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A simulacrum with infinite impetus for metamorphosis - A singularity sans originality.
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    Changing our minds
    Project: Polytopia
    The first decade of the 21st century is about to end in just a few weeks. Among many things, I find most impacting the explosion of knowledge in the field of brain sciences and human behavior in this decade. Though the great riddles of consciousness and the emergence of minds from brains are still open and far from any solution, many connections and bridges are already there in our understanding.

    Quite a few important and perhaps critical observations regarding human nature and the state of affairs of humanity are emerging from this explosion of knowledge and I will try to (very) briefly summarize them here below:

    1. Our brains and our minds are initially products of biological evolution. Human behavior to this day is largely shaped by its biological origins.

    2. In the course of just a few millennia, the human evolved language and culture. Culture has become the actual ecology where humans exist and where humans evolve. Human evolution as of today is not shaped by biological forces anymore but rather by cultural and mental forces.

    3. Cultural evolution is much faster than biological evolution. Yet, individually, our bodies and brains are still constrained by their biology. Moreover, our social behavior is still shaped, to a large extent, by imperatives that ensured human survival in pre-cultural and proto-cultural eras.

    4. As a consequence, humanity exists today within a rapidly growing adaptive gap. We have managed to create a fast evolving complex culture and this culture is certainly reshaping us individually and collectively. But this co-evolution is seriously constrained by the biological substrata of our minds.

    5. It seems that we are not intelligent enough to cope with growing complexity of our social organization. This is already apparent in the dysfunction of governance systems, economic systems and the general coordinated addressing of large (planetary) scale problems.

    6. It seems that human social behavior that was optimized to the way humans existed thousands of years ago is dangerously unfit to the complex demands of modern civilization. More specifically, certain necessary aspects of our collective intelligence such as emotional intelligence, extended empathy, sophisticated ethical reasoning, the capacity to communicate and cooperate within complex situations, augmented theories about other minds and more, evolve very slowly if at all.

    7. (From here are some good news…) The human brain is found to be extremely plastic and adaptable in a very broad spectrum of capacities. It seems plausible that our brains and our mental capacities can be radically augmented.

    8. Our understanding of the human brain and human general biology already allows people to be made smarter, perhaps much smarter. Brain enhancers that effectively augment human general intelligence are already available and will become much more effective and more available in the coming decades.

    9. Even moderate increase of intelligence in the overall human population may have radical beneficial impact on the well being of humanity at large (see for an impressive example the micro nutrient initiative and its possible effects).

    10. More controversially, human individual and social behavior can be altered to better fit the complex fast changing cultural ecology we are all part of. Specifically, human traits such as peacefulness, cooperation, empathy and trust can be reinforced by changing the chemical balance of the brain. Traits such as aggression, territoriality and other sociopathic dispositions can similarly be attenuated.

    11. A bit further in the future, interventions at the genetic level can increase the general level of intelligence and shape the social behavior of new born children with the effect that whole populations will achieve better fitness and well being in our fast evolving circumstances.

    In the light of these observations a very profound question becomes clear: Should we take the reins of our future evolution? Should we engage in a coordinated, large scale, project of augmenting our brains (and eventually our biology) and by that to radically change our minds and our very human nature? What are the values and the ethical precepts that can guide us in addressing such question?

    At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it is clear that there is a need for a change. It is also becoming clear that we are rapidly gaining the effective means to introduce it. Nevertheless, this is a very complex issue. The brief background I tried to bring here is only the tip of an iceberg. There are, I know, many views that will question the validity of part or all of the observations above, or the way that they are presented. My point however is to say enough to start a discussion here.

    Lately I have watched an hour long lecture titled “Genetically enhance humanity or face extinction” given by Oxford professor of philosophy and bioethics Julian Suvalescu. Though he presents the issue of human enhancement in a much bolder fashion, the arguments he presents are interesting and certainly provocative. I recommend watching it if only for one reason: to gain a very real sense of how dangerous this idea is and how unavoidable is the need for every forward thinking individual to seriously think about, it discuss it and consolidate an informed view.

    Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction Part 1

    Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction Part 2


    I would appreciate your thoughts and comments and hope this introduction will start an ongoing (and much needed, I believe) exchange on the subject in the SC.


    Sat, Nov 21, 2009  Permanent link

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    Wildcat     Sun, Nov 22, 2009  Permanent link
    Space weaver:" Should we take the reins of our future evolution? Should we engage in a coordinated, large scale, project of augmenting our brains (and eventually our biology) and by that to radically change our minds and our very human nature? What are the values and the ethical precepts that can guide us in addressing such question?"


     some very good points and questions here indeed.

    Let me try and address some of these

    The question of: “ should we take the reins of our future evolution? Is for me a no-brainer, there is no doubt not only that we should, but in fact that we are already taking our future evolution in our hands (though I will submit to you that those so called :”Hands” are at present few and non-representational of the larger part of humanity). The fact that only a few hands are involved in the process is for me the main problem here; it is not only a problem of scale but an issue that glides right into the problem of ethics and values, the fact of change in itself is a simple point compared to the radical deformity a partial, to say the least, transformation implies.
    If only a very small part of humanity decides, our futures will be not only doomed to strife and battle stations but probably will eventually bear the hallmark of separation and discrimination compared to which our old Neolithic-chauvinistic-racial and other biases will seem child’s fodder.
    Therefore the first (value-ethics ) question that should be implied by yours is : how to increase participation in the change? or put differently to what extent a coordinated large scale project of augmentation (brains and bodies) is feasible and desirable given no direct and immediate consent and participation of the large mass of humanity.
    The issue is a very complex one and to my eyes is a fundamental of a personal approach to large (all humans implicative) systems, when a decision by a particular influences the lives of others (many ,many others in this case).

    I recently heard in a conversation someone proposing to put mind enhancing drugs in the water systems of the world, by that improving the overall mood-intellect- disposition and so on, of the entire world population. Irrespective for the moment of the actual feasibility of such an attempt (probably impossible at present) the question that I asked was concerning the ethics of such an act, and I am certainly unsure of the answer, the implications are so vast and so all encompassing that a fundamental and full philosophical investigation is necessary to come to some kind of basic understanding and view concerning such a large scale intervention.

    Would you personally (given the technical possibility and actual opportunity) perform such an all-encompassing act of improving humanity without direct consent? (please note that in this gedanken experiment no negative side effects are known to exist at the time of the act, in other words, the consideration should be only on ethical grounds)
    rene     Mon, Nov 23, 2009  Permanent link
    Using the drinking water as a conduit to change the species goes back to the ‘60s, starting with the fluoridation of our drinking water to stave off dental cavities. But more in keeping with Wildcat’s comment were the attempts at mass illumination suggested by proponents of LSD who believed that the mind altering drug’s introduction in the water supply had the potential to emancipate humanity. Aldous Huxley’s widow Laura told me a few years before her death that when she was arrested for swimming naked in the Hollywood reservoir adjoining her house, she told the cops that she had just laced the water with LSD, creating a frenzy among the police she could hardly talk her way out of.

    Remember that one dose of Lysergic acid diethylamide can be as tiny as one-tenth the mass of a grain of sand, so she could have very easily effected all the good people of Hollywood and by extension changed the world.

    Around that same time in Amsterdam, a counterculture movement, the Provos, spread rumors that they were preparing to dump LSD in the city water supply to coincide with the Dutch queen’s wedding. These rumours led the authorities to request 25,000 troops to help guard the parade route. Meanwhile Timothy Leary and beat poet Alan Ginsberg were inspired by Aldous Huxley to turn on a select group of luminaries in the hopes that their successful mind expansion project would eventually trickle down to the masses. As Huxley put it to Leary: “These are evolutionary matters. They cannot be rushed. Initiate artists, writers, poets, jazz musicians, elegant courtesans, painters, rich bohemians. And they’ll initiate the intelligent rich. That’s how everything of culture and beauty and philosophic freedom has been passed on.”

