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

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Challenge

I advocate p2p democratization of technodevelopmental social struggle to ensure a more emancipatory distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of ongoing and emerging technoscientific change, and I also champion informed, nonduressed consensual prosthetic self-determination and lifeway diversity.

I would like to know what technoscientifically literate persons of the legible democratic-left who happen to be "transhumanist"-identified think is lacking in such a position that your "transhumanist"-identification provides you.

Notice that this is a "positive" challenge. I am asking you to explain to me what you think "transhumanism" provides a progressive person of the democratic left that my own two primary points of advocacy do not, which seem to me after all fairly legible within the terms of conventional progressive politics (even if you might want to argue that they don't prevail as mainstream positions, though I would argue that they are coming to do just that as it happens).

Elsewhere in the archives I indicate many more concrete proposals about the need for education and technoscience literacy, funding for renewable energy and medical research, basic income guarantees and universal health care, ending military profiteering, facilitating permaculture practices, and many other things, so the difference I am trying to get at here is not a matter of the lack of concrete proposals on my part, even if that is not my focus in this particular challenge (and, frankly, predicting there will be artificial superintelligence or SENS or nanofactories in 20, 30, 50, 80 years isn't actually a "concrete proposal" in my view, anyway).

No, I am trying to understand what you think "transhumanist"-identification and its sub(cult)ural organization of technodevelopmental concern as such provides you that you think one does not have as simply a technoscientifically literate person of the democratic left struggling for a more open and fairer distribution of technodevelopmental costs, risks, and benefits, and supporting the scenes of informed, nonduressed consent and lifeway diversity.

Since "transhumanism" is, after all, a specific sub(cult)ural identity-politics directing its attention to technodevelopmental outcomes which must -- by virtue of (first) the public and collaborative nature of proper consensus scientific practice as well as (second) the planetary scope of the impacts of technodevelopmental outcomes -- be beholden to the actually-existing diversity of stakeholders to that technodevelopment, rather than exclusively or primarily to any particular constituency or sub(cult)ure among them, one would expect a person of the democratic-left to be concerned about this.

Notice that this "positive" challenge leaves completely to the side the whole host of my separate but still quite serious "negative" critiques of transhumanism, singularitarianism, Superlativity, techno-utopianism, retro-futurism and so on: [1] my worries about explicit right wing legacies in many of these movements, legacies that are especially troubling given [2] ongoing partnerships in these movements with right-wing ideologues to this day, and exacerbated further still by [3] the acceptance of default neoliberal assumpions about innovation, investment, development, intellectual property that are all too likely to conduce to the benefit of right-wing politics and incumbent interests to this day, whatever the intentions of more progressive people in these movements; [4] worries about a structural eugenicism inhering in funtionalist and "optimality" discourses; [5] worries about scientistic reductionism and faux apoliticism, or even asserted "anti-politicism," conducing to support of deep status quo assumptions in many transhumanist discourses; [6] worries about tendencies to elitist technocratic formulations circumventing democratic deliberation about technodevelopmental questions; [7] worries that the techno-utopian fetish for "acceleration," among other things, expresses the privileged position of transhumanists with respect to the intensifying precarization of majorities due to the neoliberal financialization of economies; [8] worries that "existential risk" discourse functions to skew budgetary priorities away from popular concerns and general needs to centralized industrial geoengineering responses to planetary problems in ways that conduce to elite-minority control of economies; and so on.

I am not asking you to respond to or do justice to any of that here and now (these critiques are ongoing at Amor Mundi, after all). No, I just want to know what positive contribution is made by your "transhumanist"-identification that a progressive democratic-left orientation applied to technodevelopmental questions without any marginal sub(cult)ural entailments seems to you to lack that makes it all worth the trouble. Honestly, I want to know.

38 comments:

De Thezier said...

Well, I think one leading transhumanist advocate answered your question when he wrote the following comment on the wta-talk list:

"The religious do a lot more volunteer work, and give more charitably (to both religious and secular charities) than the seculars, and the fundies give/do even more. That's why Hamas was able to get elected in the otherwise very secular Palestine, and why many people who don't BELIEVE stay in churches - they need community and community help, and belonging to email lists doesn't cut it.

That is one of the reasons why building face-to-face community is important for any social movement, because friendship, sociality and collective support is a lot more important to most people than shared ideological commitment. Which is another reason why those who disparage efforts to create community among transhumanists, or technoprogressives, or whoever are sociologically and politically naïve. We are never going to get our members to volunteer or tithe at the level that Mormons or fundies do - and I probably wouldn't [b]e comfortable here if we could - but if we want to grow we do have to encourage our cynical, cosmopolitan techie base to take giving, f-t-f meetings and our internal culture seriously."

In other words, some transhumanists openly admit that their collective identification and organization provides them with the sense of community (and source of funding) one normally finds in a religious institution, which they do not (and hopefully will never) find in Dale's primary points of advocacy.

That being said, perhaps self-identified transhumanists who lurk in the Moot may have a different answer so I'm all eyes.

