Continuity of Consciousness

…all things Transhuman and Singularitarian…

Abundant Future: Making Anything Out Of Anything…

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http://www.sciencealert.com/this-new-device-recycles-plastic-bottles-into-3d-printing-material

A “conceptual” step in the direction of the ultimate goal: making anything out of anything…toward the day when discarded or no longer desired matter can serve as the raw molecular material for molecular-manufacturing/atomically-precise-manufacturing…when we can breakdown and reconstruct anything from anything, including…<wait for it>…food, water, medicine…and the end of resource-scarcity.

Only then we can at least have a CHANCE of moving away from our fearful tribal-ape mentality of hoarding and war-ing over a STATIC and geographically-bound distribution of resources. Resources will become dynamically malleable and abundant and no longer objects of status, power, control, and deprivation.

And to preempt the ubiquitous “nattering nabobs of negativism” who will say that this technology will be hoarded by the “elite” power-mongers. Remember that these advanced “replicators” — along with eliminating scarcity of everything else — will eliminate any scarcity of replicators, because of the recursive nature of this technology: a replicator can replicate another replicator…AN ABUNDANCE OF REPLICATORS along with an abundance of everything ELSE.

MANY future breakthroughs are required to get us to this kind of ideal level of the MASTERY-OF-MATTER, but we are starting to see the embryonic stages of this progression now…something we can recount to future post-human generations with great nostalgia and muse over what “adorable” little chimp-creatures we once were.

Podcast Interview on Transhumanism and Powerlifting

I was interviewed on the Union Of Muscle podcast by the super-groovy, Paul Victor Vazquez JD, about Powerlifting and Transhumanism…of all things. ;-)

http://unionpodcast.blogspot.com/2014/12/e36-brains-vs-bronze-powerlifting-and.html

Terence McKenna: “Shed the monkey body…”

It’s such a tragedy that Terence McKenna didn’t make it very far into the 21st century. He was expressing much of the transhumanist ethos in the 1990s and it would have been amazing to see his take on things these days…

“I believe that the totemic image for the future is the octopus. This is because the squids and octopi have perfected a form of communication that is both psychedelic and telepathic; a model for the human communications of the future. In the not-too-distant future men and women may shed the monkey body to become virtual octopi swimming in a silicon sea.” -Terence McKenna

If I Could Read Only One Book…

This book…recommended to me by Leonice Shinneman around 1980-ish…set me on the path of AI study/research and eventually to transhumanism. Douglas Hofstadter said of his book: “In a way, this book is a statement of my religion.” Similarly, in a way, this book is like my bible. If I could read only one book the rest of my life and be confident that I could continue to learn from it and be inspired by it, it would be this one, no question.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid Paperback – February 5, 1999 (originally published 1980) by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Link: http://amzn.com/0465026567

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The Idea of a President is Antiquated and Based on Alpha-male Chimpanzee Behavior

Joe Rogan, on the tradition of electing a man or woman as President:

“I think it’s an antiquated system that’s based on alpha-male chimpanzee behavior…it’s ridiculous. We have the Internet now…representative government is not necessary anymore…Now you can have instantaneous communication with people all over the world…You’d have to get some of the best minds in the world to sit down and restructure it…from the ground up and not do it based on this system that we already have in place…You would have to start from scratch.”

buckminster fuller meme

Transcend the Simple Monkey Mind

Maybe you’ve noticed a lot of human-primates causing a lot of suffering and all-around mayhem around the world. And while, in the totality of human behavior, only a small number of our fellow monkey-minded “primitive-thinkers” are the instigators of these dark-shenanigans, it’s good for us all to put some effort into things that can lead us to eventually evolve past our tribal, them/us, either/or, primate, “leftover monkey shit” to “transcend the simple monkey-mind.” (as Joe Rogan puts it).

“We didn’t evolve through billions of years to remain animals.” — Zoltan Istvan

“Fight your mind monkey. Take control. Reason against reflex. Instincts lose much of their power over you when you understand them. The only way to be at peace is to get to know your inner monkey.

“Train it. Train it just like you would train a real monkey. Most of all, show them love and beauty.

“But remember, it can only look where you look. They can only see what you see. You must show them. You must look for the beauty.”

I love this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3I7TKW_QQbA

Jethro Knights: DIY Omnipotender — Tale of a Self-Made Superman by Chris T. Armstrong

(Note: Below is the full article from which I excerpted for my speech given at the Transhuman Visions Conference in San Francisco, produced by Hank Pellissier Feb. 1st, 2014

 

“What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.

Man is something that shall be overcome.

The time has come for man to set himself a goal.

The time has come for man to plant the seed of his highest hope.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche 

“We are at the cusp of incredible things. It’s time to wake up and embrace it. 

We didn’t evolve through billions of years to remain animals. 

I believe that the biology has to go. Essentially, we’re living in a flesh coffin. 

I think we need to get down to the point when we’re basically pure data in machines.”

— Zoltan Istvan

Toward the Omnipotender

Jethro Knights is the protagonist of the philosophical novel, The Transhumanist Wager, by Zoltan Istvan. Knights is a transhumanist, (transhuman means, “beyond human”) which is someone who wants to transcend their biological limitations through the use of advanced science and technology, including radical life extension leading to an eventual indefinite lifespan. His approach to transhumanism is to fashion himself into an omnipotender: “one who contends for omnipotence.” (80)…an “elite transhuman champion…the ideal and zenith of the life extension and human enhancement populace…This omnipotender is an unyielding individual whose central aim is to contend for as much power and advancement as he [can] achieve, and whose immediate goal is to transcend his human biological limitations in order to reach a permanent sentience.” (33)

Jethro’s quest for power is the result of his most fundamental guiding principle: 

“Death must be conquered. From now on, that is my first and foremost aim in life. That is the quintessential first goal of the transhumanist.”(19) He views power as an essential tool to be used, as Istvan has described it: “…to preserve his life, security, and goals indefinitely…In order to be guaranteed to be able to protect himself, he really needs to be ‘all’ powerful.” A true omnipotender wants “a universal dictatorship—or at least a draw—over everything and everyone.” (80)

In service of this goal, Jethro creates the Three Laws of Transhumanism.

