This essay was published on October 14, 2013 at ImmortalLife.info
But which one is ME?
Letting go of our mono-being identity orientation:
Poly-beings, here we come!
by Chris T. Armstrong
Audience for this essay: You can save yourself from wasting some of your finite and far too short lifespan by totally ignoring this essay if you fall into any of the following three categories:
1. You don’t accept the possibility, even in principle, of a future wherein it will be possible via a “whole brain emulation” to upload the ENTIRETY of a human being’s consciousness to a non-biological substrate/processing-medium, whether it is because you think that this process will not be able to capture some special x-factor or soul-like essence or for ANY OTHER reason.
2. You totally accept, in principle, that we will one day be able to achieve a “whole brain emulation” and by uploading that emulation into a non-biological substrate we can achieve a full “continuity of consciousness.” Further, you have no problem accepting that multiple copies of the same consciousness would be full and completely valid instantiations of the “original” consciousness and not “mere copies” that are somehow less-than the original.
3. You choose to direct your energies toward near-term solutions to ACTUAL problems and regard this kind of conjecture as just so much “chin music” and premature, speculative, philosophical jibber-jabber.
Now, for those of you still with me, here we go…
You are living in a future time, around 2045, when mind-uploading has just recently become a routine, safe, and successful way to copy one’s consciousness to a “platform” other than the biological one in which it was born. You are accompanying a friend to a mind-uploading center so she can undergo this procedure. This is a very new thing and people are still trying to comprehend all the implications involved. You have some doubts and questions about it yourself and don’t fully understand the whole procedure, but you are there to support your friend in her decision and not to debate the issues.
Your friend goes in and you, along with other friends and family, watch as she lies motionless while her brain is scanned. After this is finished, there is a long period of processing that needs to be done. A MONSTROUS amount of scanned brain data about your friend’s “connectome,” all the levels of neurotransmitter concentrations at each synapse, and all relevant neuronal micro-structures, the combination of which comprises your friend’s unique “consciousness-pattern,” is instantiated in the new non-biological substrate. A technician comes in and tells everyone that they may want to go have lunch and do some shopping or something and come back in the afternoon…
When you come back, the first-phase is completed. Your friend’s consciousness has been uploaded into its new platform and has been connected to visual, auditory and speech interfaces. All of you are there, crowded around a prosthetic head, waiting to greet the newly uploaded consciousness…your friend. The switch is thrown and the head, that will later be put on a “whole body prosthesis,” comes to “life,” looks around, gets a huge smile and says, “It WORKED!” and everyone’s tensions and anxieties are melted away as they all begin laughing, crying, clapping and cheering.
After they finally quiet down, they ask a thousand questions about what it feels like and if it hurt…all the typical stuff…and then finally, your friend’s skeptical uncle moves forward and begins something akin to a deposition or cross-examination: firing fact-oriented questions in rapid succession as a sort of test to see if this disembodied head really seems to be your friend, his niece. After several successful answers to what seem to her to be silly and obvious questions, your friend says, “Come on uncle, it’s ME!”
After a while, a technician comes in and begins talking with your friend about some details of the last thing they talked about just before the brain scanning began. It was a story about a mythical and magical origami crane that bestows eternal life and good luck on all those who bring it into existence via the intricate origami folding ritual. All the friends and family were there when the technician told this story before the brain scan as well. Soon, the technician says, “Yep, that’s about it. See you after the next phase,” and he leaves. “Why does that guy keep talking about some freaky paper crane?,” someone asks.
Your friend explains, “That’s kind of a tradition that has evolved, mostly for the benefit of friends and family, so they can see something immediate that reassures them that I’m the same person who he told that story to earlier. They tell each person who will be uploading a short story that was uniquely created just for them so the person would have no way of knowing such a story except through this conversation just before uploading.”
“It’s also just a quick check for the people running the uploading process, because if I didn’t recognize the person who told me the story or couldn’t recall the prior conversation at all, they would know immediately that something went seriously wrong with the process. But, for the most part, they depend on these interactions with friends and family, like we’re having right now, for feedback about the authenticity of the uploaded consciousness, relative to the ‘original’ one.”
