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

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Greg Egan on the Transhumanists

Greg Egan is, in my estimation, among the greatest science fiction writers now living. He is also, together with Vernor Vinge (whose work I'm a fan of as well, as it happens), one of the authors who transhumanist-identified technocentrics tend to venerate with special fervor, especially because he explores questions of identity and consciousness under profoundly different material instantiations.

Techno-immortalists who pine (in my view incoherently) after a spiritualized digital eternity as "uploads" take a measure of comfort from Egan's daring and dazzling and, above all, detailed fictional explorations of this terrain.

Where I look for (and inevitably find) provocation in Egan, I suspect many of the transhumanists are seeking plausibility in his work, hankering after a "reality effect" with which they can infuse their superlative aspirations, a welter of details sufficiently substantial to offer a hat-hook to the hyperbolic hat of their techno-utopian handwaving.

Where for me Egan rewards the suspension of disbelief with an enrichment of imagination, I fear that for many transhumanist-types he affords an ascension into True Belief that impoverishes sense.

It must have come as something of a shock, then, to read Egan's dismissal of much of the transhumanist "movement," so-called, in the comments section of Russell Blackford's blog Metamagician and the Hellfire Club a few days ago. I am going to devote a few posts to an engagement with Blackford's discussion, as well as to some of the other comments to his post, but I wanted to begin by quoting Egan's comments, with most of which I agree.

I am excerpting from a few different comments Egan made over time and in conversation, and so I strongly encourage people to follow the link to Blackford's blog for the full passages in their actual context, both the initial piece and ensuing conversation, all of which are well worth your attention.
Though a handful of self-described Transhumanists are thinking rationally about real prospects for the future, the overwhelming majority might as well belong to a religious cargo cult based on the notion that self-modifying AI will have magical powers….

While at some level it's good to insist that every quality of the human phenotype be subject to clear-eyed scrutiny, the word "Transhumanist" appears to suggest the foregone conclusion that everything about the present species is destined for the rubbish bin -- which neither accords with what most people who've considered the matter would wish for, nor does much to encourage anyone else to treat the movement seriously….

I share [the] concern that so many prominent Transhumanists are anti-egalitarian, but at this stage, quite frankly… I [simply] consider a self-description of "Transhumanist" to be a useful filter to identify crackpots….

The word "transhumanism" (or, even worse, "posthumanism") sounds like a suicide note for the species….

And I'm not sure quite how much solidarity I'm compelled to have with someone, just because they've also noticed that we're not going to see out the millennium with physical substrates identical to those we've had for the last 200,000 years. People who think their manifest destiny is to turn Jupiter into computronium so they can play 10^20 characters simultaneously in their favourite RPG are infinitely more odious and dangerous than the average person who thinks this whole subject is science-fictional gibberish and would really just like to have 2.3 children that are members of his/her own species, so long as they don't have cystic fibrosis and live a slightly better life than their parents.

I don't doubt that there are, also, some dangerously intemperate adherents to the notion of humanity retaining its ancestral traits forever.... But for actual deranged monomaniacs on this particular subject, the pro side has a far higher proportion of nutjobs than its opponents….

I don't want to single anyone out for disparagement, either here or in private, because I haven't actually read anyone's entire corpus. I don't spend much time reading academic papers on this subject, or Transhumanist manifestos; the impression I've gained of the movement comes largely through the popular media and random exposure to blogs by people self-describing as "Transhumanist", regardless of their affiliations and qualifications. A large number of those bloggers will be people whose names are not famous and who have no particular influence; nonetheless, they consider themselves to be part of the Transhumanist movement, and so surely they contribute something to the wider public's impression of what such a movement entails. As with, say, socialism, it's not the academic definition that interests the general public, it's the behaviour of people they know (either personally or through the popular media) who self-describe as socialist.

Now there are obviously some grave deficiencies with such a viewpoint; I mean, a similarly based impression of quantum mechanics would also yield a picture of a world dominated by crackpots. But while quantum mechanics has a sound historical and academic bedrock that can (largely) withstand all the noise that surrounds it, I'm much less sanguine about the T word, given that its origins lie as much in SF, SF fandom, and technopunditry as it does in bioethics and other fields of philosophy. There's nothing wrong with that; SF and various non-academic techno-boosterist subcultures ought to be inspirational. But the lines between what's imminent, what's plausible in the medium term, what's possible in the long-term, and what's sheer wish-fulfilment fantasy, remain utterly blurred for most "rank-and-file" Transhumanists I encounter on the web, and also (from my limited reading of them) a substantial number of more prominent commentators. It's this that prompted me to say, earlier, that to first order I consider a self-identification of "Transhumanist" to be a sign of a crackpot. While there are doubtless people to whom that's unfair, filtering out anyone who uses that label is a pretty reliable way to ensure that you don't end up wasting time reading people who've completely lost touch with reality.

Notice that Egan has not offered up a substantial critique of transhumanism here for the most part, nor has he tried to leave the impression that he has done. He is just testifying to impressions of transhumanism that seem to me to be pretty generally true of people (though transhumanists are very quick to deny this, often in something of a panic), but which become especially notable coming from a writer and thinker whose imagination shares common ground with so many transhumanist preoccupations.

Egan makes comments about the PR problems of any movement foolish enough to name itself "post-humanism" and then expect human adherents here and now, and worries that a movement with goals arising out of sf fandom is going to be bedeviled in general by hyperbole that renders it impractical. But he hasn't asked here the question whether it makes sense in the first place to organize a "movement" based on shared identity (and on the relative disparagement of those outside that identity) that seeks to achieve technodevelopmental outcomes that sweep the world, including those who share the world but not the subculture itself. This is not a "PR" problem to be addressed, as Blackford honestly and well-meaningly proposes, by insisting on greater "inclusiveness" and "outreach" by the sub(cult)ure. Exclusivity is built in to any identity politics model, sub(cult)ural movements always substitute a moralizing fantasy of prevailing over difference for the properly political work of the ongoing, and in fact interminable, reconciliation of the aspirations of the diversity of stakeholders with whom we share the world.

For me, the transhumanists make the mistake of hoping to circumvent the political altogether (the "anti-egalitarian" tendencies of many of its adherents that worry Blackford and Egan -- both those transhumanists who incline disturbingly in the direction of market-fundamentalist foolishness or toward eerily eugenicist parochialism -- are just the iceberg tip of this deeper anti-politicism in my view) through the application of transcendentalizing technologies.

What Egan dismisses as a rather muddled enthusiasm arising out of fandom, I think is in many (possibly most) cases better described as a pernicious commandeering of the uncertainties of disruptive technoscientific change by a constellation of uncritical True Beliefs, an investment of a superficially instrumental vocabulary with what I describe as super-predicated "outcomes" -- superintelligence, superlongevity, superabundance -- that both mime and mine the irrational energies of the theological imaginary: omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence. This suggests that the problem of transhumanist implausibility is not an accidental expression of overeager undereducated fans, but arises out of the very substance of transhumanism as such.

Richard Jones is a critic of Superlativity who focuses on the very questions of science that no doubt Egan would be most interested in himself, and Jones makes the point that the primary or at any rate unique content of transhumanism ultimately is confined to its rhetoric, its ideology, its subcultural idiosyncrasies. And hence it is to those dimensions of transhumanist discourse -- and not to the so-called "technical" questions that transhumanists at once hyperbolize beyond sense but then commandeer to create the impression of their relevance -- that we should turn if we would understand how transhumanism operates in the world, how it solicits identification among its members, how it impacts the discourse of technodevelopmental deliberation more generally and so on.

57 comments:

Queen Maxine said...

Dale writes:

I wanted to begin by quoting Egan's comments, with most of which I agree.

I took this as something of challenge to discern where you might perhaps disagree with Egan. Here's the most obvious candidate:

we're not going to see out the millennium with physical substrates identical to those we've had for the last 200,000 years.

Hyperbolic! Superlative! Eschatological! Millenialist!

Egan seems to eschew the Identity and the Movement, not necessarily the content. No?

Dale Carrico said...

The "content" is the identity, so, in a word, no.

I am quite content to say that human beings might find their way to presently unfathomable places by the year 3000 if they don't find their way quite fathomably idiotically to extinction.

Persistently misreading a person makes you look stupid not smart, Maxine.

Dale Carrico said...

Still waiting, Maxine, for you to tell all the nice folks who you really are, so we can put your endless PR flacking for the transhumanist Robot Cult in context.

Robin said...

I've been a Greg Egan fangirl since I first read Permutation City in college (1995?)

You have no idea how excited I was to see him dismissing the crackpots at Russell's blog. It was sort of like learning that there IS justice in the world.

Michael Anissimov said...

"both mime and mine"

Nice rhetoric here.

Robin, many of the "crackpots" are reasonable people with extraordinary-sounding conclusions. Since many can't be bothered to read the supporting material, they dismiss the entire movement as crackpots. Like someone dismissing Aubrey de Grey without reading about SENS.

Why are transhumanists so obsessed with Egan's work, anyway? I strongly prefer The Golden Age, and I'm not even into fiction that much.

Michael Anissimov said...

I agree with Dale about Maxine. Lack the courage to tell us who you are? Then why should we give a shit about your ideas?

Queen Maxine said...

The "content" is the identity, so, in a word, no.

I think the two are quite different. And from reading your sermons on identity politics, I would have imagined you thought likewise.

Interesting.

