Over the holiday break I have much longer pieces on the way about S&N's wrongheaded "Death of Environmentalism" arguments, about how Bentham's Panopticon was already participatory and why we shouldn't take too much comfort in that, about how making appropriate tech appropriable connects green and p2p/a2k politics, about why the Permaculture movement and Environmental Justice discourses are technoprogressive in my sense of that term, and transcripts of talks I've given about why the p2p democratization of the Netroots really is revolutionary and what I mean by the phrase "pay to peer."
But that's all in the way of coming attractions, for a little while I will likely only have time to post easy sniping stuff about corporate-militarists and techno-utopians. In the following exchanges, Giulio Prisco's objections are italicized, my responses are not.
One: Dale Is Skeered of Teh Science
[C]onsidering human bodies and minds as machines (complex, not yet fully understood etc. etc.) opens the doors to the dangerous idea that they can be improved by engineering. This simple common sense is, of course, very dangerous to religious fundamentalists who prefer to think of our bodies and minds as magic and mysterious things that we little people cannot (and should not try to) understand.
Considering humans as complex organisms leaves open the completely uncontroversial idea that they can be healed and even modified in non-normalizing ways through consensual medical therapies. I’m an atheist, dude, not a religious fundamentalist. It’s Technological Immortalists and Robot Cultists who are —- if anybody under discussion here is -— indulging in a kind of magical thinking.
Beware of religious fundamentalists masquerading as modern intellectuals motivated by philosophical, social, cultural, ecological and political concerns. They are still the same old religious fundamentalists, desperately trying to hide behind big words.
I notice that once again you are accusing me of “hiding behind big words” even though I have taken the time to actually offer up an argument explaining in depth why I disagree with you. Believe me, you have nothing to gain from trying to appeal to the anti-intellectual crowd. Take a deep breath, think a bit more, and then offer up a new version of your argument that circumvents the obvious problems I’ve exposed in this early version of yours. It’s not that difficult.
Two: Either Yer With Us Or Agin' Us
What I am saying is that I think my body and my mind are machines… and that they can be… improved by engineering, not only in the sense of tightening a couple of loose screws, but also in the more fundamental sense of a complete redesign and engineering.
Yeah, I know that’s what you think. But your body wasn’t “designed.” It isn’t a device. The intuitions that derive from the furniture of the designed world don’t provide you the assurance you attribute to them.
You say you are an atheist, and of course I believe you when I say that… But in your writing I detect some traces of the old religious belief in a mysterious, undefined and undefinable vital vital spirit that differentiates humans from the rest of the universe, and that Thou Shalt Not tinker with.
If that’s what you “detect” it can only be because you are looking for it. I don’t say that anywhere, nor do I believe it. Anybody who isn’t a Robot Cultist is a bioconservative, I suppose? Dumb.
Three: Comfort and Joylessness
Good to hear that you strongly deny hidden fundamentalist and bioluddite motivations.
Given the ready availability of writings in which I make this endlessly and repeatedly clear I have to say that anybody who would think otherwise is likely either to be illiterate or just stupid.
But you frequently do the same, accusing me and others of things that we have never said anywhere, and don’t believe. Like in “well suited to incumbent interests and anti-democratic politics, whatever the professed politics of those who advocate them”.
One of my critiques of superlative technodevelopmental discourses is indeed that it facilitates incumbent interests and comports especially well with anti-democratic politics. I’ve offered up a number of patient explanations as to why I think so. It’s not just some put-down I fire off out of and into the blue, there’s an analysis available to support these claims.
I also regularly point out that this is quite different from the suggestion that people who deploy superlative formulations intend these effects. Obviously, many do not —- and this is a point I actually make myself. It seems to me that those who would not intend such effects would want to be especially vigilant about them, and would take my critique seriously rather than dismissing it precisely to the extent that they want to avoid such effects. But, you know, whatever.
Note that “well suited to fundamentalist and bioluddite politics, whatever the professed politics of those who advocate them” is exactly the same sentence.
Of course, that’s not a sentence you actually wrote, now, is it?
You know, I wouldn’t find it the least bit surprising to learn that some bioconservatives might have found some comfort in some of the things I have written. Especially some of the more lefty eco-bioconservative types rather than the more right wingnut anti-choice social-bioconservative types. I think they would finally be more wrong than not to find much such comfort if they do, inasmuch as my formulations conduce better to technoprogressive than to bioconservative politics.
