whose validity I have recognized.

This shows that I am open to persuasion and therefore am not a fundamentalist according to your previous definition. But now you claim that I am a fundamentalist anyway, according to another definition. Could you make up your mind?

giulio said...

Eric: "Perhaps giulio is a robot. That would explain much as what passes for 'AI' in the real world just ends up going in circles like that."

Why, of course I am a robot. A biological robot running on spontaneously evolved human1.0 hardware and software, born more or less 80 years before the beta launch of the 2.0 release running on much better hardware and software.

Now about going in circles. I would be interested in your thoughts about this. Perhaps we should first agree on definitions. The usuar definition of circular arguments is, "arguments" that assume the validity of their conclusions. According to this definition, the mantra "humans have always been mortal, therefore humans must always be mortal", that is endlessly repeated here, looks like the mother of all circular arguments. Like, you know, the stupid "blacks do not vote, therefore blacks must not have civil rights" of our racist ancestors.

De Thezier said...

Giulio said:

No, I had never made this concession in the past (example, please). I have made it after you have made a point whose validity I have recognized.

I stand corrected but *I* had made the point before. You simply refused to recognize its validity back then.

This shows that I am open to persuasion and therefore am not a fundamentalist according to your previous definition. But now you claim that I am a fundamentalist anyway, according to another definition. Could you make up your mind?

Your concession may have only shown that you are "open to persuasion" on the most insignificant of issues but my point ultimately is that you have never shown openness to persuasion on matters of substance despite all the reasoned arguments offered to you. The fact you repeat the same old arguments or counter-arguments for "techno-immortalism" that have been demonstrated to be fallacious despite the fact that you refuse to concede that they are is evidence of your fundamentalism. Enough said.

De Thezier said...

Giulio said:

Now about going in circles. I would be interested in your thoughts about this. Perhaps we should first agree on definitions. The usuar definition of circular arguments is, "arguments" that assume the validity of their conclusions. According to this definition, the mantra "humans have always been mortal, therefore humans must always be mortal", that is endlessly repeated here, looks like the mother of all circular arguments.

The criticism of your circular habit is about the fact that you keep creating strawmen to avoid confronting arguments. Specifically, no one has said humanis must always be mortal. The only thing people have said is that humans will most probably always be mortal. If you understand the difference, stop dodging it.

Like, you know, the stupid "blacks do not vote, therefore blacks must not have civil rights" of our racist ancestors.

As a black man, I am offended by these ludicrous analogies. Please avoid them.

giulio said...

"Your concession may have only shown that you are "open to persuasion" on the most insignificant of issues but my point ultimately is that you have never shown openness to persuasion on matters of substance despite all the reasoned arguments offered to you. The fact you repeat the same old arguments or counter-arguments for "techno-immortalism" that have been demonstrated to be fallacious despite the fact that you refuse to concede that they are is evidence of your fundamentalism. Enough said."

In other words, I am a fundamentalist because I don't agree with you on everything. Well, if that is the definition of fundamentalist, I must be one.

"The criticism of your circular habit is about the fact that you keep creating strawmen to avoid confronting arguments. Specifically, no one has said humanis must always be mortal. The only thing people have said is that humans will most probably always be mortal. If you understand the difference, stop dodging it."

Well, if this is the difference, then there is no great difference, because I agree that humans will most probably always be mortal in some sense. My (non negotiable) point is that no known laws of nature says that a human must have a fixed expiration date. Hence "indefinite lifespan".

"Like, you know, the stupid "blacks do not vote, therefore blacks must not have civil rights" of our racist ancestors --As a black man, I am offended by these ludicrous analogies. Please avoid them.

Sorry, I will try to avoid this analogy in the future. Note however that I have mentioned this racist statements as an example of stupidity.

De Thezier said...

Giulio said:

In other words, I am a fundamentalist because I don't agree with you on everything. Well, if that is the definition of fundamentalist, I must be one.

You see, this is a perfect example of your circular habit of creating strawmen to dodge and avoid confronting arguments. I don't care if you agree with me on everything. I have never said that you must agree with me on everything. I've only asked for one honest confession that some reasoned arguments and contrary evidence presented to you here or elsewhere over the years by critics of transhumanism has actually made you abandon or, at the very least, question some of your long-held substantive beliefs. Just one.

peco said...

