disagreements, objections, and criticisms of transhumanism
revision 1.0 12/09/00 - the text and ideas presented at this site may be freely used and reproduced, for humans do not own ideas, but ideas own humans
Strategy For Progress
How We're Different
Transhumanism concerns anyone who cares about progress and purpose in life. It is a rather rare kind of philosophy in that it holds progress to be both worthwhile and achievable through human effort, and that such progress should include evolving beyond human beings. The problem I have with them is that they lack sufficient passion for progress as well as the discipline to pursue it. They are stuck thinking in terms of ethics and values of the past. In doing so, I claim, they merely increase the probability of achieving a kind of stalemate, where progress becomes slow or nonexistent. That probability might even be small, and their negative effect much much smaller. The only point I am trying to make is that they are not acting logically to pursue the goal of progress. Not that I have ever heard a transhuman state that this is the goal. My claim is that the goal of progress is the only concern of someone who truly attempts to transcend our human limitations.
Our limitations do not revolve so much around the fact that we die. We reproduce amply. They do not revolve around our lack of intelligence. We have many brilliant people among us. Lack of intelligence is not the cause of bureaucracies and economic systems of pointless production and consumption. Nor do they revolve around lack of technology. We can produce enough to enable billions to live in ridiculous comfort. One must wonder why transhumans emphasize so much that there will be more of all the things that are not lacking in the first place.
The actual limitations I think we are facing are (1) that we are aimless and controlled by our wants and beliefs, (2) that we grow up as conformists who are content to act as we are taught, and (3) that we remain entrenched in an adaptive stage of competitive evolution, thinking of ourselves as individuals rather than competitors. I have addressed each of these limitations in separate websites: (1) Impartial Philosophy, (2) The Art of Defiance, and (3) The Way of the Competitor.
This website criticizes the shortcomings of my worst enemies, the transhumanists. While technically, I am a transhumanist myself, I will not try to argue over transhumanism's definition and instead consider myself an anti-transhumanist.
Humans grew up feeling powerless within the cosmos. The mighty gods who created and controlled nature, how puny were we compared to them? Each technological advance and piece of knowledge gained was really quite meaningless. We were merely reinventing what the great masters had known long ago. Their omniscience and omnipotence made it not unlikely, but theoretically impossible for us to overtake them or to find something new that no one has discovered before.
Yet the more we reasoned and learned about the world, the more it dawned on us that much of it worked mechanically, quite independent of a higher being's will. Once the principle of natural selection was hypothesized, it left us with no compelling reason to believe in anything higher than us. Every advance in knowledge and engineering potentially was or could lead to something new, something that wouldn't have been without us. And if our creations and discoveries could have significance, then they should be assumed to have significance because in the best case we would be right and in the worst case there would have been nothing we could have done any better
Granted that there was no indication of higher beings, did a mechanical deterministic world not imply that once we explained exactly what the laws are, there would be nothing left to do, but watch the molecules bounce off each other in a predetermined fashion? Yet science did not find simple answers to everything. It brought quantum physics and a subatomic particle zoo to light, and various other complex unexplained mysteries. It was a world for a race of explorers.
And so instead of wallowing in a state of pessimism, hopelessness, and meaninglessness, a group called the transhumanists decided to dedicate their lives to the pursuit of progress, driven by a passion for truth, discovery, and perfection. Or have I just described what they do not think?
Transhumanism is the philosophy that states 'Life is beyond our control'. They predict an inevitable state of rapid technological change, during which there is no predicting what will happen next. This view of having no control over the fate of the universe itself is key to validating their most cherished beliefs of freedom, individual rights, and happiness. But maybe it is not so much a particular set of beliefs that defines the transhumans as much as a certain conformity or lack of resistance to those memes that happen to be popular in our era. The only relevant way in which they distinguish themselves as a group is their belief that spectacular technological breakthroughs will occur within their lifetime. This is, in my view, a distinct possibility; however, the idea of imminent uncontrollable change has no substantial benefit in promoting progress. Instead of striving to create progress oneself, one merely keeps up with an inevitable technological race. It is no better than watching TV in that the outcome is already predetermined, and one's reason for involving oneself is for personal satisfaction, the pursuit of feelings.