1) A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else. 

2) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible—so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First Law. 

3) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe—so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws. 

The extreme nature of these laws will lead to extreme actions by anyone who follows them to the letter when pushed into a situation that calls for difficult choices to be made. These laws leave no room for subtlety, equivocation, or nuanced exceptions arising from extenuating complications. The power of these laws comes from their black and white simplicity. In fact, the first law is really all Jethro needs, if followed without fail. The second law is merely a potent mechanism in support of the first law. While the third law supports the preservation and accumulation of like-minded people, technologies and ideas that contribute positively to the aims of transhumanism. But, make NO mistake, absolutely EVERYTHING is subordinate to the preservation of Jethro’s life, including the lives of any and ALL other beings, if they should present a threat to his life. If such an improbable scenario should ever present itself that forced him to extinguish every other living being on earth, or elsewhere, in order to save his life and it was within his power to do so, the first law would compel Jethro to do it.

“The world and every one of its inhabitants [are] not worth living or dying for.” (53)

“There [is] no right and wrong when it [comes] to dying or not dying. There [is] only success or failure.” (53)

For Jethro, there is no question about whether “the ends justify the means.” Rather, the means are only “justified,” valued and implemented according to his own transhumanism-oriented “utility function”: whether or not they contribute to the expedient realization of transhumanist goals in general and the preservation of Jethro’s life in particular.

Yes, Jethro’s first law leads to harsh actions that would be unacceptable to Transhumanists who focus on the “humanist” part of the concept, but one thing is undeniable: people who have some line that they refuse to cross in defending their life, will necessarily be less successful in preserving their life than Jethro, who will protect his life at ANY cost. 

One of Carl Sagan’s most often mentioned lines from his TV series, Cosmos, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” could be paraphrased by Jethro Knights as:

Extraordinary aims require extraordinary expedience. 

Any other non-life-or-death oriented goal a human being can aspire to is something that they can strive for with all their energy, but if they fall short they will suffer disappointment but may have the option to get back on track and try again, depending on the nature of the goal and the amount of life/health-span they have ahead of them. For nearly all goals, a failure to reach them can be seen as a temporary setback — an opportunity to regroup, begin again or pickup at the point of the failure and attempt to finally accomplish the quest.

But what happens when the goal chosen is to avoid death at any cost, when a failure to reach that goal means, the end…period? No regrouping for another attempt. No second chances. Failure to achieve immortality, or even a radically extended lifespan, is fatal and final. Game over. For anyone seriously committed to such a goal, there can be no such thing as “moderation”; no resigned acceptance of defeat; no room to allow ANYTHING to take precedence over the accomplishment of this goal. In Jethro’s mind, he is engaged in a classic zero-sum, success-failure enterprise. No middle ground is desired, tolerated, nor even POSSIBLE. At any given time, you are either dead or alive. Period. “There [is] only success or failure.”

The extreme nature of a goal that is still, at the time that it is committed to, quite literally IMPOSSIBLE, requires a level of commitment and downright zealotry that is far beyond anything required to achieve lesser goals. Prior to the future achievement of indefinite lifespans, all possible goals a human being could aspire to exist within the context of a finite and relatively short timeframe within which to accomplish them. A finite lifespan has always been our fundamental physical AND psychological constraint and anyone attempting to do battle with this inviolate limitation could quite reasonably be said to be “out of touch with reality.” 

Transhumanist Morality

According to Jethro, Transhumanist morality is “defined and decided by the amount of time we have left to live.” (85)

The only thing allowing Jethro’s goal to avoid being designated as nothing more than Quixotic madness is his informed and calculated vision of paradigm-overturning breakthroughs that can be achieved within a couple of decades given the proper conditions. With a concentrated research program made up of the world’s best transhumanist scientists all working together, Jethro determines that the beginnings of significant life-extending develops can occur in “[e]ight to twelve years, with enough funding. More years of experiments afterward to eliminate perils, unwanted side effects, and dead ends. In less than two decades, however, we could be at the doorstep of a reasonably waged, ongoing sentience.” (157) 

Because Jethro sees his goal of achieving an indefinite lifespan as possible and within reach in his lifetime, he views all efforts to stop, or even delay, the requisite research and development of life extension technologies as a form of life threatening aggression: 

“Every time someone gets in the way of life extension and human enhancement goals, every time a new anti-transhumanist law is passed, every time you decide to hinder scientific progress, you are knowingly shortening the lives and productive working hours of transhumanists and your own citizens. We have a specific legal term for that type of behavior in this country. It’s called manslaughter.” (28)

The Effect of Jethro’s Youth On His Developing Philosophy

 An often overlooked factor that needs to be considered when encountering Jethro Knights’ philosophy is his age at the time he begins formulating it. He was an undergraduate student of philosophy in his early 20s when he wrote his final essay, Rise of the Transhuman Citizen. Even though Jethro “knew he was still young and had much to learn” (33) and his philosophy “still needed much development” (38), he viewed it as something that could inspire any transhumanists who had become complacent and inert due to the unsupportive, and increasingly aggressive, anti-transhumanist policies of most of the governments around the world. Knights wanted nothing less than to inspire a revolution of transhumanist thought and action. “He wanted his philosophy to convince transhumanists of their moral right and obligation to rapidly push their ambitions forward, regardless of cultural headwinds or religious interference.” (33)

We can see his youthful enthusiasm, zeal and single-mindedness when he speaks of “using whatever means necessary to accomplish [his] aims” (53) and a steadfast refusal to allow any “compromise of core transhuman ideals.” (181) For Jethro, his pure philosophy “is what it is and, like mathematics, can never be altered or compromised.” (183)   

There are also some times when his thinking goes quite a bit beyond a “youthful enthusiasm, zeal and single-mindedness” as when he writes of something with the chilling title: The Humanicide Formula, which is to be used to determine “whether an individual should live or die based on an algorithm measuring transhuman productivity in terms of that individual’s remaining life hours, their resource consumption in a finite system, and their past, present, and potential future contributions.” (215)

The Humanicide Formula could be viewed as Jethro’s conception of his “dictatorship over the universe,” wherein he has complete control over all of those who might hinder his progress toward immortality and other transhuman goals. Any who are not going along with the program to a sufficient degree, in this hypothetical scenario, will be eliminated. It’s as simple as that. 