Michael Anissimov said...

Transhumanists push towards more ambitious goals that are considered more taboo by mainstream progressives.

Democracy-as-we-know-it does get frequently circumvented, or at least radically changed, by technology. For instance, without the Internet, the Obama campaign probably wouldn't be doing as well. If Obama wins, it will demonstrate how a young, relatively inexperienced minority was able to utilize technology to leapfrog over centuries of precedent and prejudice to gain the White House.

Obama is neoliberal, and you support him.

No fetish about technological acceleration. It's an actual fact. Note that the acceleration increases the risks as well as the benefits, so obviously acknowledging it isn't just to get a warm fuzzy feeling. This eliminates the affective biases there.

Transhumanism is hardly supportive of the status quo. In fact it may be insufficiently supportive of a status quo that many would call mandatory. If you can blame H+ folks for anything, it's political naivete rather than an active support of the status quo. And you could level this complaint against millions of citizens -- very few people have led as politically active a life as you have. (Not trying to flatter you here, just saying the facts.)

What partnerships with right-wing ideologues? Dale, with all due respect, you're so far left that you probably consider the center to be "right wing". The way you throw around "right wing" in a vague and condemning manner reminds me of the way O'Reilly throws around the term "secular progressive". Same shit, different end of the political spectrum.

There are numerous concrete proposals in the transhumanist vein. These include Venter's vision, SENS, nanofactory collaboration, and many more.

You say:

"I advocate p2p democratization of technodevelopmental social struggle to ensure a more emancipatory distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of ongoing and emerging technoscientific change, and I also champion informed, nonduressed consensual prosthetic self-determination and lifeway diversity."

This is one political flavor, one that I, in general, support (but with caveats that reflect my confidence in capitalism as a proven success). Transhumanism is being inclusive by welcoming a range of political orientations. Basically, you're making an ultimatum to transhumanism that is completely unrealistic: "agree with my far left politics entirely, or you're all useless". These kind of "all or nothing" assertions are more in the vein of Hillary (whom I support) than Obama, who puts more emphasis on building consensus among diverse constituencies.

Dale Carrico said...

I have things to say, but I want to wait and hear how others respond to the Challenge before getting into the give-and-take of responding to responses.

De Thezier said...

Micheal Anissimov wrote:

Transhumanists push towards more ambitious goals that are considered more taboo by mainstream progressives.

Putting aside the fact that many of these "ambitious goals" are based on ideas which are products of fertile and creative imaginations unhampered by the normal constraints of scientific and philosophical discipline, I actually agree with you. However, it should be obvious that one does NOT need to be a transhumanist to push toward these goals so the question is what does identifying yourself, your ideas, your goals, and your organization as "transhumanist" provide you? In other words, is it productive or counter-productive to acheiving these ambitious goals to identify yourself as a transhumanist?

Dale, with all due respect, you're so far left that you probably consider the center to be "right wing".

Actually, some Marxist philosophers would argue that only a person who advocates the (peaceful or violent) overthrow of the existing social, economic and political capitalist order can truly be considered "left-wing". Anything short of that radical position is simply either "liberal right-wing", "moderate right-wing" or "conservative right-wing". Therefore, they argue that all American left-wingers who reject communism in a favor of social democratic capitalism (including Dale Carrico) are in fact "right-wingers" since they only seek to reform capitalism rather than abolish it.

Dale Carrico said...

Well, a quick comment.

Obama is neoliberal, and you support him.... Dale, with all due respect, you're so far left that you probably consider the center to be "right wing".

Which is it? I'm compromised because I stick to the left wing of the possible, or I'm extremist despite the fact that I stick with the left wing of the possible?

Lincoln Cannon said...

Identification with transhumanism has provided me with networking and support opportunities, which in turn have significantly contributed to successes in increasing awareness of, interest in, and respect for the extent to which technology may impact our future, for better or worse.

De Thezier said...

Lincoln Cannon said:

Identification with transhumanism has provided me with networking and support opportunities, which in turn have significantly contributed to successes in increasing awareness of, interest in, and respect for the extent to which technology may impact our future, for better or worse.

And how would you respond to the accusation that the people transhumanists have made "increasingly aware, interested in, and respectful for the extent to which technology may impact our future, for better or worse," have been quantitatively and qualitatively misinformed?

Note: Misinformation is simply erroneous while disinformation is intended to mislead.

giulio said...

Re: "No, I just want to know what positive contribution is made by your "transhumanist"-identification that a progressive democratic-left orientation applied to technodevelopmental questions without any marginal sub(cult)ural entailments seems to you to lack that makes it all worth the trouble."

The framing of the question seems to define a context - technodevelopmental questions. According to my interpretation, which may coincide with yours, "technodevelopmental questions" is used here for issues related to technology development that are directly relevant to current affairs, or to plausible short and medium term developments thereof.

In this context my answer to "what positive contribution is made by your transhumanist identification?" is very simple: none. Which is probably the answer you wanted, but let me add some qualifiers.

