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

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Forum on the Existenz Journal Issue, "The Future of Humanity and the Question of Post-Humanity"

The Journal Existenz has published an issue (Volume 8/2, Fall 2013 ISSN: 1932-1066) entitled The Future of Humanity and the Question of Post-Humanity. I contributed an essay to the volume, Futurological Discourse and Posthuman Terrains. On this page I mean to post critical discussions of and responses to the issue and the individuals essays included in it, both my own and substantive critiques by others. If you come upon any such discussions or write one yourself, please let me know and I will read it and link to it here. Existenz itself has linked to this page to encourage the conversation. I will be happy to publish substantial critiques here on Amor Mundi as guest posts and may upgrade forceful criticisms in comments from the Moot as entries here as well. Substantial critical engagements with my own arguments are especially welcome, of course.

Table of Contents

Index and Editor's Introduction

Discussions of and Responses to the Volume as a Whole:
Comment from Athena Andreadis and discussion.
Gregory J. Walters, Saint Paul University, Canada, Transhumanism, Post-Humanism, and Human Technological Enhancement: Whither Goes Humanitas? 1

Discussions and Responses:

Max More, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Hyperagency as a Core Attraction and Repellant for Transhumanism, 14

Discussions and Responses:

Natasha Vita-More, Humanity+ Contested Culture: The Plausibility of Transhumanism, 19

Discussions and Responses:

Francesca Ferrando, Columbia University, Posthumanism, Transhumanism, Antihumanism, Metahumanism, and New Materialisms: Differences and Relations, 26

Discussions and Responses:

John P. Sullins, Sonoma State University, Transhuman Express: Are we Ethically Required to be Transhumanists?, 33

Discussions and Responses:

Stephen A. Erickson, Pomona College, Posthumanism, Technology, and Education, 40

Discussions and Responses:

Dale Carrico, University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco Art Institute, Futurological Discourses and Posthuman Terrains, 47

Discussions and Responses:
Comments from "jimf" and "JD Tuyes" with responses.

Richard Jones, Does Transhumanism Matter? April 17, 2017. I respond here.
Michael Hauskeller, University of Exeter, UK, Human Nature from a Transhumanist Perspective, 64

Discussions and Responses:

Here is a recording of the original panel discussion organized by the Karl Jaspers Society of North America that took place at the 87th Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Society in San Francisco, in March 31, 2013.


Athena Andreadis said...

I find two attributes of this issue representative of perennial larger issues in this domain: 1) two of the seven articles are by More 1 & 2 (so much for "balance") and 2) there is zero input from practicing scientists.

Dale Carrico said...

I would say that futurisms/ transhumanisms/ posthumanisms are not forms of actual science practice or science policy (and, I would add, make for unusually hackneyed, incompetent, impoverished science fiction) but are instead discourses and subcultures that indulge in consumer fandom, pseudo-science, promotional deception and hyperbole, scientistic triumphalism, and techno-transcendental religiosity. If that is right, then it seems to me apt, really, that philosophers and rhetoricians tackle the phenomenon on those terms.

I don't doubt that practicing scientists could devastatingly debunk the pretensions to any legitimate scientific basis for transhumanoidal and futurological assumptions, observations, preoccupations, aspirations, enthusiasms (I've seen it done!), but once such debunking is done where are we?

For one thing, I worry that such debunking paradoxically risks legitimizing the scientificity of the enterprise more than transhumanists could ever manage on their own terms. Even if the result is totally dismissive in the end, for real scientists to devote real attention to their claims as if they were worthy of scientific consideration at all is to invest them with a credibility they could scarcely muster on their own. This is especially so when the gracious norms of professional discourse provide so many footholds for True Believers to cleave to: maybe in the long run? maybe logically if not practically possible? implausible but raises important issues! useful as a thought experiment, and so on.

For another thing, it seems to me that the crucial questions of how such false and facile pseudo-scientific formulations acquire their currency and force in futurological discourses and subcultures (not just in Robot Cults but in more prevailing neoliberal developmental discourses and advertizing and pop-tech journalism, say) are not illuminated much by the exposure of the false-science and pseudo-science itself. Philosophers, rhetoricians, cultural ethnographers seem to be well positioned to lodge critiques in the belly of the beast.

