[ExI] Isn't Bostrom seriously bordering on the reactionary?

Stefano Vaj stefano.vaj at gmail.com
Tue Jun 21 14:40:42 UTC 2011

On 20 June 2011 18:03, Keith Henson <hkeithhenson at gmail.com> wrote:
> 2011/6/20 Stefano Vaj <stefano.vaj at gmail.com>:
>> Certainly there is some tragic, in the Greek sense, in the adventure of
>> humankind and of life in general.
> True.  A ten km asteroid ruined the day for the dinosaurs
>> But the big split has forever been between those who celebrate it ("amor
>> fati"), and those who consider that a curse.
> We might not have a lot of control over out destinies, but trying to
> do something positive seems like a good idea to me.

Absolutely. But I am not thinking of tragic in the ordinary sense, but in
that where one has to "perish" at a point in time to become more than what
it is. Be it simply in the sense of becoming something fundamentally
different. This is true for species, individuals, cultures...

> Nietzsche was not faced with the current prospects where we could, in
> a generation, change as much or more than the distance between mice
> and humans.  It's easy for us to imagine improvements, long (perhaps
> open ended), disease free lives, physical attractiveness, even
> modification so we have no blind spot.  However, once people are on
> this slippery slope, where will they stop?

This is exactly McKibben's argument in *Enough*, where the author openly
declares that from now on the issue is that “to decide that in every field
scientific and technological research has advanced enough and that it is not
really necessary to go beyond that”, “to be capable of saying no, to be
capable of remaining human”, and “to look at the world we now inhabit and
proclaim it good. Good enough. […] Enough intelligence. Enough capability.
Enough.” And yet, as Ramez Naam remarks in *More than Human*, “Throughout
our history, we’ve exceeded our limits and added to our capabilities. If our
limits define us, then we stopped being human a long time ago, when we
invented tools and language and science that extended the powers of our
minds and bodies beyond those our hunter-gatherer ancestors were born with.”

But Kass or Rifkin or Fukuyama do not play it to really different tunes.

And some of those who share this POV are even consistent enough to think
that it would have been "eugenic" for our simian ancestors to kill their
offspring in the cradle when they started exhibiting "human-like" features.

> I wonder what Nietzsche would say if he were up on the prospects of
> AI/nanotechnology?
> Would he embrace it or go catatonic?

Who knows? But the end result of dramatic changes remains the same
irrespective of whether they take place in one million years or in ten
years. The real difference, if anything, is that changes requiring one
million years might arrive simply too late to matter, both for you and me as
individuals, and for the survival of our "clade" (something which sounds
both better defined and more interesting than a problematic diacronic
concept of "species").

> It's a side effect of playing with the gods, even in your imagination.
> Too many unknowns like the Fermi question and therefore scary.
> Besides, you can't identify with gods so they don't make good
> characters for a story.

Mmhhh. I suspect that the entire narrative of the "new", postneolithic
religion of indo-europeans cultures is based exactly on their fellowers'
"identification" with the Olympic, Vedic or Nordic gods (as ideals and
paradigms of their own identity, that is), and the hero founders who
represented the link between those gods and "ordinary" fellows.

*Playing God*, OTOH, is exactly the title of one of Rifkin's first book,
where it is obviously indicated as the supreme blasphemy.

> I suspect the best outcome we can work toward is that the things we
> become will remember being us.'

Indeed. As in "immortal glory"... :-)

> Actually I am not sure the would want to inflict that on them.  It
> might be like your mom putting video on the net of you playing in mud
> as a little kid.

Well, it depends. We can behave in a way to make them feel ashamed of us for
having being dragged screaming and fighting in the path leading to them -
that is, to the "new" ourselves. Or be like those who in Heidegger stand on
the line of dawn to welcome the new gods addressing them from the future,
our own future. :-)

>> Such POV is eminently respectable, not to mention largely predominant in
>> societies along the lines of the famous "anti trans-simianist" satire,
but I
>> wonder why it would require additional advocates
> I don't think "predominant" is the right word unless you are talking
> about the tiny transhumanist society.  The larger society remains
> unaware.

Right. I am referring here only to those who *are* aware.

But where I to assess how much such awareness is widespread, I would say
that the large majority of people with even a passing interest in philosophy
or civilisational trends or religion usually have such biases.

One would be hard-pressed to find any debate on "fundamentals" where
"transhumanist" issues are not the explicit or implicit background of what
is being discussed. For sure, in Italy bioethicists, environmentalist,
priests, seem to have really few other interests these days.

Stefano Vaj
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