My opinions on those questions that I regard as important current issues:

The forthcoming elections in the US; the elections that just took place in Spain; globalization vs. localization; health care; taxation; BIG; EU vs. European nations; The US vs. the rest of the world; the North-South conflict; the role of religious belief in policy; civil and minority rights; education; fossil fuels and associated geopolitical tensions; alternative energies; governance and citizen participation; etc.

are NOT influenced by my transhumanist identification. Perhaps this statement is not enough and you want a proof. Well, a very simple proof is that my opinions on the issues above are often very similar to yours.

Even for those issues where there might be a conflict, such as the allocation of public research and development money, I would often take a position similar to yours. For example, I would choose to use public development money for developing a better basic health care system instead of very speculative technologies.

Transhumanism is a positive force in other aspects of my life, more related to long term future oriented thinking. Here I claim the same right that I am ready to grant to religious people: let me think what I think without thought-policing, and criticize my actions if it is appropriate but not my thoughts.

Adam Snider said...

I'd say that technoprogressives seem a bit more tied with the left (going by conventional designations) than transhumanists, who either see their positions as somehow politically neutral or are willing to tolerate a wide variety of political views - this has the practical effect of allowing a "bigger tent" and thus a wider base for contributions of time, energy, and money from a wider spectrum. I suppose that someone coming from a leftist perspective might see this as a weakness as well, since this means that transhumanism is less likely to take strong stands upon goals that a leftist might consider critically important, in order to serve higher goals or prevent ruptures within the transhumanist movement.

De Thezier said...

Giulio said:

Transhumanism is a positive force in other aspects of my life, more related to long term future oriented thinking.

Or, more accurately, wishful thinking.

Here I claim the same right that I am ready to grant to religious people: let me think what I think without thought-policing, and criticize my actions if it is appropriate but not my thoughts.

All expressed thoughts or, more precisely, ideas (whether they are "secular" or "religious") should be and are open to scrutiny, critique and even ridicule. Rational people actually welcome a conflicting perspective because it can positively contribute to the effectiveness of his own mental processes of discernement, analysis and evalution.

"Thought-policing" refers to real or perceived enforcement of ideological correctness by compelling a person to think in an *involuntary* way by use of threats or force. Therefore, scrutiny, critique and even ridicule of ideas (and the claims or goals they inspire) is only considered "thought-policing" by the intellectually immature or cranks.

Lincoln Cannon said...

De Thezier: "And how would you respond to the accusation that the people transhumanists have made 'increasingly aware, interested in, and respectful for the extent to which technology may impact our future, for better or worse,' have been quantitatively and qualitatively misinformed? Note: Misinformation is simply erroneous while disinformation is intended to mislead."

I would be interested in understanding better what you mean by quantitative and qualitative misinformation, seeing the quantitative data, and considering the qualitative assessment. Of course, as a Transhumanist, I am persuaded that there is, generally, value to the ideology -- which does not mean I agree with everything every Transhumanist ever says or does.

Giulio: "Transhumanism is a positive force in other aspects of my life, more related to long term future oriented thinking."

De Thezier: "Or, more accurately, wishful thinking."

We need more persons that are both wishful thinkers and enduring actors. The realization of an important class of truths depends on our faith.

De Thezier: "All expressed thoughts or, more precisely, ideas (whether they are "secular" or "religious") should be and are open to scrutiny, critique and even ridicule."

I agree, although we should neither respect nor be influenced by ridicule.

giulio said...

Re: "All expressed thoughts or, more precisely, ideas (whether they are "secular" or "religious") should be and are open to scrutiny, critique and even ridicule."

Sure thing. But you see, most people, and I am no exception, respond to arguments with arguments, to ridicule with ridicule, and to insults with insults. So I think some care should be applied to framing critique in a way that facilitates constructive discourse. If, of course, this is the desided outcome.

Dale Carrico said...

Of course I get the whole critique about how nonproductive and disrespectful ridicule is supposed to be and so on and so forth. I have to say, though, that almost all the smart funny people I know enjoy the ridiculous and the acerbic and understand how to take it in stride or switch gears between irony and earnestness and so on. To be frank, I consider it yet another sign of the rather dimwitted cluenessness of the Superlative futurological milieu that it flogs this line of gray earnestness so defensively... Robotic people pining robotically to be more like robots. How's that for an exciting prospect?

giulio said...

Re: "almost all the smart funny people I know enjoy the ridiculous and the acerbic and understand how to take it in stride or switch gears between irony and earnestness and so on"

But that is precisely the point: Like you, I enjoy verbal wars very much, perhaps too much. I have a lot of fun when we trade insults, but also realize that that one can end up saying things that he does not really mean.

Dale Carrico said...

I mean it.

giulio said...

Wow that was fast. I often mean it, but not always.

Dale Carrico said...

Fair enough, I'm an academic and know the force of a good qualification. So I'll amend. Cēterīs paribus, I mean it.

bw said...

The fundamental issue is not whether supporting technology that could be labelled transhuman is lacking in a pro-democratic left position.

