Re: Can You Live Forever? Esquire article

J. R. Molloy (
Tue, 11 May 1999 18:12:05 -0700

Anders wrote,
>Suppose I decided that civilization was bad and evil. I could actually
>go back to stone age with some preparation: buying up a suitable area
>of land, getting the necessary training in wilderness survival,
>recruiting some similar-minded people. Then we could move in. Most
>people, not even rabid environmentalists, don't do this because they
>find modern life, with all its problems, much more attractive.

Ya gotta know I like you Anders, always have. But can you suppose forever? Why make suppositions needlessly? The Back To The Land movement went out with the 13th floor of history, namely, the 70s. Can't happen again one should hope. Hippie Primitives give entropy too much of their time.

>(But I'm sure there will be posthuman luddites claiming that physical
>reality is the only good reality - while safely living on the Net :-)

Yeah, I call those "posthuman luddites" robots.

>> Furthermore, at present rates of environmental destruction, "they" (who
>> remain fictional) will have no biosphere in which to return. In addition,
>> the motives for trashing biology do not appear conducive to biological
>> resurrection.
>Hmm, you seem to be making an awful lot of assumptions here. Why would
>a posthuman trash biology? The people becoming posthumans may discard
>their bio-bodies, but that doesn't mean they feel they have to wipe
>out the biosphere too. Why would present rates of environmental
>destruction hold in an era where people by assumption can do drastic
>morphological changes and can afford to? Why can't a crashed biosphere
>be restored?

"Why would a posthuman trash biology?" Why would a human? But you can see it all over the world.
You say "may" discard their bio-bodies because this assumption has no basis in reality. What has no basis in reality trashes biology as it trashes all other elements of existence -- by ignoring it. Present rates of environmental destruction will most likely continue to accelerate, not "hold" as you write. People do indeed "do drastic morphological changes" but they really can't afford to. My point exactly. Homo sapiens cannot afford to continue squandering natural resources. We lack the capability to restore the industrial revolution, never mind "a crashed biosphere" because as technology feeds on itself, it first eats those who regress. Who will restore a crashed biosphere? When you commit suicide, you don't get to change your mind. If you look at the evidence Wilson presents in _Consilience_ (forget about the book by the-inventor-of-the-internet-Al Gore), you can see that Homo sapiens has decided en masse to commit global suicide. I didn't get past pre-calculus, so I'll leave the math to someone else, but the figures live on the net, if you want to validate them, I guess. Anyway, the numbers cited in _Consilience_ show a trend toward ecological collapse (or "a crashed biosphere" as you put it). To the question, "Can you live forever?" one might respond, Can we keep the Earth alive or will global suicide continue? Before one decides to live forever, one should consider whether one will live in heaven or in hell, in a paradisiacal dream or in a diabolical nightmare. Like the dogface said, "Wake up and die right." (Excuse the association. It comes from the Balkans. Which I don't discuss.)

>> To conjecture that the hypothetical "they" will
>> have the necessary skills and technology to rebuild a dead Earth begs the
>> question: Why would they if they didn't need to? And if they needed to,
>> would indicate an unforeseen dependence which shows the flaw in their
>> to become non-biological.
>I think you are trying to turn my argument around here. If they don't
>want to go biological again, whats the problem? If they turn out to be
>wrong (say that they discover a fundamental limitation in their
>structure), that doesn't mean their *desire* was flawed, it just
>lacked some information. If I go to live on the moon and discover that
>I cannot stand the background radiation, it doesn't invalidate my
>original decision.

