Re: >H RE: Present dangers to transhumanism

Robert J. Bradbury (
Wed, 1 Sep 1999 18:35:40 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 1 Sep 1999, Stan Kretler wrote:

> From: "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" <>
> : Frankly, I think a fairly large percentage of you *are* naive
> : technophiles. You think you can take controlled sips from a tidal
> : wave.
> I just joined this list recently, but I do not see a lot of what I would
> I call "naive technophiles". I do see a lot of technophiles, and a lot
> of naivete, but the naivete seems to be about the philosophical
> undergirding of transhumanism, not about the technology. Taking
> "controlled sips from a tidal wave" seems easy enough.
Technology can do
> anything. But thought about *why* taking a controlled sip from a tidal
> wave is a worthwhile goal seems to be absent from this list.

I know why -- because I don't want to drown. :-) But, the point about the "philosophical undergirding of transhumansim" strikes home. We are faced with a fundamental problem of constructing a philosophy for a system which we are woefully ill-equipped to comprehend.

Humans have been selected to be about two things: survival & reproduction. Now, all of the technophile discussions, AI discussions, political discussions, etc. seem to some degree to revolve around -- "how can *I* survive?", and as a subtheme -- "and how can *I* live in an environment that is just the way *I* like it?". Sometimes this gets extended to inviting/dragging other people along into your perfect environment or encouraging them to create their own.

Now, leaving aside the technical details of whether it is really feasible, let us *assume* that survival is guaranteed. It does seem like that is a distinct possibility (ignoring the probabilities). So lets say we are surviving in whatever enhanced form and perfect environment we have choosen.

How does a species that to a large degree based on a fight for survival, develop a philosophy, or a rasion-d'etre, for this environment. Yes, we have all seen the posts -- I want to travel, I want to create music/art/explore interesting scientific problems, etc. I raised a point a week or so back, that perhaps the purpose of it all was to turn all of the available matter & energy in the universe into a "perfect" structure or the "ultimate" thought machine, or maybe the single most aesthetic work of art. I don't recall anyone commenting on that, but I think it begins to chip at the problem.

When it is *not* about survival (or reproduction) -- What is it about? Is it possible for non-transhumans to discuss transhumanist philosophy?

A related background information piece would be for someone who has a significant understanding of philosopy to outline all of the known philosophies (and religions?) and divide them into some categories -- not/concerned with survival, not/concerned with purpose for existance, not/concerned with happiness, etc.

We could use this to see how existing philosophies [religions?] stack up and determine which have to be thrown out entirely in a transhumanist[technology at the limits of physics] environment.

> Seems important to think about these things. Is anyone here worried
> about slipping into a psychosis of nihilism once their IQs are high
> enough that they realize that their goals have no philosophical
> foundation (or *might* have no foundation)?

I would argue that the condition of nihilism [rejection of traditional perspectives (esp. morality & religion)] must exist in an advanced SI(perhaps even AI) because the traditional perspectives are fundamentally based on surivival & reproduction requirements (which are largely irrelevant to them). But I think psychosis (as a detachment from reality) would not exist, unless intentionally created, because they are capable of observing reality much more clearly than we are.

But so far the discussion about what SIs/AIs *do* has only seemed to generate the result of (a) compute a safe path of existence; (b) put yourself on that path; (c) suspend all thought until something that represents an unanticipated threat or is simply novel occur.

Now, if the other possibility that seems to fit the available data is -- become an SI/AI, think about a philosopy for existence, realize that there is no philosopy (because survival *was* the purpose for existence and once survival is guaranteed, existence is pointless); dismantle yourself back into atoms. This seems to fit the paradox of "Why do we still see stars?".

> If this is an old topic, perhaps someone could point me to a place where
> it has already been discussed.

I haven't seen it yet, but there are minds with deeper memory banks than mine lurking in the shadows.