In a strong field of scary statements, writings, and thoughts of Jethro Knights that could “wither the blubber off a Bishop” and curdle the blood of any gentle Humanist, “meek and mild”, The Humanicide Formula is the clear frontrunner, for its sheer visceral impact on the human psyche. However, we can see that this is nothing more than an intellectual exercise in exploring the extremes of where his principles could ultimately lead since, even when Jethro attains power over the entire world, he does not set up any such system as outlined in his Humanicide Formula conception. To the contrary, there are several times when he demonstrates concern and compassion for innocent life while at war with the aggressive governments of the world. 

Some critics have pointed to Jethro’s most aggressive statements, “borderline” personality traits and harshest philosophical musings that comport quite well with the kinds of mental states displayed by people with narcissistic, sociopathic and even psychopathic disorders. 

The problem with this simplistic and shortsighted conclusion is that it ignores many examples of his traits and actions that serve to disconfirm these kinds of diagnoses. Unlike people afflicted with the disorders mentioned above, he is empathetic even toward his enemies and is able to experience a powerful loving relationship with Zoe as well as strong bonds and fully-functional relationships with his closest compatriots. 

Beyond Good, to Evil?

What then are we to make of such an extreme and unapologetic totalitarian formulation? 

Perhaps the most reasonable interpretation is that Jethro is exploring the boundaries of the omnipotender concept. This is the kind of scenario that could follow from a unyielding commitment to become all powerful combined with a vow to defend one’s life at any cost. 

The genesis of the omnipotender concept comes from Jethro’s chosen self-image as a being that is already in the process of transcending his status as a human being. 

As Istvan has explained:

“The Humanicide Formula is the core part of the story and philosophy. One must be able to do “whatever” it takes to preserve one’s immortality, including pursuing the extinction of every other advanced living entity on Earth by one’s own hand if they don’t contribute to the overall gain and threaten one’s ascent to becoming the omnipotender. 

This is why I have stated in public that I cannot go as far as Jethro. He may be right in his dark logic, he may be philosophically correct, but it is too blatantly inhuman for me personally. But it is a perfect and logical moral code for someone who is aspiring to be an omnipotender–who wants to end up as God. Even Jethro in the story may not be able to do it. However, he understands the logic of the philosophy. It’s indisputable. And he’s striving to think purely like a machine. It’s worth discussing and writing about on Transhumania. They do not shy away from dangerous, difficult ideas–even awful ones.

Furthermore, when we design AI, this will be the way a being with no sense of inborn morality or understanding of murder will be like. My novel is a bridge to understanding how dangerous AI can become.

As I’ve stated many times, The Transhumanist Wager can be interpreted as a source of inspiration, and as a warning. I take it as both, myself.

Finally, the Humanicide Formula is also a literary device that’s used. Many books have used such devices. The classic one is of Noah’s Arc in the bible.

…[R]emember, we are not discussing a perfect human being, we are discussing someone whose final aim is all power over everything. Don’t see Jethro only as a human, he is an evolving, amassing point of organized energy in a universe spanning billions of light years. 

You must try to think how God (should something like that exist) would think.”

As Istvan said in a podcast interview, “Jethro is not the best humanist, but he may be the best transhumanist.”

At this point, it should be obvious that the most important fact about Jethro Knights is: 

HE IS NOT LIKE US. 

I’ll presume to speak broadly about Transhumanists. We self-identify as humans. Humans who want to extend our capabilities and transcend our limitations but who are still undeniably human. 

Transhuman, Reprogram Thyself

The discrepancy between Jethro’s most threatening statements and his much more humane actions once he attains world power can be explained by the specific psychological device he has been employing since he began putting his budding philosophy into practice. The device could be thought of as a form of psychological self-programming or reorientation of his entire human psyche designed to put himself into a state wherein he views himself as a being who has already transcended his humanity. He is doing all he can to move himself toward his idealized vision of a much more powerful, durable, and far superior being relative to the most advanced humans alive at the time. 

He already views himself as beyond human and explores this new moral landscape stripped of any human biological imperatives and “mammalian niceties.” In his most extreme moments, his values are no longer commensurate with a humanistic, bio-centric sensibility.

He is constantly exploring the limits of how far beyond his human roots he is willing to go in his quest to become an omnipotender. 

And Zoltan Istvan himself is not of the variety of transhumanist who imagines himself living 1,000+ years while assuming he will remain human, or even biological.

“At some point we will probably discover other entities to become…sub-atomic particles, pure energy, all sorts of cool nanotechnologies that will exist, but I don’t believe that biology is going to make it. I think it’s fragile. I think it’s crude. It’s also beautiful…for where we are now, the human being is also a magnificent creature. But in a hundred years, we’re going to look back and say: Wow, the human being was such a fragile entity.” — Zoltan Istvan

We can see a clear example of Jethro’s self-programming when he describes a set of “meditations” that he “reads and considers everyday” because he deems them to be “essential” precepts that will help him “to get what [he] wants out of life.” In these meditations, he writes of always using a “statistical analysis of value”; following the “best, most logical path”; form following function; avoiding “slavery to emotions (or anything else)”; not being “fundamentally one with the Earth, its people, or its multitudes of life”; not being a “beholden spawn or child of the universe”; being “alone and distinct”; shunning “any sense of social pride from others or in [himself]”; learning from his errors and making “fewer and fewer mistakes as the years pass”; “always focussing on long-term growth patterns…and not necessarily [on] the immediate moment, which may reveal little of reality or [his] ultimate destiny”; “zero tolerance for betraying [his] ambitions and quests…the universe and one’s existence can offer no forgiveness for failed opportunity”; completely eschewing love…”[he] is self-sufficient, not needing anything or anyone else.” (69-70)

With these self-imposed commandments, Knights girds himself against any internal weaknesses he may fall prey to should he let his “eternal vigilance” falter, as well as reinforcing the kinds of strengths required to approach the omnipotence required to “insure” an indefinite “ongoing sentience.” While his “rules” are nothing if not rigid and unwavering, he does avoid the kind of rigidity that inevitably renders unquestioned religious commandments brittle and outdated, by occasionally [adding] to them or even [rewriting] them. 