    Indeed, among the individuals Leary and Ginsberg turned on were musicians Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, painter Willem de Kooning, writer Jack Kerouac, photographer Robert Frank and many others. In a last ditch attempt to save the planet during the Cuban missile crisis, they almost succeeded in getting to John F Kennedy and Fidel Castro as well. But before long Leary judged that society at large was in need of the psychedelic experience and he became a cheerleader for change as he took his cause to the masses, which eventually put him in jail and turned him into a fugitive being hunted across the globe by the FBI.

    Still, by and large, both the elitist and the popular approach to change people’s minds were quite successful and have had a significant impact on the world’s culture. Today, the internet encourages us to take our cause to the masses, and yet what we’re doing here on this site much closer resembles Huxley’s elitist approach. The only real question then is, how will this information trickle down to others and become widespread. To me the true significance of SC is that so many who congregate here are thinkers as well as artists and designers, which should ultimately prove helpful to spread the radical notions we explore.

    Therefore, when I look at the contributions of recent member Olena, whose writing is as impressive as her art, I can’t help but think that renaissance people like her will be the ones who may well set the stage for certain parts of Spaceweaver’s agenda. Also note how Wildcat’s Sci-Fi Ultrashorts , which have gone missing lately, are a welcome complement to his serious speculative essays by allowing his ideas to come to life in a fictional context, while Xaos’ visionary contributions
    are remarkable attempts to transcend the limitations of the written word by marrying forward thinking philosophy and poetry in unprecedented ways.

    Today, we don’t have the advantage of the social protests of the ‘60s, or a succinct agenda like sex, drugs and rock & roll; there isn’t even a righteous generation clash. All we have is the evidence that we are riding a curve of exponential change through science and technology that has the potential to change human nature, but social acceptance of this realization is still marginal and a long way from reaching a tipping point. We’re still in the phase of Huxley’s initiation of artists, writers and poets.

    But then again, just one Thelonious Monk, de Kooning or Ginsberg, can bring on a lasting paradigm shift.





    meganmay     Tue, Nov 24, 2009  Permanent link
    I have not read the comments yet, but I think this post really hits the current human condition on the head. I was just listening to this radiolab post about how humans will have to seriously step-up their abstract thinking skills in order to survive the challenges we now face. The interviewee was of the opinion that we should be training our dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortices to strengthen our rational minds. I couldn't help but think we'll have to split our decision making 50/50 with computational reasoning. It's abundantly clear that something fundamental needs to change ...the fact the 53% of people wouldn't give up 50$ a month to remediate climate change is very disgruntling. Argle.

    I think the campaign for a new humanity will have to appeal to the very nature we are trying to surpass. How do you compete with all the immediately gratifying streams of information?
    shandora     Wed, Nov 25, 2009  Permanent link
    In systems theory, It was postulated and mathematically proven that large complex systems may be expected to remain stable up to a certain critical level of connectance and then as this increases, to suddenly become unstable.
    It is becoming clear that at this point in human history we are somewhere in the vicinity of this critical phase. We are serving as both the embodiment and product of this complex existence and our hard-wired fitness functions seem to be falling behind in supporting it. Not to mention any possible increase in complexity - which is clearly taking place. The question “What should we do about it?” becomes a question of our survival.

    So what should we do about it?

    Option: Inhibit/decrease the level of complexity we exist in – This can be achieved, for instance, by going back to pre-civilization modes of existence. This idea is not new and derivatives of it were actively pursued by different groups and individuals. Banning certain technological advancements is one of the more moderate forms of this view.
    It reminds me of something I watched on TV lately. The final episode of the series “Battlestar Galactica” (beware, spoiler ahead): After years of adventures in space, constant fight for survival against the CYLONS (Cybernetic Life form Nodes, created by the humans and went rogue) and dreams of a new home for free humanity… the last group of survivors finally land on inhabitable planet. Considering the chain of events that brought them so far they decide to discard of their entire space technology and scatter themselves around the planet in small groups… and basically start from scratch. It is Syfy tv… but I found it quite staggering that eventually the best solution found to ensure the survival of our species was to go back to square one…. It makes everything looks quite futile, no? Interestingly, the last scene of the show was 158,000 years later… where it all started again: Humans creating technology that will raise on their makers etc.

    Another Option: Give up democratic freedoms - Without going into the question of who exactly enjoys such freedoms in today’s world, it is clearly an ideal being held dearly by both us individuals and our politicians. Restricting access to information, monitoring personal activities, and maintaining biometric databases are some of the measures already taken today in different degrees to counteract the ill effects of our complex freedoms. This kind of solution is also inhibitory in nature and relatively a cheap one to implement - It does not require us of radical change. It does not require us “Changing our Minds” as SpaceWeaver so eloquently put it.

    So if we are unwilling to go backward and clearly cannot stay where we are right now, the only option left for us is to find our way forward. Or as a quote I heard recently goes “If there is no way out – go further in”

    Augmentation/Enhancement – This is clearly already taking place in small doses but promoting such an idea globally will entail a radical change in our most profound world views. The idea that human traits can be, and should be, manipulated biologically is challenging the deepest beliefs and understandings regarding what it means to be human. Maybe this by itself will push us, as a species, forward. To question what and who we are. To question that which is by normal standards unquestionable. And above all to shift our attention from what we are to what we can be...

    ... Some thoughts :-)
    Spaceweaver     Thu, Nov 26, 2009  Permanent link
    I think we have here an interesting starting point that already stimulates new reflections and ideas about this critical issue.

    Wildcat:
    The question of: “should we take the reins of our future evolution?” is for me a no-brainer, there is no doubt not only that we should, but in fact that we are already taking our future evolution in our hands (though I will submit to you that those so called ”Hands” are at present few and non-representational of the larger part of humanity). The fact that only a few hands are involved in the process is for me the main problem here; it is not only a problem of scale but an issue that glides right into the problem of ethics and values, the fact of change in itself is a simple point compared to the radical deformity a partial, to say the least, transformation implies.


    What seems obvious at a given level of generalization might not be that as when we get into the details. Let me exemplify that with the concept of evolution being at the crux of the matter here. The only kind of evolution which is empirically observable and fairly understood is the natural evolution of life. Natural (biological) evolution is driven by processes of variation and selection. It is distinctly ‘blind’ in the sense that it follows no premeditated design, just responding to complex environmental dynamics. Additionally, natural evolutionary change takes place gradually starting from a single organism spreading to a small (usually isolated) population and only later becomes a major ecological event. Even punctuated evolutionary events need quite a few generations to consolidate and have large scale effects. Another characteristic of natural evolution is that it advances by conducting a number of parallel yet diverse ‘experiments’, each is a random variation on the same theme. These evolutionary ‘experiments’ race and the one(s) achieving optimized fitness proliferate and consolidate. There is a fundamental diversity involved here.

    When we think about guided evolution, we find very little in common with the so called natural biological version. In contrast to biological evolution, guided evolution is certainly not blind because it is a process guided to achieve pre meditated effects. These effects are not necessarily balanced within the greater ecological context. Moreover, our understanding of the complex ecological context, which is a generalization of biological ecology, is often partial and highly simplified (computational limits and mathematical intractability might be involved). Also, certain augmentations that come to mind as candidates to a guided evolutionary step, for example: increasing the IQ of whole populations, will become effective within one to very few generations. There will be no adjustment period and there is no gradual introduction that seems to be part of a successful strategy of natural evolution. Last but not least, the introduction of distinct premeditated targets (say increasing everybody’s IQ) is not coherent with the kind of parallel ‘experimentation’ of diverse variations observed in nature. Diversity in augmentation is not likely to be adopted.