To place so much emphasis on the possibility of living to experience various amazing technologies is a key flaw. It is perfectly fine to use such ideas as motivation, but for the transhumans, this idea is actually shaping their general strategy for achieving progress. To think 'I will live to see it' is really to employ no strategy at all, to blindly charge ahead in a race to be one of the first. The correct approach is to have no preference for anything, to merely decide on the best path to achieve maximum progress as the single goal. This alone is enough to ensure long-term competitiveness and to circumvent microcompetition, which can only be defeated if we act with greater drive, flair, and emotion than the transhumans.
More importantly, transhumans believe diversity to be their strength. There are infinite number of ways of view the world, yet of these nearly all are useless. For beings of low intelligence such as ourselves, it is better to be narrow-minded, to limit diversity to the greatest possible degree. Diversity is about having many people each with their own set of preferences constantly fighting for dominance. This merely results in the danger that one group with a particular set of preferences will gain supremacy (and if you look at the world today, it has already happened in many ways). Quite possibly, they will be incapable of seeing it themselves and consider themselves diverse and open-minded themselves. The correct path is to have no preferences whatever. That is the safest way to ensure that nothing is overlooked because a being can assume any preferences if it has none . In practical terms, this would entail a world in which nearly nothing is going on. Intelligent beings will merely be busy thinking about a safe and optimal strategy to pursue research and progress, of various means of conrolling microcompetition, maintaing an environment that is controlled and decision-based, and probably various experiments for the purpose of modeling. A diverse environment would mean that everyone has their own agenda and is constantly busy trying to dominate because those who don't simply die out. While in the immediate future, a lot more is going on in the diverse environment, the one that is hostile to it will explore much more and with much greater efficiency.
I am merely stating what is obvious to everyone, and so it is not surprising that even popular science fiction depicts exactly what I am saying. I am specifically referring to the Borg, who strive for perfection through the elimination of individuality and diversity. Out of all species depicted in Star Trek, the Borg alone have a logical philosophy and a reasonable approach to life. If the intent had been to depict the Borg in a more positive light, they would have been given the ability to think individually, act spontaneously, have queer habits and personalities, all of which result not in petty conflict, but in a collaboration in which seemingly contrary views and approaches unexpectedly complement each other to pursue the goal with terrifying effectiveness.
Diversity as the term is used today is really no more than microcompetitive randomness. The anti-thesis would lead to more diversity in the relevant rather than superficial sense, though I wouldn't want to call it that, since it is just an experimental kind of diversity that is not valued in and of itself, but rather serves to find more and more optimal designs. For example, nearly all contemporary means of child-rearing employ roughly the same formula. One grows up in a nuclear family and goes through a process called schooling, in which one is exposed to various irrelevant information in a lecture-style setting. In a different society, students would be exposed to various different social environments. One could imagine a virtual maze where students live for months solving various puzzles, trying to get out, or virtual prisons, in which the challenge is more to deal with lack of external stimuli. Students might be grouped together for possessing certain rare qualities, then divided into separate groups and forced to live in distinctly different types of environments.
Transhumanists see nothing wrong with conformity to accepted social norms. Observe the extreme ineffciency of the socio-economic system in which we find ourselves; how much more productive we would be in achieving progress in a more efficient system. To conform means to submit and say it is the best that can be done. Change requires someone to eventually see something wrong with it, to introduce something fundamentally different. It is like the first bone tissue, the first land animal, the first weapon, not slightly thicker hair, slightly stronger legs, slightly sharper knives. If you see nothing, but potential for cosmetic improvements, you are a conformist. If you are not fully aware of the significance of the changes you introduce to your environment, you are merely adapting to your environment and allowing accidents to lead to change, a haphazard strategy.