“They told me that philosophers are still very busy debating all kinds of arcane issues surrounding identity, dualism, soul, and such, but as far as these technicians and doctors are concerned, if everyone who knows me says I’m exactly the same person as before I uploaded, that’s good enough for them. They don’t worry too much about the philosophers and their ‘busy-work.’ They figure, at least it keeps them off the streets.”
After a few more hours of visiting with your friend, a technician comes in and tells everyone that they have a lot to do to get your friend’s new brain connected up to the “whole body prosthetic” and all of its enhanced sensory apparatus and you can come back in about 24 hours to see the finished “product.” As you walk out, you can see through a glass window your friend’s biological body in a medically induced coma and you get a very odd and jarring feeling of cognitive dissonance since you were, only seconds before, talking with your friend…or were you? This question haunts you through the night and into the next day.
Before you leave the uploading center, you are all asked to meet with several specialists who interview each of you to get your impressions of your interactions with your friend and whether anything seemed amiss or if there was no difference between this uploaded consciousness and your biological friend.
The next afternoon you all reconvene at the uploading center. You are brought into a room and there stands your friend in her new prosthetic body. Everyone rushes over to her and hugs her and the tears and laughs begin to flow again. Everyone, that is, except for that same curmudgeonly uncle who remains standoffish for a while. Eventually, your friend notices his hesitance and yells to him, “Come over here and give your favorite niece a hug, you crusty old Luddite!” Somewhat embarrassed, he shuffles over and hugs this “thing” that he’s now supposed to accept as his niece. She hugs him tightly and whispers something in his ear that makes him laugh and cry at the same time. He’s beginning to see that this “thing” is seeming more and more niece-like and he is starting to feel that he might eventually accept “her” as such.
Your friend begins showing off her new body’s capabilities, a bit carefully at first since she’s still getting used to the different feel of it and how to coordinate it all. She tells you that she can already feel greatly enhanced potential in this body that she hasn’t even fully explored yet. Not to mention, how incredibly sturdy it is and practically impervious to physical destruction. She talks about her plans to eventually try out other body configurations. The recommended first step is to upload into a humanoid biped body, since one’s brain already knows how to operate that kind of configuration. Eventually people learn how to thrive in many kinds of body-styles or may even, at times, choose no body at all, preferring to exist for a time in an idealized virtual world of their own design.
After being challenged to the obligatory arm-wrestling matches by several large males and even a couple females, which she wins “hands-down,” a technician comes in to go over a few final points and mentions that, according to protocol and your friend’s wishes, her bio-body will be kept alive and in a coma for 30 days, after which time, it will be terminated. When you hear this, you are STUNNED. You hadn’t thought about what would happen to her old body. Maybe you assumed that it would be kept alive or maybe even woken up or who knows what you thought, but you blurt out, “What? Their gonna KILL you? All that will be left is this COPY of you? What will happen to YOU?” The room goes silent. People look a bit shocked. The uncle has a faint look of yeah-what-about-THAT? on his face.
Your friend breaks the silence, “What do you mean what will happen to ME? I’m RIGHT HERE! That’s just my old body in that room over there. I have 30 days to change my mind, but as of right now, I would NEVER choose to go back and “live” in that failing old ‘flesh coffin.’” The technician adds, “She has chosen this option. Some people DO choose to live along side their bio-bodies, or copy their consciousness-pattern into multiple synth-bodies.”
You interrupt, “But which one would be HER?” “They all would be her/me,” the technician and your friend answer in near-perfect unison. Undeterred, you say, “But, if her body dies, which one is the REAL her and not just a COPY? Where will her true self live?” The uncle chimes in, “What they’re trying to get us to swallow is that they’re ALL her true self. None of them are more “true” than any other.” Your friend interjects, “By George, I think he’s getting it” and gives her dear uncle a quick wink.
“Ok you two, I admit that I had some doubts as well, but after I was put into my new synth-body and before you all came back to see the unveiling, I availed myself of an option that all uploaded people have open to them. I asked that my old body be awakened so that we could have bit of a chat. And let me tell you, it’s a SERIOUSLY surreal experience to have a chat with YOURSELF…talk about finishing each other’s sentences…wow! Anyway, I had decided beforehand that I might want to do this, so it wasn’t a total shock to, well, EITHER of me.
