[extropy-chat] Fwd: SURVIVAL: An impulse behind transhumanism?

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Thu Jun 29 16:15:07 UTC 2006

At 07:54 PM 6/28/2006 -0400, you wrote:

>From: Russell Wallace
> >>Someone asked me recently what the impulse behind transhumanism was.  I
> >>said survival.
> >I agree completely.

I would say survival in style.  :-)

>I'd like to take this a step further.  Can you find parallels in society in
>which a movement was developed for the sake of survival?

Since movements derive from motivations I think we need to understand where 
human motivations come from.  They are the result of hundreds of millions 
of years of evolution as mammals, tens of millions as primates, something 
on the order of 5-7 million years as hominids, 2.3 million or so as rock 
chipping hunter gatherers, about 100k years as hunter gatherers in the 
present version, and 10k years as farmers.

Human motivations (the psychological traits and the brain mechanisms behind 
the traits) were selected over this time for reproductive success, 
including the effects from inclusive fitness.  (Inclusive fitness means 
traits can be selected by evolution even though the ones who express the 
trait die.  Think of bees dying to protect the hive or look up Hamilton.)

One of the prime motivations in humans is a drive for status and the 
closely associated brain chemical rewards people get for 
attention.  (Status is roughly the integral of attention, and reproductive 
success in *males* was (is) highly correlated with status.)   Crudely think 
of our ancestors as the successful hunters who got more nookie.

I should warn you that this is dangerous knowledge.  If you admit, even on 
a theoretical basis, that *you* might be motivated to seek status, a 
Federal judge may lambast you from the bench.  (Which was particularly 
funny if you consider the motivation for status that led to him becoming a 

Status/attention is the main motivation behind groups, movements, cults, 
etc. existing.

Another motivation come from the astonishing success of humans as top 
predators.  While they ate just about anything, they were particularly good 
at killing large animals.

William Calvin makes the case that the expansion of the brain was driven by 
occupying the projectile hunter niche where the extra brain area was 
required for timing release so our ancestors could hit small targets at a 

It has probably been more than 2 million years since the line that led to 
humans were a commonly on the dinner menu for large predators.

Overpopulation is far from being a recent problem.  If you look at the work 
of Azar Gat on hunter gatherer warfare, as high as 60% of the adults in 
some groups die from intergroup violence.  Humans live (and the line that 
led to us lived) over a larger area of the earth than any other animal of 
our size and the reason was an intense need move away from other hungry and 
violent human groups.  If you could not move, you were attacked if you 
didn't attack first when you could see hungry times looming.

So another motivation for groups, movements, cults and such to form up 
around a xenophobic meme is rooted in the perception of a bleak future or 
the effect of being attacked.

A too long discussion of the attention rewards behind cults is here:


and a too long discussion of war mode is here:


I *really* wish I could turn this theoretical knowledge into specific 
recommendations for a successful transhumanist movement.

There is a psychological element of "war mode" in most organizations.  But 
I make the case (backed up by Dr. Drew Westen's fMRI work) that invoking 
this mode is dangerous.  It shuts down rational thinking for inclusive 
fitness reasons that made sense in gene terms in the stone age.  In 
figuring out some survival path through the singularity, we need all the 
rational thinking we can get.

Status seeking drives an awful lot of human activity, but it goes off the 
rails and destroys organizations by people operating in zero sum 
mode.  I.e., tearing down others or stealing credit for their "hunting" 
efforts.  I am sure you can see this in every movement including 
tranhumanism.  (I could cite a number from the L5 days, not to mention 
other organizations I have been associated with.)

Since few people are aware of their motivations, even on a theoretical 
level, and have no idea of why they act as they do it is hard, possibly 
impossible, for them to change.

Perhaps a real effort to reward people for non-zero behavior might help, 
but there are problems in that a lot of people have "sincerity" detectors 
or are (properly) embarrassed by attention that is laid on too thick.

Human motivation, I think because of its close connection to sex, is a 
really embarrassing topic for most people.

But I can't see a successful transhumanist movement without understanding 
humans first.

Keith Henson

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