Thursday, August 31, 2006

Transhumanism

I recently attended three lectures at TransVision 2006 conference about Emerging Technologies of Human Enhancement, organized by the World Transhumanist Association. I'm linking here the abstracts from Is Life Extension an Enhancement? and Technological Evolution.

One of the lecturers, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Ph.D. and a biogerontologist, says there's a chance the first human to live a 1000 years old has already been born. Let us amuse ourselves for a while and consider this. I suspect most will say that would be a catastrophe of overpopulation - which, as you know, is becoming a reality already, regardless of the future possibilities of life extensions. This is an issue humanity will have to resolve one way or another in any case. Even if the first human to live a 1000 years had indeed been born already, it would take some great amount of time before these technologies could be put to use to benefit the rest of the humankind. This in turn gives us a fair amount of time to solve the overpopulation problem, which, and I can't emphasize this enough, we'll have to solve anyway. So why wait till we've got everything figured out - I have faith in the on-going evolution of the creative spirit of the humankind, so to say.

Another lecturer pointed out the concern some seem to have of becoming very bored if having to live that long. "Well", he said, "if life is boring, then certainly death is going to be even more boring!"

I overheard someone at the conference say Finland has the largest amount of WTA (World Transhumanist Association) members in relation to population number. Somehow this wouldn't surprise me. Most Finns I know are extremely enthusiastic regarding questions on life, death, and the possibility to better their lives, keeping ethics in mind. The following is directed to someone dear to me, who just the other day commented how I am not critical about things I get excited about. I believe any scientist in the world who ever made any significant breakthroughs had to first overcome criticism - of their own and of others. It is the brave enthusiastic mind that makes miracles happen.

5 Comments:

At 02 September, 2006 18:53, Blogger Bera Cealdecote said...

I have mixed feelings towards transhumanism. I agree with its aims in general but I'm not so sure about the way they are put into practice. In particular, there seems to be an emphasis on life extension without too much concern for the quality of the life that is extended. Supposedly, transhumanism concerns both quality and length of life but I guess the latter, with its connotations of immortality, is more dramatic and exciting so it gets more attention.

I think of the many old people, who modern medical science has kept alive for much longer than they would otherwise have lived, but who spend their extra years senile and unable to care for themselves. I think it would have been better if they had died with dignity. Certainly, my own grandmother effectively died many years ago - what's left is a depressing shadow of her former self, kept alive only by the care of her daughter, nursing staff and the vast quantity of drugs she has to consume every day.

On a similar note, whether it is true or not, I like the theory that Julius Caesar arranged his own assassination. Apparently he suffered from epilepsy and it was getting worse as he grew older. He wanted to be remembered as a great leader and conqueror, not as a incapacitated wreck, so he secretly started a conspiracy against himself that would lead to a dramatic death while he was still in his prime. I have a lot of sympathy for that sort of idea.

 
At 05 September, 2006 08:18, Blogger Apotropos said...

This is great. Physically 1000, hmmm?

 
At 22 September, 2006 12:55, Blogger Bera Cealdecote said...

You might like this article from Reuters: Sex or a long life? Guess which Britons chose

 
At 26 September, 2006 07:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not saying enthusiasm is wrong. But blind enthusiasm has not led any scientist anywhere else but lost. The truly great inventions have required both enthusiasm and criticism (and dedication), especially from that person who is first to think of something completely new. Being so overly critical of new ideas that one can not let go of the conventions is of course another thing altogether. No great scientists CAN be very conservative. Of course they have had to overcome even their own "set" ways of thinking/understanding/seeing things. But they have had to have been extremely self-critical. If they had just taken the first sketchy idea and ran with it they probably wouldn't have accomplished much (generally speaking). This might very well work in the world of art or - more appropriately in this case - religion. And so be it. But in serious science the "scientific approach" is required. A scientist needs to examine and question their new idea, to eliminate wrong conclusions and to develop the idea forward (to greatness) ...And to be able to get good arguments ready for those to whom that new idea seems too incredible or in conflict with what they believe and is their perception of the "known" world and it's order.

Generally scientists who have taken on some cause in pure enthusiasm, perhaps researched the matter in a subjective manner and interpreted the results so that they find what they WANT to find, have only earned the ridicule and pity of other scholars and ceased being respected as "real" scientists.