Old-timey software engineers, like myself, may recognize Jethro’s self-programming methodology as akin to the 20th century computer programming paradigm known as “top-down design through stepwise refinement,” which is quite appropriate, metaphorically, considering Knights’ desire to explore and even attain a “cold precisionlike morality” (33) and a “harsh machinelike objectivity.” (12)

A Superman Encounters His Kryptonite?

“There is always some madness in love.” — Friedrich Nietzsche 

Throughout the novel, Jethro is constantly contemplating the extremes he may need to go to in order to reach his ideals. There is one challenge, however, that gives him the most difficulty in adhering to his Spartan, super-hero, warrior code. This challenge comes in the form of a diminutive, beguiling, and unnerving temptress by the name of, Zoe Bach. 

Zoe’s Asian-influenced spirituality and ability to comfortably embrace contradiction and paradox serves as a counterbalance to Jethro’s no-nonsense pragmatic functionalism. She is the yin to Jethro’s yang. She challenges his basic assumptions about the universe and life, and he is willing to consider her often diametrically-opposed points of view to an extent that he might not otherwise, had they come from anyone other than his beloved soulmate, Zoe Bach. 

Jethro had written his set of “meditations” prior to meeting Zoe. The final one of the set was this:

“An omnipotender doesn’t fall in love. I will fail to achieve my goals if I lose myself in another, live for another, or place my happiness and aspirations in another. I am self-sufficient, not needing anything or anyone else.” (70)

All of which stands in stark contrast to his eventual surrender to Zoe’s love, causing her to exclaim: “Wow, you must be really smitten with me. The man whose most important goal in life is to achieve immortality has fallen in love with someone who doesn’t believe there’s a need to do that.” (55)

But his inner battle between his growing feelings for Zoe and his Man-as-Island Transhumanist ideals begins when he realizes what a like-minded and philosophical “fellow traveller” Zoe is, even while recognizing that she has many confounding mystical and extra-scientific views about how the universe operates and her place therein.

“His heart was a puzzle. The conflict in him, between her Zenlike acceptance of the universe and his aggressive, egocentric views on transhumanism, was growing. A dangerous tempest was gathering in their future. He knew it. She knew it.” (61)

Eventually, he could no longer deny that he had fallen in love with Zoe. “He was in love with her fiercely incisive mind. Her body that perfectly fit his. Her iron work ethic and competence as a surgeon. Her faith in destiny taking care of itself. Her dark, death-wish soul aspiring for passion and life.” (65)

However, not too long after this conflicted relationship had begun, Jethro, with great difficulty, decided that they needed to be apart while he began establishing his Transhumanist movement. Only after this was accomplished, did he feel that he could resume his relationship with Zoe. 

“Now that Transhuman Citizen and TEF, [his organization and philosophy] were established and operational, Jethro knew it was time to make contact with Zoe. He was still wary of what she made him feel inside, how loyal he felt to her—the overriding instinct of love and bonding that often seemed in total conflict with TEF. But he could accept it now. He was ready to take that chance.” (99)

When they were finally reunited, Jethro proclaimed to Zoe: “I love you. I’ve always loved you. I haven’t reconciled anything. Everything is still at odds. But I can accept it now and still pursue my transhuman dreams.” (111)

Ultimately, Jethro did not find the “madness of love” and quest-undermining distraction he feared would be the unavoidable result of loving and “losing himself” in Zoe. Their deep connection continued to grow and will, as Istvan has foreshadowed in the book as well as in interviews, even transcend a single finite lifetime.

Embrace Seeming Contradictions and Shun Rigid Ideological Purity

A complete presentation of Jethro’s philosophy, TEF, Telelogical Egocentric Functionalism, is far beyond the scope of this essay, but a short exploration of some aspects of the Functionalism portion of the concept will help to flesh-out some important facets of Jethro’s character and also provide some indispensable clues to Zoltan Istvan’s unique philosophical ethos.

It has not been unusual for critics and interviewers to point out seeming contradictions in Jethro’s ideology and actions. At times he seems very libertarian, while at others, he is decidedly quite non or anti-libertarian. On one hand, he promotes great autonomy and on the other he is quite dictatorial. For those accustomed to very linear, logical systems of ideology, this propensity of Jethro’s is quite off-putting and to the harshest critics it is indicative of a muddled, disorganized, amateurish mind guided by an impoverished philosophy. 

But consider another interpretation…

As Zoltan explains in a podcast interview:

“When you are taking a truly utilitarian approach, there’s no such thing as “double-think.” Every single time you have a dilemma or a question, you ask yourself: What is the most functional perspective to take at that moment, given the long-term goals that you’re after?…You just simply always choose the quickest and most expedient method that would lead to the most transhumanist inspired world that you can find…I realize that’s an idealist perspective. It’s probably very difficult to ever achieve such a thing. However, as a philosopher, these are the ideas that I want to bring forth, because it gets people to think: Well, maybe these are improvements that we can make.” 

In another context, Zoltan has said:

“Think of it in terms of Walt Whitman: ‘Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)’”

This philosophy is eclectic, functional, and pragmatic rather than faithfully ideological. Just as Zoe Bach is completely comfortable with contradiction and paradox, the TEF philosophy is not compelled to have an “either/or” worldview. A “both/and” approach may be more suitable to its ends…until some point when even that is no longer “functional” and something else will be chosen that will get the job done, with no fear of being labelled “contradictory.” 

“Of course I’ve contradicted myself. I always do. Only cretins and logicians don’t contradict themselves. And in their consistency, they contradict life.” — Tom Robbins

Conclusion: Beyond “mammalian niceties”

Zoltan Istvan:

“I tended to write the story from the perspective of a simple question: How far would one man go to achieve his immortality? 

You must understand that The Transhumanist Wager is a bridge. AI is coming. Merge with the future powers or be destroyed. It is evolution. And a machine’s moral system is like nothing we know. 

Can I kill my wife a thousands times? [This absurd scenario is put to Jethro in the book] Can I kill every person on the planet? Do I want to? Am I supportive of humanicide? The obvious answers are: No.

