Member 2163
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Contributor to project:
Alexander Kruel (M, 35)
Gütersloh, DE
Immortal since Mar 10, 2009
Uplinks: 0, Generation 3

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Transhumanist, atheist, vegetarian who's interested in science fiction, science, philosophy, math, language, consciousness, reality...
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    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.

    In this post I try to fathom an informal definition of Self, the "essential qualities that constitute a person's uniqueness". I assume that the most important requirement for a definition of self is time-consistency. A reliable definition of identity needs to allow for time-consistent self-referencing since any agent that is unable to identify itself over time will be prone to make inconsistent decisions.

    Data Loss

    Obviously most humans don't want to die, but what does that mean? What is it that humans try to preserve when they sign up for Cryonics? It seems that an explanation must account and allow for some sort of data loss.

    The Continuity of Consciousness

    It can't be about the continuity of consciousness as we would have to refuse general anesthesia due to the risk of "dying" and most of us will agree that there is something more important than the continuity of consciousness that makes us accept a general anesthesia when necessary.


    If the continuity of consciousness isn't the most important detail about the self then it very likely isn't the continuity of computation either. Imagine that for some reason the process evoked when "we" act on our inputs under the control of an algorithm halts for a second and then continues otherwise unaffected, would we don't mind to be alive ever after because we died when the computation halted? This doesn't seem to be the case.

    Static Algorithmic Descriptions

    Although we are not partly software and partly hardware we could, in theory, come up with an algorithmic description of the human machine, of our selfs. Might it be that algorithm that we care about? If we were to digitize our self we would end up with a description of our spatial parts, our self at a certain time. Yet we forget that all of us possess such an algorithmic description of our selfs and we're already able back it up. It is our DNA.

    Temporal Parts

    Admittedly our DNA is the earliest version of our selfs, but if we don't care about the temporal parts of our selfs but only about a static algorithmic description of a certain spatiotemporal position, then what's wrong with that? It seems a lot, we stop caring about past reifications of our selfs, at some point our backups become obsolete and having to fall back on them would equal death. But what is it that we lost, what information is it that we value more than all of the previously mentioned possibilities? One might think that it must be our memories, the data that represents what we learnt and experienced. But even if this is the case, would it be a reasonable choice?

    Indentity and Memory

    Let's just disregard the possibility that we often might not value our future selfs and so do not value our past selfs either for that we lost or updated important information, e.g. if we became religious or have been able to overcome religion.

    If we had perfect memory and only ever improved upon our past knowledge and experiences we wouldn't be able to do so for very long, at least not given our human body. The upper limit on the information that can be contained within a human body is 2.5072178×10^38 megabytes, if it was used as a perfect data storage. Given that we gather much more than 1 megabyte of information per year, it is foreseeable that if we equate our memories with our self we'll die long before the heat death of the universe. We might overcome this by growing in size, by achieving a posthuman form, yet if we in turn also become much smarter we'll also produce and gather more information. We are not alone either and the resources are limited. One way or the other we'll die rather quickly.

    Does this mean we shouldn't even bother about the far future or is there maybe something else we value even more than our memories? After all we don't really mind much if we forget what we have done a few years ago.

    Time-Consistency and Self-Reference

    It seems that there is something even more important than our causal history. I think that more than everything we care about our values and goals. Indeed, we value the preservation of our values. As long as we want the same we are the same. Our goal system seems to be the critical part of our implicit definition of self, that which we want to protect and preserve. Our values and goals seem to be the missing temporal parts that allow us to consistently refer to us, to identify our selfs at different spatiotempiral positions.

    Using our values and goals as identifiers also resolves the problem of how we should treat copies of our self that are featuring alternating histories and memories, copies with different causal histories. Any agent that does feature a copy of our utility function ought to be incorporated into our decisions as an instance, as a reification of our selfs. We should identify with our utility-function regardless of its instantiation.

    Stable Utility-Functions

    To recapitulate, we can value our memories, the continuity of experience and even our DNA, but the only reliable marker for the self identity of goal-oriented agents seems to be a stable utility function. Rational agents with an identical utility function will to some extent converge to exhibit similar behavior and are therefore able to cooperate. We can more consistently identify with our values and goals than with our past and future memories, digitized backups or causal history.