The issue is that your limited grab-bag of technological bets will end up being sub-optimal (an inferior societal portfolio) and is not consistent with what is actually being funded and developed. Renewable energy only funding is supporting say wind and solar power. Wind is 1% of current power generation. Solar is 1/20th of 1%. Coal power generation kills 1 million people per year. Nuclear power should be part of the options for accelerated displacement of coal. Nuclear power has displaced more coal power than the renewables only option.

Ending military profiteering? Is this one of those 20,30,50,80 year projects without a concrete proposal ?

Artificial intelligence systems exist and are used now. They are used for program stock trading and other purposes. Billions of dollars are controlled by and devoted to the improvement of artificial intelligence.

SENS has millions of dollars in private funding.

Universal healthcare by itself is an inferior and incomplete approach to improving the health of individuals and societies. Creating more and cheaper devices for medical tests (like a USB stick that costs $10 or less for blood tests to detect early stage cancer and other diseases) will do more to provide better healthcare to more people than scrapping for X billion dollars from the government taxes.

Your judgement as to what is or is not a good technological project is bad. You do not know what exists and is working and what is not. Your judgement as to what is or is not something that is achievable technologically or politically is bad. You actually thought John Edwards could win. Ha ha.

Dale Carrico said...

I supported John Edwards. Brian Wang thinks a superintelligent robot god will end history and nanobots will make people immortal and so wealthy they won't need anything but free markets anymore. I leave it as an exercise for the readers to determine whose judgments may be the more questionable.

PS: If Brian posts oceans of undigested cut-and-paste in reply to this I'll cheerfully delete it all as spam. Then he and the other transhumanists can whine about what a tyrant I am and how much freer they would be if they were living in an Ayn Rand novel set in cyberspace.

jfehlinger said...

"bw" wrote:

> Artificial intelligence systems exist and are used now.

equivocate
verb (equivocat, ing)
(intransitive) To use words of equivocal or doubtful signification;
to express one's opinions in terms which admit of different senses,
with intent to deceive; to use ambiguous expressions with a view
to mislead; as, to equivocate is the work of duplicity.

. . .

Etymology: _aequivocatus_, present participle of _aequivocari_ to
be called by the same name, from Latin _aequivocus_: confer
_équivoquer_. See equivocal.
http://www.allwords.com/word-equivocate.html

Equivocation is classified as both a formal and informal fallacy.
It is the misleading use of a word with more than one meaning
(by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivocation

Michael Anissimov said...

Dale, you're not an extremist because you don't support the overthrowing of the government. Ideally, you want everyone to be far left, but you are pragmatic enough to support a center-left Democrat neoliberal for President, considering the alternative.

Here's another pithy response to your challenge:

People who self-identify as transhumanists are personally interesting to me. People form clubs around the most trivial of things, like crappy 70s sitcoms or reading mysteries set in the 19th century, why not a club around the upcoming radical transformation of humanity through body modification technologies? You yourself have acknowledged the great potential of the movement, and part of the reason you bother criticizing it so much is its obvious success and appeal, especially in recent years. You can't simultaneously say the movement is potentially powerful and at the same time question why anyone would want to be a part of it.

Michael Anissimov said...

"If Brian posts oceans of undigested cut-and-paste in reply to this I'll cheerfully delete it all as spam."

But if James F. copies and pastes tons of irrelevant crap from Scientology manuals, this is alright?

"Then he and the other transhumanists can whine about what a tyrant I am and how much freer they would be if they were living in an Ayn Rand novel set in cyberspace."

Classifying all transhumanists as Randroids is just a way of simplifying the rival group, dehumanizing it so it's easier to hate. This is silly. Can't you protest against transhumanists without needing to resort to mischaracterization? I've talked to literally over a hundred transhumanists that want nothing to do with libertarianism.

Here is a nutty page that describes what some major portions of the Internet community thinks of Ayn Rand:

http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/Ayn_Rand

Doesn't accurately describe my own views, but there is some overlap.

And regarding protesting you as a tyrant, why would transhumanists like me and Brian even need your blog as a venue to broadcast our ideas, when our own blogs are so much more popular than this one?

Dale Carrico said...

People who self-identify as transhumanists are personally interesting to me. People form clubs around the most trivial of things, like crappy 70s sitcoms or reading mysteries set in the 19th century, why not a club around the upcoming radical transformation of humanity through body modification technologies?

Yes, indeed. Certainly there is no problem at all with wacky interpretive communities affiliating around shared enthusiasms. I love that stuff. But there are differences that make a difference between sf discussion groups, knitting circles, Scientology meet-and-greets, fundamentalist church services, and ideological pan-movements.

You yourself have acknowledged the great potential of the movement,

Potential for what? Fun technogeekery to blue-sky about of a rainy afternoon? Sure, why not? Arguments to clarify the meaning of contemporary technodevelopmental churn? Occasionally, I guess. Education, agitation, and organization to facilitate fairer, safer, more sustainable, more democratic technodevelopmental outcomes? Almost never, and too often the opposite. Sorry.

part of the reason you bother criticizing it so much is its obvious success and appeal, especially in recent years.