    Bottom line is that guided evolution is a very novel and progressive idea. It is fundamentally different from natural evolution and finding useful analogies between the two is tricky. There is indeed very little in empirical knowledge and theoretical understanding to guide our thinking about guided evolution. The point that we already do it, to some extent, is not entirely encouraging. Suvalescu’s argument that humans are biologically biased towards short term thinking and short term advantages is one that should be taken into serious consideration. A point I would like to add here, somehow missed by Suvalescu, is that our thought processes, as abstract as they might be, are not entirely fit to support and develop an evolutionary perspective. This is not an intellectual weakness; it is rather an emotional-motivational issue originating in our biological evolution and manifested in the bias towards strategies of interaction with the environment that safegaurd short term and local optimization of utility (territorialism, possession, self interest are just a few examples).

    Another point worth mentioning is that in the developing discourse about human augmentation, it seems that the greater projected change, the greater is the resistance it invokes. Clearly, this principle derives from biological evolution itself: only life forms that persist within changing circumstances get to survive and reproduce. Life, therefore, though being susceptible to change, is largely homeostatic. This bias towards equilibrium and persistence reflexively resist change: the greater the change, the greater the resistance. The human collective organism seems to follow very similar dynamics. In natural evolution we observe both self organization and self regulation where variation and persistence spontaneously balance each other within a dynamic process. It is my view that an effective strategy for guided evolution must achieve such balance and this should be reflected in the way we address the subject matter. We need to develop an evolutionary perspective while being keenly aware that some of our most ingrained biases work against such prospect. Paradoxically it seems that we need to evolve in order to successfully evolve…

    Having said this, I think that indeed we need to take the reins of our own evolution; mostly because we need to; not because we can. This is perhaps the one and only point of convergence between natural -biological evolution and guided evolution: both are catalyzed by the complex combination of necessity and affordability.

    All that is being said in preparation to answer wildcat’s difficult question supplemented by Rene’s reflections that put the issue in historical perspective.

    Wildcat:
    Would you personally (given the technical possibility and actual opportunity) perform such an all-encompassing act of improving humanity without direct consent? (please note that in this gedanken experiment no negative side effects are known to exist at the time of the act, in other words, the consideration should be only on ethical grounds)


    I have invested much thought in this question and my straight answer is yes. I would indeed engage in such act. Yet, my positive answer is far from being all encompassing – conclusive, cover-all answer. Considering the points raised above and the ethical issues involved from a personal perspective, I would take such formidable responsibility given the constraints I am going to detail in a minute. It is very important to remark that my positive answer is meaningful only in conjunction with these constraints.

    The constraints I have in mind have to do with two aspects: the nature of the augmentation and the size of the overall effect. Regarding the nature of augmentation there are three distinct categories I came up with:

    1. Augmentation of the general intelligence of human beings which roughly mean the level of smartness and capability to solve problems and recognize patterns at all levels.

    2. Augmentation of socio-emotional capacities of human beings which roughly mean emotional capacity, empathy, tolerance, understanding the minds of others, regulating interpersonal relations, cooperative capacities, balance and well being, effective dealing with conflicts etc.
    (important: one becomes capable to perform better not forced to perform better)

    3. Augmentation of conscious states available to human beings which roughly means extending and altering mental states, states of consciousness, states of perception, non specific creativity and more (in line with Rene’s account of achieving altered states of consciousness on a mass scale with hallucinogenic agents).

    In view of these categories, my positive answer above applies only to the first two categories while the third one should always be left to the discretion of individuals and never applied to masses (at least until we all become significantly augmented in the first two categories). The reason behind this distinction is that in the first two categories I can imagine a controlled quantitative change while the third category is by definition qualitative and therefore has a definitive immeasurable and unpredictable impact on the minds of individuals. Such impact goes way beyond the ethical horizon I am trying to set here. Altering the conscious states of human beings en mass without consent is therefore not ethically viable.

    This brings us to the second parameter of the size of the effect which is applicable to the first two categories. Let me start with the first category which is somewhat easier to grasp. I believe that any single human and humanity at large will categorically benefit if anybody will wake up tomorrow morning with an extra 5-10 IQ points. This is a very small change with a very small probability of disrupting the life of human individuals or the highly complex balance of human society. Such gradual minute change seems to be universally beneficial and therefore ethically valid. The overall effect might be highly significant but locally it will barely be noticed at first and will gradually develop. This is very similar to how natural evolutionary processes take place. I cannot and would not argue similarly if a greater augmentation is considered. A sudden increase in 20 or more IQ points is an entirely different category of change and therefore needs a much more complex consideration. Such change cannot and should not be taken by a single individual precisely because the impact becomes qualitative, immeasurable and unpredictable both individually and collectively (like category 3). The numbers mentioned here are of course arbitrary. It is the principle which matters.

    Regarding the second category, my argument is analogous to the one above. Suppose there is a measure of AEIQ (augmented emotional intelligence quotient) that measures the category 2 performance and capacities of human individuals. Again a small differential increase en mass (say 5 AEIQ points) has a very high probability to yield great benefits without disrupting the general balance neither of individuals nor of all society. If we can exact the measure of change, I do not see any ethical argument against it. The individual change will be so subtle that it will be barely registered, but in an appropriate span of time the cumulative benefit will be immense.

    Should anyone be informed? Not necessarily. Wouldn’t it be the best if such change would take place without any public knowledge at all? Since it will happen to all of us at once, no single individual or group of individuals (including the person initiating the act) will possibly gain any particular advantage upon others. Nothing in the general balance will change. We will just wake up a bit smarter and a bit more agreeable to each other (and ourselves). Though there is no direct consent, I do not see how any right, actual or implicit, of any living human being is possibly transgressed. (Interestingly, there is a solid reason why such an act must be informed to all in advance. The consideration is not ethical but rational. One must consider that the idea and capability to perform such act of augmentation en mass might occur simultaneously to more than one individual. To ensure that only a small scale augmentation takes place, the operation must occur only once, so the information must be published to ensure that :-)).

    As speculative and provocative as it may sound, at first reading at least, let me conclude with a question:

    Why not?

    Wildcat     Fri, Nov 27, 2009  Permanent link
    before I comment and answer the "why not?" riddle, allow me to say that this comment-answer in itself is so extensive and comprehensive that I would like to put it as an independent post on the Polytopia project page. much appreciated thx.
    starwalker     Tue, Dec 1, 2009  Permanent link
    Hello Spaceweaver, thank you for propelling this provocative discussion.

    I believe someone should voice some counter-arguments, thus, loyal to my late-evolver avatar, I shall:). As a premise I do agree that looking into the future as it presents itself to us at this time we, humans, are unprepared and indeed unfit to our projections.
    Yet when considering the expression “unfit for our future / the future”, I cannot not reflect upon the fact that future is (at least in terms of description) a human construct. Across centuries we conceived our future as something that by definition exceeds us, a repository for our breaking through impossibilities. Thinking of the Utopia of Plato, the machines of Leonardo, the realities of Jules Verne, all the way till the future worlds of Huxley, the singularity of Vinge the ever lasting life of Kurtzweil and the thousands, millions more humans and projections that maybe quoted in this category. Future is a category of mind through which the human challenges itself to be greater, farer, more. So yes we are intrinsically unfit for our future, now more than ever before. Yet I do not see how this can be translated from a drive for exceeding our-selves, into an unquestionable validation; a shift which in my eyes is performed by Savulescu in the talk about genetic enhancement.
    Is it so, are we to enter the very complex territory of genetically modifying ourselves (and our descendants) under the spell of ‘emergency’: do or die - comply or extinct – enforce or prepare to horror?

    We humans do have quite a historical record of devastating decision-making processes, and implications, in these kinds of circumstances (though of course criticality is always a difficult argument to fend off and one of the few that catalyze both either decision or compliance).

    I hardly consider the human of today relevantly furnished and compatible to match its own future projections, in this sense ‘guilty’ in front of any serious jury, and yet addressing this incompatibility to genetics alone in my mind raises the complexity at play not reduces it.
    Are we better genetic designers than we are in designing our immediate existence environments (politics, education, health, environment, wealth..)? How so?
    Is the act of delivering our-selves to the work of ‘experts’ (genetic scientists in this case) the way to harvest our potential for evolution? Or is it our current solution to bypass complexity of interaction?