    But even if this is true there is one problem, humans might not exhibit goal-stability.

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    Project: Polytopia

    You use a metaphor to describe some concept. The metaphor isn’t the thing you describe - it’s just a tool that you use. But someone takes the metaphor, and runs with it, making arguments that are built entirely on metaphor, but which bear no relation to the real underlying concept. And they believe that whatever conclusions they draw from the metaphor must, therefore, apply to the original concept.
    Metaphorical Crankery: a bad metaphor is like a steaming pile of …

    While both, the metaphor and the analogy are tools of abstraction used to paraphrase the essential of a given concept by conveying similarity through comparison, the former being more isomorphic in its symbolism than the latter, neither are equivalent to the concept as they are not synonymous nor literal definitions but allegorical in their exposition of original meaning.

    The introduction of suitable abstractions is our only mental aid to organize and master complexity.
    — Edsger W. Dijkstra

    To define the process of making an analogy in reference to reductionism is prone to fail as an analogy is a vessel of meaning and the perception of every, ultimately projected, meaning resides on a certain level. Both, reductionism and the analogy are mental aids used to master complexity by reducing the information content of a concept. Nevertheless, while the former is reducing a matter to its constituents the latter is reducing it to its quintessence.

    That is, one might induce meaning from the constituents that give rise to it, or one might deduce its particular origin from the general that is the flash point of meaning, but one cannot transfer meaning from one particular to another particular by reducing the level of conception to one that is devoid of it. This makes the analogy reciprocal in its nature and handling of meaning. Naturally void of, it is imprinted with meaning to likewise convey the same through reinforcement.

    The Art must have a purpose other than itself, or it collapses into infinite recursion.
    Twelve Virtues of Rationality

    In all this the use of analogy is closely related to the very process of cognition. The analogy is the resonant system to store and transfer meaning. All meaning is in the mind, yet it cannot arise and persist without that on which it is projected. In fact, it is at the core of cognition as we can only understand reality by analogy. The most fundamental level of comprehension is forever out of reach for that it means to be, to become, not to contemplate but to experience. For that reason all cognition is by analogy. All meaning is communicated in reference to other words.

    Further explanation of analogy can just be a demonstration of practicability and consistency. That is, an explanation can make a given analogy obvious by showing how it works and deepen its perceived consistency over more than a self-evident level. Yet any explanation is doomed to be a Language-game. We merely learn to accept by repetition. And as an analogy becomes a intuitively fixed model we incorporate it into our conceptual framework.

    Here we are able to come closest to the true nature of analogy, what it IS. That is to state a recursive definition, the analogy defined in terms of itself. An analogy is a function that maps certain meaning comprised in an analogy to another analogy.

    Therefore the analogy is not empirical as it is used not to gain but to transfer information. An analogy is the procedure and result of mapping the essential meaning of a concept to another as a means of communication and contemplation by transformation and exposure of the former.
    Tue, Jun 22, 2010  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    silverpower: Is humanity even worth saving?
    starglider: As opposed to what?
    silverpower: ...hmm.
    — #sl4

    If you ever asked yourself if you are just a waste of space the simple truth is NO.

    First of all, there is enough space for everyone. Furthermore, there isn’t always a third option, sometimes not even a second one. There is no choice but to choose life. Any other option is effectively a non-option because it doesn’t change anything for you. The least happiness is better than none at all. And don't forget that things can always change unexpectedly.

    The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
    — Stanley Kubrick

    More important is the fallacy at the basis of all such thoughts, i.e. to be a waste, it's an error in reasoning. You are asking a wrong question. You never asked to be born into the world. You haven’t signed any contract. The world has chosen you, not vice versa. You are without responsibility, you are under no obligation. You are not held accountable for the world, only your own well-being by means of happiness versus sorrow. Your own existence is not about usefulness. Usefulness only makes sense in reference to goals stated in advance. You have to create your own goals. And if you decide to make the world a better place, make other people happy, it’s the world that does owe you a debt of gratitude for your generosity. In the first place it is yourself who you should be careful about, for that you are the birthplace of meaning. Without you, what will be gone isn’t a waste but meaning and value itself. You imprint reality with a pattern of volition. You give meaning and value to things that, on their own, are naturally void of meaning. You are the conveyor of meaning and value, which is the most important occupation in all of reality.