I am quite content to say that human beings might find their way to presently unfathomable places by the year 3000 if they don't find their way quite fathomably idiotically to extinction.

However (if I might put words into your mouth for just a brief second) you don't believe that human beings will ever find their way to a non-biological substrate, as Egan seems to be (pretty clearly) implying.

Thus, you disagree with him (as I said the first time).

Persistently misreading a person makes you look stupid not smart, Maxine.

Of all the people to be whining in such fashion!

Your Authorial Intent doesn't simply hover in the Elsewhere as an Eternal Platonic Form waiting to be Properly Read.

I am quite happily drawing whatever conclusions I see fit from you and your writings. And this activity -- evil though it may be -- is not all that much different than what a cultural critic does, like, for a living.

Still waiting, Maxine, for you to tell all the nice folks who you really are, so we can put your endless PR flacking for the transhumanist Robot Cult in context.

Name-calling already? In the third comment of the thread?

You should know by now I am not going to argue about your choice of names for me. 'Asshole', 'Troll', 'Stupid','Evil Transhumanist', 'Suppressive Person', they're all just part of Coming of Age with the Mundists.

Though I will continue to deny that I am people I am not, if you decide you want to play that silly game again.

Queen Maxine said...

Michael Anissimov writes (in a moment of rare agreement with Dael):

I agree with Dale about Maxine. Lack the courage to tell us who you are? Then why should we give a shit about your ideas?

Oh, great.

Michael, don't you see that this is just further proof of the conspiracy? You siding with Dale against an anonymous critic is like an off-the-shelf troll Master Plan -- totally transaprent. Now I'm going to be accused of being in cahoots with Michael, and then Dale is going to start calling me 'Evil Transhumanist'.

Er, wait...

Robin said...


Robin, many of the "crackpots" are reasonable people with extraordinary-sounding conclusions. Since many can't be bothered to read the supporting material, they dismiss the entire movement as crackpots.


I once believed that many of the self-identified transhumanists were reasonable people. I've been in the field of AI (in respected academic settings) since around 1994. I spoke at TransVision 04, and really enjoyed the company of everyone I met there. They were all great people who I would love to talk sci-fi with over a beer. But I agree with Dale more often than not that it isn't a question of how reasonable a person is, but how much they *want* to believe things that are, undeniably, outrageous. I had likened some of the arguments I saw to religion way before I heard Dale refer to it as NanoSanta and RobotGod and such. I think it's unfortunate that people who are often fairly reasonable can't take the step back and see that they're acting like religious zealots when it comes to this stuff. The scientists and theorists that work in these fields recognize the limitations most often - why don't the transhumanists ever agree with those scientists? (My answer - for the same reason people try to study "creation science" as if there were actually any science involved. They WANT to believe, and contrary evidence be damned).

Dale Carrico said...

[M]any of the "crackpots" are reasonable people with extraordinary-sounding conclusions.

A handful, not "many" -- and one has to question the reasonableness of even a handful of people who are comfortable with crackpots using them as cover for crackpottery when all is said and done.

Since many can't be bothered to read the supporting material, they dismiss the entire movement as crackpots.

Look, you can't have it both ways. You embrace the apparent exhilarations of lining up under the banner of "we trasnhumanists" wherever it's edifying or convenient, but then wherever it costs you anything in respectability or discomfort you start demanding you all be treated as rugged individualists with nothing in common. Raise your freak flag and pay for it, stick up for your tribe even if it looks for all the world like a cult, or else drop the act. Pay for what you get.

Why are transhumanists so obsessed with Egan's work, anyway? I strongly prefer The Golden Age, and I'm not even into fiction that much.

Wow, I mean, let a bazillion flowers bloom and all, but for me personally when I realized that Wright wasn't generating a high-camp spoof of space-opera with Randroidally-stiff overtones I was flabbergasted. I think it is one of the most laugh-out-funny in its awfulness "novels of ideas" since Atlas Shrugged!

jfehlinger said...

Robin Zebrowski wrote:

> I think it's unfortunate that people who are often fairly
> reasonable can't take the step back and see that they're acting
> like religious zealots when it comes to this stuff. . .
> [W]hy don't the transhumanists ever agree with those [skeptical]
> scientists? (My answer - for the same reason people try to study
> "creation science" as if there were actually any science involved.
> They WANT to believe, and contrary evidence be damned).

Yes, and there's another argument sometimes invoked -- that it's
the **morally correct** thing to believe on so little evidence
when the alternative is to give up the human race to the hell-bound
handbasket.

I've seen this come up even among the staunchest >Hist "supporters
of rationality". The argument sometimes goes something along the
lines of "I can't stand nihilist fiction where the heroes, the
characters you've been enticed to believe in and identify with,
end up as roadkill while the author snickers at you behind his
sleeve. I can't believe the universe works that way, either.
Since >Hism, unlike religion, offers a scientifically plausible
way in which the story of the universe might have a happy ending
after all, it makes sense to believe it, since the alternative
is nihilism in real life."


WOODROW WYATT: Do you think that religion is good or harmful
in its effects?

BERTRAND RUSSELL: I think most of its effects in history have
been harmful. Not all. Religion caused the
Egyptian priests to fix the calendar, and to note the
occurrence of eclipses so well that in time
they were able to predict them. I think those were
beneficial effects of religion. But I think a
**great** majority have been bad. And I think they've
been bad because it was held important that people
should believe something for which there did not exist
good evidence. And that falsified everybody's thinking,
falsified systems of education, and set up also what
I think a complete moral heresy: namely, that it is
**right** to believe certain things, and **wrong**
to believe certain others, apart from the question
whether the things in question are true or false.

. . .

WYATT: But what about people, though, who
feel that they must have some faith in a religion,
otherwise they can't face their life at all...

RUSSELL: Well, I say that...

WYATT: ...if you take that away?

RUSSELL: I say people who feel that are, really...
Well, they're showing a kind of cowardice which in any
other sphere would be considered **contemptible**, but
when it's in the religious sphere it's thought
admirable. And I can't admire cowardice, whatever
sphere it's in.

Dale Carrico said...

I wrote: The "content" [of transhumanism] is the identity, so, in a word, no [I don't agree Egan is affirming the "content" of transhumanism when he criticizes the identity].

Maxine responded: I think the two are quite different. And from reading your sermons on identity politics, I would have imagined you thought likewise.

You can't have been reading very carefully then. I have always said that superlative technocentric aspirations connect to sub(cult)ural technocentric politics. I also repeatedly disapprove of the confusion of moralizing for politics, which I assume is what you mean by my "sermons" on identity politics.

Transhumanism is little but moralizing answering the anxieties caused by disruptive technoscientific change by investing idealized outcomes with superlative and transcendental aspirations. That's exactly what I always say. Try to keep up.

However (if I might put words into your mouth for just a brief second) you don't believe that human beings will ever find their way to a non-biological substrate, as Egan seems to be (pretty clearly) implying.

Thus, you disagree with him (as I said the first time).


If Egan claims to predict in a scientifically warranted fashion that what we mean by human consciousness will in fact "migrate" without loss to nonbiological substrates by the year 3000 (a different question from whether or not intelligence as such might be incarnated of different substrates, something I have talked about endlessly here), then I do disagree with that, and I disagree that there is anything in the scientific literature to support such a claim, although I don't agree that Egan is "fairly clearly implying" such a thing, and also I think it is frankly idiotic to imagine debates about what technology will be able to accomplish a thousand years from now as remotely scientific (but I'm arguing with a transhumanist and so this particular brand of idiocy is inevitable, something Egan did indeed clearly imply he finds as dumb and dull as I do).

But more to the point, I challenge any reader on earth without the delusive blinders of True Belief in the transhumanist Robot Cult firmly over their eyes to read his comments and take away from them that he is in substantial agreement with the transhumanist discourse. Looks like a pretty desperate effort at damage control by the Robot Cultists to me. Yer still our Patron Saint, Greg, indeed.

Of all the people to be whining in such fashion!

Your Authorial Intent doesn't simply hover in the Elsewhere as an Eternal Platonic Form waiting to be Properly Read.


I never fail to be amused by know-nothings who crow about how silly "postmodernism" is without reading "it" or making any effort to grasp "it" on its actual terms, then going on to poke fun at the people they attribute these fantastic beliefs to for failing to live up to their caricatures.

I am quite happily drawing whatever conclusions I see fit from you and your writings. And this activity -- evil though it may be -- is not all that much different than what a cultural critic does, like, for a living.

What is it you are calling evil here? I am unclear.

Name-calling already? In the third comment of the thread?

You should know by now I am not going to argue about your choice of names for me. 'Asshole', 'Troll', 'Stupid','Evil Transhumanist', 'Suppressive Person', they're all just part of Coming of Age with the Mundists.


What Maxine is freaking out about here as my "name-calling" is, interestingly enough, the fact that she won't actually say who she is. In other words, the "name calling" consists of my pointing out that she won't say who she is by name, although she endlessly snipes unseen at my positions from the cheap seats. It would certainly be amusing to discover that she is some high-profile muckety-muck in one of the Robot Cult organizations she defends so superciliously without ever taking the risk of being held accountable in any way for her jibes and japes, but who's to say.

Though I will continue to deny that I am people I am not, if you decide you want to play that silly game again.

Starved for attention, much?