But ask that same question to an AI. And it’s answer will be a very resounding: Yes.

To survive, we must be stronger than AI.

These are some of the reasons why I wrote The Transhumanist Wager the way I did. 

The Transhumanist Wager is a message from the future: 

If you don’t lose the weakness of your species, your species will not survive. You must embrace a new you–a fiercer, bolder you. Otherwise you will be no match for your own inventions.”

And finally, I’ll leave you with the very last sentence of The Transhumanist Wager: 

“This is just the beginning of Jethro Knights.”

Indefinite Lifespan and Risk Aversion: A Short-Lived Problem by Chris T. Armstrong

(Note: This is an expanded version of the previously posted article below called, Risk Aversion in Transhumanism. I made the article more generally focussed, as opposed to Transhumanist Wager focussed, for online publication.)

There was an interesting panel discussion at the Transhuman Visions Conference in San Francisco, February 1, 2014, which got even interesting-er when the following question was posed:

“If you knew you could live for 1,000 years or more, would you possibly become so risk-averse that you may be afraid to do anything that is even remotely dangerous and consequently live a long, but very insular and inhibited life?”

The responses to this question were a bit disappointing to me, since I strive to keep my natural, human, status-quo, meat-bag biases in check when thinking about such trans/post-human questions. The people on the panel, and everyone I heard discussing it outside after the event had concluded, approached this question with the assumption that they would have a greatly lengthened life/health-span, but would still be a biological being with much of our current existential vulnerabilities. This lead me immediately to the thought:

Well, if you plan on living 1,000+ years and insist on, or assume you’ll be, spending the whole time in something like your current hyper-fragile biological body that can be uber-easily destroyed, you jolly well BETTER be risk averse!

As Zoltan Istvan so eloquently put it in a podcast interview:

“At some point we will probably discover other entities to become…sub-atomic particles, pure energy, all sorts of cool nanotechnologies that will exist, but I don’t believe that biology is going to make it. I think it’s fragile. I think it’s crude. It’s also beautiful…for where we are now, the human being is also a magnificent creature. But in a hundred years, we’re going to look back and say: Wow, the human being was such a fragile entity.”

Whence Risk Aversion?

For the vast majority of people today, who have accepted the inevitability of their death in a few decades or years (and are sometimes derogatorily referred to as “deathists” by transhumanists), death is not nearly as great a loss to them as it is for a transhumanist, who believes that death may soon be conquered. A deathist sees no other option than to live a few decades and then surrender to the inescapable and obligatory “dying of the light.” For them, it’s the natural way of things. Some even see it as an almost noble act: to get out of the way for the next generation.

If a deathist also has a belief in a guaranteed spiritual afterlife, their concern over an end to this temporary and relatively insignificant and flawed corporeal existence is diminished even further. A deathist who is a “believer” has a few years of “inferior” earthly existence to lose and an eternity of blissful existence to look forward to, so it is much easier for them to find a few other people or causes that they may value more than the preservation of their own life. In stark contrast to the deathist’s submission to the inevitable, a transhumanist believes s/he will miss out on a chance for physical immortality, which may be the only kind possible, if they fail to preserve their life “above all else.” The stakes couldn’t be higher in the transhumanist hierarchy of values.

It is often pointed out that this could lead to an extreme risk-aversion in anyone who has achieved, or thinks they can eventually achieve, a greatly increased lifespan or physical immortality.

In the character of Jethro Knights, the protagonist of the philosophical novel, The Transhumanist Wager, by Zoltan Istvan, we can see a gradual evolution from a natural concern for his physical safety to a state wherein he can put almost any fear of death aside. This eventual indifference toward danger has its roots in an incident involving him stepping on a landmine that, luckily, turns out to be a dud and doesn’t explode. This becomes a life-altering event for Jethro.

“A single moment that transformed his youthful transhuman outlook into a physical law of its own…thinking solemnly and with full focus: What happened today is unacceptable. Death must be conquered. From now on, that is my first and foremost aim in life. That is the quintessential first goal of the transhumanist.” (19) Because of this experience, he “felt more strongly than ever that he was going to dedicate all his life’s energy to this movement’s success.” (23)

One key factor enables him to take more calculated risks than one might expect from one whose “quintessential first goal” is to stay alive long enough to “conquer death” via science and technology. It is that very science and technology that mitigates the quite natural tendency to avoid any life-threatening risks and allows him to act boldly in the face of physical danger. For example, once Jethro’s medical technology reaches an extreme level of efficacy, his aversion to physical risk plummets to near zero: “Don’t you know you don’t have enough bullets in that gun to kill me? A surgery center ten times more advanced than anything on this continent is on that aircraft up there. My rescue team will be here in less than sixty seconds.”(250)

Throughout the book, Jethro is trying to ensure the indefinite survival of his bio-body and to achieve, eventually, a continuity of his consciousness across biological and synthetic substrates by uploading his entire personal-essence, or mind-file, or consciousness-pattern into another processing-medium and synth-body or virtual-space.

“In all his studies on transhumanism, Jethro Knights decided he connected most with the work of Dr. Nathan Cohen. The scientist’s experiments, to combine brain neurons to the hardwiring of computers in order to download human consciousness, seemed the most sensible and important direction for the immortality quest. While getting the human body to live longer was a priority, it was not a long-term solution. Jethro already assumed that the human body, at least as it was, would only be around for another half century in its current form. Dr. Cohen’s work was where the real evolutionary jumps could be made. Conscious computerized machines and their digital content, with proper maintenance, could last indefinitely. They were so much more durable than flesh. But this thinking was exactly the most radical as well. Because eventually, perhaps sooner than even many transhumanists would have it, there would be no need left at all for the human body.” (72)

Especially for people who encounter this idea for the first time, fear and repulsion are often the automatic responses to such a prospect. People who express an aversion to their consciousness being uploaded to a non-bio “whole body prosthetic” often have a conception of it as being something similar to today’s “machines”…they think of a laptop or some other extremely limited device. However, the transhumanists who think seriously about replacing their bodies envision a greatly enhanced sensory experience, not one that is less sensorially nuanced than our current bio-bodies. That would be a totally unacceptable step backward.