    What can we make of someone who says that materialism implies meaninglessness? I can only conclude that if I took them to see Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte," they would earnestly ask me what on earth the purpose of all the little dots was.
    The scourge of perverse-mindedness

    How is that? A rainbow without conscious reflection is just a rainbow. Actually not even that, or who is it that calls it a rainbow in the first place? Introspection is used to find and convey meaning. Life is never pointless. There is no meaning out there, it’s in there, within us.
    Mon, May 17, 2010  Permanent link

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    Written/animated by QualiaSoup & TheraminTrees.

    music © TheraminTrees
    Wed, Apr 14, 2010  Permanent link

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    Is our world of sensation and motivation as rich as our language suggests? More precisely, are there neural correlates that underlie what our emotional and motivational expressions are signaling? Or are we maybe much simpler, psychologically?

    I believe that the scope of what we can sense might be much less than the scope of sensations that we can emit, which we can signal outward. Our internal world of sensation could be bleak compared to the bandwidth of feelings that the literary art of poetry can predicate.

    How is that possible and why might this be the case?

    Why might this be the case? I believe such proficiency makes sense in the light of evolution. We are social animals, it is important how we appear to others. And it is also important to control others by means of deception in the form of persuasion. We lull other people with the evocative qualities of language, by playing heartstrings. We signal our gradual and fine-grained feelings to hide our rough base motives.

    How is it even possible to emit what we do not perceive, to describe what we do not understand on an intuitive and sensible level? First a counter question, how can our intellectual world feature the richness of meaning and modern aesthetic without the prior existence of these qualities in the form of language, art and culture? I think our sociality gave rise to this memetic symbiosis, it is conditional. The necessity to live together demanded and drove the evolution of our abilities to act in and as a collective of beings. But I believe that our primitive emotional world is not reflective of this rich superstructure. Language rather seems to be an upper layer, semi-independent of our perception. A skill so recent that it doesn't tangent our, evolutionary, much older and more primitive emotional experiences and motivational basis.

    Thus the literary world of sensation and signaling is social engineering at its finest. But it might have nothing to do with what we consciously perceive on an emotive level, what motivates us, with our cause of conduct.
    Sun, Apr 4, 2010  Permanent link

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    Follow-up to: Knowing beyond science and mathematics?

    I think I have to clarify why I mentioned mathematics in my recent post — Knowing beyond science and mathematics? — as a way of knowing in addition to science and separated from other logical systems.

    First of all, I'm only at the beginning of my long journey towards a decent education, as I've only started as recently as a year ago to seriously get into mathematics and other important fields. I'm still struggling with the basics.

    My posts here at are merely mental outpourings, NOT so well-thought-out musings and problems that haunt my mind. What I write does not necessarily reflect my opinion.

    So let me explain...

    There seem to be quite a few arguments in favor of the Mathematical universe hypothesis and that math is timeless and being discovered, not invented.

    …there’s still sometimes a tendency to think as though turning on a sufficiently advanced calculator causes something to mysteriously blink into existence or awareness, when all it is doing is reporting facts about some very large numbers that would be true one way or the other.
    The mathematical universe: the map that is the territory

    I recently started to read The Big Questions, a book by Steven Landsburg. The basic tenet seems to be that mind is biology, biology is chemistry, chemistry is physics, physics being math. Mind perceives math, thus the universe exists physically. Erase the “baggage” and all that’s left is math.

    If we can feel real inside a non-magical computer simulation, then our feeling of reality must be due to necessary properties of the information being computed, because such properties do not exist in the abstract process of computing, and those properties will not cease to be true about the underlying information if the simulation is stopped or is never created in the first place. This is identically true about every other possible reality.
    The mathematical universe: the map that is the territory

    There has been a really nice plain English description of this idea being posted on recently. Though everybody who has read Greg Egan’s Permutation City might already be unknowingly familiar with it.