The reason I did this was to get confirmation from the world’s number one expert on me…ME…that my uploaded, synth-self, was truly me in every discernible way. After we both got a bit more used to our initial “identity disorientation,” the bio-me grilled me for a couple of hours about my future plans, my deeply held principles and most private thoughts, fears, and secrets…everything she could think of to determine whether she was me and I was her. We were both a little surprised at how quickly we were able to accept each other as…each other, or us, or WE…I guess we need to expand the range of pronouns available for these kinds of situations.
So, bottom line: We both agreed that for us, in spite of some remaining instinctual qualms to the contrary, there was no point in the bio-me remaining active in the world, now that a synth-me was here to take “our” life to the next level. We both accepted that there was no important difference between each other and the bio-me accepted that “she” would REALLY be living on as a synth-her/me. And I accepted that all that was “her” was REALLY me as well.”
You and the uncle are silent for a while and then slowly begin to speak…the discussion goes on, but with a much less contentious tone…minds are blown…lives are changed…
Humans have evolved on this planet as mono-beings: We have only one version of our consciousness, and it is located in our biological body in which “we” were born and live, until that body wears out or is destroyed. That’s how it has always been for all(?) living things on this planet and of course it’s hard for us to imagine it being any other way. But once we can truly have multiple selves, the ONE-TRUE-SELF paradigm becomes inoperative and obsolete, or at least, merely one “historical” paradigm among newer ones.
At present, we have a fundamental difficulty, an aversion really, to accepting the idea that there could be multiple, and fully “valid” versions of ourselves existing SIMULTANEOUSLY: poly-beings. I’ve had many discussions with people about this and almost no one can break free from the, quite natural and instinctual feeling that, regarding their sense of self, as in the movie, Highlander, “there can be only ONE.”
It’s totally understandable. It feels natural to me too, since I have only known mono-being-ness. It feels like something as natural as breathing — an existential axiom — that we have a singular identity. We’ve never had any experience other than that, at least not in our “normal” (“neuro-typical”) existence, apart from the realm of chemically induced psychedelic or otherwise “altered-state” experiences.
We say things like: “I am the REAL me and all uploaded versions are obviously only copies.” Some people hold on to the “only one” intuition so strongly that they assume that all of the copies would be “in sync” somehow and be experiencing exactly the same things in unison…because OBVIOUSLY there can be only one version of their consciousness existing and experiencing the world at one time.
Some think that the “mere copies” will be somewhat zombie-esque: conscious to some degree but lacking some special human quality that only THEY, the original, possess. And these are not only religious people who reject the idea of mind-uploading outright because they believe it cannot capture the “soul.” Often, these are people who THINK they’ve accepted the idea, in principle, that a brain can be copied, uploaded, and could be a COMPLETE consciousness.
Even people who are not arguing that the copies will not be accurate enough in a physical/functional way are often unable to think of the copies as TRUE versions of themselves. They still feel that SOMETHING must be missing and/or their original bio-version can be the only real “them”…for some reason. They are still holding on to their inherent mono-being bias when thinking about the idea of multiple-selves.
A Pragmatic Proposal
No, I am not contending that I have discovered some groundbreaking property of consciousness or a new paradigm of identity. I am proposing that we adopt this point of view as a useful tool, until we have reason to believe that the reality is otherwise.
The proposition is this:
A sufficiently detailed copy of a person’s brain — not a rough approximation, simulation, or software engineer’s conception — is, in EVERY sense YOU. If you make 1,000 ACCURATE copies, every one of them is REALLY YOU, just as much as the original bio-version of you is you.
They will all feel and believe, just as strongly as the bio-original does, that THEY are the true you. They may even have doubts about the validity of the other 999 copies AND the bio-original. They will ALL have the same ego-centered sense of self as the bio-original has. They will ALL naturally balk at the idea that it’s no big deal to be “killed” because “they” will live on through the copies. They will resist this idea unless they can come to some philosophical acceptance of the validity and PARALLEL SAMENESS of ALL the copies: The same philosophical struggle you may be going through right now.
The uploaded selves are not “clones” or the same as identical twins. Neither of those kinds of entities have an exact copy of someone else’s life experiences, memories, personality, etc. They are DISTINCT individuals. An uploaded consciousness is not “merely a copy” that is somewhat less-than the original, it is an EXACT duplicate of the original individual.