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> [Michael Anissimov wrote:]
>
> > Why are transhumanists so obsessed with Egan's work, anyway?
> > I strongly prefer The Golden Age, and I'm not even into
> > fiction that much.
>
> Wow, I mean, let a bazillion flowers bloom and all, but for me
> personally when I realized that Wright wasn't generating a high-camp
> spoof of space-opera with Randroidally-stiff overtones I was
> flabbergasted. I think it is one of the most laugh-out-funny in its
> awfulness "novels of ideas" since Atlas Shrugged!

I can't resist. Here's a sample from my e-mail archive:



Subject: "The monster's monotone came:

'Surrender, or I destroy the love-object.'" (p. 217)

OK, I take it back -- calling _The Phoenix Exultant_ "Poul-Anderson-
level SF" is an insult to Poul Anderson. Calling it Doc-Smith-
level SF might even be an insult to Doc Smith; I dunno -- it's
been about 40 years since I read any.

My God, the dialog! It might be taken as cleverly balanced
on a perceptual cusp alternating between Ed Wood
and Monty Python if the book were **known** to be a deliberate
parody. If not, if the author's doing it straight-faced
(as I fear is the case), it might still qualify as high
camp in the style of Ayn Rand's novels
(which I'm afraid haven't actually read; I've only
seen the Gary Cooper/Patricial Neal/Raymond Massey
film version of _The Fountainhead_ -- and that is pretty
hysterical).

------------
p. 237
"Daphne said, 'I've got something sort of really
unbelievably important to say; can I interrupt at this
point?'

Phaethon said, 'Please excuse us for just a moment,
my dear. There is just one more matter I need to settle
with Marshal Atkins.'

Daphne muttered, 'Which one of you produces more
testosterone . . . ? Don't worry, lover, I think he's got
you beat on that one . . .'

Phaethon, with dignity, pretended not to hear."
------------

:-0

There are, I'll grant, occasionally fine passages
such as:

------------
p. 166
"Once she caught a trout with a spear she made (with
some prompting from her librarian's ring) practically
all by herself. She was clumsy with the hand-eye motions
needed, so she let her little ring take over her gross
and fine-motor functions during the hunt. The ring also
had to advise her how to scale the fish, which was a
tedious business, as the nanite paste she used to
remove the bones and scales had to be programmed
manually, and told which parts of the fish to convert,
and which to leave for her to eat. The palm stove
changed shape, gathered up the fish, and cooked it
for her without being asked.

Daphne munched on the spicy golden flakes of fish,
feeling like a cavegirl at the dawn of time."
------------

[though this one might well have come out of an Iain Banks
_Culture_ novel.]

;->

But these are just swamped by gas-bubbles like:

------------
p. 213
"'Do not speak nonsense, sir! Tell me if you are an
independent self-aware entity, so that I can deduce
whether or not destroying you would be murder.'"
------------

I gather the Silent Oecumene self-destructed because
they read too much J. G. Ballard and not enough
Ayn Rand (that, and because energy became too
cheap to support capitalist markets, technology
stagnated. Uh huh.)

Cherchez la femme! Vive la difference!
Ecrasez le feminisme! Upload Ozzie
& Harriet! Blondie & Dagwood forever!
Make Room for Daddy! To the moon,
Alice!

------------
p. 198
"'Do one of those things you are always doing to our
systems at home whenever you are ignoring
Rhadamanthus [the house AI] and don't want to hear
why what you are doing is going to make things worse.'

He blinked. 'Like when?'

'What about the time you collapsed the east wing of
the mansion, when we were staying in New Paris?
Or what about the time you were trying to re-thread all
the impellers in our confluence register, because you
thought it would get more tension out of the drive?
All you did was capsize us into the lava.'

'I cannot believe you would bring that up again!
That was caused by a flux in the current around us:
and even Boreus [sic Probably 'Boreas' was
intended: there are too many copyediting mistakes
in these books] Sophotech said later that that was
an unexpected consequence of chaotic flows in
the magnetic core! And I'm sorry about the wing
collapsing, but I thought we could save power by
running it through a nonlinear interrupt.'

Daphne rolled her eyes and looked at the ceiling.
'Men! You are so touchy. All I'm saying is, how did
you right the mole boat again? How did you
erect the mansion-fields? Just hit the damn reset
button. Null everything back to the default.'

Phaethon frowned. 'That seems too easy. But there
is no reason why that should not work . . .'

'And besides, you were monkeying around with the
east wing to show off, not because we needed to
save any energy, and you know it.'

'Fine! I cannot believe we are going through this old
argument, when you might actually be a horrible
puppet controlled by the Silent Ones.'

'What a terrible thing to say about a person!'

He shook his finger at her. 'I'm telling you, if this
turns out to be a Silent One trick, and if you killed
that sweet Daphne-doll -- the image of the woman
I love -- I'll destroy your whole damn civilization
with no more hesitation that if I were wiping out
a nest of cockroaches! You tell that to your
masters! I was born to burn worlds!'

'Don't be silly, dear, you sound like a caveman.
But I appreciate the sentiment; not every girl
gets a maniac to slaughter people indiscriminately
for her. So do you really think I'm sweet?'

'It's not funny. Well, perhaps it is a trifle funny, but
it's really not entirely funny.' He threw off the
housecoat and stepped back over to his armor."
------------

My sentiments exactly! ;->

Oh, boy!

The Nathaniel Branden Institute will never
die:

------------
p. 107
"'Ladies and gentlemen, neutraloids, bimorphs,
hermaphrodites, gynomorphs, and paragenders.
Your lack of immortality does not excuse you from
the duty of living well what few decades or centuries
you have left to you. Accordingly, I hope to introduce
some of the discipline of the Silver-Grey into this
little community. Naturally, participation will be
voluntary. But those who do participate will be
granted special price reductions, bargains, and
rebates on a wide variety of thought-shop
effectuators.

'Self-delusion will be sharply discouraged, as will
intoxication, rage dreams, and out-of-context
pleasure stimulants. This shop will not help you
alter or abolish your self-identity, but will provide
every routine at my disposal to allow you to
improve your self-love, self-discipline, and self-
esteem. Educational and philosophical programs
will be made available at low rentals, as will
transitional addictives leading to nonaddictives,
to help you cure yourself of psychiatric zero-sum
cycles. All gambling outlets will be shut down to
encourage you to save and invest. Let me
describe some of the Silver-Grey disciplines and
their benefits. . .'

. . .

'There are rich amounts of thought-work the non-
controlled market will bear, as well as entire areas
of limited-creative patterning and editorial functions
for which there is always a need. . . Why can't you
own your own businesses, gather your own thought-
shops, invest your own capital?

'This is some of the easiest training to acquire; all
of it is in the public domain, and such training fits
every standard jack and neuroform. It is true that the
Sophotechs can perform any of these operations
more swiftly and more efficiently than can we.
But it is also true that they cannot do everything at
once, at every place at once, as cheaply as everyone
wishes. There is always someone somewhere who
wants some further things done, some further work
accomplished. There is always someone willing to
pay much less for work moderately less well done.
Why can't we be the ones to find and do that work?"
------------

I had said earlier, about a recollection of Anderson's
_Harvest of Stars_ series,

> [There] were two radically dissimilar species of
> artificial governing Minds -- the machine-based AI
> of Earth (the "Teramind"), and the biologically-based
> artificial mind out there (the "Life Mother"). . .
>
> Anyway, Wright's take on this theme doesn't
> involve machines vs. biologicals

Maybe I spoke too soon:

------------
p. 74
"'We are Old-Woman-of-the-Sea. . .
[W]e are as wide as the sea. Part of us are in
the kelp, the coral, and the dust of the seabed, measuring,
moving, releasing heat, storing it. Part of us is
woven into the thoughts of fish and sea-beast,
moving from brain to brain with the swiftness of a
radio flash, or slowly, over centuries, thoughts
encoded into chemicals drifting in the sea tides.
After centuries or seconds, our thoughts come
together again in new forms, drops that rise as dew
above the gentle tropics, or move through storms
that ring the arctic.

'We breathe to calm the hurricanes; we blush to
stir the trade winds into life. We sway the Gulf Streams,
we thrust the currents and the counter-current of the
tide as if they were limbs a hundred miles wide,
and yet we count each plankton cell which feeds
your world's air. Predator and prey move through
us like corpuscles of arteries and veins, governed
by the stirring of a mighty heart. Parts of us are
older than any other living being, older than all
other Cerebellines, older than all Compositions
save one. . .'

Phaethon knew the Old-Woman-of-the-Sea was a
unique entity, both a Cerebelline and a Composition,
a group-mind made of many scattered partial
and global minds. There was none other like her;
this particular combination of neuroform and mental
architecture was deemed too wild and strange by
the consensus of psychiatric conformulators of
the Golden Oecumene. . .

'Your world of solid land is ruled by the Earthmind,
my sister and my enemy. She is a creature of pure
logic, structure, and inanimate geometry of lifeless
intellect. I am a creature of life, or passion and
sorrow, of flux and chaos and ever-changing shapes.
Her rules prevent her from doing what is right; her
laws enforce safety and stop life. She seeks to
help you but cannot. I seek not to help you, but
I will."
------------

So maybe Phaethon is the Gaia Messiah after all.
(I was kind of sad to see Roddy, the bacterial AI in
Greg Bear's _Slant_, disinfected to death by the
allies of Jill, the goody-goody computer AI. ;-> ).

There's a long-winded AI peroration that's a summary
of the last chapter or so of Stapledon's _Star Maker_.
Hm. I'd be curious to hear Wright's take on this
now. If he's a Christian, then I suppose he must
now believe in an eternal God and an eternal supernature
that provides an escape from entropy for the souls
of men (and AIs?).