Genetic modification and other biotechnologies will provide great enhancements and, admittedly, we may be able to make some very transformative changes to our biology before we have the knowledge and technological ability to upload ourselves to a complete synth-body. However, many transhumanists consider even brilliant and heroic bio-tweaking as suboptimal attempts to retrofit a body that evolved to earth-centric specs, with all the inherent limitations that entails. The most forward thinking transhumanists tend to view a complete synthetic re-design to non-earth-centric specs as a surer way to protect our consciousness from a fatal, game-over damage “event.” From this perspective, if our consciousness is still trapped in one uber-fragile meat-machine that can be easily and fatally damaged by nothing more technologically advanced than a large rock or stick, we’re still living in what is essentially a “flesh-coffin” as Zoltan Istvan has described it. Transhumanists tend to envision a body with greatly enhanced sensory apparatus — all senses extending to ranges and resolutions beyond anything that any bio-being naturally evolved to experience — that is INSANELY durable and capable of exploring the universe far beyond the confines of this delicate biosphere on this one little dust-speck we call “Earth.”

In addition to the advantages of increased durability, once our consciousness has been uploaded into a synthetic processing-medium, the possibility of upgrading our minds with the latest advances in artificial intelligence will enhance our intellects, memories, and processing power to levels never dreamed of by the humble “requirements” of natural selection.

The Roots of Fear of Transhumanism

Many of the most fearful objections to transhumanism are actually rooted in misconceptions about what is meant by terms like “machine” and intuitions about the inherent fragility of our current bodies. It is our current biological state that is highly vulnerable to all manner of life threatening disease and injury and requires uninterrupted supplies of water, oxygen, and carbon-based food. By providing a mechanism by which each person’s consciousness can be set free from the limitations of biology and can be protected by much sturdier platforms and, most importantly, can be backed-up and restored if any particular synth-body/consciousness instantiation of us is destroyed, transhumanists will alleviate many of the typical bio-being fears of existential threats.

This possibility comes from the inherent ways that our relationship with mere “objects” changes once that object can be fully specified in the form of information. Once any kind of “content,” whether it be from a photo, video, audio, or text file, has been captured in a copiable digital form, several aspects of its nature, as a unique object and its perceived value, change in fundamental ways.

In digital form, the content on these various forms of media becomes information or data and is thereby infinitely reproducible, which creates abundance, where once there was scarcity. And, more importantly, the nature of ownership and property is altered in at least one transformative way: whereas, in the past, if someone stole something from you that existed only in “physical” form, you suffered a loss of property — you lost ownership, or at least, possession of that object at the time of the theft and if those physical objects are never returned to you, that loss was total and permanent. However, once that same “content” exists in digital form, it becomes possible for a thief to “steal” ALL of your photos, videos, music, and ebooks, by copying all of these files from your storage media to their storage media, while you suffer no actual loss of property. In fact, you may even be totally unaware that such a “robbery” ever occurred.

In this scenario, the only person to suffer a loss would be the copyright owner/content creator and even this is much different from a theft of non-digital property, in that, this digital theft doesn’t deprive a rights-holder of a tangible object, but rather, of compensation for a copy. Just as in the case above, of the person who bought the content that was later “stolen” through copying, the rights-holder may not even know a theft has taken place because there has been absolutely no loss of property and no loss of the rights-holder’s ability to continue to sell digital copies of the content. This is not to say, however, that absolutely no “crime” has been committed against either the purchaser of the media or the rights-holder, but rather, that the EFFECT of the crime is much different in the case of unauthorized copying of digital content versus the more conventional theft of a physical object involving a “transfer of possession.”

Now, let’s look at a case of a vandal who destroys someone’s entire collection of music in the form of compact discs, vinyl, tapes, and even some antique phonograph cylinders, versus the destruction of a storage medium: a hard-drive containing all the same music, but in digital form. In both cases the destruction could be total, assuming that there was no backup of the hard drive kept in a safe location. Ah, but what if there were a backup? In the case of the physical media, all was lost, but in the case of the file-based media, the entire music collection is intact in the backup, as though no destruction had ever occurred. Yes, the original hard-drive was damaged in the vandalism, yet the entire collection of music remains safe in the form of a copy, resulting in a case of minor property damage to a hard-drive and nothing more.

Now, what if we include in our list of content, not only photos, videos, audio, or text, but also some, currently, more exotic things like, DNA sequences, or perhaps even THE ENTIRE CONTENT OF ONE’S CONSCIOUSNESS? Does anything change in the above analysis? Compare the kidnapping of a person to the mere copying of a digital specification of that person’s consciousness on some storage medium to another storage medium. Compare the murder of a person to the destruction of a digital specification of that person’s consciousness on some storage medium. What if there is a safe backup of that digital specification of that person’s consciousness that can be restored to an artificial processing medium that revitalizes the person to full consciousness in a non-biological substrate?

The Cure for the Fear of Transhumanism

Our transition from biology-based entities to beings residing in human engineered media provides the solution for some of the most common fears often expressed about transhumanism and Singularity related possibilities: the abuse of new and powerful technologies by malevolent people who would use them to control and enslave others in the service of their plans for world domination.

You may be familiar with…

Godwin’s Law – Given enough time, in any online discussion, someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.

I would like to propose something I call, humbly…

Armstrong’s Law – Given enough time, in any discussion of massively transformative future technologies, someone inevitably expresses a fear that some rich megalomaniacal psychopath will abuse these technologies to enslave us all and rule, or even to destroy, the world.

Mind uploading could actually be a solution to issues related to any potential violations of an individual’s rights, as far as enslavement or murder are concerned. Once a person’s consciousness is in a form that is able to be moved to different platforms, can be backed-up, and can take advantage of various security features, all issues related to life/liberty threatening actions taken against him/her/it automatically become far less severe and are no longer guaranteed to be catastrophic, as they would be in the case of a conventional “murder” of a singular biological entity. When the destruction of the current consciousness-residing platform doesn’t automatically result in a guaranteed and permanent game-over condition for the “victim,” what power does a threat of violence, or even a successful act of platform-destroying damage, wield against a being whose consciousness may exist in multiple platforms or can be restored from an up-to-date backup? Would such an act be anything more serious than a property damage incident?