An uploaded consciousness will be EXACTLY as happy as the original was to be alive and to be interacting with his/her loved ones (gender will become an irrelevant/fluid/optional property of an uploaded being) and every bit of your consciousness that you consider to be YOU will be there, planning your future, making your same dumb jokes, suffering the same insecurities and displaying your same strengths. This upload that you may be tempted to think of as a mere clone or copy, but not YOU, will express his/her/its happiness over the success of the upload process and the opportunity it will have to live on, in a non-biological and more durable form.
Embracing the Poly-Being Opportunities
In order to embrace the full range of implications of mind-uploading, we need to abandon our either/or intuition in favor of a both/and view. Asking which one is the REAL you is akin to asking a gay couple: “Which one of you is the man/woman?” You’re trying to shoehorn something completely new into an old model. What is needed is a recognition of the new model and a conceptual adjustment that is necessary in order to integrate this newness into one’s worldview.
In order to determine if you are taking this idea 100% seriously…TOTALLY buying into it…ask yourself if you would be fine with letting your original bio-body die and believe that you, the REAL and ACTUAL you, in EVERY sense, would live on as the uploaded duplicate. The duplicate would feel that it was you and all the behavioral evidence it exhibits would lead people to accept that it truly IS you. It, YOU, will carry on with your life without missing a BEAT, because there is no BEAT to miss. It IS you.
A Multiplicity of Possibilities
We can imagine all kinds of sci-fi variations on this theme. We could, perhaps, network all versions together and each could take in all the experiences of the others and choose which memories collected through all the versions’ experiences to integrate into their own version. That is, until they each start becoming different enough that they may want to break away from this network and go off on their own. And if they are not linked, we have to accept the idea that, yes, they BEGAN as many duplicates of one-self, but if they travel off somewhere and have different experiences, learn different things, and make new relationships with other consciousnesses, they will begin to diverge and become more and more different from the original and become truly autonomous variations on the original theme.
Several consciousnesses may be able to merge into a collective entity for a while and then go back to being individuals again. Or imagine merging with your lover on such a fundamental level. You won’t have to imagine what they’re feeling or guess at their perspective. You will be THEM and they will be YOU, while in that merged-state.
And, of course, one of the most valuable aspects of mind-uploading will be the ability to back-up your mind-file and keep it in one or more safe and “off site” locations.
These kinds of possibilities are what we MUST consider if we are to fully accept the idea of mind-uploading as conceived of by Transhumanists.
Hypothesize and Test
Of course, this all rests upon the assumption that the copy is of sufficient resolution/detail to faithfully capture the true functionality of the brain. And that rests further on the reductionist/materialist hypothesis that the totality of our consciousness is an emergent property of the complexity of the brain; that “Minds are what brains do.” — AI pioneer, Marvin Minsky
On the other hand, for dualists, who believe that consciousness exists outside/independently of the physical brain (and to some, beyond the fathomability or scope of science), no amount of cleverly engineered brain-like artifacts will be sufficient to allow consciousness to emerge therefrom or reside therein (unless maybe the consciousness “wants” to reside there for some reason or is PUT there by a god). In this view, “Looking for consciousness in the brain is like looking inside a radio for the announcer.” — speculative physicist, Nassim Haramein.
Yes, both sides are functioning from positions of hypothesis rather than solidly demonstrated and completely settled FACT, but the big difference between these two positions is: At least the transhumanists are planning to RUN THE EXPERIMENT…to put their hypothesis to the test by working toward mind-uploading to see if we can achieve a “continuity of consciousness” — across bio and non-bio “platforms” — through science rather than just believing and hoping that our consciousness AUTOMATICALLY lives on without the brain, in the form of an immortal soul, as most religions contend.
To sum up:
We are currently mono-beings by default; no choice in the matter; dictated by evolution.
Mind-uploading technologies will enable us to become poly-beings by choice; multiple instantiations of THE SAME consciousness functioning simultaneously, but independently.
At the time they are created, they are all equivalently YOU, but immediately begin having their own experiences and developing their own new histories unless a choice is made to keep them all IN SYNCH and “the same” by updating all of them (including non-operational backups) periodically with the experiences of only ONE of them.