------------
p. 155
"Daphne looked back and forth between them. . .
'You mentioned the ultimate purpose of Sophotechnology.
Is that that self-worshipping super-god-thing you
guys are always talking about? . . .

Rhadamanthus: 'Entropy cannot be reversed. Within
the useful energy-life of the macrocosmic universe,
there is at least one maximum state of efficient operations
or entities that could be created, able to manipulate
all meaningful objects of thoughts and perception
within the limits of efficient cost-benefit expenditures.'

Eveningstar: 'Such an entity would embrace all-in-all,
and all things would participate within that Unity to the
degree of their understanding and consent. The Unity
itself would think slow, grave, vast thought, light-years
wide, from Galactic mind to Galactic mind. Full
understanding of that greater Self (once all matter,
animate and inanimate, were part of its law and structure)
would embrace as much of the universe as the
restrictions of uncertainty and entropy permit.'

'This Universal Mind, of necessity, would be finite, and
be boundaried in time by the end-state of the universe,'
said Rhadamanthus.

'Such a Universal Mind would create joys for which we as
yet have neither word nor concept, and would draw into
harmony all those lesser beings, Earthminds, Starminds,
Galactic and Supergalactic, who may freely assent to
participate.'

Rhadamanthus said, 'We intend to be a part of that
Mind. Evil acts and evil thoughts done by us now would
poison the Universal Mind before it was born, or render
us unfit to join.'

Eveningstar said, 'It will be a Mind of the Cosmic Night.
Over ninety-nine percent of its existence will extend through
the period of universal evolution that takes place after
the extinction of all stars. The Universal Mind will be
embodied in and powered by the disintegration of dark
matter, Hawking radiations from singularity decay,
and gravitic tidal disturbances caused by the slowing
of the expansion of the universe. After final proton
decay has reduced all baryonic particles to below
threshold limits, the Universal Mind can exist only on
the consumption of stored energies, which, in effect, will
require the sacrifice of some parts of itself to other parts.
Such an entity will primarily be concerned with the
question of how to die with stoic grace, cherishing,
even while it dies, the finite universe and finite time
available.'

'Consequently, it would not forgive the use of force or
strength merely to preserve life. Mere life, life at any cost,
cannot be its highest value. As we expect to be a part
of this higher being, perhaps a core part, we must share
that higher value. You must realize what is at stake
here: If the Universal Mind consists of entities willing
to use force against innocents in order to survive, then
the last period of the universe, which embraces the
vast majority of universal time, will be a period of
cannibalistic and unimaginable war, rather than a
time of gentle contemplation filled, despite all melancholy,
with unregretful joy. No entity willing to initiate the use
of force against another can be permitted to join or
to influence the Universal Mind or the lesser entities,
such as the Earthmind, who may one day form the
core constituencies.'

Eveningstar smiled. 'You, of course, will be invited.
You will all be invited.'

**You will all be invited.** There was something eerie
in the way she said it."
------------

;->

"'We don't want you around as pets or partials or robots,
but as men,' said Rhadamanthus.' "Men" broadly defined,
including future forms you might not regard as human,
but Man nevertheless.'" (p. 155)

This is a very Lewisian remark; cf. Screwtape to Wormwood:

"To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the
absorption of its will into ours, the increase
of our own area of selfhood at its expense.

But the obedience the Enemy demands of men is
quite a different thing.... He really does
want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome
little replicas of Himself -- creatures whose life,
on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively
like His own, not because He has absorbed them
but because their wills freely conform to His.

We want cattle who can finally become food;
He wants servants who can finally become sons.
We want to suck in, He wants to give out.
We are empty and would be filled; He is full
and flows over. Our war aim is a world in
which Our Father Below has drawn all other
beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world
full of beings united to Him but still distinct."

Two down, one more to go.

Anonymous said...

Wall of text. Do not want.

jfehlinger said...

> Wall of text. Do not want.

If you don't want it, don't read it.
We've been through this before.

Queen Maxine said...

I have always said that superlative technocentric aspirations connect to sub(cult)ural technocentric politics. I also repeatedly disapprove of the confusion of moralizing for politics...

Yes, Textboy Slim, you do have a tendency to loop your funkiest samples over and over again.

(I set myself a-laughing just now with what I thought was a wonderfully clever coinage to cover 'someone who writes the same thing over and over again', but google reveals 'homotextual' has already been coined and has at least one salacious meaning, and I'm working on my manners...)

Moving along, there may be more to your incessant repetition than meets the eye. In fact, an attentive observer might speculate that your writing here has (d?)evolved into a fairly textbook case of google-washing your online identity.

Since my original point was, in fact, about identity and its relation to the content of belief, this is a coincidentally-apt launching-point.

You claimed:

The "content" is the identity...

Have you ever felt that you were being tarred by the brush of transhumanism?

In reading through the archives here, I distinctly recall a point at which you started expressing frustration with the way your name was becoming increasingly associated with transhumanism. I lost count of the number of times I read "I'm not a transhumanist, but I play one on google, it seems."

So, Dale, were you at one point a transhumanist? Did you once partake of the True Faith? Could it be that you were once a Weird, Flailing, Hyperbolic, Foaming-At-The-Mouth, Ayn Raelian Robot Cultist?

Of course not. You never fell for that. Even from the first few months you started blogging (which is about as far back as my knowledge of your opinions on transhumanism go) you were writing posts critical of transhumanism.

But still, despite your criticism, you eventually came to notice that google had linked you with this most unfortunate ideology. In point of simple fact, you had been given an undesirable, unwelcome identity, an identity that didn't match up with the content of your technoscientifically-literate progressive beliefs. And who beyond you really knows if this was in fact the very thing that caused you to start blogging in the first place?

So, you can understand my disorientation when you insist that the content of belief and the identity are one-in-the-same. At least in your case, they weren't, and aren't.

And to the broader point, then, we go. Google is to Dale as Dale is to the transhumanists. In google-washing your own identity to rid yourself of the transhumanist taint, you tar a non-trivial number of (presumably well-meaning, if imaginative) real people with an identity in large part of your own creation, an identity which need not have any real relation to the content of their individual beliefs.

For example, one must have a particularly flexible understanding of 'cultism' to see transhumanism as a cult. In fact, said understanding would have to be capable of such contortions that -- shock! awe! -- it might include even a snarky group of ex-transhumanist Mundists, a group which seems to include some of your favorite commenters jfehlinger, AnneC, De Thezier, Robin, and a couple more I forget. (But certainly not you, Dael!)

Of course you will deny that the identity you lambaste is of your own creation, it's only to be expected. But your rhetoric is focused on an archetype, an undead re-animation sewn together from the parts of real peoples' bodies and let loose for your own Chaotic Evil, Necromantic enjoyment.

And I don't expect you to agree, but boring, white, male fantasy RPG references can be fun and that's how the picture is emerging to me (in part). .

But maybe I'm just an Evil Transhumanist and I have to say that. (Hey, at least I'm Lawful).

I never fail to be amused by know-nothings who crow about how silly "postmodernism" is without reading "it" or making any effort to grasp "it" on its actual terms, then going on to poke fun at the people they attribute these fantastic beliefs to for failing to live up to their caricatures.

Are you suggesting perhaps that your Authorial Intent simply hovers in the Elsewhere as an Eternal Platonic Form waiting to be Properly Read?

What Maxine is freaking out about here as my "name-calling" is, interestingly enough, the fact that she won't actually say who she is. In other words, the "name calling" consists of my pointing out that she won't say who she is by name, although she endlessly snipes unseen at my positions from the cheap seats.

All of the seats are free. Though don't think I haven't noticed how grudgingly you make said seats available. One of your more recent posts goes on at length about how you would like
nothing more than to stifle your critics. The post ends, after so much angst, with your reluctant admission that slamming the door would actually spawn more critics under different names and more criticism.

And that would hurt more than slamming the door on your own (presumably monstrous) p2penis.

It would certainly be amusing to discover that she is some high-profile muckety-muck in one of the Robot Cult organizations she defends so superciliously without ever taking the risk of being held accountable in any way for her jibes and japes, but who's to say.

This kind of speculation is actually quite infectious. For a second there -- a brief second -- I was literally wondering myself who I might be.

Marc_Geddes said...

Well, Dale, I for one am prepared to name names.

The biggest crack-pot in the history of transhumanism is beyond a doubt: Eliezer Yudkowsky.

I blame everything on him.

Queen Maxine said...

Starved for attention, much?

A development that would really narfle the garthok 'round here -- as I descend into a moment of pure fantasy -- is if I turned out to be your own dissociative identity.

Perhaps I am the purest crystalline expression of your libertine daydream, p2peeking at the world from behind a spontaneous pseudonym.

Though I am quite sure I am not, I am quite sure I can't really be quite sure at all.

For the record, such as it is, I am not Dale Carrico.

Queen Maxine said...

I wrote:

...a snarky group of ex-transhumanist Mundists, a group which seems to include some of your favorite commenters jfehlinger, AnneC, De Thezier, Robin, and a couple more I forget...

Silly me, how could I forget marc_geddes?

AnneC said...

Meh.

Frankly I don't care if people want to call me a transhumanist, so long as they don't insist that that makes me obligated to support X or Y organization, or that it makes me somehow beholden to expressing public support for transhumanism (or "outrage" at its critics). I've certainly been called much worse.