You see, this is a perfect example of your circular habit of creating strawmen to dodge and avoid confronting arguments. I don't care if you agree with me on everything. I have never said that you must agree with me on everything. I've only asked for one honest confession that some reasoned arguments and contrary evidence presented to you here or elsewhere over the years by critics of transhumanism has actually made you abandon or, at the very least, question some of your long-held substantive beliefs. Just one.

Or you can show that all the arguments are wrong, but at least some of them are definitely right.

(The "Anonymous" was me.)

giulio said...

"I've only asked for one honest confession that some reasoned arguments and contrary evidence presented to you here or elsewhere over the years by critics of transhumanism has actually made you abandon or, at the very least, question some of your long-held substantive beliefs. Just one."

I can't: I just don't find your arguments persuasive. If anything, (what I perceive as) your stubborn a-priori rejection of imaginative engineering speculations make me more and more "radically transhumanist".

Note that I usually appreciate, and often agree with, the cultural and political points you guys raise (I would not be here otherwise). But not the scientific points.

Dale Carrico said...

your stubborn a-priori rejection of imaginative engineering

Are you kidding? I, like, totally love the animatronic Abe Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents and the japing dead-eyed animatronic teddies in the Country Bears Jamboree.

make me more and more "radically transhumanist"

Good luck with that.

Dale Carrico said...

But not the scientific points.

Of course, I don't claim to be making scientific points. I do enjoy exposing how techno-utopians who like to claim they are making scientific points rather than convening the Futurological Faithful to prayer are completely full of shit. But even when I am doing that I am not making scientific points, strictly speaking.

De Thezier said...

Giulio said:

I can't: I just don't find your arguments persuasive.

I wasn't referring to my arguments. I was referring to the arguments of all the non-bioconservative critics of transhumanism, including Dale Carrico, I assume you have heard or read.

If anything, (what I perceive as) your stubborn a-priori rejection of imaginative engineering speculations make me more and more "radically transhumanist".

Despite the rhetoric, I don't reject anything out of close-mindedness. I am extremely skeptical of techno-utopian and techno-immortalist fantasies that are the products of fertile and creative imaginations unhampered by the normal constraints of scientific and philosophical discipline. Modern skepticism is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. But all facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge, and therefore skepticism is a method leading to provisional conclusions. In other words, show me.

That being said, I don't see why my skepticism, however strident it might become, should make you more and more "radically transhumanist". That seems like the best sign of a fundamentalist. ;)

jfehlinger said...

Giulio Prisco wrote:

> > The heart. . . is a pump. [I]f you can tell me why this
> particular pump cannot be kept in a state of constant
> repair, I am all ears.

And I wrote:

> Perhaps because the manufacturer neglected to publish
> the maintenance manual?

And "Anonymous" (ah, but which one? ;-> ) wrote:

> Can you fix a broken leg that doesn't have a maintenance manual
> published by the manufacturer?

And Michael Anissmov wrote:

> Meanwhile, Anonymous clearly devastated Jfehlinger's
> argument...

I'm devastated, eh? (And "clearly", no less.) Well,
maybe not.

You see, nobody **can** fix a broken leg. At least, not
in the sense in which one fixes, say, a dent in a car,
or a puncture in a car's tire.

The best we can do (as in so many medical interventions) is
to provide an environment (immobile, restful, stress-free, adequately
hydrated and nourished) in which the leg **fixes itself**.

We can't even replace a leg the way we can replace a
car's tire (more's the pity). (And don't tell me a prosthetic
leg is as good as the real thing -- somebody who actually
has to live with one might beg to differ with you; in contrast,
a tire is a tire is a tire, whether it's a Goodyear or a
Pirelli, a Michelin or a Firestone.)

> Hydra, the cnidarian, is biologically immortal. What say you now?

Hooray for hydra. Too bad he's not in a position to appeciate
his advantage.

See, that's the thing. Cnidarians do have a primitive nerve
net -- they were the first to evolve them (IIRC), in contrast
to, say, sponges, which are multicellular but don't have
nervous systems (they have primitive short-range hormonal
intercellular signalling, though -- they use, what's the
word? -- chemicals called eicosanoids for this purpose).

But some sort of evolutionary compromise seems to have
occurred hand-in-hand with increasing mobility, and
verterbrate-ness, and more complicated nervous systems,
and brains. The "immortality" was cast aside during
this process. Is that evolutionary turned corner
ameliorable through technological means? Stay tuned
and see!

Anonymous said...

> Hydra, the cnidarian, is biologically immortal. What say you now?

Hooray for hydra. Too bad he's not in a position to appeciate
his advantage.