If asked, all selves will demonstrate the same will to live and the same stubborn, ego-driven insistence that they are YOU as much as YOU will.
Regardless of how many paradox-laden feelings and intuitions we may have to the contrary, at the time of SUCCESSFUL uploading, the original and ALL copies, all posses equivalent YOU-NESS. There is no logical basis for considering the bio-self to have more PERSONHOOD-STATUS than the uploads. Only a preexisting bias against poly-being-ness would cause you to hold that view.
New conceptions of “individual” and property rights and many other legal and social “entanglements” will need to be resolved in order to deal with the novel implications of this “expanded identity-matrix.”
Instead of the motto on the Seal of The United States: E Pluribus Unum – “Out of many, one.”
The motto of the mind-uploading era could be: E Unum Pluribus – “Out of one, many.”
This is the website for the book (in progress), At Any Cost: A Guide to The Transhumanist Wager and the Ideas of Zoltan Istvan, by Chris T. Armstrong. I will be posting essays on various topics related to my book, Zoltan’s book, and his ideas that come up during the writing process. http://transhumanistwagerguide.com/
This was my first online article.
It was originally posted on March 22, 2013 at ImmortalLife.info.
It was written at the request of Hank Pellissier. Thanks Hank, for giving me my first big break in the online article biz.
Transhumanism and Powerlifting: Don’t Be An H+ Poser
About a year ago, I heard a Transhumanist opine: “If you’re into Transhumanism and you’re not doing anything to improve your body and be in the best shape you can be in, you’re just a POSER.” Futurist, science writer, and ethicist, George Dvorsky, put it more diplomatically: “If you call yourself a Transhumanist, but you’re not doing anything in the here-and-now to improve upon yourself — whether it be your body or mind — then you’re simply misunderstanding it and doing it wrong.”
When I heard the original “poser” version, it hit me very hard, like a big fat REALITY SANDWICH. Yes, I thought, that’s exactly what I am: a Transhumanist POSER. I’m not taking enough steps to increase the odds of me living long enough to see this amazing Singularity come to pass.
I took this criticism VERY seriously and decided to get in shape and improve my ominously bad health stats. As I thought more about the reasons that this point of view had such a huge impact on me, my thoughts moved beyond the specifics of my personal health situation and to the reasons that made this blunt yet incisive judgement important for Transhumanists in general to take seriously.
I realized that specific Transhumanist premises, combined with the particular point at which we find ourselves in the projected timeline of the approaching Technological Singularity, demand that we do all we can to preserve our “hardware” so that we can have even a CHANCE of prolonging the life of our “software.”
FOUNDATIONAL TRANSHUMANIST PREMISES
Probably the most fundamental of these premises is the assumption of a materialist foundation of consciousness: “minds are what brains do” — that the sum-total of each person’s personality, memories, skills, emotions, you name it — even those properties that some have nicknamed “soul” — are all the output of a complex, hierarchical, massively interconnected network called the brain. This premise leads to the conclusion that, if we can understand this network at a sufficient level of detail, it can be replicated in some form other than the fragile human brain. This is the idea of, “substrate independent consciousness.”
With these two ideas in hand, we are set to move ahead toward an “immortality of consciousness.” All set…except for one little detail: We DO NOT yet understand the workings of the mind-brain synergy sufficiently to make a functional non-biological replica of a brain. When I was studying AI, with an emphasis on neural modeling and Lisp programming in the 1980s, I was fond of quoting AI/Lisp pioneer, John McCarthy: “We understand human mental processes only slightly better than a fish understands swimming.” While much progress has been made in the past few decades, we still await further breakthroughs. Although Ray Kurzweil has proposed that we don’t need to understand everything about the mind/brain complex, as long as we develop a sufficiently fine-grained brain scanning technology that will essentially “copy” the functionality of a given brain, we still have a way to go before we get there as well.
To compound the problem, we do not yet have sufficient medical knowledge to keep our bodies alive and highly functional long enough to insure that our consciousness will still exist at that future time when it can be transferred into something more durable than these entropic “meat machines” in which it is currently trapped.