    Which brings me to the next point in your answer to Wildcat critical question:

    Spaceweaver:
    Should anyone be informed? Not necessarily. Wouldn’t it be the best if such change would take place without any public knowledge at all? Since it will happen to all of us at once, no single individual or group of individuals (including the person initiating the act) will possibly gain any particular advantage upon others. Nothing in the general balance will change. We will just wake up a bit smarter and a bit more agreeable to each other (and ourselves). Though there is no direct consent, I do not see how any right, actual or implicit, of any living human being is possibly transgressed.

    I am aware that as humans we do have the unfortunate tendency to be highly opinionated mostly on no-grounds and ridiculously, not to say dangerously, able to create fatal avalanches out of it. So keeping our evolution (whether natural or consciously designed) under the radar has its very good points. And yet I can’t really find agreement with the terms you mention, at least not yet.

    To begin with I believe there may be a problem with the formulation of the gedanken experiment itself. Through the last 30 years of complex studies (and ‘naïve’ experimentation upon entire populations of about anything - from pharmaceuticals, to chemicals, to food, to ideas, etc..) we begin to see that there is virtually nothing which can be applied upon large systems of agents without unpredicted/unwanted implications or consequences. As you clearly mention we have no way to compute the complexity of present and future scenarios. Newtonian rational mechanic, though amazing media for our minds to penetrate into abstract riddles, seems not apply to the world we live in when enlarging frames. We may have to consider this in our current gedanken experiments, as a way to get used to necessary modeling of systems.

    In this sense an appliance that will over night raise the IQ or EQ of all humanity even minimally will come with a percentage of negative side effects (mostly unknown). Setting it to a very low rate of 0.1%, in a population of 6 billions will yield 6 millions humans with unknown negative side effects. Though I agree it may still carry quite some predictable advantages upon a population of 6 billions of aggressive, unfit agents, would it still be ethically viable not to open the information?

    From a different standpoint, considering myself as one of the uninformed, doesn’t the no-need to know decision, subtly negate the added value of consciousness? Does the fact that I am conscious of and able to reflect upon something that is happening to me bring about any advantage? I realize that basically keeping it under the radar is a very good mathematical operation to exclude a probably unnecessary level of complexity from the equation (we are not dealing anymore with a system of ‘emotional’ agents– in this layer – but of units). Yet I believe our is the time in which we begin to see (or at least delude ourselves into seeing:) some advantages to this layer of complexity. Will quote as one of many, the proposition of Venessa to see our-online-selves as ‘kind’ of neurons in a global brain.

    Would you think it to be of advantage to apply this kind of diverse complex computation system to the first tentative steps of our consciously designed evolution?
    What I mean by that is allowing diversity and open information in a multiplicity of procedures (and of course variations). Yet this would require all information disclosed. Though the hell-scenarios sustainers do not tire to ‘realistically prove’ us that one bad apple will be more than enough to catalyze human catastrophe, I do find myself at times preferring to take this risk upon paving a reductionist road of compliance to unexposed ‘experts’.

    Spaceweaver     Wed, Dec 2, 2009  Permanent link
    Starwalker:
    Yet when considering the expression “unfit for our future / the future”, I cannot not reflect upon the fact that future is (at least in terms of description) a human construct. Across centuries we conceived our future as something that by definition exceeds us, a repository for our breaking through impossibilities. Thinking of the Utopia of Plato, the machines of Leonardo, the realities of Jules Verne, all the way till the future worlds of Huxley, the singularity of Vinge the ever lasting life of Kurtzweil and the thousands, millions more humans and projections that maybe quoted in this category. Future is a category of mind through which the human challenges itself to be greater, farer, more.

    We, humans, have fascinating relations with the concept of time and especially with the future. Without straying from the subject matter here, I would like to highlight an important point: the categorical distinction between envisioning a future and predicting a future. While the first is mostly a product of imagination and creativity, the second is a product of empirical observations and rational/mathematical thinking.
    A bad habit of popular media (and not only)is to express envisioning in language appropriate to prediction and vice versa. This is a source of much confusion when we try to think clearly about the future, especially when we try to facilitate envisioning with predictive tools. When we do that, we need to be even more keen that wishful thinking is not confused with our hard won predictive capabilities (this is an aspect of developing an evolutionary perspective as I mentioned in my comment).

    Of course prediction, especially of complex states of affairs, is not accurate and most predictions are probabilistic. This, however, does not mean that we are entirely blind regarding the future; that we can only imagine or guess. My 11 point summary in the body of the post does not belong to the category of envisioning it is a (highly simplified) foresight derived from observation and application of rational tools. Foresight, I believe, is critical to any attempt to consciously guide evolution.

    The drive to exceed ourselves definitely belongs to the visionary aspect of our relations with the future, while the reflections expressed in the post (and more boldly by J. Suvalescu) are attempts to respond to some very pressing predictive results. One of the most profound advantages of the human is its ability to predict and plan. The validation and emergency are not derived from our imagination but from our predictive tools. Indeed, we do not know the future. We do have however strong statistical markers. When these markers are refined and properly processed they often yield valuable and valid knowledge. The kind of knowledge we can act upon.

    Starwalker:
    We humans do have quite a historical record of devastating decision-making processes, and implications, in these kinds of circumstances (though of course criticality is always a difficult argument to fend off and one of the few that catalyze both either decision or compliance).


    This is a kind of self defeating argument. Since we still exist, in spite of the many adverse circumstances and wrong moves, it seems that, on average, we took more beneficial decisions than devastating ones. To the point of genetics, I think that the discussion here should not focus on the means but rather on the ethical side. My guess is that brain altering drugs will become available much faster than other technologies including genetic germ line modifications. Highly effective brain enhancing drugs are less than a decade away, while genetic manipulations of the scope relevant to this discussion is at least two decades away and in any case their effect will be seen generations ahead while brain altering drugs can become effective immediately when applied.

    Starwalker:
    Is the act of delivering our-selves to the work of ‘experts’ (genetic scientists in this case) the way to harvest our potential for evolution? Or is it our current solution to bypass complexity of interaction?


    We are delivering ourselves to the work of ‘experts’ in almost any single relevant aspect of our lives individually and collectively. This is a transition we have done quite long ago: when we go to a doctor, to our bank advisor, when we listen to the weather forecast, when we vaccinate our children, when we fly on a plane, even when we buy food in the supermarket. We believe we have a choice, but this is an illusion because the very options (if there are any) are provided by ‘experts’. Indeed our all civilization is based on creating expertise and this aspect of civilization will only get more and more accentuated. Leaving our genetic future to chance, as we did for eons, not out of choice, bypasses complexity more than any attempt to initiate a directed intervention. I do not think that genetic interventions is an ultimate ‘solution’ to the human condition, not at all! Yet I think that genetic design is an essential component of any viable strategy towards future guided evolution.

    Starwalker:
    To begin with I believe there may be a problem with the formulation of the gedanken experiment itself. Through the last 30 years of complex studies (and ‘naïve’ experimentation upon entire populations of about anything - from pharmaceuticals, to chemicals, to food, to ideas, etc..) we begin to see that there is virtually nothing which can be applied upon large systems of agents without unpredicted/unwanted implications or consequences. As you clearly mention we have no way to compute the complexity of present and future scenarios. Newtonian rational mechanic, though amazing media for our minds to penetrate into abstract riddles, seems not apply to the world we live in when enlarging frames. We may have to consider this in our current gedanken experiments, as a way to get used to necessary modeling of systems.

    In this sense an appliance that will over night raise the IQ or EQ of all humanity even minimally will come with a percentage of negative side effects (mostly unknown). Setting it to a very low rate of 0.1%, in a population of 6 billions will yield 6 millions humans with unknown negative side effects. Though I agree it may still carry quite some predictable advantages upon a population of 6 billions of aggressive, unfit agents, would it still be ethically viable not to open the information?