Maybe a better word instead of "critical" would be "analytical"?
...No, I believe one must really challenge one's own thoughts to be sure of them. Not easy, but that's what's brave! (imho)


As said, this blind enthusiasm turns even science into religious beliefs. And nothing more will come of inventions if not properly, objectively and critically studied.

Thus even more critical should people be of other people's ideas. People shouldn't just take in words or ideas they hear of without apt criticism, no matter how many different doctorates someone has (in many countries those can be bought with money you know (not necessarily referring to these Transvision scientist)), or how ever appealing their idea is, or how ever charismatic person they are.
I cannot but worry when I hear someone utter phrases taken straight from someone's words or writings, much like religious verses or dogmas (and/or rote-learning). I cannot worry any more when in fact it seems someone does not seem to have any original ideas at all, only ones copied from someone else (i.e. person or a group). Nothing wrong with taking ideas from other people and making and baking them your own (combining, evaluating, developing, criticizing, analyzing, etc).


What comes of blind enthusiasm and trusting rather in the will to believe something, than actually thinking thru an argument that holds criticism/a closer look -

Your argument that the problem of overpopulation in the present situation and in the case of people living up to a 1000 years is the same one problem that needs to be solved anyways, and therefore irrelevant in this case; seems to me pretty much so ridiculous, that it is actually hard to come up with a non-ridiculous counter-argument.

I don't see many different options for regulating the amounts of people, no matter how much time we would have in our hands to think about it, we already know our options. There is birth-rate control, or disposal of the surplus people (from all generations and ages. This could be thru a massive epidemic, a genocide, war, etc. (War HAS always been human race's "natural" way to balance things up when resources aren't enough for all) or why not death-rate control..?). The latter of these options being usually excluded for moral grounds, leaves us with birth-rate control.
The actual operative way either one is carried out is what needs considering.

It's absolutely true that if only a relatively small number of people would live to a 1000 years it probably wouldn't make much of a difference to the question of overpopulation (but believe me it would create other much more imminent problems). But if and when a large number of people, or say everyone, would live that long it would certainly have an impact on overpopulation in the world. That's like saying owing someone a 100 euros is an equal problem as to owe someone 3000-4000 euros (let's say this money should be paid back very soon). (At least in my case) this problem couldn't be solved with the same solution, a 100 euros I could pay up pretty easily, but for 3000 euros I probably should sell a kidney, or drop out of school and get a hell of a good job.
Maybe still this is a poor and distracting example.

My point is, that managing the growth of human population in the present situation wouldn't really be all that complicated (only implementing the principle is complicated), at least in theory...

The growth could be stopped if the average number of children/person would be 1 (2/couple) (or actually probably slightly less than 1, since people are living to die older and older all the time anyways. An average of 1 child/2 people would most probably do the trick). Basically if people live (let's say) a 100 years, that's 3-4 generations, in every 25-30 years one "family member" dies for one that is born. Now if 3-4 persons are born as descendants of one person in every 100 years (each person has one child or 2/couple) and that person "first in line" dies a 1000 years old, every one that old ends up with 30-40 "grandchildren". So 6 billion people become approx. 200 billion people in 1000 years of time (then of course the growth would stop I admit). (I do have to point out though, that the resources of the Earth can't sustain even the 6 billion people for long, no matter what we do. And it has been calculated that by the birth&death-rate of the year 2001 there would be approx. 22 billion people in the world already in the year 2100)
So if we did try to use the same way to solve the problem of overpopulation, controlling the amount of children people are allowed to have, only 1 couple out of 15-20 couples would be allowed to have one child.

This hardly is a possible scenario (at least not in an ethical and fair world).
A lot easier to get people to accept they can only have one or two children, than to say only 2 persons out of 40 are "allowed" a child.

Way too problematic think I.


(But to slightly contradict everything I've said - How about this for a problem solver:

What if everyone getting the privilege of semi-eternal life had to commit to not getting any children? Maybe combined with a child-lottery, every 20th lottery wins! Not a bad deal? / A bad idea?)


So this all was to point out why I don't think the age where people die is irrelevant in relation to human overpopulation. Although my elementary school mathematics and tired brain might have failed me to some extent(?)