See, that's the thing. Cnidarians do have a primitive nerve
net -


And even if we were just like hydras, but for some freaky reason, "mortal" ones, that won't help us one bit. Hydras eventually die too, In fact I probably can safely assume that average lifespan of hydras is lower than that of humans, - despite us aging and them not.

Hydra is "immortal" only if it's kept in a fishtank with good fresh water, fed regularily and not preyed upon. Once those conditions are broken hydras die just as surely as any other animal.

So, as this shows absence of aging means not quite as much as techno-immortalists think it does. And that leads exactly to the sort of "Reason-ing" Dale discusses in his next blog post.

We don't have world where everybody has enough food and fresh water, yet for T-Ists it's just "10% doom", and not an issue at all! Is this some sort of sick joke? Didn't Greek gods issue just that type of "immortality" once as a _punishment_?

jfehlinger said...

BTW, our host Dale is **not** a Cnidarian.

He's a Snidarian.

;-> ;->

bambi said...

I hadn't expected to post more than once or twice here but it seems I'm finding it difficult to quit, so I'll pick a pseudonym (too many Anonymouses gets confisuing).

The only thing I have to say right now is that AnneC is my hero. I wish we could all approach these interesting extreme topics with such respect, honesty, and curiosity.

Dale Carrico said...

Hi, bambi, you can count me as an Anne fan, too.

Anonymous said...

You see, nobody **can** fix a broken leg.

You can make it much more likely to heal, which is the same thing you need to do with a heart. If you break a bone badly enough, it won't heal without help. If you break a heart badly enough, it won't heal, but there are things that could potentially heal it (stem cells) that aren't healing it. To fix a broken bone, you help something (in this case the bone itself) that knows how to fix it fix it. To fix a damaged heart, you help the something (stem cells or something else) that knows how to fix it fix it. You do the same thing; the heart is just much harder to fix.

At least, not
in the sense in which one fixes, say, a dent in a car,
or a puncture in a car's tire.


Why do you need to fix it that way? Anything that works (without side effects worse than the problem the leg has) is fine.

The best we can do (as in so many medical interventions) is
to provide an environment (immobile, restful, stress-free, adequately
hydrated and nourished) in which the leg **fixes itself**.


It doesn't matter how the leg is fixed. If someone makes the leg heal, even if the leg does most of the work, they've fixed the leg.

We can't even replace a leg the way we can replace a
car's tire (more's the pity).


We can replace a heart (only a few).

(And don't tell me a prosthetic
leg is as good as the real thing -- somebody who actually
has to live with one might beg to differ with you; in contrast,
a tire is a tire is a tire, whether it's a Goodyear or a
Pirelli, a Michelin or a Firestone.)


It's still better than no leg.

But some sort of evolutionary compromise seems to have
occurred hand-in-hand with increasing mobility, and
verterbrate-ness, and more complicated nervous systems,
and brains. The "immortality" was cast aside during
this process. Is that evolutionary turned corner
ameliorable through technological means? Stay tuned
and see!


Maybe biological immortality wasn't useful anymore? Even if it were still possible, it wouldn't work if the animal would die from other causes anyway.

And even if we were just like hydras, but for some freaky reason, "mortal" ones, that won't help us one bit. Hydras eventually die too, In fact I probably can safely assume that average lifespan of hydras is lower than that of humans, - despite us aging and them not.

Hydra is "immortal" only if it's kept in a fishtank with good fresh water, fed regularily and not preyed upon. Once those conditions are broken hydras die just as surely as any other animal.


Hydras are "biologically immortal." Most humans die from aging, so humans would live much longer even if they still starved and got in accidents. There isn't a lower limit to starvation and accidents, so there wouldn't be an upper limit on lifespan.

Anonymous said...

Hydras are "biologically immortal."

Hydras all are going to die too, sooner or later. We have nice Pacific islands and Great Barrier Reef to further validate this.

So by that same "10% doom" logic biological immortality is patently useless, just like everything else.



Most humans die from aging, so humans would live much longer even if they still starved and got in accidents. There isn't a lower limit to starvation and accidents, so there wouldn't be an upper limit on lifespan.

Sure. But how exactly this warrants all that "salvation/doom" talk, bold declarations like "Fuck The Death!", etc? Hey, I'd like to live better and longer just as much as the next guy.

But T-Iism isn't about living better and longer. It is about declaring some means to that end "The True Way", and then either making all sorts of exaggerated claims about them, thus making other, potentially more viable means look unimportant, or even denigrating them directly.

