Re: Can You Live Forever? Esquire article

J. R. Molloy (
Sat, 8 May 1999 20:41:53 -0700

Natasha Vita-More wrote,
>(Wilson wrote _Consilience_ recently which I read with great enthusiasm
>until the last chapter "To What End?" where he discusses volitional
>evolution and seems to favor humans remaining biological.)

"seems to favor humans remaining biological"?

Hmmm... I rather got the impression he favors humans becoming consilient, i.e. unifying knowledge into a Theory of Everything that explains existence at every level. This neither prevents us remaining biological (or psychological, or political, or neurological, etc.), nor does it favor us remaining anything whatever at the expense of anything else.

If humans remain non-consilient, who cares if they live forever? I mean, who wants to stay unenlightened for all time? Do you think humans can transcend biology, achieve immortality, and thereafter eternally fail to discover consilience? Will the post-Singularity Powers allow that?

"How can we do anything, set any goals, without knowing the Meaning of Life? How can we justify our continued participation in the rat race if we don't know why we're running? What's it all for?" --Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

I don't think Wilson so much "favors" humans remaining biological, as he considers it a necessary fact that we need to recognize and acknowledge. In a similar fashion, Buckminster Fuller said, "Don't change mankind. Change the environment." Why? Because if you change mankind, the new mankind may not have the ability to change back in case it needs to return to its former self -- to reboot the system, IOW. In contrast, if we change the environment, a new form of humanity can evolve coincident with Homo Sapiens _or_ Homo Sapiens can decide to restore the previous environment. (Near-Stone Age tribes living in rain forests provide some insurance that Homo sapiens may survive in case civilization catastrophically collapses.)

The Jekyll and Hyde story offers a metaphorical lesson: Once Dr. Jekyll changes himself, he loses control and Mr. Hyde takes over... And Mr. Hyde has no interest in nor ability to make a potion quickly returning him to the Dr. Jekyll entity. So, if humans sever their ties with biology, and then something goes wrong (as it always does), the new posthuman techno-species will have no recourse, having burned its bridges behind itself. (The phrase "up the creek without a paddle" seems apropos here.)

"The consilience argument can be distilled as follows: The two frontiers are the same." (p.267)

As part of the environment, Homo Sapiens deserves conservation as much as does the mountain gorilla or the panda bear. But in our case, we have to do it for ourselves (despite science fiction about Powers).

If humans attain immortality via non-biological means, then it no longer makes sense to call them human. Then they have died and gone to posthuman afterlife.

Again, I don't think Wilson favors remaining biological; he rather favors comprehending the unity of knowledge, after which biology will take on a deeper, richer meaning.


--J. R.