BRIDGES TO IMMORTALITY
Enter, Ray Kurzweil’s “bridge metaphor”: By using the best medical information and technologies currently available to keep us in peak-health, we can use these as “bridges” to keep us alive long enough to make it to the next round of breakthroughs that will enable us to extend our lives even more, and on and on. Through this iterative, progressive and accelerating process we will be able to “live long enough to live forever” — to live as long as it takes to achieve “consciousness uploading.” To increase the possibility of achieving “consciousness immortality,” we’ll be able to make backup copies of our “mind-file” to be kept offsite…on another planet…in another solar system, galaxy, or even in some form that is decentralized and distributed throughout the multi-verse.
The bad news, for those who have let their bodies descend into a state of “accelerated decrepitude,” is that we can’t depend solely on heroic medical interventions to bridge our gaps in optimum health. Although, at some point we will be able to repair the damage caused by neglecting our health through injected nano-bot swarms and other currently unimagined methods, Kurzweil’s first bridge involves a strict adherence to diet, supplementation, and exercise protocols so we can last long enough to take advantage of these future, more invasive and repair-oriented innovations.
People well versed in the constellation of concepts and values comprising Transhumanism or Singularitarianism, may recognize Kurzweil’s bridge approach as akin to “biohacking” or “DIYbio” or “the quantified self: self knowledge through numbers.” This manipulation and self-tracking of one’s health stats are essential for anyone wanting to achieve the “plus” in “humanity-plus” (H+). We, as Transhumanists want to be “all that we can be” — AND THEN SOME — and that includes being more in touch with our bodies. It’s not enough, at this stage, to be awesome superheroes “in our heads” — great mental athletes with highly upgraded “software” — while letting our “hardware,” our bodies, deteriorate into premature “obsolescence” and “system failure” due to abuse and neglect. The even worse news is that you can’t even function at your peak, mentally, if your body is struggling to function due to deterioration.
POWERLIFTING AS DIY HARDWARE UPGRADE
In an effort to stop being an H+ poser, at the age of 53, I took up CrossFit, an intense and varied exercise routine (and culture) using functional movements that include Olympic lifting and Powerlifting. After several months of success — trading a lot of fat for muscle and gaining a lot more stamina — I gravitated toward a Powerlifting emphasis and eventually to Powerlifting exclusively. My WONDERFUL coach, Stephanie Davis, is a 108 pound female who is pound for pound MUCH stronger than me — with numbers to PROVE it — even after months of great strength increases on my part.
For those only vaguely familiar with weightlifting as a sport, as opposed to “weight training” at a gym, you are probably much more familiar with Olympic lifting than Powerlifting. Olympic lifting involves two kinds of lifts, both culminating with the barbell being held overhead. Powerlifting involves three kinds of lifts, none of which goes over the head. The three lifts are: dead lift, back squat, and bench press. These lifts, together with all the ancillary exercises a Powerlifter must perform, recruit most of the muscles of the body and tax one’s endurance and mental toughness, providing a great all-around workout.
The systematic and quantitative nature of Powerlifting training provides great feedback about the effectiveness of the training program in measurable numerical terms. There are many different training philosophies and systems. My coach programs my workouts according to my experience level, age and any ache, pain, and recovery issues I may be having on that particular day.
Each workout involves a warm-up, mobility, strength, and ending with some special additional exercises. The warm-up is always different, but may include: 200 to 400 meter sprints; pulling a sled 200 meters to a mile with 90 to 225 pounds of weights on it; sit ups of various types; squats; push ups; lunges, and anything else my coach may dream up on any given day. Mobility involves stretching and preparing the applicable muscle groups for the lift of the day. The strength portion is sort of the “main event,” which focusses on only one of the three lifts, sometimes adding chains or giant rubber bands to the bar to increase resistance and ocaisionally limiting the range of motion in some way to tax certain muscle groups that are used in that limited part of the lift.
The special movements at the end have become a regular part of every workout, at my request and consist of exercises that isolate some relevant muscle groups and movements similar to those found in the warm-up, but just MORE of them. The purpose is to take whatever muscle energy is still remaining after the strength portion and exhaust it all so that I am totally spent after each workout. An additional goal is to try to do as well as I did in the warm-up on any exercise that may have been repeated at the end on that day. For example, yesterday I did a 200 meter sprint in the warm-up and one at the end and, even though my legs were pretty worn out by the end, I was still able to do the final sprint within 4 seconds of the time it took me to do the initial sprint. This isn’t always possible, but it’s what I shoot for.
