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    Tilting at windmills or Enlightened vision? (Zoltan Istvan - An original interview and essay for SC )
    Intro:

    Here is the thing, whether you agree with Zoltan Istvan or not is irrelevant. What is relevant and deeply so, is that here is a human that walks his talk, and promotes relentlessly and irreverently that which he believes in.
    And that which he believes in is best summed up in his own words, as an answer to my question:

    Who are you Zoltan Istvan?

    “I am human being who loves life, and I don't want that life to end. But I believe that life will end for myself and others if people don't do anything. So I'm doing all I can do to try and preserve my life and the lives of others via science and technology.”



    Zoltan has a vision, a philosophy and even a presidential candidacy. But his quintessential message presented in his controversial book ‘The Transhumanist Wager’ is simple, there exists a mortality crisis that every human experiences, and thus to counter this crisis :
    “A rational and scientific-minded society owes itself the strictest dedication to applying its resources and minds to overcoming that which has been the greatest downfall of our species: our mortality.”
    And let us be clear and forward, I am all for it, we must take death out of the equation.
    There is no doubt in my mind that the choice of living indefinitely should be in our hands.

    Here is a paradox. I am going to recommend a book that I am ambiguous about, that to my mind is not well written and with which final conclusions I am highly uncomfortable.
    So why recommend such a book?
    The answer is not simple, but in a nutshell my answer is: ‘you must read this book, because if nothing else it is an eye opener’, even if you are familiar with many of this book ideas, the book allows a foray into an extreme form of transhumanism, that many, me included, do not espouse. And yet I do believe, ‘The Transhumanist Wager’ (TW) is a worthy addition to one’s repertoire of reading material.



    The reason, upon which I wholeheartedly agree with its author Zoltan Istvan, is that the issues raised in the TW are some of the most fundamental if not ‘The’ most crucial ones, we must enter and debate about at this time and era.
    Our techno progressive stance must of necessity move us to bring these issues to the fore, and open a comprehensive and coherent contemplation and discussion, because these issues are already affecting all of us, and as science and technologies that are disrupting our old ways of thinking are pushing the boundaries of our civilization , day in and day out, not discussing these issues is tantamount to walking blindly (and some will say dangerously) into our future.

    So, having thought about these issues long and deep for a very long while now, I decided to approach Zoltan Istvan and propose to him an interview for our Space Collective community here, to which he graciously accepted.

    This will not be a book review though some of the questions I have assembled for Zoltan to answer are obviously book related since that is where he expounds his omnipotender philosophy. (for a very thorough and quite enlightening review of the book see the reviews by Giulio Prisco for Kurzweil AI here and by Chris T. Armstrong for H+ mag here).

    Now then, a few words first.

    To a very large extent here at SC we are techno progressives, we are all to different degrees great believers in the power of science and technology to change our futures, to upgrade our bodies and our inherent biological limitations be it of the brain implants category, of the cyborgian enhancements, of upgrading and updating our senses or the manipulation of our own DNA to fit our frail organisms to live in space.
    Moreover, on almost all issues especially concerning the concepts of longevity or deathism (the preconceived notion that death is inevitable and inescapable) I think we agree at least in principle.
    No, death is not inevitable (in principle) and longevity should be pursued to its maximum potential, at least to my mind these are non issues. Therefore I am definitely in Zoltan’s camp when he states in the words of the Omnipotender, Jethro Knights, the main protagonist of the TW: ” Death is not destiny. Death is neither inevitable nor natural.” And yes, I am for the allocation of the full research resources to create an anti aging Manhattan project.
    Where we differ and probably differ more deeply than apparent concerns the manner of reaching this lofty goal and its presumed timetable.
    Technically I think that presently it is impossible to know precisely how difficult this problem (of aging) really is and therefore how difficult it will be to solve it, nevertheless I am quite certain that it will eventually be solved for the benefit of all sentient beings. That however is not the issue, the issue as always is how to get there and how expedient should our measures be.
    If the price is dictatorship as Zoltan's Omnipotender asserts, then no, if the elimination of personal freedom is the price, then no, if the libertarian credo involving the militant approach portrayed in the TW is the answer then no, I would not choose this path.