I have better things to do than worry endlessly over whether or not I've been "tainted". Really.

I mean, I've already been tagged "Anne Corwin, Trans-humanist" on international TV. You can't exactly take something like that back -- but I wouldn't want to even if I could, as it does represent a point on whatever this path is that I'm following in trying to figure out life (and how to make the best of it).

Yes, I'd be upset if "transhumanist" actually became officially synonymous with "evil fiend who steps on kittens for pleasure" or something similarly nasty, and if people insisted that because I'd had dealings with the t-word in the past that I must be a kitten-stomper despite all evidence the the contrary.

But this seems unlikely.

What I see as the "worst" connotations of transhumanism right now (i.e., "eugenicist") so clearly and obviously do not apply to me that anyone who tried to accuse me of such based on my prior associations with the label would just look incredibly stupid. So basically, I'm not worried.

Frankly my "strategy" at this point is to just write about whatever stuff seems interesting or important to me (which includes everything from autism to longevity to robot art to ethics to science fiction), and let the chips fall where they may.

Dale Carrico said...

Maxine is very brave for an anonymous coward, isn't he?

And what's with this "Mundist" bs? Transhumanists have literal membership organizations filled with people who blah blah about "we transhumanists" this, "we transhumanists" that, "the movement," "the philosophy," on and on and on... there is no Amor Mundi organization, jackhole. Is there any point at which actual reality penetrates the mile high bullshit Robot Cultists peddle? Honestly! Own your lovely cult, pay for your choices since you live them so much, don't project your crapola onto those of us who see through you.

And by the way, keep trolling like you are and I'll delete your comments from my blog without a moment's hesitation. I don't owe you Robot Cultists a free platform, and I'm tired of you pooping in my living room without an invitation and thinking it's cute.

I'm happy to post material that disagrees with mine if it provokes me to clarity, even if it makes me angry, but I'm not here to facilitate your cult or take your crap.

And I'm definitely not going to tolerate your attribution of cultishness to the few nice smart people who actually enjoy reading my blog and contribute to the conversation here on its own terms and make this blog a real value in my life. Fuck you, you asshole, for trying to take that from me.

From now on, responding to posts takes three forms -- I respond to content, I ignore content, or I delete your content. Say all you want on your own blog but behave yourself here. Only the posts that pass muster on my terms get to stay published under the auspices of my blog.

Don't like it? Fly. It's not like anybody will miss you.

John Howard said...

AnneC, are you pro-ban or anti-ban? The ban banning, of course, germline genetic engineering, as in, creating people that are not the union of two progenitor's actual unmodified gametes. I think anyone that thinks that it's fine to allow labs to someday start offering to modify or tweak people's genes so that their children are different from the way they would be if they conceived by sexual intercourse is certainly a eugenicist, and by the wiki definition, a transhumanist as well. I don't think eugenicism requires favoring racism or state coercion and sterilization, nor does transhumanism require believing in immortality or AI or mind-uploads.

There is such a clear line between joining people's actual gametes and every other way that a genome might be created, and crossing that line is so clearly the essential demand and dream of eugenicists and transhumanists, that putting the definition of those words somewhere beyond that line is just an attempt to sneak across the line. It's underhanded, and I'm onto you. The extremists don't make GE mainstream just because they are so ridiculously extreme.

I think it was Greg Egan who said most people just want to have their 2.5 kids and maybe make sure they are free of Cystic Fibrosis, but it should be noted that PGD can screen out CF embryos, so that line isn't crossed.

John Howard said...

I guess that PGD stuff is eugenics, and transhumanist longevity research and cyborg stuff is possible for people born from two people's actual gametes, so the ban won't ban eugenics or transhumanism. So that line isn't exactly the same line, but it's the right place for it, since there's no way to stop and nothing wrong with longevity research or prostestics, and there's no way to stop people from making racist or eugenic decisions regarding who to conceive with (though we should ban donor gametes also, after the GE ban).

Anonymous said...

There is such a clear line between joining people's actual gametes

Illegally creating two embryos/fetuses to create lots of gametes in a very short time, and then joining them? Sure, it's still illegal, but it won't be punished as much as just modifying all the gametes.

peco

Anonymous said...

he

Isn't the person's real name Maxine?


The biggest crack-pot in the history of transhumanism is beyond a doubt: Eliezer Yudkowsky.


I don't think a person is a crackpot unless they aren't notable for much non-crackpot stuff (if, say, Stephen Hawking started saying crackpot stuff, but kept saying non-crackpot stuff, it wouldn't make him a crackpot, just a person who says crackpt stuff). He blogs on Overcoming Bias (which is about as notable as what he does), which is not a crackpot thing. (Or if it is, nobody has said this yet.)

peco

AnneC said...

John Howard asked: AnneC, are you pro-ban or anti-ban? The ban banning, of course, germline genetic engineering, as in, creating people that are not the union of two progenitor's actual unmodified gametes.

I'm anti-ban, though I would appreciate it if you wouldn't draw all kinds of ridiculous conclusions about what I actually think based on that stance.

The bottom line is that I simply don't agree with your theoretical causal chain that tries to link GE with unwarranted waste and the devaluation of "regular" people. I do think waste and devaluation are problematic, but the roots of those problems are attitudinal, NOT "technological".

Trying to address prejudice and solve political/cultural problems through banning the existence of particular technologies is just as silly and misguided as figuring that all social/political problems can somehow be solved by creating particular technologies. Things do not work that way in the real world, and trying to frame things that way is extremely problematic -- hence, the motivation to offer coherent critiques of superlativity.

It's all well and good to debate how certain techologies MIGHT be used given present-day cultural forces, but it's quite another to insist that those technologies WILL be used in either an apocalyptic or transcendentalizing manner. Insisting on putting things in such extreme terms ends up creating a discourse dominated by fearmongering and hypemongering -- not exactly the most productive and inclusive means of dealing with the very real anxieties, challenges, and opportunities posed by new and emerging technologies combined with actual contemporary cultural forces.

On a more personal note, I am actually extremely concerned about the widespread devaluation of people considered "suboptimal". It bugs me to no end that at least some self-described transhumanists claim to be champions of diversity but at the same time make dumb arguments like, "Well, you know, if there's a type of person that tends to be discriminated against, the benevolent thing to do is not bring people like that into existence, or change them 'for their own good' if they already exist".

The fact that some folks wish to address the "suffering" borne of prejudice through pandering to the xenophobia of bigots (and the greed of those who think "society" only includes people who can blend in easily with the status quo, while everyone else is some kind of "interloper") bothers me a lot.

But: I do not think for a moment that the way to address the above problem(s) is to "ban genetic engineering". It's just as stupid to suppose that you can fix prejudice and devaluation through technology bans as it is to suppose that you can fix prejudice and devaluation through technology promotion. Social justice can be facilitated by gadgets, certainly, and gadgets can also be used as tools in the perpetuation of injustice, but it really comes down to people, their attitudes, and their decisions in the long run.

Moreover, I don't share your view that gametes somehow "choose" to combine and make babies of their own accord. I'm actually curious to know what your thoughts are on the use of contraceptives given that view of yours -- are you okay with people using birth control, or do you believe that to be some kind of "interference" to the will of the gametes that might otherwise combine?

(If you think contraception should be banned, then it will be evident that all your expressed concerns about the "carbon footprint" of GE research and "non-natural" babymaking are pure BS.)

Damien Sullivan said...

I note that while Egan is skeptical of the transhumanist label and those who claim it, (and Michael A. shows up to say things that I, a self-styled transhumanist, criticize as silly in their certainty, or even just silly), he goes on to explicitly defend the content. Not just the throwaway comment earlier about not using the same substrate in 3000, but reacting against Robin's "I consider anyone who believes uploading is possible to be a crackpot", and endorsing the Strong AI hypothesis. Nothing about timing, of course.

As for preferring Egan to Wright, well, I haven't read Wright's fiction. I've heard about the Golden Age books, and what I heard wasn't tantalizing. Stuff about Objectivism and AIs which crash due to Star Trek logic problems. Whereas with Egan I can taste the science. Or the wacked out fringe quantum/math extrapolation "science", but either way the ideas are interesting and often plausible.

John Howard said...

Trying to address prejudice and solve political/cultural problems through banning the existence of particular technologies is just as silly and misguided as figuring that all social/political problems can somehow be solved by creating particular technologies.

I think you're overstating my contention, I don't think banning it will suddenly fix "all problems", but that we won't be able to begin to really address important problems while GE looms over us or is forced on us, as it directly causes malaise and attitudinal problems. And banning it is necessary in order to address those problems. Banning it would re-orient ourselves, not back to the past, but to a post-transhuman future. Or as McKibben puts it, saying "Enough" will force us to look to ourselves to solve these problems, not be stuck in this 50-year old depression caused by thinking genes control us and technology and scientists will control genes.

it's quite another to insist that those technologies WILL be used in either an apocalyptic or transcendentalizing manner.

I don't, do I? I think I say that we will continue to be stuck in this status quo and just waste resources unless we ban it.

Moreover, I don't share your view that gametes somehow "choose" to combine and make babies of their own accord. I'm actually curious to know what your thoughts are on the use of contraceptives given that view of yours -- are you okay with people using birth control, or do you believe that to be some kind of "interference" to the will of the gametes that might otherwise combine?