"The True Way" means, on the other hand, are pursued as if they were ends in themselves, no matter what. If they can't be implemented in the safe and just way, - too bad for the sinn... err... LOSERS! If they can't be implemented at all, - It's exactly because it was only tried by FOOLS!, not fictional fixing-diarrhea-with-screwdriver uber-engineers of Guilio... And pointing out that their claims don't add up is DEATHISM!

peco said...

There are too many means being proposed for transhumanism to focus on one.

Hydras all are going to die too, sooner or later.

But there is no upper limit on their lifespan, so they can theoretically live for 100,000 years (they would need to live in a tank, and the tank can't be destroyed).

Seth Wagoner said...

"So, as this shows absence of aging means not quite as much as techno-immortalists think it does."

Now, I'm not a transhumanist, just an interested bystander, but it seems to me that pointing out that "defeating aging" is not the same as "defeating death" is just about the most pointless observation that one can make. Sure, there may be neophytes dumb enough to make this incredibly simple error, but I doubt you will see any of them here. Anyone seriously arguing that we can achieve immortality is talking about much more than just defeating aging.

Anonymous said...

Anyone seriously arguing that we can achieve immortality is talking about much more than just defeating aging.
Definitely. Only wehen Dale (or anybody else) critiques the idea in principle, it's "refusal to engage in technical arguments". But when someone tries those "technical arguments", they're magically "minor details," you see "there's much, Much, MUCH more, than just X in transhumanism. " Just look:
Michael Anissimov said...

Hydra, the cnidarian, is biologically immortal. What say you now?

Dale Carrico said...

Cool!

PS: You, like me and everybody else reading these words, are still going to die.

Michael Anissimov said...

The point is, I came up with a counterexample to your claim, a "technical example", one might say, and here you are, dismissing it outright (even though it contradicts what you said earlier), and totally incapable of responding to it in a substantive way. You are only capable of cultural critique, and just about nothing else.


If this isn't reliance on just that "stupid error only neophyte could make," I'm not sure what is.

But there is no upper limit on their lifespan, so they can theoretically live for 100,000 years (they would need to live in a tank, and the tank can't be destroyed).
Sure. Now, practically tank that works for 100,000 years AND is somehow not subject to accidents of all sorts, is practically quite impossible. Unless you postulate that only unworthy losers get into the accidents, and once they all die out the rest would live on just fine. Not going to happen.

giulio said...

"tank that works for 100,000 years AND is somehow not subject to accidents of all sorts, is practically quite impossible"

Let's try not to be deliberately obtuse here, otherwise some reader might mistake deliberate stupidity for real idiocy, and that would be too bad.

If a tank works for 1 year, a better one can work for 2 years. If a better tank can work for 2 years, an even better one can work for 3 years. So the hydra inside can live 3 years. Of course the tank could be destroyed by fire, so let's improve the fire safety measures around and let's write the phone number of the firemen on a postit just in case, and since we are here let's also tighten a few screws so that the tank can last 4 years. Then 5...

So the hydra can live 5 years at least. The tank, and the hydra inside, do not have a fixed expiration date. Probably they will both cease to exist at some point, but that moment is not written in stone and we can always work to postpone it. This is what indefinite duration means.

With soon available technologies a person will be able to life, say, 130 years. But then what the fuck is wrong with 131? And why should 132 be impossible? And where is the insult to human nature if we make that 133? And who is damaged if we make that 134? And why should't God like 135? And what business of yours is if I want to live 137 years? Is pushing this limit to 138 years a sign of disrespect for human suffering? Is living 139 years a sin against the finitude of human nature? Then SCREW the finitude of human nature, and let's make it 140. Then 141...

Careful here, if you still want to claim that living 140 years is impossible, then the first person who celebrates her 141th birthday will laugh at you and ridicule you as you deserve. Same for 200, or 500.

Anonymous said...


Let's try not to be deliberately obtuse here, otherwise some reader might mistake deliberate stupidity for real idiocy, and that would be too bad.


Indeed. I'm quite capable of making that same calculation on my own, and again it's not really means what you want it to mean.
phone number of the firemen on a postit just in case, and since we are here let's also tighten a few screws so that the tank can last 4 years. Then 5...
That's nothing more than just argument from ignorance, - you don't know if tank could be indefinitely improved upon, so this somehow "proves" it could. Excellent reasoning, based on logic and science.