    Existence is what mathematical possibility feels like from the inside. Turn off G.O.D., and we’ll go on with our lives, not noticing that anything has changed. Because the only thing that has changed is that the people who were running the simulation won’t get to find out what happens next.
    The mathematical universe: the map that is the territory

    Mathematics is the basis of all of science and even seems to play a large role in our thinking, as it may be probabilistic. When it comes to quantum mechanics it all seems to be about probability as well, and therefore math. But in what sense do mathematical structures exist? Well, as Steven Landsburg puts it, mathematics is a kind of extrasensory perception. It's all out there, 1+1=2 has always been there and true, even before anybody ever thought about it. And yet you won't find perfect circles anywhere "out" there. Does that mean math has no influence, that it is not tangible, that math doesn't exist? It is subject to inquiry. I think you can make predictions that are falsifiable. It even bears fruit by providing accurate descriptions of the physical world that can be tested. So yes, I believe mathematics, as science, is a way of knowing.

    There is something almost mystical about this: any sequence of digits, for example, randomly conceived in the mind, must correspond to a sequence of digits in the unknowable expansion of Pi (in that realm over 10^1000 digits into the expansion), based on the laws of probability.
    — Garth Kroeker, Irrational Numbers Metaphor

    What about other logical structures? They are ultimately part of mathematics, as they are describable by pure math, and in the case of a Mathematical universe are timeless structures. But the difference between World of Warcraft or a programming language like Haskell is that these systems are not subject to induction, as you cannot arrive at general, much less specific conclusions and facts about reality by a sole examination of these structures. They do not imply everything that exists. Whereas mathematics can be used to deduce even the most abstract fact about our world, about reality. Mathematics does specify everything that is possible and thus includes everything that exists.

    Anyway, I'll likely need a long time to see if this makes sense, if the idea of a mathematical universe might be likely, or even worthy of consideration. Thus I just put it out there into that post, for that otherwise I couldn't have posted it for a long time. And I believe it might be a good idea to first make your own thoughts, come up with your own ideas and conclusions about a subject, before you go listen and learn what other people have to say about it. What I think may or may not turn out to be completely wrong, but this way I might be able to learn how to think, how to be less wrong the next time I encounter something new that I'll have to reason about myself.
    Sun, Apr 4, 2010  Permanent link

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    Whatever intelligence is, it can't be intelligent all the way down. It's just dumb stuff at the bottom.
    Andy Clark

    I believe we act based on a fundamental reliance on gut feelings. What we do is merely following 'the line of least resistance'.

    Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.
    — William Blake

    Intelligence is not a proactive approach but simply trial and error allowed for by the mostly large error tolerance of our existence. What you learn you'll have to apply by relying on prior knowledge, even if it is in the form of advanced algorithms. You can only hope to be lucky to learn enough in-time to avoid fatal failure. Since no possible system can use advanced heuristics to tackle, or even evaluate, every stimulus that is either part of its internal structure or the environment in which it is embedded. For example, at what point are you going to make use of statistical methods? You won't even be able to evaluate the importance of all data to be able to judge when to apply more rigorous tools. You can only be a passive observer who's waiting for new data by experience. And until new data arrives, rely on prior knowledge.

    The bottom line is that even the acts of applying advanced heuristics, evaluating further or simply to gather new knowledge, are ultimately executed by purely non-intelligent processes. After all, you don't decide how to think either? Thus I don't believe that intelligence exists, beyond the ability to learn, acquire knowledge and apply it.

    You might object that intelligence is an emergent phenomena. You might say, intelligence exists on a higher level. That the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But why then do we ask and care about motives? Motivation is always an underlying cause of conduct, which itself is in turn based on desire and so forth. Thus asking people for their motives, why they do what they do, is always an inquiry of underlying causes. It is asking for the summands, for the terms of the greater whole. Seriously considering the concept of emergence would imply to take actions as given, as part of an emergent pattern that is the universe. Thus, if you don't expect a differing answer to that, that it simply was intelligent to do so, why do you ask?
    Sat, Apr 3, 2010  Permanent link

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    At this stage, I believe, science and mathematics are the only ways of knowing.