This is because at the heart of bioconservative arguments in my view is always the moralizing project to “defend” established customs in the name of “nature,” however irrational, unfair, or unpopular. This is not a project that can long prevail in my view in the face of secular democratic multiculture central to my technoprogressive case.
The point is, I would strongly disagree with the claim that my formulations are more useful to bioconservatives than technoprogressives, if that's a claim anybody wants to make, and that is a conversation I welcome because I have plenty of good reasons to support my position. But I simply don’t think you can hold up your end of a comparable conversation about the greater usefulness of superlative formulations to incumbent interests over democratic ones, and that seems to me an important conversation to have, and so I welcome that conversation as well.
But instead I’m guessing you’ll just smear me as “using big words” again, or pout that I’m engaging in nothing but “name calling” despite all the careful explanations I offer without getting the same in return.
It seems to me that you do not like the taste of your own medicine.
Four: Peddling Scientism As Science
If you backup a program’s source code and its database, recompile and install it on a different computational system (different CPU, different memory hardware, wiring etc.), for which a compiler for the same source is available, everything should work exactly as before, so for all practical purpose this specific construal of information is indifferent to the material mode of its instantiation”.
I am the first to admit that it is oversimplified and needs to be developed in much more detail, but think it is basically right. If you think it is basically wrong, could you explain why instead of hiding behind “reductionism”?
I am hiding because I’m scared of your scalpel sharp arguments for which my mystical brain is no match. From the post to which you are “responding”:
“Dynamic forces, systems, matrices, organisms are all usefully susceptible to scientific analysis even when they are not machines... The chief benefit to a Superlative Technocentric in describing a human body as a “machine” rather than a complex system or organism is the stealthy rhetorical work afforded at the figurative level through which the identification of a body as a[n already] devised thing presumes much that needs argument in the first place; namely, that a[n] imperishable, super-predicated body could be devised to replace the actually-existing “devised” bodies we live in.
“Later, Prisco admits that he reductively assumes: “I am the information encoded in my brain.” Of course, this cannot be literally true unless he is completely insane. He surely means to say that everything he imagines to matter most essentially about himself is information encoded in his brain…
“Of course, such a statement leaves to the side whether the “information” he is talking about consists of his memories, his dispositions, the complex relations among them (among these the relations between conscious, subconscious, and evolved dispositions), information as he would grasp and retrieve it himself, information on the basis of which a being could be modeled who would be indistinguishable from himself to an “outside” observer, and so on. Also, such a statement leaves to the side the crucial point that all information is instantiated on a material carrier, that even a “self” reducible to information on whatever construal would still always be embodied information, and hence it is questionable whether glib declarations about “migrations” of informational selves from bodies into digital networks or what have you are the least bit coherent once one attends to them with any care at all. These are questions that have been addressed at length by… Katherine Hayles in her critiques of Hans Moravec, for example, and in other aspects by Jaron Lanier in his critiques of “Cybernetic Totalism.”
“Prisco extraordinarily claims that “It seems to me that any other assumption would fall into mystic, magic, and supernatural realms that are completely foreign to my basic assumptions about reality.” That is to say, according to Prisco anybody who does not believe as he does that the self is reducible to some unspecified construal of information that is somehow indifferent to the material mode of its instantiation is engaged in mystical, magical, supernatural thinking...
“On the basis of this assumption and conclusion,” Prisco goes on oh so non-mystically, non-magically, non-supernaturally to predict “we will be able to upload human personalities to suitable computational supports, much longer lived than biological brains.” He then assures us, “This is, I believe, fully compatible with our current scientific understanding of the universe.” Never mind that actually existing computers exhibit conspicuous limitations and unreliabilities compared to actually existing biological brains of a kind that non-supernaturalist champions of science might properly be expected not to handwave away, never mind that actual scientists have never even approached a consensus of belief in superlative outcomes of the kind that preoccupy Prisco’s attention.
“The ‘natural vs. supernatural’ argument above tells me that cryonics works in principle—there is no mystic ‘soul’ that irretrievably leaves a frozen brain after death by decree of god.” Needless to say, even in a universe without a bloody-minded sky-daddy to govern us, it is not necessarily the case that bodies or brains “preserved” through processes of freezing or even vitrification will be revivable or retrievable by future medical techniques, and the scientific consensus is not encouraging on this question, handwaving by superlative technocentrics (self-appointed “champions” of science, all) notwithstanding.”