Careful here, if you still want to claim that living 140 years is impossible, then the first person who celebrates her 141th birthday will laugh at you and ridicule you as you deserve. Same for 200, or 500.

No one in general , and Dale in particular, claimed that there is or should be "fixed expiration date". It's not at all about that.

Not knowing exactly WHEN you're going to die does not magically disprove that you're going to die anyway.

Consider, say, million of those tanks of yours. Mk1 tank has a failure rate of 1/1000, so 1000 of those hydras within die in the first year. Now we have 999,000 hydras and Mk2 tank, with failure rate say, 10% lower, so, only 998 hydras die next year, instead of 999. I'm a bit lazy sometimes, so I won't continue that progression to the end, but in 100,000 some years only handful of those hydras would be alive, their odds of continued survival decreasing (exponentially or linearly, depending on whether tanks are improving at steady rates.)

Pretending that scenario like that amounts to "transcendence of finitude", "screwing death", etc., is literally childish. Let's pull on that security blanket and pretend problem does not exist!

Anonymous said...

rate say, 10% lower, so, only 998 hydras die next year, instead of 999.
Oops, I meant 899, of course, not 998.

giulio said...

"in 100,000 some years only handful of those hydras would be alive, their odds of continued survival decreasing (exponentially or linearly, depending on whether tanks are improving at steady rates.)"

Good. A handful is better than none. I will do my best to be one of the handful, and to try making the handful bigger.

So I think we have agreed that there does not have to be a fixed expiration date for hydras, or humans. Does that "amounts to "transcendence of finitude", "screwing death"? Well, it is a good first step.

peco said...

Nobody is going to live forever. What Giulio is trying to say is that there is no upper limit on lifespan.

peco said...

Consider, say, million of those tanks of yours. Mk1 tank has a failure rate of 1/1000, so 1000 of those hydras within die in the first year. Now we have 999,000 hydras and Mk2 tank, with failure rate say, 10% lower, so, only 998 hydras die next year, instead of 999. I'm a bit lazy sometimes, so I won't continue that progression to the end, but in 100,000 some years only handful of those hydras would be alive, their odds of continued survival decreasing (exponentially or linearly, depending on whether tanks are improving at steady rates.)


If 1000 hydras die, then 500 hydras die, then 250 die, etc., less than 2000 hydras would die, no matter how long you waited. If 1000 hydras die, then 999 hydras die, etc. (decreasing exponentially), less than a million would die, no matter how long you waited (you would eventually only have one left). If you had more than a million hydras, there would be many hydras left. I don't think you can keep improving the tanks (exponentially) forever, but if you did, some hydras would never die (the same thing works if death is random, but then it is possible for them to all die).

Anonymous said...


If 1000 hydras die, then 500 hydras die, then 250 die, etc., less than 2000 hydras would die, no matter how long you waited.

Not quite, if you allow for fractions (interpreted as one dead hydra/N years). Also, as you yourself pointed out, it's incorrect to just assume that 1/x probability leads exactly to n*1/X events, so a more detailed statistical model may be of some interest.

Good. A handful is better than none. I will do my best to be one of the handful, and to try making the handful bigger.

So I think we have agreed that there does not have to be a fixed expiration date for hydras, or humans. Does that "amounts to "transcendence of finitude", "screwing death"? Well, it is a good first step.


Second one I'd say. First one is coming up with society where everyone can get his "Mk-N tank", not just "Our Valuable Customers". And typical transhumanist suggestions in this regard are well... Somewhere between non-existing and proven to have opposite effect.
Just look at how modern world, handles, say, AIDS.

giulio said...

"coming up with society where everyone can get his "Mk-N tank", not just "Our Valuable Customers". And typical transhumanist suggestions in this regard are well... Somewhere between non-existing and proven to have opposite effect."

I agree. But I don't think there is such a thing as a "typical transhumanist suggestion". Also, I don't think a "transhumanist suggestion" would make much sense in this context. It is a quite basic political issue. My suggestion would be to start pushing hard for BIG and for the basic concept that everyone should have a decent quality of life, where "decent" is of course a moving target.

Dale Carrico said...

Giulio: I don't think there is such a thing as a "typical transhumanist suggestion".

Oh, for heaven's sake, what's it gonna be? Critics of transhumanism are wrong because transhumanism is so right, or critics of transhumanism are wrong because transhumanism isn't saying anything?

giulio said...

"for heaven's sake, what's it gonna be?"

The opinions of individual transhumanists would differ. My own position is described one sentence after the sentence you quote.