"argument" what argument? Let's discuss this. First of all "they" do not exist. Right? So this discussion involves nothing more than hypotheticals if you want to go there. But Wilson favors looking at the reality of the situation as it exists today. He concludes, "To the extent that we depend on prosthetic devices to keep ourselves and the biosphere alive, we ill render everything fragile. To the extent that we banish the rest of life, we will impoverish our own species for all time. And if we should surrender our genetic nature to machine-aided ratiocination, and our ethics and art and our very meaning to a habit of careless discursion in the name of progress, imagining ourselves godlike and absolved from our ancient heritage, we will become nothing." It seems to me that an extropian response to that reality would involve reading the pages leading up to it, to decide if it deserves our heeding it. But perhaps I can save time. Just tell me if you think Wilson wrong to focus on environmental issues, and to urge restoration of the biosphere, to rescue Homo sapiens from "a crashed biosphere" even if it means remaining biological. Wilson says, in effect, if we don't do something about bio-destruction, we will all die. Consequently, I see no reason to quibble about whether or not he may or may not favor remaining biological. As I think I stated earlier, I don't think Wilson actually "favors" remaining biological as much as he prescribes it for the short term or at least until we get thought this "bottleneck" of population/carrying capacity.

Believe me Anders, if you go to live on the Moon you have my very best wishes. (And just because we could send one Moony doesn't mean we should send them all. Just kidding!) No one has sent anything to the Moon for a while now. Doesn't politics suck? If I could live forever... Gosh! No one can ever say "Been there done that" to anyone who has lived forever! I just hope my age doesn't show too much. I mean I hope it doesn't show _to me_. As an immortal, what do I care what other people think. Most of them will die with their ageism in that dead old planet Earth. 'Course I'd go off to kick moondust with Anders, and maybe try moongolf in the moonglow with our moongirls. Or perhaps not.

>> This does not mean that Homo sapiens should "never" attempt to create
>> viable, intelligent, and wise artificial sentience. But we have not yet
>> close to doing so. Indeed we may find, as some researchers have opined,
>> artificial intelligence and artificial life mean approximately the same
>> thing. The motives for transcending biology parallel those for
>> life. If you subscribe to transcendentalism (and the mysticism that goes
>> with it), I believe that empirical science will eventually overtake you.
>I think you mix terminology a bit too freely here - transcending
>biology is not equal to transcendentalism. An upload living in a
>virtual reality is just as physical as the tree outside my window. The
>upload has transcended some aspects of biology which many of us find
>troublesome, while seeking to retain those organic aspects which we
>find desirable - like cognition, emotion, the drive to grow and change
>and so on. Nothing mystical in that, even if people sometimes do sound
>religious about uploading.

Transcending biology requires belief in transcendence. If you don't believe in transcending (i.e. transcendentalism), you won't transcend. Consequently, if you don't believe in transcending, you don't believe in transcending biology. "An upload living in a virtual reality" exists only in your imagination. Wake up call. (I don't suppose you've made up the part about the tree outside your window, but I couldn't know if you did, so it makes little sense to mention it in this context.)

Despite ominous tones which appear from time to time on this list concerning the Singularity, I thoroughly enjoy the upbeat optimism and positive attitude embedded in the basic premise of the Institute. But I don't see the Singularity doing the extent of damage to the biosphere that pre-Singularity humans do now. Uploading obviously need not involve mysticism, I never said it had such a need. But since it does not yet exist, it remains hypothetical, as does mysticism. In addition, uploading requires transcendence, the basis of transcendentalism.

>As I see it, AI and AL form another phylum in the broad sweep of
>generalized life. I love complex systems just for their complexity,
>interactivity and beauty - regardless of whether they are organic,
>information or inorganic.

Uh-oh, one might deduce from this that you believe it possible for complex adaptive systems to favor biology remaining organic. Consilience most definitely does not rule out the possibility of inorganic biology. So we need to define biology. When we define biology and biological as organic as well as inorganic complex adaptive systems, suddenly the contention that Wilson favors remaining biological becomes moot. Uploading consists of an extension of biology, IOW life.
Artificial Life, uploading, transhumanity, = augmented biology, amplified biology, modified biology, silicon biology, inorganic biology, but biology just the same. Quarks = Quarks.

>Yes, I'm Homo Proteus. But that doesn't imply that I turn my back on
>the biosphere - quite the opposite. I want not just to preserve it,
>but to extend it to new worlds.

Me too.