It isn’t “oversimplified” but basically "right" to say you are a computer, it is plain wrong.
To the extent that this stupidity prevails in technocentric professions like coders and engineers it does real damage in the world to no actual scientific benefit.
None of what you are saying is common sense, it isn’t scientific, it isn’t “doing something” to create a better future -— do you even know what actual political advocacy means, beyond PR spin and membership outreach for marginal membership organizations? —- all this cryonics and uploading and Robot God business is just ill-considered indulgence in sf iconography (which as a geek I appreciate enormously myself, in its place) turned into a defensive religious outlook pretending to be policy discourse in a desperate bid not to be dismissed as a cult.
Five: Clutching At Straws
“Superlative technologies” like immortality and mind uploading are compatible with our current scientific understanding of reality
Logical possibility is not the same thing as practical likelihood in any human relevant timescale and only the latter relevance justifies the hope & faith (not to mention the apocalyptic dread) you superlative technocentric types go on about. Quite apart from this, before you manage to get to the remote logical possibilities you cling to, all these problematic notions of intelligence, selfhood, progress get smuggled into your basic superlative assumptions. If you guys are wrong in these areas it doesn’t much matter the near-vacuous logical entailments you claim, or the blue-sky megaengineering schemes you enthuse over, if you’re building everything on quicksands.
Dale… refuses to engage “Superlative Technocentrics” in debates on the actual, scientific and engineering aspects of superlative technologies.
You call your hocus pocus “technical” and count on general scientific illiteracy to cut the slack you need to indulge in psychologically edifying handwaving.
He only wants to discuss on his nebulous terms… If he refuses to talk in my language, why the hell should I want to talk in his language?
That’s the task you take on when you decide to “respond” to my critique if this is the language and these are the concerns of which it is composed.
first prove “unrealistic” instead of assuming it. Many people who know much more science and engineering than you would not agree.
Many more people who know more science and engineering than I do disagree with you, and a responsible citizen who isn’t a scientist should defer to their consensus. I agree that many superlative technocentrics do know enough science to misinform the public, or to convince themselves that their wish-fulfillment fantasies are really going to come true any day now.
Should we discuss the cult-of-personality, charismatic leadership, intolerance of dissent, thought policing and internal purges sooo typical of socialist parties? Yes my friend, socialist parties have had all that and worse. Should we then dismiss socialism as psychologically harmful and dangerously anti-democratizing?
Only in the wingnut right can you get away with pretending that people of the democratic left are “unaware” of the dangers of authoritarianism whether on the “left” or the “right.” I ferociously oppose anti-democratic governance wherever it’s happening, smearing social democracy/democratic socialism with Stalinism is dumb.
On the other hand, there are at most a few thousand self-identified “transhumanists” in the world, a handful of marginal organizations, and a small coterie of published authors and Usual Suspects who function as “go to” guys for your movement—and the proportion of would-be gurus, flim-flam artists, proud right wing reactionaries,
young white guys begging for validation is flabbergastingly high.
If you mean that Superlative Technologies are Bad because they will be developed and used by military-industrial interests, wait a minute. I had formed the impression that you thought of Superlative Technologies as nonsensical and impossible delusions of sci-fi geeks or Robot God cultists.
Superlative discourse is the hype that enables corporate-militarists to peddle non-superlative crap they’re actually capable of. We’re sold lethal bombs with fantasies of precision bombs, sold dangerous expensive nuclear technology with fantasies of energy too cheap to meter, sold unnecessary even harmful drugs with fantasies of eternal youth and easy happiness, sold landfills filled with toxic plastic with fantasies of cheap ubiquitous colorful abundance, etc.
Superlatives are True Believers in hype while the beneficiaries profit from the lies.
That neoliberals and neoconservatives like ice cream does not mean that I cannot like ice cream, it just means that ice cream is good for both. “Global Development” and “Technoscientific Progress” are good things, even if also neoliberals and neoconservatives say so.
Of course, different people can mean different things by the same words. “Global Development” too often means confiscatory wealth concentration. “Technoscientific Progress” too often means “no limits” (none to atmospheric resilience, none to soil or fresh water, no energy descent, no need to maintain infrastructure or legitimacy with taxes, etc.) to white racist North Atlantic corporate-militarist hegemony.
I understand the appeal of these facile phrases you cling to, this ice cream cone business, but the truth is you don’t seem to understand more than a fraction of the points I am making.