    There are other ways. There is introspection to find and convey meaning. There are self-contained rules, as in gaming or computer programming, that can be made-up and learnt. Nevertheless, these ways of knowing are not concerned with empirical inquiry about the nature of reality, but are subjective truths of an aesthetic sense. These other ways of knowing are either based upon our subjective first-person knowledge or on logical constructions, i.e. language games, which only make sense in reference to themselves.

    Ethics might be one of a few fields that go beyond science, yet are not completely detached from it, for that ethical conduct is subject to what we want. Science however can help us figure out what we want, what desirable things exist and how to achieve them. That is also the case for ethics, as they are sets of laws to guide people, and people in turn are subject to science.

    I'll start incorporating crazy counter-intuitive notions about the nature of the universe when the cold implacable hand of the universe starts shoving them down my throat, not before!
    — PZ Myers

    When it comes to learning about the underlying nature of things, there simply is no reason to go beyond physical, factual inquiry right now. You can assess your data with practicability. If a drug makes you think that you can fly you can jump from the next bridge and be brought back down to earth by reality.

    No conclusion can be drawn if you fail to build a contradiction.
    Luk Arbuckle

    Reality is not subject to interpretation, only abstraction, or rather description. The fundamental nature of reality, its characteristics and qualities are absolute. Red is always red even when you call it green.

    For an event to be evidence about a target of inquiry, it has to happen differently in a way that's entangled with the different possible states of the target.
    Eliezer Yudkowsky

    I believe that the only reasonable definition of existence is for something to have a sensible influence. This also implies that something that exists can be subject to scientific inquiry. Something that exists can be assessed with practicability. It makes a difference. Thus you don't have to have a comprehensive grasp to determine the simplest of all conclusions: Something exists or it might exist. Either something is tangible or it might as well not exist.

    A belief is only really worthwhile if you could, in principle, be persuaded to believe otherwise.
    — Eliezer Yudkowsky

    If I cut my throat I may discover that I was dreaming or that I have been playing some advanced virtual reality game all along. Everything is possible. But right now there are safer and more promising options of gaining knowledge. How can I be sure? I can't, but there is evidence which proved to be reliable so far. I have to suspect that it will continue to be reliable based on experiment and observation. That doesn't make it the ultimate way of knowing or even a superior way but the best I know of at this time. And until I hit some hard barrier I do not have any good reason to try something else.
    Sat, Apr 3, 2010  Permanent link

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    A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.

    — Arthur Schopenhauer

    Free will does not and cannot imply without cause, randomness or unpredictability. All those qualities, although present in complex systems, would contradict the notion of willful intent. What we want, and therefore do, must be based on reasonable ground. Random convulsions are not our understanding of volition. It is defined as purposive striving and thus has to have a purpose, it has to be based on cause.

    Thus, does free will exist? If so, what is free will? Can there be a reasonable definition? I think so.

    Of course, looking for free will as seen from a strong philosophical viewpoint is a futile effort. It's asking for rainbows end. Reality, reason and logic, forbid libertarian free will. For one there is the impossibility of choice. Though you may, to a limited extent, outweigh the problem of choice by accepting the many-worlds is an interpretation of quantum mechanics. More important, and I think crucial, for the fallaciousness of metaphysical free will is the fact that it is impossible due to Gödel's incompleteness theorems. No system can understand itself for that the very understanding would evade itself forever. A bin trying to contain itself. This prohibits sufficient control over internal causes, which I think, are ultimately indistinguishable from causal relationships between a defined system and the environment.

    There's no scientific reason to believe that we have free will. There's no buffer zone that we've found in any of the physical laws of how the universe works to make room for free will. There's non-determinism; but there's not choice. Choice is the introduction of something, dare I say it, supernatural: some influence that isn't part of the physical interaction, which allows some clusters of matter and energy to decide how they'll collapse a probabilistic waveform into a particular reality.

    Mark Chu-Carroll

    Scientists think that there are phenomena that qualify to be defined as 'free will'. Specifically endogenous processes generating behavioral variability and thus non-linearity. But I think this is not enough.