>> In short, Wilson's message comes to: Let's not kill all of us in the
>> to transcend. We had better take care of the environment, or it can't
>> care of us. The singularity that concerns Wilson involves the
>> bio-destruction of the Earth. His concern comes from science rather than
>> from fiction.
>Sigh. And everything discussed on this list is fiction? The problem
>here is that Wilson (and you) seem to be stuck looking at things as
>they have always been, looking for solutions inside the box. Moving
>outside the box to something different is apparently not an allowed
>option according to you. I disagree. I think that moving out of the
>box is the only way of ensuring consilence.

No, I didn't say "everything" give me a break. When I look "outside the box" I see many trees with sun-dappled leaves swaying in the lingering warmth of a springtime glowing afternoon. Do you still see your tree outside your window?

The "only way of ensuring consilience" that Wilson (and I, much to his chagrin possibly) offer, relates to moving out of the boxes that constrain people from acknowledging the desperate situation of the ecosphere, biosphere, Earth or whatever you want to call the totality of life that Homo sapiens knows. You write that you "disagree" but only with something that I've never agreed with. What moron would agree with disallowing movement outside the box of "things as they have always been"? That kind of straw man jousting I should hope you will rise above.

>> Passivity indeed constitutes a huge problem. Far too few people work to
>> reverse the damage done to the biosphere. Far too few work toward
>> the destructive trend of overpopulation. Far too many shirk the
>> responsibility to live up to human values of compassion, comprehension,
>> community, choosing instead to live in a fantasyland of denial.
>> Consilience means to bring all "*their*" systems together, to unify
>> knowledge, and to bring consistency to all the sciences, and especially
>> sort out which systems have validity and which do not.
>Sounds great. But did you notice the "their" you used? Why not an
>"our"? I think the consilience idea is a good idea, even if I'm not
>certain if it will work I think it is worthwhile to pursue. But it is
>dangerous to see it as something "we, the enlightened" brings on to
>unify "they, the passive" - it is everybody's project.

I had quoted you, Anders. You used "their" instead of "our." Back to the subject at hand: Many people think it worthwhile to "pursue" consilience. Einstein pursued it with his Grand Unified Field Theory. Physicists offer string theory to create consilience between quantum theory and Newtonian physics. Wilson extends that Ionian principle to suggest consilience between the natural sciences and the social sciences. Quite an ambitious idea, since it would provide a Theory of Everything which leapfrogs speculation concerning the plausibility of such ideas as uploading. Complete scientific consilience would provide a perfect fit with economics, politics, ethics, biology, physics, and especially psychology in one unified theory of complex systems. The power of consilient knowledge exceeds that of all present sciences by combining them into a super science of unified information.

>I might of course be wrong about the persistence of homo sapiens, but
>given my current information on how people think and act it seems
>quite likely. Especially given that there are people holding your
>views who might gladly (?) form a rear-guard so to say.

Sure, similarly people holding your views might commit mass murder. Therefore what?

Homo sapiens may persist, or it may not. Cosilience remains consilient no matter whether Homo sapiens remains biological or not. Neither Wilson nor myself have expressed any belief that intelligent entities need carbon-based organic structure or that we favor remaining biological. As simply as I can put it, a species that fails to restore the biosphere will fail to migrate to a non-biological form because such a species thereby proves it has no sense of responsibility. Such an irresponsible species ignores the genetic algorithms, organic chemistry, and Darwinian evolution that brought about life, and buries itself in imaginary scenarios of escaping the mess it has made of the biosphere. Homo sapiens will clean up the mess, or it will die. Plain and simple.

>> It seems to me that the only choice any living human has concerning
>> remaining human or not remaining human comes to this:
>> One can choose to grow up and take responsibility for the ecological
>> holocaust industrialized humanity has wrought (which means becoming fully
>> human in my estimation), or one can choose to cling to immature notions
>> somehow it will all work out and one can remain enthralled by futuristic
>> fantasy. If one chooses the latter, one should know that one deserves the
>> wrath of following generations of humans, who may consider this
negligence a
>> crime against humanity.
>Exactly. But the first option doesn't rule out becoming
>post-biological (in fact, it might even be argued that it would be
>environmentally friendly if we humans went post-biological). Getting
>the ecology to work might involve *more* high technology
>(cf. pollution levels as a function of technology; as efficiency
>increase, they decrease). You cannot just dismiss (say) a discussion
>about nanotechnology and its environmental impact as futuristic
>fantasy and remain intellectually honest; the honest thing to do is to
>rationally look at the claims made and the support of them, and then
>make a judgement.