Well, I'm not saying they make a date the day before, or that they make anxious plans in the testicles like Woody Allen in Everything You Always To Know About Sex, I'm talking about the fact that whether or not a zygote is created is not in any person's control. Even BC can't totally thwart "the will" of gametes are determined to come together anyway, as countless people have found out. It's just a way of thinking about where we all come from, putting the responsibility for our existence on ourselves rather than on people that created the circumstances in which our decision was made. But attempting to push us around, to trick us into making a decision that is really someone else's intention, is an offense against our self-determination and responsibility that effects our attitudes throughout life, even if we ourselves happen to know we were an accident. (And I don't think contraception should be banned. And the point about the carbon foot print of GE isn't just that it woudl create people, but that all the work and energy to research, test, and then actually do for every couple that wants it would have a huge carbon footprint.)

Nick Tarleton said...

If GE is banned, people will spend their money on something else that also produces CO2.

People being depressed sure doesn't seem like a legitimate reason to ban something.

Queen Maxine said...

Fuck you, you asshole, for trying to take that from me.

Is this supposed to be your Ph.D.- educated response to an otherwise serious criticism?

Let me sum it up:

1. Your continuous (admitted) repetition of the same basic message smacks of google-washing;
2. One of these messages, that of transhumanist 'cultism' is disingenuous in its intent;
3. Applying the term 'cultism' so loosely opens you and anyone who agrees with you to similar charges;
4. Your activities are designed to tar real people as they wash yourself.

These are serious charges to be leveled against a purported scholar. Feel free to ignore them, aye, even delete them.

But misdirection is not a response.

jfehlinger said...

smartypants, a.k.a. Queen Maxine, wrote:

> These are serious charges to be leveled against a purported scholar.

CROMWELL: These charges. . .

SIR THOMAS MORE: . . .are terrors for children, Master Secretary,
not for me!

> Your continuous (admitted) repetition of the same basic message. . .

So Dale's been busy churning out "filler", has he?
I'm sure he thanks you for that characterization of his writing!

> . . .smacks of google-washing. . . . Your activities are designed
> to tar real people as they wash yourself.

"google-washing" huh? Hadn't heard this term before. I guess it
means diluting the "image" of an earlier Web footprint by
(deliberately) swamping it with material aimed to produce a different
(or contrary) impression. Like somebody attempting to run
for office on a moderate platform attempting to overcome an
earlier association with the KKK or Holocaust deniers.

So presumably Dale is trying to impress somebody -- possible employers
in pomo academic departments, presumably.

And I guess there's a further suggestion that Dale doesn't really
**believe** all the mean stuff he's saying about the >Hists.

Well, maybe. Seems like a stretch. Doesn't "smell" at all plausible to
me, either, which is all I care about.

As far as being "designed" to "tar real people" -- yeah, well
public criticism "tars" people -- dilutes their credibility,
deprives them of power. There's a moral angle to this only
if "designed" means -- as you're suggesting -- that Dale's
opinions are dishonest, that he doesn't really believe them,
that they're window-dressing with no more purpose than to create
a favorable impression with folks he's courting for his own ends.
If Dale is a liar, in other words. And if, therefore, we poor
benighted "Mundists" have been taken in by all this duplicitous
posturing. Ehh. . . I think I'll watch Kevin Costner in _JFK_
instead.

> One of these messages, that of transhumanist 'cultism' is
> disingenuous in its intent; . . . Applying the term 'cultism' so
> loosely opens you and anyone who agrees with you to similar charges. . .

Ah, you're weak here. The cultism is there, I'm afraid. Not
that one would expect a Scientologist, or an Objectivist (or a
Transhumanist) to do anything but vehemently deny any similarities
to recognizably cultic patterns while still emotionally invested in the movement.
No, that recognition has to come from somebody outside (or from
somebody who was once inside who has learned better).

Ten years ago, I sent a link to Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Staring into
the Singularity" to a co-worker -- an educated woman, a computer
programmer, a _Star Trek_ fan, and somebody interested in science
and technology (and sci-fi). Her response (and not directly to me --
I found out through a mutual acquaintance) was: "What the hell
is this, some kind of Scientology front?" At the time, I couldn't
imagine what had caused her to make that association. **Now**,
I certainly appreciate her insight.

No, when somebody whose imagination is so thoroughly soaked in
>Hist tropes as Greg Egan (who has nevertheless managed to
maintain the boundary between reality and fantasy) says
that to "first order, anybody who self-identifies as a Transhumanist
is a crackpot" then I think a more mature response might be
a bit of self-examination. Certainly not a retort like "Well,
I always liked John C. Wright better anyway."!

Dale Carrico said...

Don't feed the troll, Jim. Smartypants/Maxine is just flinging poop on the walls, he doesn't deserve one of your careful or elegant or allusive rebuttals as far as I'm concerned; his ninny-ninny boo-boo posts are precisely the kinds that I'm going to delete now that I've reconciled myself to becoming a hard-hearted censorious despot, I think. He can rail at me bravely anonymously and histrionically from his own blog if he likes.

jfehlinger said...

> Their last post. . .

"Their"? Who are we dealing with here, Duo Damsel?
(or perhaps Triplicate Girl?)

Anonymous said...

Jim:

"Ten years ago, I sent a link to Eliezer Yudkowsky's 'Staring into
the Singularity' to a co-worker..."

What also needs to be mentioned when talking about what Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote 10 years ago is that he was 18 or 19 at that time. This is not unimportant, I think.

FrF

Marc_Geddes said...

Age is no excuse for crack-pottery.

We need a scape-goat, someone to dump all the problems of transhumanism on, someone who sticks their neck out and is suitably ridiculous.

What about Michael Anissimov then? Can we just blame him for it all?

Dale Carrico said...

someone who sticks their neck out and is suitably ridiculous

uh, Marc...?

Robin said...

Damn, I've been slandered in my absence!

Someone wrote:
it might include even a snarky group of ex-transhumanist Mundists, a group which seems to include some of your favorite commenters jfehlinger, AnneC, De Thezier, Robin, and a couple more I forget.

It's sort of cool to be an ex-something without having to pass through the pesky stage of being the something first! I've never been a transhumanist - I'm just someone who works in AI and who loves her some science fiction, but has never confused the one for the other. I keep company with people who chat about either and both of those though, so I can see the obvious confusion to someone who sees no distinction.

AnneC said...

Robin said:
It's sort of cool to be an ex-something without having to pass through the pesky stage of being the something first!

Indeed! That's a nifty super-power you've got there. :)

Queen Maxine said...

Robin wrote:

I've never been a transhumanist - I'm just someone who works in AI and who loves her some science fiction, but has never confused the one for the other.

Well, google seems to disagree. I have no idea who you are, but it certainly appeared that a certain Robin Zebrowski moved in transhumanist circles at one time. At the very least you were a celebrant at a transhumanist cult vigil in 2004.

I feel your pain, though. I'm also not a transhumanist, but that doesn't keep Dale from calling me a Robot Cultist, does it? The content of your belief can be quite different from your public identity.

Dale Carrico said...

Let every mainstream academic be on notice -- to attend a conference connected with so-called transhumanists is to risk attribution to one of membership in their cult. Not that I haven't long suspected as much, but it's good to see it out there in black and white, as it were. That should help the Robot Cultists in their stealth outreach and legitimation PR efforts enormously.

As for you, Maxine Smartypants, who can say who or what you are, forever smugly throwing darts anonymously from the sidelines, as you do? Troll, I dub ye.

AnneC said...

It's weird how "Internet culture" seems to have the capacity to turn even the lives of non-celebrities into something like tabloid collages. I really have to wonder what it's going to be like for all those people who started public blogs at age 14 or something -- are people going to be tracking down their opinions from way-back-then when they're 30 or 40 and judging them on the basis of their adolescent opinions and/or associations?

Methinks eventually there's just going to be too much data to sort through in that regard, which will mean -- gasp -- people actually have to get to know other people and look at what they say/write in the context of their lives-right-now as opposed to just being able to take Googly shortcuts to assessing a person's character.

At the risk of being called out as a troll-feeder (a risk I'm willing to take, as this is actually an interesting discussion point and one that I've been thinking about for a while now), I think I can sort of see what Maxine is getting at, regardless of why s/he might be doing so.

And...this point is that if you write a lot of snark about a particular group that happens to be very loosely defined in the first place (not to mention rife with internal disagreement over aims and ideology), then what you write COULD have some potential effect on the "public identity" of persons who might have gotten near that group without actually "joining" it, and of persons who might have joined the group naively and gotten their names associated with it even if they later dis-identified with it.

Personally I'm not too worried about this, and I accept it as a perfectly valid consequence of associating with anything. I also think everyone else should accept this consequence. I am not "owed" friends or even allies by the universe, nor is anyone obligated to hang out with me, publish my comments on their blog, or work with me on any project. If someone decides that I'm too "tainted" by past associations with the transhumanist subculture or anything else, then that's their prerogative.

I figure anyone really worth knowing or working with is going to be willing to look at the content of what I actually write/say, as well as how I've changed my mind about various things over time, as opposed to what groups I do or don't belong to. And I'd actually much rather have people speak their true impressions of something than pander to that something's preferred PR strategies (and yes, there's a difference between sincere, if acerbic, criticism and deliberate/ignorant attempts to discredit someone out of fear or plain old nastiness -- it would be nice to see more people becoming cognizant of this difference but I'm not counting my chickens yet, so to speak).