Yes, there are many issues related to the simultaneous coexistence of multiple versions of ourselves; security issues regarding the hi-jacking and enslavement of uploaded minds; failsafe mechanisms that would allow for the continual backing-up, monitoring, and disabling of any mind-upload that fell victim to any form of piracy or coercion. There will be plenty of new challenges to be met, and plenty of new opportunities as well. One of the most important and world-transforming prospects will be the ability to safeguard our consciousness against the destruction of one particular instantiation of it in one particular platform in one particular geographical location.

Given this kind of future scenario, we can see that virtually all fears regarding the abuse of future technologies and individuals’ loss of autonomy stem from our intuitive grasp of the inherent fragility and irreplaceability of our easily-destroyed bodies and the only “copy” of our consciousness housed therein.

The Primacy of Consciousness

Jethro Knights, in his manifesto, states: “If you love life, you will always strive to reach the most advanced form of yourself possible while protecting that life.” (179)

And he means it: “…we embark on the most critical journey of our lives, and embrace the quest to discover how far we can go as humans, as cyborgs, as conscious intelligent machines, as rays of light, as pure energy, as anything the future brings.” (85)

Essentially, he is proposing that matter is, ultimately, of secondary importance and consciousness is of primary importance. We are currently bound to, and limited by, material resources. We are bound to one material bio-body. Matter comprises the vehicle in which our consciousness evolved, but it is something that we can evolve beyond, or more precisely, we can engineer beyond.

Science may someday work out a way for our “consciousness-pattern” to remain coherent outside the confines of a physical brain or brain-inspired artifact and become freed from the limitations of many/most/all physical constraints. Once a way is found to de-couple mind from matter, then consciousness will no longer be primary, rather, it will be unitary — it will be THE WHOLE SHOW — and we can dispense with any material “box” to put it in. Hmm, that could remind one of the religious conception of a soul that is independent from matter.

This would bring us to a stage wherein we’ve gotten past most of our dependence on matter and live in a state of almost pure consciousness, liberated from most of the limitations of material existence. At which time, all our current matter-orientation/dependence and tribal, monkey-brained conflicts over material resources will be something we can look back on quizzically, as we now look back to a time, long ago, when we used to be tadpole-like creatures.

Reminiscent of the differences in world-view between Jethro and, his much more mystically oriented love interest, Zoe Bach, transhumanists and religious people still have a certain fundamental “essentia” in common and may not be so far from each other as far as general themes are concerned. They are both talking about a “soul” or “consciousness” that can transcend the death of the body. The difference is that transhumanists prefer to employ science and uber-technological-advancement to reach their goals and have little interest in embracing beliefs that can’t eventually be subjected to experiment.

Conclusion

Contrary to the common assumption that a personal goal to greatly extend one’s lifespan will necessarily lead to extreme risk-aversion, as technology advances to a stage when death has essentially been “cured” and science works out how the essence of a being can be captured in its totality, transferred to other platforms, and with multiple backup copies available, an individual’s destruction or even the threat thereof, need no longer be feared to anywhere near the extent that we currently fear serious damage or a fatal, unrecoverable, game-over event, to our one-and-only hyper-delicate meat-bag platform.

Addendum

Undoubtedly, throughout the above discussion of mind-uploading and copying one’s consciousness and multiple, equally “authentic” copies, existing in parallel, there have been a certain, perhaps large, number of people shouting, “No, those are only COPIES…’philosophical zombies’ that may seem to be the ‘real’ person in every respect but decidedly ARE NOT! These copies are missing an essential x-factor that doesn’t arise solely from the operations of a physical brain or even an ‘exact’ copy of a brain, however incredible its level of detail, resolution, and precision may be.”

Well, now we are into the classic debate between dualism and monism and we run up against the fundamental assumption or hypothesis underlying much of Transhumanism: a functionalist, physicalist, materialist, behaviorist perspective that views the brain as the sole organ and generator of the sum-total of our consciousness, personality, and identity. “Minds are what brains do.” So, if you can make an incredibly “exact” copy of a particular brain, EVERYTHING that makes you, YOU, including your sense of identity, will reside in that “copy” as well and there is no sense, assuming the copying has been done well enough, in which that copy, or a THOUSAND copies, will be any “less than” the original bio-version, in terms of being “really you” in every meaningful sense.

One angle on this kind of hypothesis can be found on the website of The Brain Preservation Foundation. http://www.brainpreservation.org/content/overcoming-objections#patternism

“The patternism hypothesis proposes that it is a special physical pattern, not the matter, or even the type of matter (computer or biological), that stores the highest level information in living systems. If the special pattern that stores this information can be successfully maintained, and copied as necessary, the information survives.”

I have provided a link, below, to another article I wrote on this topic which I hope might be helpful in getting people to think beyond their automatic, VERY strong, and VERY natural intuitions about identity and the quite common aversion to thinking that their COMPLETE consciousness could be copied, uploaded to a non-biological medium and that there could be more than one COMPLETELY valid version of themselves coexisting simultaneously.

But which one is ME? Letting go of our mono-being identity orientation: Poly-beings, here we come!

Below is the text of my speech given at the Transhuman Visions Conference in San Francisco, produced by Hank Pellissier Feb. 1st, 2014

 

Thank you to Hank Pellissier for inviting me to speak and for promoting me from bouncer to speaker…true story. 

And also for publishing my first Transhumanist article on Transhumanism and Powerlifting, of all things.

This my first time speaking at a Transhumanist conference. So this is a historic day for me and all of you will get to tell your grandchildren that “you were here” in San Francisco, appropriately, when Chris Armstrong “came out” and declared himself to be “openly Transhumanist.”

And now, on to the book, The Transhumanist Wager, by Zoltan Istvan

I’ll be excerpting from a larger article I’m writing, called:

Jethro Knights: DIY Omnipotender. Tale of a Self-Made Superman

When The Transhumanist Wager was published, I lurked for several months…watching reviews…some of which were scathing, some very positive…probably the most balanced was from Giulio Prisco. 