    Questions of ethics and aesthetics are always the most salient and most difficult to come to terms with when what was only a gedanken experiment a few years ago becomes an actual reality with which we have to deal.
    This very last month has brought us a few steps closer to designer babies (Nature: Chinese scientists genetically modify human embryos- Rumors of germline modification prove true — and look set to reignite an ethical debate.) and simultaneously to a new possible breakthrough in the realm of defeating aging (A central mechanism of aging identified – and it might be reversible), so if there is one lesson to take home here, it is that the features and issues which Zoltan promotes are here and need to be explored now. We no longer can afford the historically indefinite periods of discourse to arrive at some possible resolution to these issues since we need answers and we need them now, the science and technology will not wait for our philosophical ruminations to bear fruit.

    The point is that though I agree that we need to answer or at least have a sketched idea to work with concerning these ethical conundrums, we simultaneously also cannot rush. In this respect the work of Zoltan is admirable if only because he brings these issues to the table of discourse, precisely at this point in time.


    The interview:

    Wildcat (W): The first question I would like to put to you concerns the longevity issue: I have done an interview with Aubrey de grey about the reasons for longevity and I would like to ask you a similar question: can you describe the evolution of love in relation to longevity?

    Zoltan Istvan (ZI) :For me, the most important idea is that one's moral system changes as their life gets shorter or threatened, so love is contextual to me too. I think it changes as we either live longer due to technology or have less time.

    W:How will it change?

    ZI: We will either embrace it more, or less. But the context will determine that.

    W: Can you describe love from the standpoint of an omnipotender?

    ZI: I don't think the Omnipotender is capable of love in the real or total sense—in terms of attraction to another. It's too concerned with itself and it's goals. It loves itself.

    W: Is there a love for an other that is not an omnipotender in your philosophy?

    ZI:Yes, absolutely. Love can sometimes be vulnerability or necessity. We all have that sometime, and so it's quite prevalent. One must remember that possibly no one on Earth is truly an omnipotender. It's a philosophical construct or an ideal. We might reach it someday, but mostly everyone is still just a box of emotions.

    W:Does not the egoism implied in the very name of your philosophy manifesto denies the rights of an other?

    ZI: I think it might deny it at the stage when someone becomes an omnipotender. But that is a far time from now, when one person is really contending for Godhood, and not just an amateur.

    W: TEF, or Teleological Egocentric Functionalism is the name of your philosophy can you describe it , its roots and its implications? (correlated philosophers?)

    ZI: Sure, Teleological means by design or destiny. Egocentric means related to one's own self and desires. And Functionalism means it's always rational. There are no correlated philosophers that I'm aware of, but a lot of people can see quite a bit of Nietzchean philosophy in TEF. The closest hero, other than Jethro Knights for the philosophy, is Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. But I don't think Ayn Rand would like that statement much.

    W: In your book, ‘the transhumanist wager’ you describe the protagonist Jethro Knights as an omnipotender: “one who contends for omnipotence.” …an “elite transhuman champion…the ideal and zenith of the life extension and human enhancement populace…This omnipotender is an unyielding individual whose central aim is to contend for as much power and advancement as he [can] achieve, and whose immediate goal is to transcend his human biological limitations in order to reach a permanent sentience.” (the quote is from the excellent read on H+ by Chris Armstrong)

    A number of questions come forth here: the first concerns the term itself, have you coined the term?

    ZI: Yes, I coined the term, as far as I know.

    W: How did you coin it, what are the origins of the meaning of the term omnipotender?

    ZI: "Omni" means all or everything in this context, and "potender" is meant to imply "power." So you basically have a person who wants all power.

    W:Is the term meant to be implied on every Transhuman agenda?

    ZI: That's a tough question. I just don't think anyone can really live up to it at the moment, without enhancements. Humans are too Mammalian, and too humanitarian. An omnipotender is someone truly after his own cause.

    W: Accordingly, each and every Transhuman should desire to become an omnipotender? (is it the case that for you a Transhuman and an omnipotender are or should be one and the same?)

    ZI: When you analyze this from a philosophical point of view, I think every human being wants ultimate power, so naturally following the code of the Ominipotender makes perfect sense. But most humans don't act on either their best interests or true desires. They act on whims, on what culture has taught them to do, and on many other things.

    W: Furthermore if I understand the term correctly it is in fact a desire for dictatorship?

    ZI: Dictatorship is a simple and decent word to use, even though it's very loaded and carries lots of historical baggage. However, this so-called dictatorship is not one wanting power to be better than someone, it's more wanting power so no one can take away your life and it's brilliance. And this can only be guaranteed by a dictatorship.

    W: If that is indeed the meaning of the term, how are we to reconcile the dictatorship desire when there is more than one omnipotender? (isn’t that a contradiction?)

