Thursday, October 15, 2015

on transhumanism

The extraordinary claim that the technological enhancement of the human brain's neocortex will make us more "godlike" suffers from a mistaken comparison between God and human beings. God is not a super-creature among creatures. The characteristics traditionally predicated of God with respect to knowledge, power, and love, for example, are not possessed by God in a greater degree than they are possessed by human beings. When we use terms such as omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving when referring to God, we must remember that all such language about God is at best analogical and that, finally, God transcends all such categories. The temptation to be "like God" is an old one, and it always needs to be resisted, even in its modern technological guise.

Folks like Kurzweil strike me as having a thinly-veiled contempt for humanity, as if what we are is "merely" human, that humanity is and always will be inferior to machines, and that the creations of man (that is, machines) are in some way more virtuous than humanity itself, and so the worship of the machine is founded upon a form of self-loathing, Kurzweil despising himself for being an animal, an ape, a man. After Nimrod built his tower, when he climbed to the top he was astonished to find that he was no nearer to heaven, that the god of Abraham remained beyond his grasp forever.

Wait, wait: this isn't about reading or writing, is it? No, it's not directly, but I am planning a novel featuring a philosopher, so I will be thinking a lot about philosophy and the metaphysics of humanity for the next several years. Tomorrow, though, if I find time, I will post about Out of Africa.

12 comments:

  1. The attempts to "humanize" God have been around forever; hence the trope of humans being formed in the likeness of God. And thus the motive for philosophy. The ineffable and inexplicable cannot be put into words. True?

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    1. Of course we have no way of knowing in what way we are a likeness of God. Most of us, I fear, would like to believe we are like God in terms of omniscience, rather than in terms of humility and love.

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  2. a nice course in geology would help anyone understand a bit more about reality; but i forget, philosophy doesn't care about what's real...

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    1. I guess it all comes down to epistemology, "what is real?" and all of that. If one believes one lives in a mechanistic universe, that God is just another machine like us, then surely the way to become godlike is through technological advances; that logically follows. But we all fight over a priori assumptions, killing each other because we take different notions to be axiomatic. Hence history, how continuously exciting.

      The older I get, the less I trust my a priori assumptions, the fewer things I try to take as axiomatic. The downside to that is that I have less confidence in anything I may say, in the way I say it, and the point of saying it at all. One is tempted, like Beckett's Unnameable man, to retreat into an urn and refuse to say anything; though of course like him, I can't shut up either. It's a tangle.

      But I stick by my observation that a lot of "progress" is driven by a contempt of what mankind is. I don't see that as healthy, and I further observe that a lot of "progress" seems merely to attempt to make mankind into a machine race, which would be a race without purpose. Without the irrational, you have no love. Without love, you have no humanity. Without humanity...well, one can argue that a world without humanity would be a more peaceful place, but that argument is ignorant of the nature of nature. So I'm sticking with the anti-machine irrational, because that permits love. I haven't said a word about geology. I have been philosophizing. Maybe I don't care about what's real either, and am only insisting upon an ideal. Huh.

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    2. Scott, I can only embrace Beckett's grand paradox: we cannot go on, yet we must go on, until the final Endgame. Perhaps that's all we need to know. God, I guess, helps some people embrace that paradox. Beckett, by the way, is among my favorite writers. I don't suppose that surprises you.

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    3. I knew that about you and Beckett! I begin to think that it's not actually a paradox, that the "cannot" is a lie we tell ourselves when we are weak. Because we do go on; time does that for us. Beckett's genius, I think, is that he knew that although we will always demand answers, we will never get them, or if we do, we will not understand them because the answers are beyond our ken, our very ability to grasp them, and also that this demand for answers--if we let it take up all of our energy--will only mean that we waste our lives, that we become the dead disembodied voice complaining about how we don't know if we're dead yet, and that is all comedy. We crawl in mud, but it is we ourselves who will ourselves down into the muck; we are not required to be there, we are in fact told to get out of the muck, but we don't want to. We cling to the muck, we cling to our debasement and complain about it and so Beckett laughs at us, down in his own mud. The mud is comforting. The complaints are comforting.

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  3. Please note that I have had to move and retitle my blog:
    http://beyondeastrodredux.blogspot.com/

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  4. it's all a matter of perspective. a geologist ignores species(i.e. humans) and tries to read what rocks have to tell him. lithospheric changes are powered by convection in the subsurface transitioning into tectonic movement(also called continental drift). but even geology responds to the physical and chemical laws that govern everything in the cosmos. star making with solar systems attached is a known but, of course, not totally understood process, but which has created the universe as we know it. in the present day, mankind knows more about the universe and how it functions than ever before as a result of measuring and quantifying the data around us and it behooves individuals, one would think, to recognize and accept that knowledge. hard to see how deism fits into the picture... i try to honor and respect the opinions of others, but it's difficult when the evidence is ignored. i'm of two minds about publishing this, but i guess i will...

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    1. Some of my best friends are empiricists! I tend to be one. I do not however think that a computer is a very good model of human consciousness. Maybe I don't know enough about either neuroscience or computer science to make that claim, but I do believe (and there's some good science to back this up) that humanity is essentially irrational, and that our selves are not some sort of logically-programmed machines. I do not see that as a flaw in our makeup, is my thing. I see it as one of our strengths. Hopefully that's not too much like one of the many "pro-human" speeches in the last couple of Dr Who seasons.

      I also live with a philosopher, and she reminds me occasionally of such scientific high points as phlogiston and Paracelsan medicine as a way to remind me that the way humanity describes the universe is not necessarily all there is to the picture. You know, like the way nobody knew ultraviolet light existed until 1801 or whenever it was discovered. My sensory data and my intuition are not 100% in tune, though I don't discount the possibility that all of my provisional-science claims are just a form of special pleading. And you are of course free to say to me what I say to my crazy brother in law about his alleged near-death experiences: I don't necessarily question his experiences although I powerfully doubt his interpretation.

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    2. that reminded me of several times in my youth when i experienced prevision of a sort: knowing what was going to happen before it did. at least once in dreams and at least once when i was awake; scary and alarming at the time; if there was a rational explanation i don't know what it might have been... my brother made himself a millionaire working in the computer industry; but he was always kind of machine-like, so it's difficult to tell what effect his work had on his psyche. i guess in order to understand what science really is, one must be immersed in it in some way; the chain of measurement, the endless experimentation and the continued emphasis on integrity and the total absorption in the search for truth based on factual investigation. in my humble opinion, the most impressive work humanity has ever undertaken...

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  5. i just read a blog entry in the Guardian by david atkins that puts the situation a lot more clearly. to wit: the sciences are the greatest creation ever made by humans. the arts, ideally, serve to help them live with themselves and others and to promote understanding in positive ways that enhance life for all. this is a paraphrase.

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  6. oh, i forgot the crucial part; the two shouldn't be mixed...

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