Re: History of Transhumanism and Extropy

Max More (
Sun, 02 Nov 1997 14:44:37 -0800

At 12:31 AM 11/1/97 +0000, Nicholas Bostrom wrote:

Nick: Thanks for retracting the point about the relation between
Extropianism and detailed political views.

>> Extropianism is defined by the Extropian Principles. Those principles do
>> not -- and never have -- included libertarian, and certainly not the
>> specifics of anarcho-capitalism, as defining ideas. The Principles convey
>> certain shared attitudes and values that make one an extropian, not
>> specific beliefs about the best organization of political or economic
>> institutions.
>Not even the belief that something broadly like libertarianism is a
>good thing? There has been some debate on whether this list is an
>appropriate forum for discussing "basics", and I got the impression
>that this in practice ment arguing about the merits of
>libertarianism. I think several people scolded Erik Moeller about
>that about half a year ago, though I didn't follow the thread very

No, not even the belief that libertarianism is a good thing. Libertarianism
is quite strictly defined (even though there are different ways of defining
it). I don't think it would be accurate to call any view that allows *any*
taxation to be libertarian. Any form of taxation seems to violate
libertarian principles. Even minimal statists (like Rand) try to find
non-coercive (by the libertarian standard) methods of financing their
minimal state -- user fees directly for services, lotteries, etc. The
Extropian Principles affirm a valuing of spontaneous order and
self-ownership. While, again, most of us might call ourselves libertarian,
it seems to me perfectly possible for someone to affirm those principles
yet not count as a libertarian.

Here's a possible extropian who is not a libertarian: This person affirms
all the principles. She thinks free markets are, overall, the finest
mechanism for coordinating activity and that government coercion is
generally a bad thing. She opposes government ownership of business and
favors practically no regulation other than the enforcement of private
property rights. (Libertarian prefer not to describe this as "regulation".)
But she believes education vital to extropian goals and does not believe
that it will be adequately provided if left entirely to voluntary action.
She sees state schools as a disaster and so opposes government-run schools,
but favors taxation to fund education vouchers to be used at private
competitive institutions. After carefully examining the evidence, she
regards global warming and ozone depletion as real threats. While in almost
all cases she thinks pollution and resource problems are best handled by
careful definition and enforcement of private property rights, she thinks
that approach will not work in these cases and so favors international,
governmental action.

Such a person, who can strongly favor spontaneous order and self-ownership
but who allows some role for government beyond that of the strict
libertarian view, can be an Extropian. The Extropian Principles suggest
certain attitudes and values that we affirm, not specific political

As for Eric, he went much further than suggesting that a totally "pure"
market economy might not work well. He was heavily statist in a way that
seems to me to go well beyond possible compatibility with extropian
attitudes. He clearly opposed spontaneous order and self-ownership in so
many ways that he definitely was "debating the basic." The basics are
Spontaneous Order and Self-Ownership, not libertarianism.

>> Certainly, you cannot uphold Spontaneous Order while
>> wanting an all-powerful state that directs all activity centrally
>As a clarification: Could a person who held the following belief be
>an extropian: "The likely only way to avoid a nanotechnological
>disaster ending life on earth is if there is a world-wide
>dictatorship, where the dictator coerces people into following his
>will. So I believe in dictatorship and coercion"?

While the Principles do not specify specific political implementations,
there will certainly be political systems that clearly conflict with the
attitudes and values expressed by the Principles. We cannot draw a sharp
line to separate those polities incompatible with the Principles from those
that are compatible. Obviously there is a fuzzy region, not a sharp
boundary. A Stalinist system, or a system of strong state control of many
aspects of life would clearly conflict with the two SO principles.

Your specific example above is set up so as to be more tricky. (Nick, I can
tell you're a philosopher from the way you set this up!( It's like asking a
peaceable person whether they would kill someone in a lifeboat situation.
You're specified that a worldwide dictatorship is probably the only way to
avoid a catastrophe. *How* likely does this have to be? IF someone really
held this belief, then if survival is the primary value, and if they
thought dictatorship would not forever end their extropian goals, I suppose
they could support that system temporarily while seeking a better solution.
However, I doubt that any of us believe dictatorship is the only way, or
the best way, or even a workable way of avoiding such a danger. Under
anything remotely like normal assumptions, no, an Extropian could not
advocate dictatorship and still reasonably call themselves extropian.