Queen Maxine said...

this point is that if you write a lot of snark about a particular group that happens to be very loosely defined in the first place (not to mention rife with internal disagreement over aims and ideology), then what you write COULD have some potential effect on the "public identity" of persons who might have gotten near that group without actually "joining" it, and of persons who might have joined the group naively and gotten their names associated with it even if they later dis-identified with it.

Transhumanism is not a cult and you'll probably never need to give another thought to this the embarrassing skeleton in your closet, but one never knows. The more successful Dale is at pinning the label -- 'cultifying' -- transhumanism, the more you become a former High Priestess. The brush he's painting with is broad and does not distinguish between friend or foe.

But, like I said, if transhumanism was or showed signs of turning into a cult, you would have more to be concerned about. However, I'm just a troll. Ask jfehlinger just how much you have to worry about.

Robin said...

Cool, I guess all those bioconservatives that spoke at the IEET's Human Enhancement and Human Rights conference at Stanford last year or the year before are transhumanists, too.

Some of them are gonna be pissed!

Dale Carrico said...

There are two different things one can be by calling someone "transhumanist":

[1] One could mean to designate a rather undercritically technophilic attitude that deranges sensible technodevelopmental deliberation and feeds corporatist and neoliberal rhetoric by whomping up endless distracting hype and "naturalizing" anti-democratizing notions of innovation, competition, hyper-individualist self-responsibility, and consumerist self-satisfaction, conjoined to normalizing attitudes (usually connected to these very notions) toward optimal and suboptimal lifeways that play out with eugenic consequences in complex biomedical societies.

[2] One could mean to refer to the self-identified members of any of a number of archipelago organizations of techno-utopian organizations or discursive/sub(cult)ural spaces that depend on these organizations while feeding them, members who regularly explicitly identify as such, who imagine themselves to belong to a unique subculture and/or political movement that will sweep the world and implement a vision of "the future."

Transhumanists in group [2] are also, for the most part, providing a rather intense exemple of the more generally attributable under-critical utopianism of group [1], which confuses matters somewhat. I introduced the term "Superlative" precisely to clarify such relations. Sub(cult)ural "transhumanists," so self-identified are subsumed under superlativity together with other kinds of technocentric discourses, and one can distinguish different kinds of superlative discourse and get a better handle on such of the sub(cult)ural currents within the organizational life of transhumanist-identification, too, if one cares to do so.

Notice that the term "bioconservative" is attributable in the sense of [1] but not as easily in the sense of [2], since I know of few people whose ideas seem to me to be sensibly subsumable under the notion of "bioconservative" who would actually affirm the term as a personal identity, and I don't think there are really any bioconservative movement organizations. Most bioconservatives seem to be social conservatives or to be indulging in a rather confused anti-modernism that throws the civilizational baby out with the corporatist/toxic bathwater and throws in with reactionaries while still hoping to be mistaken for progressive.

What's tricky is that bioconseervative folks seem quite eager to tar those who are not comparably sweeping in their denuncuations of technoscientific progress with the brush of transhumanism in the Robot Cult sense of [2] to distract attention from their incoherence and the transhumanists themselves (the ones so identified in the sense of [2]) are very eager to abet the bioconservatives in this misattribution.

As I've pointed out regularly, both bioconservativism and transhumanism (in both senses) are discourses that seek to frame technodevelopmental social struggle in hyperbolic terms that are deeply inter-implicated, they feed on one another, always to the cost of complexity, proximity, reasonableness, and actual stakeholder contestation in the present.

I agree with you Anne that people are acquiring enormously rich and contradictory public traces that render it less easy to reduce anyone to singular positions to their cost, and public attitudes toward such exposure and its costs to our dignity and reputations are quickly changing into a new common sense about what privacy is good for and consists of.

I still think calling Robin a transhumanist "celebrant" for giving a paper on embodied AI at a public conference in which one would find many people who were quite skeptical to ignorant about "transhumanism" (especially in its sub(cult)ural sense) is very curious indeed, especially coming from a person who has become one of the most frequent and vitriolic snipers at Amor Mundi where Robin posts comments that often support my own strong criticisms of transhumanist Robot Cultism.

If Maxine were an officer in one of the transhumanist organizations or a public figure in the sub(cult)ure I criticize, a person whose reputation and livelihood depends on these organizations achieving greater mainstream respectability in part by stealthily shunting aside their most extreme and cult-like characteristics, wouldn't his anonymous, immoderate, highly personal, and scarcely professional attacks acquire a different implication and interest?

I could care less who Maxine actually is -- it's clear he's a tool and hence of little interest -- but until I know better I will assume he is a troll and a provocateur in the service of his Robot Cult flinging anonymous poop at a critic of transhumanism and hoping something, anything, will stick. And that's how I read his latest among endlessly many other efforts. It's delightful that you were able to draw some actual substance and interesting conversation from Maxine's brickbat, and I thank you for that, but I know enough of the context to know that the substance is all from you, Anne, and none from him, so actual credit where credit's due, I say.

Dale Carrico said...

As you see, anonymous coward and Robot Cult shill Maxine triumphantly would blackmail those who see transhumanist cultism for what it is into the "corner" that those duped by cultists into legitimating their cult (for making the mistake of trying to engage with the cultists as serious conversational partners whatever their limitations) either are to be tarred as cultists themselves or must take the blade to the hilt and deny the palpable cultism at hand. Oh, but I'm not a transhumanist meself blushing bridelike Maxine blinks! Gecher own blog, Blanche, and sell it there.

Queen Maxine said...

I still think calling Robin a transhumanist "celebrant" for giving a paper on embodied AI at a public conference in which one would find many people who were quite skeptical to ignorant about "transhumanism" (especially in its sub(cult)ural sense) is very curious indeed

Either transhumanism is a cult and its 'meetings' are actually cult services, or it's not a cult and holds 'public conferences' on educational topics.

But why does the answer change depending on who's implicated?

When you and your friends are implicated, a transhumanist event is just a public conference. When your enemies are implicated, it's all evidence of cultism.

You have no credibility left on the issue of transhumanist cultism, in my view.

Your personal preferences and alliances seem to affect the way you spin this issue, and while many signs of dissembling are much more subtle, this -- I'm afraid -- is the most obvious one there is.

Dale Carrico said...

I'm shocked to discover that you find me not credible on the question whether your cult is a cult! Who knows what conclusions you'll draw from the fact that every anonymous snipe like this in the future gets deleted as a troll just like peco's idiocies do. Despotism is teh awesome!

Damien Sullivan said...

...the worldview here seems as rigid and self-importantly assertive as John Howard's. He defines transhumanism as human genetic engineering, Dale defines it as a Robot Cult at worst or "undercritical" and "anti-democratizing" at best. Dale's not as far off the mark -- there are Singularity types that "Robot Cultist" seems to fit -- but the obsession, and the insistence on tarring any transhumanist, is about as bizarre. You're not taking on the Church of Scientology, people, just some small groups nattering on the Internet.

Dale Carrico said...

The small Robot Cult groups nattering on the internet deserve exposure -- once upon a time Neoconservatives were comparably fringe, after all -- but as a reductio of the superlativity that prevails in many more mainstream neoliberal, technocratic, eugenic, and reductionist discourses transhumanism is a usefully clarifying target of critique as well.

The claim lodged at the heart of the reasonable things you say here, though, namely that there is something "bizarre" about tarring every self-identified transhumanist with the cultism of the bad cra-a-a-a-a-azy transhumanists seems absurd to me, however. One wonders why the good reasonable transhumanists -- whoever they're supposed to be -- are so pleased to identify through shared ascription with the cra-a-a-a-a-azy ones, after all.

One doesn't need to join a Robot Cult to advocate democratization of technodevelopmental social struggle nor champion consensual lifeway diversity. That even the "good" transhumanists do anyway is a problem for them, and a source of comedy gold for others.

jfehlinger said...

Queen Smartypants wrote:

> Either transhumanism is a cult and its 'meetings' are actually
> cult services, or it's not a cult and holds 'public conferences'
> on educational topics.

Gee, have you ever heard of "black and white thinking"?
This isn't a physics experiment we're talking about.

"Either A. Bearded Genius's 'Giga-Happiness for Billionaires'
program is a cult and its 'meetings' are actually cult services, or
it's not a cult and holds 'large-group awareness training
courses' on educational topics."

Who gets to say? Well, if Ticked Boss starts a Web site
revealing the unsavory cultic overtones of the Giga-Happiness
program (especially how A. Bearded and his sidekicks get off
on having the billionaire students call him 'Lord of the
Universe' and making the billionaires all formally kiss their asses as
they file into the lecture hall), and box-office sensation
Starlet O'Hara witholds her endorsement of the program as a
result of the negative publicity, then A. Bearded can sue Ticked
Boss for libel and interfering with his business and the
case might go all the way to the Supreme Court. So who **does**
get to say?

Is it to the public's benefit to have these things discussed
openly (as they **were not**, for decades, when Scientology
had so many authors and magazine editors running scared),
despite the costs and risks to particular individuals?
Yes, on balance, I'd say so.

> When you and your friends are implicated, a transhumanist event
> is just a public conference. When your enemies are implicated, it's
> all evidence of cultism.

Gee, Dale, let's organize a non-cultic 'transhumanist event'.
We can invite Anne Corwin and Robin Zebrowski too. What shall
we do? Eat pizza, and watch DVDs?

jfehlinger said...