Somebody is putting an awfully chipper spin on things, aren't they, now? Spinning like mad, in fact.

You can't simultaneously say the movement is potentially powerful and at the same time question why anyone would want to be a part of it.

Sure, I can. By pointing to the obviously different ways organizations can facilitate or frustrate various kinds of ends.

jfehlinger said...

> But if James F. copies and pastes tons of irrelevant crap
> from Scientology manuals, this is alright?

That made a really big impression on you, didn't it Michael?

As I recall, the central passage was simply a "Scientology pep
talk", originally posted in mockery somewhere on the Web, by somebody
with an insider's knowledge of the lingo. I reposted it
(without the "tons of irrelevant crap") here recently as a
humorous response to a typo made by de Thezier ("out popular").

The "irrelevant crap" in the WTA-talk post you're referring to
(and yes, maybe I went a little overboard with it) consisted
of a glossary elucidating the insider's lingo in the
relatively short passage.

I posted it because of the (rather chilling, to me) insight
the mere list of definitions gives into the authoritarianism of
Scientology, and also (of course) because I was attempting to illustrate
the authoritarianism that goes hand-in-hand with **all** cult ideologies.
And finally, of course (to your irritation, no doubt), to suggest
that transhumanism, to the extent that it is an exercise in
cult formation, also runs the risk of turning into an anti-intellectual
swamp of authoritarian group-think, complete with insider's
jargon.

To discuss cults and cult formation (and gurus, and high-priest wannabes,
and other psychological quirks) in conjunction with transhumanism
is far from irrelevant in my opinion, however much you will protest
to the contrary.

jfehlinger said...

> . . . tons of irrelevant crap . . .

As a matter of fact, to see how a relatively brief, but highly
coded, passage like that decompresses into "tons of. . . crap" in
ordinary language is rather edifying all in itself.

Just the sort of thing Dale might explore in one of his
rhetoric classes. ;->

Dale Carrico said...

If Brian posts oceans of undigested cut-and-paste in reply to this I'll cheerfully delete it all as spam."

But if James F. copies and pastes tons of irrelevant crap from Scientology manuals, this is alright?


Yes, that's right. I think Brian is an idiot, and I think Jim posts content that regularly deserves attention, because of its insights, its humor, its documentation of wider historical or theoretical contexts, or what have you. If that doesn't seem "neutral" that's because it isn't -- this site has a perspective. I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

"Then he and the other transhumanists can whine about what a tyrant I am and how much freer they would be if they were living in an Ayn Rand novel set in cyberspace."

Classifying all transhumanists as Randroids is just a way of simplifying the rival group,


Oh, don't be a stick in the mud. That was a decently funny snark. Look, I'm not subsuming all instances "transhumanist" under the set "advocates of the dumb notions of the awful Ayn Rand" in some earnestly mechanistic fashion, I'm just insinuating that there is a family resemblance here worth a note. Get a grip.

dehumanizing it so it's easier to hate.

Oh dear, what a dreadful character this Dale Carrico fellow must be resorting to tactics like that.

Can't you protest against transhumanists without needing to resort to mischaracterization?

Possibly, but I enjoy doing it this way.

I've talked to literally over a hundred transhumanists that want nothing to do with libertarianism.

I wonder how many of them who feel this way nonetheless advocate views that are continuous with the very viewpoint they claim to want to have nothing to do with. Quite a sizable number, I'll bet. Market fundamentalism equally characterizes the neoliberal viewpoints of Milton Friedman as well as the "anarchocapitalist" views of his son David Friedman, and yet there are many right-wing free-marketeers (notional, emotional, conceptual, with variations and comnbinations in between) who pretend the dime-thin differences between these two positions count as huge gulfs in identity. I know better, and don't let people get away with that sort of thing here. The identification of such continuities of assumptions, values, arguments, ends and de-emphasis on piddling degrees of difference that sometimes distinguish them is one of the things that get my analyses labeled "mischaracterizations" by those who get stung when a bright light is shining on their weaseling.

[Randian Objectivism d]oesn't accurately describe my own views, but there is some overlap.

I don't doubt it.

[W]hy would transhumanists like me and Brian even need your blog as a venue to broadcast our ideas, when our own blogs are so much more popular than this one?

Oh, dear, I don't want to think about what you need, particularly. I'm not here to be popular, and if you are, poor thing, I daresay you should be taking your cues from the Drudge Report or something.

I think there is something nicely self-critical in you Michael that causes you to read my critiques of your positions and engage with them for a while on something like their actual because you grasp their seriousness -- rather unlike many of your readers who respond to critique by circling the wagons rather hilariously and hysterically -- but there is also a quality of damage control and public relations spinning that you often seem to switch to after a little time elapses, and that looks like a rather different sort of thing altogther.

giulio said...

Re: "Cēterīs paribus, I mean it.