    I certainly agree that the experiment is described in highly simplified terms. I do think however that this fact does not nullify its value. Thought experiments are usually reduced (sometimes ad absurdum) versions of a much more complex state of affairs. But here, I think that at least in some important aspects, it exposes an interesting thread worth pursuing if only to expose our emotional and intellectual barriers.

    I disagree, however, with the ‘negative side effect’ argument you raise: First, there is no known effect, as positive as it might be, without some negative side effects. An absolute ‘good’ belongs only to idealistic thought. Negative side effects become a consideration only in as much as we are able to predict them and relate to them. Only then, we can make a rational choice regarding a certain act. In our discussion, for example, you need to provide actual information/predictions regarding possible side effects against the positive effect presented in the experiment. Otherwise, every single act can be argued against by bringing up obscure negative side effects. If we cannot make a rational decision, we have only two options: act on impulse or refrain from any action whatsoever. Neither will bring us anywhere…
    The question of exposing the information is not that straight forward. Let us engage in a little auxiliary thought experiment: I put a placebo compound in to the water of everybody (or do nothing) and inform everybody that I put something into the water and with a few minor negative side effects of unspecified character, everybody becomes more intelligent (5-10 IQ) . What do you imagine will happen ?

    Starwalker:
    From a different standpoint, considering myself as one of the uninformed, doesn’t the no-need to know decision, subtly negate the added value of consciousness?

    Not at all! First, you will not know that you are uninformed :-) how could it possibly bias the value or potential expansion of your consciousness (or anybody’s)? There is vastly more unknown in our universe than known. I find it hard to see, under the carefully laid conditions of the experiment that anyone is affected in this respect. The effect is global and undiscriminating; there is no differential advantage that could possibly be gained. Second, on a deeper philosophical grounds, I do not think that generally increase in information changes our state of consciousness or its potential to expand. I do not believe that accumulating experience or knowledge (as information) makes one more or less conscious.

    Starwalker:
    Would you think it to be of advantage to apply this kind of diverse complex computation system to the first tentative steps of our consciously designed evolution?
    What I mean by that is allowing diversity and open information in a multiplicity of procedures (and of course variations). Yet this would require all information disclosed. Though the hell-scenarios sustainers do not tire to ‘realistically prove’ us that one bad apple will be more than enough to catalyze human catastrophe, I do find myself at times preferring to take this risk upon paving a reductionist road of compliance to unexposed ‘experts’.

    Information by its very definition is something that makes a difference. Given the subtle, almost imperceptible effect I was writing about in my comment, and giving the undiscriminating nature of the action, I do not see what difference such an exposure might have, so I am in doubt whether it is information at all. Of course such an event has all the ingredients of being the most lucrative piece of gossip ever conceived (where the very exposure is the difference rather than the exposure of a difference). As such, some might reflexively imagine that it is indeed information. But I think it is rather a simulacra of information not really information.

    ‘Compliance to unexposed experts’ makes it sound a bit like conspiracy theory stuff. The vastly powerful impact achieved by a single individual immediately invokes an instinctive suspicion. ‘No one should hold such a power’, ‘No one should perform such act whatsoever’, ‘No one is god’, are probably voices that arise in one’s mind in response to the experiment proposed. I do not automatically subscribe to the advice of these voices. I do accept that these are manifestations of the regulating processes of our social organism. I even accept that in the majority of cases these voices are expressing a general beneficial heuristics. The important point however is that in some very (very) rare cases such as the one I am describing in my last comment, these voices are to be ignored. This is not said with carelessness but with the firm belief that if one hand can devastate all humanity, we must allow the possibility that one hand can initiate a transformative beneficial process at the scale of all humanity. I would not take the risk of discarding such a possibility on the basis of a heuristic rule of thumb no matter how instructive it is.

    The ethical viability presented in my comment is still intact!
    Thanks for your comment.
    starwalker     Thu, Dec 3, 2009  Permanent link
    Hello Spaceweaver, thank you for the very elaborate response, it definitely brings some very important points into focus. I shall try and bring few degrees of resolution into my argument, which I think are not yet dismissed.

    I do see the line in between hard won predictive capabilities - using both our empirical and scientific observation capabilities, and our rational/mathematical conceptual tools of thinking – and envisioning. Though I believe that if envisioning is clearly separated from fantasy, by that which envisioning does carry and deal with the space of possible actuations, the line is more a broad coast than a sharp cut. And am going to elaborate what I mean, beginning by saying that it is mostly correlated to the amazingly diverse set of meaning relations that we code in our current language.
    I will take an example from the talk of J. Suvalescu – ‘unfit for life; genetically enhance humanity or face extinction’ – namely the fact that one of the strong arguments used in presenting the proposition of ‘unfit to life’ is what is being called in the talk ‘unfit for love’. The statistical data presented in this point are about rate of divorces in our current society and study of individuals having a personal history of non-successful couple relations. The concept of Love, in my understanding, does belong to the envisioning repository of humanity, while the statistical data refers to our current reproductive habits and social model. I, for one, may not find myself agreeing to this correlation in between love and reproductive social model.

    I do see definitely a lot of possible advantages in consciously modulating the chemical balance in our brains, as mentioned in the talk, yet not within this frame of description love = reproductive model, given that this frame will determine what is considered a benefit in the process. I actually find it a dangerously reductive (though very impacting) correlation.

    So again though the statistical data are valid, the implications and direction of application of incoming technologies, as genetic engineering, do take place in a much wider frame of description, which is where I believe the ethical discussion becomes both critical and complex. What is that we regard as a relevant and positively impacting direction for conscious evolution, considering that the frame of description affects the space of possible actuations in regard to humanity.

    Continuing this line into clarifying our relation with experts and expertise in our society. I perfectly agree with the fact that the transition to delivering ourselves in all practical aspects to the work of experts happened long time ago (and a blissful moment indeed:). Yet first of all this does not mean that we may not have to question it again and again each time a new threshold of ‘delivering ourselves’ personally and collectively is taking place.
    Second and most important, though I will not necessarily put my self into personally building my bionic enhancements (unless immortality will first be ‘delivered’:), I do wish to sustain at least in part the freedom and influence, both personally and collectively, to describe the frame in which such enhancements are thought, designed and put to use, which if I understand your initial proposition and question is at least in part what this provocative discussion is about.

    Though mathematics is non ambiguous, interpretation of data and consequent direction of implementation are. And this is exactly the territory in which we, personally and collectively, in my eyes should not ‘deliver ourselves’ automatically to the ‘one version’ of factual reality presented by each expert among us, in the name of statistical validity. Though I have in me a sense of blessing each morning when i throw my laundry in a machine instead of going to the river, this does not imply implicit acquiescence (and non-responsibility) to all that may further come from this robotic front of human progress. Actually the only way I can call it ‘human’ progress and not ‘experts’ progress is this aspect of collective continuous endeavor in the frame of description.

    The above argument is relevant as well in your carefully constructed gedanken experiment.
    Allow me first of all to say that I do not think anything would nullify the value of such experiment, for it clearly unveils the maize of values laying in the territory of causes and responsibilities and allows both further penetration and interaction with it.

    Back to the point, in the experiment benefits are expressed in terms of IQ as measurable ‘quantity’ of intelligence. Though I realize it is a matter of commodity of language, this point alone IQ = Intelligence is quite an ongoing multiple discussion. And whether as a discussion it will provide a better tool to influence our intelligence or not, I find it a relevant point in the overall map of definitions. Through it the question I am basically pointing at, is if there is a univocal way to measure benefit, or in other words a greater good for all? (rhetoric I know). And if not what is the next best set of approximations to it? And what are the corridors at our disposal, if at all, to implement it?