    ZI: No, the omnipotenders will have to battle it out, or come to a draw by forming contracts. But social contracts are bandaids in some ways, so often one will have to be dominant over the other and a firm victor to emerge. Again, this is all just the philosophy of the omnipotender.

    W:In what fashion is the Omnipotender correlated to Nietzsche Ubermench?

    ZI: They are closely related, but Nietzsche didn't understand how technology would play the part in the Omnipotender. Its enhancements and change of the human body and experience that will lead to power over others. It's philosophical. It's an elephant stomping on an ant.

    W: More importantly, ethically speaking, is an omnipotender a better kind of human? (do you actually already describe yourself as an omnipotender?)

    ZI: No, I definitely don't see myself as an omnipotender. I really think that term is reserved for someone who is really always striving to be the most powerful person in the universe, and no longer really cares about others in a personal way. But whether it's a better human is a tough question. Better for what? Evolution and a life form gaining power—then likely yes. Better for humanity and society, probably not so much.

    W: In a Tedx you have given in Geneva in January titled : “The Beauty of Being Alive” you speak about the future of beauty, in the talk you say that “Future beauty is synonymous with exponential technology” can you please expand on that?

    ZI: Beauty is always changing because of how it's connected to making something valuable. But value is often found in the function of something. As humans become more advanced by technology, they will become more beautiful. This is how they are synonymous.

    W: How do you see the future of beauty?

    ZI: I see it increasingly being tied to functionality and tech enhancements. I see beauty increasingly becoming tied to an all-digital world.

    W: In what sense is it correlated to exponential technology?
    ZI: Technology is exploding in innovation right now. The more it becomes useful to us, the more beautiful it is. Beauty is tied to functionality for me.

    W: Is exponential technology a form of aesthetics?
    ZI: Yes, it's the all-encompassing form of aesthetics. We determine it's nature and use through our attachment and necessity to it.

    W:If yes what parallels are there between the commonly accepted aesthetic perception and exponential technology as the aesthetics of the future?
    ZI: Again, it's all about functionality. Form follows function. That form is getting better and more useful all the time, given the context. Eventually, we will be at a point when we are almost always perfect—which is to say almost always beautiful.

    W: Artificial wombs, the future of reproduction, a license to reproduce? Pls expand on this topic

    ZI:I believe artificial wombs will be the future—give it 20 years or so. Human birthing is barbaric and dangerous. Everything should be simpler and safer. And regarding licensing parents, I still believe it's a great idea, however it's so radical, that I just don't promote it now that I'm doing the political thing. I originally supported the licensing idea because of 10,000 kids starving to death a day and all the poverty in the US for some kids. Licensing could stop that stuff, and stop it quickly.

    W: Isn’t that a fascist dystopian perspective?

    ZI: 10,000 kids dying a day and child poverty in America is dystopian. We can do better in the 21st century.

    W: Isn’t that a right?
    ZI: What's a right? What some government or culture determined for you? What about the rights of the 10,000 starving babies?

    W: You have licensing for procreation in yr book, you advocate that each and every one that wants to reproduce needs to pass through some kind of test?

    ZI: Yes, that's in my book and also in my Wired UK article (W: It's time to consider restricting human breeding)

    W: So crack babies, starvation and so on are good enough reasons to curb population increase via the use of testing the parents?

    ZI: I don't want to curb population. I think Earth can handle a lot more people. What the aim of the licensing idea is, is to give all kids an equal chance to be successful. Crack parents should not be having babies. Neither should homeless people. Neither should others who don't show responsibility at basic parenting or who can't afford it.

    W: How likely do you think that it will be possible to pass such laws, assuming someone (maybe you as president of the US) can bring them to legislation?

    ZI: I'm not considering campaigning on any of these things. They are already controversial enough. So I'm not trying to pass these things into law, but I think the conversation is incredibly important to have. About 70 million kids have starved to death in the last 30 years. We need to do more to avoid that happening again.

    W: What about resources?

    ZI:The Earth has plenty of resources. We just need to use them properly and wisely.

    W: we need to rebuild the human body to fit all that cyborgian culture, do you really believe that people will desire this techno progressive future?

    ZI: No, certainly not all will. And I don't want to force anyone that doesn't want it. But they will be quickly left behind, and that will present all sorts of dilemmas of inequality, so we should aim to try to convince all that the Cyborg future is a good one for everyone.

    W: All resources being directed to the goals of longevity?

    ZI: Maybe not all resources, but all resources directed at a better, more progressive transhumanist-minded planet.