"environmentally friendly" perhaps. But avoiding ecological disaster will require a commitment stronger than mere friendliness. It occurs to me that the people who _do_ something about overpopulation and environmental destruction may begin to dislike the people who do nothing, so I might want to start interacting with them. (Got any leads?)

We don't need to get the ecology to work. It works fine if not polluted, stripped, burned, nuked, paved, mined, etc. Nanotechnology may or may not provide environmental resuscitation, but it hasn't yet... because it hasn't established consilience with social sciences. You certainly show that you have a firm grip on the bleeding obvious when you write that "You cannot just dismiss... " But consilience does not have the same degree of banal visibility. It takes a little effort to comprehend the repercussions and consequences of _not_ understanding the principle of consilience.

>You (or Wilson) seems to have made a dichotomy between the "good guys"
>who are consilient, ecological and biological, and naive "bad guys"
>who are post-biological and suffers from passive optimism. Then you
>happily place everybody promoting posthumanity in the later category,
>without really caring to look whether that person really belong there
>or not. Maybe even these categories are bad?

No "'bad guys'" who are post-biological" exist. So it makes no sense to dichotomize in relation to them at all.

>> Excuse my harshness, but the situation in the "_real_ real world" as
>> puts it, requires the application of severe and intense measures to solve
>> the problems of today and tomorrow.
>Another dangerous meme, which has a track record with both some
>impressive successes and some horrible disasters. Without being
>connected to strong rationality and critical thinking it can easily
>become a recipe for "the goals sanctify the means"-type activism that
>does more damage than it helps.

I guess too many people take the admonition to "Live dangerously. It's the only time you live at all" (attributed to FN) very seriously. The rest of your statement applies to organizations of any stripe, including extropians.

>> The way I see it, extropy means the movement toward more powerful ways to
>> enrich and expand life.
>Sure. But at least some of us have a much more generalized vision of
>life - carbon is a special case.

Indeed. I've had a generalized vision of life for decades now. <yawn>

>> Opposition to consilience, IMO, comes from the meme that favors remaining
>> mechanical. I see signs everywhere that the Machine Age wants to become
>> Bio-genetic Age. The consilience of genetic programming, artificial life,
>> molecular biology, neurobiology, cryonics, synthetic evolution, and so
>> holds tremendous promise when combined with other sciences to go beyond
>> neo-luddite mechanical prosthetics. However one defines life, it will
>> surpass human life by creative biological reproduction rather than by
>> selfish mechanical replication.
>Hmm, maybe this is the key to our whole quarrel: you see the posthuman
>as a mechanical creature, while I regard him as a biological (if
>inorganic) creature.

Sorry to hear you have considered this discussion a quarrel. <getting sleepy>
I don't think we disagree about anything, or if we do, it only relates to definitions of terms.

I leave you with this oldie-but-goodie from _Out of Control, The new Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World_, by Kevin Kelly, Executive Editor of "Wired":

"The search for a Second Law of Biology, a law of rising order, is unconsciously behind much of the search for deeper evolution and the quest for hyperlife. Many postdarwinians doubt that natural selection alone is powerful enough to offset Carnot's Second Law of Thermodynamics. Yet, we are here, so something has. They are not sure what they are looking for, but they intuitively feel that it can be stated as a complementary force to entropy. Some call it anti-entropy, some call it negentropy, and a few call it extropy. Gregory Bateson once asked: 'Is there a biological species of entropy?'"

I'd say no.
What would you say?

--J. R.
CEE CEE Rider:
Conservative Existential Empiricist
Consilient Extropian Environmentalist