But...
In all honesty I don't think overpopulation would turn out to be the biggest problem in a world where people lived that old (especially a small elite group of rich but degenerate - or "outdated" to say the least - people
(_I_ wouldn't have much "faith in the on-going evolution of the creative spirit" of those people, so to say.) ...Or in any case our biggest problem in the year 3000 having anything to do with any really really fucking old farts.

(Actually bigger and more imminent problems - such as the very deal with overpopulation and everything it will bring along with itself - might very well cause such old farts never to exist in the first place).


I admit that I personally find trying to make people live a 1000 years or forever just plain stupid.

But this mainly isn't even because of the practical problems it would create (concerning overpopulation). Surely all huge revolutionary changes come with new problems to solve. So don't think my ranting over this overpopulation-argument / or lack of criticism in people in general is because of my negative/pessimistic opinion on the subject of extending life.

I could be persuaded to share my views on why I think so, and explain how "stupid" isn't the ONLY one thing I think of the matter (although "stupid" might in fact be the end-result and sum of different aspects I see).
But won't do that now voluntarily,
since I think this subject (extending life in years) is slightly paradoxically/ironically about death, not life. And I have grown to loose my interest in death. Thinking about death (too much / or rather fearing death) gets people sidetracked from actually living their lives, exactly as does thinking about living somewhere far in the future estrange people from living in the present (even though I'm not exactly into all that "carpe diem"-shit either).



Maybe I am too cynical, overly critical and certainly way too judgemental.
And I wouldn't wish you to be the same.
I love your enthusiasm and even the hint of naivety in you.

Maybe I am overreacting when I worry for you being too easily impressed with big words and big egos /easily manipulated /naive /or what ever it would be. I admit I am very VERY allergic to that sort of thing.

Understand this, I worry not because I would take you for someone too simple or weak to think for yourself; but because I refuse to believe anything else but that you ARE strong and smart enough to make up your own mind and to create ideas and thoughts (on your own) _worth_showing_.



Anyways, these are just my thoughts and who the fuck cares what I think? I don't.
(And has the stamina to read thru my tired pseudo-scientific stream-of-consciousness rambling in bad English...)

(To make a point: Rather than have you now come and say "wow, I so agree on everything you said" (Yeah, not likely your reaction...) I'd like to see you to point out the illogicalities/errors/etc. in my thinking and/or take the ideas further ...so I too can re-evaluate/develop/correct my thinking/ideas.)



By the way (about those Transvision lectures mentioned). It was enjoyable to find out I'm not the only one ever to have compared natural evolution and evolution of "human made things" (or technological evolution) to each other. Some 10 years ago - when I tried to explain how the evolution of living and non-living man-made things (such as phones or spoons or what ever) works pretty much by the very same rules, and how technological evolution is really just a natural extension to/the next step in evolution - people just took me for somewhat of a nut.
Really quite many things work in a similar logic as natural evolution/selection (it really isn't that strange, rather quite expected I'd say...)

 
At 21 October, 2006 18:09, Blogger queerrel said...

bc - I agree that the length of life itself bears little significance if it doesn't come with any kind of quality. Sorry to hear about your grandmother. In those situations, even if the person in question would be blissfully unaware of the state they're in, the persons close to them suffer.

1000 years with a working body and mind would still sound good to me.

Thanks for the news link. ;-)

anonymous - actually, there are more ways to cope with overpopulating the Earth, one of them being habitating other planets. Not sure how likely that is to happen, or how long that would take, especially with the assumption that more money is currently used for developing effective ways to kill, kill and kill humans than space exploration (although some discoveries in military technology do benefit other fields of industry as well).

I do not think the problem of overpopulation is irrelevant when we look at life extension. However, I don't consider it a valid argument, either, to prevent research of life extension. As I said, it's a problem we'll have to solve anyway, and it's not anytime soon we'll have many 1000-year-olds walking around. The optimist might even say that if humans had the prospect of living a 1000 years old, they might take more active interest in shaping the world in an ethical manner, since they would have time to see the far-reaching effects of their actions. As an example, from the viewpoint of overpopulation the ban to use contraceptives would be unethical.

As to me being easily impressed with big words & big egos/easily manipulated/naive, I hold no objections: I'm a robot just like anyone else. I just try to do what little I can in being in charge of my programming.

 

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