    Seeing our genetic outcomes as ‘natural’ procedures I do not see as belief in chance, nature, or a master plan of any kind, I do see it though as resulting till here from the emergence properties of an ungraspably complex computation system, namely ‘life on planet earth’. A system which is indeed completely blind to ‘us’ and our system of values and has indeed achieved at least some very ‘poor’ results in this respect.
    I agree that all what mentioned in the 11 points of your foresight presentation is an essential component of any viable strategy towards future guided evolution. The question I am facing in it is what does it mean in our current terms to ‘replace/approximate’ and ‘direct’ the computation procedure performed till here by life?
    Indeed inaction or impulse is not what I have in mind minding this question.

    Which brings me to the more proper question of the experiment

    Spaceweaver:
    This is not said with carelessness but with the firm belief that if one hand can devastate all humanity, we must allow the possibility that one hand can initiate a transformative beneficial process at the scale of all humanity.


    First of all point taken, indeed an important one.

    My proposition though was the fact that both are not possible. And I would not put it on the regulating processes of our social organism (though indeed a very interesting point for numerous further speculations) as much as to the resiliency of the overall physical and cultural system we are part of.

    What I mean is that when coming to the frames of description we select, I do not think that in the description of ourselves as humans entering the territories of guided evolution, i can uphold the solution of one hand taking the decision for an all-encompassing act of interference, neither as realistic (we are, even in our actions, a sum of interactions) nor as a good enough approximation to the complex computation needed to enter guided evolution (applying the same everywhere at once without being able to fully predict neither positive nor negative implications, and without the ability to realistically hold the whole picture) neither to consider the independence of any such act from some consensus processing ethically viable.
    In that I still think that open information about consciously initiated processes of modulation does bring, together with the gossip scoop:), some substantial difference.
    This as a proposition to your why not? question.

    Though I fully agree, the ethically viability of the experiment as you presented it in your comment, is intact.

    Spaceweaver     Sun, Dec 6, 2009  Permanent link
    Hello again Starwalker. I appreciate your effort you make here to develop this, critical discussion.
    Starwalker:
    I will take an example from the talk of J. Suvalescu – ‘unfit for life; genetically enhance humanity or face extinction’ – namely the fact that one of the strong arguments used in presenting the proposition of ‘unfit to life’ is what is being called in the talk ‘unfit for love’. The statistical data presented in this point are about rate of divorces in our current society and study of individuals having a personal history of non-successful couple relations. The concept of Love, in my understanding, does belong to the envisioning repository of humanity, while the statistical data refers to our current reproductive habits and social model. I, for one, may not find myself agreeing to this correlation in between love and reproductive social model.

    I do see definitely a lot of possible advantages in consciously modulating the chemical balance in our brains, as mentioned in the talk, yet not within this frame of description love = reproductive model, given that this frame will determine what is considered a benefit in the process. I actually find it a dangerously reductive (though very impacting) correlation.


    I could not agree more regarding the example you mention. Regretfully the type of bad philosophy demonstrated in the correlation of love with reproductive fitness and monogamy is becoming more and more common especially in those instances where prominent academic figures try to ‘get through’ to lay audience. An important lesson we can learn from this example is how dangerous are the ideas we are discussing here and how easily they might (and actually are) distorted.

    Starwalker:
    So again though the statistical data are valid, the implications and direction of application of incoming technologies, as genetic engineering, do take place in a much wider frame of description, which is where I believe the ethical discussion becomes both critical and complex. What is that we regard as a relevant and positively impacting direction for conscious evolution, considering that the frame of description affects the space of possible actuations in regard to humanity.


    Here and later in your comment you express a concern regarding the ambiguous borderline between data that is collected and verified using mathematical tools and the way this data is interpreted and applied to future scenarios and possible avenues of action. The latter of course is much influenced by the world view, cultural biases and value system of the interpreting agent. This is perhaps one of the most difficult issues that underlie the kind of discussion we try to develop here. It seems that any model of humanity at this scale that we can possibly construct will always be a vast simplification. Moreover, though the statistical tools are highly reliable, they are sensitive to the models we construct and the hypotheses we try to test. In this kind of complex situations the descriptive tools, the mathematics and the particular worldview cannot be entirely decoupled. The problem is not the professional reliability of experts but rather their limitations and subjective biases as human beings. The rigor of our tools do not make us impartial since these tools already operate within a complex system of a priori views and values the majority of which are often invisible. Your question therefore stays an open question, a conundrum with no foreseeable solution unless we explore some unconventional options.

    Starwalker:
    My proposition though was the fact that both are not possible. And I would not put it on the regulating processes of our social organism (though indeed a very interesting point for numerous further speculations) as much as to the resiliency of the overall physical and cultural system we are part of.

    What I mean is that when coming to the frames of description we select, I do not think that in the description of ourselves as humans entering the territories of guided evolution, i can uphold the solution of one hand taking the decision for an all-encompassing act of interference, neither as realistic (we are, even in our actions, a sum of interactions) nor as a good enough approximation to the complex computation needed to enter guided evolution (applying the same everywhere at once without being able to fully predict neither positive nor negative implications, and without the ability to realistically hold the whole picture) neither to consider the independence of any such act from some consensus processing ethically viable. In that I still think that open information about consciously initiated processes of modulation does bring, together with the gossip scoop:), some substantial difference.
    This as a proposition to your why not? question.


    The view you express here is a difficult one. The difficulty I experience is not a matter of agreement or disagreement. I can easily find myself thinking on the same lines you propose here. However, my grave concern is that though we favor, ethically and esthetically, the option of creating a wide consensus regarding the critical prospects of the future of humanity, such consensus is a very improbable event. The primary reason, as we already see in our discussion here, is the vast complexity involved. It seems that we must, collectively, become much more intelligent for such consensus to have any chance of taking place. But gaining such intelligence within the shrinking time frame we have available seems to require radical actions we are not ready to take. My concern if so is that the current situation of humanity spells a profound state of ethical paralysis. We will not be able to take the necessary steps that will catalyze the next evolutionary phase of human evolution. In spite of our exploding technological prowess we will be stuck in an impossible and dangerous situation.

    The options we seem to be left with is either radically slowing technological progress, an option which is not viable (or affordable) because it also demands a consensual coordinated action of the kind mentioned above, or, that the steps that will take human civilization to the next evolutionary phase will not be consensual but rather the consequence of the actions (interventions) taken by few, perhaps very few individuals.

    This line of argument may clarify why the ‘one hand’ scenario is interesting and why it is important to try and figure the ethical viability of a radical act performed by one person that will produce a global effect. Realizing that ethical consensus might be impossible to achieve (an evolutionary dead end actually) and realizing that we operate within tight circumstantial constraints, brought me to explore the less familiar and highly controversial ethical landscape described in my thought experiment. Admittedly, this is indeed a dangerous idea, perhaps very dangerous, but it might not be as dangerous as failing to act because we cannot reach consensus. The apparent failure of international efforts to address climate change is but a toy example of what humanity might very shortly face in managing global crisis situations.

    In conclusion let me rephrase the question arising from the argument above. Given that our ethical bias towards wide consensus might become a serious hindrance to bringing humanity into its next evolutionary phase, can we agree that it might be ethically viable for a single person (or very few), under very special circumstances, to act without such consensus of the public or its knowledge (which is a distinct issue in itself) to achieve an effect that will drive humanity beyond this barrier? The point of my thought experiment was to lay out a contour of possibilities within which such question can be positively answered. Exploring this question has, I believe, profound consequences on the future of human evolution.
    Spaceweaver     Mon, Dec 14, 2009  Permanent link
    An interesting background on changing attitudes regarding brain enhancing drugs. It seems some 'experts' cannot wait to use brain enhancing drugs themselves. While long term side effects are still unknown. Which shows how potent and beneficial such enhancements are considered.