What the fuckibus is that supposed to mean?

De Thezier said...

Dale Carrico said:

how much freer they would be if they were living in an Ayn Rand novel set in cyberspace

BioShock is a first-person shooter video game by 2K Boston/2K Australia designed by Ken Levine. The game received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and ranks as the thirteenth best video game on Game Rankings based on reviews from critics. It was particularly well-reviewed in the mainstream press where its "morality-based" storyline, immersive environment and Ayn Rand-inspired dystopian setting were all singled out for praise. BioShock has been praised for providing "an entirely new tool through which to explore philosophy, psychology, and morality." Set in an alternative history 1960, the game places the player in the role of a plane crash survivor named Jack, who must explore the underwater Objectivist-dystopian city of Rapture, and survive attacks by the mutated beings and mechanical drones that populate it. The game incorporates elements found in role-playing and survival horror games...

http://www.2kgames.com/bioshock/

De Thezier said...

giulio said:

What the fuckibus is that supposed to mean?

Ceteris paribus is Latin phrase usually rendered in English as "all other things being equal." A prediction, or a statement about causal or logical connections between two states of affairs, is qualified by ceteris paribus in order to acknowledge, and to rule out, the possibility of other factors which could override the relationship between the antecedent and the consequent.

Anonymous said...

Dale quotes Michael incorrectly, I think:

---
[Randian Objectivism d]oesn't accurately describe my own views, but there is some overlap.
---

and writes "I don't doubt it."

What Michael wanted to say by linking to that Ayn Rand page was that he largely agreed with its, generously said, "critique". Now there may be certainly better ways to criticize Rand than linking to the rather rude pranksters of Encyclopedia Dramatica but the gist of Michael's comment was almost the exact opposite of Dale's interpretation. At least that's my exegesis (smile).

I'm under the impression that Ayn Rand is a lot less important in Europe. One sees occasionally articles about things Randian in the US mainstream press but so far the respective writing in the European continental press has eluded me.

FrF

Dale Carrico said...

What Michael wanted to say by linking to that Ayn Rand page was that he largely agreed with its, generously said, "critique"... the gist of Michael's comment was almost the exact opposite of Dale's interpretation....

You're right, that was awfully sloppy of me. I apologize.

jfehlinger said...

> What Michael wanted to say by linking to that Ayn Rand
> page was that he largely agreed with its. . . "critique".

And yet, for all that, Michael has certainly never repudiated
Ms. Rand and her acolytes in the course of his >H cheerleading.

Perhaps this is simple public-relations expediency: not wanting to
alienate potential sources of funding, like Peter Thiel
( http://valleywag.com/336024/peter-thiel-is-totally-objectivist-people )
or Jimmy Wales
( http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/narcissisticabuse/message/5297 ).

Perhaps it's savvy politics, not wanting to run the risk of
"fragmenting" the >Hist movement over a silly political detail,
a bagatelle that will, bien sur, be swallowed up in the
apocalyptic events surrounding the Coming of AI and the End of History.

Perhaps Michael would claim that Rand and Objectivism are totally
orthogonal to transhumanism, that the association is a coincidence,
a mere historically-contingent juxtaposition that has nothing
to do with the philosophical underpinnings of >Hism, like the
historically-contingent fact that most >Hist Web site are written
in English. He would be wrong, in that case. Rand's crude
"philosophy of mind" -- never taken seriously by mainstream
intellectuals -- **permeates** what passes for thinking about
both the underpinnings of human intelligence and the prospects
for artificial intelligence in the >Hist community.

This interpenetration was given fictional embodiment in John C. Wright's
"Golden Age" SF trilogy, which made him a darling on the Extropians'
list, at least until he started talking about Christianity
and abortion there.

To give credit where credit is due, one of the Singularitarians'
prominent AI theoreticians (**not** E.Y.) once said to me
"I have always thought Rand's philosophy was rather
trivial and silly. . . I am perplexed that Peter Voss and
other smart, thoughtful people seem to find it so interesting. . ."
But **he's** never said that in public, either.

So it's not just Rand's cult-guru role modelling and ugly politics
that have warped >Hist discourse, it's her silly "philosophy of
mind" too.



http://www.theatlasphere.com/columns/050601-zader-peter-voss-interview.php
-------------------
TA: How has Ayn Rand's philosophy influenced your work?

Voss: I came across Rand relatively late in life,
about 12 years ago.

What a wonderful journey of discovery � while at the
same time experiencing a feeling of "coming home." Overall,
her philosophy helped me clarify my personal values
and goals, and to crystallize my business ethics,
while Objectivist epistemology in particular inspired
crucial aspects of my theory of intelligence.

Rand's explanation of concepts and context provided
valuable insights, even though her views on consciousness
really contradict the possibility of human-level AI.

TA: Which views are you referring to?

