future technology as animism

From: Reason (reason@exratio.com)
Date: Sat Oct 06 2001 - 15:56:06 MDT

I meant to post this earlier, but you know how life goes...

I had an interesting interview on Thursday night with an intelligent chap
who is writing a thesis on the intersection spirituality and technology (and
spirituality and management, but the technology part was what he was after
with me -- basically spirituality in what are seen as the bastions of
secular activity).

It was interesting that the interviewer agreed with most of my ideas
regarding the way in which technology/tool use is a progression on a single
line, all the way from wheels to restructuring your own mental processes via
nanotechnology. He also, gratifyingly, agreed with my view that the future
of humanity will be determined by the structure of our own myths. Our future
will look a lot like what our ancestors thought our past reality was.

The interviewer also noted that none of the other people he'd intereviewed
to date (technopagans, other extropians, etc) took this view. Odd.

So I thought I'd throw out a list of points for discussion as I recall them
from the interview to see what the other people on this list think.

1) Animism

Animism is the earliest form of religion. It stems from the human instinct
to model everything as if it were another human. My take on this is that, as
a child, the only way to learn to be human is to treat everything else as if
it were human until proven wrong. This trait persists into adulthood. In
primitive times, you can imagine people trying to understand any complex
system (tree, river, weather, etc) by acting as though it had a human
persona behind it. Coincidence and human nature being what it is, you can
actually build up a nice self-consistant delusional world this way where
it's hard to be proven wrong about what is controlling the river, weather,

In modern humans, this trait persists. If you're not thinking about it,
you'll model something by assuming it's human. Go over your interactions
with complex inanimate objects (such as computers), especially when you're
angry. You'll see what I mean. Despite our rationality, we are still
programmed to default to treating anything complex as if it had a human
personality behind it. This becomes even more pronounced if we don't
understand how the thing works.

2) There are no distinctions in technology

People seem very eager to try and make a distinction between the technology
involved in wheels and the technology involved in writing code. I really
don't see any such distinction. Technology, in my view, is whatever makes it
easier for humans to shape the world.

One could box prior technologies in to technologies of information (systems
of government, language, mathematics, etc) and technologies of matter
(wheels, etc), but I feel that this is a distinction that is vanishing and
thus irrelevant. The technologies of matter and information already blur and
overlap. And in any case, they are both simply subsets of the one definition
for technology I gave above.

So the single line of development of technology is to make it easier and
easier for smaller and smaller groups of humans to accomplish greater and
greater changes. As our overall capacity increases, changes that were once
beyond the capability of our entire species become possible.

3) We are programmed to like certain stories

As has been shown by numerous authors, certain myths, stories and memes all
share underlying commonalities. These commonalities resonate with humans,
are attractive, have a power of fascination. We are drawn to them and we
create them.

This is why the future will resemble the animistic past. We will try to
build a world that resonates with our preferences for memes, myths and
stories. We will build spirits (AIs), we will try to become immortal
(cryonics, any number of other potential technologies), we will attempt to
transcent, to become Gods, heroes, kamis (uploading, inloading, outloading,

Yes, we will change our fundamental selves, but the initial builders of this
posthuman world will be humans. Before the spirits and Gods are let go to th
eir own devices, they will have been designed and built by humans and those
close to humans.

So in essence, there is a sense of full circle. There is a sort of world
that we desire to live in, that we are built by our very nature to desire
living in. A world of awe, spirits, Gods, heroes and magic, a world in which
there *is* an intelligence behind every complex object. We will build that
world: we are building that world.

4) Extropianism as mystery cult

The comparison of cryonics and extropianism with religions came up. In my
mind, it all comes down to death and immortality. While animism may stem
from default programming of young humans (i.e. treat everything as if it
were human until proven otherwise), all more "evolved" religions stem from
the desire to answer the question of death, to assure personal immortality.

Mystery cults (the Golden Bough is a good read on this topic) are a
subdivision of evolved religions with scriptures that tackle personal
immortality through the assurance some form of transcendence, or in other
words the changing of the self, becoming something greater than human.
Christianity in some of its forms -- and more often as presented in popular
culture -- retains fragments of many mystery cults in the fluid relationship
between angels and the souls of the dead.

Extropianism sits in exactly the same bucket, insofar as satisfying basic
human desires go. We answer the question of death, and we offer the prospect
of transcendence. Like an early Christian mystery cult, these goals fit
within a larger framework (science in our case) and are bound up in a more
specific set of scriptures (the extropian principals).

The only difference -- big difference, of course -- is that science will get
us to where we are going. Religions are just wishful thinking and

Of course, I could lead into a discussion on how to expand extropianism by
examining the success of various mystery cults (there are some good examples
in the last two centuries), but that's all for other people to look at if
they want. The question of whether or not your members understand what the
organization is actually about always comes up...I've always thought that in
order to be popularist, you have to sacrifice that concern. But that's a
whole other discussion.

5) The need for awe

Humans have a need for awe, for something percieved as far greater than they
are, something that touches them and speaks to them. This can be a God, the
knowledge of how the stars work, QCD, an appreciation of the true size of
the universe, etc, etc. It's another of those hardwired things in the human
brain, although I really don't have a good hypothesis for the existence this

An examination of my own thoughts and reactions shows that my astrophysical
training has left me lacking in need for religious (or other artificial)
sources of awe. Just thinking about the universe as it is understood today
is enough of a "wow" moment. I suspect that this is one of the reasons for
so many scientists being atheists. It can't just be astrophysics that
provides good sources of awe.

A consideration of any one of the postulated post-human futures in all its
glory is pretty damn awe-inspiring too.


Ok, enough. There were a bunch of other minor things, but those were the
high points. I just wanted to share :)


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