Re: Is There A Need for Transhuman Spirituality?

Timothy Bates (
Thu, 25 Feb 1999 23:09:19 +1100

Natasha asked
>> Is there a need for an extropic transhuman spirituality?

Paul Hughes discussed the word spirituality thusly:
> We all seem to agree the word 'spirituality' has
> been used and abused so much since the 1960's that it's become almost entirely
> diluted. Even still, the word has as many definitions as there are people to
> define it.
I would say not "even still" but rather "therefore".

>Perhaps it's that diversity of definition that still makes it
> useful.
Useful for feeling good and evading hard answers perhaps but it is rather unusual that making a symbol have 8-billion definitions makes it useful for anything at all.

> Defining it too precisely narrows for me what is potentially infinite
> in scope.

Definitions are the sine qua none of understanding: they are the only proof that we have an understanding.

Paul then moved toward asking "is godly spirituality needed in extropy?" noting that
> In regards to a theology of gods or Gods, they are not entirely without use.
> If I find that a belief in a particular God or set of gods is useful to my
> overall development, how is this a bad thing?

How is it a bad thing? It is bad for you when you make decisions that are based on a faulty reality. It is for us when your spirituality convinces you that we are blasphemers. It is for you again if another religionist decides that your God is competing with hers.

>Internally believing in anything "as if
> true" has its uses, no matter how absurd the belief.

Saying something has its uses is meaningless: the question is what are the uses? what are their relative costs? More to the point, can you hold that belief consistently in the context of all of our knowledge and does it maximize the rate of knowledge acrual? History has given us repeated demonstrations that it effectively minimizes progress (If you ever ever see a copy of Joseph McCabe's books ("a rationalists encyclopedia" and "golden ages" buy them: he has many apposite examples, from ancient Egypt through Moorish Spain to the modern day).

> In the past I found that oscillating between fervent belief and disbelief
> was a useful exercise in finding the limits of belief and their effects on my
> own brain.
umm yeah.

Natasha then asked
>> In our transhumanist community, ...
>> there is a tendency to be critical and factual. I like this.
>> Yet, how often do we recognize the kindness in one another?
> The strong tendency within this community to criticize first and seek out
> kindredness later has always bothered me. On the other hand, it's a
> refreshing change from the blind faith and stupidity rampant almost
> everywhere else we turn.

You know this is really quite an unfair characterization, I believe. It is of course possible to be mindlessly rejecting and I am sure we all know people who are closed, unimaginative and lacking in both childish play and emotional understanding. Now, as I recover from playing hallway cricket with a screwed up paper we are working on here, and screw my head back on from imagining travelling up on that roton ... it is also possible to both be playful, emotional, caring, and to cry and laugh while also requiring that the things you let into your head be informative. In short, I really don't think that one needs to practice tarot reading to open up any part of the brain, nor would i accept that the critical faculty which several people on this list display is negatively related to kindness or the recognition of kindness. Actually, the one person whom i respect most on this list (not saying who) is also the person whom i would predict would be the most kind and for whom I would, never having met them, do most anything. I recall also that the person on this list some years ago who struck me as most intensely critical was also the most objectively kind.

Natasha then noted
>> There is a need for some form of emotional/intellectual synthesis which
>> brings out the integrity in our being. There is something, some sort of
>> synergy, some element that I sense is not discussed. Anders, in a separate
>> post states, "One might imagine a gradual ascent into embodying something
>> regarded as positive, a kind of slow apotheosis as the personality and
>> ability develops."

the dictionary tells us that apotheosis is: 1. the elevation or exaltation of a person to the rank of a god. 2. the ideal example; epitome; quintessence: This poem is the apotheosis of lyric expression.

There are two things here that I would like to comment upon.

Firstly I think we should beware of that second meaning: I wise man once told me "imperfection is that perfection for which you are seeking". Took me a while to get what he meant but he was right. Perfection-ideals also permeate most totalitarian philosophies, Schiller, and all those people.

Secondly, "synthesizing" the emotions and the intellect is what I would call just being normal - i.e., millions of people people largely achieve this. This is not the basis of becoming a God (Of course many millions do not, but that is another, sadder, story).

The story of affect over evolution is an interesting one. Emotion has always been a part of evolving creatures, certainly all vertebrates. The "higher" cortical regions are themselves intrinsically affective organs - however, they process rather different affective information than do the older, objectively more primitive (simpler) circuits which Papez and McLean understood as the limbic system. For instance one can measure cortical affective responses to distant futures and imagined potentials which are simply invisible to the limbic system. That response is directly underpinned by intellect, affective intellect, which can represent that distant future and its own desire for it.

I guess that what I am saying is that critical capacity and affect are not only not opponents of one another (which no-one here has implied) but neither are they even particularly separable elements when analyzed at an introspective level (of course they are somewhat separable neuropsychologically, but then we are talking about dozens of computational modules processing such diverse things theory-of-mind, affective representations of others versus self and in fact a plethora of highly interesting, separable affective-cognitions).

As such, you will not (do not?) find your desired god-apotheosis in people who are not intensely critical any more than in people who are affectively blind: it is the exact same neuronal computational architecture underlying critical intellect which creates those desired affective qualities.

My feeling from watching this list is that some of its members are among the most wonderful affective and intellectual company I have ever experienced and that the two feed elements each other quite wonderfully.