Re: Can You Live Forever? Esquire article

Anders Sandberg (
11 May 1999 19:07:14 +0200

"J. R. Molloy" <> writes:

> Anders wrote,
> >Why would they not be able to go back to biology? Having bridged the
> >gap once, they will understand it fairly well at that point. Having
> >backups is common sense, but not the reason to never take the step
> >upwards/outwards.
> They could not go back to biology for the same reasons that we cannot go
> back to Stone Age life (without conceding the defeat of human civilization
> in toto).

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.

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

> 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?

> 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, that
> would indicate an unforeseen dependence which shows the flaw in their desire
> 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.

> This does not mean that Homo sapiens should "never" attempt to create
> viable, intelligent, and wise artificial sentience. But we have not yet come
> close to doing so. Indeed we may find, as some researchers have opined, that
> artificial intelligence and artificial life mean approximately the same
> thing. The motives for transcending biology parallel those
for transcending
> 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.

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.

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.

> In short, Wilson's message comes to: Let's not kill all of us in the attempt
> to transcend. We had better take care of the environment, or it can't take
> 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.

> Passivity indeed constitutes a huge problem. Far too few people work to
> reverse the damage done to the biosphere. Far too few work toward reversing
> 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 to
> 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.

> >> 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.
> >
> >Sure. And I think that is a *good* thing. But I seriously doubt all
> >humans will take that step, there will always be a pool of people who
> >for a variety of good and bad reasons chose to remain human.
> Nietzsche took me Beyond Good and Evil (the title of my favorite Nietzsche
> book) many years ago. Talk about "dangerous memes" -- "there will always be
> a pool of people" looks to me like one of the most dangerous of all.

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.

> 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 that
> 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.

You (or Wilson) seems to have made a dichtomy 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?

> Excuse my harshness, but the situation in the "_real_ real world" as Wilson
> 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.

> 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.

> Opposition to consilience, IMO, comes from the meme that favors remaining
> mechanical. I see signs everywhere that the Machine Age wants to become the
> Bio-genetic Age. The consilience of genetic programming, artificial life,
> molecular biology, neurobiology, cryonics, synthetic evolution,
and so on,
> 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.

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