Re: PHIL: Cybergnosticism (was: Upload Motivations)

Eric Watt Forste (
Wed, 08 Jan 1997 13:13:10 -0800

Anders writes:
>I think you misrepresent the "cybergnostic" position; even the most
>die-hard cybergnosticist will acknowledge that the information has to be
>processed somewhere (although the Moravecian platonic materialists
>suggest that the processing is central, and the implementations(s) are

It's more the cybergnostic tone that I object to than the cybergnostic
position. Or perhaps what I'm objecting to is some of the value-judgements
that are often subtly embedded in presentations of the cybergnostic
position? One of the things that I dislike about many forms of Christianity
is their denigration of the body and sensual experience, and the sort of
quietism that discourages people from working for change in the real world.
It's when I see these elements popping up among cybergnostics and VR
enthusiasts that I start getting suspicious. I've never seen this stuff pop
up in your own discussions, but I've seen it in the work of others.

>> It's distressing to
>> see silly dualistic metaphors pervading so much talk of uploading.
>Yes. But it may be easy to slip into it.

One more reason why I adopt the cybergnostic perspective experimentally
and not enthusiastically.

>I sometimes support the cybergnostic position; I often feel my body as a
>real limitation since it distracts me from my work with physical demands
>and limitations, singular location, risk for damage or disease and the
>subtle effects of (say) a tired muscle on my cognition. I would be very
>happy to spend much of my time without it, only to use the body for what
>it is truly good for: sensual exploration of the physical world.

Okay, but what can we do that does not constitute sensual exploration
of the physical world? Introspection of one kind or another seems
to be it, and Buddhists consider the recursive backflow of stimuli
within the brain to be the sixth sense, so even introspection can
be regarded as a sensual exploration of your physical brain. I know
what you're talking about: the experience of looking *through* a
computer terminal instead of looking *at* a computer terminal. But
the introspective ethereality of that experience does not change
the fact that even the use of a terminal is a sensual exploration
of the physical world.

It's my opinion that I will always "have" a body, and that there
will always be room for improvement in the design of my body. There
will always be some kinds of petty niggling annoyances in the
low-level function of my body; either I'll have to update to catch
up with some arms-race somewhere (and I don't mean that to be as
sinister-sounding as it is), or something will break unexpectedly
and need repairing, etc. Stuff always needs to be fixed or improved.
That's life. I like it that way. It's this preprogrammed willy-nilly
death thing that I don't care for at all.

>> But I can't even form a coherent notion of
>> what it would be like to exist without a body.
>Have you gone into a "hacker trance" or "email trance"? It sometimes
>happens to me as I use a computer: everything that is outside the virtual
>desktop fades away, and the world becomes information. I don't think about
>my chair, how I write on the keyboard or move the mouse, I just exist as a
>disembodied consciousness influencing the digital world by will alone.
>This is the kind of existence I would like to use in my "working mode".

It is an appealing kind of existence for a "working mode", but I think it's
really a bit of an illusion that requires a great deal of security to
sustain, and that people who think they will be able to live in this state
of focused, undistracted attention *all* the time are not going to be paying
enough attention to their physical environment to *have* the kind of
security that would permit constant immersion in this state of focused
attention. But I could be wrong... I haven't thought about this particular
challenge much before.

>> Utility fog might
>> work nicely, if it can be built. ;)
>A bit light, isn't it? What to do when there is a strong wind? :-)
>I would opt for a more solid mesoscale structure.

I usually imagine the solid mesoscale bits to be relatively inanimate
bits that are manipulated by (or flowed among) the masses of foglets.
Also, I was thinking of this primarily as a platform for offplanet
use... perhaps mostly filling up a hollowed-out asteroid (with
engines, of course) for starters? I like the bush robot paradigm
also, but JoSH's utility fog seems like the next step beyond that.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++