PUSHING BEYOND LIMITATIONS
The actual lifting portion of the workout goes through various cycles over the course of weeks, each lift using “dynamic effort” — speed and explosiveness with lower weights — or “max effort” — using higher weights approaching your absolute max. The amount of weights used in each workout is determined based on a percentage of my “one rep max,” which is a weight that is so heavy for me that I am only able to lift it once and no more. For dynamic effort workouts, I may work my way up to 50 or 60%, but for max effort workouts, I may get up to 90%. Once a month I go to 100% and then try to go beyond that to a new PR (personal record or 1 rep max). In the past 4 months, since converting from CrossFit to doing Powerlifting exclusively, I’ve increased my max in dead lift by 40 lbs to 415 lbs; back squat by 45 lbs to 380 lbs; and bench press by 35 lbs to 255 lbs.
The goal of Powerlifting is to constantly increase your max for each lift. To do this, I train 4 days a week: 2 days on bench press and one day each on back squat and dead lift. I assume that my coach has programmed it this way because she knows that bench press is my weakest lift and could use the extra work. The ideal is to have a rest day between each workout day to allow you muscles to recover, repair and grow. I usually make my rest days “active” rest days, involving some light activity like running around in the park with my dog, some not-too-heavy overhead presses or I’ll do some grip strengthening exercises to improve my dead lift. If I am really worn out from an extra hard workout the day before, I won’t do anything taxing at all — just 3 long walks with my dog throughout the day and stretching. This is the famous, “listen to your body” advice.
YOUR BODY AS A FINELY TUNED MEAT-MACHINE
Besides building stronger muscles (fat burning machines), strengthening bones, improving hormone levels, increasing metabolism and mental toughness, a side benefit is the improvement in your ability to notice the effects that food, supplements, and sleep have on your performance. This gives you greater motivation to optimize these things in service of your training goals. You soon learn that an inferior diet filled with low-quality, processed, sugar-laden “foods” will result in inferior rates of progress toward your goals. You will be motivated to research information about all kinds of supplements that will help you repair and build muscle. You will pay more attention to getting greater quantities of quality sleep. You will become aware of a stressed-out nervous system that will render you unable to lift weights one day that, according to your max number you should be able to lift. This will lead you to an analysis of your diet, recovery, sleep, and other variables leading up to this unexpected lapse in strength in order to make adjustments. The same kind of analysis must be performed in response to those special days when everything comes together and you feel supremely confident and able to lift beyond your previous limitations.
The data needed to perform these analyses are available because you have fastidiously kept a log book of all of your workouts containing information about all weights used, reps done, and any failures to accomplish what your coach has prescribed and any extra things you may have done on those “feeling like I can conquer the world” days. Information about supplements added/subtracted and dietary changes/lapses should also be logged as well, as these must also be factored into any analysis of successes or failures. Once you have learned a lot about your responses to these variables and have gained sufficient strength, you may want to enter a Powerlifting competition to test yourself against others of your age, gender, and weight class. This kind of date-oriented goal will help you to learn, with your coach’s help, how to adjust your training, diet and everything else so that you can be in peak physical and mental shape on a particular day.
Yes, there are Powerlifters who go to extremes in an effort to be at the top-most “elite” competitive level. Some, still eat huge amounts of very low quality food just to put on weight that is a mixture of both muscle and extra fat, thinking only of the short-term gains and disregarding long-term negative health effects. This same kind of short-term “thinking” may also lead some of them to take LARGE amounts of steroids, testosterone, and growth hormones. These hormones allow people to push their bodies beyond what may be “reasonable” or physically sustainable and sometimes suffer injuries that may have long-lasting effects. But, for the more moderate person who approaches Powerlifting in a scientific and patient way, the benefits can be enormous for both men and women.