    Free will is a middleman. Consciousness between cause and effect. The intelligent refinement of causation into an effective agent. The sun at your back - your shadow in front. You are the shadow player. Nevertheless, to claim sovereignty is trying to get ahead of your own shadow. You imprint reality with a pattern of volition. But not without its implicit consent.

    A system qualifies as free if you can show that the specific effectiveness and the complexity of transformation by which a system shapes the outside environment, in which it is embedded, does trump the environmental influence on the defined system.

    In other words, mind over matter. You are able to shape reality more effectively and goal-oriented and thus, in a way, overcome its crude influence it exerts on you.

    What does this mean? For example, children and some mentally handicapped people are not responsible in the same way as healthy adults. They cannot give consent or enter into legally binding contracts. One of the reasons for this is that they lack control, are easily influenced by others. Healthy humans exert a higher control than children and handicapped people. You experience, or possess a greater extent of freedom proportional to the amount of influence and effectiveness of control you exert over the environment versus the environment over you.

    Though this definition of free will only work once you arbitrarily define a system to be an entity within an environment, contrary to being the environment. The universe really just exists. And it appears to us that it is unfolding because we are part of it. We appear to each other to be free and intelligent because we believe that we are not part of it.

    Nevertheless, I think it might after all be a useful definition when it comes to science, psychology and law. It might also very well address our public understanding of being free agents.

    How much sense does all this make? I don't know. I admit that I do not have the expertise to base my ideas on firm ground or even judge the credibility of these thoughts. Nonetheless, so far the above is as close as I can get towards a satisfying framework for the notion of free will.

    Note: These ideas are based on work by Björn Brembs and long discussions with Christopher Harris.
    Sun, Mar 21, 2010  Permanent link

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    If a group of beings from another planet were to land on Earth — beings who considered themselves as superior to you as you feel yourself to be to other animals — would you concede them the rights over you that you assume over other animals?

    — George Bernard Shaw

    Imagine a being so vast and powerful that its theory of mind of other entities would itself be a sentient entity. If this entity comes across mere standard human beings, it does model these people at a level of resolution that every imagination it has of such a person would itself be conscious.

    Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.

    — Dr. Albert Schweizer

    Just like we do not grant rights to our thoughts or the bacteria that make up a big part of our body such an entity wouldn’t and couldn’t grant existential rights to its thought processes. Even if they are of an extent that when coming across a human being the mere perception would incorporate the torture of a vast amount of human-level simulations.

    True benevolence, or compassion, extends itself through the whole of existence and sympathises with the distress of every creature capable of sensation.

    — Joseph Addison

    It simply won't work to embrace everything in our ethical conduct. It won't work to grant everything even the most basic rights. Nevertheless, the answer can neither be to abandon morals altogether. Our human nature won't permit this. It is part of our preferences to be compassionate.

    Our task must be to free ourselves . . . by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.

    — Albert Einstein

    How do we solve this dilemma? Right now it's relatively easy to handle. There are humans and then there is everything else. But even today — without uplifted animals, artificial intelligence, human-level simulations, cyborgs, chimeras and posthuman beings — it is increasingly hard to draw the line. For that science is advancing rapidly, allowing us to keep alive people with severe brain injury or save a premature fetus who's mother is already dead. Then there are the mentally disabled and other humans who are not neurotypical. We are also increasingly becoming aware that many non-human beings on this planet are far more intelligent and cognizant than expected.

    And remember, as will be the case in future, it has already been the case in our not too distant past. There was a time when three different human species lived at the same time on the same planet. Three intelligent species of the homo genus, yet very different. Only 22,000 years ago we, H. sapiens, have been sharing this oasis of life with Homo floresiensis and Homo neanderthalensis.

    How would we handle such a situation at the present-day? At a time when we still haven't learnt to live together in peace. At a time when we are still killing even our own genus. Most of us are not even ready to become vegetarian in the face of global warming, although livestock farming amounts to 18% of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions.

    So where do we draw the line? I think this question must be answered situational and arbitrary.
    Sun, Mar 21, 2010  Permanent link

    Sent to project: Polytopia
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