Re: Extropianism & Theology

Anders Sandberg (
03 Mar 1999 22:45:00 +0100 writes:

> 1) The overemphasis of power and the gradual ascent- I agree that there has
> been a tendency to overplay this attribute. When examining the question of
> worship, I asked what were the bare essentials necessary for me to feel a
> sense of awe and devotion toward another being. I came up with the idea that
> the important thing would be a being who is the embodiment of my most
> cherished ideal/ideals. This does not have to be a powerful being (unless you
> cherish power). I could imagine such a being which would resemble the ideal
> of the saint or buddha; an enlightened consciousness which could serve as an
> example to all.

Exactly. This is the kind of entity I would find worshippable (given that its ideals were consonant with mine of course).

> Having said this, however, I find it difficult to imagine a
> flawless exemplar of virtue (however you care to define virtue) without
> imaginining this person having some fair amount of power. How can such a
> being be certain in their application of these principles without perfect
> knowledge. And if one did have such perfect understanding, wouldn't one wish
> to avoid error through a lack of perfect execution.

Is perfection an ideal? I think Buddha is deeply admirable, but he also made mistakes in my opinion (like explaining his realizations in a way that people were bound to turn into a religion rather a non-religion). I can still venerate him as an ideal for self-understanding. Some exemplars might actually be better exemplars by not being perfect.

> And what would be the
> minimum amount of perfect (or near perfect) skill that this being would
> require to be ready for any situation. You could almost say that any being
> which reached such a pinnacle of enlightenment would be morally obligated to
> seek as much power as possible to avoid accidents of ineptitute. I suggest
> this as an example of the slippery slope to associating Power with Godhood, or
> maybe that should be the gradual ascent to Power.

I see what you mean, and I think this is a partial reason.

I'm right now reading the Chinese epic "The Journey to the West", and enjoying the character of Sun Wukong the monkey king immensely. I regard good Sun as a kind of transhumanist divinity. He starts out merely as a rather unique monkey, but gathers skills and knowledge so that he can become immortal. Then he uses his new knowledge to help his people, tricks the Dragon of the Eastern sea into giving him an immense magical weapon, descends into the underworld and erases his and all the other monkies' names from the Book of Death. As Heaven tries to intervene he causes trouble up there, becomes super-immortal by eating the Peaches of Immortality *and* the Pills of Immortality, is briefly (500 years) trapped by the Buddha under a mountain and for the rest of the epic acts as a traveling companion and enlightened advisor for the buddist monk Tripitaka, becoming a saint in the process. Talk about a career! Sun manages to become a Taoist immortal and a Buddhist saint *and* have a great time too (OK, those 500 years under the mountain might have been boring).

What appeals to me about this story is that he is a self-made monkey (quite literally, as he was born from the self-organization of the elements) who builds his power to an extreme extent - in order to use it for fun and to help people. What is the best way of increasing one's power? To learn, to become wise. It is really a bootstrapping process.

But, as I said above, another exemplar might not need tremendous power and might even be hampered by it. Ghandi might be an interesting example - his power came from being clearly *not* powerful.

> 2) Unsolicited Worship - I definitely see the point of feeling little
> obligation toward unsought and undesired worship. Yet, if you were a true
> Power, it might take very little to aid such worshippers, thus only a
> fractional amount of noblisse oblige might at first be enough to sustain an
> entire religion at first. But as your afterthought aid greatly improves the
> worshippers lot, they begin to pay attention to more difficult problems, ones
> they may have been at first unaware of or have accepted as unalterable, such
> as death. A Power could inadvertantly trigger the Uplifting of an entire
> people. You could say that this act is more than enough, and that the
> worshippers should be greatful for that much and do the rest on their own.
> This may be fine, but what if what your aid has in some way led them down an
> evolutionary deadend, and the only way they can see out is with help. Do you
> turn your metaphorical back on these people, who might not have had this
> problem without worshipping you? Or do you continue to help them, guiding
> them to a point where they no longer need you? There are two basic approaches
> that come to mind to deal with this problem, one is the hands off approach
> (dare I make a comparison to the Star Trek Prime Directive....argh!), the
> other to take up the mantle of Godhood until you can help your worshippers to
> maturity and kick them out of the nest (kind of like a good parent).

Good points. I have a short story about this somewhere that I might post.

Overall, the problem may lie in that predicting the development of one's inferiors is still beyond one's power. It might be hard for Powers to decide what to do, and in the end non-intervention might be the only safe choice.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y