    W: In your book you describe the rejection by the religious establishment, how likely do you see that particular scenario playing out?

    ZI:It will likely happen. In 5-10 years, expect demonstrations on the streets against AI, transhumanism, and the technology offensive to conservatism.

    Transhumanism is the next great civil rights debate.

    W: To your mind will religion die out?
    ZI: Probably not. We will see a merging of Christianity and other major religions with techno-optimism. It will be laughable, but I rather see that than a full conflict or war between religion and the tech-dominated future.

    W: How do you see the evolution of gender, do you think we will move to a sexless society?

    ZI: Yes, absolutely. There's no reason for different genders in a society that doesn't reproduce like we do now. However, our personalities will probably still reflect various gender types, and we'll probably change them frequently, as well, perhaps daily.

    W: To your understanding what constitutes the very basics of human nature?

    ZI: It's all genetic destiny, with a bullhorn at the end we call reason, trying desperately to give orders.

    W: How to deal with those reluctant to change into your new utopia?

    ZI: Allow them total freedom to do what they want, so long as it doesn't harm society at large.

    W: What shall you-we do with them? (those that reject the scenario you propose)
    ZI: Same answer as above.

    W: Describe the correlation between John Galt and Jethro knights? You have been likened to Ayn Rand, do you agree? Please expand.

    ZI: Yes, the Ayn Rand tag has now been applied a lot. I like Ayn Rand, so it's an honor to some extent, but as I've grown over the last few years, I'm welcoming it less. The truth is Ayn Rand and I have had very different ideas, but we both seem to have taken a similar path to get them out. John Galt and Jethro Knights may seem similar, and indeed they are at times, but the difference in attitude to tech and science is everything. Galt just didn't understand that telepathy, brain implants, the singularity, and merging with machines would change consciousness and reality. Reality is not as stable as Rand wanted us to believe. It's far more contextual.

    Postscriptum- The way I see it

    Of course I am all for an indefinite lifespan, more importantly I want the option to be in our hands, death should be a choice and not a biological imperative. This for me is a non issue.
    The issue for me is of a different nature since I have no inhibitions nor restrictions on the issue of extended longevity and indefinite lifespan,not as such.
    The issue I have concerns the manner and fashion a vision is defined and as a consequence unfolds into the future. The very conceptualization of a vision, any vision, demands a kind of simulation that is a priori biased towards a particular kind of future defined by the visionary.
    Moreover, a vision of the future, in which it is a given that most of the particularities unfold in a fashion that cannot be known, is even more problematic.
    Given this state of affairs, when operating in the realm of visions or optional scenarios that are extended from the present into the future it should be a primal concern of the envisioning mind to create a set of so called constraints. (It is important to note that a vision is inherently more occupied with values, while scenarios are more about probabilities of events and their possible unfoldments).
    These constraints should be a safety measure in the hands of the envisioning mind that define her own particular take on the issue at play.
    It is a kind of meta-meta proto vision system.
    As an example, to my mind, a future in which multiplicity of voices, a multi-vocal state of affairs is non existent, is a future that I do not desire. (even at the cost of postponing said desired future).
    Longevity is another very good example. Of course we all desire to live as long as we can, but this longevity must by necessity include health, wealth, abundance and options that are not presently available. Because why desire longevity if not for a radical increase in well being, or in the words of Heinlein: “ time enough for love”.
    A different perspective concerns the fact that I wish to see a future that is ethical and equitable, which is or should be a prime concern to all those busy creating our futures.
    Hence, to the extent that Zoltan’s vision of the future meets the standards that I hold dear and are for me necessary conditions, I embrace his vision wholeheartedly. However to the extent that the fashion he desires to bring this future about does not meet my initial requirements as proposed in the polytopia project I think we will work towards creating a better future for us all in different ways.

    Notes:
    1. For more about Zoltan Istvan US presidential candidacy see here
    2. Images in text courtesy of Zoltan Istvan
    3. recommended related reading : "Licensing Parents"

    Endnote:

    This is the fifth in a series of interviews under the heading of a new project :
    Free Radicals- interviews with possibilities

    Free radicals are extraordinary humans that promote the emergent paradigm shift of post humanity.
    There is no claim of objectivity here but an unabashed bias towards a techno-optimistic, aesthetically pleasing future evolution of humanity.
    The humans I have chosen to interview reflect different perspectives of multidimentionality and multiversality as regards the change and transformation of human nature.

    -
    Your input and comments will be much appreciated.