    From Scientific American Mind Nov-Dec 2009: What Does a Smart Brain Look Like? (p. 33)
    If an effective IQ pill becomes available, are the societal and ethical issues the same as for performance-enhancing drugs in sports, or is there a moral imperative that more intelligence is always better than less? Apparently, many scientists agree with the latter. An online survey of 1427 scientists conducted in 2008 by nature found that 20 percent of respondents already use prescription drugs to enhance "concentration" rather than treatment of a medical conditon. Almost 70 percent of 1258 respondents who answered the question said they would be willing to risk mild side effects to "boost their brain power" by taking cognition enhancing drugs. Eighty percent of al scientists who responded - even those who did not use these drugs - defended the right of "healthy humans" to take them as work boosters, and more then half said their use should not be restricted, even for university entrance exams. More than third said that they would feel pressure to give their children such drugs if they knew other kids at school were also taking them. Few appear to favor the "ignorance is bliss position"

    Intelligence is a critical resource for the development of civilization. As the global economy evolves and small countries compete with larger countries, assessing, developing and even enhancing intellectual talent may well become the neuroscience challenge for the 21st century.
    Wildcat     Sat, Dec 19, 2009  Permanent link
    As a side note, I have conducted a short and informal non-scientific poll on my Friendfeed, I have asked the following : "do you (or would you) take mindbrain enhancing prescription drugs? (provigil-ritalin and such) informal non scientific poll for a coming paper on Cognitive Enhancement" you can find the comments here.
    I do think that some of the comments are highly pertinent to this thread.
    (some of the commenters are actually here on SC)
    starwalker     Thu, Dec 24, 2009  Permanent link
    Hello Spaceweaver,
    gave indeed quite some thoughts to the last formulation of your question:

    “In conclusion let me rephrase the question arising from the argument above. Given that our ethical bias towards wide consensus might become a serious hindrance to bringing humanity into its next evolutionary phase, can we agree that it might be ethically viable for a single person (or very few), under very special circumstances, to act without such consensus of the public or its knowledge (which is a distinct issue in itself) to achieve an effect that will drive humanity beyond this barrier? The point of my thought experiment was to lay out a contour of possibilities within which such question can be positively answered. Exploring this question has, I believe, profound consequences on the future of human evolution.”


    I see the point of hindrance you are bringing into focus. Indeed our current political tools seem at loss (not to say vainly ineffective) when confronted with global questions. The sense of paralysis brings to my mind a few points of reflection before landing into the singular person act corridor. I would like to add them to this discussion, i know it is introductory but in my mind it is part of placing the ethical issue.

    First point: “few” and “many”, “individual” and “groups/masses”, translate in our mind into signal/noise representation.
    The “few” to “many” ratio, for example in politics, is our temporary organized method to extract signal from noise. Politics can be viewed as an organized version of “few” acting for the many, based upon the ‘authority/validation/wisdom’ of votes, electing individuals to act ‘in representation’.
    Politics though also work with the principle that Order (signal), once extracted and validated by the many, needs to be imposed top-down in order to work, to achieve effectiveness and standards, by institutional organisms that stand in contradistinction to random hazardous behaviors. A principle which in itself can be questioned, yet which by all means if taken to extreme logical conclusions achieves immediate decisional efficiency when the ‘many’ are not included into top-down processes (other than as a herd to be contained – religion by the way works by a similar principle) making them quite rigid kind of processes.
    As it seems, noise cannot be excluded from the picture, if for no other reason that even the ‘few’ are by now ‘many’ :).

    While we are becoming a global phenomena, it becomes clearly more and more relevant to find new ways to transform that which we read as a noise (the many we are) into signal, possibly much more relevant than to filter it out or try to eliminate it.
    I agree very much with your statement that politics (vote consensus as it is at the moment) does not seem necessarily the best solution to extract a good enough signal out of ‘us’.

    second point: “globally influencing acts” as the one described in the gedanken experiment, are a unique category in the ‘individual versus consensus’ discussion.
    A critical category in our current junction, as you very clearly point. By unique category I mean that in my mind it calls for considerations that belong to this case only, and do not necessarily apply to any other case of the discussion ‘individual vs consensus’.
    The only way in which I understand individual autonomy of action in this category, is if we wish to define the Individual as our current most efficient solution for extracting signal, thus action, out of the global many. And am opening it as a question mark, for I do not have at the moment an a priori answer.
    Such definition would require though a set of criteria establishing what is required for an individual to take up such function, and what would be the needed frame of its actuation (human network, experts network, AI network, volume of information, state of mind??). It would also require for the Individual in question the clarity to know her relation to the many: extraction of signal from noise while extending at best, through the frame, the possibility of including a wide picture; while knowing it is an approximation and no better than that. (Can we as humans perform this without falling back to either institutional burocracy or dictatorship or both?). But all of the above is basically a different way to introduce a kind of consensus, and requires in mandatory way stages of open information.

    Third point: as humans we have more than one “kind” of active “consensus” - and do not yet manage to turn it into our advantage.
    Votes, indeed we very much value the idea, yet Money is not less of a critical consensus of our age. We are factually developing our future wherever money is present to finance, and it is easy to see how money and vote are not necessarily coupled, both for the better and worse. There is a lack of coherency/integrity (just to mention one) in between the futures we wish to project for us and our future generations, and the way we express our lives. This paralysis from incoherent signals I expect to equally stall decision both on a political and on an individual level.

    Some may say that on the individual level it is simpler to just ‘bypass’ the decision itself and let the most effective force at play lead the way. For an individual not to be overpowered by this kind of dynamics we also, as you mention, need to become more intelligent, much more. For the individual in my eyes does not operate in a vacuum, it is a place holder of complex dynamics ‘agendas’.

    Climate change and geo-engineering do offer a closely related case to this discussion, presenting different ‘private’ courses already in action, see here. We can easily see a landscape in which different types of individual enterprises begins to operate independently upon quite unknown grounds that do effect all, while holding different agendas.

    What would be the difference, in this category of acts, in between a political leader taking single handedly such a decision and implementing it upon validation of his political chair, and an individual business man doing the same upon validation of having the necessary resources it takes to actuate it (using money as consensus)? Again in this category of acts I cannot really put much ethical viability on any of the two options. Is a single scientist or thinker with private funding a better option? Very difficult to answer, especially independent from particular case and context.

    Fourth point: how do we recognize arising of order – thus how do we search for it.
    As perceptual phenomena we carry an historical bias of pointing out localities over pointing out complex dynamics. History is an excellent example. It is easier to project upon the individual (hero) extra-ordinary qualities, talents and integrity (or for that matter blame) than upon complex dynamics of collective interaction. When saying Rome, the high probability is that my mind shall bring up Julius Ceasar instead of the many obscure characters of the Roman Repubblica. Though it is the 500 hundred years of the Repubblica that still influence most of our political institutions and civil organization (maybe time to renew some:). Recalling Julius Caesar is my way to eliminate noise in a feeble signal - do not know enough about history to hold a strong complex signal, but isn’t this our case in almost all territories currently calling for action?

    There may already be more efficient decision making dynamics than the Individual and we do not have the conceptual tools to see/recognize them, they may be lost in the spammed noise.
    Humanity, as phenomena, did morph quite a while since the time of emperors. Our place on the scale spanning between hierarchical organizations to complex hyper connected phenomena did change fundamentally. Order has different physical laws than it used to.

    I believe we have the critical need to construct the conceptual tool (or the need to renovate our bias) that can make the emergence of order visible to us (as some say if all we look for is ‘trees’ we shall continue to see ‘trees’ and treat all the rest as noise). In that I very strongly appreciate your question, points and discussion, I believe they set to outline such direction.

    Coming to the question:

    Given that our ethical bias towards wide consensus might become a serious hindrance to bringing humanity into its next evolutionary phase, can we agree that it might be ethically viable for a single person (or very few), under very special circumstances, to act without such consensus of the public or its knowledge (which is a distinct issue in itself) to achieve an effect that will drive humanity beyond this barrier?