Strategy for Progress
The most promising technologies for progress have been aptly identified by transhumans: AI, neuroscience, nanotechnology, ... The areas where great change and improvement is possible and most likely are interesting to us. But why not work in the field that everyone has ignored until now and in which the most significant improvements of all can be achieved? I am speaking of the science of optimizing the interaction of human beings.
The first logical step to transcending human limitations is to change humans themselves, and I mean not just yourself, but people other than yourself. It is to try to slow down technological progress, not speed it up because there is no strategy to doing things right away. The challenge is not how quickly we can transcend humanity; every century that goes by is insignificant in cosmic terms. The only thing that matters is risk. We need to find the safest, most conservative, and most probable path to achieving a state of unlimited progress. To do this, it is enough to be concerned with progress as the only goal, to try to achieve it using any means necessary, without any regard for moral or ethical considerations.
Control is more important than speed. Present society is postponing the question of how technology is to be used, and merely produces it. That there is someone somewhere who is willing to pay for it is enough. In a microcompetitively evolving society, immediate rewards are favored over long-term ones. Freedom, individual rights, and justice are symptoms of poor organization and lack of strategy. As long as the majority believes that ethical rules are needed, we are not ready to go through a period of great technological upheaval. For ethics clumsily tries to keep in check opposing interests. And overcoming the need for ethics requires no technology.
For someone who makes it his goal to pursue progress, it is a waste to develop technology. Technology can be developed by ordinary humans, who have no interest in the future of humankind. Those who devote their lives to progress are needed for the non-technological aspects of progress. This means ridding the world of microcompetition. Before one can overcome microcompetition, it is necessary to see it everywhere in our mundane lives. It is necessary to understand how the most trivial aspects of life are there because of microcompetitive selection. Obsession with microcompetition is important because it is the reason for everything and because it clearly shows what the next step in our evolutionary development must be.
This step is to learn to follow pure logic, to control our emotions rather than be controlled by them, to resist popular memes and ways of thinking, which are often hidden and implicit. We need a group of human beings who are immune to immediate pressures and circumstances, who are unafraid of pursuing the optimal strategy for progress. And yes, this entails rendering all of humanity's beloved traditions and values obsolete, whether it be fairness, compassion, or love.
How We're Different
(1) We don't disagree. Non-impartials assume individual preferences leading not only to inefficient and pointless activities, but to the continued struggle for microcompetitive dominance. To simply attribute this to human nature is precisely the anti-thesis to progress. Even if we adopt the viewpoint that AI will surpass human intelligence, and that these beings will not be bound by human nature, a microcompetitive environment will nonetheless select for what is microcompetitively viable. Increasing technology may tighten competition, making microcompetition more difficult to overcome. In addition, it is much easier to go from a state of less technology to a state of more technology than vice versa.
(2) We decide rather than adapt. To adapt is to accept everything as is and then play according to the rules of the game. However, once the rules are changed, all efforts based on the rules will mean very little. To take actions that have significance for the future, one first looks at the ways in which the rules themselves (that on which all depends) can be optimized. This can only be done properly if one conforms to nothing, and strives to decide without being influenced by one's environment.
(3) We are slow. Microcompetition is about quickly seizing advantage before someone else does. This is done at the expense of any strategy or goal that might otherwise be pursued. In this world, everyone is already busy doing something without proper strategy or goal, lest they miss out by not acting quickly enough. No one bothers to do what affects the root of everything, for example, changing the structure of society. Obviously, people with such an intent will not be selected for in a microcompetitive environment, since no immediate advantages are seized in doing so. Accomplishing something of this magnitude requires developing skills and habits that have no immediate competitive advantages, which is something unheard of in our time. Developing such traits can only be accomplished if one feels no pressure to act quickly, if who wins today is of no consequence, if only the far far future is of concern. Mircocompetitive habits are necessary for immediate survival; as soon as it determines what we do with most of our time and life, it has turned us into a microcompetitive agent.