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    Wildcat     Wed, May 20, 2015  Permanent link
    A friend sent me a response to this interview in the form of Charlie Chaplin :"In 1940, a movie was released starring Charlie Chaplin (who also wrote the piece) about a poor Jewish barber who is mistaken for a dictator of a similar appearance and takes his place. In his rejection of the position he ends up giving one of the most inspirational speeches ever recorded."

    watch: 'The Great Dictator' speech by Charlie Chaplin
    Spaceweaver     Sat, May 23, 2015  Permanent link
    Thank you Wildcat for bringing up these fascinating and critical issues about the future of the human. Here below I repost with a few minor changes a comment on Zoltan's book I published a while ago in ieet.org.

    Though the Transhumanist Wager raises many good points and stimulates a fertile discussion of transhumanist philosophy, it fails badly in one point which I deem critical to the future of transhumanism. The whole development of the story, its characters, their relations and interactions and of course the outcome are staged on the basis of the contemporary human psychological construct. This very construct having its roots in the evolution of the human ape goes deeper in its implications than any “cultural baggage” that is mentioned in the book. A struggle of vain egos, a simplistic value system of ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’, good guys and bad guys that hopelessly fail to perceive the complexity and interconnectivity of all life including us humans, the belief that coercion can be philosophically justified or work on the long term and most of all the ‘spirit of revenge’, to use Nietzsche’s own term, that is so strongly embedded in the story (with the exception of Zoe Bach's character), are only a few examples to this “ape mentality”.

    Nietzsche’s concept of the Overman from which the author draws much inspiration is poorly interpreted and remains imprisoned within the limitations of the contemporary human psychological construct, the very limitations it was meant to overcome and breakthrough. It is no wonder therefore that the transhumanist vision presented in the book rapidly escalates into a pointless violent struggle that do not offer at its culmination a real evolutionary and liberating path, but rather more of the same old ape mentality now endowed with everything technological but profoundly boring in its repeating the tragedies of history.

    I must admit that I was quite disappointed especially because I strongly identify with the passion of the author and the apparent effort he invested. Disappointed is perhaps a too reserved word here. I deeply pained what I realize as the ultimate failure in a disguise of a victory of Jethro the protagonist. And even more that he falls into the illusion of accomplishing a real transformation while merely submitting to the imperatives of common human psychology and the historical pattern it inexorably propagates. Jethro, whose commendable single mindedness degenerates into narrow mindedness, did not overcome himself or his own humanity, he succumbed to primal instincts braced by philosophical convictions that got the better of him.

    But perhaps this book is a much needed wake up call to transhumanists; a finger pointing towards that which is missing from the transhumanist vision: a vision of a new mind, a new psychology and a new culture. A vision of a path that will liberate us from our own conditioned and wanting humanity and propel us towards the post human. Indeed we will one day become immortal, roam the stars and unbound inner spaces. We will become as gods. Still, if we fail to pursue such a path, we will become ape-gods, as grotesque and pathetic as they will be grand. The seeds of just that future can already be found in the last pages of the Transhumanist Wager.

    In so many fields our imagination soars ever so far and still when it comes to transforming our own minds, the dynamic intelligent pattern that defines us, our imagination terribly fails to dream beyond its historical self. Do we really want the same ape mind immeasurably augmented technologically to run this planet and even beyond? More tools may take us to the stars and to indefinite life extension eventually. More tools will allow us one day to redesign our own brains as well. But into what are we going to redesign the core of our mentality, our emotions our prime motivators, our values and the very core of our identity? Technology will allow us an ever extended freedom, but what are we going to become with such an open ended freedom in our hands?

    Without addressing these difficult questions the transhumanist endeavor is bound to remain arrested in infancy.


    nedzen     Tue, Jun 9, 2015  Permanent link
    The problem with this guy is that he is not to charming at all. How he can expect people to support him for elections when he rolls out with this horrific array of most extremist ideas. Artificial wombs, dictatorship, omnipotender, and a limiting vision of beauty and aesthetics. What is this omnipotender thing he's dreaming about? ... a new breed of Aryan race?! instead of aiming at uniting and smoothing out the differences between us humans he instead emphasises even more on this change brought by technology. And what he knows about homeless and about the not so fortunate ones who at some point in their life, something bad happened and lost everything. There are causes that have more to do with organisms in our society rather than the individual; which he tends to dash out once arrived on the hard and heavy edge of life. We can't be really happy when others suffer. Hope he gets that one day.
     
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