    Indeed the individual is known to this moment as one of our most efficient and effective machines of decision making and condensed direction for actuation. Upon this we justify full back-up in situations of emergency (and not only).
    Yet this is held true in our current conceptual bias, where we search for recognizable causes, clear effects and extrapolate-able processes connecting the two. Do we have any other option without falling again into burocratic fields? If the answer is even a mild yes, justification for full back-up independent of consensus and/or knowledge in my eyes falls completely.

    The other critical question that your proposition raises when coming to globally influencing acts, is: ‘which is the most encompassing capacitor of intelligence we have currently?’
    To define currently the Individual as the best solution to extract signal out of noise, as I proposed upstairs, still does not necessarily imply the individual alone to be as well the most optimized repository and capacitor of the level of complex intelligence needed for such a decision and actuation.

    Should we consider arising networks of humans across the world as a glimpse towards a possible approximation? Should we look to AI? Should we wait for AI to be the connection between networks of humans?

    And last but not least, how to discuss moral viability in the category of globally influencing acts, while not knowing how to define benefit (the synergic sum of positive and negative effects)?

    Assuming no negative effects (on the basis that they are not known) is equivalent in my mind to look at the question a posteriori, in the case in which more or less by chance the act did succeed. I do not have morals about such situation. It would move it again to questions about successive prevention without being a real basis to it (success being by chance).

    Nicodemus Demetrius     Mon, Aug 9, 2010  Permanent link
    Very pertinent post and comments on pressing and significant issues. I am still reading through the comments and links, but I thought I would in the meanwhile contribute what I can to the topic being discussed. Excuse me if I say what has already been said.

    It seems important to me to note that we are not yet knowledgable as a race or as individuals about brain chemistry thoroughly enough to attempt to 'tweak' their current natural state directly, especially genetically. This is apparent enough by the confused attempts pharmacologically to achieve a desired and specific end result with any degree of consistence. This does not mean that I am completely opposed to experimentation with arbitrary modifications to neurochemistry.

    I do know, however, as is mentioned in another of Spaceweaver's posts, that the societal and cultural impact on mind development is direct and appreciable: and this may be our greatest and most immediate avenue towards "brain enhancement", albeit culture is a difficult thing to manipulate; despite intelligent and concerted efforts it often appears to take a course of its own choosing, and this askew to any educated guesses made regarding the course of events.

    It is plain to me that a mind functions at a much higher level when unnecessary environmental elements are at their least, and inspiration (from within and without) is greatest.

    The factors just mentioned not only affect mind and brain function more significantly than other, more physically intrusive means, but are also more easily moderated and optimized, at least on a case-by-case basis.

    This being said, I believe that the temporary effects on the mind brought about by so-called psychedelic activities (yoga/body awareness, meditation, psilocybin, mescaline, LSD, DMT, etc.), while not chemically permanent, nonetheless carry tremendous potential for positive progress and liberation from inferior human traits, these lower animal m.o.'s resident in our beings.

    The various approaches at utilizing these "psychedelic" methods/drugs have been well studied and documented. Large doses of psychedelics, when well prepared for and supervised by experienced and capable parties (and by parties I don't mean all-night raves) have been shown to have extraordinary and irrefutably positive results, in an astounding percentage of documented cases. Of course there are many factors involved, and everything carries a risk, from romance, to driving to the store, to drinking the milk purchased at the store.

    And this is a highly personal view which I take all responsibility and liability for: small doses of psychedelic substances, whether voluntarily or arbitrarily administered, have much more benefit than more commonly used and accepted psychotropic drugs, and less-to-no noticeable impact physically. And all of the chemicals that I mentioned by name above are completely non-toxic, with no known LD50, and never an instance of mortality. Immortality, perhaps, but this follows every good intention...

    I may write more about this subject in the future, I am curious as to what people see as viable and ethical methods of "enhancement". I mean, "Waiter, what's in this soup?! It's delicious..."

    Spaceweaver     Wed, Aug 11, 2010  Permanent link
    Thank you Nicodemus for bringing back to front this important discussion.

    Nicodemus:
    It seems important to me to note that we are not yet knowledgable as a race or as individuals about brain chemistry thoroughly enough to attempt to 'tweak' their current natural state directly, especially genetically. This is apparent enough by the confused attempts pharmacologically to achieve a desired and specific end result with any degree of consistence. This does not mean that I am completely opposed to experimentation with arbitrary modifications to neurochemistry.


    Spaceweaver: The problem of neural augmentation is best divided into three distinct discussions. The first is the issue of principle, that is whether or not we see in neural augmentation a value worthy to be pursued and to what extent. This problem necessarily involve one's views on the nature and condition of the human and of course the benefits or drawbacks of augmentation that are correlated with such views. In brief my stance on the matter is that humans are busy in augmenting themselves from the dawn of culture. Augmentation by whatever means is a central aspect of cultural evolution and neural augmentation is merely one of the contemporary forms this cultural evolution takes.

    The second discussion has to do with application. This, like the first problem is still more theoretical than practical because, as you note, the knowledge and technologies involved are in their infancy. In application I mean how will a future society manage and regulate the various means of augmentation and of course there are many possible scenarios. As of today most of the chemical means that affect perception and cognition are strictly outlawed by governments besides some 'consensus' substances such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine etc. But such policies are not the product of any thinking regarding augmentation and in this sense they are only the source of arbitrary biases which are harmful to any deeper considerations.

    The third and last issue which is less of a discussion and more of a problem is also the most practical one, having to do with the scientific research program of neural augmentation. What kind of augmentations are possible? What kind of augmentations should we seek more proactively and what kind of augmentations are to be discouraged etc. There is much knowledge to be acquired before neural augmentation becomes a safe and mature technology.

    It must be mentioned that such discussions are never carried out within ideal circumstances. There are many political forces and pressure systems influencing any approach. Most of them have very little to do with the subject matter or even with the welfare of humanity.

    Nicodemus:
    I do know, however, as is mentioned in another of Spaceweaver's posts, that the societal and cultural impact on mind development is direct and appreciable: and this may be our greatest and most immediate avenue towards "brain enhancement", albeit culture is a difficult thing to manipulate; despite intelligent and concerted efforts it often appears to take a course of its own choosing, and this askew to any educated guesses made regarding the course of events.


    Spaceweaver: Undoubtedly the neural and cognitive levels of the human mind are strongly coupled and are actually different descriptive domains of the same complex system. Moreover, while our brains are localized within an individual biological vehicles (our bodies), our minds are interconnected and distributed complex systems that extend beyond biological locality.

    When it comes to the question of augmentation these different descriptive domains reflect radically different views that contribute to our understanding of mind and its transformative potentials. Mind augmentation enjoys therefore many present and future prospects at many levels. Just a few examples:

    • Chemical enhancers such as in psychoactive substances, memory and concentration enhancers and others.
    • Somatic and germ line genetic interventions in the neural structure of the brain.
    • Tools and methods such as writing and reading, computers, neural implants, neural interfaces.
    • Perhaps most important: Insights, concepts and philosophical understandings that affect the very way we operate our mind.

    All these could work in combination to achieve a highly dynamic and complex landscape of possible augmentation. And again, there is no doubt that in regards to the general problem of augmentation they are all intimately connected if we disregard for a moment conceptual biases and habits.

    As to your last notes about psychedelic substances, one cannot underestimate the possible impact of consciousness altering materials on the life of individuals and on culture at large. It is already quite established that responsible use of psychedelic materials have many positive and occasionally life changing effects and nearly no side effects. Regretfully, the paradigms of governance today be it democratic or totalitarian are all founded on control and on keeping the individual members of society in a state of submission and ignorance. It seems that large scale free usage of psychedelics may disrupt these paradigms because they encourage freedom in perception, emotion and thought and with that mental/emotional pluralistic world views that are much more difficult to control.

    The next revolution must indeed be a revolution of consciousness.

     
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