I’ve often heard women say: “I just don’t want to get huge muscles.” Well, the fact is that for most women, huge muscles are not going to just sneak up on them against their will. Women have to really go out of their way and actively take extra steps to get huge. Because of their much lower testosterone levels, women have to work extremely hard to get hyper-muscular and, in the most extreme cases, you’re probably looking at someone who is “benefitting” from, shall we say, “pharmaceutical enhancement.” Remember, you are in charge of transforming your body. It’s not something that will be “imposed” upon you without your consent and cooperation.
A POWERFUL BODY IS AN H+ BODY
Aside from other health benefits, the physical transformation alone is well worth the effort. The improvements in body composition — the ratio of lean body mass to fat — begins to flip. Fat is traded for muscle. Your t-shirts that were previously loose on top and tight on the bottom begin to get tighter on top and looser on the bottom. Your abs and the whole core muscle complex of your lower torso, front and back, tighten up and gain in strength, as this area is crucial for all 3 lifts. Your whole relationship to your body will change. You will feel more in command of it and it will respond much better when you need it to.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a focus on building muscle and transforming your body is mere superficial vanity. Sure you will feel better about the way you look, but Powerlifting is not the same as Bodybuilding, which, for some people, can have an over-emphasis on looks at the expense of actual strength. In one sense, you ARE literally engaging in bodybuilding. You are, through your efforts and discipline, building a strong and more well-balanced body. You are taking charge of your physical destiny. You are “hacking your body” in true Transhumanist fashion — not passively allowing your body to “happen” to you…not standing by watching nature take its course. This is what the “deathist” surrender-monkeys do, NOT Transhumanists.
Powerlifting is one path to a body that is well matched with an H+ ethos and the Transhumanist goal of longevity and physical enhancement. If you already go to a gym and do a couple different circuits of weight machines on alternate days with some treadmill or other cardio thrown in, you may want to consider upping your intensity by investigating the world of Powerlifting. One extremely important psychological aspect of this training is that you won’t get bored by doing the same routine all the time. As my coach says: “The program is that there is no fixed program.” There is a general framework; a tried and true system, big-picture-wise, but each day is a different workout, while still hitting all the essentials. The workout changes to keep providing your body with ever-changing stimuli so that it doesn’t adapt to a static routine and also changes in response to one’s level of recovery and energy fluctuations. You need constant challenge and change of stimulus to grow.
If you get a good coach, do your own research, document your progress, and treat this as a serious project, as though your longevity depends on it — because it DOES — your body will thank you by becoming a durable and strong “hardware” platform to house the ONE AND ONLY copy of your “software” — a desirable goal of any worthy non-poser Transumanist biohacker, I dare say.
News from Zoltan Istvan:
“Friends, I have some exciting news. Psychology Today, a major mainstream publication with hundreds of thousands of readers, has invited me to write a regular new blog. It’s titled: The Transhumanist Philosopher. I hope to reach many new readers with it and tell them about radical human enhancement and life extension ideas. I’ll also be interviewing key leaders in the transhumanism and longevity fields — and discussing their projects and books. If you like my first article below, please share it in your social circles and tweet it. Thanks! Zoltan Istvan”
It’s so encouraging to see these ideas given a forum here. Too much of the time I hear passive surrender to the “death-ist paradigm”: that death is inevitable, natural, even DESIRABLE and almost noble…”It’s our duty to get out of the way for the next generation.” In this view, any attempt to conquer death is not only “a fool’s errand” but deeply “selfish” or somehow pathological.
This view is so deeply imbedded in the dominant culture at a subconscious, intuitive level that any challenge to it is often met with confusion if not outright anger.
It’s about time we hear more from the other side: people who challenge the dominant assumptions and world-views; people who reject the inevitability of death and view it as a problem to be solved rather than a metaphysical absolute to be obeyed.
With this introductory article, Zoltan Istvan has redrawn the map and is plotting a visionary new course: one of inspiration and enhancement rather than of resignation and decline into increasing decrepitude and a “dying of the light.”
If we don’t “rage against” this pervasive and acquiescent death-ist mindset, by prioritizing and GREATLY increasing our research efforts, humans may never know if it was in their power to overcome death as though it were just another curable disease, albeit the most fundamental one. For so, in truth, a temporary malady, death just may be…
– Chris T. Armstrong
Zoltan handles the tough questions with brilliance and clarity…