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

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Some Questions For A "Mind-Uploading" Enthusiast

In an article published a few days ago in the transhumanoid rag hplusmagazine (that's human-plus! for all you mere human-minuses out there!), Eugen Spierer writes:
How can we expect to learn the secrets of the world around us while trapped within a body which only lives for several decades, demands constant nourishment and attention, and dictates limits and desires beyond our control? … Once we have severed the link between our consciousness and the cruel joke someone has played on us by enclosing it in a mortal body, can we begin to really appreciate the beauty of the world around us. We would then be able to explore its secrets not just for a limited number of years, but for an eternity. The first steps toward such a noble cause have already been taken in Switzerland. Scientists have already simulated a part of a rat’s brain with proven accuracy. It’s called the Blue Brain Project and it aims to use developing computer technologies in order to simulate an entire human brain and thus, hopefully, create a human personality which will be based on computer hardware rather than on the miserable excuse we have for a wetware body. Just think of the possibilities! Eternal life. Easy and accessible space travel and colonization. Plenty of time for all human beings to grow and develop. Far less strain the planet’s limited resources. No more disease. No more suffering. No more death. A better understanding of the world around us, free of the constraints which currently bind us to a meager existence and a short life span. No other research is this important, for this will be the base of our success as a species.
Just for kicks, let us answer some of these questions by asking a few of our own.

Why exactly shouldn't we expect to make discoveries and learn useful new things about the world with our biological brains and bodies when we always have done and have never done otherwise? What kind of person thinks living life is just a way of being "trapped" in the first place? Is it at least sometimes better to think of the needs and wants and vulnerabilities arising at the site of the body not as "demands" or "weaknesses" but as enablers of pleasures, connections, surprises? Might this person need therapy rather than mind-uploading and might this not be a good thing inasmuch as therapy, at least, actually exists?

Why would someone who understands evolution say that our evolved morphology is a cruel joke being played on us? Who is presumably playing this joke on us? And even if a person believed in such a trickster and even granting that human life is sometimes cruel, wouldn't all the wonderful and beautiful aspects of life make one as inclined to feel grateful to this imaginary being as hostile to it?

Is it true that nobody hitherto has really appreciated the beauty of the world around us? If that is really true, then how is it possible to understand the sense of the sentence in the first place?

Moving along, then. Is it right to think a representation of a rat's brain is the same thing as a rat's brain? Is it right to think a scan of an aspect of a human's brain is the same thing as a human's brain, let alone the same thing as a human consciousness or the same thing as a human self? If we are materialists about mind doesn't this mean we should take seriously the material form that actually existing minds actually take? What kind of materialist would be so dismissive of the actual material incarnation of consciousness that they would treat it as completely negligible to the phenomenon and pretend translation and transmission and transfers from one material regime of consciousness to another can be taken for granted? Come to think of it, why would someone use the word "transfer" or "migrate" to describe taking a picture and then destroying the original thing pictured, when that is simply not at all what these words actually mean?

And even granting for the moment all of this utterly un-grantable nonsense and setting aside as one should not all the conceptual confusions, all the inapt analogies, all the slippages from literal into figurative language on which these claims seem to depend, how on earth do we get from pretending "mind uploading" is a sensible phrase let alone a practically possible outcome to suddenly attributing eternal life to this conceit? Why would existence "as" or "on" computer hardware presumably be longer lasting –- let alone less "miserable" –- than biological life is? In just whose actual experience does it seem that computers tend to last longer than human bodies do? What software programs have remained functional longer than human lifespans? Do these cyber-immortalists have radically different kinds of computers at their disposal than I do? Do their computers never crash or stall or get buggy or spammed or grow obsolete like mine always have?

Skipping along further still: How would a being that has settled for a crappy virtual environment even know it was traveling in outer space or colonizing extraterrestrial worlds?

Given that the internet is not in fact an angelic spirit realm but accessed on devices made of landfill-destined toxic plastic and metals fueled by black belching coal fired electric plants why would anyone state with such assurance that an even more intensely computer mediated existence would necessarily put less strain on planetary resources?

What if the possibility of suffering is sufficiently inherent in the very possibility of experience as such that to circumvent the one is to eliminate the other, and hence render the proposal of a total elimination of suffering self-defeating?

If a thing is incoherent in conception and impossible of realization in what sense can it be considered important at all? What actually important efforts are not being considered and not being undertaken for every second devoted to this nonsense?

What possible meaning could the words on which the sense of the last sentence of this piece depends -- words like "our" "success" and "species" -- actually have were the world rewritten in the image of this piece's avowed desires?

This article is filled with palpably wrongheaded, incoherent, ridiculous, and pathological statements. I do not say this to be insulting, but to straightforwardly describe my assessment of what is exposed by the critical interrogation of the premises and conclusions preceding.

You know, there is nothing in this article that I haven't heard and seen countless times before, at this point nearly daily for decades, in transhumanist and singularitarian and futurological conversations and publications. Indeed, I would say that these utterances fairly count as absolutely standard transhumanist boilerplate. Is there any stasis more stolid than what the futurologists peddle in the name of accelerating change?

That is why for me the most touching moment in this hopelessly sad stale bit of futurological agitprop is when the author declares, "Just think of the possibilities!" How breathless, how blinkered! This is, of course, the usual pay-off of futurological propaganda, the moment of the real setting aside of any pretense of taking seriously the boring real science that presumably enables all this masturbatory skylarking and the leap thereupon into sheer shared shaggy fanboy enthusiasm... time for making belief in the present of a make-believe "The Future" behind which the making-begone of present distresses in a contingent, aging, error-prone, demanding existence can be made manifest. You can really taste the adrenaline rush of full on fulminating True Belief in that exclamation point, can't you? Robot Cultists just keep on indulging in this stale ritual catechism, pumped up with the hysterical tonalities of canned novelty and crass desire, like late-nite informercialists on fast forward, and yet like sleepwalkers toward a cliff, and yet like robots on a dark dead factory floor, and yet like pilgrims in search of a priest, and yet like jumpy junkies in search of a fix... like scared scarred sociopathic salesmen making their pitch to the mark in the mirror.


jimf said...

> "Just think of the possibilities!"

You know, much of the "technosuperlative" speculation I've read
on the Web from 1997 until now has taken the form:

1. Assume technology is accelerating (generalized Moore's Law).

2. Then, sooner or later, we'll have effectively infinite computational

3. Therefore, **sophisticated** futurism consists in speculating
about what will be done with **infinite computational
capacity** (and other magical stuff, like nanotech and mind uploading).

If you think this is putting the cart before the horse, then you
clearly Just Don't Get It. ;-> Actually **figuring out** how we're
going to get from here to the next step on the path to Infinity
(how to manufacture the next chip, fold the next amino acid sequence,
or whatever) is for hacks and dullards. Not much more interesting
than washing dishes, or lab glassware. No, the proper role of
**soopergeniuses** is the **assume** the infinite technology,
and figure out what to do with it. And that's much more fun, too --
just like playing a collaborative role-playing game!

Ian said...

Why do you care so much about escapist extremists? They're often naive (assuming in the virtual world everything works fine for them) and probably have some mental condition. They're not even representative for the transhumanist community, they're just loud and visible on the web.

And this guy starts with a pretty questionable premise. Why should mankind upload to solve the problems of particle physics? It's certainly relevant, but hey... :)

Dale Carrico said...

Here are ten reasons. As for their representativeness, think again.