Damien Sullivan wrote:

> [W]hile Egan is skeptical of the transhumanist label and
> those who claim it. . . he goes on to explicitly defend
> the content. . . [by] reacting against Robin's "I consider
> anyone who believes uploading is possible to be a crackpot",
> and endorsing the Strong AI hypothesis.

Well, if you consider Egan's remark "While there are thought experiments
in [Strong AI's] favour that I find persuasive, there is no actual
evidence either for it or against it -- and I'm not even sure what
would **comprise** evidence" an endorsement. It's certainly a
more qualified endorsement than the assumptions made by the more,
shall we say, "enthusiastic" worriers/hankers-after The Singularity.

I'm sure Robin can defend herself perfectly adequately here, but the
problem with the on-line >Hists vis-a-vis AI has always seemed to me,
since I figured out what was going on 8 years ago (and I am
**not** a credentialled AI scholar, as Ms. Zebrowski **is**, and
as the most vocal Transhumanists and Singularitarians, even the
self-styled "experts", are **not**) is that they cling to a
shockingly naive view of AI, inherited from a 1965 incarnation
of Marvin Minsky via the Objectivists, that most serious scholars
in the field (including Ms. Zebrowski) would simply laugh at.
And they shrilly defend this view as "rational" (in a manner
that most serious scholars of the mind would also laugh at).

> As for preferring Egan to Wright, well, I haven't read Wright's
> fiction. I've heard about the Golden Age books, and what I heard
> wasn't tantalizing. Stuff about Objectivism and AIs which crash due
> to Star Trek logic problems. Whereas with Egan I can taste the science.

OK, fine. You like Egan. I like Egan. Dale likes Egan.

The Golden Age books are indeed atrocious (but still worth reading
if you don't take them straight and just enjoy the camp),
though there was precious little mention of that fact, over on the
Extropians' list, when they came out. Some of the folks on that list
thought they were the greatest thing since, well, _Atlas Shrugged_ I suppose.
Perhaps it was all the "stuff about Objectivism". :-/

> Michael A. shows up to say things that I, a self-styled transhumanist,
> criticize as silly in their certainty, or even just silly. . .

And yet your voice gets drowned out in the drum-beating.
Mr. A. has been beating that drum (not for himself, he will
cheerfully tell you, but for his gurus) ever since he was the
publicity honcho for SIAI. Nobody criticizes Mr. A. for being
"silly" when the bad guys aren't around (i.e., when it's a cozy
forum of "just us Transhumanists").

> John Howard. . . defines transhumanism as human genetic engineering,
> Dale defines it as a Robot Cult. . . Dale's not as far off the mark --
> there are Singularity types that "Robot Cultist" seems to fit. . .

Yes, well, the Singularity types have been providing most of the juicy-juice
for the movement since the late 90's. Cryonics (and Objectivism I guess)
had sort of pooped out on their own, so along came AI as the deus-ex-machina
(and soon! soon! as the culmination of Moore's Law) to get everybody's
hard-on waving once again and provide a new platform for eternal youth
(and Dynamic Hair Management).

> the worldview here seems. . . rigid and self-importantly assertive. . .
> the obsession, and the insistence on tarring any transhumanist, is. . .
> bizarre.

And yet the spin-meistering lavished by certain >Hist "advocates"
on any whiff of criticism (e.g., the skeptical remarks made by blogger
John Bruce when he made the acquaintance of >Hism via Glenn Reynolds,
and whose resulting snark resulted in indignant letters from
Michael Anissimov and James Hughes) **isn't** an "obsession"?

The claims by the Singularitarians that only they know how to
"save the world" **aren't** "self-important"?

Damien Sullivan said...

And yet your voice gets drowned out in the drum-beating.

I don't think it got drowned out at all. Xuenay stepped in to defend Michael but otherwise people were going "man what".

The claims by the Singularitarians that only they know how to "save the world" **aren't** "self-important"?

They are. But Dale usually takes on "transhumanists", not "Singularitarians". As a transhumanist who's been skeptical of hard takeoff Singularity for years, if not from the beginning (weaseling because I don't remember what I thought as an 18 year old) I reject the terminological imperialism going on here. "transhumanist" to me always meant a positive interest in life extension and self-improvement technologies. Singularity was one part, one version, of that -- an attention getting version -- but never the only one.

Dale Carrico said...

Dale usually takes on "transhumanists", not "Singularitarians".

That's really not true -- I take on what I call technocentric Superlativity, under which, it is true, I subsume trasnhumanisms, singularitarianisms, corporate-militarist futurologies, "liberal" eugenicisms, and various other techno-utopianisms.

Depending on when you dip your toe into the water, it will sometimes seem that one particular variation of superlativity or other gets the brunt of my critical energies, but I don't think it's right to say that trasnhumanism is really my central concern.

This is a blog and the shape of the conversation is articulated in no small part by the objections and concerns raised by its conversational partners. In the larger context of my writing and teaching it is quite easy to see that my critique of superlativity and focus on technodevelopmental social struggle is scarcely reducible to lambasting transhumanists.

No small part of the problem here is the way that transhumanist-identified people themselves seem eagerly to assume the mantle of a "movement" and a general "we" when it suits them, and then to disdain any number of particular positions that get expressed by exemplars of the movement when it suits them as well, rising and descending to levels of generality, "technicality," inclusivity, exclusivity all incredibly opportunistically but hardly in a way that is compelling or even coherent to those of us who are not already sympathetic to their general take on things but observing the spectacle critically.

To be blunt, transhumanism doesn't have enough of a history, a wide enough membership, nor an archive of adequate accomplishments to demand respect in the face of these shenanigans. It isn't "terminological imperialism" to demand you guys put your money where your mouth is. I just try to make sense of what you are saying and connect what you are doing to its larger contexts in a critical way, and you freak out nine ways till Sunday.

A marginal movement with a hundred members and a hundred "versions" (yes, I exaggerate a tad to make a point) is an incoherent mess, and it is plain to see that all these deep "variations" are no barrier to general identification once the critics turn their heads again and the "movement" flies its freak flag in the club house (I speak as someone with more than one freak flag to fly of his own, so don't mistake the actual target of my criticism here).

Transhumanism just doesn't stand up to scrutiny as an autonomous "viewpoint" -- and as a sub(cult)ural tendency it is mostly just an extreme and symptomatic expression of more prevailing hyperbolic technocratic reductionist eugenic techno-utopian strains in neoliberal and neoconservative developmental discourse.

Sorry, that's the way it looks to me. I've said why in countless well-reasoned arguments elsewhere that you can take or leave as you will. I never expected Robot Cultists themselves to take these interventions particularly to heart, obviously.

Queen Maxine said...

> Either transhumanism is a cult and its 'meetings' are actually
> cult services, or it's not a cult and holds 'public conferences'
> on educational topics.

Gee, have you ever heard of "black and white thinking"?


Good, that's a start. Transhumanism need not be one or the other. You are implying there might be some trajectory from amorphous congregation to mature cult organization and that transhumanism, at neither extreme, is probably somewhere along this trajectory.

I have suspected all along that you see some germinal units of a future, potential cultism in transhumanism and have been exaggerating through categorical accusations for rhetorical effect. I read your latest effort as additional confirmation of this suspicion. Am I wrong?

Dale Carrico said...

Don't feed the troll.

jfehlinger said...

Dale wrote:

> Don't feed the troll.

OK. ;->

Instead, I'll return to the original point of this thread by
transplanting another choice Greg Egan quote from Russell
Blackford's ever-expanding blog conversation:


"While I share the belief that scientific understanding will
continue to encompass all manner of things, what turns so many
Transhumanists into comical parodies of scientific rationalists
is an inability to distinguish their hunches and intuitions,
their opinions and preferences, and their political agendas
(all things which they are perfectly entitled to hold), from
actual deductive reasoning. They also seem to be especially prone
to inflating the importance of carefully selected but marginally
relevant examples and analogies. . .

People are entitled to their conjectures; other people are entitled
to remain unpersuaded by them. My only objection is when speculative
discussions cease to acknowledge how many assumptions and opinions
are being drawn on, and try to pass themselves off as iron-clad
reasoning. I don't consider anyone a crackpot for **discussing**
super-intelligent AIs that will dispense God-like wisdom and
shepherd us into a celestial utopia. What makes someone a crackpot
is asserting -- or acting as if -- there are no untested assumptions
underlying the claims that such an outcome is possible, imminent
or desirable."


Let me add to this that when groupthink turns these "untested
assumptions" into unquestionable sacred writ, and when a few guru-wannabes
come along asserting that only they're smart enough to appreciate
the blinding obviousness of these assumptions (with an entourage
of fan-boys and -girls who similarly maintain the unchallengeability
of the geniushood of the guru-wannabes), and when you've got
"institutes" and PR folks in place to spread the word, collect
the dough, and shout down the naysayers, then you've got a cult in the works.

Greg in Portland said...

If you think contraception should be banned, then it will be evident that all your expressed concerns about the "carbon footprint" of GE research and "non-natural" babymaking are pure BS.

With all due respect Anne, that was evident many moons ago from the sheer absurdity of his arguments on these things. I pointed out repeatedly what the real causes of those things were and Howie just rolled on. He's a classic single issue fanatic and lunatic who will shape his arguments to fit the biases of whoever he's trying to hump the leg of. I'm sure when he goes on fundy message boards he makes a good case for how Jebus hates the germline babies. He probably showed up here originally because some of Dale's comments are "anti-transhumanist" and he thought that might make us receptive to his idiotic and authoritarian message of Teh-Ban.