My own review was practically a love letter to the book and to Zoltan. 

I had very positive emotions about it even while recognizing the extreme ideas and actions of the protagonist, Jethro Knights…

Several of Jethro’s attitudes and personality traits reminded me of my own when I was young. 

I had that same youthful zeal and mono-focus on one goal. I didn’t have a quest anywhere near as grand and epic as Jethro’s. Mine was just to be the most amazing and skilled musician possible. 

Like Jethro, I put people in second place, after my sacred mission; told myself that romantic relationships would be unnecessary distractions and should take a backseat to the mission. 

And like Jethro, I didn’t always adhere to such a harsh and Spartan ideal in practice.

As I said in my review, Jethro’s words were far more “scary” than his actions. 

But why such scary words?

One of Carl Sagan’s most often mentioned lines from his TV series, Cosmos, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” could be paraphrased by Jethro Knights as:

Extraordinary aims require extraordinary expedience. 

And what is this extraordinary aim?

Oh, nothing more or less than to defeat death!

Quoting Jethro:

“Death must be conquered. From now on, that is my first and foremost aim in life. That is the quintessential first goal of the transhumanist.”

He has chosen a goal that is literally impossible to achieve at the time, but believes it could be achieved, with a strong concerted effort by the best scientists, within a couple of decades. 

In order to increase his long term chances for survival he decides to fashion himself into an omnipotender: “one who contends for omnipotence.”

He needs power to push research forward and to defend against those who would try to interfere with the achievement of much needed scientific breakthroughs and even threaten his life directly. 

Again…

Extraordinary aims require extraordinary expedience. 

Any other non-life-or-death oriented goal a human being can aspire to is something that they can strive for with all their energy and if they fall short they will suffer disappointment but may have the option to get back on track and try again, depending on the nature of the goal and the amount of life/health-span they have ahead of them. For nearly all goals, a failure to reach them can be seen as a temporary setback — an opportunity to regroup, begin again or pickup at the point of the failure and attempt to finally accomplish the purpose of the quest.

But what happens when the goal chosen is to avoid death at any cost, when a failure to reach that goal means, the end…period? No regrouping for another attempt. No second chances. Failure to achieve immortality, or even a radically extended lifespan, is fatal and final. Game over. For anyone seriously committed to such a goal, there can be no such thing as “moderation”; no resigned acceptance of defeat; no room to allow ANYTHING to take precedence over the accomplishment of this goal. In Jethro’s mind, he is engaged in a classic zero-sum, success-failure enterprise. No middle ground is desired, tolerated, nor even POSSIBLE. At any given time, you are either dead or alive. Period.

The extreme nature of a goal that is still, at the time that it is committed to, quite literally IMPOSSIBLE, requires a level of commitment and downright zealotry that is far beyond the purview of lesser goals. Prior to the achievement of indefinite lifespans, all possible goals a human being could aspire to exist within the context of a finite and relatively short timeframe within which to accomplish them. A finite lifespan has always been our fundamental physical AND psychological constraint and anyone attempting to do battle with this inviolate limitation could quite reasonably be said to be “out of touch with reality.” 

According to Jethro, Transhumanist morality is “defined and decided by the amount of time we have left to live.”

At this point, we need pause to understand the most important fact about Jethro Knights: HE IS NOT LIKE US. 

For a moment, I’ll presume to speak broadly about Transhumanists. We self-identify as humans. Humans who want to extend their capabilities and transcend their limitations but still undeniably human. 

In Jethro’s case, I propose that he is doing all he can to engage in a kind of psychological self-programming designed to put himself into a mental state wherein he has already transcended his humanity. It amounts to a self-guided reorientation of his entire human psyche toward his idealized vision of a much more powerful, durable, and far superior being relative to the most advanced humans currently alive.

He already views himself as beyond human and explores this new moral landscape stripped of any human biological imperatives and “mammalian niceties.” In his most extreme moments, his values are no longer commensurate with a humanistic, bio-centric sensibility.

He is constantly exploring the limits of how far beyond his human roots he is willing to go in his quest to become an omnipotender. 

Some critics have pointed to Jethro’s most aggressive statements, borderline personality traits and harshest philosophical musings that comport quite well with the kinds of mental states displayed by people with narcissistic, sociopathic and even psychopathic disorders. 

The problem with this simplistic and shortsighted conclusion is that it ignores many examples of Jethro’s traits and actions that serve to disconfirm these kinds of diagnoses. 

The discrepancy between Jethro’s most aggressive statements and his much more humane actions and close emotional bonds with other people — even attaining full-on soulmate status with Zoe Bach — belies any attempts to paint him as a mere psycho and shows his constant struggle between his remaining human “frailties” and his cyborg superman ideal.

Now, I would like to leave you with something very special. It is a deeper look into what is behind this book and what may be coming in the further evolution of Jethro Knights. 

This is the scoop. The exclusive. Turn on your recorders. This is right from the horses mouth, Zoltan Istvan, via email:

“I tended to write the story from the perspective of a simple question: How far would one man go to achieve his mortality? 

But I wrote this for you the other day in one of my moments when I tend to jot down my ideas, unpolished as they may be. It’s something I haven’t spoken about much, but the ideas of it are also very important to me:

You must understand that The Transhumanist Wager is a bridge. AI is coming. Merge with the future powers or be destroyed. It is evolution. And a machine’s moral system is like nothing we know. 

Can I kill my wife a thousands times? Can I kill every person on the planet? Do I want to? Am I supportive of humanicide? The obvious answers are: No.

But ask that same question to an AI. And its answer will be a very resounding: Yes.

To survive, we must be stronger than AI.

These are some of the reasons why I wrote The Transhumanist Wager the way I did. 

The Transhumanist Wager is a message from the future. If you don’t lose the weakness of your species, your species will not survive. You must embrace a new you — a fiercer, bolder you. Otherwise you will be no match for your own inventions.”

I’m really looking forward the continuation of this story. As the very last sentence of The Transhumanist Wager says: 

“This is just the beginning of Jethro Knights.”

 

My essay was re-published on the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies site!

But which one is ME? Letting go of our mono-being identity orientation: Poly-beings, here we come!

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