[ExI] Human extinction

Stefano Vaj stefano.vaj at gmail.com
Wed Aug 20 14:57:26 UTC 2008

On Wed, Aug 20, 2008 at 4:07 PM, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:

> Stefano inquires:
>> What is really "human" and what is "extinction" or "survival"?
> To me, it's relatively simple. My remote ancestors of 500 million
> years ago are extinct. Period.


My point is: beyond your extinction as an individual, it is arbitrary to
identify with, or to invest emotionally in the lot of, your biological
grand-children rather than your one-million year-distant evolutionary
successors. One's grand-children are no more him or her than the latter, and
both are successors.

So, either you metaphorically "survive" in both, or you do not in either.
But in both cases there no obvious reason why the survival of the species
should be considered as survival tout court, and the survival of the clade
should not. In fact, to pose the survival of the species as one's ultimate
ideal may well be to the detriment of the destiny of the clade, and would
lead us to conclude that it would have been a good idea for our simian
ancestors, at least from their point of view, to put in place an eugenic
programme aimed at avoiding the kind of evolutionary change that ultimately
led to ourselves.

Despite himself, it's clear that Nietzsche believed in some sort
> of racial soul. Simply because a certain species existed somewhere
> in a chain of evolving creatures, this gives him license to have the
> first in the chain identify with the last in the chain. So just what is
> it that has remained the same about them?  A soul?  What else
> could it be?

The issue however is: why should we identify instead with our species?
Especially given that there are no quantum leaps, and that no precise
boundary could ever be identified between, say, proto-humans and humans? If
we like to think that our "successors" shall be there, genealogy is as good
a criterium to define them as similarity.

A rat, as a mammal and everything, may well be much less similar to me than
an entirely unrelated human being, but also much more similar to me than an
android. Yet I should be more inclined to consider myself extinct if it were
the rats rather than the androids to take over. Why that? I suspect one
reason may be that androids could be legimately considered as "children of
the mind", something which could never be said of rats. And this of course
would be even more true for remote biological successors whose DNA directly
derived, artificially or naturally, from my own.

Let me get this straight.  Were there a button (sorry, Damien) that
> would instantly cause any given human (or all humans) at this very
> moment to evolve into vast, vast creatures with intelligences
> comparable to God's and who looked at us the way we look at
> our one-cell progenitors, you would push such a button?
> If you pushed that button, we would all be dead, and instantly!

Yes. And since every morning we wake up a little different, and perhaps
ideally even a little bit more phenotipically "evolved" than we were the
evening before, we die every night. So be it, I can live with that. :-)

One does *not* survive through one's children.

Agreed. Neither in our children, nor in our species or successors' thereof.

But we are programmed to find aesthetic satisfaction or psychological solace
in leaving something behind, be it in stone or in the form of offspring,
including "metaphorical" offspring, such as disciples, fellow citizens,
correligionaries, intellectual progeny - and possibly artificial agents
created by ourselves. And I suspect such trait would not go away with an
indefinite extension of our lifespan, since it would go on increasing the
"competitiveness" of the replicators (genes, memes) carried around by the
individual concerned.

Stefano Vaj
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