Voss: Primarily, the view that volitional choices do
not have antecedent causes. This position implies that
human-level rationality and intelligence are incompatible
with the deterministic nature of machines. A few years
ago I devoted several months to developing and writing
up an approach that resolves this apparent dichotomy.
-------------------


Amusingly, John C. Wright provides a poetic description,
in his characterization of how the "anti-AI" Nothing Machine
works, of how modern philosophers of mind thing things
might actually work:


"Phaethon stared in fascination. It was not shaped like any
Sophotech architecture Phaethon had ever seen. There was
no center to it, no fixed logic, no foundational values. Everything
was in motion, like a whirlpool. . .

At the center, where, in Sophotechs, the base concepts
and formal rules of logic and the base system operations
went, was a void. How did the machine operate without
any base concepts? . . .

[E]ach arm of that spiral, each separate thought-action
initiated by the spinning web, each separate strand, had its
own private embedded hierarchy, its own private goals.
The energy was distributed through the thought-webwork
by a success feedback: each parallel line of thought
judged its neighbors according to its own value system,
and swapped data-groups and priority-time according
to their own private needs. Hence, each separate
line of thought was led, as if by an invisible hand, to
accomplish the overall goals of the whole system. And
yet those goals were not written anywhere within the
system itself. They were implied, but not stated, in
the system's architecture, written in the medium, not in
the message.

It was a maelstrom of thought, without a core, without a
heart. And, yes, as expected, there was darkness [ah,
a Heart of Darkness, no doubt!]. Phaethon could see many
blind spots, many sections of which the Nothing Machine
was not consciously aware. In fact, wherever two lines
of thought in the web did not agree, or diverged, a
little sliver of darkness appeared, since such places
lost priority. But wherever thoughts agreed, wherever
they helped each other, or cooperated, additional
webs were born, energy was exchanged, priority time
was accelerated, light grew. The Nothing Machine
was crucially aware of any area where many lines of
thought ran together. . .

'Tell me how this thing is working without any fixed
values. There are no line numbers on anything, no
addresses! How does anything navigate in the system,
without goals? How does it model reality without a
core logic? . . . How does it exist in a rational universe?'"

(John C. Wright, _The Golden Transcendence_,
pp. 264 - 265)

;->

Gerald M. Edelman cites three maxims that summarize
his position in this regard:

1. "Being comes first, describing
second... [N]ot only is it impossible to generate being by mere
describing, but, in the proper order of things, being precedes
describing both ontologically and chronologically"

2. "Doing... precedes understanding... [A]nimals can solve
problems that they certainly do not understand logically... [W]e
[humans] choose the right strategy before we understand why...
[W]e use a [grammatical] rule before we understand what it is;
and, finally... we learn how to speak before we know anything
about syntax"

3. "Selectionism precedes logic." "Logic is... a
human activity of great power and subtlety... [but] [l]ogic is
not necessary for the emergence of animal bodies and brains, as
it obviously is to the construction and operation of a
computer... [S]electionist principles apply to brains
and... logical ones are learned later by individuals with brains"

-- Gerald M. Edelman, _A Universe of Consciousness_, pp. 15-16

De Thezier said...

giulio said:

Sure thing. But you see, most people, and I am no exception, respond to arguments with arguments, to ridicule with ridicule, and to insults with insults. So I think some care should be applied to framing critique in a way that facilitates constructive discourse. If, of course, this is the desided outcome.

Although I always try to frame my serious critiques in a way that facilitates constructive discourse, I've discovered that 1) people often misinterpret these critiques as insults and ridicule when they are not intended to be, and 2) it is almost impossible for people not to feel insulted or ridiculed when you are legitimately questioning their intellectually honesty and rigor regardless of how polite you might be when doing it. In other words, it's not my ploblem if a cult leader like Rael feels insulted and ridiculed because I describe him as a "cult leader".

That being said, the issue being discussed earlier was not how critiques are being framed but the fact that you have clearly stated any critique of your ideas is interpreted by you as "thought-policing" and therefore not appropriate. I apologize if you feel insulted or ridiculed by what I am about to say but this strikes any rational person as evidence of intellectual immaturity on your part.

giulio said...

Re: "any critique of your ideas is interpreted by you as "thought-policing" and therefore not appropriate"

Fair enough. Please critique as much as you like. As I say above I will respond to arguments with arguments, to ridicule with ridicule, and to insults with insults.

De Thezier said...

giulio said:

Fair enough. Please critique as much as you like.

Progress.

As I say above I will respond to arguments with arguments, to ridicule with ridicule, and to insults with insults.

OK. But do you understand that there is a difference between critiquing or ridiculing an idea and rcritiquing, ridiculing and insulting a person who hold this idea? In others words, there is a difference between the following statements:

1. "Intelligent Design Theory" is lunacy!

2. My friend John Doe should question his belief in, and refrain from promoting, "Intelligent Design Theory" otherwise people might fairly or unfairly dismiss as a lunatic, which would be unfortunate.