I think you may still disagree with my argument here, and I would be thrilled to learn from and link to a fuller elaboration of your case.

Your comment on an imbalance introduced by the presence of futurological ideologues like the Mores is one I take seriously. You may be right about that. It was a worry when I agreed to participate in the panel in the first place. And perhaps this second objection actually connects to your point about the lack of practicing scientists in the discussion. Do you think the Mores would legitimately decry my presence as an anti-futurological ideologue on similar grounds? Of course, I do not pretend to be making scientific claims in my arguments in the first place, while they often pretend to do. I tried gingerly to touch on some of these issues in one of the sections of my contribution -- when I talked about the relevance here of organizational questions of institutional histories and overlapping memberships and funding sources and citation-inflation, questions different from the usual theoretical concerns with logical entailment and narrative conceits -- but there is much more to say about it.

Athena Andreadis said...

I don't really disagree with you. Much of TH falls solidly into pseudoscience; hence debates or rebuttals would indeed lend it legitimacy it doesn't deserve. At the popsci level, however, debunking snake oil blatherings is still important to culture/society.

Dale Carrico said...

On that, I don't disagree with you either. Not to mention that real scientists debunking transhumanoid con-artistry is always a pure pleasure when it is delivered with just the right amount of withering contempt.

jimf said...

> I find two attributes of this issue representative of perennial
> larger issues in this domain: 1) two of the seven articles are by
> More 1 & 2 (so much for "balance") and 2) there is zero input
> from practicing scientists.

Not that "input from practicing scientists" would **necessarily**
guarantee "balance". Depends on the scientists. To wit:
Egregious idiocy
Mar 10 2014
by PZ Myers

The IDiots are crowing: they found a scientist who doesn’t understand
evolution. One catch that they don’t think is very important:
he’s a synthetic chemist. I think it’s fair to say that he’s
as clueless about the issues in evolutionary biology as I am
of those in synthetic chemistry, but at least I have the humility
to recognize that my understanding of one discipline does not
imply understanding of a completely different one. So the
Uncommon Descent crowd is ridiculously enthusiastic about a
scientist, James Tour, who doesn’t understand something, and
they’ve got excerpts from a talk he gave, on “Jesus and Nanotechnology”
(the title kind of clues you in, doesn’t it?) in which he
professes his ignorance, as if that’s some sort of indictment of

> I will tell you as a scientist and a synthetic chemist: if
> anybody should be able to understand evolution, it is me,
> because I make molecules for a living, and I don’t just buy a kit,
> and mix this and mix this, and get that. I mean, ab initio,
> I make molecules. I understand how hard it is to make molecules.
> I understand that if I take Nature’s tool kit, it could be
> much easier, because all the tools are already there, and I
> just mix it in the proportions, and I do it under these conditions,
> but ab initio is very, very hard. . .
> Let me tell you what goes on in the back rooms of science – with
> National Academy members, with Nobel Prize winners. I have sat
> with them, and when I get them alone, not in public – because
> it’s a scary thing, if you say what I just said – I say,
> “Do you understand all of this, where all of this came from, and
> how this happens?” Every time that I have sat with people who are
> synthetic chemists, who understand this, they go “Uh-uh. Nope.”
> These people are just so far off, on how to believe this stuff
> came together. I’ve sat with National Academy members, with
> Nobel Prize winners. Sometimes I will say, “Do you understand this?”
> And if they’re afraid to say “Yes,” they say nothing. They just
> stare at me, because they can’t sincerely do it.

. . .

I must. . . point out that if you sit down with any intelligent
scientist, and ask them if they have all the answers to the big
questions in their discipline, they’ll say no, and even better,
they’ll bring up a whole series of difficult questions that you
probably never even thought of. That’s the nature of science;
every answer inspires a dozen new questions, and inquiry leads
you ever deeper into harder problems. Only a dishonest hack would
think that somehow brings the science into disrepute. . .

Oh, and just a hint: when you confront a Nobel Prize winner with
a stupid question, and they just stare at you, it’s not because they’re
afraid to say the truth: it’s probably because they’re wondering why
they’re having this conversation with this idiot.