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

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bitter Living Through Pseudo-Science

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot, an exchange with rather old school transhumanoid "Mark Plus" (scroll to his name in the Superlative Summary for more engagements with Mister, er, Plus):

"Cryonics," he writes, "doesn't have any necessary connection with transhumanism, though it has had that association for contingent reasons. Instead it falls within the realm of applied cryobiology, applied neuroscience and experimental medicine, a point of view now supported by some mainstream neuroscientists who has set up the Brain Preservation Foundation, and with the implied support of the skeptic of pseusoscience Michael Shermer who serves as one of this foundation's advisers. I've followed the transhumanist subculture since the 1970's, watching one geek fad after another come and go. You just can't establish cryonics on that weak of a foundation, unless quite a few of these transhumanist ideas turn into real hardware."

I reply:

Cryonics as a techno-immortalist strategy has no actually-existing application and so it feels rather odd to bandy it about as part of "applied cryobiology" -- a field so many other applications of which have the benefit of happening to actually exist. As you rightly say, the Robot Cultists can talk to me about techno-immortalizing applications if some hardware comes online (I won't be holding my breath).

Cryonics as a techno-immortalist faith unquestionably is a form of what I call superlative futurology, of which eugenic transhumanism is also one. As often happens, members of one Robot Cult sect are usually members of others as well, and one will regularly discern citational, organizational, cultural, argumentative connections between these formations -- singularitarians, digi-utopians, techno-immortalists, nano-cornucopiasts, and so on. You may be right that this connection of cryonics and transhumanism is not "necessary" in, say, all logically possible worlds -- but the connection is indispensably real in the actually real world, always has been, and will very likely continue to be as long as this moonshine keeps getting peddled.

I must disagree with your contention that techno-immortalist faith based initiatives are even remotely "mainstream" on any legible construal of that term. Compare the number of people with cryonics arrangements with the number of instructors, researchers, and lab techs actually associated with the relevant biological and medical fields that yield and apply actually legitimate cryobiology (to facilitate organ transplantation, for example, or for the preservation of biological materials in experimental settings), and the eensy weensy teeny tiny micro-minoritarian proportion of people involved in both is immediately and hilariously evident.

Mainstream! Nice try, dood. But nobody wants to join your Robot Cult, in part because they know what I also know -- you are going to die. Like everybody else, you are going to die. You are not going to bathe in a longevizing genetic fountain of youth, you are not going to have your brain scooped into a shiny robot body, a nanobotic utility fog is not going to swarm your superannuated flesh and rewrite you in the image of a comic book superhero, your biologically-incarnated self is not going to be "uploaded" into Holodeck Heaven via an information-snapshot that is no more you than any other snapshot of you is you. Death denialist techno-immortalists would do well to get over it and actually live their lives rather than dying before they die in a fear of death that is lived as a fear of living when there is so much loving you could fill life with instead.


jimf said...

> . . .with the implied support of the skeptic of pseudoscience
> Michael Shermer. . .
I want to believe the cryonicists. Really I do. I gave up
on religion in college, but I often slip back into my former
evangelical fervor, now directed toward the wonders of
science and nature. But this is precisely why I’m skeptical.
It is too much like religion: it promises everything, delivers
nothing (but hope) and is based almost entirely on faith
in the future.

Of course, that was 12 years ago. I wonder what Mr. Shermer would
say his being an "advisor" to the Brain Preservation Foundation
"implies", exactly.

Other familiar (to me, at least) names among the advisors:
Ben Goertzel, Robert Freitas, Steve Harris, Eugen Leitl,
Jose Cordeiro, John Smart, Marshall Brain, and none other
than our old pal Giulio Prisco.

Shermer also admits in one of his books (_Why People Believe
Weird Things_, IIRC) to having been a
big fan, in his callow youth, of Ayn Rand, but he got over
her. Mostly.

Robert Gross said...

It may be my progressive prejudice, but I never completely trust anyone who ever, under any circumstances in his or her life, was enamored of Ayn "selfishness is actually good, altruism is actually bad" Rand.

jimf said...

> But nobody wants to join your Robot Cult, in part because
> they know what I also know -- you are going to die. Like
> everybody else, you are going to die.

_The Missing Myth: A New Vision of Same-Sex Love_ by Gilles Herrada
Chapter 6 "The Fear of the Unknown", p. 93

Humankind has reached a level of awareness that is probably unique
in the animal kingdom. But excellence has come at a price.
The first _Homo sapiens_. . . opened their eyes on a world that
must have been terrifying. And for them, the unknown took a very
particular face -- death. Never before has a species had such
an acute sense of its own destiny; and never before has a species
had a knowledge of its own mortality. Humans might not have
invented language, tools, strategies, and even culture, but they
might have been the first and only species to become aware of the
intolerable reality of their ultimate fate.

The fear of death, and its denial -- the quest for immortality --
propelled the human race out of the African savannah across the
entire world. It has shaped the individual minds as well as
the collective psyche of humanity. It also inoculated humans
with the urge to create. It enjoined people to build temples,
pyramids, and cathedrals, and to send ships across oceans and
space. But even more importantly, the fear of death transformed
our relationship to time and forever altered our relationship
to the universe.

_Downton Abbey_ Season 3 Episode 1 (final scene)
You’d say if anything was wrong, wouldn’t you? I know
I’ve been a bit crabby, but I am on your side.

Thank you for that.

[Mrs Hughes smiles at Carson’s kindness. He looks at
her with the same concern for the moment, then exits.
Mrs Hughes looks around her sitting room, then follows
him out, turning off the light. She meets Mrs Patmore
in the corridor.]

You’ve just missed an admirer. Mr Carson says you did
well tonight.

Humph. Did you tell him?


[They walk down the corridor together.]

And what is there to tell? One day, I will die. And so
will he, and you, and every one of us under this roof.
(sigh) You must put these things in proportion, Mrs Patmore,
and I think I can do that now.

[Mrs Patmore nods and puts a hand on Mrs Hughes’s arm
before going off to bed. Mrs Hughes turns off the lights
in the corridor.]

As a friend of mine remarked as soon as we started watching
Season 1 (which begins in April, 1912 with the sinking of
the Titanic), "They'd all be dead by now."