3. John Doe is a lunatic who should be ignored because he believes in and promotes "Intelligent Design Theory".

Although I don't deny that over time, as our relationship deteriorated, I have made statements similar to #3, the problem started when you always misinterpreted statements I have made that were similar to #1 and #2 as personal insults when they were not. The day you stop your knee-jerk response to so-called "ridicule with ridicule, and to insults with insults" and actually understand this difference, we will finally be able to engage in constructive dialogue once again...

giulio said...

Re: "we will finally be able to engage in constructive dialogue once again..."

Almost, but not quite yet.

Re: ""Intelligent Design Theory" is lunacy!"

That is what I tend to think of Intelligent Design Theory. And when referring to it in a conversation with someone who holds the same opinion, I would use this same sentence or worse.

But ""Intelligent Design Theory" is lunacy!" cannot be used as an argument in a debate, because it is not an argument. An argument is "I am not persuaded by IDT because Darwinism explains things well without extra hypoteses" (Occam), or "IDT should be dismissed because it has been falsified by this experiment".

In passing, it is very difficult to attack IDT with the second class of arguments, because IDT (as used by religious fundamentalists) includes a protection against experimental refutation (e.g. God has created the world 6000 years ago, and with a fake history to make it appear older). But then we can say that a theory that cannot be falsified is not a scientific theory, and the Occam argument still holds.

But I have no issue with those who like to believe in IDT. If believing in IDT can make them happier, why not. I only have issues with those IDT believers who want to ban Darwinism from schools. And you do not need to prove that IDT is lunacy in order to keep Darwinism in schools: there are much simpler and better arguments.

OK, back to "Transhumanism is lunacy". I am sure you will concede that it is not an argument, and that its only real effect in a debate will to make opponents less and less willing to listen to you, and more and more willing to call you a lunatic or worse in return.

Of course I am aware that you have done your best to propose real arguments in past and current debates. And you may be surprised to hear that your arguments have not been entirely without effect.

The only point where we seem to completely disagree is the feasibility _in principle_ of some of the more speculative "transhumanist goals". You say no, I say maybe. For me, it is a non negotiable point.

But I think the points that you really want to make are not about the scientific or engineering feasibility of specific objectives. Rather, they are about priorities, and cultural and social issues associated to technodevelopment. My advice, and of course you are free to take or leave it, is to stick to your core points that may make perfect sense _regardless_ of the feasibility or not of lofty "transhumanist goals". From the point of view of an opponent, I can tell you that your arguments would be much more effective this way. What else can I say.

Re ridicule, insults etc:

Call me a clown, and I will call you a clown. Call me an idiot, and I will call you an idiot. Mock me, and I will mock you. Respect me, and I will respect you. Argue with me, and I will argue with you. It is really that simple.

I am still a poor human 1.0 after all! I have not yet been touched by the nanoGrace of the Robot God (may His name be blessed)!

De Thezier said...

OK, back to "Transhumanism is lunacy". I am sure you will concede that it is not an argument, and that its only real effect in a debate will to make opponents less and less willing to listen to you, and more and more willing to call you a lunatic or worse in return.

I agree but I have never referred to transhumanism (depending how it is defined) as a lunacy. I have simply called some ideas or goals that have been labeled "transhumanist" as lunacy. Although this is not an argument but rather than affirmation, I've observed that sometimes complex arguments are often rationalized away while simple affirmations are actually the "shock therapy" that provokes someone into questioning a long-held belief.

Of course I am aware that you have done your best to propose real arguments in past and current debates. And you may be surprised to hear that your arguments have not been entirely without effect.

I'm happy to hear it.

The only point where we seem to completely disagree is the feasibility _in principle_ of some of the more speculative "transhumanist goals". You say no, I say maybe. For me, it is a non negotiable point.

Despite what I have said on the subject in the past, you may be surprised to hear that am far more open to the feasibility in principle of artificial intelligence and some form of mind uploading. However, I do say No when you or anyone talks of "immortality" or "Omega Point theory" for reasons that should be obvious.

Call me a clown, and I will call you a clown. Call me an idiot, and I will call you an idiot. Mock me, and I will mock you. Respect me, and I will respect you. Argue with me, and I will argue with you. It is really that simple.

Not it isn't that simple because even I can concede that I may have acted like an idiot (whether because I realize it on my own or someone else points it out to me) however you seem unable to and that's the problem.

giulio said...

Re: "even I can concede that I may have acted like an idiot (whether because I realize it on my own or someone else points it out to me) however you seem unable to and that's the problem"

I do admit to having acted like an idiot on occasions, especially when I have overreacted to others' statements, often yours instead of letting things rest. I do tend to overreact to real or perceived attacks or threats. It is a personality flaw. Waiting for the first stone.

I must also admit to having written like an idiot, since some of the things that I have written have been interpreted in a way very different from what I intended. This can only be my own fault, since I am the one who wrote things too open to a distorted interpretation. The message I get is, back to the writing pad.

But I think the core meaning that I wanted to convey is good, even if the words that I have chosen are not. Perhaps I should seek the help of a better writer and communicator. Now that's an idea Dale, how about we write the Holy Book of Our Transcendent Robot God together. I let you keep the money.