Re: Das Elend des Transhumanismus

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Mon Sep 17 2001 - 16:14:27 MDT

On Mon, Sep 17, 2001 at 10:18:55PM +0100, Bryan Moss wrote:
> I agree wholeheartedly that we need to seriously discuss some issues here.
> One of the things that irks me is this notion that a human life is a sacred
> thing of absolute moral worth, which has been brought up in this thread in
> particular, which I find entirely *opposed* to transhumanism. Fostering a
> culture that has as its prime value the absolute sanctity of *human* life is
> not, in my opinion, the smart thing for us to do.

This is maybe not as serious a problem as you make it. I think most of
us here on the list understand that we would extend the concept of
sancticity of human life to other parts of mindkind when they appear -
AIs, trans- and posthumans, alife beings, uplifted animals, aliens etc.
The reason we talk about human dignity, human life, human this and that
is simply tradition: humans have been the only example of intelligent
beings with moral subjecthood up until now. When the other kinds appear,
we will have to extend the definition of "human" in these ethical
matters to the other thinking entities (or even better, do the
philosophical footwork before it happens; some parts of the animal
rights debate actually deals with nonhuman rights in a way that might be
interesting to us, even if we might or might not accept the claims for
other currently extant species).

> It's almost a kind of
> vitalism; there's some special 'essence' that gives humans worth but we have
> no definition of what it is. The one definition (or reason, excuse) we
> often do accept I find naive: the idea that by fostering a culture that has
> as its prime value the absolute sanctity of human life I increase my chances
> of survival.

There are plenty of definitions of what makes humans worth something in
philosophy, of varying compatibility with transhumanism. Again, I refer
to the June human dignity discussion. The practical idea that sancticity
of human lives promotes safer societies is IMHO quite valid.

But I think transhumanism really needs a clearer image of what it means
to be human in order to speak clearly about its ethics. I have some
ideas for this, but I would love to hear the rest of the list express
what they think constitutes the important part of being human (in the
extended sense to include all the trans/post/nonhumans of ethical

> This embodies the second part of current (apparent) Extropian
> thought that I find irksome: this "black box" view of the human mind as
> something almost non-physical, indivisable (for want of a better word), and
> capable of a kind of omniscient decision making tempered only by input. You
> see it on this list all the time; from the idea that we can drop books on
> peoples heads and they'll immediately become rational thinkers to the
> defence of individualism and the primacy of survival as self-evident.

I think you are attacking two different things here. The first is simply
the idea that by informing people they become rational and nice. This is
clearly not true, as evidenced by the number of third world dictators
that went to western universities. On the other hand, people are also
affected by input - ideas matter. It is just that the situation is not

The second thing is the simplistic view of human thinking that has been
prevalent in philosophy for a long time. One could call it the divorce
of psychology from philosophy. I agree that this is a big problem,
although it is not local to extropian thought or especially severe here.
It is everywhere in academia. Fortunately we might be able to deal with
it due to advances in neurospychology, the postmodern dissection of the
self and - hopefully - a transhumanist synthesis of this into a new
concept of the mind. But it is hard work reaching there.


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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:40:51 MDT