>Anyhow, I now think the following is an accurate statement of
>the difference between transhumanism and extropianism (though perhaps
>not one that is very useful for newbies):
>Extropianism is transhumanism plus the claim that the Extropian
>Principles (by Max More) are right. Thus you can't be an extropian
>without being a transhumanist, but you may be a transhumanist without
>being an extropian.

This sounds pretty good. One caveat: I wouldn't put it in the form that
"the Extropian Principles are *right*. That suggests a view of values as
objective. That is obviously a highly controversial matter. (Note to
Delmar: I haven't forgotten to respond to your long post. It's on my list!)
I'd rather say that Extropianism is transhumanism in the specific form of
an affirmation of the Extropian Principles.

>>There are people who could be called
>>transhumanists who apparently do not value critical thinking, and
>>who look to scientifically implausible methods for overcoming human
>>limits. As our ideas spread, I expect to see religious versions of
>>transhumanism -- Christian Transhumanism, Islamic Transhumanism, and
>>(not too far from their current beliefs) Mormon Transhumanism.
>I disagree. As you wrote yourself in the Extropian Principles 2.6:
>"transhumanism values reason and humanity and sees no grounds for
>belief in unknowable, supernatural forces externally controlling our
>Therefore I don't think that christians, muslims or mormons could be
>transhumanists. I think we should rule that out in our definition of
>the term "transhumanism"

I think this is a really important issue for the propagation of
transhumanism. I think you may be right about standard Christians, Muslims,
and Mormons. After all, Muslims believe fundamentally in submission to
Allah. That and typical Christian beliefs in an active God whose plan for
us must be followed clearly does conflict with transhumanism. Your citation
of my passage suggests that.

However, I do not think we should rule out everything called "religion" as
being compatible with transhumanism. "Religion" carries multiple meanings.
If we take it merely to involve a belief in a god who created and designed
the world -- as the deists believed (as distinguished from theists who
believe in an active god who expects worship and who defines morality),
then I don't see this as incompatible with transhumanism. Though I see no
reason to believe it, it *could be* that our universe was designed by a
being in some kind of "higher" reality. Moravec suggests that our universe
could be a simulation in the higher-dimensional computer of a superbeing.
While I don't grant such an idea any credence, I can't rule it out. If a
transhumanist believed such a thing (more strongly than the evidence
suggests) I would think them uncritical. But I wouldn't see such a belief
as incompatible with transhumanism so long as the person didn't look to
this being for guidance or purpose.

"Religion" also (and I think more essentially) involves a *way* of
believing. Religion involves faith -- a belief in things in the absence of
or contrary to the evidence. In that sense, religious thinking clearly
cannot be reconciled with the rationalist approach of transhumanism.

The question is: Can any actual religions be held compatibly with
transhumanism? I retract my previous suggestion: Standard Christianity and
Islam cannot be compatible. (Though, and this is important, one can be
mostly transhumanist and extropian and Christian. David Ross seems to be an
example of this. I find his combination of beliefs thoroughly odd and
mysterious but he seems quite happy believing in the divinity of Jesus
along with uploading, physical immortality, and the importance of reason.)
Hinduism, in some of its variations, might be compatible with
transhumanism. I'd be interested in what others think of this. Are there
other practices counted as religious that might not conflict with

Consider also that there have been religious humanists, such as Pico Della
Mirandola. He clearly held many tenets and attitudes that we call humanist,
yet he believed and praised a creator. He saw that creator as having given
us a unique nature such that we could choose whether to become more
animal-like or to evolve higher. His views did not support any passive view
of life. If you grant that there can be religious humanists (even if you
don't count them as totally "pure" humanists) perhaps there can be
religious transhumanists (though you may not count as pure as secular

So, I think that religious faith is incompatible with transhumanism, but I
would not feel confident declaring that all specific religious beliefs are



Max More, Ph.D.
President, Extropy Institute:,